Barry Cooper and Gail Mackiernan 216 Mowbray Rd, Silver Spring, MD USA 301-989-1828 email@example.com
Thailand is often a first destination in Southeast Asia for birders, because of its excellent infrastructure and variety of habitats. This was true for us as well, and for our planned excursion we recruited two friends from our local bird club, John Drummond and William Young. John had birded in Malaysia and Nepal, and his experiences there proved very useful. We scheduled our trip for February, the dry season in the northern areas we planned to visit, and a time period when winter visitors were still present but when resident species were starting their breeding season.
Since we somewhat limited in time - only having 18 days available for birding - we opted to concentrate on sites north of Bangkok and to leave other excellent birding destinations in the peninsula and in western Thailand for another trip. From Bangkok we spent 4 1/2 days at Khao Yai National Park, then flying to Chiang Mai, we visited Doi Chiang Dao, Doi Angkhang, Doi Inthanon National Park, as well as some other sites, spending 12 days in the north. We concentrated almost exclusively on forest birds, and the lack of waders and waterfowl on our trip list reflects this orientation. However, we still managed to see over 350 species of birds, including some of the most wanted species. We also saw a number of mammals, especially at Khao Yai.
Weather during our stay ranged from mild to quite hot (especially in the lower elevations of Doi Inthanon towards the end of our trip), very dry - we had essentially no rain for the entire 18 days. As a consequence trails were in good condition, we had no problems with leeches or biting insects, and we lost no birding time due to inclement weather. The down side was that bird activity often "shut down" quite abruptly in late morning and did not always resume in the evening.
We did not use a tour company or guides (except for one day at KY), and relied for most of our "gen" on trip reports, as well as bird-finding guides by Keith Taylor and Nigel Wheatley. For field guides we used 'Birds of Thailand' by Lekagul and Round, as well as the new 'Birds of Southeast Asia' by Robson (see below for details on books and reports). Information posted on John Wall's WorldTwitch web site was very useful, both the trip reports and updates, as well as links to a number of Thai birding-related web sites. We also received a lot of help from birders via the Internet, especially the from the 'orientalbirding' list, (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/orientalbirding) with special thanks to Tony Ball, Henning Lege, Phil Round, Alec Napier, Peter Ericsson, and Gerry Richards.
We flew to Bangkok from Washington DC on British Air, via London Heathrow, which involved two "red-eye" flights but only the one stop. For the internal flight we used Thai Air. All flights departed and arrived more or less on time. We rented our vehicles from Budget; in Bangkok we were given a Toyota Camry instead of the promised 4 WD Honda, but at Chiang Mai Budget came through with a new Honda CRV, which proved essential for several locations.
Most of the sites we visited are fairly well covered in guide books and trip reports. However, there have been some "happenings" since these books were published and we want to update information and directions.
Rangsit: Ths marsh, about 8 km. north of the Bangkok Airport is, as Phil Round said, "a pale shadow of its former self." However, it still supports a number of species hard to find elsewhere. The directions in Taylor's book are, however, outdated as extensive roadworks have done since the early 1990s. Essentially, get on Rt. 1 north from the airport and watch out for a left-hand flyover exit which turns east towards Nakhon Nyok (will also say Rang Sit.) This will put you on a divided lane road, Rt. 305 east. On your left will be industrial facilities, shops, petrol stations, etc. with the occasional left-hand roads. You must watch for a sign 'SSTI' (for Siam Synthetic Textile Industries), this is just after a gas station about 1.5 km after your turn. A warning, we never saw the sign but turned as we looked down the side road and saw marsh access. It turned to be the right spot! Drive to end of paved area and park. Walk on to pools on left, as well as birding the ditch on right and any scrub/grass areas. The SSTI plant has some flowering trees which attracted birds such as Yellow-vented Bulbul.
Sam Khok: Wat Phai Lom is on the east side of the river just off Rt. 3309, the town of Sam Khok is on the west side. This is not clear from Taylor's book. For the Wat, turn right (N) onto Rt. 347 before crossing the Mae Chao Phaya R., then left onto 3309. The Wat (signed in English) will be on your left in about 3 km. (It is hard to miss the thousands of storks coming and going). Quiet Rt. 3309 had some other good sites, a small pool north of the Wat held a Painted Snipe and several large impoundments just at the intersection with Rt. 9 held 1000s of Whistling Ducks.
Khao Yai: We arrived at KY in the midst of extensive roadworks. Essentially, the main road was being raised, re-paved, and a deep concrete drainage ditch installed on one side. The upshot was that all kilometer markers were down, as were many of the roadsigns. The commotion from the heavy trucks, equipment and presence of dozens of workers from early morning on precluded much success with birds on the roadside as had been reported by visitors in other years. It was also rather dusty and the raised road surface made it almost impossible to pull off along the access road in a normal-clearance car. Birders who visited the park before 1994 will be surprised that the motel, TAT restaurant and golf course are gone, and that many other structures have been removed as well, thus directions in the Taylor and Wheatley books are out-of-date.
The park entrance gate is at Km 23 (from the junction with Rt. 2). From here the entrance road leads up rather steeply. There is an overlook with pavilion near Km. 30 and a good trail into the forest on the right at Km. 33. The park headquarters and visitors center are at km 37.5. The trailhead for famous Trail 6 is marked with a brown sign on right side of the road just beyond the Glang-Pai Lodge, past the park restaurant/shop. The main road intersection (around km 40) just beyond Nong Khing lake had no signs when we were there. A left takes you past forestry barracks to Pha Kluai Mai campgrounds on right and (eventually) ends at Heo Suwat Falls at km 50. This road is excellent birding but "improvements" have led to traffic moving much too fast and recklessly, so care must be taken. A right at this junction should be signed to Prachin Buri (but not when we were there). In less than 1 km, the Khao Khieo Rd. ("radar road") turns left. The park office complex at this junction had some large fruiting trees when we were there, with dozens of pigeons and barbets. About 1-2 km. up this road is the best place for Siamese Fireback - early in morning or in late afternoon. Beyond this forest, the road passes through open grassland and then re-enters forest. In the area where three small bridges cross dry gulleys (dry when we were there, that is), look for Silver Pheasant. We also birded one morning on the Prachin Buri Rd. and it was quite active; we later regretted not doing it another morning.
Although it is now difficult to stay inside KY, you can remain in the park well after dark (until 9:30 pm) and thus explore for night birds. One is not allowed to drive around spotlighting on a "freelance" basis, but need to go on one of the park's own night drives which can be booked at the gift shop next to the headquarters. However, if you see or hear an animal at night, a guard said you are certainly allowed to shine your torch at it! The park opens at 6:00 am.
Wat Tampraprotisat (Limestone Wren-babbler site). Updated directions (since Taylor's book was published): Access to the Wat is from Route 2, the main road to Khao Yai. Rt. 2 at this point is a dual carriageway and there are lots of confusing roadworks. We missed the turn which is a hassle so watch the landmarks!
From Khao Yai. The turn from Rt. 2 south to Khao Yai NP is at KM 165.5; the Wat is back up the road towards Saraburi at the 128 KM stone. As you drive from Khao Yai, watch the Kilometer markings. When you get to Km. 129, slow down and stay left. You will first go through an area where they are building an overpass, and you are going to think that this will prevent your turning -- it will not but it makes things difficult as there is a diversion. When you regain the original roadway, you will be very close to your turn -- be alert! On your left will be a chain-link fence within which is an electrical substation. At the end of this fence is a left turn (paved road) with many signs at the turn in Thai. (There is no English sign here for the Wat, or we missed it.) DO NOT HESITATE -- TURN HERE! (If you miss it, you must go up the road, make a dangerous U-turn, go back past Km. 128, make another nasty turn and try again -- which is what we had to do!) Continue on this road past some houses and then a small open-air market for about 2 km to another left turn, also a paved road. Here there are a series of signs, the lowest one has Thai and then below it in English "Wattampraprotisat (as one word ) -- 9 km." Stay on this road -- going through some open country which could have interesting birds, Racket-tailed Treepie is a possibility. You will eventually come to some impressive white walls and then the temple entrance. Go in, cross over a narrow bridge, and drive behind the large white temple and park.
Face the back of the temple. To your right (east) will be a low building with a verandah and next to it, another building. Between them is a paved path, guarded by some loud but innocuous dogs. Walk between the two buildings and then over a concrete walkway over the stream. You will reach a rough stony track which goes steeply uphill. Continue past a gate about 350 meters, paralleling the stream. The track levels out a bit here. Continue another 150 or so meters, there will be a huge shattered tree trunk on the right side. About 15-20 m after this is a faint track right to the stream. Cross it on stepping stones, and follow track to base of cliff where there are large limestone boulders. This is the best site for the Babbler. Eared Pitta and (in spring) Blue-winged Pitta have also been seen here (not by us!)
Huai Hong Krai Royal Project (Green Peafowl site) This reserve is on Rt. 118, 24 km north of the Ring Rd. (Rt. 11) around Chiang Mai. There is a large sign at the entrance. Drive in about 4 km, through a gate (guard will wave you through), past several lakes, to a car park adjacent to a lake which has a causeway/dam at the end. There are some buildings and kiosks here, but you need to cross the causeway (it can be driven) to the other side, where a fenced area on your right encloses a menagerie of Thai animals and birds in cages and paddocks. The wild Green Peafowl roost in the area of flight cages which house captive female peafowl. Trip reports suggest early morning only but we went in late afternoon and saw the birds. The fenced area is locked up at 6:00 pm so take care (the guard saw us in there and left the chain/lock open for us but it wuld be a tall fence to climb!). A rather artificial situation but the birds are said to be definitely wild.
Doi Chiang Dao: There is a new Nature Trail which starts opposite the road up to the Forestry Office (where one gets permits for DYK substation). The first part of the trail past the little bridge, where it runs through a low area with several damp gulleys, was reliable for Rusty-naped Pitta. The trail soon starts to climb, and the upper part is not so good but if you cut through the hole in the chain link fence here (right at the beginning of the steep part), and enter the monastery property, you can walk the firebreak which runs inside the fence. This gets very steep but it is quite birdy.
Doi Angkhang: The police checkpoint at Km 19 was unmanned. About 0.5 km beyond this is an obvious pulloff on right, which leads to a firebreak area as well as the abandoned orchard mentioned in many trip reports. The loop road through Ban Khom seemed pretty barren and most of the large pines have been cut, which Susan Myers noted in her 1999 trip report. The Royal Project Gardens are lovely but surprisingly birdless. The forestry station (shown on the Resort's local map) has a good track which leads down below the buildings and follows a stream. There is a fairly nice-looking pine-shaded campground at Km 24 for budget travellers.
A Guide to the Birds of Thailand, 1991, Boonsong Lekagul and Philip Round, Darsutha Press (Thailand). Unfortunately this excellent book is not readily available in the USA (we were told it was out of print). However, we found a copy at Buteo Books. It is still available in the UK from a number of vendors, and if you can wait, is sold in the English version in many Thai bookstores for half the USA price. The range maps are extremely helpful. Some taxonomy is not current (e.g., Seicurcus warblers) so best used with the following:
A Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia, 2000, Craig Robson, Princeton Press (USA). A detailed, up-to-date and well-researched book with superb plates but suffering from lack of range maps. Also, somewhat overwhelming as all species of the region are illustrated, so best used in conjunction with the first book to narrow your search.
A Birder's Guide to Thailand, 1993, Keith Taylor. Taylor Bird Guides (Canada) Dated but still useful, especially for directions. I think this is out of print but I found a copy at our local Audubon bookshop.
Where to Watch Birds in Asia, 1996, Nigel Wheatley. Helm (UK) This covers most of the important sites in the area we visited, with maps and expected species. However, like Taylor, some information (especially for Khao Yai) is now out of date.
The Lonely Planet Guide for Thailand as well as the LP Thailand Road Atlas also proved useful.
Bird Tapes: We carried a set of ad hoc tapes borrowed from Barry's nephew, and purchased a Birds of Thailand cassette recorded by Tony Ball directly from Tony, although it is also on sale at shop at summit of Doi Inthanon (or from Silkworm Books, firstname.lastname@example.org). We also had tape-playback capabilities but didn't use it very often.
One problem we encountered was that at KY and DI, the in-park accomodations for visitors have been removed or are very hard to book from abroad. At Khao Yai, the motel and bungalows noted the Taylor's books are gone or closed, and visitors are limited to a very basic dormitory or to camping. A new hotel is being constructed. What was frustrating was that a number of perfectly good bungalows and lodges were sitting empty although obviously maintained, and we could not find out what current policy was for their use. That having been said, the campground was quite well laid-out and the facilities as clean as these things tend to be, with good food at the restaurant. Similarly, at Doi Inthanon, we had been warned that the bungalows very very grotty but the ones we looked in at seemed clean, though basic, and certainly well-located. The campground was more primitive than the one at Khao Yai.
However, we booked all our accomodations from the USA, using the internet in many cases. One warning, only the Prince Hotel and the Angkang Nature Resort take credit cards!
Khao Yai: Khao Yai Garden Lodge, owned by a German/Thai couple, about 15 km from main gate of the park. B500 for a double room with en suite bathroom. Ours was unfortunately located at the end of the building and we got a lot of noise from a nearby karaoke bar. Ask for an interior, quiet room! Food is very good here, and the lodge's guides are excellent. Email: khaoyaigarden @hotmail.com Phone: 66 (0) 44 365 167 - don't use if '0' calling from outside Thailand.
Chiang Mai: The Prince Hotel. We wanted to stay overnight in this charming city to visit the famous night market and to be in a good spot for an early morning run to the Huai Hong Krai Royal Project, with its Green Peafowl. This older but well-maintained hotel is located right off the road to the Project, and only a few clicks from the market. B600 for an air-conditioned room with en suite facilities, off-street parking. Food at coffee shop is okay. Phone: 66 (0) 53 252 025
Doi Chiang Dao: Mallee's Nature Lovers Bungalows. This is THE place to stay, only a short walk from the major birding sites, and Mallee caters to birders, trekkers and other adventurers. B500 for a two-person bungalow with hot showers, B400 for one with cold showers, B100 for a simple dormitory room (hot showers are available in separate building). Mallee will arrange 4 WD transport to the top of DCD, but you must obtain your own permit from Forestry Office (new rules) - this office is closed on Sunday. Mallee's cuisine is famous, and she also runs a cooking school. Email: email@example.com Mobile phone: 66  1 961 8387
Doi Angkhang: Ankhang Nature Resort. We were a little unsure about staying at such an upscale place, but we were very glad we did. It is only a short distance from all the birding sites, very comfortable and posh, and a welcome respite from more basic accomodations. B2500 for an air-conditioned (not needed!) huge room with three beds, TV, bar, the works. The food at the restaurant is excellent and amazingly inexpensive. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 66 (0) 53 450 110
Doi Inthanon: Inthanon Highland Resort. Another rather upscale location, set on 225 hectares of grounds which includes an extensive wet paddy area, ponds and gardens. The owners are trying to establish this place as a birding resort and there are some good species on the ground (and a map to them!). B2000 for an air-conditioned (needed!) bungalow with en suite facilities, full breakfast included. One downside is that no one speaks English very well and they are not on the Internet yet so arranging accomodations from the USA is a bit daunting. One could probably just show up - the resort is signposted (white illuminated sign) at a right-hand intersection off Rt. 1009 (main road from Chom Thong) about 1 km from the main gate to the park, and is located at the very end of this side road. Food at the restaurant is also very good. Mobile phone: 66 1 224 1500 or 1 952 0141.
A recent "bone of contention" is that the Forestry Department has seen fit to impose a B200 entry fee for non-Thais for most national parks (it is B30 for Thai citizens) and that is for every day (although one can leave park and return on same day on one ticket). This proved to be an unexpected expense for some of the "extreme budget" travellers we met. Camping in the park or staying in a bungalow or dormitory avoids this this tariff. At DI, Mr. Daeng has two very basic rooms available but bring your sleeping bags!
As one might expect, we had wonderful Thai food everywhere. The hotels/lodges of course had fine restaurants, but we were also impressed with the quality of the simple but tasty food available at the food stalls in the park, in petrol stations, in small towns and so forth. Most of us has one or two bouts with digestive issues, which may have been due to food but could well have also been caused by our daily doses of Doxycycline, the anti-malarial prophylatic. Gail did get sick after lunch at DI one day, definitely food-related. We used bottled water for drinking and cleaning teeth. Thai beer is very good and we drank a lot of that as well.
Consultation with travel health services emphasized the necessity of taking anti-malarial prophylaxis in rural areas in central Thailand. The only useful medication for Larium-resistant falciparum malaria is the antibiotic Doxycycline. Since this can cause digestive upsets, including gastric reflux, some physicians also prescribe Prevacid to be taken simultaneously. We all had some slight reaction to the medication. As noted, we used bottled water everywhere.
2/5/2001 We, along with Bill Young, arrived at Bangkok International A.P. at approximately 5.15 a.m. after two red-eyes, first from Washington to London and again to Thailand! We were remarkably alert, however, as we met John Drummond just outside Customs. John had arrived the previous day and had picked up our rental car from Budget [a Toyota Camry rather than the promised 4WD]. After negotiating our way through the busy suburbs of Bangkok we drove to Rangsit Marsh. This site is only a few miles from the airport but is quite a challenge to find, as there have been a lot of new interchanges built since Keith Taylor's guidebook was published. However, through some birder's instinct' we turned at the correct street and arrived at the marsh at about 8.30 a.m. While now degraded and difficult to work, Rangsit was quite productive and we saw several species not seen later on the trip. After a couple of hours birding, we then headed north to the large Open-billed Stork colony at Sam Khok, stopping at a number of attractive-looking wetland areas on the drive to Wat Phai Lom, the temple which houses the colony. We birded these areas until early p.m. and then drove to Khao Yai NP in time for some late afternoon birding in the park. We stopped at about the 27 km point when we encountered a large bird party, seeing several species which we later learned are most common here at somewhat lower elevation. We then "sussed out" Trail six, not expecting much as it was getting late, but we did hear Blue Pitta and Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo calling, as well as a number of Trogons. (In fact, this evening was "vocally" the most active of any of our days at KY). Night was spent at the Khao Yai Garden Lodge. Birding highlights included a male Painted Snipe, thousands of Lesser Whistling Ducks, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Rosy Minivet, Orange-breasted Trogan, a single Wreathed and 30 Pied Hornbills.
2/6/2001 Khao Yai - We spent some frustrating time in early a.m looking for and eventually finding and birding the "Radar Station Road" (officially called the Khao Khieo Rd). Roadworks and consequent removal of all kilometer markers (and many road signs) throughout the park, as well as removal of former landmarks (such as the TAT restaurant) was very confusing. We ended up birding for some time on the main road towards Prachin Buri, past the (as it turned out) correct intersection, where we encountered several good bird flocks, before finally locating the correct turn. The park buildings at this junction had a number of fruiting trees which were attracting green pigeons and barbets. Eventually reaching the area of "three bridges" (about 8 km up the road), we immediately saw a small party of Silver Pheasants in the first dry gulley! We spent late morning around the Visitor Center and the Km 30 Overlook, where there is a small pavilion and good views over the valley. Several large flowering and fruiting trees were attracting flocks of drongos and other birds. In the afternoon we went to Trail 6, as we had been told that the Ground-cuckoo could often be seen at the second stream crossing late in the day. Gail and Bill waited here while John and Barry slowly walked on. No cuckoo, but Gail had a glimpse of a Fireback passing through a tree gap up on the ridge. Birding highlights included a male and two female Silver Pheasants and Red-headed Trogon.
2/7/2001 Khao Yai -Early a.m. we birded the Radar Road (where a pair of Clouded Leopards crossing the road initiated the day's excitement!). We dipped on Fireback and Silver Pheasant, but had a number of good bird flocks just along the roadside. We next returned to Trail 6 where Barry and Gail encountered a Ground-Cuckoo on the trail in front of them. Just as they radioed the others, a completely panicked herd of Muntjac rushed through, snorting and barking (passing within feet of all of us), and the Cuckoo could not be relocated. Being true birders we all continued on the trail but with a bit more caution. We never found out what had so frightened the deer, but they were totally oblivious to us so we assume it was something serious (tiger? dhole?)
In mid-morning we visited Pha Kluai Mai campground and waterfall and the Orchid Waterfall and did some of Trail 4. We were pleased to connect with a pair of Slaty-backed Forktails which were being seen near the first rapids. At the campground we met a Thai birder/photographer who told us about an Orange-headed Ground Thrush behind the camp toilets! In p.m we visited the Km 30 overlook and then the Khao Khieo Rd. again, where this time we were successful in seeing a Fireback. However, the bird never came onto the road and only by hearing scratching in the leaf litter did Gail and Bill locate the bird about 5 meters in. Thanks to the FRS radios, John and Barry managed to get down to the site in time to enjoy stunning views. Birding highlights - Male Siamese Fireback, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, 2 Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Green Magpie, male Siberian Blue Robin, White-throated Rock Thrush and Orange-headed Thrush, Long-tailed Broadbill and Slaty-backed Forktail.
2/8/2001 Khao Yai - Early a.m. we walked Trail 6, splitting up as this seems to be the best way to "do" this narrow trail. Unfortunately no ground-cuckoo was seen (or heard). Later we revisited the campground, stopping for some time along the access road which is splendid forest, where we enjoyed a number of good bird parties and some active White-handed Gibbons just along the verge! As the day warmed we visited the Km 30 Overlook. In p.m. we took a look at Trail 33, seeing little, and then met Nam from the Garden Lodge for our scheduled night drive. This started at dusk near the Bat Cave just outside NP, where we were stunned by the sight of millions of Wrinkle-lipped Bats emerging from their roost - they fly out in a sinuous "tube" formation and one could hear the low roar of their myriad wings. The exodus took almost an hour! Unfortunately we did not see any raptors, which Nam said often are attracted to the emerging bats. At 7:30 pm, we went into the park and got into a small truck for the formal night drive. A park guide with a spotlight sweeps the trees for eye-shine; Nam's presence ensured that he looked for birds as well as mammals. Highlights - Blue Pitta (Gail only), Green Magpie, Laced Woodpecker, a feeding flock of 25 Fairy Bluebirds, and on the night drive 3 Brown Hawk Owls, at least 4 displaying/singing Great-eared Nightjars, Large-tailed and Grey Nightjars, as well as three species of Civit.
2/9/2001 Khao Yai - We had hired Nam for the morning, impressed with her birding skills and knowledge of the park. In early a.m. we did some open country birding on dirt roads just outside the park, (where Barry almost lost his wallet to a local dog!) followed by the Km 30 Overlook, the vicinity of Visitor Center and the K33 Trail before returning to the Garden Lodge. En route we stopped to have some apple pie (!) at a roadside restaurant, while Nam picked some strange red prickly fruits from their orchard. After lunch at the lodge, we drove to and birded Wat Tampraprotisat (which was unfortunately pretty birdless - this is obviously a morning place!) Highlights - Chestnut-capped Babbler, party of three Great Slaty Woodpeckers, party of six Emerald Cuckoos, Rufous-bellied Eagle, White-crested and Lesser-Necklaced Laughing-thrushes, two Wreathed Hornbills.
2/10/2001 Khao Yai In the early a.m. , John and Gail birded Trail 6 while Bill and Barry went to the Radar Road. Trail 6 was quite active, yielding Blue Pitta and a pair of Black-and-Buff Woodpeckers. A Ground-cuckoo was heard, and responded to the tape - to a point - but refused to come in close enough to see. Unfortunately time was too short to continue the "dance", as we had a plane to catch. In p.m. we drove to Bangkok AP in rain (getting on the wrong road once) but easily caught our afternoon flight to Chiang Mai. There we picked up an almost-new Honda CRV 4WD from Budget. In late afternoon we visited the HHK Royal Project to "cess" out for the next morning, and were overjoyed to see the Green Peafowl straight away. We called Tony Ball and arranged to pick him up at dawn and visit some lowland sites near Chiang Mai the next day. Birding highlights - 3 Green Peafowl, Blue Pitta, pair of Black-and-Buff Woodpeckers.
2/11/2001 Open country birding at Huay Thung Tao and the agricultural research station at Mae Hai in a.m. with Tony Ball, a most enjoyable morning. The former site is threatened by ring-road construction, but we managed to see our target species (Burmese Shrike). In the p.m. we drove to Doi Chang Dao with late afternoon birding at Temple Gulley and Cement Trail. We would be staying at Mallee's Nature Lover's Bungalows for the next four days. We were pleased to find out that a large number of other birders were around, and that Mallee's logbooks showed many good birds about. Dinner was excellent curried fish. Highlights - Green Bee-eater, 2 Burmese Shrikes, White-browed Piculet, White-headed Bulbul, two Puff-throated Babblers.
2/12/2001 DCD - We started our birding quite early along the road from Mallee's to the beginning of the new Nature Trail, where several people had reported recently seeing Rusty-naped Pitta. No luck with this and afterwards we split up to explore different areas. Gail started to walk the Fence Trail (actually a long firebreak which runs inside the temple ground's perimeter fence) as another birder had reported broadbills there the day before. This track eventually became so steep that more time was spent clambering than birding, so she turned back. Barry spent some time trying to whistle in a R-N Pitta which circled him, calling, but would not show itself. All of us tried the Temple Gulley and John walked the Jungle Trail near the temple after lunch. The road between the temple and Mallee's was also productive. There were quite a few birders and other 'nature lovers' at Mallee's so it was fun to sit and compare experiences. We arranged with Mallee to hire a truck and driver for tomorrow morning's excursion up DCD, and Bill went to the Forestry Office and obtained the needed permit. We noticed that birding quieted down much more in the afternoon here than at KY. After supper a Mountain Scops Owl started calling from across the road. Highlights: Greater Necklaced Laughing-thrush, Striated Yuhina, Great Barbet (J).
2/13 2001 DCD - The next morning, the four of us plus Allen (a birder from Yorkshire) stood waiting at 5:30 am for our truck. Owls were calling but not much else was stirring. At 6:30 we gave up and returned for breakfast. Mallee was upset to see us still 'down below' and she called our driver - only to find him still asleep. Much was said to him in rapid Thai! Gail walked up to the beginning of the Nature Trail and saw a male Rusty-naped Pitta on the path! After breakfast, somewhat at a loss, we started to walk the road near Mallee's, then Barry, John and Bill decided to try and take the CRV up the mountain. Despite leaving at 9 am, this turned out to be a very good decision as there was a lot of activity at the top of DCD. Using our own 4WD allowed stops en route and on the way down, which generally cannot be done with hired drivers. Birding highlights - Giant Nuthatch, Hume's Pheasant (!), Rusty-naped Pitta, White-headed Bulbul, three Sultan Tits, Lesser, Greater & Black-throated Laughingthrushes, Aberrant and Manchurian Bush-warblers, and four Crested Buntings.
2/14/2001 DCD - Emboldened by the successful 4WD excursion the day before, John, Barry, Gail and Allen left before dawn for a second summit try. Again, the Honda made it with no problem up to the DYK Substation. Unfortunately it was not as active as the previous day, but nevertheless some excellent birds were seen. Bill birded around Mallee's and managed to see some species the rest of us missed. Birding highlights - Brilliant views of adult & immature Black Eagle, party of five Silver-breasted Broadbills, 2 Chestnut-fronted and three White-browed Shrike Babblers, Brown Bush-warbler (Gail), Chestnut-tailed Starling (Bill).
2/15/2001 We left before dawn - Mallee got up to bid us goodbye - and had a fairly easy drive to Doi Angkhang, arriving to find the high ridge road fogged in. After checking in at the very posh Angkhang Nature Resort, we found it had cleared somewhat and we first birded the main road along the ridge - seeing several good bird flocks -- and then an overgrown orchard just beyond the police checkpoint (about km 19.5). We also explored some of the side roads, including the loop road through Ban Khom, where we unsuccessfully tried to locate Giant Nuthatch (unfortunately most of the large pines noted in Wheatley's and Taylor's books seem to have been cut down). We did see a River Chat sitting on the roof of a roadside house! We located a trail starting at the forestry center, which led down along a stream, but didn't walk it far. After lunch, in the heat of the day, we went to the Royal Project gardens, but they were strangely free of birds (although very beautifully maintained). We then tried to locate a site given us by a birder at Mallee's for the Crested Finchbill, up behind the A-frame cottages above the hill tribe village at DAK , but after a rather nasty climb managed to see only a brief silhouette of what MIGHT have been one. In late afternoon we did the Trekker's Route loop, running into several small bird flocks. Birding Highlights - Rufous-winged Buzzard, five White-browed Scimitar-Babblers, six Red-faced Liocichlas, River Chat, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher.
2/16/2001 DAK In early morning, we did the now-familiar ridge road, abandoned orchard and firebreak. We then went to the forestry station and walked the forestry trail to where it entered degraded habitat. Gail scored with two Fire-capped Tits which came in to tape-playback of another species - their high-pitched calls had been recorded in the background! Unfortunately they flew up the bank before the others could arrive. Another drive of the loop road yielded nothing new.
In late morning, John, Gail and Barry drove to Tha Ton and birded areas adjacent to Nam Mae Kok River, with the principal target being Jerdon's Bushchat. We visited three stakeout" sites with no luck, and then ended up driving along the river on small dirt roads, and checking almost every clump of elephant grass between Tha Ton and 4 km downriver, again to no avail! However, we did manage to find a Long-billed Plover on a sandbank. The fields at Tha Ton were very dry and in the midst of the garlic harvest, so much-disturbed and virtually birdless. We were disappointed that buntings, pipits, larks and other species reported from the previous week were not to be found at the sites indicated and it may have been that they had moved on. On the way back we stopped at Fang Hot Springs, geologically an amazing place, but didn't see too much new birdwise. The paddy area along the Fang By-Pass actually looked much better for harriers and other open-country birds than ThaTon itself, but unfortunately we had used up so much time looking for the bushchat that we were running out of daylight. Back at the resort we met two young Brit birders who had just arrived from Doi Inthanon, and we exchanged information. They drew us a map of where they had seen the much-wanted Black-tailed Crake. Birding highlights - Party of six Mountain Bamboo Partridges, two Spot-breasted Parrotbills, two Fire-capped Tits (G), Long-billed Plover, Plumbeous Redstart.
2/17/2001 DAK: In the early morning we did the ridge road near the exit to the Trekkers Route until it got brighter, then moved to the orchard where we hoped to catch up with a few species missed on previous days. The Bamboo-partridges were again on the road verge as we parked. After considerable flogging around in tall weeds, John managed poor looks at Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler but all the rest of us saw were movements in the grass. A flock of laughing thrushes were no more cooperative. We eventually abandoned the effort and drove back along the main road twards the lodge, stopping for bird parties. J,G and B decided to do the Trekker's Route exit but never got further than the first 50 m as a Rusty-naped Pitta crossed the track in front of us, and after a bit of tape-playing, we saw the male reasonably well as the female called in the background. It was now getting a bit late, and we all decided to drive down the forestry center track to the site where the Fire-capped Tits had been seen. Unfortunately it was very quiet on the track, so we returned to the Resort in time to pack and vacate our rooms. After a last lunch at this pleasant hotel, we hit the road towards Doi Inthanon. We decided to take the alternate route back, and this proved very scenic and provided us with some roadside birding stops. The only problem we encountered was a loose and scraping wheel-well liner, which we fixed with duct tape which Bill had providently packed!
There were quite a few roadworks south of Chiang Mai, and the sign for the turn to DI had been taken down. We eventually located the correct road, but it was already getting towards dark. We had reservations at Inthanon Highland Resort, an upscale lodge just outside the park entrance (air-conditioning!) and possessing very large grounds with lots of birds. We arrived on Saturday night, and there was no one at the lodge who spoke English; however, we eventually sorted out the reservations, and had an excellent dinner. As we were finishing up, a Japanese birding tour group, led by Uthai Treesucon, arrived. Highlights - Rusty-naped Pitta, White-browed Laughingthrush.
2/18/2001 DI: Although we had been warned not to go to the summit of DI on a weekend, we guessed that a very early start would give us time before the predicted hoards of tourists arrived. This proved a good strategy, and we were the first on the Summit Marsh boardwalk. It was very cold, and we all had on layers of clothing and gloves. As the sun rose, bird activity along the boardwalk increased and we managed to see almost all the target species on our first walk around. A few tourists showed up, but for the most part - seeing us - they quieted down and tiptoed past. After two circuits, we left the boardwalk and went across to the visitor's center where some small shops served welcome hot coffee and snacks. We had had a very successful first visit, missing only the partridge and the tesia. In late morning, we hit the 37.5 Km Jeep Trail, which was exceptionally active (the most active we ever saw it) with a number of good bird parties, calling (but unseen) Green Cochoas, and so forth. The trees are huge along this trail and birds in the canopy can be hard to locate. We met Uthai and his group and they had seen a Green Cochoa and some other good birds. We walked the track to the point where it crosses into an open area and drops Down sharply to a stream, and then retraced our route.
At lunchtime we visited Mr. Daeng's café across from the main headquarters, but he was in Chiang Mai that day. We read the log and planned our afternoon. In the previous week, a number of people had heard and seen up to two pairs of crakes at the campground in late afternoon, and we hoped they were still active. We first drove the main road a bit, searching for overlooks where raptors might be seen. One of the best vistas was at KM 39, and another at about KM 26. We also visited the area below Vachirathan Waterfall, which had River Chat and Plumbeous Redstart but no Black-backed Forktail. We returned to the 37.5 Jeep Trail, but it was quiet and not very productive. In late afternoon we drove to the campground and attempted to find the' spot for the Black-tailed Crake, which is a small reedy marsh behind the campground and to the right of a small bridge which leads to a bungalow and toilet complex. In what has to be one of the great bits of birding luck, John decided to visit said toilets, and crossing over the little bridge, actually flushed a crake from under it! Unfortunately he was the only one to see it fly, and our wait until dusk yielded no calls or futher action. Birding Highlights - Pygmy Wren-Babbler, Black-tailed Crake (J), Chestnut-crowned Warbler, three White-browed Shortwings, Dark-sided Thrush, six Snowy-browed Flycatchers, eight Yellow-bellied Fantails, 20 Green-tailed Sunbirds.
2/19/2001 DI At dawn we started out on the Km 13 Ridge Trail, which leads through very dry, stunted dipterocarp forest. Almost immediately we ran into a lively family party of Black-headed Woodpeckers, and soon scored with several of our other targets such as the Falconets. By 8:30 am it was already getting quite hot, but we continued to press on, hoping for the White-rumped Falcon. The trail gets quite a bit of disturbance, as a hill tribe village lies at its end, and motorbikes seemed to show up every time we had a good bird in our bins. Eventually we had had enough of the heat and dust, and returned to our car. Obviously we needed better gen on this falcon! We then went to the relative coolness of the Km. 37.5 Jeep Trail, which was nowhere as active as the day before, but we did manage to see a few goodies. We then tried the Km. 34.5 Trail, which Gail, Bill and Barry did as John opted to explore a small, damp ravine just off the track. The track itself was fairly quiet, but John scored with the Tesia using a tape. He also scored with the only leeches of the trip! We made a short stop at the Km 39 overlook, seeing the Barwing again.
For lunch we planned to quiz Mr. Daeng about the falcon, but his café was actually closed, so we ate lunch at the headquarters food stalls. After lunch we visited a couple of the waterfalls, again dipping on the forktail, but seeing several good raptors soaring overhead. We then explored the arable land beyond the campground. This seems to have become a lot more 'developed' than when Taylor's book was written, and we didn't see too much. After that, another fruitless wait until dusk at the Crake Marsh. Highlights - Black Baza, five Collared Falconets, Chinese Francolin, six Black-headed Woodpeckers, two White-bellied Woodpeckers.
2/20/20001 DI In the morning we returned to the summit, in hopes of connecting with some of the species missed. We ended up with great looks at the partridge, and also saw the impressive roost of Speckled Wood-pigeons near the area of the two pagodas. Later John, Gail and Barry visited the 37.5 Jeep Trail while Bill opted to bird down the summit road and meet us at Mr. Daeng's for lunch. The Jeep track was windy and rather unproductive, although one extremely good bird flock was encountered in the vicinity of several huge fruiting trees which yielded Maroon Oriole, Long-tailed Broadbill and a female Dark-breasted Thrush. No Cochoas, alas. We then tried the ravine just off the Mae Chong Road, where we managed to tape in a calling Eye-browed Wren-babbler. Lunch was at Mr. Daeng's, where we finally caught up with the elusive proprietor himself. He agreed to take us to the 'best place' for the Crake later in the day, and also gave us some advice on the Falcon and other species. He told us that June is actually the best time to see Cochoas, as the males sit up high and call, whereas in February they usually sit quietly for long periods in the canopy midway up a large tree.
It was a rather warm and windy day and we opted to revisit the Summit Marsh, in hopes of getting some photographs. As we walked to the entrance of the marsh trail, an Aquila-type eagle soared low over us; we tentatively ID'd it as Imperial, based on plumage details, pending further research (which later confirmed this first impression). The boardwalk trail was actually very quiet, albeit cool and shady, and we left for a glance at the Km 39 overlook and waterfalls, still no Black-backed Forktail. At the overlook, we met two young American birders travelling with two young Thai birders, and exchanged info. Later in the day we visited the 34.5 Trail, where a bird flock contained 4 Long-tailed Broadbills. In late afternoon we followed Mr. Daeng over to his crake site, which turned out to be where we had already been looking. Again we waited almost until dusk and again, no sign or sound of the crakes. En route to our hotel, a Great-eared Nightjar flew over the road. That evening Uthai confirmed Mr. Daeng's advice that the first km or so of the 13 Km Trail were best for the Falcon. He also reported a group of Grey-headed Lapwings in the Resort's rice paddies. Highlights - 2 Rufous-throated Partridges, 60 Speckled Wood Pigeons, Imperial Eagle, six Long-tailed Broadbills, Black-breasted Thrush.
2/21/2001 DI At dawn we set off again on the Km 13 Ridge Trail. We met up with the four birders from the day before, and while we all were admiring a family group of falconets, one of the lads saw a White-rumped Falcon fly in and perch! We ended up with great looks at both male and female. Luckily we were able to leave the trail before the worst of the heat set in. Then to the Km. 34.5 Trail, where John, Gail and Barry went into the damp ravine for the Tesia and Bill birded up the main track. A brief visit to the 37.5 Jeep Trail was not very productive except for a singing Black-eared Shrike-Babbler.
Lunch at Mr. Daeng's, where we met Tony Ball and two friends! He told us about a site for Black-backed Forktail at the Km. 18 bridge, which we visited after lunch and were successful with the forktails. We then decided to go back down to the Inthanon Highland Resort grounds, in hopes of catching up with Uthai's Grey-headed Lapwings, which unfortunately proved in absentia. It was very hot at the resort, but we walked around a bit and saw species more common at lower elevations, the best of which was Rufous Treepie. In mid-afternoon we tried the 34.5 Trail, where a uncooperative flock of Laughing-thrushes gave brief glimpses. Gail was starting to feel nauseous by this time - unfortunately, due to something at lunch- and our final try at the Crake Marsh was cut short by her illness. Birding highlights - Pair of White-rumped Falcons, White-necked Laughingthrush, Black-eared Shrike-Babbler, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Black-backed Forktail.
2/22/2001 DI: A final try at the 37.5 Jeep Trail, the first time we actually started off here at first light. In fact, we initially birded the roadside as the trail was too dark. Unfortunately we managed to miss a Purple Cochoa by about 10 minutes, seen by another birder in the same large fruiting trees that had proved so productive on the 20th! In p.m. drove to Chiang Mai AP and caught flight to Bangkok and onward flight to Heathrow AP, London. Birding highlights - Buff-bellied Flowerpecker.