Doi Chiang Dao, Northern Thailand, 31st Dec 2005 – 3rd Jan 2006

Published by Dave Gandy (dave.gandy AT

Participants: Dave Gandy



Hired Suzuki Caribian from one of the many travel agents in Chiang Mai, mine cost 800 Baht per day (normally cheaper, but prices go up over New Year).

Stayed at Chiang Dao Nest (next door to Mallee’s Nature Resort) for about 500 Baht per night. The food at this place is really exceptionally good, and the menu very out of place in rural Thailand. Though there is some good local birding around “the Nest” and Malee’s, it is still a long 30km drive to the Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary checkpoint, and a further 6km to the end of the track at the sub-station. This means a lot of driving on a very rough jeep track (the worst I’ve seen in my three years living in Thailand). The best alternative as far as accommodation is concerned is to camp at the sub-station (bring your own food, tent and a warm sleeping bag), and I would probably do this if I visited again.

Target birds

Obviously there are a couple of target birds on Doi Chiang Dao, for which this scenically stunning mountain is famous – Giant Nuthatch and Mrs Hume’s Pheasant.

Reading the variety of trip reports on and other websites, it seems that most people connect with the Nuthatch with a little effort, and many people see this species between the checkpoint and the sub-station. I spent my first day birding along this section of road, and despite seeing loads of birds I drew a blank on the Nuthatch, and I was starting to panic a bit when I still hadn’t seen or heard one by lunchtime on my second day. I talked to a group of Thai birders who’d also struggled - one bird seen by one member of their group along the trail beyond the sub-station. I decided to take this trail on the afternoon of my second day and scored a pair of Giant Nuthatches within half an hour (picked up on call) in an area of pine forest about 1km beyond the substation. Further along this trail I heard another Giant Nuthatch.

The same group of Thai birders told me that Mrs Hume’s Pheasant was “impossible” at this time of year “come back in March” was their advice - as a result I discounted any possibility of connecting with is species. This meant I was pretty damn pleased with myself when a male Hume’s Pheasant decided to fly out of the undergrowth just five metres away from me, and then drop back into cover out of sight! It was so quick, and so close that I didn’t even reach for my bins, I simply let the image burn indelibly on my retina… This incident happened whilst walking back to the sub-station from ticking Giant Nuthatch – both target birds within 2 hours, following a day and a half of seeing neither below the substation!

When I bumped into the Thai birders I had met earlier in the day, it was hard to refrain from gripping them with a sense of smugness…in fact I failed!

On my last day I birded below the sub-station, and indeed did find a Giant Nuthatch (possibly two) with a mixed flock, but considering how much effort I had put in below the sub-station (roughly 15 hours), I would recommend concentrating on the trail beyond the sub-station for this species.

Other notable species seen from road between checkpoint and sub-station, and above substation:

Scaly-breasted partridge
Heard calling below sub-station on one morning

Grey-capped Pygmy woodpecker
Seen in many mixed flocks below the sub-station

Stripe-breasted Woodpecker
Seen in many mixed flocks below the sub-station

Lesser Yellownape
Seen several times in mixed flocks

Grey-headed Woodpecker
A group of three birds seen above checkpoint.

Great Barbet
Seen once, heard daily below sub-station.

One with mixed flock below sub-station

Orange-bellied Leafbird
Cracking views of a male around the sub-station

Grey-backed Shrike
One at sub-station and another at Chiang Dao Nest

Grey Treepie
Several loud groups seen and heard.

Slender-billed Oriole
Seen once above sub-station

Maroon Oriole
One seen in mixed flock below sub-station

Black-winged Cuckoo Shrike
Seen twice in mixed flocks along road below sub-station.

Large Woodshrike
A small flock seen about 1km along the track beyond the checkpoint

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher
A stunning male seen on trail above sub-station

Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush
Seen three times in forest below sub-station

Slaty-backed Forktail
A pair flushed off jeep track early morning

White-crowned Forktail
One bird flushed off jeep track early morning (5 minutes after the Slaty-backed Forktails!)

White-browed Laughingthrush
One group seen along road immediately before sub-station

Rusty-cheeked Schimitar Babbler
One pair seen along road close to sub-station

Grey-headed Parrotfinch
One flock of about 10 birds seen with a mixed flock on upper part of road between checkpoint and sub-station.

Mrs Gould’s Sunbird
Seen several times in secondary growth

Chestnut Bunting
Seen twice below sub-station

Birding on the other side of Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary

There is another entrance to the Wildlife Sanctuary, accessed by turning left out of Chiang Dao Nest, and then tacking the first road on the left. This road here takes you through dry deciduous forest, with a very different landscape from that found near the sub-station.

I mention this area because I saw what can only be a male White-rumped Falcon along this road (my views were frustratingly brief, but I’m 99% sure on this ID, and having been through a process of elimination I cannot think of any other candidate species). This bird was seen along the ridge at roughly 1000 metres asl. I also saw a Collared Falconet along this road.

Dave Gandy