Friday, 30 January 2015

Big Nuthatches and Parrotbills at Doi Lang

A rather quiet day by Doi Lang standards started with a calling Giant Nuthatch beside the road, with a pair of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babblers, 3 Olive-backed Pipits and a brief Chestnut Bunting nearby. The top forest held a large flock that we just caught the tail-end of with several Grey-headed Parrotbills, Short-billed Minivet, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Rufous-backed Sibia and others.

Way too far for a photo - but it's a Giant Nuthatch

 Along the road a flock of Grey-cheeked Fulvettas held both Golden and Rufous-fronted Babblers. The Spot-breasted Parrotbill was also in attendance, along with Himalayan Bluetail, Siberian Rubythroat, and a few Silver-eared Laughingthrushes.

Silver-Eared Laughingthrush is common here

Another White-gorgeted Flycatcher...

Driving down the mountain a pair of Giant Nuthatches looked fantastic in the scope and we came across another flock of Grey-headed Parrotbills, and a group of Black-throated Bushtits. Just a shame a Speckled Piculet flew off before everybody saw it. And then it was a long drive to the Inthanon Highland Resort where we will be staying for the next 3 nights.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Another 1st for Thailand..!!!!

Today we headed to the Golden Triangle area and after a 5am departure we reached a small reserve near Chiang Saen Lake shortly after sunrise at 7am. We had taken something of a gamble coming here but were quickly rewarded with views of a Brown-cheeked Rail (also known as Eastern Water Rail) – a split from the more familiar species seen in Europe. It was working its way along a narrow channel at the back of a muddy area and often obscured by tall grasses but with persistence we had decent views, although not as good as a much closer bird later today! At the same marshy spot we also had a pair of Ruddy-breasted Crakes feeding out in the open and showing rather well. Moving on we followed a path along a channel filled with water and as we crossed a clearing a bird flew across that set alarm bells ringing. In the brief glimpse I had I thought it looked like the Firethroat that had first been seen at the end of December. However, knowing that it was extremely elusive and some birders had spent days looking for it, I though “what are the chances…” But when your luck is in – it is well and truly in, as shortly after it began singing! And after half an hour or so  of waiting patiently, the bird began to reveal itself and we had brief glimpses in the dense tangle along the water’s edge. But it never came right out into the open, which was a bit frustrating.

Just then Nick came running as he had just seen a Jerdon’s Bushchat literally around the corner so after a frantic couple of minutes the bird was in the bag and the scope views were superb! A great bird and not that easy to get here. So we were about to leave and head to pastures new when Nick and I changed our minds and went to check out a small hide that the Firethroat had occasionally been seen from.  I was kind of dumbstruck when it literally hopped out right in front of us! Panic set in and the group was quickly scrunched into the tiny photo blind (it was too small to be a hide!) and we waited, and waited. Nothing happened for 20 minutes but all of a sudden it appeared and stayed about 3 metres out in the open right in front of us for at least a minute before melting back into the dense grasses. Unbelievable! 


And with smiles all round we left and headed to Chiang Saen Lake, where we saw hundreds of Lesser Whistling Ducks, female Pied Harrier, a Burmese Shrike, Oriental Reed Warbler and a brief Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler amongst others. By now it was late morning so headed to the Golden Triangle for lunch at a restaurant but along the way noticed that there was still some habitat left on the Mekong River so took a detour. Just as well as the water level was low and there was quite a lot of exposed sand and gravel banks with 70+ Small Pratincoles present – what a bonus!

After lunch we returned to the lake and took a boat out to the far side but apart from some commoner waterfowl there was only Ferruginous Duck and Indian Spot-billed Ducks of note, plus another Eastern Marsh Harrier and some Purple Herons

Purple and Grey Herons

Purple Heron

So we returned to the Mekong River and this time found a pair of River Lapwings, as well as getting much better views of Grey-throated Martins, plus a male and few female Red Avadavats.

The final stop of the day was at the harrier roost where 50+ Pied Harriers flew in with plenty more Eastern Marsh Harriers, and boy what a bird. We watched the Pied Harriers flying over the marsh in front of us, as well as scoping some as they landed in an open area. Amazing! There was also a Striated Grassbird, Racket-tailed Treepie, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Black-browed Reed Warbler and another brief Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. What a day!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Doi Lang again

Today we visited the Thaton side of Doi Lang, and as access has been restricted to 4-wheel drive vehicles only with minibuses not allowed we headed up in a local songthaew bus.  Our first stop produced a White-throated Fantail, Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Collared Owlet, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, and a flyby Eye-browed Thrush, with a Red Junglefowl being seen on the road as well. Further up we had Grey-faced Buzzard and Oriental Turtle-Dove.

Then we spent some time up at the top where we spent some time taking photos of Dark-backed Sibias, Chestnut-crowned Warbler and eventually a group of confiding Scarlet-faced Liocichlas. There was also a calling Spotted Elachura that failed to appear, Rufous-gorgeted and White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Davison’s Warbler, Golden Babbler, Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Black-eared Shrike-Babbler.

Scarelt-faced Liocichla showed very well today.

Lunch was taken at the scenic viewpoint where it was very hot and birdless, although an Eastern Buzzard was nice and 5 Himalayan Griffons flying over were a write-in for the tour. So we returned to the barrier area and had further intimate liocihla views, as well as close Large Niltava, both races of Blue Whistling-Thrush, Silver-eared Laughingthrush, and spectacular views of a Chestnut-headed Tesia dancing along a branch on the slope below us.

Himalayan Griffons were a write-in...

By mid-afternoon we decided to head downhill and birded some lower elevation areas but it was still too hot although there were a few Chestnut-flanked White-eyes and a Two-barred Warbler.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Doi Lang

Began the day at a lowland site where we found White-capped and Plumbeous Water-Redstarts, Slaty-backed Forktail and Striated Heron along a narrow stream, as well as a tree full of Pin-tailed Green-pigeons with a few Thick-billed Green-pigeons and Great Barbet mixed in as well. We also saw Golden-fronted Leafbird, Black-capped Kingfisher, Blue Rock Thrush and Asian Barred Owlet here as well. The main prize was a flock of Spot-winged Grosbeaks perched at the top of some tall trees and were quite active. There was also numerous Asian Fairy Bluebirds feeding in some fruiting trees with lots of Coppersmith Barbets, Thick-billed Flowerpecker and a Blue-throated Barbet. The distinctive local race of Eurasian Jay with a white face and Short-billed Minivet was also much appreciated.

Heading up into the beautiful forest of Doi Lang we had a great start with a male Ultramarine Flycatcher and a pair of Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrushes at a feeding station. Further on we quickly nailed a pair of Giant Nuthatches feeding close to the road, as well as a fine male Little Pied Flycatcher, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch.

Higher up in a shady area of tall forest we visited a number of feeding stations set up by the local Thai birding community and although it was late morning we really enjoyed close views of species such as 3 separate Siberian Rubythroats, male Himalayan Bluetail, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Large Niltava, Lesser Shortwing, with a Hume’s Treecreeper and Rufous-backed Sibia feeding in the surrounding forest. 

Himalayan Bluetail

3 different Siberian Rubythroays
Lesser Shortwing

Lesser Shortwing

White-gorgeted Flycatcher

An extremely obliging Spot-breasted Parrotbill was calling and displaying aggressively for a long time along the road and gave us unparalleled photo opportunities as well.

Spot-breasted Parrotbill

The early to mid afternoon birding session driving across the ridge and birding from the road was really quiet as it was so hot but when the temperature dropped later we picked up Sapphire Flycatcher and both Yellow-breasted and Crested Buntings which we don’t normally see on this tour – so very pleasing! Returning to the feeding station area we picked up White-browed Laughingthrush, Silver-eared Laughingthrush, White-browed Scimitar-babbler and a female Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Pallas’s Warbler and Grey-backed Shrike in the surrounding forest. At the end of the day a large number of Cook’s Swifts were streaming overhead and we had a Hume’s Warbler as well, and driving back down the mountain a Mrs Hume’s Pheasant and Yellow-throated Marten were patrolling the road in front of us to end a fantastic day.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Doi Ang Khang

After a very chilly night we left after breakfast and had a quick and spectacularly unsuccessful search for Mrs Hume’s Pheasant before driving to one of our favourite spots. We then spent the next couple of hours watching a sunlit hillside below us where  numerous birds were coming in to feed and what a great time we had. Highlights here were both Lesser and Greater Yellownapes, Golden-throated Barbet, Striated Bulbul, Long-tailed Minivet, Brown Shrike, Spectacled Barwing, a couple of Grey-headed Parrotbills, a stunning Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Grey Treepie, and a brief Chestnut Bunting. A short walk produced Grey Bushchat, Buff-throated Warbler, and Grey-breasted Prinia before reaching the road again. 

Mountain Bulbul

Mrs Gould's Sunbird 

Here a large flowering tree was attracting lots of Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds, Blyth’s Shrike-Babbler, Blue-winged Minla, Buff-barred Warbler, Japanese Tit and a brief Black-throated Sunbird.

Then we drove to the Royal Project and at the feeding station watched several Black-breasted Thrushes, White-tailed Robin, an immature male Siberian Blue Robin and best of all, a Streaked Wren-Babbler feeding just a couple of metres away, whilst nearby we saw Taiga Flycatcher and a Martens’s Warbler. After an enjoyable time here we drove up to the border post with Myanmar and quickly found a Daurian Redstart, White-browed Scimitar-babbler and several Yellow-streaked Warblers.

Black-breasted Thrush (female)

Black-breasted Thrush (male)

Rufous-bellied Niltava (male)

Siberian Blue Robin (immature male)

Siberian Blue Robin

Streaked Wren-babbler

Streaked Wren-babbler

White-tailed Robin

Back at the lodge we enjoyed numerous bulbuls coming down to feed including some White-headed Bulbuls, along with an Olive-backed Pipit, beside a small stream before heading down to the rice fields near Thaton. Here we walked along the track and had a few Eastern Marsh Harriers, Green Sandpiper, Citrine Wagtail, Eurasian Wryneck, Bluethroat, numerous Dusky Warblers, a couple of male Siberian Rubythroats and Black-collared Starling.

Friday, 23 January 2015

North Thailand

Well what a leisurely start to this tour as we had arrived up here in Chinag Mai a day ahead of our usual schedule so we enjoyed a huge buffet breakfast at 8am before a little scanning from the balcony across some waste ground with tall trees and bushes. Actually nothing fantastic but still nice views of a male Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker from 2 metres away, along with Streak-eared and Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Coppersmith Barbet, Greater Coucal, House Swifts and Common Tailorbird. If you’ve never been to Asia then these are all new birds and this was the case for one of the couples today. How exciting!

Anyway, met up with my good friend Nick Upton at 11am and then were heading out into the countryside and up the winding mountain road of Doi Ang Khang, but not before ticking off a perched Rufous-winged Buzzard. Just a shame that a singing Siberian Rubythroat didn’t show itself. Nevertheless we knew we would get that baby sooner or later, and up at the old cemetery area a fruiting tree seemed like a good place to stop. Sure enough we were soon watching a gathering of Crested Finchbills, Sooty-headed, Ashy, Red-whiskered and 
Brown-breasted Bulbuls along with a Blue-throated Barbet glowing in the afternoon 
sunshine. Moving on to a nice section of road we enjoyed the last couple of hours of sunshine seeing Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Verditer Flycatcher, Black-breasted Thrush, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, and both Bronzed and Ashy Drongos. A pair of Bay Woodpeckers did their usual thing of playing hard to get but we had several flight views and a couple of brief perched views which isn’t bad considering this species’ notorious reputation. And that was all for today and a quick couple of minutes drive saw us reach our usual lodge where the temperature soon plummeted to around 
5 degrees centigrade and a real contrast to the hot lowlands.