Talay Noi Waterfowl Sanctuary

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Talay Noi is a large freshwater lake in Pattalung province, just north of Songklah’s Great Lake. The lake is fed by rivers which drain from the mountains of Khao Luang National Park in Nakhon Sri Thammarat and is home to a wide variety of bird life. Over 285 species are known to exist in the sanctuary making it the most important wetland habitat for birds in all of southern Thailand.

Talae Noi was declared a wildlife sanctuary in February 18th, 1975. The lake itself covers over 450 square kilometers and is dotted with floating islands of vegetation. The sides of the lake are composed of reeds and tall grasses. In the dry season the lake recedes, exposing large patches of bare earth which becomes a feeding ground for thousands of  waders, herons, egrets and other birds.

This area was once a breeding site for many species of water birds but hunting pressure and the loss of mature trees essential for breeding spelled disaster for a number of the larger, more conspicuous species. Today the Painted Stork and Grey Heron no longer breed in this area. Purple Heron still breeds here in limited numbers, making Talay Noi one of the few sites in Thailand where this vulnerable species can be seen all year round.

The local people have adapted to life on a floodplain; most houses are built on stilts or floating rafts. Most fascinating are the legendary cattle farmers of Talay Noi: these ranchers raise water buffalo and there’s no denying these creatures truly live up to their name! The buffalo spend their days swimming or wading in the shallow parts of the lake, feasting on submerged vegetation like aquatic cows. At night they sleep on exposed mounds of earth or on floating bamboo pens moored to trees.

Talay Noi is recognized as a unique wetland habitat and was declared Thailand’s first RAMSAR site in 1998. Today the site is monitored by Wetlands International.


Birding

Main Attractions: Purple Heron, Black headed Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Oriental Pratincole
Other Attractions: White bellied Sea Eagle, Asian Openbill, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Javan Pond Heron, Indian Pond Heron
Extirpated: Painted Stork

The abundance of bird life on this lake make any visit to this site an awe-mazing experience!

The floating vegetation and lily beds near the shore is a good place to start birding. This vegetation is an important habitat and source of food for many species. Purple Swamphen is one of the most commonly encountered species along with Yellow and Cinnamon Bittern, White Browed Crake, Baillon’s Crake and Chinese Pond Heron. Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets are always present in large numbers.

On the lake one will encounter large numbers of White winged Tern, Little Tern  and Common Tern and at times other species of tern can be encountered.

The lily swamp is another birding spot which demands attention. This is the best place to find Cotton Pygmy Goose, Common Moorhen, Lesser Whistling Duck and Little Grebe.

Near the fringes of the lake are areas which are dominated by tall grass and short trees. These areas deserve a fair amount of attention as well. Here, one can find a wide diversity of bird species ranging from woodpeckers to reed warblers. A few of the species which can be seen in this area include Baya Weaver, Great billed Reed Warbler, Stonechat, Common Flameback, Grey capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Blue tailed Bee Eater, Large billed Crow, Pied Harrier, Pallas Grasshopper Warbler and Black Bittern.

With so many birds it is not surprising to see a number of raptors in the area as well. Peregrine Falcon and Black shouldered Kite are local residents while Black Baza, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Crested Honey Buzzard and Booted Eagle will appear during the winter and migrating season. Crested Serpent Eagle is also sometimes spotted on the lake, most likely individuals living on the forested hills near the edges of the sanctuary.

One would think that a lake like this would be a wonderful place for spotting kingfisher. Surprisingly, few kingfishers are found on at Talay Noi. White throated Kingfisher and Collared Kingfisher are the only two permanent resident species while Common Kingfisher and Black capped Kingfisher are winter visitors.

Northeast of the tourist pier is small island of vegetation, home to a nesting colony of Purple Heron, one of the few left in Thailand. The island, known as bird island, is familiar to most boatmen, and most are willing to take birders there although the site is off-limits in the breeding season. In the evenings, thousands of Little Cormorant, Egrets, Herons and Bitterns come here to roost and in the winter, both Black headed Ibis and the occasional Asian Openbill will show up as well. The best time to observe the birds is in February – May when the birds are actively foraging and raising their chicks.

Heading north there will be a wooded area with a cement nature walkway built by Wetlands International. Boats can moor here and birders can walk down the elevated walkway and see birds and other animals along the walkway. Birders who wish to visit the site will need to register with at the Talae Noi Wildlife Sanctuary office before making their way to the site.

At the mouth of the lake where Talae Noi meets the Songkhla Lake the water is shallow and attracts a variety of ducks such as Northern Pintail, Common Teal and Lesser Whistling Duck. White bellied Sea Eagle and Osprey are also regularly seen in the area, along with Brahminy Kite and Black Kite. In the dry months when the water level is low Black headed Ibis and Glossy Ibis have been seen feeding in the muddy areas along the riverbanks. Painted Stork, thought to be extirpated from the region, may one day again return and if it does, will most likely be seen feeding in this area.

The muddy sandbars which are scattered around the mouth of the lake attract a number of waders such as Black winged Stilt, Oriental Pratincole, Marsh Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover and Common Snipe.

To the far north of the lake there are waterways which drain from Nakorn Sri Thammarat. While these waterways are generally quiet, if one were to spend some time here there is a chance of adding new species to the list.

Transportation on the Lake

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Since this is a lake, the only way to get around is by boat. The average fee for an hour on the lake will cost around 450 baht and most trips are at least two hours long so do the math. Happily for birders, boatmen don’t charge by head (like they do in Ao Phang Nga National Park) but rather by trip which will not hit your pocketbook too hard.

The boatmen usually follow a set route laid out by the Talay Noi Tourism Committee. While it is an educational and enjoyable trip, it lacks one very important aspect: – birds!

Birders should inform the boatmen from the start that the focus of the trip is to see birds. Informing boatmen of your intentions should also help them to go a bit slower and the more knowledgeable boatmen will even know some secret spots where special birds can be found. A knowledgeable guide can make a very big difference and I’ve found that the older chaps who have been around a lot longer seem to know a fair more about birds than their younger counterparts.

The cost for a “freelance” tour by boat will cost more, usually around 500 baht an hour. Be sure to negotiate the price before hiring the boat.

Likewise birders can contact the Wildlife Sanctuary and have them arrange a boat for birding. Their rangers are more knowledgeable and should be able to put together a satisfactory itinerary.

Birders will find that just one morning and one afternoon on the lake should suffice.


Accommodations and Fees

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There are plenty of little guesthouses right along the main road which cater to the Thai tourists who love to visit the lake. I prefer to stay at the Laan Bua Resort (074-685-573), just a few minutes walk from the Wildlife Sanctuary office. Prices are very reasonable: 700 – 1200 baht a night for a large room with two queen-sized beds! Dinners are readily available at the numerous roadside stalls which offer everything from northeastern cuisine to southern specialities and freshly barbecued fish.

Likewise, the Wildlife Station also has rooms for rent but they require you to book in advance. Rooms cost between 400 – 700 baht a night. Contact them at 074-685-430. (Office hours from 8.30 AM – 4.30 PM)


Directions to Talae Noi

To get a better idea of the surrounding area, please zoom out by pressing Ctrl on your keyboard and scrolling with your mouse.

It is advised to drive your own vehicle to Pattalung but one can also take a bus if no other transport is available. Everyone in the small province of Pattalung knows of the lake. One can take a bus to the town of Pattalung and  get public transportation from the bus station to the lake (which is the most economical way of going about it.)

Coming from Haad Yai, drive northbound on Highway 41 towards Nakorn Sri Thammarat. After passing the city of Pattalung (located on the right side of the road) continue northwards until you reach a sign pointing right towards Talae Noi (Highway 4048). Turn down this road and follow it for another 20 or so kilometers and it will take you to Talae Noi.


Personal Opinion

Pros: Very easy environment in which to spot birds; good for photographers wanting to get close to birds without the use of a hide; very rich habitat for birds with hundreds of fantastic species to be seen; perfect choice for elderly or disabled birders or those who are opposed to walking on trails through a hot forest; numerous inexpensive and comfortable hotels to choose from nearby.

Cons: Not all boatmen are aware of the bird stakeouts on the lake and boatmen must adhere to a queue system and are not allowed to be chosen by the client; the presence of other boats on the lake contributes to disturbances and can be annoying for birders; most boats drive fast and are equipped with loud outboard engines which frighten birds; boats are not equipped with shades for protection from the heat during the hottest times of the day.

Talay Noi is an amazing place which offers a chance to enjoy both birding and a cultural experience. There are so many birds on the lake and the boat trip really is an incredible experience. It’s a great place to kick back, do some easy birding and enjoy the hospitality for which Thailand is so famous for.

This page was last updated in March, 2018.

Useful Links

Information on Talae Noi Wildlife Sanctuary on Birdlife International

Talay Noi Waterfowl Sanctuary in Photos