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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Thailand: The Northwest

2018 Narrative

In Brief: Our Northwest Thailand tour encountered a wide variety of resident and wintering species and experienced fine weather.  Highlights near the Golden Triangle included a Booted Eagle and a wide variety of waterfowl including a rare pair of Ruddy Shelducks and a single Common Pochard and a Tufted Duck.  The harrier roost at Chiang Saen Lake produced some 100 Pied Harriers.  At Doi Lang we found Giant Nuthatches and White-bellied Redstart and Spot-winged Grosbeaks, and had superb views of both White-gorgeted and Ultramarine Flycatchers.  We found a few Yellow-breasted Buntings near Tha Ton.  On Doi Ang Khang we had excellent views of Scarlet-faced Liocichlas along with a variety of resident and wintering thrushes, including a Grey-sided Thrush.  Green Peafowl were cooperative north of Chiang Mai.  We found a wide variety of species on Doi Inthanon, including Collared Falconet, Indochinese Cuckoshrike, Black-headed Woodpecker, Blossom-headed Parakeets,Yellow-browed Tit, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, White-crowned and Black-backed Forktails, and Golden-crested Myna.

In Detail: Our tour began with a meeting in the lobby of the Novotel in Bangkok followed by a delicious buffet dinner.  We left the following morning in the morning for Chiang Rai where we met our Thai northern team headed by Pasith.  We viewed a Burmese Shrike in the airport parking lot.  From here we headed north to the Mekong River and Chiang Saen.  Our birding destination was Nam Kham Nature Preserve.  This reserve consisted of a series of hides around small pools amongst lowland vegetation.  Unfortunately, a fire had ravaged the area recently.  Still we had a variety of birds including Rufous-winged Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Pied Kingfisher, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker (pair), Eurasian Kestrel, Siberian Rubythroats, Taiga Flycatcher, and Chestnut-tailed Starlings.  Our hotel in Chiang Saen was right at the Golden Triangle with excellent views of Laos and Myanmar.

The next morning we visited Chiang Saen Lake and took a slow meander in a boat.  We noted plenty of ducks, mostly Lesser Whistling-Ducks and Indian Spot-billed Ducks.  There was a good sized flock of Ferruginous Ducks and with them separately were a female Common Pochard and a Tufted Duck and nearby a pair of Ruddy Shelducks.  Purple and Grey Herons were about and Grey-headed Swamphens were literally everywhere along with a good sized flock of Eurasian Coots. Overhead, a light morph Booted Eagle was well seen.  Booted Eagle is quite uncommon in Thailand and most are dark morphs.   Back on the shore we noted Common Hoopoe, Racket-tailed Treepie, a scarce (for northern Thailand) Asian Brown Flycatcher and a small flock of Grey-headed Lapwings. Later in the afternoon we went to the west side of Chiang Saen Lake where we visited a harrier roost.  Some 30 Eastern Marsh and a hundred or so Pied Harriers came into the roost.

The next morning we visited Nong Huaung Lake where there were many ducks.  Two Great Crested Grebes and a Yellow Bittern were also present along with 350 Baya Weavers and two Chestnut Munias.  Some got to see the secretive Baikal Bush Warbler, a winter visitor from the north. Later in the morning we ventured down the Mekong River looking for sandbars and riverine habitat.  Unfortunately, with the large quantity of water being released from new reservoir north in China, there was little in the way of available exposed habitat.  We did see seven River Lapwings, and several distant Small Pratincoles.  A Grey-faced Buzzard circled overhead.  At the end of the day we searched unsuccessfully for buntings but did see an Alexandrine Parakeet fly by and noted a scarce (for northern Thailand) Yellow-vented Bulbul.

The next morning birding at Nam Kham we noted Grey-backed Shrike, Long-tailed Minivet, Asian Barred Owlet and several Siberian Rubythroats.  A Laced Woodpecker was briefly seen by a few. We then headed west to Tha Ton.  There in the afternoon in the paddies along the Kok River we had much better views of Small Pratincoles and also had brief views of a small flock of Temminck’s Stints and an Oriental Skylark.

We arose early for our trip up Doi Lang, one of our best days of the tour.  Here we found many new species beginning with a beautiful wintering (fourth winter) male Ultramarine Flycatcher and Giant Nuthatch.  Other highlights during the day included Large and Black-winged Cuckooshrikes, Bronzed Drongo, Grey Treepie, Crested Finchbill, White-bellied Redstart, Rufous-bellied Niltava, White-gorgeted and Slaty-blue Flycatchers, Marten’s Warbler, Slender-billed Oriole, Rusty-cheeked and White-browed Scimitar-Babblers, and Spot-winged Grosbeak.

The next morning we briefly birded the Tha Ton paddies where we finally located a few buntings, a Chestnut-eared (briefly) and three Yellow-breasted Buntings.  The latter species was formerly much more common, but has declined catastrophically in recent decades, perhaps largely as a result of trapping the migrant and winter flocks throughout much of Asia for food.  Next we checked the Hot Stream in Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park before continuing on to Doi Angh Khang we noted a male White-tailed Robin and a male Hill Blue Flycatcher at a blind and behind the Royal Project we found a variety of thrushes, including Black-breasted and single Grey-sided and Eyebrowed.  Late in the day we noted Brown-breasted Bulbuls and a single Eurasian Sparrowhawk.

Early the next morning we started at the army base where we noted White-browed Laughingthrush and the stunning Scarlet-faced Liocichla.  Other species noted included Short-billed Minivet, Spectacled Barwing, Crested Finchbill and two male Daurian Redstarts.  We also noted several thousand Cook’s Swifts, a species in the Pacific Swift group, and split by many now.

The next morning we hiked down the Mae Pur Valley where we noted a variety of new birds including Maroon Oriole, Grey-throated Babbler, Rufous-backed Sibia, and Chestnut-crowned Warbler.  On the way to Chiang Mai and after lunch at Chiang Dao, we stopped at Mae Tang.  Here we noted Green Sandpiper and Wire-tailed Swallow.  A flock of Red Avadavats was briefly noted and some saw a Barred Buttonquail in flight. Late in the day as we hit traffic in Chiang Mai, one of the vans noted several Crested Treeswifts sitting along the telephone wires. 

Leaving early the next morning we visited the Huay Hong Krai Royal Project.  Our main goal was to see Green Peafowl and we eventually found eight.  Red Junglefowl was also noted as were a number of Greater Racket-tailed Drongos and a single male Hainan Blue Flycatcher.  After lunch we headed to Inthanon Highland Resort, our home for the next three nights.  Nearby we visited a site where Blossom-headed Parakeets came into roost and we had excellent scope views of them.  A Golden-crested Myna well seen (and photographed) was quite unusual for northern Thailand.

We left before dawn the next day, our goal being the summit of Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand.  We stopped first just above the temple and noted Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrushes and Striated Bulbul.   Above at the bog Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Dark-backed Sibias and Silver-eared Laughingthrushes were much in evidence.  Around the bog we were treated to many stunning male Mrs. Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds as they fed and hovered in the rhododendron flowers.  Rufous-winged Fulvettas crawled along the tree trunks while Yellow-bellied Fantails hovered over the lower vegetation and skulking down below were a White-browed Shortwing (female) and Snowy-browed Flycatchers.  Three Ashy Woodpigeons, including a copulating pair were well seen.  A scarce Yellow-browed Tit and a Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker were seen by some of the group.  A pair of White-crowned Forktails proved predictably elusive.  Leaf Warblers, including Ashy-throated and Buff-barred were both well seen.  Later at a lower elevation on Doi Inthanon, we noted Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls and an Asian Paradise-Flycatcher.

The next day we birded the deciduous forest on the lower slopes of Doi Inthanon.  Our primary goal was Collared Falconet and we had excellent views of several.  Two beautiful elusive Black-headed Woodpeckers were well seen as was a singing Drongo Cuckoo.  Both Indochinese (first time on our Thai tours) and Large Cuckooshrikes and Golden-fronted Leafbirds were seen.  Higher up the mountain we noted Himalayan Black Bulbul, Plumbeous and White-capped Water-Redstarts, Black-throated Sunbird, and Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers.  Late in the day at km 13 a Black-backed Forktail was seen by many.

We chose to start at dawn on the lower slopes again, at Mr. T’s platform.  He had been most generous in offering his skills and local knowledge in showing us birds.  On his platform we noted a nice variety of birds including Dollarbird, Slender-billed and Black-hooded Oriole, Common Hoopoe, Purple Sunbirds, and many Blossom-headed Parakeets.  Driving higher up the mountain we finally located Little Pied Flycatcher and found a cooperative pair of Eyebrowed Wren-Babblers, a species we seldom encounter.  Late in the morning we continued on to Chiang Mai for lunch and later that afternoon returned to Bangkok.  After dinner again at the Novotel, our tour concluded.  

Created: 16 May 2018