Oman 24th of December 2018 to 6th of January 2019

To Oman

On the 23rd of December we drove to Joutseno in good winter weather. It was cold and snowing. We tried to find Marsh Tits that had been present for some time but without luck. Only better birds we saw were a Goshawk and a flock of 5 Chaffinches. The sun was already setting when we continued towards Helsinki and after a long drive we were finally in Helsinki-Vantaa airport much too early.

We ate pizza and waited for our flight that finally left towards Dubai about 30 minutes late from the schedule. It was already Christmas Eve when we tried to sleep in the plane.

Somehow it was very hot in the plane and the seats were narrow and hard. So we didn’t sleep well. I was watching mountainous Iran landscape and found out that there weren’t many people living as there we almost no lights at all. After a long flight we finally landed to Dubai.

We drove around the huge airfield by bus to Terminal 3 where we just walked to the next bus that drove exactly the same round again, passed our previous plane that was being cleaned and continued to Terminal 2. There we had a couple of hours wait for our flight to Oman, Muscat.

From Dubai airport and from the plane we could see the high buildings of Dubai, the most spectacular was 828 meters high needle Burj Khalifa. Only birds we saw in Dubai were Collared Dove, House Crow and Laughing Dove.

Flag of OmanOur flight to Oman left again 30 minutes late but I was sleeping the whole flight. We landed to Seeb airport which was surprisingly small but very nice. We managed to get our visas easily (of course we had applied them beforehand) and soon we were waiting for our luggage. Pretty soon we found out that Hanna’s bag wasn’t coming and soon heard that it was still in Dubai. It was coming on the next flight that was 3 hours later.

So our schedule was going to change right away. But anyway we went to get our brand new Kia Sportage 4 wheel drive from Budget, got some local money (Rials), bought some alcohol to our Trangia cooker and something small to eat and drink. Finally we also could strip long underwear that we were still wearing…

From the airport windows we saw Common Mynahs, Rock Doves and House Sparrows and finally after a long waiting Hanna’s back arrived and we could hit the road.

Luckily we had our navigator with us and of course with Oman maps. We also had Oman map on my phone, so we could find away from the airport and to the right road towards the mountains.
We soon passed a small pool that had some Cattle Egrets, a Grey Heron, a Great White Egret, some Black-winged Stilts and a Marsh Harrier was flying over the reeds.

Owling

It was already getting dark when we finally turned to one big wadi. Finally we were on the right spot where we parked and got out and started to listen to owls. We had got exact coordinates to a place where some years ago found new owl-species, Omani Owl had been at least a couple of years ago.

We were surrounded by high cliffs and almost full moon was giving so much light that we could see the landscape surprisingly well. After some time we hadn’t heard a thing but then a car stopped to us and a voice asked: ”Are you searching for owls?”. The group of 3 young Spanish birders were searching for Omani Owl too. They hadn’t got so exact information about the place, but somehow they knew the area where to search. Of course we were soon listening the area together.

Spanish group had an amazing torch with them and they were scanning the cliffs with it, almost too often. Later we found out that they didn’t even know how Omani Owl was calling, like many foreign birders they just wanted to see it.

We were walking on the wadi-road for hours but heard only a possible, too distant Barn Owl an saw briefly a nightjar-looking bird in flight. We also saw some foxes and a cat that looked like a domestic one. After many hours trying, we were too tired to continue and made a camp under one tree and went to sleep to our tent.

Mountain birding

On Christmas night we woke up a couple of times to listen but heard nothing except some crickets. Finally we woke up at 6 a.m. when it was still completely dark, but soon the sun was rising and surprisingly quickly it was shining over the mountains.

From the cliffs and trees next to our tent we could hear Striolated Bunting singing and soon we heard calls that were easy to identify as a Plain Leaf Warbler. We found the bird soon and it even started to sing. Soon we found some more Plain Leaf Warblers and the first Hume’s Wheatear high from the cliffs.

Plain Leaf WarblerHume's Wheatear

Other birds in the wadi were House Sparrows, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Pale Crag Martins and stunning semirufus Blackstarts.

Grey FrancolinWe continued further along the wadi to a small plantation where we found a Red-tailed Wheatear, a Bluethroat, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, some Chiffchaffs and Purple Sunbirds and a Grey Wagtail. Soon we heard strange calls from the rocks and then saw a flock of Grey Francolines in flight. They landed to a tree nearby and we managed to see these birds quite well. And soon they started to call intensively.

When we were driving back towards the main road we stopped a couple of times on the more vegetated parts of the wadi and still found more Striolated Buntings, Plain Leaf Warblers, Black Redstarts, the first Lesser Whitethroat of the trip and a Long-billed Pipit.

Finally we were continuing towards the mountains and after we had passed a check-point where only 4 wheel-drives were passing through, we started to climb towards Saiq plateau. We were climbing for more than 20 kilometers and saw a Blue Rock Thrush, a couple of Hume’s Wheatears, a Kestrel and a Long-billed Pipit.

Bani HadidWe continued to Wadi Bani Habib where we parked to the end of the road and walked down to well vegetated wadi. We found some Chiffchaffs (both Siberian and Common), Plain Leaf Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats. Most of the Lesser Whitethroats sounded like halimodendri, but we also heard some blythi-type of birds. Also normal-type of ”tsec” -calls were heard, but probably other subspecies can call like that too. Other birds we found were a female Common Redstart, a couple of Song Thrushes and we heard calls of Sand Partridges.

There was an old abandoned village in the wadi that had been bombed in Jebel Aghbar war. Hanna found a large shell of an old bomb there. When we had climbed the steep stairs back to the parking place, we saw an Egyptian Vulture soaring above the mountain.

Once we were back on the main road we continued higher again. But the landscape was so arid that we didn’t really know where to start birding. So we found only some more Chiffchaffs, Plain Leaf Warblers, a Kestrel and a Blue Rock Thrush and a Song Thrush. Views were great and we stopped often for photographing scenery and searching for vultures.

Omani Owl

Finally we started to drive down along the never-ending downhills towards Birkat Al Mawz. There we started a long drive around the mountains and on the way we saw some Green Bee-eaters and Collared Doves. It was already getting dark when we turned to a small road and continued to a wadi from where we had much newer information about Omani Owl.

We were again listening for hours and finally heard something else except the crickets too. First we heard a distant Pallid Scops Owl and then also a calling Barn Owl.

There was surprisingly lot of traffic on the tiny wadi-road and some locals were driving back and forth the wadi and lightening the cliffs with huge torches. It seemed that they were hunting something. Locals didn’t bother us too much, they just shouted: ”How are you?” or ”Good evening” and kept on driving.

Finally after 5 hours waiting and walking around the wadi I decided to mimic Omani Owl and surprisingly we heard one clear hoot from the top of the cliffs. It was like answering: ”Here I am”. But then we waited for an hour more and heard nothing anymore.

It was almost 2 a.m. when we gave up and went to sleep to our tent that was right on the place where we had heard the Omani Owl.

Second mountain day

On the Boxing Day we had to wake up too soon. But when we heard Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse calling from the sky, we were fully awake. Again there were Striolated Buntings singing and also an Indian Silverbill flew over us. From the trees we found Plain Leaf Warblers, Chiffchaffs and halimodendri Lesser Whitethroats. We also saw a Long-billed Pipit and found a small flock of Desert Larks before we packed up and continued towards Al Ghubrah.

Indian RollerOn the way we saw a Grey Wagtail and the first Indian Roller of the trip. There was a new motorway being built and it was very difficult to find the right roads towards our destination, but somehow we managed. Finally we were in Al Ghubrah plateau that was surrounded by distant cliffs. It was hard to imagine that this huge stony plateau was sometimes full of water during the rainy season.

Red-tailed WheatearPale Crag Martin

The area was so big that again we had difficulties to decide where to start birding, but anyway we soon found some aucheri Great Grey Shrikes and Red-tailed Wheatears. After we had flushed a couple of Sand Partridges and seen also Pale Crag Martins, Green Bee-eaters, a couple of Long-billed Pipits, a female Common Redstart and Black Redstarts, we continued to the end of the road to small village of Wukan. We did a mistake and drove up to the village where was only a tiny parking place in the end of extremely steep uphill. Of course there was a car coming down just before we reached the parking place. I turned quickly to the beginning of the parking place without noticing very high boulder and got our car almost stack from the bottom. Luckily there was only a tiny scratch on the bottom even though I though the whole car was broken as the sound had been awful. We should have parked down under the village and walk the last hundreds of meters.

Al Gubrah

And after all we didn’t see any reason to stay up in the village for long as we saw only some Pale Crag Martins. So soon I wanted to drive back down as I didn’t want to have another car driving up before we go.

We still did a couple of stops on the plateau but pretty soon we were driving down again. We stopped in Al Ghubrah village, but local children were throwing stones from a hill to cars that were driving under them, so we didn’t want to leave our car parked. Luckily these children were just toddlers and their stones were too big, but probably they could have managed to hit a parked car? So after we had seen some Purple Sandbirds, Indian Silverbills and White-eared Bulbuls we kept on driving.

Car change and towards the coast

We still walked on one vegetated wadi and found some Plain Leaf Warblers, a Blue Rock Thrush and a couple of Menestries’s Warblers before continued towards Muscat. On the way we saw a Desert Wheatear and later some Indian Rollers. And again close to Seeb airport we saw the same birds by the pool plus there were now some Glossy Ibises too. We couldn’t find any place to fill our tank, but luckily gas is cheap so returning our car with half tank wasn’t expensive either.

The scratch wasn’t luckily noticed at all and soon we were in Budget office where we got now much smaller Suzuki 2 wheel drive for the rest of the trip. This car was very much cheaper than 4 wheel drive, 10 days were cheaper than 2 days with Kia.

Our Suzuki wasn’t the best car to drive but after some driving it got easier. We were happy that car trunk was spacious and all of our luggage fitted in without a problem. We had a long drive towards the western coast and Barr Al Hikman.

Soon we were driving on a desert where almost no birds were seen. Before it started to get dark we saw only bird to mention, a Brown-necked Raven. In the darkness we saw a Red Fox, a long-eared hare and some king of mouse.

Driving in darkness was pretty dangerous as Omani drivers weren’t very good. They were overtaking very badly after driving a long time far too close even though there was space to overtake. Some overtakers pushed us to shoulder as they were just keeping their speed without even thinking to change the line. And once when I was driving on the shoulder, there was suddenly a huge truck-tyre on our way! And with rental cars we couldn’t drive faster than 114 km/h as then rental cars started to beep. Once we had a truck coming towards us on our line. The driver had probable fell asleep, but luckily woke up in time and managed to get back to his line. Later there had been a very bad accident where both cars had completely burned. There was no traffic control, all cars were just driving around the crash site on the desert and trucks had to wait someone to come to clean the road. There were also camels walking along the road and speed-bumps in every village and around every police station that were plenty. Some of them were painted, some marked with a sign that almost never was on the right place and some weren’t marked at all. And most roads were 120 km/h so we really had to be careful to notice every single bump!

Finally when we were getting close to Filim, we started to search a place where to camp. The first track went to a rubbish tip but the along the second track we found a suitable place. After cooking, we ate well and were soon sleeping under extremely bright stars.

Barr Al Hikman waders

On the 27th of December we woke up again before the sunset. We packed our car and after we had seen a small flock of Desert Larks, we continued towards Filim.

We had checked the timing of tide already at home, so we knew that water-level was now rising. But when we got to the shore, we could see that water and birds were still very far.

There were lots of waders but they were still very far. So first we were mostly identifying Flamingos, Spoonbills, Great White Egrets, Grey Herons, different kind of Western Reef Egrets and Great Cormorants. There were also plenty of gulls and terns. Gulls were mostly Heuglin’s and Steppe but there were also 20 Sooty Gulls. Terns were 20 Caspian Terns, a Gull-billed Tern and the best ones 5 Saunder’s Terns.

Waders

Filim

Slowly the rising water was pushing birds closer and we started to identify waders. Curlews, Whimbrels, Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey and Pacific Golden Plovers, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Black-winged Stilts, an Avocet, Greenshanks, Redshanks, Spotted and Marsh Sandpipers, about 100 Terek Sandpipers, a couple of Common Sandpipers, lots of Dunlins and Little Stints and some Curlew Sandpipers and a couple of Common Snipes were seen. But the best birds were more than 100 Crab Plovers and Great Knots that in the beginning only 3 were seen in flight but later we counted at least 70 still quite distant birds.

Other birds seen were Marsh Harriers, Ospreys, some Sommon Kingfisherrs, a couple of Citrine Wagtails, Desert Wheatears, Common Chiffchaffs, Clamorous Reed Warblers and a Bluethroat.

Crab Plover

Desert WheatearWhile the water was still rising, we tried to find a good spot where birds would be closest to the shore, but unfortunately not many waders came close. There were still some reefs in the middle of the distant shore where huge flocks of birds gathered. So after some time, we decided to change our plans and leave towards south. We had planned to stay in Barr Al Hikman area for 2 days, but as we had already seen the species we had hoped, we wanted to get one extra day for the future.

So soon we were driving through the deserts again and saw only some Brown-necked Ravens and Hanna saw a Hoopoe Lark briefly.

Khawr Dhurf

Gull-billed TernKhawr DurfFinally we were in our next destination which was beautiful Khawr Dhurf. We managed to drive pretty close to the lagoon and walked to the shore. Right away we saw some Pintails, Shoverels, Teals, Gadwalls and Garganeys, Great White Egrets, Grey Herons and Western Reef Herons, Great Cormorants, 3 Pochards and a Black-necked Grebe. Heuglin’s and Steppe Gull flock had also some Slender-billed Gulls and 2 Pallas’s Gulls. Caspian and Gull-billed Terns were numerous and a Sandwich Tern was flying over the sea and again we saw 5 Saunder’s Terns. There weren’t many waders but 8 Avocets were nice and other birds seen were White Wagtails and a couple of Crested Larks and a Desert Wheatear.

It was getting dark when we continued towards south. While we were driving along the coast we saw a few Ospreys roosting on the poles along the road.

We had driven 600 km during the day when we finally arrived at Ash Shuwaimiyah. There we made a decision that we wouldn’t try to drive along the Wadi as we had no idea if it was drivable with our car. So we continued along the coast some 20 kilometers and found a rocky track towards the shore. We drove through an open gate and saw some people on the shore with head-lights. We had no idea what they were doing but we put up our tent and started cooking. We just hoped that they wouldn’t close the gate at night.

Ash Shuwaimiyah area

On the 28th of December we woke up next to a nice beach and soon we had packed and tried to drive to the shore. The track was in very bad shape so after all we had to walk. When we were on the beach we found out that the people that had been there in the evening were tourists camping in the shore and taking faked holiday pictures to Instagram.

Cliffs

There were huge numbers of terns on the sea but they were too distant. Most of them seemed to be Whiskered Terns but some White-winged Terns and a couple of Common Terns were also seen. Bigger terns were easier and they were mostly Greater Crested Terns but also some Lesser Crested Terns and Sandwich Terns were seen.

Socotra CormorantsAlong the beach we saw a couple of bigger flocks of gulls and most of them were Sooty Gulls but again both Heuglin’s and Steppe Gulls, some Caspian Gulls and a Black-headed Gulls were identified. After some scanning to the sea we found the first Masked Booby and later a few more were seen. But the reason why we had been staying in this place were Socotra Cormorants that were perched on the wall quite far. There has sometimes been tens of thousands of them but now we counted about 1000 birds. and unfortunately they were much further than we had expected.

Gulls

After some time we headed towards Ash Shuwaimiyah again and on the way we saw the first Arabian Wheatear and some Desert Larks.

Luckily we noticed a khawr before turning to the wadi. There were quite a good number of birds and some better ones too as we found 4 African Pygmy Geese, some Coots and Moorhens, 2 Avocets, 2 Squacco Herons with an Indian Pond Heron, a couple of Western Cattle Egrets, some Common Ringed Plovers, a Red-necked Phalarope and some 20 ducks with the first Wigeons of the trip. Other birds seen were a couple of Red-tailed Shrikes, Clamorous Reed Warblers and a Pintailed Snipe that was identified after we had seen it a couple of times and managed to get some pictures

Asian Pygmy GoosePintailed Snipe

Next we continued to Wadi Ash Shuwaimiyah and in the beginning the track was in quite good condition but pretty soon we found out that it was impossible to continued further with our car. The best places would have been 20 kilometers inside the wadi. Anyway we stopped a couple of times to walk in this beautiful wadi and found a couple of Arabian Wheatears, Tristram’s Grackles, some Hoopoes, White-spectacled Bulbuls and a beautiful male Common Rock Thrush.

WadiOrdinarily we had planned to stay over night in the end of the road where Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouses and Desert Owls were supposed to be but 4 wheel drive would have been necessary. So now we were already driving back towards the main road and soon headed towards south again.

Wadi

Towards Dhofar

OasisNext 200 km we were first driving along the coast but soon got inland to mountains where we saw a Bonelli’s Eagle, a Steppe Eagle, an Arabian Wheatear, some Desert Wheatears and Desert Larks. While we were driving up and down the mountain-road we found a beautiful oasis with palm-trees and a small pool. A Coot was swimming on the pool, Tristram’s Grackles were noisy on the cliffs, a couple of Green Bee-eaters were flying around and we also saw a Blackstart. I also saw 2 birds very briefly in flight but all I managed to notice was some amazingly bright blue on their back. I had no idea what I had seen…

When we were driving again we saw another Blackstart and a falcon that probably was a Barbary Falcn but it was seen too briefly. Near Hasik we checked a couple of khawrs but saw only a Coot and a Yellow Wagtail. Later we saw a Green Bee-eater, a Booted Eagle, a Greater Spotted Eagle and a beatifully bright-coloured lizard crossing the road.

The coastal road was very scenery and as it was local weekend there were lots of families and groups of people under big acasia-trees spending holiday and having barbecue.

Coast

Finally at Dhofar

After long driving we were in Dhofar where we headed straight to Mirbat and to Khawr Stimar. We almost immediately found a flock of 4 African Sacred Ibises and also a Pheasant-tailed Jacana that was with some waders. Also a couple of Ruffs, Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, some ducks with a single Tufted Duck, a couple of Marsh Harriers and Western Cattle Egrets, a Little Egret and a couple of Isabelline Wheatears were seen.

African Sacred Ibises

We had planned to stay in hotel for next night so we went to Mirbat Marriot to ask the prices for the cheapest rooms, but those prices weren’t for us. So after we had photographed some Common Mynahs and House Crows and got rid of our rubbish-bags, we continued towards Ras Mirbat and parked our car as close to the shore as possible and walked to do some afternoon sea-watching.

Soon Hanna started to talk about some storm petrel -looking birds that were flying only short distances very far on the sea. I tried to find them too with my scope but soon found a Persian Shearwater flying low over the sea. Luckily Hanna found it soon too and then we saw the small birds too and they were Red-necked Phalaropes. In an hour we saw altogether 6 Persian Shearwaters, 4 Masked Boobies and surprisingly 2 African Pygmy Geese flying on the sea. Also a Water Pipit was seen.

We had noticed that there was a motel next to our sea-watching place so we went to ask prices again. The French owner gave us a small discount and we got a nice room with 30 Rial. But then there was no warm water and the bathroom was full of some small flying insects. Anyway it was nice to have very good food in the restaurant, spend some time on the internet, and then sleep on a soft bed!

Lifer-day

On the 29th of December we were sleeping too well on our comfortable bed as I had put my alarm wrong. Luckily I woke up just before the sun was rising and soon we had packed everything and heading towards the mountains and Wadi Hanna.

The instructions to Wadi Hanna were quite a mess but with navigator and printed satellite-pictures we found out that we were after all much closer to the place than we were supposed to get with our car. With the maps on my phone we could be sure where we were. So we parked our car and walked along a poor track towards the wadi and soon after we had seen the first bigger Baobab trees, we started to find some interesting birds.

Baobab TreesWe were now so south that the species were completely different than in north. So now the common bunting was a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Soon we found the first amazingly beautiful male African Paradise Flycatcher and after some walking more female-plumaged birds. A flock of Arabian Partridges flew over the track and luckily some of them stopped to the rocks and we could take some pictures of them. On the top of Baobab-trees we saw flocks of Abyssinian White-eyes and some Siberian Chiffchaffs and we also found some Blackstarts and the first Arabian Warbler.

Cinnamon-breasted BuntingAbyssinian White-eyeAfrican Paradise FlycatcherAfrican Paradise Flycatcher

We walked down to a small spring and found more Abyssinian White-eyes, Siberian Chiffchaffs, African Paradise Flycatchers, Blackstarts but also a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a Green Sandpiper, a couple of Palestine Sunbirds, a Sparrowhawk and a Bonelli’s Eagle. We also managed to find a place where small birds were drinking so we stayed there for some time taking pictures. Once we had climbed pack to our car, we found one or two Black-crowned Tchagras.

Black-crowned TchagraArabian WarblerWadi Hanna was very nice place, but we didn’t know if all the other places were even nicer, so pretty soon we headed towards our next destination which was Tawi Attair.

Eastern Imperial EagleWhen we had driven up to the mountain, we found a dead cow along the road and it was no surprise that there were lots of Fan-tailed Ravens but also 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles nearby. While we were photographing these birds we also saw a small flock of Rüppell’s Weavers on the bushes.

Finally we parked to Tawi Attair and soon found out how bad condition this touristic place now was. There had been a cafeteria somewhere in the past but now even some walls had fallen down and yard had been used as cattle feeding area. There were no signs at all either. Anyway the sinkhole was visible and there was a wooden path going towards it. But we didn’t head straight there but started to walk around the buildings and between the buildings and a farm that was a bit higher one the hillside.

Our target was a Yemen Serin that had been found in this place at 1997. This species was otherwise found only in Yemen. We found lots of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, House Sparrows, Rüppell’s Weavers, a couple of Arabian Wheatears, a few African Silverbills, a Tree Pipit and some Shining and Palestine Sunbirds. After I had seen the first male Shining Sunbird I realized what that two birds I had seen in the oasis day before had been, the electric-blue flash on these birds back was beautiful. We also saw a coupe of Bonelli’s Eagles, Eastern Imperial Eagles and Steppe Eagles, Fan-tailed Ravens and Pale Rock Martins but we couldn’t find any Yemen Serins.

Bonelli's Eagle

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

Arabian Wheatear

Shining Sunbird

So after a hot search, we headed to the sinkhole as we knew serins had sometimes been seen there too. The view was spectacular and it was a surprise that a couple of other tourist that came there started to walk towards the bottom of the sinkhole. We didn’t know it was possible to go down and it was too hot to do so anyway.

On the cliffs we saw and heard plenty of Tristram’s Grackles, one more African Paradise Flycatcher and some Abyssinian White-eyes, but still no Yemen Serins.

Sinkhole

Yemen SerinAfter some relaxed watching to the sinkhole, we walked back to check the area around the old coffee-house. And finally Hanna found a single Yemen Serin perched on the electric-wire. Luckily I managed to see it too before it flew far towards the farm.

This was enough of Tawi Attair so after we had visited shop nearby, we continued higher to the mountain. Finally we parked close to Jebel Samhan view-point next to a big communication-tower.

Verreaux's EagleWe had hardly managed to get out of our car when we saw a Verreaux’s Eagle falling straight down from the sky behind the cliffs. We hurried after it and saw it again falling behind the next cliffs far a way. Altogether we had seen this bird for maybe one second, but of course it had been easy ti identify.

We took something to eat and drink with us and found a good place to sit and wait for the eagle. The view was amazing and it wasn’t hot at all on the top of the mountain.

Cliff

But for the next hour we only saw a couple of Barbary Falcons flying very quickly over us a couple of times. Once we had walked back to parking place, we met a Dutch couple who had just moved to Oman after many visits earlier. We were talking about birds and birding when we finally saw an Eastern Imperial Eagle flying over us and a couple of Verreaux’s Eagles came under the cliff to chase it away. Now we saw these eagles beautifully and after some flying they flew back under the cliff but another of them turned and landed to the top of the cliff almost to the place where we had been sitting earlier. So we managed to get some pretty good pictures of this stunning eagle both in flight and perched.

Verreaux's Eagle

Singing Bush LarkWe were happy when we started to drive back down towards the coast. But luckily we remembered that some birders had seen some Singing Bush Larks between Tawi Attair and Wadi Darbat. We drove some time before we found a little bit greener field with dry taller vegetation. The field didn’t really look good at all but after just 20 meters walking, we flushed a Singing Bush Lark. And after all we found at least 10 of them only 100 meters from our car. So it seemed that this species is very easy to find also in the mid-winter.

Wadi DarbatWhen we were approaching Wadi Darbat we found out that it was a much more touristic place than any other place we had visited. On the first water-fall there were several groups of school-children and quite a few other tourists. We found easily Abyssinian White-eyes, a couple of African Paradise Flycatchers, Blackstarts and a couple of Little Egrets but soon continued along the road to a more quiet place. There we found same species but also a couple of Green Sandpipers and Garganeys and lots of Rüppell’s Weavers. And it didn’t take long before Hanna found a Bruce’s Green Pigeon hiding in an figtree. Unfortunately this bird was too shy to get good pictures and soon it flew behind the trees and disappeared.

Rüppell's WeaverBruce's Green Pigeon

While we were cooking we heard very funny Bruce’s Green Pigeon calling straight above us. But again when we found the bird visible, it left. After we had eaten, we walked around a couple of pools but found only a Common Snipe, a Squacco and a Purple Heron, a couple of Tawny Pipits and Turkestan Shrikes. A couple of Bonelli’s Eagles were soaring on the sky and a Kestrels were chasing each others above the cliffs. Pale Rock Martin flocks were flying over us and in one flock I saw a Red-rumped Swallow.

Owling again

When the sun started to set all other people had left. And soon Arabian Scops Owls started to call. They had funny burring call. And soon they were calling all around us! We heard at least 12 birds and pretty easily managed to see one very well.

We had hoped to get to internet much better during the trip, so we didn’t know which part of this much bigger area than we had expected birders had heard Spotted Eagle Owls. Luckily our good friend Mikko Ala-Kojola helped us and sent some coordinated that were in Observation.org by SMS.

Arabian Scops OwlSo after some listening we put up the camp to a parking place right next to the coordinates and sat down to listen. We also walked around the area and even drove a little bit to cover bigger area but didn’t hear anything else except Arabian Scops Owls and crickets. Only once we heard a Long-eared Owl -type of bird calling shortly, but it stopped too soon. It would have been a good record…

Finally we gave up and went to sleep. But at night I woke up at 3:40 to a low calls and I had to listen a couple of calls before I woke up Hanna and said: ”There it is now!”. And a Spotted Eagle Owl was calling right above our tent! We got out and found the bird on the top of a tall tree but it flushed almost immediately and flew further and didn’t call anymore.

More Dhofar places

On the 30th of December we woke up early and it was still completely dark when we packed up. A couple of Arabian Scops Owls were still calling. Soon we were driving towards Ayn Tobrok and we were there already before the sun was rising.

Around the spring we found several African Paradise Flycatchers, Abyssinian White-eyes, Rüppell’s Weavers, a Blackstart and heard calls that sounded very good, but it took a long time before I saw the bird and could identify it as a Taiga Flycatcher!

We waited for a long that our target-bird would arrive to drink to the pool, but only after a couple of hours the first birds arrived to drink and they were Chestnut-breasted Buntings. A couple of big herds of Camels came to drink to the pool and one shepherd tried to give us one litre of Camel-milk, but somehow we managed to refuse. He was speaking Arabic but we managed to understand that he also invited us to eat to his house later and told that he at least sometimes had bigger and smaller owls in his garden. We managed to refuse this offer too and finally he moved away with his Camels.

Camels

Blackstart

We saw some Steppe Eagles, a a Short-toed Eagle, some Kestrels and a Common Snipe but our target bird was still missing. Once we heard very promising calls from the top of the hills, but we could hear the bird or birds moving to wrong direction. Then finally I saw 2 birds flying over us. They looked perfect except they were smaller than I had expected. Hanna also managed to see these two birds flying over us and they indeed were Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeaks. Somehow the grosbeak-name had made me thought that these birds were bigger than they really were. But these birds never landed they just flew over the valley as far as we could see.

When we back on the coast our first place was Khawr Taqah which was completely overgrown. It was surrounded by a walk-way, but it was easy to see that this park wasn’t really used. We found some African Silverbills and Rose-ringed Parakeets from the trees and on the lagoon we saw some Flamingos, Shovelers, a couple of Moorhens and saw 2 Purple Herons in flight. A Reed Warbler was singing on the reeds.

We continued to East Khawr which was much better. But there were also lots of people, so we checked the lagoon only from the eastern shore. A couple of Greater Spotted Eagles were perched on the trees calling all the time, in a flock of waders we saw Ruffs and Black-winged Stilts and 2 Squacco Herons and an Indian Pond Heron were on the opposite side of the lagoon. We also heard a couple of Water Rails calling shortly.

We drove to the other side of the khawr but couldn’t see the lagoon any better but found a small pool where were some Ringed Plovers, Temminck’s Stints and a Citrine Wagtail.

Nearby was a park which had earlier been a regular place to see Crested Honey Buzzards, but now the park seemed to be completely closed. It was also very dry and we couldn’t see any birds inside the park even though we walked around it. Only some House Crows were on the trees outside the park. So we walked to the beach and sat for a little time on the shadow and watched to the sea where a couple of Masked Boobies were seen.

Next we drove to Al Baleed Archaeological Park where we walked behind the Fransiscence Museum and easily found about 15 Spotted Thick-knees from the shadows of the bushes. These birds were pretty easy to photograph. We also continued along the park to a big birdtower-like tower from where we could see the khawr. Moorhens, a couple of Mallards and Little Grebes, 3 Purple Herons, 2 Spur-winged Lapwings and again a singing Reed Warbler were found. Then we decided to go to visit the museum as it was the hottest time of the day.

Spotted Thick-knees

Spotted Thick-kneeSpotted Thick-knee

In the afternoon we tried first to see somehow to closed Sahnawt Farm. Along the main road we couldn’t see much, just a Citrine Wagtail, about 10 displaying Singing Bush Larks, some Barn Swallows and very distant flocks of Whiskered Terns and Western Cattle Egrets. There were also Rock Doves everywhere on the farm. But in the heat of the day there was also lots of haze so visibility wasn’t very good.

From the western side of the farm we could see the area much better but all we found were 5 European Rollers, lots of Rüppell’s Weavers with one single bird in full breeding plumage, some flocks of African Silverbills and a Turkestan Shrike. From the eastern side we didn’t find any good place. some eagles were soaring on the sky, but after all we were a little disappointed that it was not possible to get inside the gates.

We continued next to Ayn Razat which was much smaller than we had expected. There wasn’t much good-looking habitat around the spring. I also forgot to use hand-brake on the parking place while we were packing our bags. Our car was stupid and it didn’t have a parking gear at all, so our car was slowly sliding to a post and once again there was a scratch in our rental car… So I wasn’t in very good mood when we started birding around the spring.

The only good-looking park was closed so we tried to see if there was something through the fence. There were plenty of Palestine and some Shining Sunbirds on the flowering bushes and some Hoopoes, White Wagtails and Water Pipits were walking on the grass.

Outside the fence we saw only lots of Rüppell’s Weavers, a several Oriental garden lizards, Short necked skink and a couple of funny tame Nile rats. On the spring we saw a male African Paradise Flycatcher catching something from the water but unfortunately it moved away before Hanna could get any pictures.

Palestine SunbirdRüppell's Weaver

Pretty soon we continued to Ayn Hamran that we expected to be very good place but once we got there it didn’t look that amazing. There was also a small spring that was surrounded by a concrete and some trees around. But a stream continued down and there were more tree along the stream. There was also some trees and bushes higher up on the valley. But also here we soon found out that there weren’t many wintering birds and migrants. It seemed that this time f year wasn’t as good as November or February when there are more migrants. Another reason for less birds may have been autumn rains, there were much more vegetation in the desert than usually, maybe birds were just spread around?

African SilverbillSo again we found Abyssinian White-eyes and Rüppell’s Weavers, some African Paradise Flycatchers, Shining and Palestine Sunbirds and African Silverbills easily. We walked along the stream and found a Green Sandpiper, a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a couple of Song Thrushes, a Turkestan Shrike and heard some Arabian Partridges. Lower along the stream we found some figtrees and there were about 20 Bruce’s Green Pigeons. Again they were extremely shy but some better pictures were finally got before they had all flight away.

We also climbed higher to the valley where we could enjoy a beautiful sunset. When there were nobody else around anymore, we put up our tent under one of the biggest trees.

Soon we heard a Wolf howling on the top of the closest mountain and then a couple of different Wolves answering from the other tops further. Then it was quiet for a long time until we heard a distant Spotted Eagle Owl. We tried to walk closer but soon found out that the bird was very far. We had thought the call of this owl is much weaker as the bird we had heard earlier had sounded so weak, but it seemed to carry a long way anyway.

Soon after we had got into our tent, an Arabian Scops Owl started to call right above us. I thought it will keep us awake all night, but luckily it stopped calling soon. At night we woke up when a herd of Camels passed our tent. And then a couple of them stayed under the tree and started eating the lowest branches. They were jumping to their back-feet to reach the branches and it was very noisy. We couldn’t make them to go away, so we moved to sleep into our car, as we were a little bit worried if camels could somehow stumble with our tent-strings. They are quite heavy animals…
Ayn Hamran

Raysut

We woke up a couple of times to listen and heard a couple of Arabian Scops Owls and once the Spotted Eagle Owl was calling much closer. We walked again after it, but it stopped and was later calling much further again.

Bruce's Green PigeonEarly in the morning we walked around the spring and tried to see the Bruce’s Green Pigeons better. They were as shy as before and other birds were different kind of calls of Lesser Whitethroat, a Song Thrush, a Reed Warbler and the other birds seen already in the evening. soon we packed and were driving again.

When we passed Al Baleed, we saw 3 Bruce’s Green Pigeons perched on the wire. Hanna managed to get some pictures of these not so shy individuals.

Finally we were in Raysut where we first parked along the main road and walked to the shore. There were lots of birds on the wetland: big flock of White Storks, some Glossy Ibises, Western Reef Herons, a couple of Squacco and Indian Pond Herons, an Intermediate Egret, 3 African Sacred Ibises and ducks and waders. While walking to the shore we saw a Pheasant-tailed Jacana that flew to the other side of the road too soon.

Ibises and egretsAfrican Sacred IbisPheasant-tailed Jacana

There were already some Steppe Eagles and a couple of Black Kites soaring on the sky, and an Osprey was perched on the beach. Wader-flocks had same species that we had seen earlier: Dunlins, Little Stints, plovers and at least one Wood Sandpiper. Also ducks and gulls were familiar species, but in the flock with them was a young White-fronted Goose and we also saw the first feldeggi Yellow Wagtail of the trip.

Raysut

After scanning the flocks for some time, we continued towards the famous rubbish tip. Unfortunately there was no other place to watch to the rubbish tip than a side of busy road. Luckily we found a shadow of a couple of small buildings and there was a dead camel next to the road that attracted some eagles. The camel was too close to the road so eagles didn’t land, but some came to soar much lower.

160 eaglesBut most of the eagles were already perched on the hills of the rubbish tip and lots of them were flying over us towards the hills but very high. Almost all eagles were Steppe Eagles – there were hundreds of them! Also a some Eastern Imperial, a Greater Spotted and a Bonelli’s Eagle were seen.

Steppe Eagle

After we had photographed eagles for some time we headed to sewage water treatment plant where the kind workers let us drive in and walk freely around the area. It seemed that they even stopped some machines when we arrived and it wasn’t really smelling bad almost at all.

From the pools we found a big flock of 450 Abdim’s Storks, tens of Western Cattle Egrets, some Spur-winged and Red-wattled Lapwings, a Little Ringed Plover, a couple of Temminck’s Stints and a Wood Sandpiper.

Abdim's StorkSpur-winged Lapwing
Greater Spotted EagleWe walked around all pools and found a couple of Namaqua Doves from the bushes and some Citrine Wagtails and feldeggi Yellow Wagtails.

Then we thanked the workers and let them to continue their work. And it really seemed they started to work once we left.

Small PratincoleWe headed back to the rubbish tip but found out that the Camel had been moved away and all the eagles were now flying very high on the sky, or sitting on the hills too far to photograph. So we continued to a small pool that we had found on Observation.org before the trip. After a little bit searching we found a Little Pratincole. We accidentally flushed it and it was flying around the pool where were also some Flamingos, a Marsh Sandpiper and a couple of Wood Sandpipers. We decided to leave so the pratincole was able to land back.

LagoonThen we stopped along the main road but went to walk to the other side of the road where we found a couple of small overgrown lagoons where weren’t many birds visible. It was the hottest time of the day and also the hottest day so far! Only funny observation was when we saw a flock of Little Grebes chasing a swimming snake.

Sea turtle

We still drove through huge harbor area where were lots of construction going on. We managed to find to the shore where we climbed to a hill to do some seawatching. The time of the day was wrong and also haze was bad. So we didn’t see any seabirds but we saw a couple of Green sea turtles and a big ray swimming under us.

Once we were back in the car we decided that we had been visiting enough places around Salalah. Some of the places had been worse than we had expected so we didn’t see it necessary to start exploring places that weren’t said to be so good. So we were soon driving again towards west and Al Mughsaul.

Al Mughsaul and owling again

Al MughsaulIn Al Mughsaul we found out that driving to wadi had changed as autumn storms had broken the road for several hundreds of meters. We had to go around one mountain to get to the village. Floods had also destroyed the khawr completely so there was no reason to check it for birds. Anyway the new track to wadi was easy to find so we started to drive along it.

We knew that we should drive 6 km from the beginning of the ordinary track to get to the best area of the wadi and the first 4 km was usually possible to drive with normal car. But we had no idea what how was the track after last autumn. The beginning of the track was pretty bad but then it got much better.

We continued along the track and followed again printed satellite-picture and maps on my phone. After 4 km the track continued almost similar with some pretty soft areas, so we continued driving and after all managed to drive about 6 km to a place where it was impossible to drive further. We parked our car and Hanna started cooking and I went to walk along the track further to see how the track was changing. We had different kind of information about our target bird, it was said that it was 4 km from a place where it was possible to get with 2 wheel-drive but also that it was 2 km from a place where it was possible to get with 4 wheel-drive.

Wadi

Arabian WheatearI think it was impossible to go much further with 4 wheel-drive, so I didn’t walk far and when I got back the food was ready and there was a tame Arabian Wheatear male next to our car. Female was staying much further all the time. Once this male was perched on our wind-screen and moved then to side-mirror, while I was sitting in the car.

Luckily our friend Mikko Ala-Kojola had again helped us and sent us coordinates where our target bird had been only a couple of days earlier. And surprisingly we found out that the gps-point was only 700 meters from us! We just had to hope that the point was in right place, but of course we were ready to walk along the wadi if necessary.

When we had eaten it was already getting dark. So we started to walk along the wadi and after about 600 meters when it was only 6 p.m. we heard a nice call of a Desert Owl! But right after that a herd of Camels was coming along the track and we of course moved away from the track. But for some reason all Camels got scared of something or then just started to run for some reason. And next 15 minutes there were more and more camels coming and they all started running in the same place. So we didn’t hear anything. Camels were going close to our car where shepherds had a camp.

While we were sitting on the rocks and waiting for the owl to start again, shepherds were probably counting Camels with their torches and we could see the shadows of the Camels in front of us on the cliffs. It was amazing!

Desert OwlAfter the Camel show it was completely dark and we walked to a place that was about 1.5 km from our car to sit down to the rocks. Finally Desert Owl started howling again and then it was calling for a long time and moving around the wadi. Once we heard a female type call too. An after a long wait the male was finally calling on the closest wall so we could see it pretty well with our head-lights. It was still too far to photograph, but we didn’t want to disturb the bird, so we were happy to see it well enough.
Once we were walking back to our car we saw several funny-looking frogs on the track. We had to use stones to get our tent up and when we were sitting down in the darkness, another Desert Owl started calling much closer. We could still hear also the further bird.

We were eating something good and celebrating New Year for some time listening a couple of Desert Owls. We couldn’t use any light as a huge Mole Cricket was following the light all the time.

But after all we were so tired that we went to sleep very early. So the year changed while we were sleeping, but we woke up a couple of times to listen that Desert Owls were calling for whole night.

New Year – same hassle

On the 1st of January we still heard one Desert Owl after 6 a.m. The second year-tick was Arabian Wheatear and 3rd Tristram’s Grackle.

Pretty soon we were driving back along the wadi and for some reason driving back was much more difficult. We hit the bottom of the car a couple of times and almost got stuck to the rounded river gravel. We also found that there was no plate under our car engine, so we collected lots of sand and stones with us!

Finally we managed to get to the main road and then we had some problems with our car. There were many loose but also stack stones in different places under our car that driving was very noisy. We stopped in the service station, but I could only get rid of some loose stones.

We bought some drinks and snacks and took a risk and started driving towards west from where we hoped to take a road toward north to Mudday. We had no idea what kind of road it was, but we decided to have a look.

It was good that we were soon climbing up to the mountain along very curvy and steep road as we got rid of most of the rocks and sand. Pretty soon the car seemed to work OK again. But still after several days we could hear some rocks dropping from the bottom.

Tristram's Grackle

The views were stunning but there weren’t many birds on the mountain. Just some Tristram’s Grackles and wheatears. Finally we were stopped at military check-point where we were asked where we were going. When we asked Mudday, they had no idea where it was. One man finally knew the place and he told us that the road is: ”Good, but not good-good”. When we asked if it has asphalt, the answer was: ”No” with a big laugh.

Curvy road

We didn’t want to drive 100 km more along bad roads, so we decided to turn around and it meant that we had a long drive back to Salalah, then north to Thumrait and then west to Mudday. But it wasn’t so bad as in Al Mughsaul we saw some dolphins close to the shore, while passing Raysut we saw that the big flock of White Storks and some Glossy Ibises were still present and north from Salalah we saw an Arabian Partridge standing on a rock next to the road and couple of adult female Pallid Harriers.

When we had turned towards Mudday, we were in a real desert again. It was no surprise that we saw a couple of Hoopoe Larks along the road. There was almost no traffic but right when we saw some sandgrouses along the road, there were cars coming both ways. We managed to turn back and drove slowly towards the birds, but they were shy and started flying straight away from us. Luckily we had managed to identify these 4 birds as Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouses and they could be identified from our bad flight-pictures too.

Mudday

African Collared DoveAfter a long drive we finally made it to Mudday where we first stopped at a Camel-farm. There were lots of Collared Doves but they were extremely flighty and even though we saw several promising looking birds in flight, it took some time to find one African Collared dove perched. This should’ve been a good spot for Sand Partridge too but we didn’t find any in a short walk.

MuddaySoon we continued through the village to a small picnic-area where was a small pool surrounded with date palm-plantation. The ground was so wet that it was impossible to go to the forest, so we decided to wait next to the pool and see if there were any birds coming to drink or just showing on the trees nearby.

After some waiting we heard cat-like calls from the trees, but we didn’t see anything. Soon I saw a black and white looking bird flying towards the village but with binoculars I realized that it was actually green and yellow – a Nile Valley Sunbird. Luckily soon we found a couple of them more and Hanna got some pictures too. We also heard at least a couple of African Collared Doves calling with Eurasian Collared doves.

Once I was walking a little bit around the trees and of course then Hanna saw a Grey Hypocolius briefly. We waited for some time it to show up again, but then headed towards the village to see if there were any other good places for birds. We had driven maybe 200 meters when I saw a Grey Hypocolius flying from acasia to another one. Luckily it stayed visible for some time, so we saw it pretty well.

Nile Valley SunbirdGrey Hypocolius

The day was again very hot, so pretty soon we decided to start driving again. Before Thumrait we saw again a couple of Hoopoe Larks and after some more driving we turned again towards west and Shisr.

Shisr

There were already some green fields after 10 kilometers but pretty far from the road, so we kept on driving. After 75 km from the main road there were more fields and we started to see some birds. We saw an Isabelline Shrike, a couple of Montagu’s Harriers and once we were on the village we saw a Lesser Grey Shrike.

Fields

In the village we visited an archaeological site that had so poor information signs that after all we didn’t really know what place it was. Then we drove along some roads and tracks to find out where the best fields were. We still found some Tawny Pipits and a Pied Wheatear.

But sun was setting again so we concentrated to find a suitable place to camp. After all we drove a couple of kilometers along a very bumpy track to the desert where we thought would be no traffic at all.

But we were wrong. Whole night there were cars coming trough the desert as it was the short cut to Shisr from the main road. 4 wheel-drives were passing our tent very fast, but after all we slept very well.

2nd of January the night was cold, it was +9 degrees when we woke up. The whole area was in quite thick fog and our tent was completely wet.

We started birding from the palm-trees that were in the beginning of the track and then continued to check the best-looking fields we had found on the previous evening.

Great Grey Shrike aucheriIsabelline Shrike

We found a couple of Isabelline Shrikes, an aucheri and a pallidirostris Great Grey Shrike, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears, the same Pied Wheatear, Tawny Pipits, Kestrels and Marsh Harriers. We also saw the first Skylarks, Short-toed Larks and a Red-throated Pipit of the trip and the second Tree Pipit and a male Pallid Harrier.

But pretty soon we decided to start driving towards the main road and then north. On the way we saw again a few Hoopoe Larks. We still decided to visit Dawkah Farm even though we knew it was as good place as it had used to be. Farming had almost completely been stopped but from an old abandoned field we found a flock of Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipits and a couple of Desert Warblers.

Qitbit

When we were driving again all we saw in 150 km was a single Brown-necked Raven. Finally we were in Qitbit where we drove to a motel that was behind a service station. We were there early and probably during the praying time, but after some waiting we wound the owner. We got a simple room and right then the electricity went off. But the owner went to put the generator on immediately.

We just relaxed the hottest time of the day and it was good to have shower too. It was also good to be in a dark room so eyes got some rest too as it had been so sunny all the time during our trip.

QitbitAt 3 p.m. we headed to an oasis that was nearby. It was very thick-vegetated so we couldn’t see any water but clearly there was water as there were some many animal footprints going into the bushes. We saw some Common and Siberian Chiffchaffs, a female Common Redstart, a Clamorous Reed Warbler and an Isabelline Shrike. The air smelled sulfur and we heard that many farms had quit because of there was so much sulfur in water.

Pallid HarrierIn the afternoon we were checking the garden of our motel where had been many good birds during the years. But this winter clearly wasn’t good as we found only Chiffchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats (which one of them had different very nasal call), a Black Redstart, a couple of Song Thrushes and a young Pallid Harrier that was flying low around the garden.

Qitbit motel yard wasn’t nice because of truck-drivers were using it as a toilet. Otherwise the place was pretty unclean too. The restaurant nearby wasn’t very tempting, so we cooked in our room. But anyway it was good to have shower and soft bed – but internet would’ve been nice too. After all we were the only people staying in the motel, but aggregate was on whole night making electricity for us.

Muntasar

On the 3rd of January we woke up at 5 a.m. and visited the oasis again. We saw a couple of jumping mouse on the headlights, but not a single bird.

Toy car

After we had collected our luggage from the motel, we were soon driving towards Muntasar. There were supposed to be traffic-signs but after all we had to use my phone-maps again to find the right road. Then we realized that this track was in quite bad shape and it was still more than 20 km to Muntasar. We had no idea if we could make it with our car.

But at 7 a.m. we saw the oasis and soon were walking around this big thick-vegetated area. There was water in a couple of places and also the desert behind the oasis was very green for several kilometers. It was again very humid and foggy. Surprisingly there were again some people visiting the water-pools, so we weren’t so worried anymore what would happend if our car would brake down.

Water on the desert

Again there were the same species: both Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Clamorous Reed Warblers, Isabelline Shrikes and a loose flock of 10 Kestrels flew over us. We also saw a Crested Lark, a Desert Wheatear, 3 Bluethroats and 6 Water Pipits with one paler pipit that we never saw well – it might had been a Buff-bellied Pipit.

Brown-necked Raven

We were waiting for sandgrouses to come to drink. They were supposed to come after 9 a.m. and there had been hundreds or even thousands of them in the past. But some newer trip-reports told that there had been every year less and less birds coming. One year earlier only some birds had been seen landing to desert and not coming to drink at all.

After 9 a.m. Collared Doves started to arrive to drink, so at least the water was still drinkable. There were some dead Mallards and corpses of a White Stork and a Great Cormorant and the only living bird on the pools was a Little Stint. We kept on waiting and heard a Turtle Dove singing shortly.

But when 10 a.m. we still hadn’t seen a single sandgrouse, we decided to give up. Maybe there was enough water in the desert as it was so green in big area? So soon we were driving towards the main road where we managed to get without problems.

Muntasar

After a long drive in the north again

It was a long drive towards north and in next 500 kilometers we saw only a flock of Rock Doves on the rood of one service station, 12 Brown-necked Ravens and a couple of brief wheatear sights. When we came close to the mountains, we started to see some birds again.

After a long and exhausting drive we turned to the same wadi where we had been on the first night of the trip. We had decided to give one more try for Omani Owl as this place was reachable with our car.

In the evening we saw a Red-tailed Wheatear, a Hume’s Wheatear, a Plain Leaf Warbler, Striolated Buntings, White-spectacled Bulbuls and heard a Grey Francolin.

Tent

When it was completely dark a family of Red Foxes were making a lot of noise on the cliffs. Then we heard a Little (Lilith) Owl calling shortly from distance. We cooked again big portions of food and managed to stay up until 11 p.m. when we were too tired to continue and went to sleep to our tent.

Purple SunbirdOn the 4th of January we started in the wadi and saw the familiar species like Striolated Buntings, Plain Leaf Warblers, a Chiffchaff, a Lesser Whitethroat, a couple of Purple Sunbirds, a Hume’s Wheatear, some Black Redstarts and heard again some Grey Francolins.

Pretty soon we were on the road again and as we had been out of money already for a couple of days, we needed to find a way to get some more. Our Visa-cards hadn’t been working and we had a couple of days before realized that we got only that amount of cash what was needed for gasolin to get out from the desert. So we soon stopped to a large hotel to ask information how to get money on Friday which is like local Sunday.

There were lots of Purple Sunbirds, White-eared Bulbuls and Common Mynahs on the garden and we got information that some tourists had got the same problem with us and there was one ATM that had been giving money for those with problems. And luckily soon we got money and it was good to buy some cold drinks and snacks as we hadn’t been able to bye anything for a couple of days.

We continued driving north western side of the mountains and along the road we saw some raptor movement, some tens of Steppe Eagles and an Egyptian Vulture. Later we saw a couple of Egyptian Vultures more but still we hadn’t seen any Lapped-faced Vultures which was said to be common.

Khatmat Malaha

Empty motorwayIt was again a long drive and we were stopped a couple of times as we were close to UAE border. But we couldn’t visit as we had Visas only for one visit. When we were finally on the northern side of the mountains there were three big motorways going side by side towards north even though there weren’t many people living there. Our destination Khatmat Malaha was surrounded by these motorways and even though there had been big signs to this village there was no proper exit to the village at all. We just had to take a sandy track from the motorway.

We found the village and drove through it to a sparsely forested semi-deserted area where we started to search for Variable Wheatears.

When we started walking around the area, we Immediately started to see some birds. There were lots of noisy House Crows, Common Mynahs and Rose-ringed Parakeets on the trees, a few Hoopoes under the trees and from bushes we found about 20 Arabian Babblers. Also Black Redstarts, Purple Sunbirds, a few Green Bee-eaters, 3 Namaqua Doves, Graceful Prinias, nasally calling Lesser Whitethroats, a Desert Warbler and an Eastern Orphean Warbler were found. But only wheatears we found were an Isabelline Wheatear and one briefly seen female Pied Wheater -looking bird that I thought there was something wrong with it, but it disappeared too soon. Luckily Hanna managed to get some pictures of it and later, when we had checked what Variable Wheatear female should look like, we could identify it as Variable Wheatear!

Variable WheatearRed-wattled LapwingDesert WarblerGreen Bee-eater

It was getting late when we started to think if we should camp here in this quiet area or keep on going. We decided to drive towards south as we wanted to make sure that we could find our next place as the new motorways had changed driving to many places.

Luckily we found to Shinas easily and parked to a picnic-area next to the mangroves. Unfortunately there were some other people too and a couple of groups of youngsters were so noisy that we hardly slept at all before early morning. It seems that people are using some kind of drugs in this part of world too…

Shinas and Liwa mangroves

White-eared BulbulOn the 5th of January when we woke up we saw small groups of White-cheeked Bulbuls flying towards mangroves. Altogether we saw at least a couple of hundreds of them. Also Common Mynah and House Crow were numerous but after some searching we found also some Clamorous Reed Warblers and Common Kingfishers.

On the shore we found a flock of gulls where were about 30 Pallas’s Gulls and on the sea we saw plenty of Greater Crested and some Lesser Crested Terns, a few Masked Boobies and a couple of flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes.

It was very difficult to observe the mangroves and when we didn’t find any Collared Kingfishers in an hour searching, we decided to continue to Liwa which was said to be better area for this species. First we were driving along a motorway again and saw a flock of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls feeding something on the road. But soon after that the motorway just suddenly ended and we headed to a tiny village-road! Luckily we managed to continue towards the right direction and found Liwa mangroves quite easily.

These mangroves seemed to be bigger and along a canal we could see this area much better. We found again some Clamorous Reed Warblers and a few Common Kingfishers and pretty soon heard calls of a Collared Kingfisher. But it was behind the mangroves and we couldn’t see it.

LiwaIt was low tide and we hoped that kingfishers might be easier to see when they were coming out from the thick mangrove to last pools along the river. But we still had to wait the water-level to get lower. So we walked to the shore where we saw some waders with Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Kentish Plovers and 6 Saunder’s Terns, Greater and Lesser Crested Terns and at least 250 Red-necked Phalaropes on the sea. We also saw an Isabelline Shrike, a pallidirostris Great Grey Shrike and a couple of Tawny Pipits.

Saunder's TernSlender-billed Gull

When the water was low, we saw 3 Striated Herons and then heard once more a Collared Kingfisher calling but it was still far inside the mangroves. So we decided to give up seeing this species and started to drive towards Muscat and Seeb.

End of the trip

We somehow managed to find to a bigger road which was surprisingly busy. Luckily after some driving it changed to a motorway and traffic was smoother.

On the way we saw several Indian Rollers and after many messy crossings we managed to find to Golden Tulip hotel where we had booked a room. The hotel was pretty close to the airport but still very difficult to find.

Surprisingly we got a big suite even though the prepaid price for the room was pretty much the same as on our previous motels.

It was great to have shower, but then we couldn’t relax yet as we had to drive to the airport to deliver our car. Somehow we managed to find right way to the airport and luckily the scratch on our car wasn’t noticed at all. Then we took a taxi back to our hotel and finally could relax in dark and cool room.

At 7 p.m. the restaurant opened and we went to eat really well. In the evening we still packed everything and then went to sleep early.

On the 6th of January we woke up very early and soon got a bus to the airport. The price of this hotel-bus was the same as taxi – so pretty expensive. After a couple of hours our flight left to Doha, Qatar. From the plane we could see the famous palm-tree -shaped island on the coast of Dubai. In Doha airport we saw Rock Doves, Collared Doves, Laughing Doves and some kind of gulls.

A couple of hours later our flight left to Helsinki and we were sleeping most of the flight. Finally we were in Helsinki and again we got information that one of our bags had disappeared. But anyway both our bags arrived which was a relief. Then we went to eat with my parents who had came to see us.

We still had a long drive to Parikkala and once again we made the only stop in Lappeenranta where we saw the familiar Eagle Owl as a year-tick.

Summary

Rock semaphore geckoWhen we were home we didn’t feel very well relaxed. We had been driving 4500 km in Oman and 700 km in Finland in 2 weeks, also had 4 flights and stayed up several night because of owls. Every day we had been birding or traveling from dawn till dusk. We both had also been sick all the time. Anyway we had managed to see 208 species in Oman which we both had got 27 lifers and 8 ”Greater WP” ticks, which is a category we won’t be collecting. We saw only few mammal species, mostly foxes, camels, some kind of desert mouses and Nile Rats. Lizard species were more numerous and we managed to photograph 2 different types of Rock Semaphore Gecko, Carters Semaphore Gecko, Short-necked Skink, colorful Dofar Agama and Oriental Garden Lizard. Butterflies and moths were surprisingly common in some places. Plain Tiger was one of the most amazing species we saw.

J.A.

Wadi

Thailand, Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai 18th of February to 3rd of March 2018

Towards Thailand

In beginning of winter we started to plan a trip to Northern Thailand with Mikko Ala-Kojola and Antti Peuna. Last winter we had accidentally been in same time in Central Thailand and done some birding together after Mikko and Antti had already been more than a week in north. They had enjoyed birding in north so much that they wanted to make another trip there and of course we were happy to join our good friends who already had experience of the places and birds there.

As Finnair flights to Bangkok are very popular, we had to book our flights early and then it was time to start make exact plans. Mikko was doing most work and planned a good schedule, booked a car and some of the accommodations. But some places that Mikko and Antti had found good on their previous visit weren’t answering to any emails, so we just hoped that we could book them once we get there.

The base of the trip was to fly at night to Bangkok, then take a domestic flight to Chiang Mai early in the morning. Then drive to Doi Inthanon, do birding there for 2 days and 1 morning, before driving to Chiang Dao. Then 2 days birding in Chiang Dao, drive to Doi Ang Khang where we had planned to do 3 days birding, but this was shortened to 2 days to get an extra day to use later. Then drive to Doi Lang where we used the extra day and birded for 4 days before a longer drive to Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen where we birded the evening, next whole day and then a morning before a long drive back to Chiang Mai. Then we had flight to Bangkok and Helsinki.

On Saturday the 17th of February we drove to Helsinki in a hurry. Hanna had been sick for several days, so we were able to pack our luggage only on the last morning when she started to feel better and we really were sure that we could travel anywhere. So we stopped only once to fill the tank and finally parked to Lentoparkki and got a ride to the airport where we soon met Mikko and Antti.

Our flight left almost in schedule and somehow we managed to change seats so that Mikko got a seat next to us, but Antti had to stay with a noisy drunk group. After I had watched a movie I tried to sleep, but behind us there were a couple of very noisy elder women who were speaking so loud that it was impossible to sleep. I asked kindly to be quiet but after a couple of hours I wasn’t so kind anymore. When they finally shut up, it was only 15 minutes to breakfast… So I really didn’t sleep at all.

Long 11 hours flight was finally over at 7:25 a.m. local time and surprisingly quickly we managed to find our luggage and survive a couple of long queues. So soon we were waiting for our next flight to Chiang Ma which left at 10:20 a.m. A couple of birds were seen through the windows in airport which one of them was a leucopsis White Wagtail.

The flight to Chiang Mai took only a bit more than an hour, but I was sleeping whole flight. Once we had found our luggage we headed to Avis and soon found our car from the parking place. But there was a problem with one door so we complained about it and got even bigger and better 4-wheel Toyota in a couple of minutes and soon hit the road.

To Doi Inthanon

We headed first to city of Chiang Mai and somehow managed to find both we needed – petshop where we bought mealworms for feed birds on stake-outs and pharmacy to get gas for Hanna’s cooker. Hanna had again brought all food with her as she is allergic to almost everything.

Then we headed towards Doi Inthanon National Park. In Chiang Mai we had seen only some birds, but some to mention were a couple of Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers and Plain Sparrows, some Olive-backed and Purple Sunbirds, Himalayan Swiftlets, House Swifts, and Great and Common Mynas.
When we finally got out from the city of Chiang Mai the landscape changed a bit more farmland, but still there were lots of houses along the road all the time. Some birds we saw were Rufous-winged Buzzard, Black-winged Kite and Asian Pied Starling. Slowly the road started to climb higher up towards the mountain and after some driving we realized that we were on the wrong road! We had to turn around and drive back for some 15 minutes to find the right road which luckily was much faster so we didn’t lose too much time. Anyway there was no reason to panic as on our extra-drive we had seen Grey-backed Shrike and lots of domestic Indian Elephants.

Pre-parakeet roost

We were well in the schedule when we parked to so-called Parakeet pre-roost. There was a bird-tower that was built next a house where people were living. The view from the tower was excellent with fields in front, many bigger trees nearby and mountain behind. The main visit to this place was Blossom-headed Parakeets which gathered to trees to the mountain before leaving to their roosting place.

But there were lots of other birds too, so soon we were trying to identify many calls we were hearing from the surrounding. One familiar call was identified only when we saw the bird and it was an Arctic Warbler. Many more common birds were identified too but many calls stayed unidentified. We had been listening calls from Xeno-canto and of course loaded lots of calls and songs to our phones, but still it was once again very difficult to get grip to birding! Some identified callers were a Chinese Francolin, Common Coel, Asian Coucal, Lineated and Coppersmith Barbet and Yellow-browed Warbler. Luckily many birds were also seen, so we got lots of species to our trip-list: Chinese Pond Herons, Oriental Honey Buzzard, White-breasted Waterhens, Red-wattled Lapwings, Red Turtle and Spotted Doves, Crested Treeswifts, Little Green and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Ashy Woodswallows, Brown Shrike, Black-hooded Oriole, Black, Ashy, Hair-crested and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Black-naped Monarch, Racket-tailed Treepies, Red-whiskered, Streak-eared and Sooty-headed Bulbuls, Barn and Striated Swallows, Chestnut-tailed Starlings and Oriental Magpie Robins were seen before Antti found an amazing Red-billed Blue Magpie that was on the trees almost on the top of the mountain.

Then it didn’t take too long when we found the first Blossom-headed Parakeets landing to the trees. Soon there were some more of them and some were flying closer to us but they never landed close. The parakeets left pretty soon but there was still one surprise to come when a nice Collared Falconet came to hunt to the top of the trees.

Chestnut-tailed StarlingCollared Falconet

Soon it was time to head towards our accommodation. On the gate of the National Park we bought the tickets to the park (300 Baht per person + car 30 Baht) and the climbed up along very curvy road to Doi Inthanon HQ-area and then turned to Mr Daengs where we had booked a nice bungalow.

We still had a tasty dinner in Mr Daengs and the made the log which still got the 55th species when a Collared Scops Owl started to call nearby. Soon we were ready to get some sleep.

Lots of lifers

On the 19th of February we woke up before the sunrise and headed to breakfast. There was already a group of British birders and they had managed to order their breakfast a bit early. So we had to wait for some time to get our food, but quite soon we were ready and headed up towards higher elevations.

Our first place was so-called km 37.5 Jeep-track. (All the distances are from Birdwatching in Thailand and North Thailand Birding sites.) We parked to Check-point 2 where our tickets were checked and then first started to walk up along the road. There were lots of birds on the trees where sun had just started to shine. Golden and Blue-throated Barbets, Davison’s Leaf Warblers and Dark-backed Sibias were calling and on one flock of birds were a Spectacled Barwing and 2 Silver-eared Mesias! On a short walk we still found Short-billed and Ashy Minivets, several flying flocks of Eyebrowed Thrushes, Yellow-cheeked Tits and a Little Pied Flycatcher.

Golden-throated BarbetLittle Pied Flycatcher

There was soon too much traffic on the road, so we headed to Jeep-track which was quite overgrown, so finding birds was difficult. There were lots of different calls around us but in the beginning it was quite frustrating to try to see anything. Luckily Antti remembered some calls, so soon we had identified Yunnan and Rufous-winged Fulvettas and Pygmy Wren-babblers and then saw a beautiful Blue Whistling Thrush.

We met a couple of British birders along the track and they were playing tape for Green Cochoa. We didn’t have to wait long to hear a response but the bird stayed far so we didn’t see it.

After some more walking we found a strange-looking bird which we didn’t have any idea what we were looking as it was back towards us. Even though there was a male Large Niltava singing on the background, we identified this female only later from the pictures. Soon we found an easier flycatcher to identify when we first heard and then also saw a beautiful White-gorgeted Flycatcher. Other birds seen were Hume’s Treecreepers, Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls, Yellow-bellied Warblers, Verditer and Hill Blue Flycatcher. And some birds heard were Collared Owlet, Maroon Orioles, Martens’s and Bianchi’s Warbler and several Slaty-bellied Tesias.

Soon we met the British birders again and briefly saw a Slaty-backed Flycatcher with them, but soon continued along the track until we came to a place where the track almost disappeared and dropped very steeply down. There we decided to turn around after we had first seen a Hill Prinia.

We walked quickly back to our car and only new bird on the way was a singer that we now identified as a Rufous-backed Sibia.

Along the road we found some birds again and Grey-chinned and Long-tailed Minivets were together in a flock and on flowering bushes we saw several Mrs. Hume’s and Black-throated Sunbirds.

The day had warmed up and bird-activity seemed to be so low that we decided to continue to Mae Pan waterfalls. From the parking place we found a couple of Fire-breasted and Plain Flowerpeckers and along the stream we found easily the first target redstart which was a stunning White-capped Redstart. After some photographing we continued to closer Huay Sai Luaeng waterfall but which was nice but only bird there was a Grey Wagtail.

Fire-breasted FlowerpeckerWhite-capped Redstart

The path to Mae Pan waterfall was longer but on the half-way we met older birder-couple who had seen both redstarts and also a Slaty-backed Forktail along the stream. The path was most of the time a little bit too far from the stream but just before the waterfall we found Plumbeous Water Redstart which was a lifer for Mikko and Antti too.

Plumbeous Water Redstart

We were photographing Plumbeous Water Redstart for some time and of course took pictures of the waterfall too. Then we started to walk back slowly as we still needed to find the forktail. We tried to see the stream from a couple of new places and somehow I managed to see some shape in the middle of the stream between a couple of tree-trunks. I raised my binoculars and there it was – a Slaty-backed Forktail! We tried to climb down to get better view and some pictures of the bird but it was exactly as shy as we had heard forktails usually were. So only picture we got was the one Hanna took immediately after the bird had been found.

WaterfallSlaty-backed Forktail

Next we drove to km 34.5 Trail which was a bit more open than what we had been walking in the morning. But bird-life was also quieter, but still most of the species were new and Asian Barred Owlet, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Puff-throated Bulbul, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Grey-crowned and Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Claudia’s, Blyth’s and Ashy-throated Leaf Warblers and Grey Treepie were found.

Lesser Racket-tailed DrongoAsian Emerald Cuckoo

After full day hardcore birding we were back at Mr Daengs in the evening and ate well and kept the log again. Amazing day had produced 81 species which 45 had been lifers for me and Hanna! It was good to go to sleep early as the first days of the trip had been quite intensive!

Summit area

On the 20th of February we woke up early and skipped breakfast. We headed up until a place where we had coordinates to park along the road. We were there too early and we had to wait some time to sun first set and then start to rise to the tree-tops. After some waiting we saw the first Speckled Woodpigeon to arrive to the tree-tops and soon it was followed by some more birds.

But we were in a hurry as we wanted to be on the summit-area before there were lots of people. Doi Inthanon, which is the highest peak in Thailand (2565m) is very touristic place and locals had a habit to get up to see the sunrise, so there were usually lots of traffic already early in the morning.

Once we parked to the summit, there were already some cars but all the people were just watching the scenery from the end of the parking place. We walked a little bit around the parking area where were lots of flowering bushes with some leaf-warblers and sunbirds, but we didn’t stay there for long enough to identify almost any of them but started to walk down along Ang Ka broadwalk.

We hadn’t taken many steps on the broadwalk when we noticed a few Rufous-throated Partridges that were feeding along the path. It was still quite dark so the pictures weren’t very good, but it was nice to watch them digging ground with their feet. After a couple of more steps we saw a flycatcher landing to the broadwalk and it was easy to identify as a Snowy-browed Flycacther! There were a couple of flycatchers, but they soon disappeared to the tops of the trees.

Rufous-throated PartridgeSnowy-browed Flycatcher

The broadwalk landed down to a bog with huge rhododendrons. The scenery was like in a movie! There weren’t many birds active, but all of them were interesting. Bar-throated Minlas were singing and after some searching we found one visible. A flock of 4 Ashy Woodpigeons flew over us and then on a small ditch there were a couple of Blue Whistling Thrushes and Dark-sided Thrushes feeding.

In the middle of the bog there were a couple of huge flowering bushes and sunbirds were feeding on the flowers. We tried to find Green-tailed Sunbirds and were checking mostly tails of these birds but they all seemed to be Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds. There were also lots of leaf warblers, which we managed to photograph a few, but they were silent so most of them were unidentified. Ashy-throated Leaf Warblers were easy to identify but other species not if they weren’t calling. But several Blyth’s Leaf Warblers were heard. A couple of Yellow-bellied Fantails were chasing each other and gave us very good views but they were too fast to get good pictures. Then we heard several Silver-eared Laughingthrushes and after some waiting they came finally visible, so we took lots of pictures of these funny birds.

Yellow-bellied FantailBroadwalk

We continued along a broadwalk that turned to a small altar and then continued along a path to a small wet area. We had got instructions to find a White-browed Shortwing there. Immediately we noticed a brown flycatcher-like bird on the ground and took some pictures of it. Only from the pictures we realized that it had been a female White-browed Shortwing! We searched for some time as we hoped to see the bird again and also find a male, but saw only one male very briefly disappearing to the vegetation.

There started to be other people on the broadwalk too, so pretty soon we decided to start walking back towards the car-park. On the way we met a group of birders and while taking with them, we found a female Himalayan Bluetail.

hanna
Himalajansinipyrstö

From the parking areas flowering bushes we found again some sunbirds and finally we realized that there were quite a few Green-tailed Sunbirds too. They just had blue, not green tail! We had been fooled!

Green-tailed SunbirdBar-throated Minla

We still photographed some Rufous-winged Fulvettas and a couple of Bar-throated Minlas that were feeding on an apple. But even though we spent some time around the café, we didn’t find any Grey-sided Thrushes or Yellow-bellied Flowerpeckers.

When we were driving down, we stopped to a place where Mikko and Antti had seen a Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker last year. We saw a couple of flowerpeckers but only in flight, but on top of one dead tree there was a beautiful male Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush singing.

The next stop was made on the Chedis at 41.5 km. There are huge temples Naphamethinidon and Naphaphonphumisiri, one made for previous King’s and one for queens 60th birthday. Main parking place was full so we parked down along the road and bought the tickets (30 Baht) and climbed up where there was a beautiful garden between the Chedis. It was getting hot so only birds we saw were a couple of Hill Prinias and some sunbirds.

Chedis

Lower down again

Then we drove down to HQ-area where we found a flock of white-eyes on a top of a huge tree. They were hiding very well to the tree but all we managed to identify were Chestnut-flanked White-eyes. Then we continued to Mr Daengs where we ordered lunch. And while waiting for our food and while eating, we were watching down to feeder. Actually the feeder was just a place where dish-water was coming through a pipe, but on this place there had been a Lesser Shortwing visiting for at least a couple of years.

Lesser Shortwing

A couple of times I saw something brown moving so quickly down to the pipe, that I was sure it had been some kind of vole. Once I saw it going dawn and up along the water-pipe. Finally we had been starting down for so long that we decided to try just 10 more minutes. It was exactly the time when I saw the brown thing flashing again to the pipe and after a couple of minutes it came up as quickly but it seemed to come right under us. And there it was, a Lesser Shortwing just a couple of meters from us and showing well! We managed to get some pictures before it again flashed under the vegetation.

In the afternoon we had planned to go to the upper tracks again, but we decided to check Camping are around km 30, so we could find the pool we had planned to visit in the evening easier. But there were so many birds around the camping area that we stayed there much longer than we had planned. We found lots of Hume’s Leaf Warblers, Black, Ashy and Mountain Bulbuls, saw the first Japanese Buzzard, both Grey-faced and Rufous-winged Buzzard and also some Grey Bushcats and had a briefly views to a beautiful Rufous-bellied Niltava.

Finally we realized that we had no time to go up anymore, so we decided to drive to see one more waterfall, Siribhume. The waterfall was nice but not many birds were found. On the way we saw a Mountain Hawk Eagle perched on a tree, but it was too shy, so we didn’t get any pictures.

Then it was time to drive back to the Camping area. We were there a bit too early, so we had time to try to find some more birds around the pool. There were a couple of warblers calling on the reeds but we never saw them at all. A couple of dogs came to hunt something to the reeds and they flushed a Cinnamon Bittern.

After some waiting we heard some calls of Black-tailed Crake, but we wanted to hear it call a good series of calls which was very distinctive. But once the sun was setting, frogs started to call and even though we still waited for some time, we didn’t hear any clear calls from the crake anymore.

And lower again

On the 21st of February we left when it was still dark. We drove down to km 13 where a small road turned up to the hills. Right after the cross there was a bridge where had been a Black-backed Forktail, but now there was already so much truck-traffic that it had moved somewhere else.

The road was under construction and there were more and more trucks driving all the time, but anyway we decided to go birding along the road. Right away on the first stop we heard a couple of Black-headed Woodpeckers, but they didn’t come any closer with the tape. Almost all other calls and voices were again difficult to identify, it seemed that there were totally different birds calling now as we were much lower.

We continued further and it was pretty frustrating with heavy traffic in every corner. Anyway birding was very good with 6 Collared Falconets, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, a couple of Rosy Minivets, Chestnut-vented Nuthatches and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, two Long-tailed Broadbills and several calling Red-billed Blue Magpies which only one was seen in flight briefly. Other birds heard were Large and Black-winged Cuckoo-shrikes and White-crested Laughingthrushes that were calling on a hillside quite distant. After we had been driving some kilometers, we decided to turn around and drove back to the bridge.

While walking to the bridge we saw with Mikko a Black-backed Forktail disappearing behind an island. We walked along the river closer and could hear it calling behind the island but it was impossible to see. So after some trying we had to give up and hope to see this species later somewhere.

Blue Whistling ThrushAshy-throated Warbler

Once more higher

Next we drove to Mr Daengs to empty our rooms, so we didn’t have to be there at noon. Then we drove up to 34.5 Track and started walking.

There weren’t many birds at all and most of them were the same than on our previous visit, but from the open area we found a couple of Russet Bush Warblers.

Once we were back in our car, we still weren’t in a hurry so we decided to drive up to the summit. There we walked again Ang Ka broadwalk, but only some of the familiar birds were seen. We were happy that we had been there early in the morning on our first visit as there were now lots of people and fewer birds.

Now we saw about 15 Green-tailed Sunbirds, a couple of Yellow-bellied Fantails again and Rufous-throated Partridges were calling shortly. Only new species was Yellow-browed Tit, which were seen on the top of trees. Leaf Warblers, sunbirds, Bar-throated Minlas, same Himalayan Bluetail and again some Ashy Woodpigeons were seen flying over us.

After all we drove to Mr Daengs to have lunch and then it was time to say goodbye to the owners and also to Doi Inthanon and start driving. We passed Chiang Mai and after 3 hours driving we were finally in Chiang Dao. Mikko had booked a couple of bungalows for us in Malee’s, which was a famous accommodation amongst birders. Mikko and Antti had never been in Chiang Dao either so after the log we still had to do some planning what we would do on the next days.

Chiang Dao

Sunrise
On the 22nd of February we woke up early again but we were a bit slow. There had been extremely noisy frogs on a pool just under our window. But it seemed that already our garden was very good for birds so we weren’t in a hurry. We found a flock of Oriental White-eyes with a couple of Japanese White-eyes and many more common birds while we started walking towards the parking place of Wat Tamphaplong temple.

While walking we saw a couple of Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Hoopoe and so on. Once we were on the parking place, we saw several pin-tailed Green Pigeons. Soon we started to climb long, more than 500 steps, stairs towards the temple.

The stairs were one of the most comfortable and good birding place where I had ever been. We were just climbing up very slowly and there were lots of birds around us all the time. We were actually climbing so slowly that one monk who was carrying some aluminum-tubes and other rolls up, passed us several times and he was laughing how slowly we were.

Stairs

Now fulvettas were Brown-cheeked Fulvettas and also Pin-striped Tit Babbler was common. Streaked Wren-babbler was found hiding under the vegetation, White-tailed Robin was singing and I saw shortly a female-plumaged Siberian Blue Robin. Other better birds seen were Orange-breasted Trogon, several White-bellied Erpornis, Common and Great Iora, a couple of Blyth’s Paradise-flycatchers and Puff-throated Bulbuls, Stripe-throated Bulbul, some Dark-necked Tailorbirds, Grey-throated Babbler, Blue-winged and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Martens’s Warbler, Two-barred Warbler, a couple of White-rumped Shamas, several Common Spiderhunters and a couple of Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds.

Streaked Wren-babblerBlyth's Paradise-flycatcher

When we were almost up we heard a couple of drumming woodpeckers that we thought they were Speckled Piculets, but soon after that we saw one tiny woodpecker which was a White-browed Piculet. Also a Purple-naped Sunbird was a new bird for us. It was emptying a spider-net, which made us thought if it really is a spiderhinter or a sunbird – it is still both if you compare different lists.

temppeliWhite-browed Piculet

When we were on the bridge just before the temple I first found a male Siberian Blue Robin ad while watching it jumping on the shadows I also found a White-throated Fantail. The scenery to the temple and its surrounding forests was spectacular! We climbed to the temple and to the top of it and scanned the forests and skies for some time and found a flock of Brown-backed Needletails, a couple of Shikras, plenty of Mountain Imperial Pigeons and briefly one Oriental Pied Hornbill which started to call later.

While we were walking back down the forest was much quieter but still we saw a couple of Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers.

Cave

At mid-day we relaxed a little bit in our bungalow, but soon left toward Chiang Dao Cave, which especially Hanna had hoped to visit.

On the parking place we saw a molting male Blue Rock Thrush and soon we had found a local guide who led us to the cave. Our guide was an elder woman and she was carrying an oil-lamp. Right away we had to almost crawl through a small hole to get to a huge cave. There were lots of bats hanging on the top of the cave and also a couple of really big spiders were on the walls. We kept on walking deeper and deeper and through several small holes and it was quite an experience!

It was really hot in the cave and after all we walked and photographed almost an hour there. Then we tipped our guide and finally got back to the bright light. It was now really hot outside too, so we decided to eat noodles and also bought some fruits, before we started to plan what to do next.

After all we had enjoyed birding around the temple so much that soon we were climbing the stairs again. Now it was pretty quiet but some familiar birds were seen again. But after all we were up pretty soon.

Yellow-bellied WarblerVelvet-fronted Nuthatch

When were almost up, we heard once again a strange call that we couldn’t identify. But this call was very deep and loud whistle, so even though it soon stopped I kept on wondering what it had been. When we were up on the top of the temple we heard it again and much closer. So we went as close as possible and started whistling and playing different babbler-calls back to the bird. After some trying Antti found very similar call and the bird came closer and then started to call exactly similar calls than we had been playing – it was a Large Scimitar Babbler. We kept on trying to see the bird but even though it came very close, we never saw it at all.

On the top we met one Mongolian man who had arrived to the temple to whatever pilgrimage. He told us that he had found a wounded raptor from the forest and he had tried to catch it. Hos methods had been a bit different from normal as he had been throat singing for the bird and so tried to become one with the bird. He told that he had succeeded but we disagreed as the bird had escaped anyway once he had tried to catch it. We had actually heard him singing while we had been on the stairs. But anyway we promised to help him to find the bird again, but it had now disappeared and we didn’t find it. Anyway it was nice to chat with this very interesting person and later we met him and another Danish guy who had stayed on the temple for a week and we heard some very nice stories. These were strange people, but after all we were the people we were the stranger ones here after all…

We walked along the Temple Gulley which started from the bridge for some time, but didn’t see almost anything. Finally sun was setting and we started to hope to hear some owls and frogmouths. Soon we heard one Brown Hawk Owl and then later another owl which might have been an Spot-bellied Eagle-owl but it was too distant to be sure what it was.

Once we had walked down to the parking place we heard more owls. First we heard a couple of Mountain Scops Owls and Asian Barred Owlet but then after some waiting also an Oriental Bay Owl and a distant Brown Wood Owl! And they were all heard while standing on the parking place!

The day had been long and amazing but then we realized that we had forgotten to visit the National Park office and to buy tickets to the park! We drove to Malee’s and luckily the owner told us that we could still buy the tickets from the gate. So we hurried to buy the tickets and luckily got them! So we were sure we could go birding to the mountain next morning.

Then we still had to find an open restaurant and after all we had to drive almost until Chiang Dao to find one. After all it was very late when we were back in Malee’s and ready to go to sleep.

To mountain and DYK

On the 23rd of February we woke up and carried and left our already packed luggage outside under a roof. So we didn’t pack our car yet. Then we started to drive towards Den Ya Kat substation (DYK).

We drove through the gate at 6:30 where our tickets were checked and kept on driving uphill. We knew it takes 1.5 hours to reach DYK, so we didn’t make many stops on the way. But when we saw a White-crowned Forktail flying cross the road, we had to stop as not everyone saw it. But the bird wasn’t found, so we kept on climbing soon.

The second stop was made because of there were huge flowering trees. There was an Orange-bellied Leafbird visiting another tree briefly, but it also left too soon, so not everyone saw it. Luckily soon we found a flock of Striated Yuhinas and then saw a female Red Junglefowl crossing the road.

We reached the substation a little bit before 8 a.m. and parked our car. We found immediately a large flowering tree with lots of leaf warblers. There were several Chinese Leaf Warblers, but they left quite soon, so we didn’t get pictures of them.

Japanese Tit

We had really no plan where to walk, so we just started to climb towards the hill nearby. Soon we found a small pool and on the trees there was a Japanese Tit. We followed a bigger path and after some climbing we found a female White-tailed Robin. It wasn’t seen well but we identified it from the pictures. Antti had left his bag lower while we had been chasing the robin and walked back to get it. Then he found an Aberrant Bush Warbler. Luckily the bird was calling back to the tape and soon we all saw it better. And soon there were two birds moving quickly on the bushes.

From the pine-forest we found a small flock of Burmese Shrikes. Mountain Imperial Pigeons were flying over us and some were also calling. Black-winged Cuckoo-shrikes were singing, a couple of Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes and Grey-eyed Bulbuls and some Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatches and Olive-backed Pipits were also seen. So it was pretty enjoyable – it wasn’t too hot, no wind at all and lots of birds.

When we had climbed up to the hill we found a wide fire-trail where opened a beautiful view. We just sat down for a little and enjoyed the scenery. A Streak-breasted Woodpecker was seen and soon we started to walk back to our car.

Firetrail

Soon we found an oriole which we finally managed to see well enough to identify it as a Slender-billed Oriole. From the bushes next to the pool we found a Rufescent Prinia and then we sound-recorded a singing Large Hawk-cuckoo and after we had played a little bit its own song, it flew right over us.

Large Hawk Cuckoo

But quite soon we understood that our schedule was tightening, so we started a long way back down. Quite soon we found a small forest-fire. We used big sticks to hit the fire and managed to extinguish the fire.

Emerald Dove

On the way down we stopped many times and saw lots of birds like Grey Treepies with one Rufous Treepie, Emerald Dove, Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoos, Crested Goshawk, Blue-bearded and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, Long-tailed Broadbill and also a couple of Eurasian Jays. We of course tried to find the White-crowned Forktail again and made several stops along the small stream and it was worthy as we found a couple of Black-backed Forktails! So at least all of us had now seen this species well. But still they were too shy to get pictures. After a couple of hours we finally made it out from the National Park and headed back to Malee’s to collect our luggage.

Luckily the owner of Malee’s helped us and called to Ban Luang, an accommodation place in Doi Ang Khang that we hadn’t managed to get any contact beforehand. And we managed to book bungalows for the next 2 night. So we weren’t in a hurry at all.

Chiang Dao paddies

Paddies

So we had good time to head to Chiang Dao paddies, where we birded 1.5 hours and found easily more than 20 Grey-headed Lapwings and Black-collared Starlings. We also managed to find a couple of Glossy Ibises, a Siberian Rubythroat and the best bird was a Baikal Bush Warbler. Different kind of egrets, some waders like Little Ringed Plovers, a couple of Black-winged Stilts, a Common Snipe, some Zebra Doves, Greater Coucals, 8 Hoopoes, some singing Oriental Skylarks, Red-rumped Swallows, 6 Wire-tailed Swallows, a couple of Zitting Cisticolas and a Plain Prinia were also found.

Black-collared StarlingGrey-headed Lapwing

Then it was time to start driving towards Doi Ang Khang. And finally we were climbing up to a mountain again and there we dropped deeply down to a limestone sunk where we had our accommodation in Ban Luang. We had 2 rooms in a bungalow that situated quite high on the hill, so we still had to carry our luggage in.

Doi Ang Khang

On the 24th of February we woke up early and were having breakfast at 6:45 a.m. We knew that there were several interesting species visiting the feeder. It took some time to realize that most of the birds weren’t visiting the banana-feeder but a dump that was a bit further behind some bushes and visible only from one table. But luckily there were nobody else yet, so we changed to the best table. There were a few Black-breasted Thrushes, several Eyebrowed Thrushes and after some wait also a Grey-sided Thrush which was good to see after dipping it in Doi Inthanon. A female flycatcher was also showing very well and later we identified it from the pictures as a Slaty-backed Flycatcher. A couple of White-crowned Forktails were also seen in flight briefly but at least now everyone saw them.

Eyebrowed ThrushGrey-sided Thrush

After finishing the breakfast we started driving up and stopped at km 23.3. Immediately we found lots of birds from the tree-tops.

There were no new species but lots of leaf warblers. Soon our necks started to hurt as all the birds were so high, so we started to walk along the track. After some walking Antti noticed the first singing Slaty-bellied Tesia and soon we found several more and managed to seen one of these tiny birds.

After some more walking inside this dense forest Hanna found a small blue flycatcher which we soon identified as a Small Niltava. It was very difficult to photograph but after some trying we got some pictures. And soon we found a couple of more of these beautiful birds too. Then the next bird was found only because of we heard something moving inside the bushes. Everyone else saw some glimpses of it but I had really difficulties to find it. Finally it flew over the track and we could see it better – it was a Scarlet-faced Liocichla. Soon we realized that there were 2 more on the bushes, but still saw only some red flashes moving inside the bushes before they disappeared. We really hoped that we could get some pictures of this beautiful bird later.

Other birds seen along the track were a Speckled Piculet, a couple of Martens’s and Bianchi’s Warblers and a Chestnut-crowned Warbler, several Blyth’s Shrike-babblers, a couple of Silver-eared Laughingthrushes, some Brown-backed Sibias, Pygmy Wren-babblers, Hill Blue Flycatchers and so on.

Small Niltava
Hill Blue Flycatcher

When we were walking back to our car there was already pretty quiet. It was pretty warm when we headed to King’s Project gardens. The area was huge but first we headed to a stake-out that Mikko and Antti had visited year ago. Luckily the stake-out was still there so we finally used meal-worms ad soon we were photographing amazingly colorful Silver-eared Mesias, a couple of Hill Blue Flycatchers and beautiful male White-tailed Robin.

Silver-eared MesiaWhite-tailed Robin

After lots of photographing we continued to gardens next to the restaurant where lots of flowering trees were. We found sunbirds, bulbuls and also lots of white-eyes. Most of them were Oriental White-eyes, but we also found some greener Japanese White-eyes.

Mrs. Gould's SunbirdJapanese White-eye

When we had tried enough to get pictures of these very mobile birds, we went to the restaurant. There we met a group of older birders with a local guide and they were clearly looking at something on the trees behind the restaurant. We went to ask what they had seen and got an answer: ”Oh, we have seen plenty of bulbuls and leaf birds… and there is also some Spot-winged Grosbeaks on that tree”. It was like a shock as we hadn’t expected to get information like that and some of us had gone missing. But after some shouting we were all there and trying to find these birds from the tree. Luckily the guide was helping us too as these birds were hiding extremely well. But after some time we had all found the only visible female bird and soon also a male came visible. After we had got some pictures of these quite distant birds, they left. So it was time to try to order some food. It was once again difficult to order anything as nothing was in English. So it wasn’t a surprise that I got completely wrong food and at least 5 times more than I needed. It wouldn’t have been a problem but my food was pretty awful.

Oriental White-eyeSpot-winged Grosbeak

After the lunch we still walked behind the restaurant where earlier had been many different kind of thrushes. We also found a couple of very promising looking almost completely black thrushes hiding in the shadows, but soon we realized that they were only completely wet and dirty Black-breasted Thrushes.

Striated Bulbul

Once we were driving again, we made a short stop on the camping area which had been very good spot for Giant Nuthatch earlier but now there were more buildings around. I saw briefly a couple of Crested Finchbills first in flight and then on the top of one tree, but they left too soon so not all of us saw them. We tried for some time to find them but found only a couple of Striated Bulbuls.

In the heat of the day we headed to Chinese cemetery where once we had got out from the car we found a flock of Brown-breasted Bulbuls. Then we climbed up to the cemetery and almost right away I saw a bird in flight that looked like a redstart. We knew this was an ordinary wintering spot for Daurian Redstart but the bird had gone missing. When we were climbing higher we saw the first Green-billed Malkoha of the trip. This huge bird is amazingly good hiding on the trees.

Daurian Redstart

We just lied down on the top and waited for something to pop up on the forest behind the cemetery, but it was very quiet. So soon we were walking around the cemetery again. Luckily the redstart was soon found again and it was indeed a male Daurian Redstart! The bird was very mobile and gone missing again soon, but a couple of pictures were got.

It was already late afternoon when we walked back down towards the car but from the last bushes we heard promising ticking. And after playing some tape we found a Yellow-streaked Warbler visible. Soon we crossed the road and walked to the meadow on the other side. There we were walking around the meadow and hoped to find some buntings, but only one ticking bunting was seen in flight. But we found a couple of Buff-throated Warblers and several Olive-backed Pipits.

After we had been walking around the meadow we starred scanning the sky and surroundings and soon saw lots of Cook’s Swifts flying low over us. Then Antti saw something moving close to the road and when we all turned to look, a small flock of Mountain Bamboo Partridges flushed over the road but at least one of them landed so we could see it pretty well. And soon after that we saw a woodpecker-like bird flying over us and it took some time to realize that it wasn’t a medium-sized woodpecker but a Giant Nuthatch!

View

Sun was already setting when we saw a small flock of White-browed Laughingthrushes moving in the vegetation. They moved to a bush next to our car and we followed them. After all there were quite a big flock of them making noise in the bush but they were so deep inside the bush that we couldn’t see them almost at all.

On the way back to Ban Luang, we saw a nightjar flying over the road and we could see it so well that we identified it as a Grey Nightjar.

In the evening while having the log, we started to plan, if we would do birding in Doi Ang Khang only the next morning and leave to Doi Lang one day earlier than we had earlier planned. There still were plenty of places in Doi Ang Khang that we hadn’t visited, but we had started to think that we should stay in Doi Lang for 4 days instead of 3.

Morning still at Doi Ang Khang

On the 25th of February we were having the breakfast even earlier, but saw nothing new. White-crowned Forktails were again seen in flight, but still they didn’t land at all.

Then we headed to km 21.3 track again, but surprisingly there weren’t many birds. A flock of Striated Yuhinas was only better observation. So we soon decided to continue to Mae Phur Valley trail which took some time to find. But finally we were walking along thins wide track in a forest. There weren’t many birds either but a calling Clicking Shrike-babbler and noisy flock of quite distant White-necked Laughingthrushes were heard. Other birds seen were a Blue-bearded Bee-eater, a small flock of Yellow-browed Tits which were once again too high on the top of trees and a White-gorgeted Flycatcher.

The track was supposed to end to a stream but after some walking we heard noise of cows that were coming towards us. So we decided to turn back towards the car.

Some small problems

Black-breasted Thrush

On the way back we met a group of Tropical Tours with 2 British leaders. They had just heard that visitors to Doi Lang were supposed to go to buy tickets to the National Park from Fang Hot Springs headquarters. It really changed our schedule as it was quite a long driving to Fang Hot Springs. So after we had photographed one male Black-breasted Thrush near our car, we drove to Ban Luang, emptied our rooms and stared driving.

We had planned to go birding to Thaton in the afternoon and evening. Thaton was the place to see roosting Yellow-breasted Buntings. But now we headed first to Fang Hot Springs. After an hour driving we were there and on the gate we were asked to buy tickets to get in to the area. Somehow we managed to explain that we were just visiting the head-quarters, so we were left in free.

In headquarters the officer seemed very surprised when we were trying to explain why we were there. Anyway after all we managed to buy the tickets that were supposed to stand for 4 days and on both sides of Doi Lang. But once we were back at the gate the guardian asked to see the tickets and he told that they were valid for 3 days. So after all we asked him to put his markings to the tickets that they would work at least those 3 days. But it really seemed that we should visit this HQ later again to get to the park on the fourth day too. It was more than 45 minutes driving from Fang where we had planned to stay.

Thaton

But after all we managed to get to Thaton in the afternoon. There we soon found out that the reed-bed where Mikko and Antti had seen flocks of Yellow-breasted Buntings last year was gone! There were still several good-looking reed-beds further behind the fields, but we had no idea if there were bunting coming and to which one of them?

Luckily we soon saw the first Horsfield’s Bushlark and soon some more of them. So we understood that there were new birds for us anyway. Soon we found a couple of Striated Grassbirds which started to sing, but they were all quite distant. Then we found a female Chestnut-eared Bunting and soon we found even better bird when we saw a quail in flight which Antti managed to photograph and it was a Rain Quail! Also a stunning Peregrine was seen, so we were really having a good time!

Horsfield's BushlarkChestnut-eared Bunting

Along the river we found some Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, a couple of Common Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers and a Green Sandpiper and also small flocks of Small and Oriental Pratincoles. Also Little Grebes, Moorhens, White-breasted and Common Kingfishers, Oriental Skylarks, a couple of Bluethroats and Siberian Rubythroats, Pied Bushchats and Siberian Stonechats, leucopsis White Wagtails, some Citrine Wagtails, a Sand Martin and a Wire-tailed Swallow, Dusky Warblers, Yellow-breasted, Grey-breasted and Plain Prinias and Richard’s and Red-throated Pipits were seen.

When the sun was setting, we saw big flocks of Chestnut-tailed Starlings gathering to trees behind the fields. Also lots of small passerines were landing to the reeds but very far from us. They mostly looked like sparrows and Scaly-breasted Munias, but there were clearly some buntings too. Mikko and Antti managed to see with their scopes a couple of Yellow-breasted Buntings landing to the top of reeds for a short time, but soon it was getting too dark to identify anything anymore. So we hurried to get closer, but found out that there was no access though the fields and reeds anywhere with any visibility to right direction. While walking we flushed a couple of buttonquails (Barred or Yellow-legged) and several Pin-tailed Snipes. But after all we didn’t see any more buntings. I had hoped to get any kind of pictures of this species that has been lost in Finland and almost in whole Western Palearctic. But you can’t always win, not even every time…

Evening had been excellent anyway so only frustration was not because of dipped buntings but because of the best reed-bed was gone and maybe the whole place would be destroyed in the future? After all, this had been a place to see Yellow-breasted Buntings easily, and this species is going towards extinction.

Once we were in Fang, we soon found the hotel that Mikko had booked already from Finland. Only problem was that we were there one day earlier than the booking. Luckily it wasn’t a problem at all, we just paid the first night with cash. So we now had a base for next 3 nights.

MarketIn the evening we still walked in Fang where the main road was closed because of market. It was nice to see local market-life. There was also a funny family-band that was playing the same song all the time we were out.

Western slope of Doi Lang

On the 26th of February we left towards western slope of Doi Lang when it was still completely dark. Our target was to find the place where Mikko and Antti had seen and photographed Mrs. Hume’s Pheasants. When we reached the gate, it was open and there was nobody asking the tickets.

Mrs. Hume's Pheasant

When the sun was rising we were still climbing up to the mountain and trying to find the right spot. It wasn’t easy as the curves all looked the same, so after all when we had found out that so-called lower stake-out was still on the same place, we were driving up and down without a clear idea where the pheasants had been. When we finally thought that maybe we hadn’t been high enough yet and kept on driving, after one curve we saw a couple of photographers tents almost in the middle of the road and a male and 2 female Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant right in front of the tents!

We had stopped almost in panic a little bit too far from the tents and from the birds, but anyway we managed to see the birds well and even get some pictures. Mikko and Antti we apologizing that they hadn’t found the place easier but there was no reason to worry, we had eventually found the right place and also the birds much easier than I had ever dreamed! There were also Olive-backed Pipits, a flock of Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers and a Blue Rock Thrush on the road with pheasants, so it was really a good start for the day again!

But we were a bit too far to get any better quality pictures, so once another car stopped behind us and a photographer even got out from his car, we decided to turn around and drive back to the lower stake-out. We could then continue higher when we thought that pheasant-photographing was over.

Ultramarine Flycatcher

There were 3 local photographers on the lower stake-out too and it seemed that one of them was a guide. Right away when we found the stake-out, we saw a beautiful Ultramarine Flycatcher on the branch above us. It visited the feeder only once and then it seemed to have eaten enough for a while. So, not all of us managed to get any pictures of this gem-bird yet.

Fire-capped Tit

We then went to talk with the locals and found out that the guide spoke very good English. He soon asked if we had seen any Fire-capped Tits yet, and then pointed that they always came to the tree right next to us. And there they were – at least 8 birds feeding on the flowers! Only one of them was nice red-capped bird, but anyway we had got one more very good lifer.

We also got some tips for Himalayan Cutia and then soon continued driving uphill again. We stopped pretty soon when there were very big trees both sides of the road. And almost immediately we found 4 Himalayan Cutias – and this wasn’t even close to the place we had been told. The locals were soon passing us, so we stopped them and showed the birds for them too. It seemed that this was very good species for them too. Unfortunately these birds stayed all the time in bad light so we didn’t get very good pictures. On the same tree-tops we saw also a Blue-winged Minla, so we were really doing great!

Himalayan CutiaGrey-headed Parrotbill

And we kept on rocking as on the next stop we found some Grey-headed Parrotbills that unfortunately disappeared to the reeds too soon.

Finally we were on the upper stake-outs, where were already some other people too. Mikko and Antti knew this place well from the previous visit, so we were soon checking if there were any stake-outs without photographers. This place was easy to find because of a big sign where was told not to feed or photograph birds!

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher

There were photographers on the first stake-out but the second one we found was empty. So we put some meal-worms to the rocks and trunks on soon had lots of birds coming! First visitor was a beautiful Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher which was performing well. Then came a female Himalayan Bluetail, Silver-eared Laughingthrushes, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers, a Flavescent Bulbul, female Rufous-bellied Niltava and also a female White-bellied Redstart!

Silver-eared LaughingthrushWhite-bellied Redstart

After a long photographing session, we continued to the next stake-out that was in a reed-bed. It wasn’t a surprise that there was a Siberian Rubythroat, but also a Hill Prinia and another Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. It was after all so quiet that with Antti we left to see if we could find something new around. Hanna and Mikko still stayed on the stake-out. After some walking, we heard harsh rolling calls that we sound-recorded. We had no idea what species was calling but later we identified it as a Spot-bellied Parrotbill.

We were still standing on the same place when we heard a Rusty-naped Pitta calling very close to us, just behind the first stake-out where we had been. But the vegetation was too dense and the bird didn’t come to the stake-out.

Black-throated Bushtit

While we were still waiting for the pitta to come to the stake-out and photographing the familiar birds again, Antti decided to go to eat something. Luckily we had our walkie-talkies on, as once he had walked to our car, he called us that the local guide and his guided couple were photographing a couple of Black-throated Bushtits! We hurried to see the birds and luckily they stayed visible. The local guide was playing tape far too aloud, but luckily the birds didn’t seem to care. They were just feeding up on the branches until they pretty soon continued further to the forest.

Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babblerEyebrowed Wren-babbler

We still found an Eyebrowed Wren-babbler hiding along the road before continued to the top of Doi Lang until the check-point. We left the car and got a permit to walk one more kilometer along this road that goes to Myanmar border. Immediately we found some Crested Finchbills that were showing extremely well and there was also a Russet Bush Warbler singing nearby.

Crested FinchbillCrimson-breasted Woodpecker

Soon the locals were there too and once again they were playing something very loud. We went to see what they had found and there was a Crimson-breasted Woodpecker drumming on a tree-trunk. It didn’t seem to care about the player at all either. It seems that local habit is to play as loud as possible and all the time. So birds have become deaf.

Rufous-backed Sibia

After some more walking we hear a Bay Woodpecker calling and finally managed to get a couple of pictures of a Rufous-backed Sibia. Dark-backed Sibia was common and we also took some pictures of a Grey-backed Shrike before we decided to start driving back down.

We stopped again on the upper stake-outs and photographed the familiar birds, but the activity was quite low this time of the afternoon. Only new bird was a briefly visited female White-tailed Robin.

Finally we were back on the pheasant place and Hanna put up a photographing-tent that she had brought with her and Mikko and Antti tossed a coin which Mikko won and went to the tent with Hanna, while I and Antti stayed in our car which we parked right behind the tent. Also the local couple had their tent next to Hanna’s while their guide was waiting in their car further.

Pretty soon a couple of Oriental Turtle Doves landed to the road to eat rocks and seeds. And soon came also a flock of White-browed Laughingthrushes. On Mountain Bamboo Partridge was also running on the road briefly. And it didn’t take long until the first male Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant arrived but this bird was extremely shy! It just ran across the road and never stopped at all visible.

Oriental Turtle DoveWhite-browed Laughingthrush

But after quite a long waiting another male came in flight and landed in the middle of the road. This bird was brave and tame and was slowly coming closer and closer but unfortunately sun was already setting and the light wasn’t very good anymore. Now also the shy bird came to feed and after all we managed to get some good enough pictures of them.

Mrs. Hume's PheasantMrs. Hume's Pheasant

It was already getting dark, but we had to wait for the birds to go away, before Hanna and Mikko could get out from the tent and pack it. Finally birds got scared of something and we could start driving down.

Finally we were back in Fang where we went to eat to the only restaurant that we knew was open. Hanna stayed in the hotel and cooked her own lunch again.

On the top of Western slope

On the 27th of February we woke up very early again and were climbing towards the western slope of Doi Lang again in the dark. Our plan was to get up early, before there were any pheasant-photographers on the way.

Finally we parked almost to the top next to a helicopter-field when it was still quite dark. So we had to wait for some time before there was enough light to climb up the field to try to find some buntings.

Pretty soon we found a distant woodpecker on a top of one dry tree, which was easy to identify as a Lesser Yellownape. Then we walked around the grass-land, but found no buntings. I had just thought that the bushy area behind the field looked best for buntings, when we heard a soft “tup” call from the sky and saw a beautiful male Crested Bunting landing to that area. And soon there were more calls and more birds landing, but they were mostly females.

Crested BuntingCrested Bunting

There were altogether at least 10 Crested Buntings, but light wasn’t very good for photographing yet. Soon we heard a ticking call from the bushes and found a female Chestnut Bunting which disappeared soon.

Early morning had already produced lifers for all of us, but luckily we weren’t too excited yet, and at least Mikko was still searching for more and soon said that there is some bright red bird on the top of tree. We could see that red spot with bare eyes, but with scopes it was easy to identify as a Scarlet Finch! It was a species that we hadn’t thought to see. Soon the bird flew away and only then we realized that there were also 2 female birds following it.

But still there was more to come as we found a flock of very skulking babblers which one was finally seen briefly and it was a Chestnut-capped Babbler.

Long-tailed Sibia

Next we continued to the top again and there was still nobody on the gate. So we couldn’t go further. But luckily at 8:30 a.m. the guardian came and opened the gate and cleared the barb-wires for us. Soon we heard a flock of Mountain Bamboo Partridges calling very noisy and then I noticed black, 3 long-tailed birds flying behind the tree-tops. First we all probably thought that they were Grey Treepies as we didn’t really react enough, but soon we saw more these birds and luckily a couple of them landed to one tree-top. And they were Long-tailed Sibias – another bird that was seen on this place only very rarely according to the sites we had been reading. After all we saw at least 12 birds that soon continued towards Myanmar. It seemed that these birds had been roosting on this area.

Scarlet Finch

Soon we were photographing tame Crested Finchbills again and the found a couple of amazing red Scarlet Finches feeding on the hillside. So now we managed to get pretty pictures of this bird too! And soon we saw finally a Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker too, so it wasn’t a surprise anymore when we finally saw the first mammals of the trip too – 2 huge Yellow-throated Martens crossed the road in front of us!

We still photographed more Crested Finchbills and listened Russet Bush Warbler singing again before started driving back down. We of course stopped on the upper stake-out where we finally found the missing flycatcher as a male Slaty-blue Flycatcher was visiting an almost inconspicuous stake-out. Unfortunately this stake-out was in very bad light now and this bird was extremely shy, so we didn’t get any good pictures.

Slaty-blue Flycatcher

We found one more stake-out that we hadn’t visited yet and there was an extremely tame White-gorgeted Flycatcher which we took lots of pictures. Then we visited briefly two already familiar stake-outs and got some more pictures of familiar birds. Hanna and Mikko stayed again longer on the stake-outs and with Antti we walked a little bit along the road. And again it was worthy as we found one more stake-out where a Siberian Rubythroat was already waiting for us and soon we saw also a stunning male Rufous-bellied Niltava. Soon we were all there photographing and found also a female flycatcher which we later identified as a female Slaty-blue Flycatcher.

Siberian RubythroatWhite-gorgeted FlycatcherRufous-bellied NiltavaSlaty-blue Flycatcher

When we had taken enough pictures, we continued to lower stake-out and photographer Ultramarine Flycatcher for a long time as it was performing extremely well! We even took a group-selfie with this bird!

Ultramarine FlycatcherUltramarine Flycatcher

We stopped many times on the way down and found a couple of Silver-breasted Broadbills, Large and Black-winged Cuckoo-shrikes, Long-tailed Minivets, Burmese Shrikes, Blyth’s Shrike-babblers, Black-hooded and Maroon Orioles, a Blyth’s Paradise-flycatcher, Japanese Tits, a few Giant Nuthatch and a Orange-bellied Leafbird. When the sun was setting we flushed a nightjar from the road but couldn’t tell which species it was.

Finally we were in Fang when it had just got dark, so we managed to go to eat earlier and after the log and shopping we were ready to go to sleep earlier, which was very nice.

Eastern slope of Doi Lang

On the 28th of February we packed our car and when the sun was rising we were already driving towards the eastern slope of Doi Lang. At 7 a.m. we were on the gate and again we were let in without asking any tickets. So it really seems that National Park stuff wants to sell tickets to the park, but the soldiers that are on the gates don’t really care.

The road to the top is long and in worse shape than other roads we had been driving, but it got better after some driving. We drove straight to km 22.9 bridge where we enjoyed the views and saw some birds too but nothing special.

The second stop was made on the rise-fields at km 26.4 where we walked also in the forest and found some calling Mountain Bamboo Partridges, a female White-bellied Redstart, a Yellow-streaked Warbler, Paddyfield Pipits, Pied and Grey Bushchats and so on. Fields were really high on the mountain but anyway there were quite a few other field-birds too. Some Oriental Turtle Doves were seen too and we had seen some on the way too.

Fields

At km 31 opened a nice view to the hills and we scanned the skies for some time and found some unidentified hawk-eagles, a Booted Eagle and some Japanese Buzzards. A couple of drumming woodpeckers were identified as Rufous Woodpeckers.

After the Camping area next few kilometers were really good forest. And finally we found something new too. The situation was funny – I found a bird from the tree-tops that I couldn’t remember what it was in any language, I helped others to find it and then Antti said it was a Whiskered Yuhina. It took a couple of seconds to realize what Antti had said and no, it wasn’t that one for sure. My bird was yellow with black markings and yuhina was totally different kind of bird. But then just in case I moved my binoculars a little bit and found out that there was a Whiskered Yuhina half a meter right from my bird. I asked others to move a little bit left and then they found my bird – it was a Black-eared Shrike-babbler. These birds were both showing pretty well and the funniest thing was that they were both lifers for me and Hanna.

Black-eared Shrike-babblerWhiskered Yuhina

We moved slowly in this good forest and found some White-browed Scimitar Babblers, Pin-striped Tit-babblers, Puff-throated Babblers, a Silver-eared Measia and a Striated Yuhina. We also heard a distant Green Cochoa again. Finally we were on the Army-camp where we had to park. The gate-guardian didn’t speak almost any English but we could find out that we were allowed to go only one kilometer further from the camp. This was a big setback for us as our target-species were supposed to be possible to find much further and higher on the mountain. And we had planned to camp up here somewhere sp we could be as high as possible early on the next morning.

But anyway very good-looking forest continued after the gate anyway and soon we found out that there were several stake-outs in the Army-camp. So we started to check what birds were coming to eat our meal-worms that Hanna had successfully kept alive. And soon we were photographing Silver-eared Laughingthrushes that came immediately to the first stake-out.

While others were still photographing I was walking around and found compost I was searching for. I had heard that interesting species had been seen visiting this area in the past. There was also one more stake-out close to the compost and there was a female Himalayan Bluetail moving around on the ground, but no other birds. When I went to see the others we still found one more stake-out and immediately had several Scarlet-faced Liocichlas coming to feed! These birds were amazing!

Scarlet-faced Liocichla

Mikko and Antti were quite pedantic about the back-ground of the stake-outs so they once again cut some branches and then Hanna finished the show with some artistic red leafs and so on. And soon we were photographing these colorful liocichlas and Silver-eared Mesias from 3 meters.

In the middle of the day light wasn’t perfect so soon we decided to go that kilometer we were allowed to go up from the gate. This time of day it wasn’t a surprise that we didn’t find anything special. So soon we were back in the camp where we asked the soldiers, if we could put up our tent somewhere near, as this was the safest place around as this road was known to be used by drug-dealers from Myanmar.

Luckily there was now an older man too who mas maybe a bit higher on rank. And he understood English much better. So we got a permit to camp next to our car and we also managed to ask a permit to go higher to the mountain! This man was using strange name for a view-watching place and he said that we could go 3 kilometers, but we knew that San Ju view-watching place was more than 5 kilometers from the Army-base, so weren’t exactly sure until where we could go.

So we decided to make an evening trip to the mountain just to see if there were soldiers or something else stopping us before San Ju. This road was the same where we had been on the other side of Doi Lang and after all we were only some kilometers from the places we had already visited. But between these places there were bigger Army-bases too on the highest point and actually there was no exact information if the road was all the time on Thailand side of the border or not.

But after all we managed to drive until San Ju view-point where we could see lots of Burmese army-camp. There were also several forest-fires on that side of the border. We just relaxed a little bit on the parking place there and at least one of us was sleeping almost in the middle of the road. Only better bird we saw were some Crested Finchbills and a Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush that was singing shortly on the top of one dead tree.

Burma

Just in case we took a picture of the San Ju sign and once we were back in the Army camp, we asked to make sure it was OK to visit this place also early in the morning. And it was OK, so we were once again back in our ordinary plan!

We put up our tent and cooked some noodles and pretty soon we were 3 sleeping in a tent and Mikko in a car.

On the top of Eastern slope

On the 1st of March we woke up so early that soldiers were still sleeping. We packed our tent and started searching for birds around the camp. Dogs were already so used to us that we could move around the camp, so I could even go to check the compost. But no new birds were found and soon we noticed that someone had opened the gate for us. Once again we had got perfect service!

So soon we were driving towards San Ju where we parked to one more sign telling that feeding and photographing birds were forbidden. There weren’t many birds around but we found some Blyth’s Leaf Warblers, heard a couple of Bay Woodpecker and after some trying managed to see one of them in flight.

When sun started to shine to flowering bushes that were behind the parking place, there were soon several sunbirds flying quickly here and there. At least most of them were Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds but then after some time I saw a female-looking bird with red rump in flight. I shouted to others and soon Antti found a male too and this one had also red outer tail-feathers – Fire-tailed Sunbirds! This was the species we had really dreamed to see here, but we had red that patience and luck is needed to see them.

Antti managed to get a short digiscoped video of these birds before they followed other sunbirds behind the bushes and disappeared.

Scarlet-faced Liocichla

After some quite relaxed time in San Ju, we drove back to Army-camp where we once more decided to do some stake-out photographing. Now light was really good, so soon we were taking lots of pictures of Scarlet-faced Liocichlas again.

I gave up first again and started to check other places near the Army-camp and found a couple of Large Niltavas and a Himalayan Bluetail near the compost. Soon we were all there as we still didn’t have pictures of Large Niltavas. While Mikko And Hanna were preparing the stake-out, Antti saw a thrush landing to a branch next to us and there it finally was – a bird we had been searching and waiting for – a Chestnut Thrush! We had heard from Tero and Janne K. that this bird had been extremely tame and easy to photograph, but no, it wasn’t tame at all anymore.

But luckily it came to the stake-out with Scarlet-faced Liocichlas and soon Large Niltavas started to feed too. So we had really amazing birds to photograph! Finally we finished and went to say thanks to the soldiers and started to drive down.

Chestnut ThrushLarge Niltava

A little bit lower we still walked along one very good looking path, but didn’t see much. We stopped several times and again also on the rice-fields and on the bridge. On the way down we found a Besra, 7 Long-tailed Broadbills, Black-eared Shrke-babbler, 2 Specled Barwings, 3 Striated Yuhinas, 2 Hume’s Treecreepers, a Blyth’s Paradise-flycatcher and so on. But we knew that we had to hurry as we had a long drive to north-east to Chiang Saen.

To Chiang Rai

Luckily roads were pretty fast and scenery changing quite a lot, so after we had seen the first Indian Roller, we soon said goodbye to Chian Mai and arrived to Chiang Rai.

We were once again nicely in the schedule and on the way we managed to book us an accommodation too. Only problem was that we somehow managed to book them from the next day.

Harrier roost

Finally we arrived at Yonok wetland to famous Harrier roost early in the afternoon. It was good to finally do birding on a lake-shore. Right away we found lots of Lesser Whistling-ducks, some Spot-billed Ducks, a couple of Garganeys, Great White Egrets, Purple and Grey Herons, lots of Grey-headed Swamp-hens, Coots, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Common Snipes, Wood Sandpipers, Spotted Redshanks, Black-winged Stilts, a few Grey-headed Lapwings, a Black Kite and then of course Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers. All harriers were seen quite far over the wetland so we still had time to search for more other birds. And we still found a Thick-billed Warbler, a Citrine Wagtail, Eastern Yellow Wagtails, a Wryneck, some Crow-billed Drongos, some Striated Grassbirds and a Baya Weaver.

Harrier roost

When the sun started to set harriers started to come closer and they landed to fields and reeds behind the bay. We saw altogether about 35 Pied and 20 Eastern Marsh Harriers. We also heard a couple of Ruddy-breasted Crakes before we had to continue driving.

After we had finally found to Great Mekong Resort, we managed to change our booked nights easily as it seemed that there were no other customers at all. There were quite a few people working but we didn’t see any tourists. In the evening we still heard a Large-tailed Nightjar calling nearby.

Chiang Saen

On the 2nd of March we headed early to Nam Kham hides. We had already visited the place on the previous evening so we could find the place easily. We parked the car and started walking the path where were several hides. But it seemed that these hides weren’t really attracting many birds and in some of them there were signs that using meal-worms was forbidden. The reason were Siberian Rubythroats, they’d became greedy and banish all other birds. In front of one of the hides there was a small pool that we thought birds would come to bath and drink, but now in early morning bushes and reeds were still very wet, so we thought that birds would come later. So we decided not to stay longer and so the only better bird we found along the path was a noisy Laced Woodpecker.

So soon we continued towards Lake Chiang Saen where we wanted to be before it got too warm and there was too much haze. Luckily it wasn’t a long drive and soon we parked to Nong Bong Kai NHA, some kind of nature center parking place and walked to scan the eastern side of the lake.

We soon found some Spot-billed Ducks, Little Grebes, Coots and some Ferruginous Ducks and more similar looking birds were too far on the other side of the lake. There was a short boardwalk and in the middle of it were a couple of bushes and we found 2 birds there, which one was a Black-browed Reed Warbler but another one was even better – a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler!

ViewWe continued along the eastern shore towards south and stopped a couple of times to scan the lake. We found more same waterfowl but also Black-winged Stilts and from the trees we found a Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Taiga Flycatchers and a couple of Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers.

On the southern side of the lake we had to drive along a tiny road towards the shore and then still walk a kilometer to see the lake. While walking we found a couple of Lineated Barbets and then on the last field between us and the shore we found a couple of Lesser Coucals. One of them started to sing when we played the tape for it – and it has a funny song.

Tickell's Blue FlycatcherLesser Coucal

From the shore we saw the ducks better but unfortunately we didn’t find any Baer’s Pochards, only Ferruginous Ducks. There had been one reported earlier in winter. A flock of 25 Pintails and a lonely female Common Teal were only new trip-ticks. Soon it started to get so hot that we walked back to our car.

Mekong

Next we headed to Mekong River and firs northern side of Chiang Saen to Rim Khong restaurant. We ordered food and again I got completely different food than I ordered. There weren’t many birds along the river, I saw briefly some martin in flight, but it disappeared too soon. After we had eaten we walked along the boardwalk to the river and found several Grey-throated Martins flying around one sandy islet.

Jerdon's Bushchat

The hottest time of the day we were driving south along the river and when we were about 40 kilometers south from Chiang Saen, we finally were very close to the river so we started to make stops. And right away we found a jack-pot when Antti found a male Jerdon’s Bushchat that was on a tiny islet in the middle of the river. On the next stop we found a couple of Jerdon’s Bushchats and then still on the third stop one male. So we had found 5 birds in a couple of kilometers area! We also saw plenty of Grey-throated Martins but unfortunately only lapwing we found was a Grey-headed Lapwing, we didn’t find any River Lapwings. Only other new trip-tick was a Greenshank.

Chiang Saen again

In the afternoon we drove back to Chiang Saen Lake and this time to northern side of the lake. Near Wat Phrathatsiwiangkam we climbed to a hill where we had a good visibility to the lake. While walking we flushed a couple of Barred Buttonquails and several Richar’s Pipits. From the hill we saw at least 700 Lesser Whistling-ducks, 400 Spot-billed Ducks, 120 Garganeys and 50 Ferruginous Ducks. We also found 3 Shovelers and Common Teals, but nothing better. This place has held lots of rare wintering ducks, but unfortunately the best times are gone.

It was pretty hot but we really enjoyed scanning the lake which held lots of different birds. Different kind of egrets and herons, waders, Grey-headed Swamphens, jacanas, Racket-tailed Treepies, some Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers, Striated Grassbirds, Black-collared Starlings and a Great Cormorant were seen. When we started to walk back to our car we saw big flocks of Chestnut-tailed Starling flying over us. In one of the flocks we saw a couple of birds with white patches on wings, but we didn’t see much else. We checked bird-book and they could’ve been White-shouldered Starlings but we hadn’t seen then well enough. When we saw the flocks landing to the tops of trees nearby, we started to scan them with our scopes. And we immediately found a few different-looking birds. But there was not exactly similar in our Birds of Thailand book. So we took some pictures and videos of these birds and after all we saw at least 11 of them, maybe even more than 20.

Chestnut-tailed StarlingRed-billed Starling

In the evening we went to the same (only than was open) restaurant and started to make the log again. Then Mikko started to check starling-pictures from internet and he found exactly similar bird what we had seen. The bird had been photographed in China and it was a Red-billed Starling! So we googled a little bit more and found out that a few years ago there had been only 4 records of this species in Thailand. So we sent the information about the birds to some local bird-sites and trip-leaders and continued the log in very good mood. We had found the first big rarity of the trip – species that wasn’t even on the bird-book! Later we heard that there had been some records in recent years, but this was easily the biggest flock in Thailand ever and there were soon twitchers visiting the place and they saw these birds and they also thought that there were at least 20 of them.

We were finally ready with the log and drove back to Greater Mekong Lodge to sleep.

Chiang Saen paddies

On the 3rd of Marsh we had planned to drive early in the morning to Chiang Saen paddies that Tero had been told was a good place. We were already driving when we realized that the GPS-points we had were bit too far after all. We knew that Tero and Janne K. hadn’t seen anything too special there so we checked other GPS-points from internet to a site that was also called as Chiang Saen paddies. And this place was very close so soon we were walking in the middle of fields.

View

Chestnut-capped Babbler
We found a Yellow Bittern, some Chestnut-capped Babblers, Baya Weavers, Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munias and also a Pied Kingfisher flew over us. The place wasn’t very big, so pretty soon we were driving to Nam Kham as we wanted to visit the best-looking hide later in the morning.

One more visit to hide

Once we were in the hide there was no birds at all yet. We had to wait more than 30 minutes before a Siberian Rubythroat arrived and then some 15 minutes more for a Dusky Warbler. We were already planning to leave when a Baikal Bush Warbler arrived and our hopes were high that a Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler that had been seen here earlier would come to bath or drink to the pool, but after some more waiting, we understood that we really had to leave.

Dusky WarblerBaikal Bush Warbler

Long way back

While driving back to our bungalow, we saw one more trip tick – a Common Kestrel. Soon we had packed our car and started a long drive back to Chiang Mai. Antti had been driving the whole trip until now when Mikko took a wheel. I was very happy that I didn’t have to drive at all on this trip!

We were pretty tight with our schedule, so we stopped only once during the trip to buy some snacks and drinks. Finally after 4 hours driving we parked to the airport parking and soon had returned our very good car. Then we went to our gate to wait for our flight to Bangkok.

We all slept the whole flight, so it felt we were soon in Bangkok. We had a long walk to our right terminal and gate and of course we did some shopping too. We were told several times that our flight had been overbooked and in the beginning we were offered 300 € for changing our flight and in the end it was even 600 € per person. But we were just too tired! We just wanted to get into our plane and get some sleep. And sleeping in airport-hotel, early morning flight to Krabi and then from there a flight to Helsinki didn’t sound tempting.

Finally at 23:05 p.m. our Finnair flight left towards Helsinki. After I had watched one movie, I was ready to sleep. And surprisingly soon the flight was so over. We landed to Helsinki a little bit early at 5:10 a.m. and at the airport we said goodbye to Mikko and continued by a bus to Lentoparkki and soon were on the road. We dropped Antti to his home and then had a long drive to Parikkala.

When we were back at home, I wore warm clothes, took my skies and left to do winter-bird count.
Our trip to Northern Thailand had been amazing – one of the best trips ever! Our small group was perfect, which wasn’t a surprise. The schedule, places we visited and also accommodations were really good. All local people were amazing friendly, it is always good when people don’t really care about us. But when we took any contact with local people, they smiled and if help was needed, they helped as well as they could. Only minus was that it was a surprise that locals are eating so early in the afternoon that almost all restaurants were closed after the sunset when birders have time to eat.

Bird-numbers were just amazing! Even though we had made a trip to Central Thailand one year earlier, most of the birds we now saw were new. Altogether we saw 379 species and 154 of them were lifers for me and Hanna. Only mammals we saw were different kind of squirrels and a couple of Yellow-throated Marten. Several different dragonflies and lots of different butterflies were also seen, but not as many as on our previous trip.

And the weather was just perfect all the time! It was warm, but not too hot. And when we climbed high to the mountains, it was cool enough, so birds were active all the time. It was also calm and no rains at all. Only rain was seen under us when we were high on the mountain.

We have now been in Thailand twice and seen a little bit more than 500 species. But there is still much to explore, so we’ll be back!

J.A.

Fuerteventura, Canary 24th to 31st of December 2017

Christmas Eve traveling

We spent our Christmas Eve less traditionally by travelling very early in the morning to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. On the last days it had been quite a storm but luckily roads were in surprisingly good shape even though it had been snowing a lot.

Our flight was a little bit late but left at 11:50 a.m. towards Fuerteventura. We managed to sleep a little bit in the beginning but the rest of the flight we were watching landscapes as we flew over Alps, Pyrenees and Atlas Mountains. Finally we had managed to catch the schedule and landed in time to Puerto del Rosario airport.

Passport weren’t checked at all during the whole trip so soon Hanna was collecting our bag while I went to get our car that we had pre-booked from PayLess. We got a Jeep Renegate 4 wheel-drive which had been much cheaper on this company than on others. And we were happy to find out that it was even almost a new car.

Birding right away

After I had managed to put the right place to my navigator, we started driving. The traffic was easy so we could make the first bird-observations soon. Rock and Collared Doves, Yellow-legged Gulls (atlantis), Berthelot’s Pipits and Southern Grey Shrikes (koenigi) were seen before we parked along a road to rubbish tip. We unpacked a little bit and soon we had everything ready for serious birding.

We walked through a semi-desert area to Barranco de Rio Cabras and while walking saw our first Ravens (canariensis) (the birds seen until this were the most common ones on this island), Trumpeter Finches (amantum) and a couple of Egyptian Vultures that were soaring high on the sky. When we reached the cliff we could find Spanish Sparrows and then saw that there was a pool on the bottom of Barranco. Black-winged Stilts, a couple of Ruddy Shelducks, 2 Grey Herons, 2 Moorhens, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Common Snipes and a Green Sandpiper were all shy and flushed when they saw us walking down. When we reached the bottom, we saw an Osprey flying over us.

Southern Grey ShrikeEgyptian Vulture

We were searching for a huge rarity – a Dwarf Bittern that had been found 3 weeks earlier and like ordered 2 days after we had booked our trip. Luckily there had been lots of reports from twitchers since that and the bird had been seen still at least a couple of days earlier. I had also got an exact GPS-point to the place, but not much other information about how the bird had been acting or how it was supposed to find. And now when we saw how big the area was it started to feel that finding a tiny bittern could be more difficult than we had been told.

Barranco de Rio Cabras

I did one mistake and hadn’t got my GPS yet with me do I couldn’t check the exact spot for the bird, but we thought that this pool and its surroundings should be the place. It just looked perfect especially above the dam where was a stream with several small pools under the bushes. So we decided to stay on the dam and watch to both sides of it, to the pool and to the stream.

We waited for almost an hour but didn’t see the bittern. Other new birds weren’t seen many either, but a couple of endemic Fuerteventura Chats that were moving quickly on the rocks higher in the cliff were good to see this early on the trip. Also a couple of Chiffchaffs and Hoopoes, a Greenshank and of course some more of the species that we had already seen earlier were seen.

Soon the sun started to set behind the cliffs, so we decided to walk around the bushes if the bittern was hiding somewhere under them. The bottom of the valley was muddy and soon we had muddied our shoes and I had managed to get my trousers muddy too. But the bittern wasn’t found! I still decided to walk to upper side of the pool to check if there were more pools and found out that there was quite a good-looking stream and a couple of small pools right under the next dam. But Dwarf Bittern wasn’t there either. So it seemed that we had missed the bird, but of course we were coming back!

While we were climbing up, I already sent a couple of SMS to a couple of Finnish birders that I had recently found out that they had been twitching the bittern. Even though it was Christmas Eve both Hannu Palojärvi and Seppo Järvinen answered soon and they told that Dwarf Bittern had mostly been right under the upper dam that I had visited only briefly in the end.

It was already getting dark when we drove towards Lajares. We hoped to find an open shop or service to buy something to drink and also to eat on the field. We had prepared that there might not be anything open during Christmas holidays and had food for several days with us. Luckily there was a service open in La Oliva and we managed to buy some drinks and snacks.

At 7 p.m. we were in Lajares where Hanna had booked an apartment for us. It was a little bit like former garage, but very comfortable. The owners were living just behind the wall. Soon we had carried our luggage in and after we had unpacked and put everything necessary ready, we started to prepare delicious can-food Christmas-dinner.

At 9 p.m. we were ready to sleep, but as expected our neighbors hadn’t got the same plan for their Christmas Eve evening. So we were listening to their celebration for some time before we luckily managed to fell asleep.

Christmas celebrations

On Christmas Day we woke up at 6 a.m. and soon we were in dark parking place packing our car. A Stone Curlew (insularum) was calling somewhere nearby.

We headed first to La Oliva plains where still was quite dark and all we saw were a couple of Rabbits crossing the road. Soon the sun started to rise but only a couple of Berthelot’s Pipits and a small flock of Linnets (harterti) were seen. So soon we decided to continue to Tindaya which was our main target-place in the morning.

In Tindaya we drove through the village and continued to the desert towards the sea. We were driving slowly and scanning the desert and stopped pretty often to check it more carefully. We soon saw a couple of flocks of Lesser Short-toed Larks which landed pretty close to the road but they were camouflaged so well that we couldn’t find them before they were flying again, so only poor pictures were got.

After about 15 minutes searching Hanna noticed the first Houbara Bustard! And behind it there were 2 more! Two of them walked soon further and disappeared but one was walking slowly from bush to another and feeding something from the bushes.

We managed to get slowly closer to the bird by car and then stopped the engine and started to take pictures. Soon the bird turned straight towards us and kept on walking towards a bush that was just next to our car! It was on halfway, less than 10 meters from us, when it decided otherwise and continued towards another bush on the same distance from us. We got really good pictures and soon when the bird kept on walking; we drove in front of it to another road that crossed nearby. It walked just in front of our car and stopped to another bush on the other side of the road. So we managed to get pictures n different light and angle.

Houbara BustardHoubara Bustard

Finally we left the bird to feed and continued the “main-road” towards the sea. But quite soon the road got worse and we decided to turn back, as we didn’t want to get flat tire, at least not yet.

When we had driven back to the same crossroads again, we found one more Houbara which was walking quite far on the desert. Then we decided to turn to this smaller road that seemed to go through the desert to Faro de El Toston lighthouse on the North-Eastern corner of the island.

The track was in good condition so 4 wheel-drive wasn’t needed. But there weren’t many birds – just some Ravens, Yellow-legged Gulls and Berthelot’s Pipits.

In Faro de El Toston there were quite a lot of tourists watching the sea and lighthouse and visiting fishing museum. We were walking a bit on the black rocky shore and found a few trip-ticks: a Whimbrel, a couple of Ringed Plovers and a Little Egret.

Then it was time to head towards Barranco de Rio Cabras again. On the way we saw the first Kestrel (dacotiae) of the trip in Tetir and after some more driving we parked to the same spot as on the previous afternoon.

Now there were much more birds on the rubbish tip; mostly Yellow-legged Gulls, but also some 20 Common Buzzards (insularum) and 8 Egyptian Vultures. Once we reached the cliff, we decided to stay up and scan down where we could now see quite big area, but not until the upper-dam. We had got information that the Dwarf Bittern had usually been above the upper-dam in the afternoon, so we didn’t need to hurry to get there. Instead we decided to wait if we could spot it on its other favorite spots and someone had even seen it flying from distance to the dam, so not all its visiting places were known at all.

Fuerteventura Chats were now performing well and we managed to get some pretty good pictures of one couple. Down by the pool we saw a couple of Moorhens, Black-winged Stilts, a Black-headed Gull, a White Wagtail and the same waders again. Trumpeter Finches and Spanish Sparrows were flying in small flocks and a Spectacled Warbler was calling on the bushes.

Fuerteventura ChatFuerteventura Chat

About after an hour waiting we started to plan what to do next. Of course we needed to go to check the surroundings of the upper dam, but should we go there by walking on the cliff and then climb down or follow the Barranco along the stream? Then suddenly Hanna said: “There!” And less than 10 meters from us there was a tiny bluish bittern flying high but still against the cliffs towards the upper dam! Dwarf Bittern was still around and it was a huge relief to finally see it!

Dwarf Bittern

It seemed that Dwarf Bittern had landed somewhere near the upper dam so we decided to walk along the cliff to the other side of the dam and then climb down. There we walked slowly closer to the dam and then crawled the last meters and there it was right under us feeding on the pool!

Unfortunately the bittern saw movement and flew inside a bush next to the pool and disappeared inside the bush, but Hanna had already managed to get a couple of pictures.

We decided to lie down on the dam and wait if the bittern comes back to the pool. But the bird was extremely shy and it took more than 30 minutes before it started to move under the bush and after 15 more minutes it finally climbed to a rock and was showing extremely well! Then it started to move again and came to the stream and started fishing and our cameras were clicking! We were following and photographing the bird for almost 30 minutes and then my muscles started to hurt too much as we were laying on very hard dam. So I had to move back and again the bittern got scared and moved to the bush.

Dwarf BitternDwarf Bittern

Hanna decided to stay with the bittern and climbed down under the dam and hid behind the rocks but I decided to go to see what I could find up from the upper-dam?

I hardly took 20 steps when I heard tit-like calls from the nearest bigger bush and after some whistling an African Bluet Tit (degener) came visible. But it was moving too fast and always inside the bush, so I couldn’t get any pictures. There was also its couple but it didn’t bother to come visible almost at all.

I did walk a couple of more dams higher along the now completely dry stream and found a couple of pairs of Fuerteventura Chats and some Spectacled Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Common Buzzards but nothing else.

When I had walked back to so called upper-dam the bittern was still hidden inside the bush, so Hanna also gave up. We still walked along the stream to the pool, where a couple of Fuerteventura Chats were showing extremely well! Then we were happy enough and decided to climb up and walk back to our car.

Plain Swift

When we were at our car I noticed a couple of swifts that were flying above the gate of the rubbish tip. We drove a little bit closer and managed to see and photograph these birds and even though they were both molting their tail-feathers, we could identify them as Plain Swifts.

Cream-colored Courser

It was still just early afternoon so we decided to drive back to Tindaya as we had heard that Houbara Bustards often gathered to bigger flocks in the afternoons. We drove again the same road but managed to find only one Houbara Bustard that quickly walked further to the desert. We still made a couple of stops and on one stop we found 2 Cream-colored Coursers (bannermani). They were also quite mobile but Hanna managed to get a couple of pictures before they had moved too far from the road. Not many other birds were seen, so we decided to continue towards La Oliva.

Barbary Partridge

In La Oliva we checked another site than in the morning and found a flock of about 50 Lesser Short-toed Larks but nothing else. Then we still stopped at Malpais de La Arena lava-rock area. We had planned to search for some endemic plants but after all most of the area was fenced and private. But behind some rocky fences we could hear a couple of Barbary Partridges calling. I took my speaker and played Barbary Partridge from my phone and soon one of the birds came visible, but it disappeared behind the rocks too quickly so no good photographs were got. While we were walking back to our car we still flushed one Stone Curlew. And soon we were back in Lajares.

In the evening I went jogging while Hanna prepared some can-food again. It was nice to run in warm temperature with normal shoes (not ones with spikes like I use in Finland in winter). I also saw some birds: a Sardinian Warbler, a Chiffchaff, a Hoopoe and a Kestrel and heard some Stone Curlews.

A tour to western side of the island

On Boxing Day we woke up very early. While Stone Curlews were calling we drove through Lajares and then stopped to an open area without any lights nearby. Hanna had once again checked the schedules of ISS and after some waiting the space-shuttle came visible over us. Hanna took some pictures while a couple of Barbary Partridges started to call on the background.

The sun was rising when we passed La Oliva and Tindaya and continued south-east. After some more driving we turned toward Los Molinos dam. We stopped at a goat-farm where some Trumpeter Finches and Spanish Sparrows were perched on the fences but soon continued to the dam where we parked the car. Los Molinos reservoir was told to be the best birding place in Fuerteventura and already before we had got out from the car, we saw a Fuerteventura Chat perched on the fence on the dam.

Soon we were walking along the reservoir and I was of course carrying a telescope. From the banks of the reservoir we soon found about 20 Little Egrets, some Grey Herons, Black-winged Stilts, Common Sandpipers, Common Snipes, Greenshanks and White Wagtails. On the water there were lots of Ruddy Shelducks and Coots, about 20 Teals, 3 male Mallards and a female Tufted Duck. A Black-headed Gull was flying around and soon we heard the first Black-bellied Sandgrouse calls from the sky and saw a flock of 4 birds flying over us. Later we heard lots of call of sandgrouses but didn’t find them from the sky or flying against the surrounding mountains.

Ruddy ShelduckBlack-bellied Sandgrouse

Soon we saw a Cormorant flying over us and it landed to a rock on the reservoir. While I was scoping the lake again I found 4 Spoonbills and a female Garganey. A lonely Black-tailed Godwit was also found and while I was scoping the bushes there was a Common Stonechat and some Linnets.

We walked until the end of reservoir where we still found a couple of Little Ringed Plovers and then something flushed all Ruddy Shelducks from the bigger goat-farm that was further on the desert. Soon all Ruddy Shelducks landed to the reservoir and there were at least 200 of them! Some flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls also arrived to the pool to bath and there was one Lesser Black-backed Gull with them. After some more checking we decided we had seen all the birds on the reservoir and decided to keep on driving south.

Our next stop was in Betancuria where the road dropped steeply to a valley from the mountains. Old town was quite scenery and there were lots of green trees and bushes. So it wasn’t a surprise that after some walking we found some African Blue Tits, Sardinian Warblers, Blackcaps and a Robin. Pretty soon we again continued as we wanted to go birding somewhere with less people and noise.

So soon we were in Vega de Rio Palas where we started to walk along a dry stream. Luckily the place started to look better after some walking and even though it was already early afternoon, we soon found several African Blue Tits, Sardinian Warblers and a Robin again. Then suddenly we flushed a couple of black thrushes from one bush and we of course thought that they were Blackbirds first, but when we soon flushed a couple of birds more, we realized that they were all Ring Ouzels! We hadn’t expected to find these birds here, but soon we had seen at least 6 Ring Ouzels in different plumages. Also a Song Thrush was found as a trip-tick and after some more walking we also found a Grey Wagtail. Other birds seen were only some Spectacled Warblers, Kestrels and a Common Buzzard, but it had been a nice walk.

African Blue TitRing Ouzel

Soon we were driving again along a narrow mountain-road south towards Pajara. There we parked next to the church and we had got information that there was one more surprise-species wintering on the trees around the church. After some searching we heard a familiar call and saw briefly a Yellow-browed Warbler moving on the top of the trees. It was really crazy to see this Siberian species here!

Unfortunately neither the Yellow-browed Warbler nor African Blue Tits were co-operative and we didn’t get any pictures in this very busy area. So we soon continued to Ajuy caves, where were lots of tourists. We walked until the end of the view-track where the steps led into a cave on the shore. It was possible to go inside so we of course went to take some pictures of the cave.

Cave

After some landscape-photographing we still watched to the sea for a couple of minutes and saw some hunting Gannets, but then it was time to get away from other tourists which most of them seemed to be British and German. So soon we were driving along the narrow and curvy road back.

Yellow-browed Warbler

We decided to eat in Pajara where we went to a restaurant next to the church. And while we were eating the Yellow-browed Warbler came to the closest tree where we could see it very well. So after we had eaten Hanna again tried to get pictures of it and after quite a long trying she finally managed to get some.

As we had no hurry we stopped on the view-watching places where were very tame Barbary Ground-squirrels on the first one and then on the next one extremely tame Ravens and Berthelot’s Pipits. The Ravens were funny. Tourists were giving them many kind of food and they opened nuts so easily that it was clear that they had got a lot of experience.

RavenBerthelot's Pipit

Owling

Finally we turned again towards Vega de Rio Palma where we continued almost until the end of the road and parked to the valley. I had now my GPS on and we were exactly on the right place this time. The sun wasn’t set yet so I was photographing a Southern Grey Shrike and a couple of distant Barbary Partridges and Hanna was collecting handful of cochineal bugs that can be used as source of bright red dye.

Vega de Rio Palmas

Finally the sun set and I took my speaker and soon there was a horrible screaming playing on the valley. There had been an endemic subspecies (Slender-billed) Barn Owl (gracilirostris) a week earlier.

I was playing the call for a while and then we were listening and scanning the area but all we saw in the beginning were a bat and a mouse. This mouse wasn’t the brightest animal as it really wanted to climb to my shoe – while I was playing Barn Owl! It was already dark when we saw an owl silhouette flying across the valley. It was quite distant but we thought it had been too big for a Barn Owl. And soon we heard clearly an Eagle Owl calling from the cliffs! It sounded like a normal Eagle Owl not a Pharaoh Eagle Owl which is breeding in Morocco, not so far. I managed to get some poor sound-recording with my phone, but it was too distant to get anything good as I didn’t have my recording-equipment with me.

After some listening I played the Barn Owl call again and then we first heard a strange call on our right side and in same time we saw a ghostly pale owl coming straight over us! It was a (Slender-billed) Barn Owl. It was flying a couple of rounds above us but then glided towards the dry stream where we had been walking earlier. But the strange caller was still on the trees right from us and then I realized it was a Long-eared Owls call. So there were 3 species of owls together!

Soon the Eagle Owl had come closer again but still it was too far to get any better recordings. So we decided to drive up to the cliffs and try to get better recording from one of the view-points. We had no idea if there had ever been an Eagle Owl in Fuerteventura, so we had to try!

So we drove along the narrow roads up to the second view-point and there we walked with headlamps on towards the edge. It was extremely windy up on the top of the mountain, but soon we heard the owl again. I managed to get much better recordings while staying between some rocks. But then we decided to walk until the last cliff as the bird wasn’t very far. We thought that we might even see it. When we reached the edge we could hear the owl calling from the next mountain, so with our headlamps we tried to scan the rocks but it was just a little bit too far.

So after all we gave up as it really didn’t matter if we see a silhouette or not. So we walked back to our car and started a long way back to Lajares. When we were back in our cottage, I first played some eagle owl calls with poor WiFi-connection and it was clear that the bird had been an Eagle Owl. Then I did contact Eduardo Garcia del Rey, a birder who has sites for birding in different Macaronesia islands on Facebook. He answered soon that we should have contacted him immediately to save lots of efforts – our Eagle Owl was an escape from zoo…

Easier day

On the 27th of December we planned to take a little bit easier after 2 hard days. We woke up early again but the sun was already rising when we got out.

We drove just out from Lajares to a couple of volcanoes and started walking towards them. Hanna had been choosing which one to climb from the satellite-pictures, but after some walking we could clearly see that the first one didn’t have a crater at all. So we continued towards the next one and after some 30 minutes climbing we were finally on the top. And the views were really good! Not only there was a stunning crater in front of us, but behind the whole volcano there was a view to neighbor-island Lanzarote!

On vulcano

After we had walked back to our car we decided to drive to see the northernmost part of the island. In Corralejo there was again a view to Lanzarote. We walked there for some time on the rocky shore and found Whimbrels, Ringed Plovers, a Greenshank, a Turnstone, a Kentish Plover, 3 Grey Plovers, 7 Common Sandpipers, 4 Sandwich Terns and a couple of Little Egrets.

Dunes

Next we continued to Parque Natural Corralejo, which is a beautiful dune-area. But we were there too late in the morning, there were already too many tourists walking on the dunes and writing and drawing to the sand. Luckily after some driving we found a spot where the dunes were not only bigger but also cleaner with fewer footsteps. We were walking on the dunes and taking some pictures for some time before we continued along the road that went through the whole dune-area towards south. On the way we saw hundreds of tourists on the sand-beaches where red flags were indicating that it was not allowed to swim – people were just burning their skins.

We did a short stop on El Jablito harbor where we saw only a couple of Little Egrets and a Sandwich Tern and then decided to drive once again to Barranco de Rio Cabras.

Our parking place had already 2 cars, so we had to park a bit further along the road. While walking towards the Barranco we met a couple of Dutch birders which had already contacted me in Facebook as they hadn’t seen the Dwarf Bittern on Christmas Day. Now they had done exactly how we did and after some waiting the bittern had flight to the upper-dam where they had seen it very well. They also told that there were 3 Belgian birders now photographing the bittern and actually these Belgians were the main reason why we were there.

When we reached the Barranco we decided to let Belgians keep on photographing and climbed down to photograph Fuerteventura Chats. But chats weren’t performing well and there weren’t many other birds showing well either. Maybe it was siesta-time?

After 30 more minutes we decided to walk slowly towards upper-dam and surprisingly we found no-one. But then we saw Belgians hiding under one bush. They showed us to get there slowly and we did our best, but right when we were taking our last step, the bittern flushed and flew under the upper-dam again. But now we could start talking with these Belgians which 2 of them were my old friends from Corvo – Davis Monticelli and Vincent Legrand.

Fuerteventura Chat

After some talking we went slowly to upper-dam and there the bittern was again right under the dam. But once again it flushed a bit lower when it saw some movement. David still followed the bird but the rest of us stayed under the dam where a Fuerteventura Chat was now performing well.

The bittern had soon hidden again so we gave up photographing and walked back to our cars. Over the rubbish tip there were again lots of gulls, Common Buzzards and some Egyptian Vultures. Belgians were in a hurry to get their accommodation, so we said goodbyes and then decided to drive to north-east and to Faro de El Toston.

Great Skua

We were at the lighthouse too early as there were still lots of tourists and usually the best time for seawatching starts from the last hour before the sunset. Anyway we walked to the shore and started scanning the sea with scope. I had expected that there isn’t much movement on the sea in mid-winter but I had never expected it to be so empty! But when I found the first 2 birds they were Great Skuas! They had even bigger white patched on their wings than usually but unfortunately they were too far on the sea so I couldn’t see much else. Hopefully they weren’t Southern Skuas?

After an hour more seawatching we had seen only a handful of gulls and 2 Gannets. On the rocky shore and islets we saw 3 Spoonbills and of course some common waders which a Dunlin and a Redshank were trip-ticks.

We stopped seawatching a bit early as it was too boring and started driving back to Lajares. Just when we were coming to the town, a huge bird flew in front of our car! First second we had no idea what the bird was, but after all it was easy to identify – it was a Houbara Bustard. It was even stranger-looking bird in flight!

In the evening I went jogging again and after that we went to eat to a restaurant in the town. We had really good food and huge portions!

Jandia

On the 28th of December we were full of power after an easier day and we woke up already at 5 a.m. Soon after a quick breakfast we were driving towards south. We were early as we wanted to be in our target before the tourists. My navigator told that it was more than 2 hours driving to western tip of Jandia and it wasn’t lying.

When the sun was rising we were in Punta de Jable and our first bird-observation of the day was strange as we saw a flying flock of 16 African Sacred Ibises. I knew that somewhere on the island there was a population of this species, but as we aren’t very interested of category-species, I hadn’t checked where to see them. Anyway we were quite happy to see these birds flying over us. But then this was only the beginning…

Hadada Ibis

We drove only a little bit further and noticed several Hadada Ibises perched on the top of the posts. When we got out of the car we heard and soon also saw lots of Monk Parakeets. It wasn’t a surprise that there was a closed zoo nearby. Before we continued we also saw several small flocks of Cattle Egrets.

Soon after Morro Jable the road continued as a sandy track. Even here the road was in very good condition, even all the books and trip-reports have told otherwise. So the view was changing quickly while we were driving in Jandia peninsula. Finally we could see the westernmost point with Faro de Punta Jandia lighthouse, but we turned before it towards Faro Punta Pesebre where we parked next to small beacon.

We had once again information about some rare birds for Canary Islands and Macaronesia. There had been 3 Hoopoe Larks and a female Desert Wheatear for some. We knew they had been extremely difficult to find but these Dutch birder we had met had sent me coordinates where someone else had just seen these birds on the previous day.

We saw that the GPS-point was quite far from the beacon but anyway we decided to start walking towards the lighthouse. We walked quite a lot before we saw the first bird which wasn’t a surprise –a Berthelot’s Pipit. Soon after that Hanna found a very recently dead Short-eared Owl!

We kept on walking and walking and finally I saw something flying quite distant behind some rocks. I raised my binoculars but didn’t find that bird but saw another one flying towards the road and this one was easy to identify as a Hoopoe Lark. We hurried after the bird and soon were on the place I thought it might have landed, but we couldn’t find anything!

So we kept on walking around the area and then I found the bird I had first seen flying – it was the Desert Wheatear. We photographed this very flighty bird for some time and then continued walking around the other side of the road but found nothing else.

Finally I decided that I will walk back to get the car so Hanna can still stay searching for the Hoopoe Larks. It was a long way back to the car but once I was driving back to Hanna, she had already walked a long way towards me and she had 2 Hoopoe Larks running and feeding in front of her!

So we managed to get some nice pictures of these beautiful larks too before we drove to the lighthouse. There were already some tourists now and from the rocky shore we found some common waders and on the islets there were 5 Cormorants. Soon there were more and more tourists coming with different kind of noisy vehicles, so we decided to start driving back.

Desert WheatearHoopoe Lark

Jandia Thittle

The next stop was made after some driving where in a valley there were lots of endemic Jandia Thittles growing. It was a beautiful cactus-like plant and there were lots of them. While we were photographing the scenery our Dutch friends stopped by and they were going to try to find Hoopoe Larks and Desert Warbler already for the second time. I gave them very fresh GPS-coordinates but later I heard that they had found only the wheatear even though they had been searching for several hours!

Monk ParakeetRose-ringed Parakeet

When we were back in Punta del Jable we were walking a little bit outside the closed zoo and found lots of Monk Parakeets, some Rose-ringed Parakeets and again some Hadada Ibises. Near the lighthouse we saw a couple of swifts in flight by they disappeared too soon.

In Morro Jable we saw a couple of Black-headed Gulls in the harbor and in Playa de La Barca we went to see a lagoon that was in the middle of huge sand-beaches. There were far too many people but we managed to see 15 Dunlins, 4 Sanderlings, 20 Ringed Plovers, 5 Kentish Plovers and an Egyptian Vulture.

Some Siberian birds again

Soon we continued to our next target which was a Park in Costa Calma. I had once again a GPS-coordinate to the Park but as I didn’t have any maps on my GPS, we happened to park our car a bit far. Anyway soon we were walking towards the park and already found a Song Thrush on the way.

It was already afternoon and there were lots of people in the park, but anyway we managed to find soon a good place where birds came to drink to a hose. There were lots of Spanish Sparrows and a couple of flocks of Linnets and Goldfinches (parva) and some Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. Also at least 4 Red-vented Bulbuls were seen, which was one more category-bird that we knew were somewhere on the island – and only now we knew where.

After some waiting Hanna noticed 3 Olive-backed Pipits walking on the shadows under one of the bushes. They were hiding very well so we couldn’t get any better pictures until something flushed them to the trees. I managed to find one bird from the tree and got some better pictures but soon they landed to the ground again and even though we saw them several times, we couldn’t get any better pictures.

Red-vented BulbulOlive-backed Pipit

Little Bunting

So after all we gave up and started walking towards north and after a couple of hundred meters we found a female Chaffinch feeding on the ground. It was nominate subspecies from Europe. Next to the Chaffinch there was a flock of Linnets that flushed soon as they always did, but one bird was left behind – and it was a Little Bunting!

The Bunting also got scared when someone was walking past us, but it landed to a bush in front of us. Then we realized that there were several of these buntings calling around us. We found at least 3 of them but probably heard a couple of more – there had been 5 earlier but only one birder had seen these birds before us. After some waiting a couple of these Little Buntings were feeding shortly on the ground but they were also all the time in shadows so we didn’t get very good pictures, but at least we had found both species we had been searching for.

Finally we started a long drive back to north. We stopped on the way still in Salinas del Carmen where we didn’t see a single bird and then nearby in Barranco del Torre. It was possible to drive in barranco but the place didn’t look too promising. We stopped a couple of times in the places with more palm-trees and found 2 Egyptian Vultures, 2 Common Buzzards, a flock of 20 Starlings, lots of Collared Doves, 4 Laughing Doves and a flock of 6 Barbary Partridges. The Barranco was big but it was already getting late, so we didn’t continue further.

We still had a long drive to Lajares and it was already completely dark when we finally were back there. We ate once again can-food and went to sleep very early!

Checking some places again

On the 29th of December we woke up early but still while having breakfast we didn’t know what to do during the day. We knew that we had been birding in the most important areas of the island and then we had also heard that some of the places that we had planned to visit didn’t exist anymore. Some pools were now completely dry.

I already joked (half-seriously) that we could visit neighbor-island or even Gran Canary where the most serious twitchers had been ticking a new split Gran Canary Blue Chaffinch. Some birders had recently been on Canary Islands only for a couple of days and ticked Dwarf Bittern and this chaffinch. Anyway we had a very comfortable apartment and perfect car booked here so of course we decided to make another trip to Gran Canary somewhere in the future. But as Hanna wanted do to some more photographing; we decided now to go to a place where are lots of birds. So we were soon driving towards Los Molinos.

When we were passing the goat-farm there were again some Trumpeter Finches and Spanish Sparrows on the fences. But soon we were walking along the reservoir where were mostly the same birds as on our previous visit. Hanna climbed down to the shore to do some photographing but I continued to the end of the reservoir and still walked a bit along the Barranco, where I found some more waders and Teals.

Trumpeter FinchSpanish Sparrow

Ruddy Shelduck

I counted the birds now more carefully and altogether we saw 300 Ruddy Shelducks, 3 Mallards, 32 Teals, a Garganey, a Tufted Duck, 35 Little Egrets, 3 Grey Herons, 4 Spoonbills, 63 Coots, 40 Black-winged Stilts, a Little Ringed Plover, 2 Kentish Plovers, 2 Greenshanks, 4 Common Sandpipers, 3 Common Snipes, 2 Black-headed Gulls, 40 Lesser Short-toed Larks, 20 White Wagtails, 100 Trumpeter Finches, 2 Spectacled Warblers, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Fuerteventura Chat and a Common Stonechat. Flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouses were flying around most of the time and we managed to see about 50 birds and of course heard even more. Some sandgrouses were seen feeding with goats, buzzards and some Egyptian Vultures in a bigger goat-farm.

Hanna wasn’t very successful with photographing so pretty soon we continued to Los Molinos village. There on the mouth of Barranco were some Muscovy Ducks but not a single real bird with them. But the landscape was very nice.

After some planning, we decided to drive north along north-eastern tracks towards Faro de El Toston. There were lots of surfers but also some waders on the rocky shores. We counted 20 Kentish Plovers, 25 Ringed Plovers, 10 Sanderlings, 3 Dunlins, 8 Whimbrels, 3 Grey Plovers, 5 Turnstones, a Common Sandpiper, 2 Greenshanks, a Redshank and the only new trip-tick for the day – a Curlew. Also 8 Little Egrets, 4 Sandwich Terns and a Lesser Black-backed Gull with of course many Yellow-legged Gulls were seen.

We were again at the lighthouse too early and again there was nothing moving on the sea even though the wind was now stronger. But we met Daniel and his friend again, Vincent had already left home. After talking with our Belgian friends we still stayed seawatching for some time until we got bored and decided to drive back to Lajares. I went running again while Hanna prepared some food.

On the 30th of December we decided to go to walk more to Barranco de Rio Cabras. We knew it is possible to walk until the airport, so maybe there was still something new to be found?

On the way we saw a couple of Fuerteventura Chats in Tetir and when we had parked to the same place again, I noticed 2 White Storks on the rubbish tip with flocks of gulls.

Two couples of Ruddy Shelducks were chasing each others over the Barranco and now there were 3 Black-headed Gulls flying over the pool and stream. When we had climbed down, we started to walk down along the stream. The same waders were found again but soon we started to find new couples of Fuerteventura Chats too.

We walked about 30 minutes or so until there started to be more rubbish than birds on the Barranco. We still found a Meadow Pipit and a Grey Wagtail, but then we decided to start walking back as the view wasn’t so pleasant anymore.

Dwarf Bittern

When we were back by the pool, we decided to walk until the upper-dam where the Dwarf Bittern was found again. It was now feeding quite openly along the stream and climbing on the rocks, so maybe last days photographing had made it a little bit more used to twitchers? We were photographing it for almost an hour and then we were sure that we wouldn’t get any better pictures of this bird with our equipment. While we were climbing up, a Laughing Dove flew over us.

We didn’t have idea what to do next, so we decided to go to check one pool that was mentioned in one of our books and that we thought nobody else had visited recently. Surprisingly this Rosa de Taro pool still existed and it was easy to observe along the road. We found 2 Ruddy Shelducks, 2 Teals, a female Tufted Duck, 6 Moorhens, 2 Common Snipes, a Common Sandpiper and on the reeds we saw a couple of Chiffchaffs and some Linnets. Some flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls came to bath to the pool and there were 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls with them.

We drove back to Lajares along a new road for us and saw a Catlle Egret in Casillas del Angel. We were back in Lajares already in early afternoon and decided to spend the rest of the day there. So I went running again and Hanna was searching for lizards (which we had hardly seen at all during the whole trip) and plants and so on from the back-yard of our apartment which was already half-desert. In the evening we went to eat to the restaurant which we really enjoyed.

The last day

The last day of the year was also our last day on Fuerteventura. We had already packed most of our things in the evening so after early breakfast we were ready for some birding. We decided to head once more to Tindaya where we drove 3 different roads towards the sea and back and found 5 Houbara Bustards but they weren’t very photographable this time. One of the birds was already very active and running across the desert but unfortunately not displaying yet. Some flocks of Lesser Short-toed Larks and Trumpeter Finches were also seen but nothing else. We also visited the shore which was the first time that our car was a little bit tested but still 4 wheel-drive wasn’t needed.

Tindaya

Red-throated Pipit

Next we headed to La Oliva fields which we thought to be very dry. But surprisingly behind the school there was a sewage-water pool with very good surroundings too. We found 4 Ruddy Shelducks, 36 Moorhens, a Grey Heron, 5 White Wagtails, 10 Spectacled Warblers and on the small fields nearby we saw 5 Meadow Pipits and a Red-throated Pipit. A Corn Bunting was also seen flying past us and a flock of 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouses was flying in distance. So after all this had been a worthy place to visit.

Once we were back in our apartment we packed the rest of our things and ate the last food. Then we just relaxed and a Redwing that flew over our house was the last trip-tick number 82.

Finally it was time to drive to the airport where we had a couple of hours wait before our flight back to Finland. Our flight left a little bit late but because of the back-wind we landed in time. It was 00:40 a.m. but unfortunately it was so cloudy that we saw only a couple of fireworks.

When we got our luggage we got a ride to Lentopysäköinti where we had only a short drive to a hotel which we had booked. On the next morning we had an early wake up to twitch some First of January -ticks!

J.A.

West-Kazakhstan 7th to 13th of June 2017

On the 6th of June we had been already a couple of days in Southern Finland. We’d been shopping, birding and just relaxing. We’d stayed in Hotel Pilotti and the last we had early dinner with my parents in Kirkkonummi before we headed to Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

At the airport we met Kari Haataja who had asked us to join him to Western Kazakhstan already in the last autumn. He had been contacting to our Russian contact Denis Lebedev who lives in Samara which is quite far from Western Kazakhstan, but anyway he had been guiding a few Western Palearctic ticker-groups in the last few years. A couple of Finnish groups had also been there already so we had got some tips from them.

Finally at 8:55 p.m. our Aeroflot plane left towards Moscow, where we landed to Šeremetjevo international airfield (Аэропорт Шереметьево) after a couple of hour flight. Then after 2.5 hours waiting the next flight left to Atyrau.

On the 7th of June we had managed to sleep a little bit during the flight and finally at 5:40 a.m. we landed to Atyrau. Locals rushed to passport-control and while queuing we had to fill small papers. It took some time but finally we were the last ones to get out from the airport and luckily we found Denis Lebedev soon. He had already been worried if we had lost the plane or something.

We changed some money with Kari even though we had no idea what was the currency of local Tenge. Soon we were packing our luggage to Denis’s Pajero and that’s when I noticed a strange passerine perched on a wire – it was a female Desert Finch, a new European-tick for us! Also Caspian Gulls and some other species were seen around the airport so Kari started to keep record of species and also some numbers to his quite big log-book.

HaarahaukkaSoon we were heading towards north and right away once we got out of Atyrau, we were on steppes So most birds were steppe-species, except the most common ones which were everywhere – Rooks. Isabelline Wheatears, Ruddy Shelducks, Black Kites, 2 Black-eared Wheatears, a Roller, a Steppe Eagle, some Long-legged Buzzards and so on were seen.

We did the first stop after about 150 km driving along River Ural. Already while we were parking we saw a male Black-headed Bunting on the top of a bush. Soon we were walking along the river-bank and almost immediately I flushed a huge bird – an Eagle Owl! Luckily it landed to Asian side of the river so we managed to watch it well with my scope. Then we spread around to bushes and I soon found the first Red-headed Buntings. I went to find Kari as it was a lifer for him and luckily one of the birds was still singing on the same place. With Hanna we had already seen Red-headed Buntings on our trip to South Ural in Russia a couple of years earlier. Actually this Orsk Area wasn’t too far from where we were now – only some hundreds of kilometers North-East.

UraljokiHuuhkajaHietatiira

The first walk was pretty good and we found some Little Ringed Plovers, a Long-eared Owl, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Kari managed to see a Pallas’s Gull flying by. Soon we drove a little bit and stopped again in a more wet area where the river was flooding. So it wasn’t a surprise that we found a Caspian Penduline Tit and also a Cuckoo, Golden Orioles, a Chaffinch, a Lesser Grey Shrike and saw 4 Gull-billed Terns flying over us. We also heard a Moustached Warbler singing in a thick reedbed. After these visits in the bushes we found lots of ticks from our clothes! They were found still on the next day, but probably they were all from this place.

ValkosiipitiiraWe filled the tank near Inderbor and saw a male Black-eared Wheatear and a couple of Crested Larks around the station. Soon we turned to steppe and started to follow a tiny track towards Dzhangala that was about 100 km North-West. Actually the track had been used a lot as it was the only road to this quite big village from East, but still it was good we had a proper 4-wheel-drive and Denis was driving very well!

At midday it was 32 degrees so we didn’t bother to stop, we just kept on going and tried to see as many birds as possible from the car that was moving a little bit too fast. Anyway we saw plenty of Calandra Larks, Isabelline Wheatears and Short-toed Larks, even 80 White-winged Larks, and some Lesser Short-toed Larks. When there were some pools on the way, we made some brief stops and saw Great White Egrets, Ruddy Shelducks, Red-crested Pochards, a Demoiselle Crane couple with 2 youngsters, Little, Black, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Caspian Gulls, a Lapwing, a Green Sandpiper, Little Stints, Steppe Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards and even 15 Montagu’s Harriers but no Pallid Harrier at all. In a couple of reedbeds we heard Great Reed Warblers and saw the first Yellow-headed Wagtail (lutea).
ArokiuruKiuru

Finally at 4:30 p.m. we stopped in the middle of steppe in the same place where Denis had been staying with our friends David Monticelli and Vincent Legrand on the previous week. While we were unpacking the car I saw the first male Black Lark in flight! It was a WP-tick for us all and so Kari left immediately to take some pictures. We still chose a good place for our tent and then left after him. Kari had found altogether 3 males and a female Black Larks but only one male was still there. While getting closer we found a couple of Syke’s Warblers which was a lifer for Hanna, so Hanna stayed photographing them while I managed to get some pretty good pictures of the Black Lark.

Aroa

aavikkokultarintamustarkiuru

RuskopääsirkkuWe still walked around the camp in the evening and about 1 km away we found an old graveyard. There had been a family living still some tens of years ago. We saw some Sand Martins, Skylarks, a Tawny Pipit, a Northern Wheatear family, a Willow Warbler and a few Red-headed Buntings. When the sun was already setting, we still photographed Red-headed Buntings and Syke’s Warblers and found also a family of Twites which was a big surprise for us.

It was already quite late when Denis had prepared a tasty dinner and then we still had to put up our tents. Then it was nice just to sit down and talk with Denis and enjoy the quietness of the nature. It finally started to feel that we might really enjoy this trip! We had already seen the target number one – Black Lark, so everything else would be just extra.

kansainvälinenavaruusasemaHanna still photographed, 3rd summer in a raw on Urals, international space-station that was flying over us while Nightjar and Stone Curlew were calling on the background. It was already 11 p.m. when we finally went to sleep – we had really had a long day!

485A0557On the 8th of June we woke up at 4 a.m. and at 5:30 we were walking around the camp again. All the Black Larks were still around but they were very shy and didn’t let us to get close at all. Also all the other birds were the same as in the evening, only new bird was a Syke’s (beema) Yellow Wagtail.

We had breakfast at 8 a.m. and soon the car had been packed again and we headed towards Dzhangala again. Soon we had seen a male and a female Black Lark, a few Montagu’s Harriers, 5 Steppe Eagles, 3+2 Demoiselle Cranes and a couple of Black-winged Pratincoles.

NeitokurkiArohiirihaukka

Finally we were in Dzhangala area where were several lakes, so we had to start stopping again. There were lots of birds around and some of the better ones were 2 Dalmatian Pelicans, Common Shelducks, Gadwalls, Shovelers, Teals, Garganeys, Great White Egrets, a Purple Heron, a Spoonbill, Cormorants, Lapwings, Kentish Plovers, Redshanks, Ruffs, Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Curlews, a few Black-winged Pratincoles, a Pallas’s Gull, of course Caspian Gulls, a Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered and Little Terns, a couple of White-winged Larks, Black-headed (feldegg) Yellow Wagtails, Caspian (fuscus) Reed Warblers and once we had hit the road again we saw one more Demoiselle Crane, a Red-headed Bunting, a Black Lark and a Short-toed Eagle.

AropääskykahlaajaKiharapelikaani

MustakiuruKiharapelikaani

When we reached the second bigger lake (Kapzhasar), we decided to put up the camp. It was very hot again so it was not worthy to go birding, so we tried to sleep a little, but it was impossible because of the heat. So soon we were walking along the shore and counting birds. There were 25 Dalmatian Pelicans, Wigeons, a Cuckoo, Lesser Short-toed Larks, 5 Caspian Reed Warblers, a calcarata-Citrine Wagtail and several normal ones, different kind of Yellow Wagtail, a Caspian Stonechat, a Bluethroat, a couple of Syke’s Warblers and Red-headed Buntings and lots of other ducks and waders.

SitruunavästäräkkiIn the evening we were still scoping to the lake from the camp and saw more than 50 Pochards landing and a flock of 700 Starlings flying over a distant overgrown reedy lake. I still went to try to sound-record Caspian Reed Warblers but they had stopped singing. It was nice to follow a flock of 8 Spoonbills feeding on the shore. After the dinner we were very tired and went to sleep soon.

On the 9th of June at night I woke up a couple of times and heard a Spotted Crake and a Bittern calling. The alarm woke us up at 5 a.m. and soon we were all walking along the shore again. We spread around as Kari was walking faster and Hanna wanted to photograph almost everything again. We counted even 85 Dalmatian Pelicans which most of them were in flight and moving to other lakes already very early in the morning. I counted 50 Great White Egrets with my scope while a Demoiselle Crane was calling in distance.

Soon we had found also Wood Sandpipers, Little Gulls, Bearded Reedlings, a couple of Reed Buntings and Kari had seen a flock of Spotted Redshanks and I found a Pacific Golden Plover flying over me and luckily Hanna wasn’t too far, so when I shouted to her, she could see it too. Hanna was photographing Reed Warblers and she also photographed a Moustached Warbler.

After some more walking I saw Kari and soon he shouted that he had found some geese that were so distant that my scope was needed. They were 3 Eastern (rubrirostris) Greylag Geese that were resting with gulls and Ruddy Shelducks.

Once Kari had already continued towards the camp, I still scanned the lake with my scope and found about 30 very distant Red-necked Phalaropes. Soon Hanna caught me and we continued together towards the camp. On the way we found a couple of singing Syke’s Warblers that were showing extremely well. So we took pictures and also recordings of them.

Aavikkokultarinta

Rytikerttunen

Once we reached the camp we still saw 7 Pintails flying over us and the same Short-toed Eagle that we had seen in the evening leaving the post where it had stayed for night. The last scanning to the lake was still worthy as a Red-necked Grebe and 2 Tufted Ducks were seen. Soon the camp had been unpacked again and we headed towards the next lakes.

While driving through Kapzhasar village along a bumpy track, we noticed a family of extremely pale sparrows – Rock Sparrows! In the village we did some shopping – no beer was found but we got ice-cream.

After some more driving we were finally in Dzhangala, which was surprisingly big city. We had to buy some ice-cream again, but soon we hit the track again. We drove through the city and continued towards the lakes that were north from the city. We had decided to drive to the main road and then around the steppes back towards Inderbor. It meant that we wouldn’t see more Black Larks which sounded a little bit weird for me, but at least we would see some places that other groups hadn’t visited. Actually it was much longer way along the main roads but in time the way was about the same.

The first lake after Dzhangala was very good and we saw Kentish Plovers, Little Stints, Black-winged Pratincoles, a Marsh Sandpiper, a few Ringed Plovers, 2 Curlew Sandpipers and surprisingly also 4 Sanderlings. Other birds than waders were 200 Red-crested Pochards, 100 Coots, 2 Spoonbills, a Black-necked Grebe and a singing Savi’s Warbler.

järvi

After 11 a.m. we started driving towards North-East and in the beginning we still saw a couple of lakes with a Dalmatian Pelican, a Purple Heron, 2+2 Demoiselle Cranes, 2 Common Cranes, more Black-winged Pratincoles, 3 Avocets, Little Terns, some White-winged Larks and close to the last quite urban lake we saw a Rosy Starling in a flock of Starlings.

ArokotkaBut then there were more villages and the steppe was farmed. So there weren’t many birds except raptors. But raptors were exactly what we had hoped to see, so we were happy to see quite a few nests of Steppe Eagles and Long-legged Buzzards and even a nest of an Eastern Imperial Eagle! We also saw some White-tailed Eagles and Black Kites, some Hobbies, a flock of 13 Common Cranes, some White-winged Terns and Lesser Grey Shrikes and an Ortolan Bunting.

The last part of the main road to Chapaev was in very bad shape but finally at 3 p.m. we were there and turned towards South to much better road. We still saw some White-tailed Eagles, Steppe Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards, Rollers, the first Red-footed Falcons and a White-winged Lark.

MerikotkaKeisarikotka

PunajalkahaukkaThe road was extremely boring as there were no curves (and of course no hills) at all, so after a long drive everyone except me started to fall asleep – even Denis who was driving. So we had to stop so those who really needed could get some sleep. While Denis and Kari were sleeping we were photographing nesting Red-footed Falcons in a small forest along the road. After 45 minutes we continued toward South again.

I had started to think that if it was possible, I still wanted to see some more Black Larks. Luckily it wasn’t a problem to anyone else either, so once we finally were back in Inderbor at 5:50 p.m., we took another sandy track to steppe again. And it was worthy as we had been driving only about a kilometer when we flushed a male Little Bustard that landed back to the ground visible. When we were photographing it, a White-winged Lark started to attack it and these two amazing birds gave us a funny show!

While driving towards west we still saw lots of Short-toed Larks, Calandra Larks, Lesser Short-toed Larks, White-winged Larks, Skylarks, Isabelline Wheatears, some Syke’s Warblers and again a stunning Short-toed Eagle.

Arotasku

Pikkutrappi

SiiseliKäärmekotkaWhen we had been driving some tens of kilometers Denis started to worry why we hadn’t found any Black Larks. Along this road there should’ve been lots of them. He started to drive faster and faster and as this was once again very bumpy road, it wasn’t very funny on the back-seat where we were hitting our heads to the roof and our bags and everything in the boot was flying.

MustakiuruFinally we found the first Black Lark and this male was posing extremely well! So we got some good pictures from the car already. Denis continued a little too quickly but soon more larks were found. We also saw the first Steppe Grey Shrike. Finally we found a place where several male Black Larks seemed to be on their territories, so we decided that it was our next camping place.

After we had chosen good places for tents we spread around to check what birds we could found nearby. But unfortunately we soon found out that Black Larks weren’t that easy to approach by feet than they had been by car. So after all we managed to get only some pictures of them and other birds found were only some Syke’s Warblers and a Black-bellied Sandgrouse that flew over us calling.

While having dinner a Nightjar started singing and when Kari had already gone to sleep, a family of Red Foxes came to search food from the camp. After some searching they got some sausage with them.

The 10th of June. Night was extremely cold! It was about 5 degrees and as the weather forecasts had promised minimum 17 degrees at nights, I had only very thin sleeping-bag with me. So once again I was freezing while Hanna was enjoying in her warm sleeping-bag.

After very badly slept night we woke up at 6 a.m. and soon we were photographing and sound-recording Black Larks again. We managed to get some pretty good pictures and I managed to record song from both perched and flying birds. Usually when one Black Lark was flushed, it started to sing and soon one or two other males joined it, then they were chasing each others for some time before landing again one by one to different places. Altogether we saw about 10 Black Larks which only 2 were females, only other better birds were a flock of 3 Black-bellied Sandgrouses.

Janne kuvaa

Mustakiuru

Finally we had breakfast and packed everything to the car again and about at 9 a.m. headed towards the main road again. On the way we took some landscape pictures on the sand-dunes and saw again lots of different kind of larks. Then near Inderbor we filled the tank again and saw a family of Pied Wheatears and a couple of Crested Larks. Then we headed towards Atyrau.

Denis was driving fast as we finally were in a good road, so not many birds were seen: A couple of White-tailed Eagles and Steppe Eagles, some Red-footed Falcons, 2 Wood Pigeons and a couple of Red-headed buntings were seen.

In Atyrau we headed straight to Hotel Laeti where we had booked rooms. We had a quick shower and rested an hour or so and then went to eat to a restaurant nearby. Unfortunately it was weekend and the restaurant didn’t have their lunch-offer which Denis knew was good, so we had to order from the list. They didn’t have some food we would’ve wanted so we just took something simple. It took ages and when we finally got our food, it wasn’t very good and for sure it wasn’t enough – and after all it was quite expensive too. So we decided that this was the last time we ate in this restaurant.

PussitiainenIn the afternoon we drove to Victory Park that was very close to our hotel. This was the place where our friend Ilkka Sahi had found a Long-tailed Shrike on the previous summer. And this bird ha later got a female too and in early autumn fledlings had been seen there too! Earlier groups hadn’t seen the shrike but we knew that they might arrive very late, so we had to give it a try. But we found only some Red-backed Shrikes, a small flock of Green Finches, a Red-headed Bunting and some Pallas’s Gulls that flew over the park. It was nice to see local families spending their time in the park where were lots of activities for children.

Next we drove to walkway that followed Ural River and where were lots of bushes where Penduline Tits were breeding. They were very easy to attract with the tape so we had a good opportunity to photograph several Caspian Penduline Tits, but we also saw several European -type of birds. We hoped to find a Black-headed Penduline which had been recently split and rumored to be possible to find around Ural-delta, but unfortunately we couldn’t find any. It was good to see and photograph also some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. We also saw some Collared Doves, I saw briefly a Marsh Warbler and when it was getting late a Night Heron was flying over us.

In the evening we headed to another restaurant which was excellent! The owner lady seemed to like us and so we got plenty of extra things to taste. It was already late when we walked back to our hotel to sleep and it was awful to find out that our room was really hot.

On the 11th of June we woke up before 6 a.m. again and soon were packing our car again. The weather was surprisingly cloudy and soon when we were driving towards west, it started to rain.

We had already in the beginning had a plan to go to eastern part of Volga-delta to see Pheasants that were A-category birds, not typical plastic-birds that we have everywhere in Europe. But in the beginning of the trip Denis had told that he wasn’t very keen on going there again as the roads are in extremely bad shape. So we had made new plans and added also Steppe Horn Larks to our to-do list. So after we had been driving along the main road for about 40 minutes and seen once again plenty of larks, we turned towards inland and to steppe. It was good to get out from the main road where the locals were driving like maniacs! The road was full of holes and usually there was only a narrow line where it was OK to drive, but there was traffic to both directions! So some locals were just driving as fast as their cars were moving without caring about anyone else! So we really had to drive off the road a couple of times when some lunatic was driving on the best line straight towards us when the best line was on our side of the road! Well Denis was also driving pretty fast so we were happy to get to softer but at least as bumpy steppe-track. At least there weren’t much traffic!

It was once again quite a ride and the worst places where crossroads. The road that had been driven more on the wet conditions was deeper, so sometimes even the smallest crossing track had very deep trails and when we drove to those trails about 80 km/h it was quite an experience.

TunturikiuruFinally Denis told that we were on the area where Horned Larks but also Caspian Plovers were possible to find. Once Hanna saw a plover-like bird flushed in front of us but when we stopped, we couldn’t find it again. Then it still took quite a long time before I finally noticed a  Steppe Horned Lark perched on the road in front of us. Unfortunately we tried to get too quickly too close to the bird so we didn’t get any pictures. After some driving we found some larks more but the approaching ended with the same result. Finally we found one family of larks and flushed only 3 of them while one young bird still stayed there for us. But soon our car was moving again and it seemed that we were already driving towards the main road again.
Suolajärvi
We still saw some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a Little Owl, some Steppe Grey Shrikes and on the wet roads altogether 40 Black-bellied Sandgrouses but unfortunately we were driving so fast that we just couldn’t stop before these shy birds were always flushed.

MustapäälokkejaFinally we were back on the main road and we just drove over it and continued towards Caspian Sea. Once we reached the shore there were immediately big flocks of gulls. They were mostly Pallas’s Gulls but also many Caspian Gulls and a big flock of Black-headed Gulls were seen. On the sea there were some gulls also swimming and we found a few Slender-billed Gulls and Russian (heinei) Common Gulls. Also some Caspian Terns were seen and on the sandy shore we saw a Turnstone and some Kentish Plovers. We drove along the shore a little bit and soon found a big flock of terns where were 5 different species and also some Little Gulls. On a small puddle there were about 100 Greenshanks, 70 Ruffs and a Marsh Sandpiper.

We still kept on going along the shore and found lots of pratincoles that were actually identified only from the pictures as we just photographed them from (almost moving) car, but at least one of them was a Collared Pratincole while there were also Black-winged Pratincoles.  More than ten White-tailed Eagles and more and more gulls were also seen. Finally all the tracks ended and we had to start finding a way back towards the main road. It took some time but finally we made it and then kept on going towards west on a bumpy main road.
KaspianmeriPääskykahlaajaRistisorsa

Finally after 3 p.m. we turned towards South and the eastern edge of Volga-delta. We drove through bushy area along one more very bumpy track and saw on the way a Steppe Buzzard. Then we finally stopped to a place where Denis had been with other groups earlier. We put up the tents right away and decided to try to get some sleep.

LeiriIt was extremely hot again in the tent so it was impossible to sleep. When I got out from the tent at 6 p.m. Kari was already out and scanning the surroundings with his binoculars. Suddenly he said: “There is a Pheasant!” I hurried to next to him and soon found the bird that was climbing to the bank – a darkish red male Pheasant! Hanna managed to get out from the tent soon enough too before the bird disappeared behind a bush. Soon we were walking towards the bird hoping to get some pictures. We climbed to the bank of the river and started walking slowly towards the place where the bird had disappeared. But it had been walking a little bit towards us and flushed surprisingly just in front of us! So only a couple of flight pictures were got. But it was really amazing that we had got this A-category pheasant to our lists so easily! A couple of groups had been here before but only a couple of persons had seen the birds at all – others had only heard them.

FasaaniFasaani

We celebrated a little bit and then I suddenly saw another Pheasant flying across the river quite distant. But then we walked around the bushy area for a couple of hours but didn’t see any more of them – just heard one bird a couple of times. We found some Red-headed Buntings, a few Corn Buntings and surprisingly a couple of Menetrie’s Warblers which was a Europe-tick for us.

While we were having the dinner we still saw a Night Heron and soon heard again Nightjars. There were lots of mosquitoes but we were accompanied with a flock of about 30 dragonflies that were catching all the mosquitoes even when they had already landed to stick us! It was very funny experience! But when the sun set, the dragonflies stopped flying and we had to escape the mosquitoes into our tents.

On the 12th of June I woke up a couple of times to listen if the Pheasants were calling but heard a couple of Grey Partridges calling somewhere quite distant.

Finally we woke up with Hanna already before 5 a.m. and went walking to the bushes. We heard a Pheasant calling once in every 30 minutes but other better birds were only a couple of Syke’s Warblers and Red-headed Buntings which one of them was very yellow-headed, probably a young male. A couple of Lesser Grey Shrikes were breeding in the same tree with Hobbies.

At 7:30 a.m. we were back in the camp where Kari was just leaving to the bushes. So we also decided to cross the river and walk a little bit more but nothing new was found – Kari just heard another Pheasant. After the breakfast we started a long way back towards Atyrau. The only plan was to survive from the bumpy roads.

TunturikiuruDenis wanted to avoid the horrible main-road so we planned to drive as much as possible on the steppe again. So pretty soon we were driving towards the Horned Lark area again. This time we really tried to find Caspian Plovers and it seemed that we checked every single spot where Denis had seen them with groups before as he was driving with his laptop (with satellite-pictures) and GPS all the time. Actually these both were needed most of the time outside the main roads anyway as there were plenty of tracks going on steppe and in every cross it was worthy to check which way to continue.

This time we saw plenty of Steppe Horned Larks, about 40 birds and finally managed to get a couple of pictures of adults too. But we just couldn’t find any Caspian Plovers. Of course we had seen this species before but not in Europe. Also Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Steppe Grey Shrikes and a couple of Northern Wheatears were seen, and of course plenty of Isabelline Wheatears and common larks. When we were heading back towards the main road again we ended up driving along wrong track which had no crossroads and all, so we just had to follow it for a long time to get away from it. It took really a long time before we could cross the gas-line and the railroad back to the main road.
Kamelit

Driving on the main road was again awful but as we knew it was our last long drive and the car and all the passengers were still OK, also Denis was much more relaxed and we had really good time talking about birding and guiding groups and so on. So it didn’t take long before we turned to Atyrau wastewater lake that really looked like an amazing birding place! It was easy to just drive around the lake along the bank and stop every time when there were birds to check. And there really were lots of birds! We counted 10 Glossy Ibises, 20 Ruddy Shelducks, 90 Common Shelducks, 10 Black-necked Grebes, 2 very dark morph Marsh Harriers, some Moorhens, 150 Avocets, 9 Curlews, 5 Whimbrels, 10 Black-tailed and 4 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Water Rail, 15 Little Stints, a Ringed Plover, several hundreds of Caspian Gulls, 8 Pallas’s Gulls, 3 Gull-billed Terns and so on.

RuskosuohaukkaAroharmaalokkiKeltavästäräkkiPronssi-iibis

Jätevesiallas

Finally we drove back to our hotel where we got the same rooms that we had had earlier. After a quick shower we rested a little bit. Luckily Kari, who had managed to lock his phone to PUK-code condition, was able to go to internet with WiFi as he found out that the Swedish WP-year-lister group had managed to find a Black-headed Penduline Tit in Atyrau! He even managed to find out the exact coordinates to the place so it was easy to decide what we would do on our last day!

In the evening we ate in the same restaurant but the owner lady wasn’t at work so we had to satisfy to ordinary portions, which were really good anyway. When we were back in the hotel, we were extremely tired but still made the days log before going to sleep.

On the 13th of June we woke up again early and at 6 a.m. we were leaving towards Ural delta National Park. After 30 minutes driving we parked next to the gate of the park and found immediately the big tree left from the gate where the Black-headed Penduline Tit had been seen. We walked a little bit around and tried to find out which side of the tree was the best for us to observe as most of the tree was still in shadow. There were so many mosquitoes that we really had to use repellent for the first time, Hanna even used net.

When we had found a good spot Denis started to play tape and almost immediately I found the Black-headed Penduline Tit from the tree! It really looked good! We had been checking every possible picture in internet and also read the Central Asia bird-book that I had with me and this bird really looked promising! But it seems that not enough is known about this species yet…

Macronyx-pussitiainenMacronyx-pussitiainen

The tit was very mobile and flew several times to the reeds along the river to collect food and then flew back inside the big tree. We stopped playing the tape and waited for some 10 minutes and then played the tape again – and after we had repeated this a couple of times, we had managed to get good enough pictures and even some sound-recordings.

Other birds seen were a couple of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a Night Heron, a Syke’s Warbler and a couple of Red-headed Buntings. When we left the place we still saw a Little Owl. We still drove around the area along the tracks for some time but found nothing else than some Lesser Grey Shrikes.

The next stop was made in a small forest along the road where Red-footed Falcons had a colony. These birds were good to photograph from the car when they were still perched on the wire, but when we got out they were just flying around and never came very close. On the same forest we saw also some Collared Doves and Lesser Grey Shrikes.

PunajalkahaukkaPunajalkahaukka

After a quick breakfast in Burger King, we decided to make another visit to Victory Park. But again we found only 3 male and 1 female Red-backed Shrikes.

We really didn’t have any idea what to do next, so we decided to drive to the Asian side of Ural River. But the city continued there and further there were big industrial areas. We saw in distance a lake that we tried to reach but after all it was just a wastewater from the factories and it was very well fences. It also seemed that there weren’t many birds, so we stopped trying to see it better. But anyway driving around was worthy as we found about 20 Pied Wheatears in one cemetery and then in small pool right next to one big fenced factory area there were 2 White-tailed Plovers with Black-winged Stilts. We managed to get some pictures of the lapwings even though Denis was a little bit worried as we were so close to the guarded gates.
NunnataskuNunnatasku

SuohyyppäAs it seemed quite pointless to continue in the midday, we decided to drive back to Europe and visit one more park along the Ural River. On this place there were plenty of Great Reed Warblers in the reeds and we also saw a Syke’s Warbler and some Pallas’s Gulls.

Then we just drove back to hotel and paid everything for Denis and let him start his long way back his family to Samara. We were ready to go to sleep for some time.

In the afternoon we did some shopping and walked a little bit in the city before we went to eat to the same restaurant again. The owner was there again and we got really good food once again. Then we walked back to hotel and went to sleep early as we had an early wake up.

Kaupungilla

MoskeijaOn the 14th of June we woke up at 4 a.m. and soon we were in a taxi that we had pre-booked and drove 10 minutes to the airport. We waited for a couple of hours for our flight to Moscow which left in time.

In Moscow we couldn’t find any info about our flight but then we realized that our boarding passes were already marked to a different flight that was leaving an hour later than our cancelled flight. So we had to wait for our flight for 4 hours!

Finally our flight left to Finland and luckily we managed to sleep most of it. We landed to Helsinki-Vantaa at 1:30 p.m. and my parents had wanted to come to see us to the airport, so we still went to eat all together. Then we still had a long drive back to Parikkala.

It was good to be back at home quite early in the evening, so we still went to ring a couple sets of Pygmy Owls and then to sauna to Tarvaslampi.

J.A.

Thailand, Phetchaburi 25th of February to 7th of March 2017

Forewords

In early winter Tero Toivanen sent us an email and asked if we’d like to join him and Janne Kilpimaa and go somewhere far and warm. The first suggestion was Thailand and Phetchaburi area, where for example Mika Bruun had been a couple of years earlier and written a blog to Tarsiger. It really seemed to be an interesting area to go, so soon we were booking flights, accommodations and a car and so on.

After all our plan was to fly to Bangkok, take a taxi to Hua-Hin where we’d take a 4-wheel car and then do birding first 2 days in Laem Pak Bia and Pak Thale wader places, then continue to Kaeng Krachan National Park for 4 days, then spend 2 days around Phetchaburi fields before taking a taxi back to Bangkok.

On Saturday the 25th of February our Finnair Airbus A350 left towards Bangkok at 6:15 p.m. It was a long, almost 10 hours flight, but there were pretty new movies to watch and of course we also tried to sleep.

Asian Openbill

Finally we landed to Suvarnabhum airport at 9:15 a.m. and after we had found our luggage, we found our Thai Happytaxi driver and soon were driving towards Hua-Hin (2300 Baht). On the way we of course saw some birds but most of them were left without identification as there weren’t many species we were familiar with. Anyway Asian Spotted Dove, Red Turtle Dove, Asian Openbill and some other common species were seen. It took a bit more than 2 hours to get to Hua-Hin airport where we got our big Isuzu and soon Janne K. was practicing driving on the left side of the road. We drove a little bit back towards North and pretty soon were in Cha Am where we parked to Eurasia resort where we had booked rooms for next 2 nights.

Eurasia resort was really good looking bird wise, so we decided to start birding there as the hottest time of the day wasn’t the best time to go anywhere. We hoped to get familiar with at least some common species. Right away we found lots of Streak-eared Bulbuls, which was surprisingly the only bulbul-species we saw on the coast. On flowering bushes there were Olive-backed and Brown-throated Sunbirds and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers. A short walk around the resort was really good as we found Oriental Magpie Robins, Pied Fantails, Zebra Doves, a couple of Freckle-breasted Woodpeckers, Indian Rollers, Crested Mynas, Pied Mynas, Germain’s Swiftlets (or whatever swiftlets there really are), a couple of Plain-backed Sparrows, a Plaintive Cuckoo and a couple of Ruddy-breasted Crakes that were flushed from one ditch.

Freckle-breasted WoodpeckerZebra Dove

In the afternoon we headed to Laem Pak Bia salt-pools and saw a couple of White-shouldered Starlings on the way. From the pools we found lots of waders and mostly they were familiar species for us, but of course it was good to see Pacific Golden Plovers, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers too. But the best ones for us were Red-necked and Long-toed Stints and even 300 Great Knots, which was the only lifer for us all. We also found a flock of greenshanks, but too late when it was already getting dark, so we couldn’t identify them surely as Nordmann’s Greenshanks! Anyway a briefly seen Eastern Yellow Wagtail was a lifer too.

PoolsGreat Knot

We also visited Mr. Deang and booked a boat-trip to sand-spit for the next day. On small pools around his village, we saw a Black-capped and several Collared Kingfishers and a huge Asian Monitor Lizard.

In the evening we ate in the only restaurant in the resort which was noisy, expensive and pretty bad. Anyway it was nice to see Tokee-geckos on the roof of the restaurant. It had been a long day so after we had written down the bird-log, we were ready to go to sleep.

Waders and Egrets

On Sunday the 27th of February we woke up before 6 a.m. and once we got out we heard strange calls from the woods – it was a Large-tailed Nightjar. Soon I was driving (my turn) towards Pak Thale wader place. Once we got to the pools, there were lots of people from the village. They were carrying salt from one pool that was full of big piles of salt.

SaltWaders

We saw a couple of flocks of Painted Storks before we started to scan the pools for waders. The first pools didn’t have too many birds so we soon walked in the middle of the pools. It was allowed to walk along the bigger roads. Soon we found big flocks of waders; lots of Red-necked Stints and plovers. After some searching I found what we were looking for – a Spoon-billed Sandpiper! It was a little bit behind a sand-wall but Hanna managed to see it through my scope. But then a motorcycle drove towards it and flushed all waders. And right after that it started to rain so we had to get to shelter. The rain made the sand extremely slippery and muddy and soon we had a thick mud-layers on our shoes. Luckily the rain stopped soon and the waders had landed back to the same pool. And after some searching I found the “spoonie” again and also Janne K. and Tero managed to see this dream-bird! It had really been the target nr. 1 on our list!

Spoon-billed SandpiperSpoon-billed Sandpiper

We were scanning the wader-flocks for some time and Janne K. found another Spoon-billed Sandpiper which had color-rings. It was maybe from Russian breeding programs, so it had been good to see also the unringed bird. Soon after the second “spoonie” we decided to move on and continued to the shore to check some mangroves.

We passed some pools that had only some waders and parked to the end of the road and walked to a shelter that was on the shore. Soon we saw lots of wader-flocks that were passing us. Tide had probably made them fly to somewhere else. We saw Curlews, Whimbrels, Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers, Great Knots and even a pure Terek Sandpiper flock. Soon we saw the first Far Eastern Curlew in a flock of Curlews and later 2 more birds were seen. On the mangrove we saw some Golden-bellied Gerygones and I saw a lonely Asian House Martin flying over me.

MangroveMudskipper

On the hottest time of the day we stopped to eat on a small restaurant along the road. The food was really cheap and good. Soon we had to hurry to Mr. Deang to catch a boat to the Sand Spit. And soon we were sitting on a smallish motor-boat that Mr. Deang was driving along a river between mangroves towards the sea. Lyle’s Flying Dogs were hanging on the tops of trees and plenty of Asian Monitor Lizards were swimming on the river. Soon Mr. Deang showed us the first better egret – a Chinese Egret! This species is extremely rare with less than 1000 birds in the whole world!

Chinese EgretPacific Reef Egret

Finally we were on the sand spit and after we had seen another Chinese Egret, we started to walk on the shore. There were immediately some Malaysian Plovers but we had to walk quite a lot before we finally found one White-faced Plover! On the rocky reef, we found a dark-morph Pacific Reed Egret and on the tern flocks there were Crested Terns, 1 Lesser Crested Tern, White-winged Terns and also a Pallas’s Gull.

Malaysian PloverWhite-faced Plover

After the trip we paid 1000 Bahts from the successful trip and continued to King’s Project (Environmental Research and Development Project initiated by H.M King Bhumibol), which had good pools with quite a few pond herons and finally there were a couple of birds in breeding plumage and they were easy to identify as Javan Pond Herons. Otherwise the hot afternoon wasn’t good for birding but anyway some Dusky Warblers were found. A couple of Asian Monitor Lizards were seen almost too close…

Javan Pond HeronAsian Monitor Lizard

Nordmann's Greenshank

Next we continued to Laem Pak Bia again and hoped to find the flock of greenshanks again. But pools where the flock had been on the previous evening were almost empty. We had seen big flocks of waders on the way along the main road so drove back there. There were about 400 Great Knots and behind them we saw altogether 43 Nordmann’s Greenshanks! Now they were easy to identify with their short and yellow legs.

It was already dark when we drove back to Eurasia resort and stopped almost at the gate where both a Large-tailed and Indian Nightjar were calling actively. We still went to eat with Hanna and of course the log was made before we went to sleep.

More pools

Oriental Reed Warbler

On the last day of February we headed early to so-called abandoned building and we were there when the sun was rising. Right away we heard several warblers “tacking” and soon saw one and confirmed the identification as Oriental Reed Warbler. On the sky there were all the time both Little and Indian Cormorants flying over us. On the small rubbish tip we found a couple of rarities; 2 Brahminy and 2 Rosy Starlings. There were also a couple of Indochinese Bush-larks, a couple of Black-headed Munias were seen briefly and soon we continued to check the pools. There were lots of waders and better ones were 20 Red-necked Phalaropes, 80 Broad-billed Sandpipers and a flock of 35 Asian Dowitchers! And when we were already leaving I found 2 Oriental Pratincoles flying over us.

Brahminy Starling

Long-toed and Red-necked Sandpiper

Oriental Pratincole

We still stopped at Wat Komnaram which had some a little bit wet fields. A couple of Oriental Skylarks were singing and there were some Oriental Pratincoles to photograph.

The next stop was made in Cha Am where we ate again while Hanna visited a pharmacy and finally managed to find fuel to his cooker. Hanna is allergic to almost everything that people eat in Thailand (or actually anywhere, but especially in Thailand), so she had planned to cook her own food. Well Hanna’s luck wasn’t too good after all; first she got Asian Openbill shit to her jacket when a flock was flying over us and when we went to get money from ATM, the machine ate her credit card! Luckily the rest of us got some money so after the card had been redeemed, we continued towards inland.

Our next target was Kaeng Krachan National Park which wasn’t as easy to find as we had expected. We found the information center easily and walked a little there and heard a Lineated Barbet and saw some Paddyfield Pipits, but almost nothing else. But when we continued towards the National Park, there were soldiers blocking the road. Of course they didn’t speak any English, but when they pointed to our targeted direction and said “shooting, shooting”, we decided to try to find another road. Luckily we found another road easily and pretty soon we parked to Ban Maka from where we had booked rooms for next 2 nights.

Ban Maka

We carried our luggage to our rooms and changed to long shirts and trousers as there are mosquitos that carry malaria and dengue-fever in the area. Then we found familiar faces from the parking place; our very good friends Mikko Ala-Kojola and Antti Peuna, who had already been birding in Northern Thailand for more than a week. They had almost similar plans with us for the rest of their trip. They had booked rooms from Samarn Bird Camp which was closer to the National Park. And that’s where we were going to stay the last 2 nights on our stay in Kaeng Krachan.

Mikko and Antti comingLake Ban Maka

The surroundings of Ban Maka were perfect for afternoon birding, so soon we were all walking around and searching for birds. We soon found some Black-crested Bulbuls, Brown-cheeked Sunbirds, an Oriental Pied Hornbill and a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. A short walk along the road produced also a Dark-necked Tailorbird, a calling Chinese Francolin and Sooty-headed Bulbuls.

Brown-throated SunbirdSooty-headed Bulbul

In the evening a couple of other groups of birders arrived to Ban Maka and Mikko and Antti had met them earlier in the North. We ate together in the restaurant and heard a Collared Scops Owl calling. We got plenty of good tips to the National Park. Anyway we had booked a guide for the next day so I just wrote the tips down in a hurry, but didn’t really study them as I thought our guide would know most of them anyway. I was really hoping that the next day would be my best birding day ever!

Up and down Kaeng Krahan

On the 1st of March we had breakfast at 5:30 a.m. and soon we met our guide. He didn’t speak any English but we had been warned about it. We climbed to his Hiace and were soon at the gate of the National Park. The guide collected money for the tickets and paid them and soon we were in.

Sun was rising when we parked after we had been driving about 9 kilometers. This are was exactly the are where an Elephant had killed a couple of tourists earlier. And this very same Elephant was still hanging somewhere there. We really had hoped to see an Elephant, but not necessarily this individual. But there was quite a lot of Elephant shit on the roads.

In this open area we experienced something that I hadn’t been expected – the monkeys – White-handed Gibbons were singing and loudly! We also heard Green-legged Partridges funny calls and also Greater and Common Flamebacks were noisy but also showing well. A Large Hawk-cuckoo was seen in flight briefly and with many Oriental Pied Hornbills we saw also 2 Tickell’s Brown Hornbills. Then our guide was worthy for the first time when he showed us an Asian Barred Owlet. We had hoped that he’d tell us what were all the voices, songs and calls that were coming from every direction, but after he had shown us the owl, he just concentrated to photograph it.

Oriental Pied HornbillAsian Barred Owlet

Well at least one of the calls was easy to identify – a Red Junglefowl, but we also identified Green-eared Barbets and found 2 tiny Black-tighted Falconets. Soon Mikko and Antti also parked there and they told that they had seen already lots of species on their many stops. With them we still saw our first Stripe-throated Bulbuls, but then our guide wanted to move.

We didn’t understand why our driver wanted to hurry as we knew that from the first camping place, Baan Krang, the road continued only one way and the direction was changing up only at 1 p.m. But anyway soon we parked to Baan Krang and our guide marched inside the restaurant to order food to himself!

So we had no idea what to do. We knew there were plenty of target-birds around and I had even got instructions how to find some nests, but I hadn’t got them with me. So we just started walking around the camp and try to find birds by ourselves. Soon we found some Thick-billed Green Pigeons, a Hainan Blue Flycatcher, a Rosy Minivet, a Two-barred Warbler and Flavescent Bulbuls.

Rosy MinivetHainan Blue Flycatcher

After some walking we saw a small group that had also a local guide watching something behind a couple of tents. Surprisingly our own guide was also there and already photographing something! When he saw us coming he waved us to get there and there was an amazing looking Orange-breasted Trogon perched very close to them.

Orange-bellied TrogonSilver-breasted Broadbill

We of course started to take pictures too and while others were still photographing I found another target-bird – a Silver-breasted Broadbill! And even though there were a couple of these broadbills, they weren’t very co-operative, so we didn’t get very good pictures of them.

Then our guide started to be a guide and wanted to take us to a short forest-walk. We knew it was going to be quiet as it was the hottest time of the day, but we hoped that he had at least one good bird somewhere on the way.

Sun was shining very hot and cicadas were extremely noisy – and there were almost no birds at all! We had been walking quite a long already, when our guide asked us to get closer to him and he pointed a bird from a bush – and it was a Streak-eared Bulbul – the only bird that was common everywhere!

Luckily we soon found a Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo and when we arrived to Youth Camp, I found a Himalayan Cuckoo perched on the top of the tallest tree. Hanna almost stepped to a poisonous snake, but at least she got good snake-pictures.

Asian Emerald CuckooSiamese Cat Snake

Once we were back in the camp, Mikko and Antti had also arrived and they had seen so much more! They had been stopping many times on the way and really enjoyed their morning! We weren’t too happy for their success…

We still saw Grey-eyed Bulbul, Large Woodshrike and together with Hanna we saw 2 Hill Mynas flying over us. Anyway the rest of the mid-day we were sitting in the shadows and waiting for some birds to come to the only fruiting tree of the area that was in front of the restaurant. Of course we visited a river that was almost completely dry, with only some tiny pools, but there were amazing number of different kind of colorful butterflies. And we also photographed monkeys, Dusky Leaf Monkeys, that were relaxing close to the restaurant. We also saw a quite a big deer running across the camping area.

Dusky Leaf MonkeyDusky Leaf Monkey

Finally it was 1 p.m. and we started driving up again. But again we were just driving! We passed the first and second river-crossings that we knew were one of the best birding places and kept on going! We started to get afraid that our driver was going to drive straight up to the second camp too, so I forced him to stop on the 3rd river-crossing. Once we had stopped, I tried to ask him to tell what were the birds that were calling around us, but only thing he could tell was that one of the calls was a barbet – luckily there were only 6 possible species… So again we started to try to find the birds by ourselves.

We had been listening to some recordings at home and with Tero we both had lots of recordings loaded on our phones, but there were just too many different kind of unfamiliar calls everywhere all the time – it was very confusing! We did identify a Blue-throated Barbet but then we found 4 Great Slaty Woodpeckers on one dead tree and all the other voices were forgotten! These huge woodpeckers were closest to a pterosaur what we have ever seen! Then we still found 2 Dollarbirds perched on the next top of trees, so it started to feel that maybe this day wasn’t going to be that bad after all!

Great Slaty WoodpeckerOriental Dollarbird

Mountain Hawk EagleBut soon our driver was in a hurry again and then we drove again for a long time until he stopped under a couple of huge trees and pointed up and there was a nest of a Crested Mountain Eagle and there was even one bird at home! What a nice surprise!

The next stop was made in 27 km, which we knew had plenty of target birds. It seemed that our driver (we didn’t think he was a guide anymore) knew at least one of them, as he walked straight to one pool where were 2 nests hanging over it. He even started to play the call of the bird from his phone, so again he surprised us. And right away a couple of Long-tailed Broadbills arrived to build the nest!

Long-tailed BroadbillLong-tailed Broadbill

I remembered that I had got several other tips to this place too, but it seemed that our driver didn’t know them, so we started walking up along the road. We found some Ochraceous Bulbuls, a Vertider Flycatcher and heard Blue-eared Barbets and a Moustached Barbet, but many other calls were still not identified.

27 kmAshy Drongo

Buff-rumped Woodpecker

After some time we found our driver again and he had probably got some tips from other guides that had passed us and he showed us a tree with a woodpecker nest – and there was a Buff-rumped Woodpecker just visiting the nest!

We still spent some time on the area as we weren’t in a hurry to get to the next camp, where we would be stuck again before it was allowed to drive back down. We still found a Sulphure-breasted Warbler and identified some common callers, when we finally saw them, as Pin-striped Tit-babblers and Rufous-fronted Babblers. But soon our driver came with his car and asked us to get in and so we were driving up again.

We found a possible Chinese Blue Flycatcher while driving and saw a Common Emerald Dove flying across the road but soon we parked to the top to Khao Panoen Tung camp. Again our driver disappeared inside to restaurant and we had no idea what to do. So we started just behind the restaurant-building where opened a pretty good view to the hillside. Right away I found maybe the most searched species of the whole park – a Ratched-tailed Treepie! This bird really had a strange tail! On the next tree there was a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike and soon we saw and heard a flock of small birds flying over us. I was the only one to run after them and saw to which tree they landed. But only one bird was visible on the top of the tree while all the other birds were inside the tree. This one bird was a white-eye with almost white flanks and stomach and huge ring around the eye. I thought it was an Oriental White-eye, but later I heard that there had been some Everett’s White-eyes with a flock that was mostly Chestnut-sided White-eyes. Once the flock had moved on too fast again Janne K. found a Streaked Spiderhunter which was luckily easier to identify.

Ratchet-tailed TreepieBlack-winged Cuckoo-shrike

But then we again had no idea where our driver was. We didn’t know if he wanted to continue further as the road still continued several kilometers to the other side of the top. Finally he came out and showed us to follow him to the next hilltop. This was the place where we should have walked already much earlier as the view was amazing! There was strange calls coming from the opposite hill and once again our driver surprised us and used Tero’s telescope to find some Great Hornbills. We were scanning the tree-tops and sky for some time and found a Black Eagle and a Rufous-bellied Eagle, also Vernal Hanging Parrots were seen briefly.

Rufous-bellied EAgleGreat Hornbill

When we were walking back towards the camp-buildings, Hanna who had left a little bit earlier called us to get down quickly! She had found a flock of 3 Common Green Magpies! These birds were just amazing, but unfortunately mostly hiding well and moving too quickly. So we saw them well only for a couple of seconds before they were gone. And right away after that we found a couple of Blyth’s Shrike-babblers, which were also really nice birds.

Common Green MagpieBlyth's Shrike-babbler

Once we were back at our car, we probably would have left back down immediately, but I realized that I had lost my back-bag. After some searching I knew I had left it up to the top of the hill, so a couple of us climbed back there. But it was good, as once the bag had been found, we found a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch which seemed to be a new species to our driver as he started to take pictures of the bird and didn’t seem to stop photographing at all. While standing there next to our car, we saw a bird flying past us and hit straight to the window of the restaurant. With Hanna we hurried to see what had happened and there was a Common Emerald Dove on the ground. It had got some damage but we moved it to shadows to rest, so maybe it still survived?

Common Emerald DoveVelvet-fronted Nuthatch

We were already late as cars were supposed to leave from the top at 5 p.m. but our driver was still chasing the nuthatch. Finally he had got enough and we left to downhill at 5:40 p.m. We had hoped to stop in some places that we had been passing on the way up but now it was too late. It takes more than an hour to drive back to the gate and it was closing at 7 p.m. And once the gate is closed there is no way out!

Kalij PheasantSo we were driving down pretty fast, but luckily we were the only car on the road this late and that’s why there were some birds on the road! We saw some Red Junglefowls and 1+3 beautiful Kalij Pheasants!

Once we had driven through the lover camp we found Mikko and Antti waiting for us. It came dark very quickly and soon we saw the first nightjars on the road. We had some difficulties to make our driver to understand that we wanted him to use long lights. It seemed that he wasn’t going to stop to watch any nightjars, we didn’t want to kill any of them. But them he also noticed the birds and started to stop. Unfortunately all the birds we checked were Long-tailed Nightjars.

Collared Owlet

Finally we were outside the National Park at 6:53 p.m. and drove straight to Ban Maka. There we paid our driver and luckily he wasn’t very expensive, 1200 Bahts. We wouldn’t have paid the price that we had heard was the price for real bird-guides. Anyway after all we were very happy as the afternoon had been really good! Then we of course ate together with Mikko and Antti and made the bird-log together again and changed tips with them and with other groups too. There was one new group from Hungary and they made us to stop our dinner for a good reason when they found a Collared Scops Owl perched on one tree close to the restaurant.

On the lower part of the park

On the 2nd of March we met Mikko and Antti at the National Park gate at 6 a.m. and soon continued until km 9. There were already lots of birds awake, but mostly the same species as on the previous morning. A couple of Great Hornbills were seen and a Collared Owlet was heard. We walked in the area for some time and still found a couple of Crimson Sunbirds that were seen briefly. A White-bellied Erpornis was heard in a flock of many other birds that were at least mostly bulbuls.

Streak-breasted Woodpecker

The next stop was made when we heard a woodpecker calling. When we got out, there were several woodpeckers around us and soon we found a Streak-breasted Woodpecker and also a Grey-headed Woodpecker. We also saw a Green-billed Malkoha and again 2 Great Slaty Woodpeckers.

Then we had to hurry so we could pass the first camping site before the gate was closed at 9 a.m. It was really annoying that the road was changing the direction all the time. We were all the time in a hurry!

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

Finally we stopped at the 1st river-crossing and there Antti found an amazing looking Black-and-yellow Broadbill! It was seen only pretty briefly but luckily I got one pretty good picture before it disappeared. Soon we continued to the 2nd crossing and there we had good notes how to find the next broadbill as we knew the nest. We walked about 100 meters and already then heard Dusky Broadbills calling. Soon we found them and it was really another ridiculous looking bird again. While photographing Dusky Broadbills Antti was again the sharpest of us and picked up a different looking broadbill from the tops of the trees – there were also 2 Banded Broadbills! Amazing!

Dusky BroadbillDusky BroadbillBanded Broadbill

And it really started to feel that Antti was our guide when he still found a Raffle’s Malkoha, which disappeared too soon to get any pictures. Also Greater Yellownape was seen only briefly but it was heard very well. Also an Eastern Crowned Warbler was seen, so we had got a great start for the day!

Blue-bearded Bee-eater

Mikko and Antti continued until the top where they hadn’t been yet, but we had to stay lower as we had booked a hide outside the National Park, close to Ban Maka, in the afternoon. So pretty soon we had driven back down to the camping site where I noticed a Blue-bearded Bee-eater perched on one tree. While we were having cold drinks, we could again take pictures of many species that were visiting the fruiting tree. The best bird there was a Blue-winged Leafbird.

Ban Son Nok hide

Once we had picked up our luggage from Ban Maka, we continued to Ban Son Nok hide. We paid 200 Bahts per person to an old lady who was owner of this place and were soon sitting inside the hide. There were already Streak-eared, Stripe-throated and Black-crested Bulbuls, an Asian Spotted Dove and a White-rumped Shama visiting small pools.

HideStripe-throated Bulbul

And after some waiting we heard something walking in the bushes and a few Bar-backed Partridgs came to drink. Soon after that we heard a noisy flock of birds coming and 7 Greater and 2 Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes came to feed right in front of us. These birds were really funny but they disappeared quite soon.

Asian Spotted DoveBar-backed Partridges

Lesser Necklaced LaughingthrushGreater Necklaced Laughingthrush

Next visitor was a single Green-legged Partridge and also a Black-naped Monarch and a Common Emerald Dove were showing very picturesquely!

Black-naped MonarchGreen-legged Partridge

Common Emerald DoveSiberian Blue Robin

A Pale-legged Leaf Warbler was showing pretty well soon and then after some waiting a female Siberian Blue Robin arrived, and a male soon after that and still a young male. They weren’t showing too well, but they were just stunning birds with short tale and long pale feet. It was already getting dark when babblers started to make visits. We saw some Brown-cheeked Fulvettas, Puff-throated and Rufous-fronted Babblers and also one Abbott’s Babbler but also a couple of Tickell’s Blue Flycatchers.

Pale-legged Leaf WarblerTickell's Blue Flycatcher

When it was too dark, we said thank you to the owner and drove to Samarn Bird Camp where we had rooms for next 2 nights. We ate again with Mikko and Antti who had stayed inside the park until the last minutes. We changed the tips and made the log again.

To the top again

On the 3rd of March we had breakfast at 6 a.m. and after that Mikko and Antti headed to another hide, Lung Sin Waterhole, but we were soon buying the tickets to National Park again (1000 Bahts for 4 person + 30 Bahts car).

We stopped again at 9 km but had nothing new there, a couple of Dollarbirds which we had seen quite a few already. Hanna managed to find a Porcupine that we saw running to the bushes, it was surprisingly big.

Black-and-red Broadbill

Then we walked a couple of hundred meters to a small pool where we knew people had seen the last broadbills that we still hadn’t seen. Mikko and Antti had tried to see them for a couple of times but only heard some calls, so it wasn’t easy. Anyway I walked closer to the bushes and played the tape and soon had an answer from the bushes behind me. I kept on playing and finally one bird flew cross the road while another one started calling too. After some searching we finally found a Black-and-red Broadbill visible and altogether there were 3 birds. It was already the 6th broadbill-species for us – and maybe the most beautiful!

Tero got an inspiration from my tape-luring and played Sultan Tit from his phone and right away a Sultan Tit came to see us! We also saw a Great Iora passing the road and from the tops of some dead trees we found 4 Golden-crested Mynas.

Sultan TitGolden-crested Myna

Jerdon's Baza

Soon several big cars parked next to us and it was Kontiki group with our good friend Tero Linjama as their leader! There were a few familiar faces on the group and together we saw a strange raptor flying over us, and later it was identified from the pictures as a Jerdon’s Baza! We gave plenty of tips to Tero before we decided to keep on going as the group was far too noisy.

Mountain Hawk Eagle

After a short drive we saw a Blue-bearded Bee-eater perched on a tree and we had just started to use our walkie-talkies so we could possibly contact to this Finnish group and so they managed to see it too. Then we drove again a little and decided to walk along the road for some time. We saw briefly a Grey-rumped Treeswift and then alarming Oriental Pied Hornbills showed us a Crested Mountain Eagle that showed extremely well! Janne K. managed to see a couple of new Black-and-red Broadbills too.

The place where we had got several woodpeckers on the previous morning was quiet, but after a short drive we found once again a calling Great Slaty Woodpecker which we also managed to tell to the group.

Once on the lower camp, we bought cold drinks and surprisingly Mikko and Antti came there already. They had driven straight to there after the morning on the hide. Soon we continued together higher and on the first river-crossing we saw a Greater Yellownape.

Black-and-buff Woodpecker

We did some stops on the way but finally stopped to 27 km. We had got instructions to Black-and-buff Woodpecker and after we had found the nest, it didn’t take long to see the bird coming out from the hole. Unfortunately it flew straight down to the forest.

We walked in the area for some time and heard some Mountain Bulbuls and wondered what the bird that was singing almost like a Greenish Warbler was? Later we managed to find out that they were Claudia’s Leaf Warbler.

TreesIn the park

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Soon we continued higher and twitched a couple of Dark-sided Flycatchers that Mikko and Antti had seen on the previous day. They were both on the same branches again! And again after a short drive Tero found a Pale Blue Flycatcher from a moving car.

White-browed Babbler

We didn’t stop at all on the top but continued along the road than continued after the camp. The road was very narrow and curvy and after one curve there was the Hungarian group in the middle of the road. They had just experienced a big wave of birds and luckily we managed to see part of the wave. There were a few Ratched-tailed Treepies, a Collared Babbler, a White-browed Scimitar-babbler and a Yellow-bellied Warbler.

After a few kilometers we found a couple of places where was a good view to the hillside-forests and we tried to scan the treetops for Wreathed Hornbills, but we weren’t lucky. We saw a Rufous-bellied Eagle carrying a prey. And soon we were in a hurry again to drive down.

But short stops on the way towards km 27 were good as we found a Golden Babbler, heard a Brown-browed Flycatcher singing and saw a female Oriental Paradise-flycatcher briefly.

Tenting

Finally we were on the lower camp and Hanna had booked a tent for us two for the next night. We said goodbyes to Mikko and Antti who were going to continue to see Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other waders on the next morning and then we planned the next morning with Tero and Kilpimaa before they continued downwards. Our tent had been put up already so we still had a little bit time for birding and surprisingly I saw a Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon on a top of one tree. But soon it started to get dark.

Brown Hawk Owl

The Hungarian group was also tenting on the camp and they had been there also on the previous night, so we joined them when they left to listen to some owls. The leader of the group was surprisingly our old friend Istvan Katona, whom we had met in Madeira almost 10 years earlier. We walked behind the camp and soon heard a Brown Hawk Owl calling. And it didn’t take long when they found it perched on one tree. Soon we heard also a couple of Mountain Scops Owls but they were a bit too distant to try to find visible.

We did the log with Hungarians but both groups in our own languages. But then I gave them quite a few tips how to find broadbills. They had also some tips for us but we had only 1 morning left in the National Park, so none of the tips were on our way.

Behind the restaurant there was a feeder where were several Porcupines and a Rhesus Macaque eating whole evening. We also heard a Brown Wood Owl calling distant and later when we were already in our tent, we heard a Collared Scops Owl too. We hoped to hear some mammals like Elephants, but heard only one call that was like a huge cat, maybe a Leopard or some other big cat? There are several big cats in the park.

Porcupine and Rhesus MacaqueHaving dinner

At midnight we woke up to horrifying shouts – I had never heard anything like that! We could hear that people had awakened in every other tent too and I am sure a couple of trousers were changed. It must have been some big deer – there are at least Gauris in the park.

And to 27km again

On the 4th of March when we woke up Brown Hawk Owl and Collared Scops Owl were still calling. We ate warm breakfast that Hanna prepared and soon Tero and Kilpimaa arrived. It was again my turn to drive, so I let Kilpimaa to the backseat and soon we started driving up. We stopped on the first river-crossing where we soon heard a Grey Peacock Pheasant.

Butterflies

We continued up to a dam where we found a couple of Scarlet Minivets. We also photographed again butterflies. There was again lots of different kind of butterflies around the small pools. Once continued up again, we saw a Hill Blue Flycatcher that was singing also very nicely. Kilpimaa also found a Wild Boar while we were driving up, but it disappeared to the shadows before we managed to get any pictures.

Mountain Imperial Pigeon

At 27 km there was again a hide in the same place where we had seen it before. Now we knew people were photographing Red-breasted Trogons from the hide. The birds were shy and moving only very low so they were difficult to see without the hide. We let the photographers alone and went to check if there was something around the pool. Kilpimaa found a Speckled Piculet which was interesting species for the photographers too so they came to twitch it. We also saw a flock of White-browed Scimitar-babblers and Hanna managed to photograph a Mountain Imperial Pigeon too, which came to drink.

We climbed back to trogon place with these 2 Thai-looking photographer women and they were just explaining how the trogons were impossible to see without the hide, when I found it – a bright red Red-breasted Trogon was perched openly on a branch not far from us. But somehow all of us didn’t see it before it dropped down to the bushes. These women were kind and offered those of us who had missed the bird to get into their hides, but after all Hanna who had already seen the bird went to another hide. But soon the bird was seen again and after all both male and female were seen outside the hides. Now we had seen all the birds I had hoped to see in this trip! Only must-species had been Spoon-billed Sandpiper, but I had dreamed of seeing 6 broadbills and both trogons, which I knew had all been seen pretty recently. But I really didn’t expect us to see all of them! And maybe the 10th target-species had been Great Slaty Woodpecker…

Red-bellied TrogonRed-bellied Trogon

We still climbed a bit higher and managed to find a couple of calling Ahlström’s Warblers, but only I managed to see one bird very briefly. There was also a big flock of Sulphur-breasted Warblers and also a couple of the most beautiful bulbuls, Ashy Bulbuls, were seen.

Grey Peacock Pheasant

But after all we had to start driving down as we had to empty our rooms at 2 p.m. While driving down we saw a couple of Shrikras or Beshras or whatever too briefly and finally saw also a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo crossing the road right in front of us. Then on one stop we still saw a few Swinhoe’s Minivets later we were still once lucky when there was a Grey Peacock Pheasant on the road.

Finally we were back in Samarn Bird Camp where we just relaxed a little bit and also ate, before left driving towards Phetchaburi fields.

Evening trip to Phetchaburi fields

After about one hour driving we arrived to the field-area. Along the canal-road we found both Asian Golden Weavers and Baya Weavers and after a short driving around, we stopped to check one good-looking pool. Kilpimaa went to walk along the pool and flushed immediately several Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns and a Watercock, which everyone else missed. Luckily he stopped and waited for us to follow him and we still found a Black-browed Warbler, a Yellow-bellied Prinia and more bitterns. An Asian Pygmy Goose and both Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were swimming on the pool and a flock of Garganeys flew over us. Several Pink-necked Green Pigeons were also seen and one male Eastern Marsh Harrier was seen quite distant. Once we walked back to our car, we still found a flock of Yellow-vented Bulbuls.

DarterStejneger's StonechatYellow-bellied PriniaYellow-vented Bulbul

We still drove a little bit around and tried to get familiar with the area. We still found several Stejneger’s Stonechats, but soon it started to get dark again. So we drove to Phetchaburi city to our Sun hotel where we had booked rooms for 2 nights. We still went to shopping and eat before we were ready to go to sleep.

Phetchaburi fields again

On the 5th of March we had breakfast at 6 a.m. and it was very strange to eat Thai-food as breakfast. Most of the food was far too spicy too.

Soon we were driving towards the fields again and on the way we finally saw a breeding-plumaged Chinese Pond Heron. We stopped again a couple of times along the canal ad found a couple of Bluethroats, again Asian Golden and Baya Weavers but also Streaked Weavers. And once we reached the field area a female Pied Harrier flew straight over our car.

Asian Golden WeaverWatercockWhite-browed Crake

We went to walk around the same pool as on the previous evening and luckily saw the Watercock again. A flock of Red Avadavats and flying flock of Lesser Whistling Ducks were also seen. From the pool on the other side of the road I found a White-browed Crake with a tiny chick.

Then we headed to big open fields and stopped when there were some Black-eared Kites flying. We found soon some Greater Spotted Eagles perched on the palm-trees and pretty soon they were all flying. We saw also several harriers, which one of them looked like a Pied Harrier, but then a couple of birds were very weird-looking. They must have been Eastern Marsh Harrier but they had pretty clear white patch on their rumps. A couple of easier Eastern Marsh Harriers were also seen.

With Black-eared Kites and Greater Spotted Eagles saw also a couple of Eastern Imperial Eagles and a Booted Eagle. We also met a Finnish birder who had been living in Thailand for 17 years. He was now trying to find a Steppe Eagle that had been seen on the area as he really wanted to get pictures of it. He told us that female Pied Harrier was easy to identify from white rump, but we didn’t buy that explanation.

FieldsEastern Imperial Eagle

When it started to get too hot and quiet, we continued to some bigger pool nearby. The road was too narrow, so we couldn’t stop to several places where we’d have wanted but finally on the best looking place the road was a little bit wider.

There were lots of egrets and heron, also Painted Storks, about 10 Black-headed Ibises, lots of waders which included 5 Asian Dowitchers and a couple of big flocks of Caspian Terns and so on.

Steppe Eagle

PoolsPainted Stork

Pretty soon we drove back to the fields and almost immediately found the Steppe Eagle. Luckily the Finnish guy came soon too and after some searching we found the eagle again and even got it photographed pretty well. Then we continued to a place where were signs Nong Pla Lai Raptor Watch Point. There were plenty of local photographers with huge objectives, but none had binoculars or telescopes. From the field we found several Black-shouldered Kites and later harriers started to arrive to their roost. But even though we saw quite a few of them, they were all Eastern Marsh Harriers.

PhotographersPurple Heron

The long evening in the hot weather was very tiring and as we didn’t see anything new, we were a little bit disappointed for the whole day in Phetchaburi fields.

One more forest

The 6th of March was our last birding day. We had already in the previous afternoon started to think that we should do something else than go to the fields again. So Tero had told us about one forest that he had read from some trip-reports. So after the breakfast we headed to Wat Khao Luk Chang forest which we found easily but then we had no idea how to do birding there as it seemed to be some kind of place for priest. Anyway we just parked our car and started walking around the place where still were quite a lot of buildings with priests with their orange clothes on the gardens.

There weren’t many birds around but the selection of species was good. We had walked only a little when we found a Racquet-tailed Treepie and a Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher.

We kept on walking along one small road and headed to some kind of meditation area where one woman came to ask us to leave. She didn’t speak any English but was very kind and when we didn’t understand her, she asked Hanna to follow her and showed her a monk or a priest meditating. So we quietly walked back to our car.

Different kinf of forest birdingLineated Barbet

But there we decided to follow another road which headed to a huge statue of laying priest, but there weren’t any people. And soon we saw lots of raptors flying over us. They had been roosting somewhere in the forest and now continuing their migration. We saw altogether 20 Grey-faced Buzzards, 4 Black Bazas and a couple of Oriental Honey Buzzards. Also a couple of Shikras were seen. We also found a Lineated Barbet that was showing well and 3 Red-breasted Parakeets flew over us. We still found a couple of Purple Sunbirds and 3 Rufous Treepies before walking back to our car again.

Oriental Honey BuzzardShikra

Grey-faced BuzzardBlack Baza

We still drove along one road a couple of kilometers inside the forest but headed to some kind of zoo. There were too many people, so we decided to start driving back towards Hua-Hin where we were supposed to leave our car before 1 p.m.

To Bangkok

After filling the tank in Hua-Hin we parked to the airport and soon got rid of our car. Then we asked the car-rental officer to call us a big taxi. It took quite long before the taxi arrived and it was quite expensive, but maybe it was just because of we hadn’t booked it earlier.

The taxi-driver was watching music and playing with his phone and talking to another phone all the time while driving. But anyway some of us managed to get some sleep. We were back in Bangkok after more than a couple of hours driving and found our hotel which was very close to the airport.

House Swift

Bangkok

In the afternoon we relaxed and visited a shop before climbing up to the roof of the hotel to see the airport marshes. Also Kontiki group was there and together with them we still saw some House Swits, 2 Eastern Marsh Harriers, a Plaintive Cuckoo and a Red-whiskered Bulbul. In the evening we had the most expensive dinner of the trip and finally got to bed early enough as the next day would be long.

Back to home

On the 7th of March we had breakfast at 5:30 and it was very expensive. At 6 a.m. we packed our luggage to a bus with many other Finnish birders. And after 15 minutes driving we were in the airport.

At the airport we were shopping and spending the rest of our Bahts. The flight was again long, more than 10 hours, but again I watched a couple of movies and even managed to sleep a little even though it was difficult in day-flight.

Finally we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa at 15:05 p.m. (local time) and after we had found our luggage, we went to have pizza to a restaurant. Kilpimaa had to leave almost immediately to catch his bus and after we had eaten Tero had to hurry too. We sent an SMS and soon Lentopysäköinti-bus came to get us to our car. We were back at home early in the evening.

J.A.