Friday, 16 February 2018

Thailand...again - 2

The second full day of our trip to Thailand started just as the previous day had finished – with rain.  From Viang Yanok Resort we visited the nearby private Nam Kham Nature Reserve, which protects one of the last remaining areas of riverine habitat in the area. Star birds here included a male Jerdon’s Bushchat, a species which, we were told, is becoming increasingly difficult to see due to habitat loss. The first male Siberian Rubythroat of the trip was also seen and there was a bonus in the form of a Brown-cheeked Rail, a fairly recent split from Water Rail.  It was also good to see Citrine Wagtail, a species that neither of us has seen very often.

Jerdon’s Bushchat

Later we headed along the banks of the Mekong River, where water levels were very high, stopping briefly at the Golden Triangle, the point where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos come together.  Known locally as Sop Ruak, this is where the Mekong meets the Ruak River and was once the centre of one of Asia's main opium-producing areas.  We then headed to Fang, our base for the next three nights.

 June at the Golden Triangle

 Buddha statue at the Golden Triangle

Enjoying a drink beside the Mekong River

The border town of Mai Sai showing the country's favourite form of transport

After checking into Wiang Kaew Resort, mid-afternoon we headed out to some nearby rice paddies, where despite light rain and plenty of mud, we eventually found both of our target species, Horsfield’s Bushlark and Chestnut-eared Bunting.  It was interesting to see and differentiate between Common and Pin-tailed Snipes but unfortunate that only one of us saw a Barred Buttonquail that was flushed but quickly disappeared into the rice stubble.

The following day was also cloudy and damp as we headed up the western slope of Doi Lang but it did eventually manage to brighten up a bit later.  There was a brief view of a Mrs Hume’s Pheasant on the way and a decent selection of species once we were out of our vehicle and walking the road, among them Giant Nuthatch, Wedge-tailed Pigeon and Crested Finchbill.  Doi Lang is a favourite venue for Thai bird photographers and there are a number of ‘stakeouts’ where they routinely deploy mealworms to entice species such as Siberian Rubythroat, White-bellied Redstart, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Rufous-gorgeted & Ultramarine Flycatchers and Silver-eared Laughingthrush.  At one point there was a line of pop-up hides projecting half across the road!  At the army checkpoint near the top of the mountain, only a stone’s throw from the border with Myanmar, we watched numerous Dark-backed Sibias and several stunning male Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds in a flowering tree.

 Roadside birding on Doi Lang

 Roadside lunch on Doi Lang

 Siberian Rubythroat

 Silver-eared Laughingthrush

 Rufous-bellied Niltava

 Ultramarine Flycatcher

 Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher

Mrs Gould's Sunbird

There was a second trip up Doi Lang the next morning and at last there was some real sunshine!  This time there were much longer views on the way of Mrs Hume’s Pheasant, a male and two females.  We drove as far as the army checkpoint and then walked along the road.  A Collared Owlet was very vocal and quite close but unfortunately remained unseen but a Spot-breasted Parrotbill, regarded by Neil as one of the star birds of the whole trip, was much more obliging.

Spot-breasted Parrotbill

After a brief break at the resort, mid-afternoon we headed to the rice paddies at That Ton.  A short walk here produced a few Chestnut-eared Buntings and a quail that was flushed twice but remained unidentified – it was probably Japanese Quail but could possibly have been a Rain Quail.  We were delighted to see a group of Small Pratincoles flying over the nearby Khok River, a new charadriiform for both of us!  They landed some way off but we had decent scope views. 

Hot springs at Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park

Before breakfast the following morning we headed to nearby Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park, where once the thick fog had cleared, we quickly found our main target, a small flock of Spot-winged Grosbeaks, which apparently feed on minerals deposited on trees by the hot springs.  After breakfast we headed to Chiang Dao, where Malee Nature Lovers Bungalow our base for the next four nights, held the promise of soft, comfortable beds that would be a welcome relief after the hard beds of the previous three nights!

More to follow…

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Thailand...again - 1

Our first visit to Thailand in January last year (see blogs here, here and here) was memorable in many ways, not least for the fact that we saw Spoon-billed Sandpiper for the first time.  However, the dreadful weather experienced during the first few days of the trip has also stayed long in the mind.  With January supposedly being in the ‘dry season’ we had been told not to expect rain but in the event a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal resulted in a continuous downpour (and consequent mud) that detracted greatly from our wader experience at Laem Pak Bia and Pak Thale.  We weren’t prepared for it and we were ill-equipped.

In spite of that it was a great trip and it wasn’t long after returning home that we decided we must go again to Thailand.  And so it was that a plan came together for another visit in January this year.  Again we went with friends, Chris & Graham Weston and our guide in Thailand was Neil Lawton.

When deciding the itinerary, a return to Pak Thale was essential in order to enjoy all those waders in better weather conditions but otherwise we set out to see different parts of the country from those we had been to in 2017. We also decided that two weeks wouldn’t be long enough this time and we arranged for 19 nights actually in Thailand.  We planned to start in the north of the country and then to work our way south by road, finishing with a couple of days around the Gulf of Thailand and another visit to the saltpans of Pak Thale...

We flew from Birmingham to Dubai and then from Dubai to Bangkok, both flights on the very comfortable Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger airliner. We had time for a snack in Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and got off to a great start there when we looked out of a window to see a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler on the grass below!  From Bangkok we took an internal flight to Chiang Rai where we were met by Neil, his wife, Pennapa and driver, Choom.

We spent our first two nights at the Viang Yanok Resort, only about an hour’s drive from Chiang Rai and located on the shores of Chiang Saen Lake.  We arrived late and very tired but we were up 5.30 a.m. the following morning for some local birding, the highlight of which was a boat trip on the lake.  This produced quite a number of familiar species such as Little Grebe, Grey & Purple Herons, Great Egret, Garganey and Ferruginous Duck but also Grey-headed Swamphen, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Indian Spot-billed Ducks, Chinese Pond Heron and Asian Openbill.

 Viang Yanok Resort

 Chiang Saen Lake

On the boat

 Grey-headed Swamphen

 Purple Heron

 Indian Spot-billed Ducks

Lesser Whistling Ducks

After lunch we headed to the nearby harrier roost at Wiam Nom Long, just in time for heavy rain to begin…talk about déjà vu!  Surely we weren’t in for a repeat of last year’s unseasonal weather.  We managed to find some shelter from the rain and soon found a male Western Marsh Harrier, a scarce winter visitor to Thailand, quartering the marsh. As the afternoon passed and the rain continued to fall, lots of harriers began to arrive at the roost including many fine male Pied Harriers.

We arrived back at the resort in a familiar damp and soggy state.  Several different weather forecasts were consulted.  We tried to remain optimistic but it seemed fairly clear that we were once again going to experience a rather wet ‘dry season’!

More to follow…