Birding trip report North Thailand Feb./March 2003  

John van der Woude  -  www.jvanderw.nl 

- Introduction and summary
- Logistics, maps and GPS
- Daily report
- Photos of sites
- Sound recordings

Introduction and summary

As a follow-up to our West-Malaysia trip of March 2002, we now went to Northern Thailand. Here we got 139 lifers, which demonstrates that it is really a good follow-up to Malaysia. This is mainly due to the subtropical nature of many mountainous sites in Northern Thailand, but we also got many lifers in the lowlands there. The trip included the three "Doi's" (mountains) Doi Chiang Dao (DCD), Doi Angkhang (DAK) and Doi Inthanon (DI). Lowland sites we visited in the far North were at Chiang Mai (Mae Hia and the peafowl park), and at the Burmese/Laos border (Thaton and Mekong). Driving down from Chiang Mai to Bangkok we visited the dry forest of Mae Ping NP, the Bung Borapet marsh reserve, and the famous tropical hills of Khao Yai NP. We had sunny weather all the time, except the last night at Khao Yai.
We did this trip by rental car again, allowing for efficient birding. We rented the car at Chiang Mai airport, and delivered it at Bangkok airport. The roads are good everywhere, and only for one day would we have needed to change to a 4WD (at Doi Chiang Dao, Malee can arrange this), but there we were lucky enough to join Gruff in his 4WD, in search of the Giant Nuthatch! All the other logistics were also easy here. We greatly enjoyed the trip - this was also due to the kindness of the Thai people (and we felt safe everywhere), and their lovely food! We also visited a few temples, old and new, on the way down South.
The birding trick of Northern Thailand is that you will see a mixture of mountain species, lowland tropical/subtropical species, and a lot of migrants from farther North in Asia (in winter time, which is the best time anyway). In the plane back home I made a chronological list of what I had personally found the best birds of the trip, based on my notes of course. This goes as follows.
Green Peafowl (visiting caged ones), Coppersmith Barbet (hotel grounds of Chiang Mai), Burmese Shrike (Mae Hia), Plain-backed Sparrow (beautiful sparrow!), Olive-backed Pipit (so many!), Indochinese Bush-lark (Mae Hia), Rufous-winged Buzzard (Mae Hia), Striated Swallow (Chiang Dao temple), Sultan Tit (again after Malaysia!), Chestnut Bunting (our first forest bunting), Great Tit (so different from ours), Blue-bearded Bee-eater (hiding in Chiang Dao forest), Yellow-browed Warbler (literally everywhere once you know the sound), three new orioles (Slender-billed, Black-headed and Maroon), Grey-backed and Long-tailed Shrike, all three forktails (Black-backed, Slaty and White-crowned), three new nuthatches (Giant, Chestnut-vented and Chestnut-bellied), three new minivets (Long-tailed, Short-billed and Small).
Crested Bunting was our second new bunting, at the summit of DCD. Somehow it's nice to add species to a family that you have at home! This holds absolutely also for the thrushes, where we added the dreamed-off White's Thrush but it is called Scaly Thrush here so I didn't know immediately that it was White's... The family feeling also holds for the starlings (Black-collared, Asian Pied, White-shouldered). The White's Thrush was at the lovely DAK area, where we also enjoyed Mountain Bamboo-Partridge, Red-faced Liocichla, Tristram's Bunting, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, Brown-breasted Bulbul, White-capped Water-Redstart, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, Spectacled Barwing, Gould's Sunbird, Spot-breasted Parrotbill. Best birds of the Burmese/Laos border lowlands were Black-faced Bunting, Siberian Rubythroat, Small Pratincole and Ruddy Shelduck.
DI's "summit marsh" (which is neither!) produced many species for this list of "best birds": Yellow-bellied Fantail, Green-tailed Sunbird, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, White-browed Shortwing, Ashy-throated Warbler, Dark-sided Thrush. Other best birds of DI were Slaty-bellied Tesia, Yellow-cheeked Tit, White-crested Laughingthrush, Green Cochoa, Purple Cochoa, Black-breasted Thrush. At Mae Ping, the display flight of Black Baza was unforgettable. The Bung Borapet marshes also gave a lot of best birds: Black-browed Reed-Warbler, Rusty-rumped (Pallas' Grasshopper) Warbler, Yellow Bittern, Bronze-winged and Phaesant-tailed Jacanas, Oriental Pratincole and Ruddy-breasted Crake. At the famous Khao Yai NP we had not so many new birds as we had expected, but even so it produced quite a few of these "best birds": Great Hornbill, Rufous Woodpecker, Vernal Hanging-Parrot, Moustached Barbet, Hill Myna, and Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo!
Doing some statistics on the species list, it appears that all visited sites have been worthwhile, esp. when taking into account the time spent at each site. The number of species only seen on one site are as follows: Mae Hia 11 species only here, DCD 35, DAK 26, Thaton 7, Mekong 6, Doi Inthanon 30, Mae Ping 5, Bung Borapet 27, Khao Yai 28. Moreover, adding these numbers means that 175 species have only been seen on one site, on a trip total of 264. This means that visiting all these nine sites was a good thing to do (although statistically this is not a sound proof).
In the following parts of this report I will give the logistical details of the trip and some maps and GPS-coordinates of the sites, a day-to-day report, several photos of the scenery of the birding sites, some typical sounds we recorded, and a species list.