At last, the long awaited day had arrived. Myself and a group of 9 younger teens were heading for the tallest mountain in Thailand. Chicken-pox going through the ranks had slowed us down for 2 months.
The 740 km long drive took 8-1/2 hours on good roads. Being used to campgrounds being in good locations from Nam Nao and Kow Yai National Parks made this one less attractive, seeing it was located next to a hilltribe community. However, it was all quiet, except for another couple of birders from the States and a couple of Thai campers. The smell of pine added to the atmosphere, and so did the very hooting sounds of Asian Barred Owlet and Collared Owlet that were present daily. We also heard Grey Nightjars flying by as well as the never-ending calls of the Blue-throated Barbet.
First morning we arose early and went straight for the summit. What would be our first lifer? Well, there it was, hopping on the ground. A group of Black-headed Sibias. Air was cool and temperature was 7°C. Coming from the hot-pot of Bangkok this sure was cold for the kids, but they loved it.
Next bird was Chestnut-headed Laughingthrushes which are abundant around the top. A very beautiful bird with deep colors in a nice blend. Before going to the bog we checked out the roadside and picked up White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Grey Bushchat, Green-tailed Sunbird, Flavescent Bulbul and Blue Whistling Rock-Thrush. Slowly going down the steps to the bog revealed a most interesting little bird: an Orange-flanked Bush-Robin. It gave close looks and at first I thought it was some sort of a flycatcher. The red beautiful Rhododendron flowers were all blooming and had attracted a myriad of Green-tailed Sunbirds, (somehow the tail appears blue), Gould's Sunbird, Chestnut-tailed Minla (very colorful and plenteous on the top) along with Blyth's, Ashy-throated and White-tailed Warbler. We did also see the female Snowy-browed Flycatcher but that was all for now.
Back to campground for lunch and then birding at the Jeep track and around km 37. I've always wanted to see a Spectacled Barwing, and sure enough it showed up. Also another heart's desire that gave good view was Silver-eared Mesia with its striking colors.
Inside the Jeep track we found Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Chestnut-crowned Warbler (small and colorful) along with another very mesmerising bird; the Black-eared Shrike-Babbler. Other good birds we had here were the Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Silver-eared Mesia and Verditer Flycatcher. Otherwise we found the jeep track a bit too quiet for our likening even though very peaceful.
Later on in our trip we added White-browed Scimitar-Babbler at the roadside of km 37, as well as Speckled Piculet, Rufus-backed Sibia, Streaked Spiderhunter, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Crested Goshawk, Short-billed Minivet, Mountain Tailorbird, Pale-blue Flycatcher, Black-throated Sunbird, Striated Bulbul (another 'always wanted' bird) and Mountain Bulbuls. One day a Wedged-tailed Pigeon came crashing out of the woods right at us. This bird along with Ashy-wood Pigeon, which I at first mistook for Spotted Doves, were our only pigeons on the trip. Around here Pygmy Wren-Babbler and Slaty-legged Tesia are often heard. Frequently heard is also the Great Barbet with its far ranging call and the Golden-throated Barbet which seem to be ever present, the later giving good views at km 37.
Back up at the bog we treaded very softly, and with the help of some other birders (they told us where to look) we had long views of the Eurasian Woodcock (photographed as well), the White-browed Shortwing (highly skulking bird) and the Dark-sided Thrush with its long beak poking and throwing around the leaf litter. The bog was our favorite spot as you felt like anything could pop up here.
Naturally we wanted some views of Plumbeous Redstart and River Chat. We searched for these at the Vatchirathan waterfall at km 20. Halfway down the steep stairs we trespassed at the 'forbidden entry' sign and went down onto the boulders in the river bed. From here we patiently waited, and sure enough there it flew up (the Plumbeous Redstart), snatching insects stirred up by the fast flowing waters on the level below. We enjoyed both the male and the female, their plumage being quite different from one another. White and Grey Wagtail were also present.
Later on, on a trip to cool down at the Maa Baan waterfall, a 6 km drive off the check point at km 37, we found another female Redstart. The bottom of the fall gave flashes of White-crowned Forktail. Here my camera-flash fell through the planks on the little drive-over bridge prior to substation quarters. I was intending to hide for a better view and better photographic angle. The boys quickly jumped in the stream, shoes on, and rescued my belongings. The waterfall here offers cold water on a hot day and is a lovely place.
We also hiked a trail through tall montane evergreen forest at km 42,5. It took us to some steep cliffs and an impressive outlook over the steep valleys below. Here some Rhododendron trees were flowering, and the Sunbirds were gathered. Over the cliffs Fork-tailed Swifts were doing acrobatics, and in the scrubs Hill Prinia were making itself known.
On our last trip to the top we added Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush. Magnificent colors! Brightly Yellow-bellied Fantails were performing loops in the bushes catching insects, and on the road in the early morning we had Rufous-throated Partridge.
There is a little dirt road off km 34 for walking through some bamboo stands. Shortly you find yourself in the most serene surrounding in a little ravine with a small stream flowing through. Around you there is tall moist evergreen forest. Here we sat down, and shortly a Rufous-backed Sibia came down to drink water. A pair of Rufous-winged Fulvettas hung around where we sat for about 15 minutes allowing good photography. Adding to the serenity was a Long-tailed Broadbill higher in the canopy, as well as Slaty-backed Flycatcher perching on the lower branches. Very satisfying!
We consciously decided to stay at the higher elevations as that was where the cool weather was along with more montane birds. However, on our last day before heading home we went down to km 13. This area is basically scourged and completely dried out and looks like a day after an "atomic fallout". We first walked the trail going up, and it did give Eurasian Jay, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and another lifer, the White-rumped Falcon. We decided to go back to the lower level by the stream. Here sitting down on the boulders we had good looks of Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (a pair), Grey-capped Woodpecker (another pair), White-rumped Shama, Oriental Blue Magpie, Asian Barred Owlet, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Lineated Barbets, Scarlet Minivet, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Blue-naped Monarch, Grey Wagtail, Hair-crested Drongo etc. We heard Grey Treepie but missed out on any sightings. Also we missed the White-bellied and the Black-headed Woodpeckers that are usually seen here.
Another spectacular happening took place while driving down from the top. Along km 34 in the pine trees a pair of White-headed Bulbuls flew up. Very nice bird.
Of course there was more seen, like the Grey-backed Shrike, Black-crested, Sooty and Black-headed Bulbul etc. The rest I'll leave for YOU to discover. GO, it's worth it!
All in all deeply fulfilling, and my thanks go to the 4 boys ages 12-14 who held out throughout all the birding, only one of them being a birder. Boys this age tend to be a handful and are more naturally inclined for things like sports etc. Focusing on the birds, the natural surrounding and excitement of seeing things "not seen" before, all contributed to them being well-behaved.
A total of 95 species were seen, among them 40 lifers. Another identified 7 calls were heard. Most importantly, we all had fun and enjoyed ourselves in a splendid creation full of wonderful creatures!
Pictures are available upon request from the author.
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