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A Report from

Central and Northern Thailand 14-25th of January 2003,

Peter Ericsson

(3200 kilometers and 320 species visiting 10 sites in 12 days)

I recently had the privilege  of joining up with Michael Green, Frank Clayton and Mark Houston from the US on a birding trip to Central and  Northern Thailand.

When Michael approached me I told him: 'The Central region is like the front pockets of my pants and the North like my back pockets'. As it now is, the back pockets are starting to feel pretty comfortable as well!

Day 1: We started out with a one day trip to Khao Yai as Mark had missed his connecting flight and we were to pick him up the day following.

Khao Yai didn't let us down. We had birds pretty much throughout our day there. The day started with some Red-breasted Parakeets just outside the park and pretty much kept adding lifers for especially Michael who hadn't been to Thailand before.  By the day was done, Michael ended up with 54 lifebirds.

One little tip. The midday hours can be on the quiet side but I find the campsite at Pah Gluay Mai always to stay active. Lots of little birds keep buzzing around much to our delight. Some of the birds we saw around campground were: Chestnut-flanked White-eyes, Black-throated Sunbird, Verditer Flycatcher, Red-whiskered, Black-crested and Grey-eyed Bulbuls and Buff-bellied Flowerpecker.  Other birds we saw within the park were: Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Asian Paradise  Flycatcher, Orange-headed Thrush, Scaly-breasted Partridges, Slaty-backed and White-crowned Forktails, Pied Hornbills, several Barbets, Scarlet Minivets and much more.

Day 2. Went to Samut Sakorn and waders for the morning. With a little help from the always willing spirited Mr. Tee the search for the Spoonbilled Sandpiper soon was a success. As Mark said: 'What an awesome way of starting a trip!". Other good birds were Broadbilled Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint and a lonesome Sanderling. There were many, many other birds around and is a great stop over for wader enthusiasts.

Later on we continued to Kaengkrachan and birded the area around Headquarters after having done a few stops along the way. A handsome male White-throated Rock-Thrush was probably the best bird here.

Some other things: Greater Racket-tailed Drongo,  Vinous-breasted Starlings, White-throated Kingfisher, Large Wood Shrike, Red-wattled Lapwing and Sooty-headed Bulbuls.

Day 3. We spent all day in the park and found the lower levels to be the most productive this time. Had some splendid moments watching a party of 3 Great Slay Woodpeckers working on the same tree. At the same time a Stripe-breasted Woodpecker calmly remained still on the same trunk. The Great Slaty is a fantastic WP, the largest one in the Old World . When you hear it, simply follow the loud call.

I also had my first Stripe-throated Woodpecker near to BahnKrahng campground. The Laced, Stripe-breasted and Stripe-throated are all very similar and close looks are required to tell the difference.

My second life bird at KK, was a Chinese Flycatcher which is a split from Bluethroat FC. This individual took us a long time to ID as we couldn't understand where the brown on the birds wings/flanks came from. The narrow orange throat strip was a good indication of what we were watching.

I have often wondered why I don't see any Forktails in the stream from km 15-18. Seems to be perfect conditions for these species. This time, much to my joy, a Chestnut-backed Forktail had taken to the stream between km 15-16 and we had long looks at this beautiful bird. No need to go far South for this bird any more.

Other highlights were: A White-browed Piculet in bamboo stands undisturbedly pecking away while we were watching from only 3 meters away. Go down towards the Ton Tip waterfall from the carpark at the end of the road. After about 100 meters there are some bamboo where it likes to hang around. This area is also good for the Red-throated Barbet and Greater Green Leaf-bird which are other more Southern species.

A Great Hornbill feeding in a fruiting tree along with Barbets.

Great Barbet was easy and plenteous at the top. Bar-backed Partridges gave reasonable views. Orange-breasted Trogon came in real close. Sultans Tits put on intriguing displays on several an occasion. Greater and Lesser Laughing thrushes moved in the understorey.

Pairs of Crested Jays entertained inside the lowland forest. Emerald Cuckoo shimmered in the sunlight. Big flocks of Asian Fairy Bluebirds put on color displays along with Minivets and Black-naped Orioles. Greater Flameback was regular etc etc. A great park.

Day 4.  Kaengkrachan and some areas around Bangkok.

Day 5. Took off for Beung Borapet at Nakorn Sawan 3 hours North of Bangkok for a change of scenery. We entered the lake from the North. Here are boats waiting to be rented. (400Baht/hour) We asked the helmsman to take us to the Southern side where the Forestry Department have two watchtoweres erected. The lake was teeming with bird life. We first drove around some floating vegetation flushing many a bird. I was very pleased to see so many Striated Grass Warblers, Purple Herons and Purple Swamphens . Other things seen: Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Thick-billed and Great Reed Warbler, big flocks of White-shouldered and Chestnut-tailed Starlings, Yellow and Black Bittern, 3 Asian Golden Weavers, Lesser Whistling Tree Ducks etc etc.

We arrived at Mae Wong National Park after 2 hours drive, in time for afternoon birding. Many campers fleeing the city, as it was Saturday night, but as usual good birding. Had another lifer here: White-throated Bulbul. Here in Thailand  this Bulbul is only to be found  in a smaller area of the western mountains. Other great birds  were: Eye-browed Thrushes perched, Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babbler, Long-tailed (uncommon here) and Dark-backed Sibias, Black and Mountain Bulbul, Streaked Wren Babbler, Silver-eared Mesias, Red-headed Trogon, plenty of Maroon Orioles, Mountain and Black Bulbul, Speckled Piculet, Golden-throated Barbet, many phylloscopus Warblers and White-necked Laughingthruses.

Day 6. Continued birding at Mae Wong and headed for Doi Inthanon. Found a decent hotel right opposite the turn off to the park in the little town of Jom Thong.

Day 7. Went strait for the Summit. Had to wait until around 7 am for the first birds to appear. We eventually caught up with most of the regular birds that appear here: Pygmy Wren Babbler, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Slaty-backed FC, Orange-flanked Bush Robin, Mrs, Gould's and Green-tailed Sunbird, Rufous-throated Partridges, Ashy Wood Pigeons, White-browed Shortwing, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes,Rufous-winged Fulvettas, various Warblers and more.

The road side around km 37 produced some stunning views of a singing Spectacled Barwing at close range. Several flocks of Grey-chinned Fulvettas and Silver-eared Mesias were also seen.

Otherwise I think the best bird and my 3rd Parrotbill was a pair of Black-throated PB's just a little in from the dirt road at km 34. Just around the bend are a few stands of bamboo and this little bird seem to enjoy it here.

Also entering into the forest through the tiny trail at the bend produced our only Tesia for the trip, Slaty-bellied. It was fun to watch it run up and down the stem of a low bush in typical manner.

Day 8. Did the lower elvations that  were a bit on the slow side but didn't matter that much as the team had plans for Mae Ping later on in the trip. Tried hard for Redstarts at Vachiratan waterfall and ended up seeing Plembeous Redstart at the top of the fall.

However, we did find a fruiting tree near to the lower car park and amongst the many Bulbul species there were several White-headed Bulbuls.

On our drive to Chiang Mai, a female Hen Harrier came crossing the road right in front of us. Her bright white rump gave her away.

We stayed at Prince hotel but decided to go and look for the Green Peafowl before supper.  The area some 24 km outside CM on the way to Chiang Rai is not as degraded as I had pictured from other reports. The birds were walking freely on the grounds in between trees as we arrived. As we approached they took to the trees not showing any signs of being tame and gradually started flying across the lake to their roosting grounds. Males left together followed by females. A splendid sight to see these enormous birds flying free.

Day 9. Drove strait to Doi Angkhang. This lovely place is probably my favorite birding site with a gracious blend of pine, grass and broad-leaved forest. We had some of the specialty birds here: Red-faced Liochicla in small groups roaming through the lower brushes giving long views. Likewise, Eye-browed Laughingthrushes moved about in the same manner. The gorgeous Spot-breasted Parrotbill gave sight on a few occasions.

We stayed at a new built resort in the village of Bahn Luang a few kilometers back from the main village. Angkhang Villa resort branch 3 I believe it was called. Right next to the bungalows was a serene little waterfall. A pair of River Chats and another pair of Plumbeous Redstarts kept us mesmerized while feeding along the fall. According to the owner the River Chats (White-capped Redstarts) had been in the fall ever since he started building the resort in March last year, indicating that this species is resident on the mountain.

Other birds differently from  DI were: Bay WP, White-tailed Robin, Great Tit, White-browed Shrike Babbler, Buff-throated Warbler (easy), Grey Bushchat, Blue-winged Minla, Mountain Bamboo Partridge, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, Common Buzzard, Grey Treepie plus many  more already seen elsewhere.

Day 10. Went to Ta Ton for the evening. Searched the fields and stubble. Found things such as Chestnut-capped Babbler, Yellow-breasted Buntings, Pied Harriers, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Common and Pintailed Snipes, Common Rosefinch, Pied Bushchat, Plain-backed Sparrow etc.

Day 11. Spent the day at Chiang Saan lake. Lots of birds along the lake side. Picked up our first Citrine Wagtail, 3 Grey-headed Lapwings, lots of Purple Swamphen, Dusky Warblers, Reed Warblers amongst other things.

We went for a visit to the smaller wetlands one kilometer before the turn off to the lake. Just before a gas station there is a graveled road to the right. 300 meters in are the wetlands. Several hundred Lesser Whistling Tree Ducks were gathered. A single Spot-billed Duck stood out in the crowed. The Ducks all took to the skies and flew in circles like swarms of bees. Then suddenly we  were all 'jerked alive' by the intense swooshing sound of a diving Peregrine Falcon who moved in on the ducks and managed to snatch one in mid air. The Duck kept struggling and managed to free itself from its predator but fell with a 'plump' into the grassy areas. Wildlife in action!

We wanted to find Baer's Pochard but the ranger who is monitoring the waterfowl didn't have time to take us to the other side of the lake. We had to drive around and after quite some time on smaller dirt roads found ourselves by an orange orchard. We parked here and went down to the lake side. Here , in the south-west side of the lake were two closely knitted rafts to be found. After some scoping it revealed no less then 30 Baer's Pochards, 40 Tufted Ducks, 40 Ferrugionus Pochards, 3 Spot-billed Ducks, 2 Eurasian Wigeons and many Northern Pintails.   Certainly this was exciting for not only me who haven't seen many Ducks before but for the rest of the team who all wanted Baer's Pochard badly. (They had all tried hard to find it in both Korea and Russia on earlier trips).

In the evening we were forced to stay over night at a nice but cheap hotel at the town of Mae Chan half an hour from the lake. We had to service the van.  Meanwhile Frank took up the torch searching the agricultural fields next to town. He came up with nothing less then a rare Waterrail. 

Day 12.  The second record of a Black Redstart has been recorded from Mae Joe university some 10 kilometers outside of CM. The teacher who monitors the bird was not available and after some persistent inquiring we eventually were taken by a couple of office workers to a building outside the campus itself. Here we found the Redstart happily blending in with local birds such as Coppersmith Barbets, Sooty headed Bulbuls etc. That was a very nice bird to end my 12 days with. 18 lifers for me and an incomparable birding experience.

I said bye to the team who had another 4 days to go and drove all the way back home to Bangkok.

Peter Ericsson

PS. They visited Mae Ping, DI and Doi Chiang Dao in those four days and added such goodies such as Black-headed WP, Rufous-winged Buzzard, Collared Falconet, Giant Nuthatch and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler.


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