We also fitted in a day in the Bangkok area on our last day, which took away any worries about connection problems with our flights from Chiang Mai (a good decision in hindsight as this got cancelled and we got moved onto a later flight), as well as allowing me a chance for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, high on my "most-wanted" list. If I had been able to extend the trip to a full 2 weeks, I would have spent the additional time at Khao Yai, but that will have to wait for a future trip.
I was delighted with how the trip worked out. Thanks to my excellent local guides I managed to see a large number of my target birds, including such wonderful species as Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Green Cochoa, Purple Cochoa, Jerdon’s Bushchat and Giant Nuthatch, as well as a host of other species. The pace of the trip was just right, with minimal time spent on travelling, and the standard of food and accommodation was excellent throughout.
The only thing I might change if I was visiting again was the timing of the trip. Even though my trip was only some 10 days long, bird activity declined noticeably throughout this period, with Doi Inthanon being much harder work in the first week of March than at the end of February. This was confirmed by the other birders we met – the Canadian group found the km 37.5 jeep track so productive on their first visit in mid-February that they spent the whole day covering just a few hundred metres, and amassed a big list of birds. In contrast it was almost birdless on 5 March, although given that about the only birds we saw here in three hours were a pair of Purple Cochoas, we couldn’t complain too much! If I was visiting again, however, I’d probably go perhaps a month earlier to be sure of seeing as many birds as possible.
Overall a highly enjoyable trip, and it’s now just a matter of when we’ll return to enjoy some more of the country’s birds and hospitality.
Finally thanks to those who provided advice and assistance before the trip – Tony Ball, Andrew Merewether, Paul Bamford, Suppalak Klabdee, Malcolm Roxby, Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua and Andy Adcock,
We flew from London Heathrow (LHR) direct to Bangkok (BKK) with British Airways. The flights were booked on-line through E-bookers (http://www.ebookers.com tel 0870 010 7000) and cost a rather hefty UKP 556 each including taxes –more expensive than I had expected, but the cheapest I could find despite a lot of searching.
The flight times were as follows:
We then took an internal flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (CNX) with Thai Airways, at a very reasonable rate of UKP 72 each for a return flight. I originally booked the flights via Thai’s web site (http://www.thaiair.com/), but then realised that tickets would only be sent to addresses within Thailand, or picked up at their booking office, neither of which was convenient. I therefore phoned their UK office (tel 0870 6060 911), who picked up the reservation and issued the tickets from London.
Flights times were as follows:
In the event, we arrived at Chiang Mai airport on 04.03 to find that our flight had been cancelled, however we were moved onto their 21:00 without any fuss.
I had arranged local bird guides with 4WD transport for most of the trip, although 4WD only really seemed necessary for the trip up Doi Chiang Dao. For the three days I was without a guide, I booked a hire car through a local Chiang Mai company called North Wheels (e-mail - email@example.com, web site – http://www.northwheels.com/)
The car, a Toyota saloon, cost THB 1,170 (UKP 18) per day including unlimited mileage and all insurance, which was pretty good value. A small 4WD Suzuki Caribian was even cheaper (THB 800 per day), but we opted for a little more comfort given that we didn’t need the 4WD for that part of the trip. The only down side with the car was that it didn’t have air conditioning, but it wasn’t as much of a problem as we’d thought it would be.
Driving around was generally very easy – the roads were of very good quality, and signposting was in both English and Thai. Traffic was also lighter than we’d expected, and even driving through Chiang Mai itself was pretty straightforward. The one thing you have to look out for are the numerous motorbikes, scooters and tuk-tuks everywhere. One of these ran into the back of us near Chiang Saen, damaging our bumper, although no-one got hurt. Getting his name and address was, however, tricky given not only the language barrier but the different alphabet!
North Wheels got a bit upset with me when I returned the car, as apparently I should have immediately phoned them to report the accident before either I or the other driver left the scene – quite how I was supposed to do this in the middle of the countryside with the language barrier problems was a mystery, but I haven’t heard any more from them about this subsequently.
Another thing to look out for is the variation in the spelling of place names in English – Thai does not seem to be transliterated consistently into the Roman alphabet. Thus, for example, you may also see Chiang Mai spelled as Chiengmai or Chiengmei, Tha Ton as Taton, Ta Don etc.
The local currency is the Thai Baht (THB), although some businesses quote in US Dollars (USD). The approximate exchange rate against sterling (UKP) at the time of my visit (which I have used in translating costs throughout this report) was as follows:
Petrol was extremely cheap by UK standards, around THB 17 (UKP 0.26) per litre. It cost THB 200 (UKP 3) per person to enter Doi Inthanon N.P. and to climb Doi Chiang Dao, plus another THB 50 (UKP 0.77) per vehicle. Food was also cheap – a meal for the two of us, including drinks normally costed between THB 500 - 600 (UKP 8 - 9) per night, even in the Hotel Empress and the Angkhang Resort. Lunch in restaurants was often buffet-style, and superb value – all you could eat for THB 100 (UKP 1.50) per head was normal.
The total cost of the trip is estimated at UKP 2,320 for 2 people (UKP 1,160 each), made up as follows:
|24.02.03||Hotel Empress, Chiang Mai.|
|27.02.03||Hotel Empress, Chiang Mai.|
|28.02.03||Angkhang Nature Resort, Doi Ang Khang. Tel +66
(53) 450110, fax +66 (53) 450120 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,
website http://www.amari.com/ Cost
– THB 2,041 (UKP 31) per night for double room including breakfast. Excellent
restaurant, with dinner for two costing about THB 600 (UKP 9) per night.
A wonderful place to stay – lovely rooms and a great setting. Highly recommended
|01.03.03||Angkhang Nature Resort, Doi Ang Khang.|
|03.03.03||Hotel Empress, Chiang Mai.|
|04.03.03||Comfort Suites Airport, 88/117 Viphavadee-Rangsit
Road, Don Muang, Bangkok. Tel +66 (2) 552 89219, fax +66 (2) 552 8920,
e-mail email@example.com Cost
– THB 1,400 (UKP 22) per double room per night, breakfast extra. Free airport
Booked on the internet through Hotel Thailand (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, website www.hotelthailand.com). Comfortable enough hotel, although not in the same league as the Empress, however very conveniently located near Bangkok International Airport and pretty good value.
One last warning – don’t even think about messing about with drugs of any kind in Thailand – there is a total zero-tolerance policy including use of the death penalty in effect. To that end, be especially careful not to leave your bags unattended at the airport.
Very pleasant– this is the middle of the dry season in Thailand, and we enjoyed warm sunny days throughout. Thanks to the altitude at the key sites it rarely got too hot to keep birding, although activity died off quite badly after perhaps 10:30, picking up again at around 16:00, and it was much hotter lower down. It was very cold early morning at the summit of Doi Inthanon. Dawn was at around 06:00 and dusk around 18:30.
Before visiting we made sure we were up to date with the usual jabs – tetanus, polio, typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis, meningitis and diphtheria. Malaria is present in some of the border areas with Laos and Myanmar, but given the low risk of infection, we decided to forego taking anti-malarials, basically because of the side-effects I usually suffer.
In any case, Dengue Fever is a more likely health risk, against which there is no available vaccine, so we instead concentrated on avoiding getting bitten. This is especially important as the latter disease is, apparently, transmitted by day-flying mozzies, whereas the Malaria-bearing mozzies are more of an evening / night-time problem. In the event, we had very few problems with insects, although I did get bitten a few times by something at Doi Inthanon.
Otherwise, we had very few problems, and felt safe throughout. Be aware,
however, that there is a drug smuggling problem in the area, especially
those sites that are near the Myanmar border such as Doi Angkhang, and
an Australian birder was tragically shot and killed in this area a few
years ago. There have also been instances of attacks on Western tourists
in Chiang Mai, but given the size of the city and the sheer numbers of
tourists visiting, this must be a very small risk, probably no more than
in any other big city. Just be sensible about where you go after dark.
Sites visited were as follows:
|23.02.03||Doi Inthanon – km 14, km 21, km 38, km 37.5 jeep track, km 34.5 track, Ban Pha Mon (km 23.5)|
|24.02.03||Doi Inthanon – Hmong village (km 30), km 39, km 44, summit area including summit marsh, Mae Pan (Huai Sai Luang), km 35, km 34.5 track|
|25.02.03||a.m. - Mae Hia, drive to Chiang Dao via Chiang
Mai sports complex, Huai Tung Tao and Mae Taeng irrigation project.
p.m. - Chiang Dao - temple area, checkpoint 1 (Pong creek)
|26.02.03||Doi Chiang Dao – ascent, Den Ya Khat area, descent|
|27.02.03||a.m. - Chiang Dao – new road (past checkpoint
p.m. - drive back to Chiang Mai via Mae Taeng, Huai Tung Tao
|28.02.03||a.m. - Huai Hong Krai, drive to Chiang Saen,
Chiang Saen Lake
p.m. – Mekong River (Rim Khong Restaurant), drive to Tha Ton, Tha Ton area, drive to Doi Ang Khang
|01.03.03||Doi Ang Khang – orchard, exit to Trekkers Route, Ban Luang, orchard, exit to Trekkers Route|
|02.03.03||a.m. - Doi Ang Khang – exit to Trekkers Route
p.m. – drive to Chiang Mai, visit to Bo Sang craft village
|03.03.03||Doi Inthanon – km 13 area, km 24.5, km 26, km 33, km 37.5 jeep track, km 34.5 track. Drive back to Chiang Mai via Mae Hia|
|04.03.03||Doi Inthanon – summit marsh, km 37.5 jeep track, drive to Chiang Mai airport for flight to Bangkok|
|05.03.03||Samut Sakhon, Khok Kham saltpans, Wat near Don Muang, Bangkok, Kamphaeng Saen Kasetsart University Campus, return to Bangkok for flight home|
Doi Inthanon (km 14) – Eurasian Jay, White-crested Laughingthrush
Doi Inthanon (km 21) – Green-billed Malkoha, Asian Palm-Swift, Crested Treeswift, Spangled Drongo, Common Iora (h), Red-rumped Swallow, Black-crested Bulbul (h), Purple Sunbird
Doi Inthanon (km 22) – Ashy Drongo, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Doi Inthanon (km 38) – Green-eared Barbet (h), Golden-throated Barbet, Short-billed Minivet, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Large Niltava, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Flavescent Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Oriental White-eye, Japanese White-eye, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Yellow-browed Warbler, Two-barred Greenish Warbler, White-tailed Leaf-Warbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Spectacled Barwing, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Rufous-backed Sibia, Dark-backed Sibia, Black-throated Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter
Doi Inthanon (km 37.5 jeep track) – Great Barbet (h), Collared Owlet (h), Grey-chinned Minivet, Eyebrowed Thrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Green Cochoa, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Striated Bulbul, Golden Babbler (h), White-browed Shrike-Babbler
Doi Inthanon (km 34.5 track) – Rufous-bellied Niltava, White-tailed Leaf-Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Golden Babbler, Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babbler, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Black-throated Parrotbill, Olive-backed Pipit
Doi Inthanon (Ban Pha Mon) – Blue-throated Barbet, Large-billed Crow, Ashy Drongo, Blue Whistling-Thrush, White-capped Water-Redstart, Slaty-backed Forktail, Grey Wagtail
Doi Inthanon (km 31) – Common Buzzard
To reach the site, turn right off the main road, then right again through a barrier into an area with chalets. Pass a small pond on your right, and carry on until you see a second pond with a marshy area behind on your left. The road turns sharply left here, and before the pond there is a large open area on both sides where you can park. Rachen told me that you can see the crakes feeding along the roadside here early in the morning – a Blue Whistling Thrush doing just this when we arrived got the pulse going briefly - but the best strategy we found was to walk up the hill on the left (grassy with pine trees) before the pond, and then along the slope until we were looking down over the marshy, scrubby area to the left of the pond.
We soon had stunning views of Black-tailed Crake, which was seen twice. The first time it was feeding along the footpath which crosses the scrub area from the chalet you can see on your left, and the second time it worked its way up the narrow drainage channel at the base of the hill (i.e. on the near edge of the marsh). The second time it gave particularly great views, down to maybe 10 metres.
Several Olive-backed Pipits were feeding among the pine needles around the car, and a Green Magpie which flew across in front of us was the only one for the trip. Also here were Yellow-browed Warbler and my first Grey Bushchat.
Having enjoyed watching the crake, we returned to the car, but on exiting the chalet area, rather than turning left to the main Doi Inthanon road, we turned right and carried on through the village. The road climbed up past the village, until it reached a point where it turned left, with a drop on the left to an area of cultivation and cloches on your left, and a bank on your right. Park before the bend, and look for a dead tree in the hedge on the bend directly in front of you – white in colour, and shaped rather like a candelabra.
This is apparently a favourite perch early morning for Fire-capped Tits, and in the twenty minutes or so that we spent here we had birds almost permanently in view, including a few nice males with the orange foreheads. They fed in the field behind the hedge, but would fly up whenever they got spooked – we had anything between one and twenty birds in view at any time. Also in this area were Common Rosefinches.
A little further along the road, the road levels out and there is a turn-off to your left into one of these cultivated area. A quarter of an hour of scooping this area was quite productive for some of the commoner birds – we added more rosefinches here, as well as Red-whiskered Bulbul, Pied and Grey Bushchats, Stonechat, Oriental Magpie Robin and Long-tailed Shrike.
We didn’t want to spend too long, however, as we were keen to visit the summit marsh area before it became too busy, so we returned to the main road, and followed the road up the mountain. Brief roadside stops were made when we saw something interesting – at km 39 for Verditer Flycatcher and Short-billed Minivet, and at km 44 for Brown Shrike.
On arriving at the summit, we firstly drove all the way to the car park area next to the radar tower, and at the far end of the car park, scanned the shrubby slope below us. It didn’t take long to find both Gould’s Sunbird and the stunning endemic race of Green-tailed Sunbird, restricted to just the summit area of this one mountain. Both species were active and tame and gave excellent views.
We then returned back down the hill for a few hundred metres, pulling over on the left (going down), in front of the park office, shops and toilets, where we got good looks at a Chestnut-tailed Minla. We then took the trail opposite us (denoted the Aang Ka trail) into the famous summit marsh area. This was one my favourite areas visited – good birding at a nice relaxed pace. By the way, don’t expect this to be an open marsh – it’s more of a boggy forest, with very little open area.
We heard a Pygmy Wren-Babbler calling on the way down, but couldn’t find it, before coming across a stunning male Orange-flanked Bluetail perched on the rail at the start of the boardwalk. A Snowy-browed Flycatcher was nearby, and a little further along (following the boardwalk anti-clockwise) we had good close-up views of a White-browed Shortwing. A Dark-sided Thrush was around, but wasn’t being very co-operative, just flitting out of sight under the boardwalk – non-tickable views so far.
Many phylloscs were present along a more open section of the path, and we quickly identified the hoped-for Ashy-throated Warbler, which in Thailand is restricted to the summit of DI. The boardwalk crossed a boggy area, then turned sharply left onto drier ground – just at this junction we finally managed to get good looks at a Dark-sided Thrush, and what good views they were, as the bird sat motionless at a range of just 3 or 4 metres, trusting its camouflage. Ridiculous beak!
A Blue Whistling Thrush showed even closer, if that was possible, and a little further along we found a pair of feeding Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes – they looked very different from those I’d seen previously in Malaysia, being less reddish and more green in colour. More Chestnut-tailed Minlas were also present here, but by this time it was late morning, and starting to get popular with tourists, so we decided to move on and return to this site later in the trip. On the way out, however, we refound the Snowy-browed Flycatcher at the sign at the start of the boardwalk, and it proved wonderfully unafraid as it flycatched around us, landing as close as a meter away.
We drove down to a lower elevation, but it had now got quite hot, and birding around km 38 was very slow. We therefore turned right here, on the road to Mae Chaem. This is a good tarred road, but after a few kilometres we turned right again, on a rough red dirt track which went off downhill at a direction of maybe 2 o’clock off the main road.
This road dropped steadily downhill for a few kilometres, before arriving at the valley bottom at an area of chalets called Mae Pan (also referred to by Rachen as Huai Sai Luang). We wandered off along the road in front of us, staying straight ahead at the junction to the right a little further along, and birded the roadside. Even at midday it was surprisingly productive here, and we soon added a number of species not seen previously, despite only walking a total of perhaps 200 metres along this road.
My first lifer here was a Plain Flowerpecker, and these were seen several times at this site. This was followed by Blue-winged Leafbird, Bronzed Drongo and Hill Blue Flycatcher, all of which I had seen in Malaysia, before the arrival of a Black-winged Cuckooshrike which showed well in the tall branches of a tree overhead. This seemed a very good area for bulbuls, with the excellent Black Bulbul being the first species seen.
Oriental White-eye, Black-throated Sunbird and Orange-bellied Leafbird were seen, followed by a Common Iora and a Verditer Flycatcher. Another flowerpecker was initially dismissed as a Plain, before a glimpse of red on the chest made us look a little more closely, and indeed it was a young Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, just starting to acquire its red breast.
At this point the bulbuls arrived in force, an Ashy Bulbul to start with, quickly followed by several Puff-throated Bulbuls and a pair of Grey-eyed Bulbuls, before a Black-crested Bulbul finished off the set. Pacific Swifts were also feeding overhead here.
By now it was mid-afternoon, and we decided to make another attempt at the White-necked Laughingthrushes at km 34.5, although Rachen brought the car to a rapid halt just before there, at around km 35 when he spotted a Collared Falconet perched on the top of a dead tree on the right hand side of the road. This species is usually found much lower down the mountain, normally around km 14, but Rachen had seen one in this km 35 area previously, so this may prove to be regular here. In any case, it was a really stunning bird, and well worth spending half an hour watching it.
Arriving at the km 34.5 track, we saw a Grey-chinned Minivet and heard a Mountain Tailorbird calling, which we tried to tape into view. It completely ignored us, but instead the tape attracted an inquisitive flock of Black-throated Parrotbills! They were in the same general area as the birds seen yesterday, but lower down the trail – look for a spot with a bamboo clump on either side of the road, with that on the left being a little lower down the hill than that on the right. The parrotbills were firstly found on the right, but then flew across the road into the left-hand clump, and so seem to range throughout this area. We counted at least 15 birds in this flock.
No sight or sound of the laughingthrushes today, so it was back to the
car, where we found a small group of Grey-throated Babblers. They were
calling and moving around in the dense vegetation in front of us, but getting
a good look was another matter, and I eventually had to settle for numerous
glimpses. A Blyth’s Leaf-Warbler was more co-operative, wrapping up another
excellent day’s birding on Doi Inthanon.
Doi Inthanon (km 14) - White-throated Kingfisher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Doi Inthanon (Hmong village) – Black-tailed Crake, Long-tailed Shrike, Green Magpie, Blue Whistling-Thrush, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Common Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, Grey Bushchat, Fire-capped Tit, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Yellow-browed Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit, Common Rosefinch
Doi Inthanon (km 39) – Short-billed Minivet, Verditer Flycatcher, Flavescent Bulbul
Doi Inthanon (km 44) – Brown Shrike, Grey Bushchat
Doi Inthanon (summit) – Blue Whistling-Thrush, Dark-sided Thrush, White-browed Shortwing, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Orange-flanked Bluetail, Flavescent Bulbul, Ashy-throated Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Pygmy Wren-Babbler (h), Chestnut-tailed Minla, Gould's Sunbird, Green-tailed Sunbird
Doi Inthanon (Mae Pan) – Pacific Swift, Blue-winged Leafbird, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Bronzed Drongo, Common Iora, Verditer Flycatcher, Hill Blue-Flycatcher, Black-crested Bulbul, Puff-throated Bulbul, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Ashy Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Oriental White-eye, Plain Flowerpecker, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Black-throated Sunbird
Doi Inthanon (km 35) – Collared Falconet
Doi Inthanon (km 34.5) – Grey-chinned Minivet, Mountain Tailorbird
(h), Blyth's Leaf-Warbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Black-throated Parrotbill
We turned right here, passing a large grassy area on our left, and then turned left along a driveable track into the middle of this area, flushing a Black Drongo and a flock of Scaly-breasted Munias. We drove along this track until it reached a cross roads, and parked up to scan the grasslands.
The main point of interest was the large tree ahead and to the left of us, which seemed to attract a number of species while we were there. A mixed flock of Black-collared Starling and White-vented Mynas flew in to the top branches, where they were soon joined by a Streak-eared Bulbul. Rachen found a Grey-breasted Prinia feeding in the long grass at the base of the tree, while other birds seen in this area included Spangled Drongo, Fan-tailed Warbler, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Brown Shrike.
Back in the car, we turned along the track to the right, and at the end of this track we came across what was for me one of the undoubted highlights of the whole trip – a stunning Siberian Rubythroat which didn’t skulk around in low vegetation, but instead perched up on a dead twig for about ten minutes enjoying the sun. I don’t think Rachen really understood my excitement at what was, for him, probably a common winter bird, but any European birder growing up with a field guide with tantalising pictures of such rarities will fully understand my feelings of elation!
We turned right at the T-junction at the end of the rack, returning to the tarred road, where we turned left, stopping for a flock of Sooty-headed Bulbuls along the fenceline, and a lone White-breasted Waterhen in a damp field on the right. Another sudden halt as a flock of 4 Racket-tailed Treepies flew into a line of tall trees perpendicular to the road on our left and showed well.
A small pond on the left where the road curved right had good numbers of Chinese Pond-Herons roosting in the trees, and a paddock area on the left further along had a flock of Red-wattled Lapwings and several Paddyfield Pipits. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was in the bushes in front of us, a Greater Coucal flushed and flew away, and a noisy Coppersmith Barbet flew into a tall dead tree behind us.
It was now starting to get hot, and we were supposed to get back to the hotel to collect Sara, so after watching some Asian House Martins hawking over the pond and a perched Little Green Bee-eater, we returned along the tarred back to the entrance, making one last quick stop at the first big lake to look at the large flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks which we had somehow missed on the way in. We duly arrived back at the hotel only half an hour late, pretty good for me! Having collected Sara and checked out, we started on our way up to Chiang Dao, stopping several times en route.
We turned off the ring road onto Route 107 northwards, and then looked for a turn-off to the left for the Chiang Mai Sports Complex and the City Hall. At the T-junction just after the City Hall, we firstly turned left for a few hundred metres to see a Crested Treeswift which was nesting on some wires along the roadside – stunning views – Rachen sees this bird each morning on the way to work!
Then a U-turn, and back northwards to Huai Tung Tao. This area is gradually being ruined by the construction of a bypass, but may still be worth a visit, at least for the time being. The road follows a canal on the left, with numerous bridges over it – follow this canal until it ends at the construction site, where two bridges close together cross the canal. Take the second bridge, turn immediately right, and park here to walk along the canal, with fields on your left.
Only a brief visit here this morning, as it was already very hot indeed, and no new species added, with just Little Green Bee-eater, Long-tailed Shrike, Pied Bushchat and Chinese Pond Heron seen.
Back in the car we returned the way we had come, turning left at the City Hall, then left again onto Route 107 northwards. After about 50 km we reached the town of Mae Taeng, where we looked for a sign and a turning on the left for the Mae Taeng (Me Tang) Irrigation Project. This seemed like a nice area, but is probably best visited early in the morning. The main reason for our visit was that a Rosy Starling had been seen here, which would be a lifer for Rachen. We followed the main road into the project, along a canal on our left, until we reached a turn-off to the right.
We parked here and walked down the side-road, with grassy area and large trees on our right – this was where the starling had been seen. Another Thai birder was waiting at the site hoping to photograph the bird – it had apparently been seen early that morning but not since. We waited for a while here, adding Chestnut-tailed Starling to the list, in the company of Black-collared Starlings and White-vented Myna but sadly for Rachen, no Rosy Starling.
Sooty-headed Bulbul and Streak-eared Bulbul were also here, as well as Black Drongo, and a Green-billed Malkoha flew by. Eventually giving up we returned to the car and carried on into the complex, eventually arriving at the dam area, seeing Indian Roller and a possible Plain-backed Sparrow en route.
The dam area is often good for waders, but the water level was very low today, and all we found was a Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover. However, walking back to the car produced a Wire-tailed Swallow over the canal before the dam. Driving back out through the park we made one more stop for an Ashy Woodswallow on a roadside wire, before moving on to Chiang Dao.
We arrived here early afternoon (driving distance from Chiang Mai without stops is only c. 80 km, so maybe an hour’s drive), and booked into Malee’s Bungalows. While we were unpacking a Dutch couple wandered up and introduced themselves as John and Nollie van der Woude – we’d been in e-mail correspondence for a while before the trip, and had swapped itineraries, so I’d hoped to bump into them somewhere along the way – nice to finally meet them after all this time!
We wandered down to the eating area and had a late lunch in the shade while we waited for the temperatures to drop somewhat. Rachen and myself then walked down the road to the park HQ to organise our permits for the ascent of Doi Chiang Dao the next day. Please note that these permits must be obtained at least the day before you go up the mountain (there are two checkpoints along the way, so you are unlikely to make it up without one). The office closes at 16:00, so get to Chiang Dao in plenty of time. Also, the office is closed on Sundays, so if you plan on making the trip on a Monday, you will need to get your permits on the Saturday.
There was some bird activity around the HQ, but it was difficult to get good views of the birds. We eventually identified Blue-winged Leafbird and Scarlet Minivet, before Rachen found a Rufous-fronted Babbler in some trees to the left of the office. Could this have been a Deignan’s Babbler?!
From here we walked down the road to the temple, and slowly (very slowly, actually!) climbed the big set of steps up from the car park to the temple itself. A couple of Black-headed Bulbuls at least gave me an excuse to stop on one occasion, but birding was generally quiet. We added Puff-throated Bulbul and Dark-necked Tailorbird at the temple itself, but this was scant reward for all the effort we had made. A stunning Black-naped Monarch on the way back down was much better, however.
We walked back to Malee’s, picked up the car, and drove around to the checkpoint 1 area, at the bottom of the new road, where it crosses the Pong creek. It seems unclear whether or not you need a permit to go up this new road, but we weren’t asked for one, although as we had parked at the bottom and were just walking up, they may have concluded that we weren’t likely to go too far.
There were some nice birds in the trees around the checkpoint, including Thick-billed Flowerpecker and Asian Fairy Bluebird, and some Himalayan Swiftlets were feeding overhead . Walking up the hill a little added Black-throated Sunbird and Grey Wagtail, but a flock of green pigeons flying overhead were frustratingly not seen well enough to positively identify, although we suspected they were Pin-tailed Green Pigeons.
Back to Malee’s for an excellent dinner which we shared with John and
Nollie and a group of Canadian birders. It transpired that John and Nollie
didn't have a 4WD vehicle, and so were unable to make the climb up the
mountain, although they had already obtained permits, so we arranged for
them to come with us the next day.
Mae Hia – Lesser Whistling-Duck, Coppersmith Barbet, Little Green Bee-eater, Greater Coucal, Spotted Dove, White-breasted Waterhen, Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Kestrel, Chinese Pond-Heron, Brown Shrike, Racket-tailed Treepie, Black Drongo, Spangled Drongo, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Siberian Rubythroat, Common Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, Black-collared Starling, White-vented Myna, Eurasian Swallow, Asian House-Martin, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Streak-eared Bulbul, Fan-tailed Warbler, Grey-breasted Prinia, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White Wagtail, Paddyfield Pipit, Scaly-breasted Munia
Chiang Mai sports complex – Crested Treeswift
Huai Tung Tao – Little Green Bee-eater, Chinese Pond-Heron, Long-tailed Shrike, Pied Bushchat
Mae Taeng – Indian Roller, Green-billed Malkoha, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Ashy Woodswallow, Black Drongo, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Black-collared Starling, White-vented Myna, Wire-tailed Swallow, Black-crested Bulbul, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Streak-eared Bulbul
Chiang Dao (temple area) – Spotted Dove, Blue-winged Leafbird, Scarlet Minivet, Black-naped Monarch, Black-headed Bulbul, Puff-throated Bulbul, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Rufous-fronted Babbler
Chiang Dao (checkpoint 1 area) - Himalayan Swiftlet, Mountain
Imperial-Pigeon (h), Asian Fairy-bluebird, Ashy Drongo, Red-breasted Flycatcher,
Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Black-throated Sunbird, Grey Wagtail
This was very quickly forgotten however when we realised that a bird waking up the track ahead of us as forktail. Even better, it turned out to be Black-backed Forktail, soon joined by 2 others, apparently a male, female and immature bird. We slowly followed them for a few hundred metres up the road as they gave fantastic views, eventually flushing and flying up a creek which crossed the road.
It is difficult to explain precisely where this site was, but it was perhaps an hour from the bottom of the hill, along a stretch of road which paralleled a stream on our left. The road eventually crossed the stream at a hairpin bend, where the road doubled back sharply to the left, and climbed up the hillside.
To add to the experience, just after the forktails disappeared, a White-rumped Shama also landed on the road, and gave excellent views. We pushed on, passing the second checkpoint at about 06:30, where we took the right hand fork up the hill. As we drove around this road we entered an area of pines, and almost immediately heard a Giant Nuthatch calling.
We jumped out of the car and Rachen tried to tape in the bird. It eventually flew in, landing almost directly in line with the sun (don’t they always!), gave the briefest of views, and disappeared – not very satisfying. An Asian Barred Owlet flushed from very near to us, only Nollie managing to see it before it flew, and then started calling persistently from further down the hill.
We briefly contemplated chasing after the owl, but then decided to press on to look for better views of Giant Nuthatch, pausing briefly on arriving back at the car to watch a Slender-billed Oriole. We arrived at Den Ya Khat, to be met by flocks of Pacific Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows overhead. We parked the car by the building, and followed the trail that passed the toilets, to the left of the building, and directly back.
This track, which wound through scrubby deciduous forest was very productive, and we had soon found Black Bulbul, Crested Bunting, Sooty-capped Bulbul and Indochinese Cuckooshrike. The first of several Chestnut Buntings was seen a little further along, as well as several Maroon Orioles.
As the track climbed we started entering areas of pines (after maybe 0.75 km), and had our second Giant Nuthatch encounter, a bird calling high on the slope on our right. It stayed quite distant, however, and didn’t show, so we pressed on, adding Little Pied Flycatcher to the trip list, and Eurasian Jay to the day list.
About 1 km from the Den Ya Khat office, the track took a sharp dogleg to the right, at an area where it widened out briefly, forming a small flat open clearing with scattered pine trees and pine needles on the floor. Straight in front of us was a view over the valley to the peak of Doi Chiang Dao. Not a big area, but quite distinctive after the very narrow trail with steep drops on our left that we had been following through the pines up to now.
Rachen announced that this was the best area for the nuthatch, hit the tape, and almost immediately a Giant Nuthatch flew in right above our heads. It was soon joined by 2 others, and we enjoyed superb views of these birds directly overhead for about 10 minutes before we eventually lost them from sight – one happy Welshman, two happy Dutch birders and one relieved Thai guide!
These birds are apparently best looked for in the morning, and according to Rachen get quite difficult after about 10:30, so we were glad to have connected so soon. Incidentally, the elevation here according to John’s GPS device was a.470 metres.
Giant Nuthatch apart, these pines were very quiet – as the sun starts to warm up the slopes, most birds apparently move off down the ridge – so we turned around and made our way back to DYK. Several Chestnut Buntings were seen on the way back, and a Grey Treepie gave brief but good views in a tree ahead of us. Spangled Drongos and Maroon Orioles were seen periodically throughout the return walk, and variation was added by a pair of very co-operative White-browed Shrike-Babblers and a Hill Blue Flycatcher.
Arriving back at DYK, we enjoyed some lunch, accompanied by several phylloscs, mostly Yellow-browed Warblers, but with the usual high percentage of unidentified birds. On finishing lunch we walked slowly down the entrance road in the hope of seeing woodpeckers. On the way we noticed a small wet area on our right – a group of Canadian birders we met flushed a Hume’s Pheasant from the area behind here a few days later!
We encountered a large flock of mostly unidentified phylloscs at the start of the group of pines, at the end of the "gardens" where the track starts to climb uphill, and one was seen well enough for us to identify it as a Pale-legged Leaf-Warbler – one of the easiest to identify with it’s band of streaks across the chest.
Further along, a bird singing persistently from deep within some branches overhead was eventually tracked down and proved to be a lovely Pale Blue Flycatcher. No sign of any woodpeckers, however, just more Black Bulbuls, so it was back to the car. We refound the phyllosc flock on the way, one of which was singing, and was thus identified as a Hume’s Leaf-Warbler with the help of John’s minidisc recordings.
Back at the car we came across some minivets, and these were identified as a male Long-tailed Minivet and a female Grey-chinned Minivet. The Grey-chinned was nesting in one of the trees near the building, something we only realised due to the agitation of the male Long-tailed – could they have been a mixed breeding pair? Very curious.
Time to start the long drive back down the mountain. On the way down,
shortly after the second checkpoint, Rachen saw movement in a roadside
tree, and we pulled over for a look. The bird transpired to be an excellent
Sapphire Flycatcher, an uncommon bird in this part of Thailand, and we
also had great views of Puff-throated Babbler as a bonus bird. There was
no sign of the Black-backed Forktail at the place we saw them on the way
up, but just a few hundred metres further along we found a pair of Slaty-backed
Forktails – obviously a good creek, and maybe worth more exploration! As
we hit the lowlands around Chiang Dao village we added brown Shrike and
Greater Coucal to the day tally before crashing out back at Malee’s, tired
but very happy.
Doi Chiang Dao (ascent) – White-rumped Shama, Black-backed Forktail, Great Tit, White Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit
Doi Chiang Dao (Den Ya Khat) – Pacific Swift, Asian Barred Owlet, Eurasian Jay, Grey Treepie, Slender-billed Oriole, Maroon Oriole, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Grey-chinned Minivet, Long-tailed Minivet, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Spangled Drongo, Little Pied Flycatcher, Pale Blue-Flycatcher, Hill Blue-Flycatcher, Giant Nuthatch, Red-rumped Swallow, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Flavescent Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Yellow-browed Warbler, Hume's Warbler, Pale-legged Leaf-Warbler, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler (h), White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Crested Bunting, Chestnut Bunting
Doi Chiang Dao (descent) – Greater Coucal, Brown Shrike, Bronzed
Drongo, Sapphire Flycatcher, Slaty-backed Forktail, Puff-throated Babbler
A good trail led off to the left from an area where we could park the car, and we spent some time along here, with little success. Several small birds were seen in the weedy margins of a field, but couldn’t be identified, until one was eventually confirmed as a Rufescent Prinia, although I think there were other species here too. Several Common Rosefinches were in the area, and we also found one mixed flock which included Yellow-browed Warbler, Common Iora and Oriental White-eye, as well as Maroon Oriole and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. Not much to show for a couple of hours birding, however.
Back at the car, a Grey-backed Shrike was a good find, and showed well while we ate some breakfast. We drove back downhill a few kilometres, stopping when we saw signs of activity in a large flowering tree directly in front of us. This provided much better birding, with Striated Yuhina being a lifer, stunning views of Chestnut Bunting, and many Red-whiskered and Sooty-headed Bulbul. A Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher was calling from low vegetation, eventually showing well, and while we were looking for it we added Striped Tit-Babbler to the list.
Black Bulbul and Orange-bellied Leafbird joined the birds in the flowering tree, and following the canary-flycatcher through the low scrub resulted in us finding Yellow-bellied Warbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher, all lifers for me. A Mountain Bulbul flew in overhead, but was quickly ignored when it was joined by a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and a Thick-billed Flowerpecker.
At that point, the bird of the morning put in an appearance – a small flock of superb White-headed Bulbuls, which landed on some dead branches overhead, and were watched flying backwards and forwards for quite some time. Great to get such good views of this rather difficult bird. While we were enjoying them, Black-crested Bulbul and Ashy Drongo were also found.
From here we returned to the checkpoint area, where we found Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and Grey-eyed Bulbul. We gave the forest trail here a go, but the birding was difficult and slow here – little activity, and very difficult to see the birds as they tended to stay high up in the trees. A small flock was eventually found to contain a Little Spiderhunter and our second Striated Yuhina of the day, but we quickly gave up on this area and returned to the road.
With it being late morning, and consequently very hot, with bird activity being so low, and with tiredness starting to kick in after a succession of dawn starts, we drove back to Malee’s, stopping for a Shikra en route, collected Sara, checked out, and drove back to Chiang Mai.
A brief visit to Mae Taeng in the hope of the Rosy Starling produced White-throated Kingfisher, Black-collared Starling, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Black Drongo, Little Green Bee-eater and White-vented Myna, but nothing new, and certainly no Rosy Starling, so we pressed on.
A spell at Huai Tung Tao was more productive, however. It started slowly with just Little Green Bee-eater, Black Drongo and Common Kestrel, before we found a group of Ashy Woodswallows and an Indian Roller. Rachen found a small group of Plain-backed Sparrows in a dead tree, a bird I’d been very keen to see for some reason, and after a Pied Bushchat, we added two more lifers in the form of a Burmese Shrike and a pair of Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers.
Red-throated Flycatchers, Streak-eared Bulbul and Red-wattled Lapwing
were also seen before we arrived back at our hotel in mid-afternoon. We
would be on our own for the next few days so we bit a fond farewell to
Rachen, before heading off for a cool shower and a couple of hours to relax
around the pool. North Wheels delivered our hire car at 18:30 (they will
deliver to your hotel free of charge, but only between 08:00 and 19:00),
so we were all set for our trip up north tomorrow.
Chiang Dao (new road past checkpoint 1) – Orange-bellied Leafbird, Grey-backed Shrike, Maroon Oriole, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Ashy Drongo, Spangled Drongo, Common Iora, Tickell's Blue-Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Black-crested Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Black Bulbul, White-headed Bulbul, Rufescent Prinia, Oriental White-eye, Yellow-browed Warbler, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Striped Tit-Babbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Striated Yuhina, Thick-billed Flowerpecker, Common Rosefinch, Chestnut Bunting
Chiang Dao (checkpoint 1) – Shikra, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Striated Yuhina, Little Spiderhunter
Mae Taeng – White-throated Kingfisher, Little Green Bee-eater, Black Drongo, Black-collared Starling, White-vented Myna, Sooty-headed Bulbul
Huai Tung Tao – Indian Roller, Little Green Bee-eater, Asian Koel, Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Kestrel, Burmese Shrike, Ashy Woodswallow, Black Drongo, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Pied Bushchat, Streak-eared Bulbul, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Plain-backed Sparrow
Huai Hong Krai – Green Peafowl, Large Hawk-Cuckoo (h), Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Chiang Saen Lake – Lesser Whistling-Duck, Common Moorhen, Common Snipe, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Burmese Shrike, Sooty-headed Bulbul
Mekong River (Rim Khong Restaurant) – Ruddy Shelduck, Spot-billed Duck, Spotted Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Small Pratincole, Grey Heron, Great Egret
Tha Ton – Indian Roller, White-throated Kingfisher, Little Ringed
Plover, Common Kestrel, Brown Shrike, Pied Bushchat, Jerdon's Bushchat,
Yellow-bellied Prinia, White Wagtail, Scaly-breasted Munia
We also found Buff-throated Warbler and Grey Bushchat here, before trying for Spot-breasted Parrotbills, which John and Nollie had seen here the day before. The site for these birds was a narrow track leading off the far left hand edge of the orchard, about 11 o’clock as you enter the orchard – follow this until you reach a small tree in the middle of the track, with the hillside sloping down from left to right ahead of you.
We hit the tape here, and almost immediately a pair of Spot-breasted Parrotbills flew into view on our right, and gradually worked their way up the slope in front of us – great views of a great bird, and very different from the comparatively tiny Black-throated Parrotbills I had seen at DI. Back in the orchard proper, we watched a Dark-backed Sibia, followed by my first Brown-breasted Bulbuls.
Going back towards the main road, we took a narrow side trail off to the left – this skirted a patch of pine trees on our right. It was a little steep, so I put my scope down for a while to check out a small bird overhead, and this turned out to be very smart Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. A Red Junglefowl was calling from close by ahead of us, and we set off to try to track to down, but couldn’t get it to come out of hiding.
I felt a bit nervous having left my scope behind, so went back to retrieve it, only to find on my return that the Red Junglefowl had put in an appearance – typical! Back at the orchard we watched a pair of Blue-winged Minlas feeding on the ground, before deciding that we would try the next spot, the exit to the trekkers’ route.
From the orchard, continue along the road towards the Angkhang resort for maybe a further 0.5 – 1 km, (km 21.5) looking for a track at 3 o’clock on the right, with a prominent sign for the trekkers route. Park on the verge and walk in. The main track continues downhill, with a side track heading off the right, maybe 50 metres from the road – this is the same track where we found the Spot-breasted Parrotbills near the orchard.
We started off with this right-hand track, down through some dark pines, where Kingsley had seen White-tailed Robin yesterday, and he found it almost immediately again today – a great bird showing very nicely. A Hill Prinia was seen here, before we heard a shout from back up the hill – the Canadian group. We rushed up to join them, to find that they had just found a group of White-browed Laughingthrushes. While we were watching these, a Speckled Piculet arrived and started banging away on a dead stump nearby.
Time for lunch, so we all started wandering back to the cars, seeing Blue-winged Minla again on the way, before coming to an abrupt halt when Kingsley flushed a Tristram’s Bunting from the path. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get on to it properly before it moved off into the undergrowth, leaving me with just frustrating untickable views.
We hung around for a while hoping it would reappear, but eventually had to settle for Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike and Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher. Kingsley and Sharon were moving on – they were doing the same loop as us, but in reverse, so they were heading to Doi Chiang Dao then Doi Inthanon. I bid him farewell, then the Canadians and I decided to go to a site which Kingsley had told us about for water-redstarts.
From the orchard / trekkers route area, drive back towards the Angkhang resort, then take the next left (before the resort) towards Ban Luang village. The road drops down hill, and at the bottom look for a large Pepsi sign on the side of the road. Turn left here into a new bungalow complex which had just opened – looks like a very nice place to stay, and could be a good alternative to the Angkhang Resort. The people here were very friendly, and perfectly happy for us to follow the trail which led to the right of the main building, then around the back to the left top a small waterfall, where they had placed some tables and chairs.
Both White-capped Water-Redstart and Plumbeous Water-Redstart were seen on arrival, with the latter giving particularly good views. A Grey Wagtail was also seen here. I left the Canadians enjoying the birds and returned to the lodge to meet Sara for some lunch and a couple of hours of relaxing, before heading back out at around 16:00
I started again at the orchard, trying the track off to the right (where we had heard / seen the junglefowl) in the hope of seeing the flock of Red-faced Liocichlas which Kingsley had seen here the day before. Sure enough, it didn’t take long before I found one of these birds, and it gave good prolonged views.
More Buff-throated Warblers were seen in the orchard, and a brief return
visit to the trekkers route produced just Grey-cheeked Fulvetta in addition
to the commoner birds seen previously. Time to call it a day.
Doi Ang Khang (exit to Trekkers Route) - Speckled Piculet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, White-tailed Robin, Hill Prinia, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Blue-winged Minla, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Tristram's Bunting
Doi Ang Khang (Ban Luang waterfall) - White-capped Water-Redstart,
Plumbeous Water-Redstart, Grey Wagtail
I met the Canadians at the exit to the trekkers route at dawn, and we spent some time here hoping for a repeat view of the Rusty-naped Pitta which they had seen at dusk last night, but there was no sign of it. Eventually we gave up, and they very kindly took my down the main track (direct ahead from the road) to where they had seen the Crested Finchbill yesterday afternoon. I gave this area a couple of hours on and off this morning, but with no sign of the bird – it was all in shade and quite cold at that time of the morning, and the sun had still not hit these slopes by 10:00, so this site may be better in the afternoon – they had seen the finchbill at around 16:00.
I therefore headed back to the top of the track, near the junction with the orchard trail, where there was a bit of a clearing, and where the sun had hit the bushes. I had noticed during my time in Thailand that the birding seemed to be getting progressively slower and less productive as the days passed, and this seemed true again today.
It started well with two lifers, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch and Lemon-rumped Warbler, but quietened down quickly. I saw some good birds, but they were mostly repeats of birds seen here yesterday, or at DI or DCD – White-tailed Warbler, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Red-faced Liocichla (brief views), Large Niltava and Maroon Oriole.
Several Silver-eared Mesias put in an appearance, followed by a Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, and finally a Pale Blue-Flycatcher. I had promised Sara some non-birding tourist time today, so we checked out of the hotel at around 11;00, and drove south to Chiang Mai. We stopped en route to watch some elephants (captive ones, unfortunately) relaxing in a stream and under some trees, and then took our time wandering back to Chiang Mai.
We made a brief side trip east of Chiang Mai to the craft village at
Bo Sang, before Sara decided that it was way too hot for this kind of stuff,
so mid-afternoon we made our way back to Chiang Mai, booked into out hotel,
and crashed out by the pool for the rest of the afternoon. Not the best
birding day, overall, but relaxing and enjoyable nonetheless.
Doi Ang Khang (exit to Trekkers Route) – Maroon Oriole, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Large Niltava, Pale Blue-Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher (h), Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Flavescent Bulbul, Lemon-rumped Warbler, White-tailed Leaf-Warbler, Red-faced Liocichla, Silver-eared Mesia, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta
Rachen was to be my guide again for the last 2 days in the north, and at 06:00 he met me for a further visit to Doi Inthanon. We hadn’t yet spent any significant time at the lower elevations, and our first destination, therefore, was the km 13 area. Look for a large pull-off on the right here, where you can park. We took the suspension bridge across the river, then took the steep trail uphill, for a total of maybe 1 km. The trail follows a ridgeline, with good views initially over a valley on your left, and subsequently switches over so that it looks down on a valley on your right. Watch our here for the numerous motorbikes travelling to and from the Korean village at the top of the trail.
The birding here was very different from that further up the mountain. First up was an Indian Roller and an Eurasian Hoopoe, followed by a Racket-tailed Treepie which flew over the car park. Having crossed the river, and started climbing the hill, we heard Lineated Barbets calling, and Rachen found them in a dead tree downhill – two birds to start with, but others kept appearing until we eventually had five birds in the same tree.
A Chestnut-belled Nuthatch was seen calling from the very top of a tree, although it was quite distant. Some Blue Magpies were calling from behind us, and eventually a pair of them drifted across from our right, and flew across the valley, landing in plain view in a tree on the other side – great birds.
As we continued to climb, Rachen spotted an Asian Barred Owlet in a tree on our right, and got it in the scope – a very co-operative bird which stayed still for ages, before the mobbing passerines finally made it move on. Eurasian Jay and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and White-breasted Kingfisher were all seen as we continued to climb, until we reached a point, maybe 1 km from the bridge, where there was a large dead tree on the right, looking down over a steep slope to the valley below.
This tree held not one but three Collared Falconets, cracking birds, which were using it as a base for their hunting forays, and we saw one bird returning with a huge grasshopper, which it proceeded to dismantle. These were followed by two great bonus species - firstly a small flock of Grey-headed Parakeets perched in the top of a tree below us, and when we were watching them, we got onto a flock of 4 Pin-tailed Green-Pigeons perched nearby.
It started to get hot by 09:00, so we worked our way back down the hill, seeing a couple of Green-billed Malkohas on the way, and another try for Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch on the return journey brought one right in overhead. Back at the car park, a large flock of Grey-chinned Minivets flew overhead.
We made our way slowly up the mountain, trying various trails at km 24.5 and km 26, but without seeing much – the best bird was a Hill Blue-Flycatcher at km 24.5. At around km 33, a Blue Rock Thrush was seen from the roadside, and when we stopped to take a good look at it, we also found a White-headed Bulbul nearby.. Arriving at the km 38 area, I was really surprised at how much quieter it was than even a week earlier, with very little bird activity. We decided to walk the km 37.5 jeep trail, in the hope of seeing cochoas, but while we heard Purple Cochoa calling, it was too far away to see it.
We walked the track for maybe a kilometre or two, seeing a few birds along the way. The best was a cracking male Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babbler, and others included White-tailed Leaf-Warbler, Golden-throated Barbet, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta and Mountain Bulbul. Eventually the track came out of the trees at an overlook with views over the adjacent valley, and here we had a Crested Honey-Buzzard soaring overhead.
Rachen often sees Purple Cochoas here in May, when they are singing and easier to find, but no sign in the late morning heat, so we walked back the way we had come in, seeing Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Golden Babbler on the way. It was very hard work here, so we decided to go down to the km 34.5 track to have another attempt at the Mountain Tailorbird that had been singing here last week.
Instant success this time, with the bird showing immediately and well so, encouraged, we decided to make an attempt at the resident flock of White-necked Laughingthrushes we had heard but not seen further along the track last week. They again responded very well to tape, but were reluctant to come into view, however I eventually managed to get a brief but good view of one bird on a bare branch. Fantastic calls, though!
Just then John and Nollie wandered up, having done the Doi Ang Khang to Doi Inthanon trip via Chiang Saen in reverse to the route was had taken. They had found the Rim Khong Restaurant productive as well, seeing much the same birds as I had seen, and John thought he had seen a Long-billed Plover, although he was also unable to confirm it because of the haze.
We swapped a few notes, returning slowly to the car, where we got good views of a White-tailed Leaf-Warbler. John and Nollie had seen Indochinese Bushlarks at Mae Hia, a bird we had missed on our visit, so as the birding was so slow at Doi Inthanon Rachen and I decided to drive there to end the day.
It was swelteringly hot when we got there, but we soon found a couple
of Indochinese Bushlarks. The first one wasn’t too co-operative, flushing
on our approach and disappearing into long grass, but the second was seen
feeding at the edge of the road, and gave great views. A Burmese Shrike
was also seen on the wires here, before we gave up for the rest of the
afternoon, and returned to the hotel.
Doi Inthanon (km 13) – Lineated Barbet, Eurasian Hoopoe, Indian Roller, White-throated Kingfisher, Green-billed Malkoha, Grey-headed Parakeet, Asian Barred Owlet, Pin-tailed Green-Pigeon, Collared Falconet, Eurasian Jay, Blue Magpie, Racket-tailed Treepie, Grey-chinned Minivet, Spangled Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch
Doi Inthanon (km 24.5) – Hill Blue-Flycatcher, Flavescent Bulbul, Golden Babbler (h)
Doi Inthanon (km 26) – Plaintive Cuckoo (h), Asian Barred Owlet (h)
Doi Inthanon (km 33) – Blue Rock-Thrush, White-headed Bulbul
Doi Inthanon (km 37.5 jeep track) – Golden-throated Barbet, Collared Owlet (h), Crested Honey-buzzard, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Purple Cochoa (h), Mountain Bulbul, White-tailed Leaf-Warbler, Golden Babbler, Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babbler, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta
Doi Inthanon (km 34.5 track) – Mountain Tailorbird, White-tailed Leaf-Warbler, White-necked Laughingthrush
Mae Hia - Burmese Shrike, Indochinese Bushlark
Our last day on the north, and the only area we didn’t feel we had covered adequately was the summit marsh area. In particular, we wanted to try for Rufous-throated Partridge, so we had a 05:30 start, and were at the summit area by 07:00. Unfortunately, others had arrived just before us, walking down the steps to the marsh, and presumably flushing any partridges that may have been present – they tend to like the area on the left as you go down the steps.
We gave it a little time here without sight or sound of the birds, so we instead tried another spot. This was on the other side of the road, to the left of the office and behind the small row of shops. A bird started calling here very close, maybe 5 metres away, but unfortunately on the other side of some vegetation, and try as we might we just couldn’t get it to come into view – I would have to be happy with a "heard" record.
We saw Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush here, then returned to the other side of the road and started on the summit marsh area. This time we followed the boardwalk clockwise, looking especially for Yellow-bellied Fantail. This is a common bird in this area, with most birders seeing lots of them, but we had missed it completely on our last visit, and struggled as much again this time.
Chestnut-tailed Minlas were, however, very much in evidence, and showed very well. There were loads of phylloscs around as well, and we decided to take advantage of their tameness and the relatively low vegetation to see how many we could identify. Ashy-throated Warblers were again common, and we also managed to pick out a Blyth’s Leaf-Warbler and a Greenish Warbler among them.
Other birds seen while we were looking for fantails included the usual birds at this site - Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Gould's Sunbird, Green-tailed Sunbird and Blue Whistling-Thrush, as well as Yellow-cheeked Tit and some Common Rosefinches. Then, at last, a Yellow-bellied Fantail, much smaller than other fantail species I have seen, but a real cracker, and having eluded us this long it now showed wonderfully.
More scanning of phyllosc flocks, together with occasional hits of a Collared Owlet recording, eventually produced good views of a Buff-barred Warbler, and on our way back out we found Dark-backed Sibia as well as seeing a second Yellow-bellied Fantail. We had not yet managed to find Ashy Woodpigeon, so after a quick coffee at the car, we wandered down the road a little way to scan the valley below. No luck, although we found a Two-barred Greenish-Warbler along the way.
Nest stop was km 38, where we saw a Large Niltava, and a walk along the new trail again produced Slaty-bellied Tesia at the same spot as the previous week. Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Silver-eared Mesia were here as well. We crossed over the road and started walking the km 37.5 jeep trail, but only got about 100 metres before hitting the jackpot, when Rachen spotted a bird perched on a bare branch high overhead.
It certainly looked like a cochoa, but we couldn’t tell which species as it was just a silhouette. Rachen ran back to the car to fetch his scope, and while he was away, it moved position, dropping a little lower where I could see it against a darker background, the orange underparts confirming it as a female Purple Cochoa.
There was another Purple Cochoa calling from a little further down the trail, and Rachen duly found it, a male, perched among some thick branches near the trunk. It was an amazing spot, with only the head visible initially, and I still have no idea how he found it! We watched it through the scope for some time, and as it moved position slightly we managed to see most of the upperparts – exceptionally good views of an outstanding bird.
Eventually we lost sight of it, and we had no sooner moved on down the track when John and Nollie came the other way. We quickly went back to where we had seen the bird, but couldn’t relocate it. Leaving them to look for it, we said our goodbyes and went back to the car for some lunch. The birding was terribly slow by now, although I wasn’t really bothered having scored so spectacularly with the cochoa, and after lunch we decided to try the track again to see what we could find.
After watching a Golden-throated Barbet and a Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Rachen unbelievably managed to relocate the Purple Cochoa near where we had seen it originally, and we enjoyed more great views of this superb bird. It was by now time for us to leave for the drive to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok, so we eventually started walking back to the car, and immediately ran into Kingsley and Sharon – unbelievable that both they and John and Nollie should miss this bird by just a couple of minutes!
We took them back to where we had seen the bird, but couldn’t find it again, adding just Mountain Bulbul to the list. Sadly, we couldn’t stay any longer, so we bid them farewell and made our way down the mountain and back to Chiang Mai Airport. I was delighted to hear afterwards that not only had Kingsley and Sharon eventually found the cochoa, but that by that time John and Nollie had joined them, so they all connected – great news!
At the airport we said our fond farewells to Rachen – he had been a
great guide and wonderful company throughout our time in the north, and
I would love the opportunity to go birding with him again one day – I can’t
recommend him highly enough to any other birders visiting this area. Unfortunately,
the day ended on a bit of a low, as we went to the check-in desk to find
that our flight to Bangkok had been cancelled – luckily they managed to
get us on another flight an hour and a half later, but we still had a boring
4 hour wait in the airport, when all we really wanted to do was get to
our hotel, shower and crash out.
Doi Inthanon (summit marsh) – Rufous-throated Partridge (h), Yellow-bellied Fantail, Blue Whistling-Thrush, White-browed Shortwing (h), Yellow-cheeked Tit, Buff-barred Warbler, Ashy-throated Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Two-barred Greenish Warbler, Blyth's Leaf-Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Dark-backed Sibia, Gould's Sunbird, Green-tailed Sunbird, Common Rosefinch
Doi Inthanon (km 37.5 jeep track) – Golden-throated Barbet, Lesser
Racket-tailed Drongo, Large Niltava, Purple Cochoa, Mountain Bulbul, Slaty-bellied
Tesia, Silver-eared Mesia, Rufous-winged Fulvetta
Wednesday 5 March 2003
Today was to be my last day in Thailand, and I was desperate to see what for me would be the bird of the trip – Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a couple of which had spent the winter at the nearby Khok Kham salt pans. Kamol Komolphalin of Nature Trails collected me from the hotel at 06:00 in a very comfortable air-conditioned minivan complete with driver, and we started on the hour-long drive to the town of Samut Sakhon.
On arriving at the town we progressed towards the Khok Kham salt pans, birding as we went. It wasn’t long before Kamol was finding me new birds – a White-breasted Waterhen in a roadside ditch was quickly followed by a lovely Ruddy-breasted Crake, feeding just a few metres from the side of the busy road. A bigger area of open water with exposed mud produced a flock of Long-toed Stints, Wood Sandpiper, Little Egret and several Little Cormorants, and a Common Tailorbird in the bushes nearby.
An open grassy area on the left held some of the commoner suburban birds – Oriental Magpie Robin, Peaceful Dove, Plain-backed Sparrow, Common and White-vented Myna, Red-collared Dove and Plain Prinia, while some Germain’s Swiftlets flew overhead. Chinese Pond-Herons were regularly seen in road-side ditches, but we couldn’t turn any into Javan Pond-Herons, which are commonly resident in the Bangkok area.
Whiskered Terns were seen hawking over a lagoon, with Olive-backed Sunbird on roadside wires, and both Collared Kingfisher and Lesser Coucal in bushes along the water’s edge. Finally, we added Streak-eared Bulbul and Common Kingfisher along this stretch.
From here we headed out of Samut Sakhon towards Khok Kham – for directions see Nick Moran’s excellent map on http://www.surfbirds.com/mb/trips/map.htm Arriving at the pans, we soon found another of Nature Trails’ guides with a client scoping the shorebird flocks, and walked out to join them. They immediately announced that they had found the Spoon-billed sandpiper, and I was goon gorging myself on stunning views of this unique bird – my trip was complete!
The bird showed brilliantly, at a range of maybe 50 metres, and was soon joined by a second bird. Small numbers of this species have wintered here for several years now, and it seems a fairly reliable site for this bird. According to Kamol, however, it is best looked for early in the morning, up to about 10:00, as it gets more difficult as the heat increases.
Of course, there is more to Khok Kham than the Spoon-billed Sandpipers, and I eventually dragged my eyes away to scan the rest of the shorebirds. Lesser Sand Plover was also a lifer, and other good species present included Long-toed Stint, Rufous-necked Stint, Pacific Golden-Plover, Marsh Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper among the more familiar species.
Several Yellow Wagtails, apparently of the race thunbergi, were present, and were Caspian Tern and both Intermediate and Great Egrets, and as we were leaving a flock of Brown-headed Gulls flew over. Time to head back to Bangkok, where we got caught in the city’s notorious traffic congestion, the return journey taking about 2 hours. In hindsight, it would have made more sense for Sara to have come with us, avoiding the need to return to the city late morning to collect her, but it was a bit unfair to ask her to get up at 05:00 on her last morning.
We eventually made it back to Don Muang and made a brief visit to a nearby temple along the Chaophraya river. A Brahminy Kite greeted us on arrival, and a Little Minivet was also new. Other birds seen here included Coppersmith Barbet, Indian Roller, Olive-backed Sunbird and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, and an Asian Openbill glided overhead. Time to go back to the hotel and check out. Kamol and the driver went off for some lunch, and Sara and I enjoyed a good meal in the airport restaurant, before meeting up again at 13:30.
Our destination this afternoon was originally scheduled to be the marshes at Rangsit, but Kamol decided instead to make the journey over to the town of Kamphaeng Saen, where we visited the Kasetsart University Campus and enjoyed some very good birding. We lost about 1.5 hours of birding time getting here (Asian Openbill overhead as we drove through Bangkok), but as this coincided with the hottest part of the day, it probably wasn’t a big loss.
On entering the university campus through the main gates, we turned immediately to the left, and followed the track along until we reached a lake on the left, much of it covered in water lilies. Little Cormorant and Lesser Whistling Duck were seen here before we found the first of 4 Pheasant-tailed Jacanas on the lilies. Bronze-winged Jacana are also here, but it took a little longer to find one, and in the meantime we saw Black-crowned Night-Heron, Black-collared Starling and Red-wattled Lapwing.
We returned to the entrance gate, turned left and entered the campus proper. We followed the main road down the centre of the campus, and parking and walking periodically resulted in some good birding along the way. An Eurasian Hoopoe was followed, at last, by a confirmed Javan Pond-Heron, then Richard’s Pipits and Asian Pied Starlings feeding on the ground near some cattle sheds.
Little Green Bee-eaters were quite common in the grassy areas, while Purple Heron and Asian Koel were new for the trip. Streak-eared Bulbul, Wood Sandpiper, Black Drongo and Sooty-headed Bulbul were seen in these damp areas, and a Coppersmith Barbet gave point blank views in a dead tree. There were several Black-collared Starlings flying around, and Kamol picked out a White-shouldered Starling among them – it eventually landed in a tree a few hundred metres ahead of us, and a quiet approach resulted in very good views of this smart bird.
It was getting late, and, having found Indochinese Bushlark, Peaceful
Dove and White-breasted Waterhen, we returned to the entrance gate and
drove once again along the road skirting the lake, flushing several Black-crowned
Night-Herons from trees along the way. Kamol was looking for Fulvous-breasted
Woodpecker along this stretch, and half an hour’s patient searching eventually
produced great views of one of these birds right overhead – my first woodpecker
of the trip, and a lifer to finish off what had been a really great trip,
before heading back to the airport.
Samut Sakhon – Common Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, Lesser Coucal, Germain's Swiftlet, Red Collared-Dove, Peaceful Dove, White-breasted Waterhen, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Whiskered Tern, Little Cormorant, Little Egret, Chinese Pond-Heron, Brown Shrike, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Common Myna, White-vented Myna, Streak-eared Bulbul, Plain Prinia, Common Tailorbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Plain-backed Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Khok Kham – Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Rufous-necked Stint, Long-toed Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Pacific Golden-Plover, Grey Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Brown-headed Gull, Caspian Tern, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Yellow Wagtail
Wat near Don Muang – Coppersmith Barbet, Indian Roller, Brahminy Kite, Chinese Pond-Heron, Asian Openbill, Little Minivet, White-vented Myna, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird
Kamphaeng Saen – Lesser Whistling-Duck, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker,
Coppersmith Barbet, Eurasian Hoopoe, Little Green Bee-eater, Plaintive
Cuckoo (h), Asian Koel, Peaceful Dove, White-breasted Waterhen, Common
Moorhen, Wood Sandpiper, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana,
Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Grebe, Little Cormorant, Grey Heron, Purple
Heron, Javan Pond-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Long-tailed Shrike,
Black Drongo, Common Stonechat, White-shouldered Starling, Asian Pied Starling,
Black-collared Starling, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Streak-eared Bulbul, Indochinese
Bushlark, Richard’s Pipit
Note that the above records concern only those Phylloscopus warblers that we manage4d to positively identify to species status – for every one of these there must have been at least 10 which defied positive identification. It didn’t take long to get frustrated with trying to identify these birds, so we soon gave up on any at a range of more than a few metres, and higher than about 3 metres up! Luckily, there were enough birds around to allow us to get to grips with a fair number of species during the trip. One of the best places to grill these species was the summit marsh at Doi Inthanon, where the birds in the stunted trees were normally a lot nearer the ground than elsewhere on the mountain, giving good views.