Thursday, 30 January 2014

Partridges, Pygmies & Blossoms

After a full English breakfast we headed back to the summit of Doi Inthanon, making a stop on the way to successfully locate a pair of Speckled Woodpigeons. There were crowds of people here this morning to see the sunrise and photograph themselves next to patches of frost, and that is something of a major rarity here! Despite all of these people we found a group of 4 Rufous-throated Partridges feeding in the leaf litter behind the restaurant – and they were absolutely unconcerned by our presence. 

Rufous-throated Partridge

Buoyed by our success and the warmth of the sun we walked down to the boardwalk and kept our run of good fortune going as we found a Dark-sided Thrush feeding in a relatively open area below us, a very close male White-browed Shortwing and a male Snowy-browed Flycatcher.

Dark-sided Thrush

So we left here and went down to the checkpoint where yesterdays stake-out had swapped a Lesser Shortwing for a Pygmy Wren-babbler ( ! ) that appeared from underneath a car parked right next to the feeding station and quickly grabbed a mealworm before disappearing. A Pygmy Wren-babbler hopping along the tarmac – truly surreal and bizarre! A bunch of Grey-cheeked Fulvettas were also out in the open right in front of us and were joined by a single Grey-throated Babbler giving excellent views. This is another skulker that you can sometimes struggle to see. 

Grey-throted Babbler

A short walk along the trail failed to produce anything new so we went down to Mr Daeng’s for lunch and was very pleased to see another Dark-sided Thrush feeding right out in the open below us.

Following another tasty gastronomic delight we returned to the same trail and finally found a singing Small Niltava before returning to the minibus and dropping down to the base of the mountain. A short walk and some Chestnut-tailed Starlings and Little Green Bee-eaters later, and we were scoping several parties of Blossom-headed Parakeets perching in the treetops to round off another successful day.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Doi Inthanon

It took about an hour to reach the entrance gate to Doi Inthanon National Park and we headed straight to one of our favourite trails high up the mountain. As the sun began to peak over the surrounding forested ridges there were many birds singing and we quickly picked up Grey-chinned and Short-billed Minivets, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Bronzed Drongo, and a couple of superb Silver-eared Mesias. Walking along the trail our first stab at Slaty-bellied Tesia only resulted in a bird calling back at us from down the slope, but we made do with prolonged views of a Hume’s Treecreeper instead. Nearby a very obliging Pygmy Wren-babbler ( I do hate the new name of Pygmy Cupwing) was watched for around five minutes as it sang and called from some favourite perched right next to the path. Moving on, there was a much more co-operative pair of tesias, lots of Olive-backed Pipits, and out in an open area a Plain Flowerpecker flew in to check out the owlet call from my ipod, along with several Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers.

Dark-sided Thrush

We had lunch at Mr Daeng’s restaurant where you can eat some delicious food overlooking a little feeding station where there was a female Rufous-bellied Niltava, male Hill Blue Flycatcher, brief Dark-sided Thrush, Blue Whistling-thrush and a tiny Lesser Shortwing. Out in the gardens we called in a Banded Bay Cuckoo that flew around us before landing in various trees around the car park. Whilst watching this, a Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker was spotted feeding in some mistletoe right over our heads, a flock of Common Rosefinches feeding in a flowering tree were joined by some Oriental White-eyes, and a Grey-breasted Prinia showed well. Not a bad lot considering the soaring temperatures at this time of day – but it is good to see the cold snap may be ending….?

We spent the afternoon at the top of the mountain enjoying nice views of Bar-throated Minlas, Green-tailed Sunbird (here of the endemic blue-tailed race only found on this mountain), Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Dark-backed Sibias, and both Ashy-throated and Blyth’s Leaf-warblers. A walk around the boardwalk was also productive as we nailed a couple of Dark-sided Thrushes skulking in a damp area and it is always a good feeling to see a Zoothera thrush on a Zoothera tour right..?! An Eurasian Woodcock was also a nice sighting here as well but apart from that there wasn’t much else doing, so we went back up to the restaurant area. A fine Golden-throated Barbet gave point-blank views, but a nervous Rufous-throated Partridge was only seen by a few of the group. Still we finished with better views of Ashy-throated Leaf-warbler, extremely close minlas and our first Yellow-browed Tit.

Lesser Shortwing

So we drove back down the mountain and stopped to check out a feeding station beside the main road, where a male Large Niltava was stood sentinel over. As we approached it disappeared but was replaced by another female Rufous-bellied Niltava and an extraordinarily bold Lesser Shortwing that came out to feed on our mealworms repeatedly.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Doi Lang - Last Day

Our final morning on Doi Lang saw us watching a flock of over 30 Spot-winged Grosbeaks sunning themselves on the top of some tall trees at a lowland forest. They certainly are great birds and really rather scarce in Thailand. Whilst here we also had a group of Fire-capped Tits perched in a leafless tree, and they must have been forced down to this low level by the very cold conditions. There was also a Grey-faced Buzzard perched in the sunshine and a Plumbeous Water-redstart nearby as well. 

Record shots of Spot-winged Grosbeaks

So leaving here we drove higher in search of Giant Nuthatch and spent the next couple of hours walking along the road and at one point as we were watching some fine Rufous-backed Sibias feeding in a moss-covered tree, a pair of Himalayan Cutia appeared next to them. That really brought an adrenalin rush to proceedings and after a frantic few minutes everyone got on them and we could celebrate! Well that is definitely a scarce bird in Thailand and a great substitute for the nuthatch – or so we thought. But within a few minutes and a short walk later we had found a superb Giant Nuthatch calling from the top of a large, dead tree. Wow! 

Slaty-blue Flycatcher (female)

Scarlet-faced Liocichla

So with three great birds in the bag we drove up to the stake-outs and enjoyed one last view of species such as Himalayan Bluetail, Large Niltava, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Siberian Rubythroat, and other previously seen species. A flock also passed by with Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Golden Babbler and Yellow-bellied Fantail as well. But by now it was time to leave and we set out on the long drive back to Chiang Mai where we spent the night…..

Monday, 27 January 2014

Mekong River & Chiang Sain Lake

A very early departure saw us arrive on the banks of the Mekong River at around 7am and with the mist rising we stared in horror at the devastation that has been done, with a massive construction effort aimed at concreting the banks and removal of those pesky sandbars and islands so loved by birds! We did see Grey-throated Martin, a flock of Small Pratincoles flying over and a Peregrine. The fields had a flock of Scaly-breasted Munias, with a fine male Red Avadavat and a Racket-tailed Treepie as well. So we left here pronto and drove the short distance to Chiang Sain lake where we drove around the edge and found the long-staying pair of Long-tailed Ducks (what?!), a 2nd record for Thailand. There was also White-browed Crake, a flock of Lesser Whistling-ducks, our first Burmese Shrikes, and some others before returning to the HQ. As luck would have it a flock of Ferruginous Ducks flew in opposite us and unbelievably the drake Baer’s Pochard that had been reported a few days ago suddenly appeared amongst them. Wow! This is one of the rarest ducks in the world and is one of the rare occasions on one of my Thailand tours that the spoonie isn’t the rarest bird! Wow again!

Ruddy Shelducks

Long-tailed Ducks - the 2nd record for Thailand

Following lunch back up near the Golden Triangle we returned to the lake for a short boat ride, during which we had closer views of the Long-tailed Ducks, along with a bunch of commoner wildfowl including Pintail, Eurasian Wigeon, more Frudge Ducks, Garganey, Indian Spot-billed Ducks, and some Ruddy Shelducks. Leaving here we had a couple of Mallards, much to Mike’s delight, before heading to some marshes. The habitat here has been altered too but it still seemed ok and lots of Eastern Yellow Wagtails, a few Citrine Wagtails, Paddyfield Pipit, and an Eurasian Wryneck found it to their liking. We then spent the remainder of the late afternoon watching for a male Pied Harrier. Rather frustratingly  we only found females and immatures to begin with but at 5.45pm the first of four males flew to an area that they roost in and we had very good views. What a stunning bird. Also here was a Striated Grassbird singing from the top of a bush out in the marsh, and we had several brief views of at least 5 Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Doi Lang Still!

Another day in the wonderful mountain forests of Doi Lang began in freezing conditions as the freaky weather continues. But driving up we had a couple of Mountain Bamboo-partridges cross the road in front of us, 3 more Grey-winged Blackbirds and several other commoner species on the road as well. We have been doing very well so far but even I didn’t expect to find a flock containing Collared Babbler, Red-billed Scimitar-babbler and Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill. At a bridge overlooking the forest we found a sleeping Slow Loris which was something of a surprise, along with Little Pied Flycatcher, a flock of Long-tailed Broadbills, Golden-throated Barbet, Blue-winged Leafbird and Grey Treepie. A little further on we also saw an Eastern Buzzard and an Oriental Turtle Dove.  

Chestnut Thrush

At the checkpoint a fine Chestnut Thrush was feeding on some fruit put out for it, along with a dozen Dark-backed Sibias, whilst Striated Bulbul, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Davison’s Leaf-warbler and several Himalayan Bluetails were in the area. We walked down to the tesia stake-out but it failed to appear, although many of the same birds were present as yesterday, including a superb male Himalayan Bluetail and Scarlet-faced Liocichla

Grey-winged Blackbird

Himalayan Bluetail - much darker than other birds we have seen...

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher

Blue Whistling-thrush

A Crimson-breasted Woodpecker was found nearby before we returned to the minibus for our picnic lunch, during which we once again had a good comparison when a flock of Cook’s and Fork-tailed Swifts flew over. In the afternoon things were much slower but were enlivened by a displaying Mountain Hawk-eagle, and we even had a flyby from the usually secretive Bay Woodpecker.

We ended the day with nice views of a Slaty-backed Forktail along the river, on the way back to the hotel.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Doi Lang Magic Pt 2

Continuing from the previous post about our first day on Doi Lang..

As well as these stake-outs, which are surrounded by mature forest, there was a flock moving around here with Chestnut-crowned Warbler, lots of Pallas’s Warblers, and both Golden and Rufous-fronted Babblers. The Spot-breasted Parrotbill was also seen a couple of times as well. A short walk along the road in lovely warm sunshine turned up an immature Sapphire Flycatcher, as well as a pair of Blue-bearded Bee-eaters.

Leaving here we drove along the road quite some distance, and had a quick look around the army check-point where lots of Crested Finchbill and Spectacled Barwings were feeding in a flowering tree. There was also a male White-bellied Redstart skulking at the side of the road, a cracking male Rufous-bellied Niltava, and as we drove away a pair of Yellow-throated Martens ran across in front of us.

Stopping at an open grassy area for our picnic lunch turned out to be an inspirational decision as amazingly a flock of 20+ Black-headed Greenfinches flew around and landed below us. This is a bird I have wanted to see for such a long time and to finally get great views through the scope as they fed on seed heads was amazing. A Buff-throated Warbler was also called in here, a flock of Cook’s and Fork-tailed Swifts flew over, and these good birds, plus breath-taking views down into Myanmar made this a very memorable lunch stop. So leaving here we continued driving and found a Collared Owlet, a flock of Whiskered Yuhinas, and our first Rufous-backed Sibia. A short while later we came upon a few cars parked along the road with several Thai photographers looking excited about something – and that something turned out to be a female Blue-fronted Redstart, another rare bird here.

Golden Bush-Robin

Upon reaching the viewpoint where there are a few more feeding stations we had cripplingly close views of a Golden Bush Robin – approx. 5th for Thailand, and yet another Himalayan Bluetail.  Just 30 metres away was another stake-out where we saw Thailand’s 3rd ever (Northern) Red-flanked Bluetail. Wow! 

Red-flanked Bluetail

The surrounding bushes were flowering and an incredible number of Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds were feeding on them. Normally very shy, they don’t usually allow a close approach but I think due to the very cold weather they were too intent on feeding than worrying about us. We also managed to pick out a few Fire-tailed Sunbirds, and this is the only place to see the species in Thailand. 

Mrs Gould's Sunbird

We also found our first Chinese Leaf-warbler and Orange-bellied Leafbirds here as well. What a day!

The last stake-out of the day was just a 10 minute drive away and we saw:

Chestnut-headed Tesia,
2 Scarlet-faced Liocichla
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher
White-gorgeted Flycatcher
Male Himalayan Bluetail
2 Blue Whistling-thrushes
4 Silver-eared Laughingthrushes
2 Spectacled Barwings

What a collection of birds and once again, all at incredibly close range.

Chestnut-headed Tesia

Scarlet-faced Liocichla

Spectacled Barwing

 We birded from the road then and had a flock of Chestnut-flanked White-eyes, a superb Black-eared Shrike-babbler, a skulking Pygmy Wren-babbler, and our first Bianchi’s Warbler.

Driving down the mountain we had an Eye-browed Thrush feeding in the leaf litter beside the road, plus Puff-throated Babbler, White-rumped Shama, several more bluetails (and a grand total of 15 seen today) and another Large Niltava. This was certainly a day none of us will ever forget and I’m certain a very unique experience to see so many rare, scarce and localised species so well. This is why I love Thailand!