Monday, February 26, 2007
Northern Thailand 14-18/2
This was to be my 3rd trip to Northern Thailand with Daniel Martin. This year the target birds were obviously fewer which made it all the more exciting.
We met up in the early morning at Chiang Mai airport. The airport is only a few minutes from the city center and our 4WD pick-up truck from Northwheels was waiting for us. After a little discussion we decided to head strait for Doi Angkhang some 170km North of CM. The reason being a good number of rare Turdus Thrushes had taken to the backside of the main restaurant inside the Royal Project at Bahn Khom, the main village at Doi Angkhang.
We took the more direct route via Fang as opposed to the more scenic route that has a turn off to the left shortly North of Chiang Dao. The 3liter engine worked very well and scaling up the steep mountain was a breeze.
Sure enough, the Thrushes were still there and Martin was able to tick off both Grey-sided as well as Black-breasted. Quite some treat! Also Eye-browed and Scaly Thrush were present.
These birds have been photographed extensively and though still shy are quite tolerant of all the commotion that goes on around the kitchen and workers tending to the Rose Garden right next to it. Of course the birds would fly off from time to time but always returning.
We had lunch at the restaurant and were entertained by a very nice wave of birds consisting of a pair of Black-throated Laughingthrushes, big flock of Japanese White-eyes, a few Blue-winged Minlas, White-tailed Warblers, a single White-browed Scimitar-Babbler and two female Slaty-backed Flycatchers. The later had taken their respective territory and we could enjoy them at length.
With the Thrushes in hand we continued on towards Nong Bong Kai lake at Chiang Saen near to the Golden Triangle. Baer’s Pochard being the main target bird.
There are accommodations available next to the lake and though they don’t offer food the caretaker brought us food from a restaurant a few kilometers away.
Thousands upon thousands of Lesser Whistling Duck were found in the lake as well as being mixed in with the floating vegetation. We found some Pintailed Ducks and Spot-billed but no diving ducks. It soon turned dark so we had to wait till the morning.
Lots and lots of wetland birds in this area. Striated Grass Warbler is a charm with a lovely song, big groups of Purple Swamp hen at close range with their nice colors.
The area is great for Racket-tailed Treepies in the adjoining woodlands. Kingfishers are readily seen as well.
We found some diving ducks primarily Ferruginous Poachard and Tufted Duck. A few Wigeons that I tried my best to somehow turn into Common Pochards but without success. I haven’t seen this bird yet as it is very rare in Thailand.
Most disturbingly we failed to see any Baer’s Pochards in spite getting help from a local ranger. Temperatures has risen of late and he speculated that the birds had moved on.
His name is Pop and is very friendly (doesn’t speak English) but can assist in locating birds if he has time. Ask for him at the office of the Non-hunting Area Centre.
The 4WD came in good use as we drove on bumpy graveled roads all over the area.
Still, there was a reward up ahead for us. A female Mandarin Duck was seen and photographed in a more marshy area. My first life bird for the trip!
Other good birds were a rare pair of Mallards, some Coots (yes, I know what you are thinking but this is tropical Thailand!) and a pair of Chestnut-headed Babblers.
Driving through the scenic landscape with a strong car was a blessing. Then, when going down a smaller hill suddenly the breaks gave in. I lost pressure in the breaks but they were still working somewhat. Had to slow down and keep going in search of a garage.
It took at least 50 km before we found one. As it was, a bearing had busted and according to the mechanic the whole wheel could have come off or at least exploded since all the brake fluids were gone, causing extreme heat.
It took them a couple of hours to have it taken care off and we were able to reclaim the expense later on. Felt so much better to drive with good brakes again.
It did shut down our afternoon plans of going up Doi Lang, instead we took to some rural areas looking in vain for Siberian Ruby Throat.
At Tah Torn we stayed at the very nice but inexpensive Garden Home resort, and treated ourselves to some good food.
Up early for the 45 minutes drive up Doi Lang. This time we didn’t need to look for Jerdon’s Bushchat as we saw that one last year.
The ridge on the top is at 2000m level with rather thick forest on both sides interspersed with grass and scrub. Many an exciting bird has been seen here and we were hoping for something rare to show up. Crested Finchbills were common this morning. A few Whiskered Yuhinnas a plus. More regular montane birds such as Spectacled Barwing, Rufous-backed and Dark-backed Sibias were around as was Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird.
Then a woodpecker came in full view. We both hoped for Crimson-breasted but alas it was a Stripe-breasted. A White-tailed Robin crossed the road, a Northern Goshawk came in for a quick perch. We kept driving the road back and forth till we decided to go on.
That is when the BIRD OF THE TRIP gave a brief performance. A bright male Golden Bush Robin was flushed from the roadside giving brief but clear views as it crossed the road to disappear into the vegetation! We were both delighted but also found ourselves wishing it would have lasted longer.
Doi Angkhang is not very far from Doi Lang. On the way to Angkhang we dropped into the office of Mae Fang National Park. I wanted to enquire if the regular Spot-winged Grosbeaks were showing. Found out that they had stopped coming in a couple of weeks earlier. A bonus was a juvenile Grey-faced Buzzard munching on a lizard some 30 meters away.
Mae Fang National Park has natural hot springs with massage facilities. Tents and cabins are available and a nice destination for some relaxation if need be. River Chat is usually in the stream. This is also where permission to go up Doi Pahompok is obtained.
We made it to Angkhang in the early afternoon. Decided to check out the Thrushes again.
Some workmen were there installing an exhaustion system to the kitchen making a lot of racket. Very noisy! We were told they were expecting a Royalty for dinner and had to install the system quickly. Also, the Minister of Environment was around. He apparently has an interest in birds as well. Looking good for birds in Thailand for the present with the present Prime Minister also being a birdwatcher!
Angkhang also frequently has rarities showing up. Bramblings were seen and photographed earlier on in the season and a flock of up to 20 Black-headed Greenfinches were supposed to be around as well. We bumped into Wings tours with Philip Round who told us he had just seen the Finches. Off we went but couldn’t find them at the spot given.
Up a hill right before the village of Nor Lae there is some kind of governmental radio station. The man in charge told us that he had seen the birds daily for a month now and insisted that they would come around if we just waited. That’s just what we did. Sure enough, a flock of 10 birds came to perch in a barren tree defying the strong winds sweeping the mountain. My 3rd life bird! Now 713 for Thailand and hoping for more!
Bahn Luang resort where we found out that the Minister was staying.
Still, we got rooms and ended the day with good looks at River Chat, Plembous Redstart, and a male Black-breasted Thrush in the little waterfall.
The owner of the resort, Mr. Tawatchai, enjoys bird watching and is a good host.
He told us that he had heard of a villager with 2 Hume’s Pheasants in his possession. He quickly tried to buy the birds from the man but the man said: ‘sorry, you are too late, we just ate one for dinner’…..
Next day we woke up to 4 degrees Celsius. A male Hume’s Pheasant had been showing at km 34 about a week earlier at 7:30 and we got to the spot by 7:15…….no birds showed! (I later found out that Wings had the birds the day following at 6:30)
Our biggest blooper for the trip!
We did some general birding at various spots and got to see quite a few things. Rufous-bellied and Large Niltava, Red-faced Liochicla, Eye-browed Laughingthrushes, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Mountain Bamboo Partridge and Slaty Blue Flycatcher were some of them.
Back to the Thrushes for a last view and lunch before we started our journey to Doi Inthanon.
Doi Inthanon Highland Resort is where most birders stay. The grounds are great for easy birding, the food is exceptional and not far to the park gate.
We visited the dry area at km 13 before dusk but as expected very quiet. A Collared Falconet being the most noteworthy.
Right at dusk a Spotted Owlet started calling and came to perch on a roof on resort grounds. I called for Martin who was showering. Once out the bird was gone.
Very good food again and some cold refreshing drinks.
We only had a few realistic target birds for DI and set out for the first one in the early morning. Speckled Wood Pigeons do come out to sun themselves a bit above the pagodas at higher ground. No sooner had we gotten out of the car when a flock of 20 birds showed. With that in hand we went on for Rufous-throated Partridges at the summit.
The birds often show at the ranger’s kitchen but hadn’t been seen for a while.
At 7:40 we had a pair feeding some 5 meters from us. Excellent views!
After that we relaxed and did some general birding at the summit. Common Rosefinches were up here as were the mandatory Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes, Blue Whistling Thrushes, Ashy-throated Warblers and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, not to speak of Green-tailed Sunbirds.
Then back at km 31 to look for Fire-capped Tit in the plum orchard. No birds here yet this season the owner told us. Instead a nice Yellow-eyed Babbler popped up from the roadside grasses.
Lunch at Mr. Daeng’s restaurant. A tame Siberian Blue Robin hopped around the restaurant. Down below in the leaf litter a single Dark-sided Thrush poked around for food. Lifer for Martin. Good views of Asian Stubtailed as it feed alongside the Thrush.
Jeep track after lunch gave us Vivid Niltava and a pair of Brown-throated Treecreepers but not much else to speak of.
Instead we settled for a visit to Mae Hia agricultural research station outside of Chiang Mai. We were trying to find the Rubythroat again but to no avail. Instead Martin got his Spotted Owlet as a pair were roaming about. Not an uncommon bird but one I don’t see very often.
The evening was spent at the Irish Pub located by the Anusarn food market. Great food at low cost and friendly atmosphere. It was a nice way of ending our time together. Martin ended up with 15 lifers and me with 3.