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Thailand has a number of very good birding sites that have been well described in other reports. This report will describe three, northern sites that are not often mentioned in other reports. All three sites offer good birding, reasonable food and accommodation, and access by public transportation.
Lot Cave is 9 km from the town of Soppong (a.k.a. Pangmapah) which lies midway between Pai and Mae Hong Song, both of which are popular tourist destinations in northwest Thailand. The forests around Lot Cave offer good and easy birding. The cave itself is home to thousands of Pacific Swifts which emerge every morning and return at dusk. Exploring the cave and viewing the returning swifts are fairly popular tourist attractions. The immediate area around the cave is a mixture of forest, rice fields, and bamboo which contains a good number of common Thai birds.
The best birding area is the forest which lies along both sides of the road back to Soppong. This road is forested for the first 5 km from Tham Lot village and contains many side roads and trails. This area is excellent for woodpeckers. Recently one birder saw 11 species of woodpeckers here in only a few days. Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Picoides hyperythrus) is quite easy here and usually seen about 4-5 km (in the last kilometer of forest) from Tham Lot village along the road to Soppong.
Any Thai travel guidebook will have information on Soppong and Tham Lot. Basically you take a bus from Chiangmai's Arcade bus station to Pai and then on to Soppong. This takes 5-6 hours. From Soppong you take a motorcycle taxi the 9-10 km to Cave Lodge which has a dorm and bamboo huts available. This area has some malaria, and visitors should take reasonable precautions.
Many birders visit the Giant Nuthatch and Hume's Pheasant site on the south side of Doi Chiangdao, but few bird the northern side of this mountain which has many nice birds. The birds are similar to those found at similar elevations on Doi Suthep, Doi Inthanon, or Doi Angkhan. The main reasons to bird here rather than the better known sites are: it's easy public access, pleasant accommodation, quiet atmosphere, and beautiful scenery. The place to stay is Malee's Nature Lover's Bungalows (tel. 01-9618387) which costs 100 baht for the dorm or 300 baht for a nice bungalow. To reach Malee's take a bus going to Fang from Chiangmai's Chang Puak (white elephant) bus station and get off in the town of Chiangdao at the turn off to the Chiangdao Caves. If you're coming from Chiangmai this turn off is at the far end of Chiangdao. Most buses are quite good at getting tourists to the right turnoff. Just say your going to the Chiangdao Caves. From this turnoff (or anywhere else in Chiangdao) take a motorcycle taxi (20-30 baht) to Malee's which is 1-2 km beyond the Chiangdao Caves which are 5-6 km from the town of Chiangdao. Malee's has a bird log, and there are several nice roads and trails to explore. Malee can help arrange transportation to the pheasant and nuthatch site. Please note: All birders planning to visit the pheasant and nuthatch site should get a permit from the forestry office near Malee's. Recently birders without permits have been turned away at the checkpoint before the substation. Permits are free and easy to obtain. The pheasants are easiest to see in March or April when the grass has been burned.
Only 4-6 km south of Chiangmai, which is a major tourist destination, this site is a quick trip for Wire-tailed Swallows (Hirundo smithii). Plain-backed Sparrow (Passer flaveolus) and other birds which prefer open areas can also be found here.
To reach the site by public transportation from Chiangmai take a songtaow (small, red truck) or tuk-tuk to the Tonpayohm market which is located on Doi Suthep road (Don't say Doi Suthep to the tuk-tuk or songtaow driver or you'll end up on the mountain) near the south side of Chiangmai University. At the west end of the market a road runs south along an irrigation canal. A short distance from the market along this road is a songtaow stand for people going south. These songtaows don't run very often in the morning for some reason. Not many people (and few tourists) go to this school by songtaow, and it's always confusing trying to let the driver know where you're going. Take one of these songtaows south about 4-6 km along the canal until you see the Agricultural School Campus which is just across the canal. The school is huge and under construction so you shouldn't miss it. To return to Chiangmai, go back to this road and wave at any songtaows heading to Chiangmai. If you decide to walk or cycle along the canal from the market, the road (sometimes just a path) on the west side of the canal will have less traffic, but now and then you may have to return to the main road.
The Wire-tailed Swallows are found along the irrigation canal. They often sit on the wires that cross the canal (note: not many wires cross the canal -- usually only when roads cross the canal). The swallows don't seem to sit on the wires that run parallel with the canal. They have been seen from just south of the market to a few kilometers south of the school. With luck you'll find them without too much trouble. The main entrance road into the school has some small trees and grassy areas where Plain-backed Sparrow and other open country birds can often be found. The campus is large and has many small reservoirs which attract waterfowl. Also keep an eye out for raptors which often circle the area. One birder saw what he believes were White-breasted Wood Swallows (Artamus leucorhynchus) here. Some forest birds can be found in the western part of the campus which is at the base of Doi Suthep.
Both Lot Cave and Chiangdao are excellent sites for starting a Thai bird trip. Both locations are also a good compromise for groups that are traveling with non-birders. The agricultural school is very close to Chiangmai which has a full range of tourist facilities. Additional travel information on all three sites can be found in Lonely Planet's "Thailand" guide book.
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