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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 Indochinese 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.
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.
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.
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!
We 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 Indochinese 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!