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…

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