I decided on a quick trip to north Thailand after reading on Oriental Birding of the good birds being seen in March and April. I took the cheapest flight - Turkish Airlines via Istanbul (£406 from Trailfinders), which allowed me to fly from Heathrow and return to Manchester, a preference at the time. I later discovered a drawback when I decided to come back early, namely that Turkish only fly twice a week to Manchester, compared to daily to Heathrow. Timing, comfort and service were pretty good. I then flew straight to Chiang Mai and rented a good Honda motorbike from Jaguar Motorbikes for 120 Baht a day, no licence required. This was a bit hairy in Chiang Mai traffic, as I'd never really ridden one before, and not much fun in rain, but otherwise a cheap and convenient mode of transport.
I only visited three areas: Doi Inthanon, Doi Chiang Dao and Chiang Mai. I had intended to go to Doi Ang Khan but it was said to be unsafe as recent hill tribe fighting on the Burma border had led to a large army presence. My first 4 days were partly spoilt by rain, said to be unseasonally heavy (causing floods in Bangkok), but the next 4 days were fine. Birding was mixed, with excellent views of Green Peacock, Black-headed Woodpecker, Green Cochoa, Spectacled Barwing and Giant Nuthatch, poor views of other ticks such as White-rumped Falcon, Black-tailed Crake, Purple Cochoa and White-headed Bulbul, and no sightings of Hume's Pheasant, Rufous-throated Partridge and Rusty-naped Pitta (not calling). A good and cheap introduction to this fascinating part of the country.
I am indebted to the help given by the following: Andy Adcock, Thais Armstrong, Tony Ball, Ash Banwell, Phil Benstead, Ron Braun, David Cooper, Peter Erickson, Rich Hopf, Rob Hutchinson, Michael Knoll, Patcharee Komolphalin, Gail Mackiernan and Sam Woods.
15/5/02 Arrived Chiang Mai at 1.30pm. Motorbike to Doi Inthanon NP arriving at 5pm. Some time on road around Km 11-13, seeing Black-headed Woodpecker briefly, then to Mr Deang's where I took a basic room. Vigil at Campsite Crake marsh was a failure.
16/5/02 Late start due to heavy rain, then lift down to Km 13 Ridge Trail: good view of Collared Falconet and Black-headed Woodpecker but White-rumped Falcon was only seen in flight. Walked to Km 11: Rufous-winged Buzzard in flight and another perched Falconet. Lift up to Km 37.5 at noon, on Jeep Trail till 3pm when it became a stream in the rain: White-necked Laughingthrush and Lesser Shortwing. Sheltered by check-point, watching good flock with both Sibias, then walked to Km 34, seeing Purple Cochoa flying across road; little on trail till return to road where saw White-tailed Robin and Spectacled Barwing. Lift back with tribals to Mr Deang's.
17/5/02 Drove bike to top, stopping for bulbuls on way including brief White-headed. Walked the boardwalk twice at Summit Marsh in dripping conditions: White-browed Shortwing, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush and Red-winged Fulvetta but no partridge or thrushes. Angkanensis Green-tailed Sunbird at 'overlook'. Down to Km 13 Ridge Trail for 3 h, soon seeing male Purple Cochoa with naked eye but bins were steamed up! Good view of Green Cochoa later, then Stripe-breasted Woodpecker and Emerald Cuckoo. Km 34.5 trail yielded nothing of note, so returned to the Crake marsh whereupon the heavens opened - no crakes. Lunch at Deang's, then lift to Km 13 where a perched Rufous-winged Buzzard soon flew off.
18/5/02 Wet start again, so tried to hitch up the road; a Black-tailed Crake walking across the road was compensation for the 30min wait. Quiet morning on Km 37.5 trail: another obliging Green Cochoa, a female Purple in flight and a good party at 11.30 with White-necked Laughingthrush and White-browed Shrike-babbler. A pitta-like bird was flushed but barely seen. Lift back to Deang's with Thai birders, then packed and drove down in the afternoon, with fruitless stops, before continuing to Chiang Mai where took a room with hot shower in the Royal Guesthouse (200 B) near the East gate. Rang Tony Ball and arranged to see him later. Pleasant, hospitable evening with Tony who gave me some useful gen.
19/5/02 Another late start due to rain; 9-11am drove to Chiang Dao and checked into the dorm at Malee's (100 B). Walked to Temple Gully but trail was awash, so walked up a trail to the perimeter fence: Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush nest-building, Buff-chested and Buff-breasted Babblers;siamensis Asian Brown Flycatcher feeding fledgling by the Park office.
Late afternoon on Nature Trail, quiet but a single distant Pin-tailed Pigeon perched up in a hillside tree. Good supper spoilt by Malee announcing it was impossible to drive up the mountain due to wet roads.
20/5/02 Dry start, up concrete road (to Muang Kong) to Km 14 where Hume's Pheasant had been reported, at c. 1200m - no joy of course: good view of Mt Imperial Pigeon and Shama but only glimpses of Bamboo Woodpecker and White-headed Bulbul. Back to Malee's for breakfast but as she was missing, did the Gully Trail which had almost dried out: Puff-throated Babbler but no pittas. Next stop was the road to Chiangda Wildlife Research Station to look for White-rumped Falcon: a brief view was had of one mobbing a displaying Crested Goshawk - several more visits here failed to give any more sightings. Then drove to Palong tribal village beyond Chiang Dao to photo tribal people in traditional dress. Back at Malees, gorged myself on lychees in her orchard, then cleared the overgrown first part of the Nature Trail with a machete. Late afternoon on various trails gave nothing of note, but the warm dry day meant we, Michael Knoll, Oscar, Anna and I, could go up the mountain on the morrow.
21/5/02 Driver with 4WD picked us up at 05.30 and after a food stop at the market, we reached Doi Chiang Dao Km 21 check-post (1390m) at 07.00. As the driver refused to go further, we walked the 5km to the substation (1590m), arriving at 09.00 with 1 Giant Nuthatch en route. 3 hours on the Ridge/ Valley Trail gave more Nuthatches, a Streak-breasted Woodpecker, and a briefly calling Rusty-naped Pitta, but no Hume's Pheasants. Walked slowly back along the road with Michael to the check-post, with a detour down a good trail to the right above the check-post, arriving back at the check-post at 3.30 pm to discover that Oscar had seen a Hume's fly across the Ridge Trail after we had left. Back to Malee's, with one stop at 1000m for a Blue-bearded Bee-eater. Another good supper.
22/5/02 Tried for Mt Scops-Owl at 05.15 but it soon stopped calling. Nature and Gully Trails gave nothing, so drove up the concrete road to Km 9 where saw Bamboo Woodpecker, a pair of displaying Striped Tit-Babbler, another Blue-bearded Bee-eater, but no White-headed Bulbul. Left at 09.30 after breakfast and drove back to Chiang Mai with one detour. After an oil massage, drove to the Huai Hong Krai Royal Project where I eventually located the splendid Green Peacock at 6 pm, and stopped for a quick look at the impressive Doi Suket temple on the way back to the Royal Guesthouse. Celebratory American fillet steak while watching a recent Clapton concert on a DVD.
23/5/02 06.15 departure for Canal road, NW of Chiang Mai, to look for Plain-backed Sparrow,Brown Prinia and Rufous-winged Buzzard at Tony Ball's site. Soon saw the Sparrow, but only a single Prinia where Tony had had 5, and no Buzzards. Tried the Mae Huey Agricultural Centre at the other end of Canal road but still no raptors. Called in at the Tribal Museum which was quite interesting, before returning the bike and departing for the airport.
This popular area is covered by numerous reports, Nigel Wheatley and Oriental Birding postings, so I will only describe my experiences and recent info. Good reports include those by Phil Benstead, David Cooper, Barry Cooper and Gail Mackiernan, Eddie Myers and Jan Vermeulen.
Two sites worthy of visit are:-
Huai Hong Krai Royal Project, a right turn 6km beyond Doi Suket on the main Chiang Rai road: wary Green Peacocks visit the caged birds near the lake at the HQ at dawn and dusk.
Canal Road, the first major road after the outer ring road which crosses Hue Kao, the road to Doi Suthep NW out of town - it has a canal along the centre. Rufous-winged Buzzard and Plain-backed Sparrow occur along it, especially at Mae Huey Agricultural Centre near Doi Suthep and at the NE end beyond the big sports complex. Mimosa scrub in the latter area, at the end of the dirt road continuation of Canal Road, hold the very localised Brown Prinia (along with other prinias).
The most convenient and cheapest accommodation is at Mr Deang's - but only a few beds and rather basic. There is a basic, cheap 'Ecolodge' 5 km below Mr Deang's now. It's easy to get lifts up and down the road as far as Km 37.5, except for upwards early in the morning. With luck and perseverance, all the key birds can be seen on the trails at Kms 13, 34.5 and 37.5, at the top, and along the main road around Km 34-39, plus the Crake marsh beyond the camp site, reached by taking the first road on the left for 500+m when going downhill from the HQ at Km 30.
Doi Chiang Dao
Malee's, 6-7 km W of Chiang Dao, is the place to stay, beyond the caves en route to the temple. Malee, whose German husband was killed by robbers in Dali, Yunnan, in 1997, said she was having a hard time making ends meet. I strongly recommended increasing her low prices for food and accommodation (75B for supper, 100B a dorm bed, 300 or 400B for a cabin, 60B=£1), but she declined, saying she didn't want to offend her clients/ friends, some of whom already asked for discounts! I would urge anyone staying there to be sure to give her a very generous tip/ contribution, as I uncharacteristically did.
I was not over-impressed by the trails near the temple, though clearly Rusty-naped Pittas are seen from time to time. Better forest was visible, if not really accessible, from the concrete road to Muang Kong, which is the first left turn when going back to Chiang Dao from Malee's. The Km 9 area was good, with Bamboo Woodpecker most notable.
The 4WD vehicle hire (1300B) for Doi Chiang Dao was arranged by Malee - I would not advise trying to motorbike it. There are occasional vehicles going to the check-post, so you could risk hitching and walking from there, if strapped for cash. The road may be impassable during the height of the wet season (June-July?). Permits are easily obtained by one applicant for the group at the NP office near Malee's the previous day, but not on Sundays.
Doi Ang Khang
According to Tony Ball it is a much better journey to turn left off the main Fang road between Km 77 and 78, then right in the village and follow this quiet, good road through the hills all the way to Ban Koomes.
Directions for Hodgson's Frogmouth from Rob Hutchinson: -
Drive up hill along main road out of Ban Koomes, just before the Km 24 marker there are 2 roads which go off to the left at the same point, ignore the one which doubles back uphill and take the one which drops down hill, follow downhill past pond on left the uphill, will past a barrier / checkpoint, turn right and past another barrier. Continue on this dirt track for 550m past some huts etc then downhill - the gully trail starts on the right 550m after 2nd barrier, where the track finishes dropping and starts to climb slightly on a left hand curve, near a small stump, and follows the stream bed up to a small dam, then doubles back and follows the pipeline trail off to right, eventually emerging between the toilet blocks at the campsite at Km23.5. Frogmouths were on the track down to start of gully trail either side of the entrance into trail, always seemingly in pines, responded to 2nd (male?) call on nightjars etc CD. Best response by playing the call only infrequently. Spot-breasted Laughingthrushes were just 30m below Dam if walking up Gully trail, but could be anywhere. Red-tailed Laugher and Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill have also been seen along here, and parties of Spot-winged Grosbeak in pines beside the parking area at start of Km21.5 trail, which is signposted "exit from trekking route".
Rufous-winged BuzzardButastur liventer 1 in flight at Km 13, Doi Inthanon on 16th and 1 perched briefly near start of Ridge Trail Km 13 on 17th.
White-rumped Falcon Polihierax insignis 1 in flight at Ridge Trail Km 13, Doi Inthanon on 16th and 1 attacking displaying Crested Goshawk near Chiangda Wildlife Research Station, Chiang Dao on 20th.
Collared FalconetMicrohierax caerulescens Two singles perched at Doi Inthanon on 16th - 1 near start of Km 13 Ridge Trail and the other at Km 12.
Chinese FrancolinFrancolinus pintadeanus 5 heard along Km 13 Ridge Trail, Doi Inthanon and 1 heard at Huai Hong Krai Royal Project.
Green Peafowl Pavo muticus 2 or 3 males at c. 6pm at Huai Hong Krai Royal Project.
Black-tailed Crake Amaurornis bicolor 1 crossed the main road at 07.30 at Km 32, Doi Inthanon on 18th. A dead one seen hanging form the back of a pick-up at Km 30.
Pin-tailed PigeonTreron apicauda 1 perched in a tree near the temple at Chiang Dao late afternoon on 19th.
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Singles heard at Doi Inthanon and Chiang Dao - 'rare' according to Birds of Thailand.
Asian Emerald CuckooChrysococcyx maculatus 1 perched near start of side road at Km 37.5, Doi Inthanon on 17th.
Mountain Scops-OwlOtus spilocephalus 1 calling at night at Malee's, Chiang Dao on 20th - 22nd.
Orange-breasted TrogonHarpactes oreskios 1 at Km 37.5 trail, Doi Inthanon on 17th.
Blue-bearded Bee-eaterNyctyornis athertoni 2 at c.1000m on Doi Chiang Dao on 21st and 1 at Km 9 on the concrete road on 22nd.
Stripe-breasted WoodpeckerDendrocopos atratus Singles at Km 37.5 trail, Doi Inthanon on 17th and in substation pines at Doi Chiang Dao.
Black-headed WoodpeckerPicus erythropygius 1 perched by road at Km 11 on 15th and a pair c.1km along Km 13 ridge trail, Doi Inthanon on 16th.
Bamboo WoodpeckerGecinulus viridis 1 at Km 9 on the concrete road, Chiang Dao on 20th and 22nd.
Rusty-naped PittaPitta oatesi 1 heard below the substation, Doi Chiang Dao.
Blue PittaPitta cyanea 1 heard below Km 37.5 trail, Doi Inthanon on 17th.
White-headed BulbulHypsipetes thompsoni 2 at Km 36, Doi Inthanon on 17th and 2 in flight at Km 9 concrete road, Chiang Dao on 20th.
Lesser ShortwingBrachypteryx leucophrys 1 seen and others heard frequently at Km 37.5 trail, Doi Inthanon.
White-browed ShortwingBrachypteryx montana 2 males at the boardwalk marsh atop Doi Inthanon.
Brown PriniaPrinia polychroa 1 at Canal road, Chiang Mai on 23rd.
Asian Brown FlycatcherMuscicapa dauurica siamensis 1 feeding fledgling near the NP office at Doi Chiang Dao on 19th.
Hainan Blue-FlycatcherCyornis hainanus 1 at Doi Chiang Dao on 21st.
White-tailed RobinCinclidium leucurum 1 on the road early morning and 1 at Km 34.5 trail, Doi Inthanon on 16th.
Purple CochoaCochoa purpurea A male flew across the road at c.Km 35, Doi Inthanon on 16th, another perched at Km 37.5 on 17th while I was demisting my bins, and a female flew over the trail there on 18th.
Green CochoaCochoa viridis Gripping views of a male 1-2 km along km 37.5 trail, Doi Inthanon on 17 and 18th.
White-necked LaughingthrushGarrulax strepitans Singles seen in bird parties at Km 37.5 trail, Doi Inthanon on 16 and 18th.
Chestnut-crowned LaughingthrushGarrulax erythrocephalus 10 at the boardwalk marsh atop Doi Inthanon.
White-browed Scimitar-BabblerPomatorhinus schisticeps 1 at Km 37.5, Doi Inthanon on 18th.
Buff-chested BabblerStachyris ambigua2 at the perimeter fence, Chiang Dao on 19th.
Spectacled BarwingActinodura ramsayi 3 at Km 34.5, Doi Inthanon on 16th.
Giant NuthatchSitta magna One c.1 km before the substation and 2-3 in the pines after the substation, Doi Chiang Dao.
Green-tailed SunbirdAethopyga nipalensis angkanensis This distinctive form was common below the overlook at the top car park at Doi Inthanon.
Green MagpieCissa chinensis 1 at c. Km 35, Doi Inthanon on 17th.
Golden-crested Myna Ampeliceps coronatus 2 at Km 13 trail, Doi Inthanon on 16th.
Plain-backed Sparrow Passer flaveolus Several at both ends of Canal road, Chiang Mai.
Please contact me if you would like a full list of sightings.