Monday, 26 February 2018

Thailand...again - 4

After leaving  Malee’s our next three nights in Thailand were spent at Mr Deang’s Birds Centre, situated in Doi Inthanon National Park.  At 2,565 metres above sea level, Doi Inthanon is the country’s highest point and quite an attraction for tourists.  Unfortunately, the mainly miserable weather that we had been experiencing so far on this trip continued and it was cold, foggy and damp throughout most of our stay on the mountain.  As a result, the birding was sometimes hard work.  After our experience with the rain and mud during our 2017 visit we had at least equipped ourselves properly this time and we were particularly pleased with ourselves for packing our wellies.

We made several visits to the 340-metre long boardwalk trail known as Angkha (or Ang Ka), located near the summit and enjoyed some reasonable birding in spite of the conditions and the many non-birding, sometimes noisy tourists who seemed largely oblivious to the presence of any birds.  Highlights here included Dark-sided Thrush, White-browed Shortwing, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Snowy-browed Flycatcher and a brief look at a Grey-sided Thrush.

Ang Ka boardwalk

Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker

Snowy-browed Flycatcher

Across the road from the trailhead, the small café attracted even more tourists but as well as enjoying a warming drink there we also had good views of Blue Whistling Thrush and Bar-throated Minlas among the sea of selfie sticks.

 Blue Whistling Thrush

Bar-throated Minla

In spite of the weekend traffic there was some good birding from the side of the main road up the mountain and when the dust and noise of the traffic became too much there were tracks off that provided some relief and some interesting birds.  Probably the best of these was the abandoned jeep track at kilometre 37.5 but it was badly overgrown and with numerous fallen trees to climb over it was a bit of an obstacle course.  It was badly in need of a work party with a couple of chain saws!

Climbing over fallen trees

Just a short drive up the road from Mr Deang’s, the ‘kilometre 34.5 track’ was another one of the recommended sites on the mountain.  After who knows how many days of rain it was horribly muddy but still we went there twice, the second time hoping it would be better than the first!  It wasn’t!  Birds seen included Asian Emerald Cuckoo and a female Vivid Niltava and we also flushed a couple of Mountain Bamboo Partridges off the track but the conditions were awful and the birds disappointing.

This is why we packed our wellies!

It’s fair to say that we didn't see Doi Inthanon at its best and we were all pleased when it came time to leave!  There was at least the expectation that we would be warmer and drier elsewhere.  In fact we did see some sun on the last morning there but under a clearer sky it was colder than ever.  On the way down the mountain we made two short but worthwhile stops that produced Slaty-backed Forktail, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Collared Falconet, Red-billed Blue Magpie and a couple of picturesque waterfalls.

Our group with Mr Deang

Our next destination was Seng Dao Resort Li from where we made two visits to the nearby Mae Ping National Park.  This area of mainly dry dipterocarp forest had been billed as a site where we might find some woodpeckers and we did indeed see Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Greater & Common Yellownapes, Common Flameback and several groups of striking Black-headed Woodpeckers.  In addition Blossom-headed & Grey-headed Parakeets, Common & Large Woodshrikes, Rosy Minivet, Black-naped & Black-hooded Orioles, Rufous Treepie and Violet Cuckoo were among the highlights.  We did a lot of walking but we got our reward.  Better weather and plenty of birds were just what we needed!

 Common Flameback

Black-naped Oriole

Violet Cuckoo

From Mae Ping it was a long drive to Nakhon Sawan, a journey punctuated by a diversion to the Bhumibol Dam on the Ping River to see Dusky Crag Martins.  It was a chance for some to catch up on their sleep, for others to simply look forward to another night in a comfortable bed – we were heading to MaiHom Resort, a hotel that we had stayed at last year.  In fact much of the rest of the trip was a repeat of last year’s itinerary.

                                                                    Bhumibol Dam

More to follow...

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Thailand...again - 3

We were not disappointed by Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows; it was a very pleasant place to stay and the beds were indeed comfortable as promised.  However, a 5.30 a.m. departure on our first morning meant that we didn’t get to linger long in them.  We were taken by 4x4 pick-up truck to a well-documented birding site, Den Ya Khat sub-station, where we spent the morning walking trails in the forest and looking for birds around the campsite.  The road up the hillside was steep and rough in places and a high clearance vehicle was a must.  The bird most enjoyed was a Collared Owlet.  Like the bird at Doi Lang it was very vocal but we did manage to find this one after a brief search.  Other highlights were Grey-headed Parrotbill and Slender-billed Oriole and there was a first proper look at a Mountain Imperial Pigeon, up to now seen only as a flyover.


 A Nature Lover at the door of her bungalow

 Collared Owlet

Mountain Imperial Pigeon

From Malee’s we were able to walk to the nearby temple, which was quite interesting in itself and also produced a few birds along the way, such as Pin-tailed Pigeon, Orange-breasted Trogon and Hill Blue Flycatcher.  There were 500 or so steps up to the temple so regular stops to look at birds were very welcome!  The same walk also gave the opportunity to photograph Brown Shrike and a couple of the common bulbul species.

 Words of wisdom at the temple

 Sooty-headed Bulbul

 Red-whiskered Bulbul

Brown Shrike

Another excursion from Malee’s was to some rice paddies south of Chiang Dao town where the ‘star’ species were Glossy Ibises and Eurasian Starlings!  Neither of these species that are common in Europe was to be expected in Northern Thailand but from our point of view it was a rather disappointing outcome to say the least.  There were also a great many Eastern Cattle Egrets but they too had a somewhat familiar look about them.

 Rice paddies near Chiang Dao

Eastern Cattle Egret

The best birding in this area was on Doi Ang Khang, a mountain that peaks at 1,928 metres and, we were told, offers some wonderful scenery.  Unfortunately, once again we were blighted by the weather.  During the journey the fog became thicker and thicker with light rain, and by the time we arrived visibility was just a few metres.  Our first stop was at a Chinese Cemetery, again apparently a well-known birding site.  Here in the fog and drizzle we saw Brown-breasted Bulbuls, a species with a very limited range in Thailand and White-browed Laughingthrush.

Conditions for birding around the Chinese Cemetery were less than ideal!

We quickly moved on to Ban Luang Resort where over breakfast we enjoyed great views of Eyebrowed & Black-breasted Thrushes, Oriental Magpie Robin, White-capped Redstart and some very obliging White-headed Bulbuls but the light was still very poor.  A wander around the grounds produced Streaked Spiderhunter, Mrs Gould’s & Black-throated Sunbirds and a female Daurian Redstart.  On a better day it would have been good to spend more time here.

 Eyebrowed Thrush

 Black-breasted Thrush

 White-headed Bulbul

 Oriental Magpie Robin

 White-capped Redstart

 Streaked Spiderhunter

Despite continuing poor weather, we managed to see some decent birds in and around a nearby army camp.  What we wouldn’t have given for some sunshine as we peered into the gloom looking at, or more often looking for, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Common Rosefinches, Mountain Bulbuls, more White-browed Laughingthrushes and a Pallas’s Warbler.  Even a poor view of the last of these was pleasing as our absence from the Algarve had recently resulted in us missing a Pallas’s Warbler at Fonte da Benémola.

 Mountain Bulbul

 Camping in the fog!

It was amusing (bemusing?) to see scores of Thai tourists arriving to Doi Ang Khang, many of them setting up tents with the intention of camping there on the mountain for the weekend.  Apparently, the cold and particularly the prospect of experiencing frost are the attractions for those who live in the heat of Bangkok.  It takes all sorts…

More to follow…

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…