Trip Report: Mae Ping & Doi Inthanon (Thailand), January 19-24, 2001

Peter Ericsson;


This year we wanted to make sure we didn't miss the real cold weather so often found on the mountains in the North. As it turned out it has been our warmest year so far, with a low of only 10°C at the Summit of Doi Inthanon. This type of weather brings on heavy fog at the highest peak and makes it hard to birdwatch there. Nevertheless, strong winds and lush vegetation along with bird sounds and 'frozen and funnily dressed' Thai tourists made for a fun experience. The military personnel based here have set up a little table with coffee and refreshments outside their gate, and it added a little convenience to the area.

Having lived in Thailand for soon 20 years I still feel at ease being a foreigner but up here is one of the few times I wish I was a Thai national. Why? Inside the radar station there is a little intriguing fellow by the name of Blue-fronted Redstart. It has reserved its presence to those who make it inside, and since foreigners are shunned inside a military base, I humbly had to remain on the outside.

Several migrants were not present this time but I still managed to add a new bird, a female Slaty Blue Flycatcher that was in the low shrub next to the car park. (For more details of other birds around the summit, see previous year's report).

Anyways, back to the beginning. The make-up of the team this year was different. The more motivated birdwatching youth from earlier years had moved on, and I was challenged with less proclaimed nature lovers. Just leaving the big city of Bangkok and all its glitter was an achievement in itself. Exposure to Creation, simple living (tents) and an awareness of culturally diverse life styles (hilltribes etc) enriched the mind of the youth and hopefully deepened their perspective on life.

Mae Ping Park

Someone had kindly pointed out that there is an alternative to the scorched forest of the lower hills of Doi Inthanon. Although we did not find White-rumped Falconets and Black-backed Forktails, what we did see sure made up for any lacks. This park is located only a 2 hours drive from the entrance gate to Doi Inthanon. Coming from Bangkok take a left at the town of Thoen and follow road 106. At the district of Li take a left onto road 1087 (clearly marked road signs exist) and go on for another 20 kilometers. It took us 6 hours drive from Bangkok.

The main purpose for visiting this park was to see the Black-headed Woodpecker. A much wanted bird for me. After having checked in (a checklist of the park is available at visitor center) we decided to drive to the campground at Tong Gik, 14 kilometers away. Three km from the headquarters, a dirt road to Tong Gik takes off to the left. The road is in the middle of a beautiful open, dry dipterocarp forest with stands of teak, rosewood and more.

It didn't take more then 3 minutes of driving, and our first pair of Black-headed Woodpeckers was in view. Simply a gorgeous bird. Easy to spot and follow with the binoculars. It appears to like middle storey tree trunks and so makes it easy to detect. Its distinctive call also helps to identify the bird.

We were all alone at the campground and had a nice evening with pleasant temperatures, in spite it being no more then 500 meters above sea level. At campground there is a huge area being allowed to regenerate after years of forest dwellers having used the land. Here we had excellent views of Rufous-winged Buzzard and Collared Falconets while Chinese Francolin was calling with its harsh call. Along the stream a pair of Blue Throats (Flycatchers) were taking a bath while White-crested Laughingthrushes were roaming in the under growth.

Next morning a pair of Great Slaty Woodpecker called from a dead tree spurring us on for more discoveries along the dirt road. Several times did we encounter the Black-headed Woodpeckers in smaller groups of up to four individuals. We also saw the ever-colorful Blue Magpie and Hooded Oriole. A small flock of Chestnut Buntings were feeding on the ground. Here is a list of other birds we saw. Most of these we did not encounter at Doi Inthanon because we did not spend time at lowlands there.

Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch  Black-naped Monarch           Bronzed Drongo
Ashy Drongo                White-rumped Shama            Crested Serpent-Eagle
Verditer Flycatcher        Red-throated Flycatcher       Lineated Barbet
Spangled Drongo            Greater Racket-tailed Drongo  Ashy Minivet
Rosy Minivet               Soothy-headed Bulbul          Black-crested Bulbul
Djungle Fowl               Yellow-bellied Warbler        Coppersmith Barbet
Grey-capoped Woodpecker    Large Cuckoo-Shrike           Puff-throated Babbler
Blue-winged Leafbird       Inornate Warbler              Asian Barred Owlet
Magpie Robin               Chestnut Bunting              Lesser Coucal
Indian Roller
We spend the morning at the park and then started our journey to Doi Inthanon.

I warmly recommend this park as a prime example of a fine healthy open, dry dipterocarp forest.

Doi Inthanon

We had another surprise waiting for us at the park. The Queen was due for her annual visit, and so campground was to be closed for 3 nights. Campground at Mae Baan waterfall was under reconstruction with heavy trucks taking a drastic toll on the already damaged road.

We decided to leave the park after one night but on our way down at km 26 saw a sign saying 'Birds watching' (who watches whom here?), Eco camp. We found out that some grassroots movement had set up a campground on ground not belonging within the National Park boundaries in order to add extra income to some of the hill tribe people in the area. This camp offers nice, simple but clean bungalows as well as tents and campground next to a stream. We then stayed there for the remainder of our time. In the stream female Plumbous Redstart was feeding daily while an occasional Slaty-backed Forktail would pass by. The dried out rice fields held Rufescent Prinias, Pied and Grey Bushchat while Grey-faced Buzzard soared over the adjoining forest.

We also took a little walk to a village nearby and in a large fruiting/flowering tree saw Orange-bellied Leaf-bird, Blue-winged Leaf-bird, Plain Flowerpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Ashy Drongo, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and a large flock of Long-tailed Minivets.

As usual, birding was the best along the road by km 37. Big flocks of Spectacled Barwings was a treat. Silver-eared Mesias in the open. Chestnut-throated Shrike-Babbler was a new bird for me. Mountain Tailorbird, Chestnut-capped Warbler and lots of Rufous-winged and Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, Speckled Piculet etc.

Inside the jeep track while waiting for Slaty-bellied Tesia to appear, a Pygmy-Wren Babbler showed up instead for full views. Then the Tesia hopped out of the brush and kindly warmed our hearts. Later on, Eye-browed Wren-Babbler was another life bird even though not very well seen - shy fellow. Other good birds in here were Large Niltava, Eyebrowed Thrush, Eyebrowed Tit (lifer), Black-eared Shrike-Babbler, Green Magpies, Yellow-bellied Fantail and Rufous-backed Sibias.

Brown-Hawk Owl gave full views in pine stands on the way to Mae Baan waterfall.

We went for a dip in the stream by lower grounds around km 10 and also to check out birdlife at dawn down there. In one hour we saw one single bird. A Green Magpie.

Watchirathan waterfall at km 14 held River Chat and male Plumbous Redstart. Always a treat.

Surprise of the trip. While watching birds along the road, a couple of American birdwatchers whom we had earlier briefly encountered in the woods approached us. The woman handed me a generous donation for our work and said, "My brother told me what you do here in Thailand. He has read your things on the Internet, and we wanted to help. Perhaps this will help you to stay on another day or two". I most say I was deeply impressed by their kindness. Especially in the light of us not having touched on the subject of our Christian volunteer work in our previous brief encounter. Thank you Christine!

One very special bird at Doi Inthanon is the Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush. This time we saw both the male and the female on different occasions but at the same place. Closer to the summit there are two huge pagodas. A little further up there is a parking lot with a nature trail. (Do not enter this trail without permission, and certainly refrain from picking any plants or flowers! The local guard is very adamant, and the trail requires permission from headquarters as well as a guide to come along.) About 100-200 meters past this parking lot on the right hand side there is a larger dead tree. In the early morning, the Thrush likes to perch here.

All in all we saw close to a 100 species at Doi Inthanon, and if anyone wants a complete list just let me know. Peter Ericsson

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; February 21, 2001