Most people in the West opt for the beach and bodies of water when plans for vacation and outings are made. Here in hot Bangkok, we prefer the highlands and the refreshing coolness of the mountains.
The group of smaller children, ages 5-13, was truly excited as the day of departure was at hand. This was to be the first time in a tent for most of them.
I was well prepared as to what route to take, and so the drive to Mae Wong Park some 400 km from Bangkok went without trouble. Along the way there are always birds to look out, and the most outstanding ones during our drive were Bronze-winged Jacana, Black-naped Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Openbills and Red-wattled Lapwing. (More commonly seen are mynas, egrets and doves)
The little town of Klang Lan has a market area and here is the first time I ever saw House Sparrows outnumber Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Perhaps Thailand is destined to have a major takeover of this species in the future?
It was midday when we arrived, and so a dip in the cool waters of the rushing stream behind headquarters was a must. The very first bird was a splendid Black Baza perching in a tree no more then 30 meters away. Did not have any problems identifying this bird! The mandatory Grey Wagtail was present, as well as Olive-backed Sunbird, Black-crested Bulbul and Inornate Warbler.
I checked out the logbook, which held a very impressive record of what had been seen on a resent expedition by the park officials to a far away lying mountain peak called MoKoJu. Some discoveries of species new to Thailand had been made such as Rusty-capped Fulvettas, sub-species of Green-tailed Sunbird and a whole range of northern montane birds.
Our destination, Chong Yen, is situated 1340 meters above sea level and a very nice place. Basically it is possible to birdwatch right at campground the whole time there. Lack of traffic and development, as opposed to Doi Inthanon, made this more of a retreat, and the sense of 'being alone with God' was much stronger.
One word of caution though. Beware of a little devilish insect called 'Koon' in Thai. This mean character normally harasses larger mammals and implants its little poison. I guess I must have looked like a good target to these creatures since I ended getting stung (or bitten?) causing severe itchiness. To avoid this it would be recommended to keep a long-sleeved shirt on during the day. (I of course, always being hot, had to refresh myself with a cool shower after a long walk, and this is when I was attacked). Anti-histamin tablets may be good to bring.
The park rangers here are very friendly and bird oriented. They have been assigned to keep a record of Rufous-necked Hornbills. They said one male had passed by the day before but that this time of year the females are already in their nests, and so there would not be much chance of another sighting for a few days. Apparently the best time for this hornbill is October/November. They were right. We never saw the Rufous-necked Hornbill but had to settle for Great Hornbill.
Following morning we went for a walk. Kids true to their nature wanted to walk the full length to the waterfalls some 8.5-kilometer away. Finally, I convinced them that halfway would be fine and that proved wise, as it is downward one way and upward the other, the road being a dead end road. I had unsuccessfully searched for Common Rosefinches at Doi Inthanon last month but here they were in abundance. Such a nicely shaped and colored bird. Got some pics of it too. The walk started out with a flock of another life bird: Striated Yuhinnas. Easy as anything. In a red flowering tree five species of bulbuls were simultanously present. Red-whiskered, Black-headed, Black-crested, Flavescent and Black Bulbul. Also Fairy Bluebird and Streaked Spiderhunter. In the background a flock of Grey Treepies were moving about noisily. Maroon Orioles were seen and heard regularly. White-necked Laughingthrush crossed the road. Burmese Shrike in a tree.
After having turned around half way I let the children 'loose', and they set off for their race back to campground. Poor me, who now could stroll at my own pace and enjoy the birds as they came! A couple of bird waves were terrific - how about a midday group of Yellow-whiskered Tit, Striated Yuhinna, Silver-eared Mesia, White-browed Piculet etc? More birds inside here were Hill Blue Flycatcher, Mountain Bulbuls, White-throated Fantail, Grey-throated Babbler, Dark-necked Tailorbird and Jungle Fowl etc.
After a nice meal and the above-mentioned shower I decided to scout out the mountaintop behind rangers' quarters. A Chestnut-headed Bee-eater flew out of its burrow. Silver-eared Mesias kept scurring around. Black-throated Sunbird shimmered with blue head, maroon mantle and blue tail. A Blue-bearded Bee-eater perched in a tree. Orange-bellied Leafbird sang from a treetop. The way up is steep. Once up though I was rewarded with true tranquility and views worthy to be absorbed. A lone White-browed Shrike-Babbler kept singing away (can be heard most throughout the day and easy to find). A Great Barbet was within 10 meters sight. I went down and told the kids where I had been, and no sooner did I find myself going back up with little legs behind me.
This time a Large Cuckoo-Shrike, Black-headed Sibia, Slender-billed Orioles, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker and Golden-throated Barbet were the reward.
Later after having spent some time observing a pair of White-browed Scimitar-Babblers my attention was drawn to a pair of Coral-billed Scimitar-Babblers right next to the campground. Lifer number 3. While watching these babblers I could hear Rusty-naped Pitta call from behind the water tanks and abandoned the babblers for a look. This bird that normally only calls at dusk had come up from the steep gully below and was now singing away. How to get this bird in full view though I don't know. I didn't carry a tape, so in the end all I saw was a black streak moving down into the gully again.
I slept well that night having been challanged by the kids to a game of tug-of war before dinner. We were alone at campground, and a persistent Bay Owl could be heard for hours on. Other owls heard were Collared and Mountain Scops Owl.
Next morning a rare Striated Bulbul came through. Pin-tailed Pigeon flew by. Lifer number 4. A flock of Grey-chinned Minivets added color, all the while Verditer Flycatcher sang away. Lesser Yellownape was nesting in a dead tree by campground. Lots of warblers and Oriental White-eyes. Strangely enough many of them lack the grey belly they normally have, instead they are uniform yellow. Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes were there but not nearly as confiding as the ones at the summit of DI.
There were lots of sounds coming our way from deep down in the valley. Some distinguishable, some not. There were of course more birds seen. Like the friendly pair of Flavescent Bulbuls who took a likening to our van window. The pumping of the Olive-backed Pipit's tail and the little Speckled Piculet in the woods. The drongos with their many calls. The fast flying swallows and swifts in the air. The booming call of Mountain Imperial Pigeon. The ever sounding Blue-throated Barbet etc.
What stood out to me was the abundance of birds and the many good looks we had. A scoop would come in handy here as well.
On our way home we stopped for another dip in the waters below, and this time a Blue Magpie bade us farewell. Pied Stonechat kept perching in the tall grasses, while the call of Lineated Barbet kept ringing in our ears
Only two nights and many hours driving but still so refreshing, invigorating and fulfilling. Only my body took a toll, insect bitten and sore legs. Still a worthy price to pay.
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