28 JANUARY – 19 FEBRUARY 2017
By Andy Walker
This scheduled tour of central and northern Thailand commenced on the 28th of January 2017 in Bangkok and concluded back there on the 19th of February 2017. We spent 12 days in central Thailand before taking a short flight between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where we spent the remaining 10 days.
The tour visited some of Thailand’s most spectacular national parks, such as Kaeng Krachan, Khao Yai, Doi Inthanon (Thailand’s highest peak), Doi Chiang Dao, Mae Ping, and Doi Pha Hom Pok (Doi San Ju/Doi Lang) National Parks, as well as some very famous and important bird areas such as Chiang Saen Lake, the Mekong River, and Pak Thale and Laem Phak Bia – the latter two locations made famous for being among the best places in the world to see Spoon-billed Sandpiper. We also visited some impressive temples, soaked up some amazing scenery, and enjoyed some really tasty, world-famous Thai food.
The tour connected with numerous exciting birds. A total of 486 bird species were recorded, with some highlights including Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant, Kalij Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, Chinese Egret, Pied Harrier, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Greater Painted-snipe, Far Eastern Curlew, White-faced Plover (a very distinctive subspecies of Kentish Plover), Malaysian Plover, Asian Dowitcher, Small Pratincole, Pallas’s Gull, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Rusty-naped Pitta, Blue Pitta, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Giant Nuthatch, Limestone Wren-Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, (Northern) White-crowned Forktail, Black-backed Forktail, Siberian Rubythroat, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Dark-sided Thrush, Orange-headed Thrush, Black-breasted Thrush, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Chestnut Bunting, and Pin-tailed Parrotfinch.
There was plenty of other interesting wildlife to keep us on our toes, including Asian Elephant, Lar (white-handed) and Pileated Gibbons, numerous reptiles, and stunning butterflies. Complete lists are found at the end of this report for all species identified.
Thailand 2017: Tour Report
Day 1, 28th January 2017: Arrival in Bangkok
For those arriving in Thailand in the early morning we ventured out for a relaxed late-morning birding trip to a park near our hotel, where we started to acclimatize to the heat and humidity and to get the bird list going. For a first-time visitor to Thailand, or to Asia, this is a great location to start learning some of the country’s common bird species and families. We got our tour up and running with some really nice birds like Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Plaintive Cuckoo, Asian Koel, House Swift, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Coppersmith Barbet, Common Iora, Small Minivet, Black-naped Oriole, Malaysian Pied Fantail, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Taiga Flycatcher, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Olive-backed Sunbird, and Brown-throated Sunbird.
Day 2, 29th January 2017: Nong Pla Lai Rice Paddies
After a leisurely breakfast we headed away from Bangkok and into an area of rice paddies as we made our way toward our destination for the next few nights. The rice paddies are always an excellent birding location, and in a short space of time we found many of our targets for the area among many new ‘common’ birds, such as Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Grey-headed Lapwing, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Oriental Reed Warbler, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Asian Golden Weaver, Baya Weaver, Streaked Weaver, and Chestnut Munia. Egrets and herons were numerous and included a stunning adult-plumaged Javan Pond Heron (an unusual sight for the time of year).
After lunch we made our way to the delightful Baan Maka Chalet near Kaeng Krachan. Not far from here this year an impressive starling pre-roost flock had formed, and here we found the rare Spot-winged Starling among hundreds of Chestnut-tailed Starlings and a few Vinous-breasted Starlings.
Day 3, 30th January 2017: Baan Maka Area
We spent the majority of the day in the excellent hides near our accommodation. The hides offer a great opportunity to watch, admire, and learn about a variety of often-secretive forest species. Mornings and afternoons in the hides can be quite different, so we visited twice to maximize our chances of seeing something exciting! Often in the morning birds come to feed, and in the evening they come to bathe. Some of the highlights during the day included displaying Kalij Pheasant, Green-legged Partridge, Red Junglefowl, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Black-naped Monarch, Common Green Magpie, Racket-tailed Treepie, Black-crested Bulbul, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Large Scimitar Babbler, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, White-rumped Shama, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, and Siberian Blue Robin, including a stunning full-adult-plumaged male.
We jumped out of the hide early in the evening and headed to the starling pre-roost site, where we had an amazing 30 minutes, finding some rare and scarce Thai birds among Common Myna, Pied Myna, Great Myna, and Chestnut-tailed Starling. The real highlights here were Chestnut-cheeked Starling, Daurian (Purple-backed) Starling, Spot-winged Starling, and Rosy Starling.
Day 4, 31st January 2017: Kaeng Krachan National Park
We spent the whole day birding the lower elevations of Kaeng Krachan National Park. This area holds some very spectacular birds, many of them rather shy and secretive, though with patience some crackers can be found. The lower levels can slow down considerably during the middle of the day due to the heat, but even then a surprise or two can turn up while eating lunch! Our top birds during the day included Orange-breasted Trogon, Oriental Dollarbird, Black-capped Kingfisher, Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Greater Flameback, Black-thighed Falconet (including a bird snatching a lizard off a tree right in front of our eyes), Banded Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Scarlet Minivet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Oriental Paradise Flycatcher, Common Green Magpie, Sultan Tit, Golden-crested Myna, Common Hill Myna, Eyebrowed Thrush, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, and Crimson Sunbird. Unfortunately, Blue Pitta remained heard only, as it was just too far off the trails to get to.
Day 5, 1st February 2017: Kaeng Krachan National Park
We had another full day birding in Kaeng Krachan National Park, but this time we drove straight up to some of the middle and higher elevations, where a totally different set of birds was found. One of the contenders for bird of the trip was practically the first bird seen – the stunningly bizarre Long-tailed Broadbill, which was nest-building. In this area we also had a nest-building Mountain Imperial Pigeon and Black-and-buff Woodpecker excavating a nest hole. The tactic here was to walk/drive the roads at different points, and in doing so we came across many good birds like Grey Peacock-Pheasant, Bar-backed Partridge, Red-headed Trogon, Bamboo Woodpecker, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Common Emerald Dove, Wreathed Hornbill, White-throated Fantail, and Yellow-bellied Warbler. One of the highlights of the afternoon was a mixed flock containing Spot-necked Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Rufous-fronted Babbler, Golden Babbler, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Collared Babbler, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Black-throated Laughingthrush, and Ratchet-tailed Treepie. We also had great looks at a fruiting tree containing circa one hundred Asian Fairy-bluebirds, along with several species of barbets and more. This tree also contained dusky langur, banded langur, and black giant squirrel, which were great to observe, and an Asian Elephant was also enjoyed as we drove out of the park at dusk.
Day 6, 2nd February 2017: Kaeng Krachan area to Laem Phak Bia
After a few early starts we took a leisurely breakfast this morning before leaving the delightful Baan Maka behind and headed towards the coast. We made a couple of brief stops in some drier habitat during our morning drive, where we found several new species like Rufous Treepie, Lineated Barbet, and Purple Sunbird; surprise of the morning, however, was a nest-building Orangutan … on a venture out from a nearby primate rescue center!
We checked into our hotel, waited out the heat of the day for a couple of hours, and then headed out to some nearby saltpans for the late afternoon. We drove around and had some fantastic views of numerous species of shorebirds, many at very close range to allow an in-depth study of some similar species groups, such as Long-toed Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Red-necked Stint, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, and Marsh Sandpiper. However, the star birds kept us waiting, but just as the sun was getting low in the sky a huge flock of circa 8,000 Great Knots descended around us, and among these were circa 60 Nordmann’s Greenshanks, which showed nicely. A great end to the day!
Day 7, 3rd February 2017: Pak Thale and Laem Phak Bia
Our first stop of the day was at the saltpans at Pak Thale, and literally the third bird we set our eyes on was a Spoon-billed Sandpiper! Sometimes you can walk around in the baking heat for a couple of hours trying to locate the birds in this vast area of suitable ‘Spoonie’ feeding habitat, but today we were rather pleased that our luck was in. We spent quite a while enjoying this Critically Endangered (IUCN) bird and watching its unique feeding method with interest. Eventually the bird flew off, and so we decided to look around the rest of the area. In doing so we found a large flock of roosting Eurasian Curlew, among which there also were a couple of Far Eastern Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, and some Red-necked Phalarope. Several other species were present here, such as Great Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Grey Heron, Intermediate Egret, Common Tern, Little Tern, Caspian Tern, Brown-headed Gull, and Slender-billed Gull. A stop at a temple provided good views of Grey-headed Lapwing, Zitting Cisticola, Oriental Skylark and Plain-backed Sparrow. We took a quick drive back to our hotel for a siesta and lunch, after which we returned to some saltpans, where we saw some more of the same birds from the previous day, including several more Nordmann’s Greenshank. As the afternoon progressed we ventured into the King’s Royal Project area, where we found Common Snipe and Pintail Snipe to add to our growing shorebird list. Here we also found the mangrove specialist Golden-bellied Gerygone and some huge water monitors. As we were leaving the site a lone White-shouldered Starling appeared in a tree next to us, where it showed nicely.
Day 8, 4th February 2017: Pak Thale and Laem Phak Bia
We left our hotel to head towards Pak Thale for our final full day’s birding in the area. A quick roadside stop produced Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Wryneck, Pied Kingfisher, Indochinese Bush Lark, and hundreds of common shorebirds.
On arrival at Pak Thale this time the Spoon-billed Sandpipers were in a different pool due to water level changes, but we found four birds feeding along the edge of a large pond. The birds were more distant than the previous day, though, but you can’t grumble with seeing four individuals of one of the rarest shorebirds in the world!
We then ventured south along the coast, where we found a couple more Nordmann’s Greenshank and a large flock of Great Knot, along with several White-winged Terns. We then got some news that a couple of Asian Dowitchers had been found nearby, so, as that was the bird we were targeting for the morning, we twitched them, enjoying good views of a pair of birds.
After a brief rest during the heat of the middle of the day we headed out with Mr. Deang to the Laem Pak Bia sandspit. Here we found several great birds that are difficult to find elsewhere in the country/world, including Chinese Egret, ‘White-faced Plover’, Malaysian Plover, Pacific Reef Heron, Striated Heron, and Pallas’s Gull among the more common species. We also enjoyed good looks at Collared, Black-capped, and Common Kingfishers.
Day 9, 5th February 2017: Laem Phak Bia to Khao Yai National Park
We took a leisurely start this morning for what was essentially a travel day from the coast up to the Khao Yai area. Some morning birding at a lake near the coast produced an impressive number of Garganey (a couple of thousands), and, together with numerous Northern Pintail, Cotton Pygmy Goose and Lesser Whistling Duck. We also found many Black-headed Ibis, Painted Stork, and Asian Openbill. Black Bittern was a nice surprise, as was a Slaty-breasted Rail bathing out in the open. Whiskered Terns were starting to come into breeding plumage, and Caspian Tern were flocking. A couple of Western Ospreys and a Greater Spotted Eagle drifted overhead.
We got the majority of the drive done during the heat of the middle of the day, arriving at a temple near our destination in the mid afternoon. Here, in no time at all, we were enjoying very close views of a pair of Limestone Wren-Babbler. At Birding Ecotours we follow IOC taxonomy, but it is worth highlighting that BirdLife International (as of March 2017) recognizes the sub-species occurring here (calcicola) as a distinct species endemic to a very small area of Thailand (Saraburi Province), with a common name of ‘Rufous Limestone-Babbler’. We will wait to see if IOC will adopt this stance too.
After checking into our new hotel in the late afternoon we explored the grounds, where we had very nice views of several gorgeous Red-breasted Parakeets gathering before going to roost. We also saw several Coppersmith and Lineated Barbets.
Day 10, 6th February 2017: Khao Yai National Park
We spent the full day in this beautiful national park. We drove straight to a high area, where we walked a short loop trail. It was quite quiet except for a few Hill Blue Flycatchers, calling Martens’s Warbler, several Siberian Blue Robins, and then the star bird we’d been hoping for, Silver Pheasant. We watched as two pairs gracefully walked up the valley at fairly close range. It’s always nice to see a pheasant in the forest, and these are really beautiful birds. Happy with our views we descended the hill a short way, where we found a bit of activity with a raucous flock of White-crested Laughingthrush moving through. As we waited to see if they would show themselves we found a stunning male Red-headed Trogon and had a pair of huge Wreathed Hornbills flying overhead. We also had another male Silver Pheasant sitting on the roadside, busily foraging.
Further down we found some Common Hill Mynas and spent some time around a camp site, where we added a few new birds, such as Grey-backed Shrike, Little Spiderhunter, Radde’s Warbler, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, and more. We walked a forest trail a short way, but by this time the temperature was rising and the bird activity waning. We still picked up a few birds like Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Greater Flameback, Vernal Hanging Parrot, and Rosy, Swinhoe’s, and Scarlet Minivets.
After a bit of a break across the middle of what was turning out to be a scorcher of a day we visited another couple of forested trails; here we found Banded Broadbill at very close range, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Black-throated and White-crested Laughingthrushes, and Siberian Blue Robin. Another stop during the afternoon gave us great views (eventually) of Collared Owlet, which was sitting at the top of a huge tree right out in the open, where he was getting mobbed by several of the species mentioned above.
Day 11, 7th February 2017: Khao Yai National Park
We spent another full day within the national park, focusing on some areas and trails different from the day before. We pulled into an area where we heard four Blue Pittas calling; however, our luck was not in and we were unable to encourage one to hop into view, and there was no hope chasing after any of them into a very dry (and noisy underfoot) forest ̶ rather frustrating, but that’s pittas…
We had more luck in other areas, having excellent views of a large flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes. These are stunning birds and deserve to be seen well. We walked several trails and visited a couple of more open areas, where we found some more great birds like Ashy-headed Green Pigeon, Lesser Coucal, Orange-breasted Trogon, Banded Kingfisher, Wreathed Hornbill, Heart-spotted, Laced, and Streak-throated Woodpeckers, White-bellied Erpornis, Common Green Magpie, Ashy Bulbul, Arctic Warbler, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, and Blue Rock Thrush.
Day 12, 8th February 2017: Khao Yai National Park to Chiang Mai
This was essentially a travel day to get from Khao Yai in central Thailand to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. We had a couple of hours of early-morning birding in Khao Yai National Park, where we found the rare and very localized Austen’s Brown Hornbill and a stunning male Orange-headed Thrush. A few other interesting birds were noted, such as Red Junglefowl, Besra, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Orange-breasted and Red-headed Trogons, Wreathed Hornbill, and Red-breasted Parakeet.
We headed off the mountain and out of the national park for the final time, and after an uneventful drive and flight (the best kind!) we arrived at our hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s northern capital, for a restful evening of local food and drink.
Day 13, 9th February 2017: Chiang Mai to the Doi Inthanon area
We had a leisurely breakfast before driving to our next hotel at the foot of Doi Inthanon National Park, where we were to spend the next three nights. We spent the late morning birding around the area of our hotel, finding Blossom-headed Parakeet, Asian Barred Owlet, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Crested Honey Buzzard, Crested Goshawk, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Common Woodshrike, and Striated Swallow.
After a rather nice lunch we headed into the national park and up the mountain a little way. It was fairly quiet in the forest, likely due to being particularly dry. However, we managed to entice out some rather skulking target birds, including Slaty-bellied Tesia, Pygmy Wren-babbler, Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler, Spectacled Barwing, and Little Pied Flycatcher, as well as more common, but no less impressive species like Dark-backed Sibia, Silver-eared Laughingthrush, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, and Yunnan Fulvetta.
Day 14, 10th February 2017: Doi Inthanon National Park
We spent the majority of the day at higher elevations within Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand’s highest peak at 2,565 meters. It was the coldest morning of the trip, with the thermometer showing 6 oC on our arrival at sunrise. As is usual it took a while for the birds to get moving, but once the sun hit the tree tops it was just a matter of time! There is a rather convenient boardwalk around the bog at the top, a unique habitat in the country, and we found many of our key target species there during the day, including: Rufous-throated Partridge, Ashy Wood Pigeon, Golden-throated Barbet, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Yellow-browed Tit, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Buff-barred Warbler, Ashy-throated Warbler, Hill Prinia, Bar-throated Minla, Dark-sided, Grey-sided, and Eye-browed Thrushes, White-browed Shortwing, White-crowned Forktail, Blue Whistling Thrush (both resident and migrant subspecies), Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, Green-tailed Sunbird, and Common Rosefinch.
Some time at a slightly lower elevation over lunch produced Maroon Oriole, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Mountain Bulbul, Pygmy Wren-babbler, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Scaly Thrush, Lesser Shortwing, Siberian Blue Robin, and Black-throated Sunbird.
Day 15, 11th February 2017: Doi Inthanon National Park and Mae Ping National Park
We spent the morning birding in the lower and middle elevations of Do Inthanon National Park, where we found plenty of new/exciting birds, such as Black-backed Forktail, Plumbeous Water Redstart, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Long-tailed Broadbill, Burmese Shrike, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Clicking Shrike-babbler, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Mountain Tailorbird, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Rufous-backed Sibia, Spectacled Barwing, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Hume’s Treecreeper, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Large Niltava, Little Pied Flycatcher, and Streaked Spiderhunter.
After lunch we checked out of our hotel and drove a couple of hours south to an area of dry forest at Mae Ping National Park. Here we found three of our main targets quite quickly during the last hour or so of daylight, including Great Slaty Woodpecker, Black-headed Woodpecker, and Grey-headed Parakeet. The Black-headed Woodpecker is surely one of the best-looking woodpeckers in Asia, so it was great to be able to see it well. A few other species were noted, such as Large Cuckooshrike, White-crested Laughingthrush, Puff-throated Babbler, and Chinese Francolin.
Day 16, 12th February 2017: Mae Ping National Park to Chiang Dao rice paddies
We spent the morning birding back at the beautiful forest at Mae Ping National Park. Late afternoon and early morning are particularly special here, and today was no disappointment. Our first stop yielded some more of our main targets, with Burmese Nuthatch flying in overhead and displaying for us. We also had a flock of Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch join them. Great Barbets were around but being rather elusive, landing in sight briefly only to vanish again quickly thereafter. Several species recorded the previous day were again recorded, with the addition of Crested Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Shikra, Oriental Turtle Dove, Crested Treeswift, Greater Yellownape, Greater Flameback, Eurasian Jay, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Rufous Treepie, and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher.
The temperature beginning to increase was our signal to depart for our long drive north. We stopped a couple of times on the way, but no real birds of note were found. The scenery, however, was rather nice.
We arrived at the Chiang Dao rice paddies in the late afternoon and set about working this great area. No sooner had we turned into the first road that we were looking at a very good bird, Brown-cheeked Rail, feeding out in the open in a puddle. A nice surprise indeed! We followed this up with circa 40 Grey-headed Lapwings, Chinese Pond Heron, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Black-collared Starling, and White and Eastern Yellow Wagtails.
Day 17, 13th February 2017: Doi Chiang Dao and Chiang Dao rice paddies
The earliest start of the tour saw us leaving our hotel around 5 a.m. as we took the long and sometimes bumpy road to the top of Doi Chiang Dao. We reached the higher ground of pine forest at the perfect time, just as the sun was breaking, and it didn’t take long to get the blood rushing. In the space of 10 minutes our first five birds of the day (seen) were a male Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant, a male Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant, a displaying Giant Nuthatch, a feeding Giant Nuthatch, and a male Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant. To say we were happy would be a rather large under-estimation of our feelings! This was the perfect start to the day, the two main target birds up the mountain secured before 7 a.m., and we were ecstatic!
We drove to our breakfast stop on a small plateau where, as luck would have it, there was a fruiting tree. We spent the next couple of hours relaxing, having breakfast, and waiting for the birds come to us. The tree attracted numerous species, and several others were noted in the general vicinity. Some of the more interesting birds included Mountain Bamboo Partridge, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Lesser Coucal, Violet Cuckoo, Himalayan Swiftlet, Cook’s Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Slender-billed Oriole, Maroon Oriole, Oriental Paradise Flycatcher, Grey Treepie, Japanese Tit, Black Bulbul, Pale-footed Bush Warbler, Hill Prinia, Japanese White-eye, Blue Rock Thrush, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Common Rosefinch, Chestnut Bunting, and Slaty-backed Forktail.
We spent some time walking around the immediate area but couldn’t find any flocks, so we made the decision to get off the mountain to leave us time to explore some more areas of the rice paddies that we’d enjoyed the previous day.
Our efforts during the late afternoon in the rice paddies and some adjacent scrub produced some great birds, including a stunning male Pied Harrier hunting at close-range, while we were watching an equally stunning male Siberian Rubythroat (one of at least three seen in this one field). Other highlights were Lanceolated Warbler, Greater Painted-snipe, Pintail Snipe, Eastern Barn Owl (a near-fledgling that had fallen out of its nest in a tree away from the local dogs), Common Kingfisher, Long-tailed Shrike, and Wire-tailed Swallow.
Day 18, 14th February 2017: Doi Chiang Dao and Doi Ang Khang
We enjoyed a morning walk near the local temple at Chiang Dao, where the forest was full of birds. Some highlights included Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Bay Woodpecker, Great Iora, Striated Yuhina, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Red Junglefowl, Violet Cuckoo, House Swift, Blue-throated and Blue-eared Barbets, Asian Fairy-bluebird, and White-rumped Shama.
For our afternoon birding we drove up a steep mountain road to our new accommodation at Doi Ang Khang. Here we enjoyed several birds coming to the garden feeders, such as Streaked Wren-Babbler, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Black-breasted Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Blue-fronted Redstart, White-capped Redstart, Grey Bush Chat, and Common Rosefinch.
Late afternoon birding produced a huge number of Cook’s Swifts and Himalayan Swiftlets cruising around overhead, and a large flock of mixed Phylloscopus warblers provided plenty of entertainment, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler being the top pick.
Day 19, 15th February 2017: Doi Ang Khang
Pre-breakfast birding yielded a few good birds, with Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, White-browed Laughingthrush, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Black-headed Greenfinch, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Siberian Rubythroat, Buff-throated Warbler, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Blue-winged Minla, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, and Grey Treepie being some of the best.
Back at the hotel for breakfast we enjoyed the spectacle of a number of great birds visiting the feeders, similar to what we’d seen the previous afternoon, but it’s hard to get tired of such fantastic birds at close range. Favorites were Black-breasted Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, White-capped Redstart, and Olive-backed Pipit.
We spent the rest of the day visiting a couple of forest trails and some gardens, finding a few new birds and some better views of birds previously seen, such as Giant Nuthatch, White-tailed Robin, Streaked Wren-Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler, Japanese White-eye, and Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, but the views we got of feeding Spot-winged Grosbeak were the best, the bird feeding at eye level no more than 6 feet away from us! Views like that do not come around very often.
Day 20, 16th February 2017: Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park
This was our final day in the mountains, and we were hoping to end in style. Over recent years this area of Thailand has had a number of feeding areas started up by Thai photographers, which have attracted numerous species, often including some rather shy and skulking birds. Add this to some interesting forest at a range of elevations, and a good day can be had.
As we drove up the mountain we made a brief stop for Silver-breasted Broadbill, which also resulted in finding Little Cuckoo-Dove, Pin-tailed Parrotfinch, and Common Rosefinch. We spent the majority of the morning and some of the afternoon visiting the stake-out sites with our mealworms, which worked a treat. We managed to see some stunningly beautiful birds at very close range, and the flycatchers were particularly prevalent and included Ultramarine, Slaty-blue, White-gorgeted, Rufous-gorgeted, Little Pied, and Sapphire Flycatchers. Several other rather nice birds were also present, such as White-bellied Redstart, Siberian Rubythroat, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Silver-eared Laughingthrush, and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler.
As we drove around the mountain we picked up several other good species like Giant Nuthatch, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, White-browed Laughingthrush, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, and Spectacled Barwing.
The highlight of the day, and one of the whole trip, came at lunchtime. We were walking back along the road to our vehicle at 1 p.m., having just had brief views of Large Niltava and Crested Bunting along the Myanmar border, when out popped, of all things, a Rusty-naped Pitta! We couldn’t believe it! It went left to right across the road, then back again, pausing as they do, allowing close, scope-filling views for all.
As we drove off the mountain in the late afternoon we found some flowering bamboo with a busy feeding flock of a dozen Grey-headed Parrotbills which showed very well, while a Bamboo Woodpecker was busily feeding lower down. A great end to our final day in the mountains!
Day 21, 17th February 2017: Tha Ton rice paddies and Chiang Saen Lake
We spent the morning birding some rice paddies near our hotel, finding a wide-range of species we had not previously encountered, or bettered the view of some birds we had already seen. Some of the highlights included Pied Harrier, Common Kestrel, Eastern Buzzard, Slaty-breasted Rail, Greater Painted-snipe, Small Pratincole, Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian Wryneck, Grey-headed Lapwing, Racket-tailed Treepie, Horsfield’s Bush Lark, Oriental Skylark, Thick-billed Warbler, Grey-breasted Prinia, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Bluethroat, Jerdon’s Bush Chat, Citrine Wagtail, Red-throated Pipit, and Chestnut-eared Bunting.
After we’d driven northeast again, reaching the Laos and Myanmar borders, we spent some time around the Mekong River, finding several Grey-throated Martins. We then moved on to the large Chiang Saen Lake, where we found Lesser Whistling Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Ferruginous Duck, Grey-headed Swamphen, and Eurasian Coot.
We finished in the evening at the nearby harrier roost, where we enjoyed great views of several displaying Striated Grassbirds along with hundreds of Pied and Eastern Marsh Harriers coming in to roost. A nice surprise was the uncommon Western Marsh Harrier, a smart-looking adult male that also came in.
Day 22, 18th February 2017: Chiang Saen to Chiang Mai and Bangkok
This was essentially a travel day to get from Chiang Saen in the far north of Thailand back to Chiang Mai before flying back to Bangkok ahead of international departures the following day. We spent a couple of hours in the early morning in a nature reserve near our accommodation in the hope of seeing the rare Firethroat; however, the bird didn’t play ball in the short window of time we had to wait for it. We did find Racket-tailed Treepie, Baikal Bush Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat, and Red Avadavat, though. After another uneventful drive and flight, during which we spent quite a long time discussing the potential ‘birds of the trip’, we reached our hotel in Bangkok.
Day 23, 19th February 2017: Departure
The tour concluded with international departures from Bangkok.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.