by Nick Upton
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Mae Hia Agricultural College
(Updated 09/09/14)
Mae Hia Agricultural College, a little to the south west of Chiang Mai, is an area of farmland, grassland, scrub and pools with adjacent woodland of the lower slopes of Doi Suthep to the north and is a perfect place for birders staying in Chiang Mai to spend a few hours in the morning or late afternoon.

Although the college is not officially open to visitors, the staff are sympathetic to visiting birdwatchers and a smile is usually enough to gain access to the grounds where the wide range of habitats can reveal a surprising number of species, with scarce and rare species turning up frequently, particularly during migratory periods.

Whilst this is a pleasant place to visit for most of the year, the air quality can get extremely poor in March: pollution in Chiang Mai.
Wire-tailed Swallows
(Photo by Johan Svensson)
Please remember that this site is private property and behave with respect to any members of staff or students you may bump into and don't do anything that may reflect badly on any bird watchers that subsequently visit.
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 Birding Highlights 

Indochinese Bushlark
(Photo by Johan Svensson)
  Mae Hia Agricultural College is a good place to see a selection of open-country species although some wetland and woodland birds also occur. For some time now, this location has been known for Wire-tailed Swallow and although it is by no means guaranteed, it is a species regularly encountered by birdwatchers here. Indochinese Bushlark is particularly common at Mae Hia as is Pied Bushchat and Ashy Woodswallow which can often be observed cuddling together in groups on overhead wires. The very attractive Burmese Shrike, although not particularly numerous, can usually be found at Mae Hia in the "winter" months and it is worth checking out the Brown and Long-tailed Shrikes for unusual subspecies. Other open-country birds such as both Greater and Lesser Coucals along with Prinias, Drongos and Bulbuls are also common.

The fringing woodland at Mae Hia also provides some memorable species with Blue Magpie, Eurasian Jay and a variety of Barbets commonly seen and during periods of migration Flycatchers and Leaf Warblers provide plenty of interest.
Although difficult to find, rough, overgrown patches of habitat are worth checking for skulkung birds such as Siberian Rubythroat and Lanceolated Warbler or perhaps something much rarer.

Waterbirds are perhaps less numerous than might be expected but common species like Little Grebe, Moorhen, Chinese Pond Heron and Lesser Whistling Duck can almost always be found and in the "winter" there are other possibilities.
Click here for a checklist of the birds of Mae Hia
  Bird Watching Trips:
If you need help organizing a bird watching trip to Thailand, take a look at the suggested itineraries for ideas on creating a tailor-made trip and contact me for advice: Thailand bird tours.
 Travel Information 
Use the interactive map below to plan your route to Mae Hia Agricultural College (marked with the blue pin) from Chiang Mai city centre.

View Mae Hia in a larger map
Getting to Mae Hia can be a little confusing without first knowing its location as it is not on the main road to Doi Inthanon as many people suppose. Instead, one must find the canal road on the western side of Chiang Mai.

For those driving, simply follow this canal road southwest for 4.6 kilometres to the point marked on the map from the canal roads intersection with the Doi Sythep road. The agricultural college is visible from the road: it has some large buildings and a rather grand sign at the entrance, in English and Thai (See below).

Sign for Mae Hia Agricultural Research Station
(Photo by Nick Upton)
For those taking public transport there are songthaews from a small market at the point where the canal road enters the city centre. These songthaews leave when full which shouldn't take more than about 15 minutes. When you see the agricultural college, alert the driver to stop by pressing the alarm in the back of the vehicle - be careful when crossing the road as it is quite busy.
 Finding Birds 
Generally at Mae Hia Agricultural College, the further from the road one proceeds, the more species will be encountered. However, a map is always useful in indicating where certain species may be found.
1. Entrance : A bridge over the canal marks the entrance to the college and it is worth a quick walk up and down it for a few hundred metres as many birdwatchers, including myself, have found Wire-tailed Swallows along here. A small swampy patch about 100 metres further south along the canal is where I have seen them feeding in the past along with the more common Barn and Striated Swallows.

2. Pools : These pools are not as good for birds as they might be but they do provide drinking water to a number of open-country birds in this dry area. Look out for Shrikes, Prinias, Warblers and Indochinese Bushlark, which is particularly common here. A few waterbirds may be found including Moorhen, Chinese Pond Heron and Lesser Whistling Duck.

3. Lapwing Fields : These experimental farm plots were named the Lapwing fields by Tony Ball for their ever-present Red-wattled Lapwings. The small plots create quite a high level of biodiversity and a number of farmland species such as Pipits, Wagtails, Munias and Sparrows can often be present. Look out too for Eastern Stonechat on exposed perches - the most obvious difference between this and Common Stonechat (which is not recorded in Thailand) is the unstreaked rump patch.
This area has undergone a lot of "tidying up" over recent years but where unkempt patches exist Zitting Cisticola, Grey-breasted Prinia and the blanfordi subspecies of Plain Prinia can always be found; in the dry season look for "winter" visitors such as Dusky Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat and Thick-billed Warbler. The large radio mast in this area is a great place to find Burmese Shrike which is a surprisingly beautiful bird and in the late afternoon/early evening Striated Swallows usually perch here allowing birders an unusually good view of them.

Eastern Stonechat
(Photo by Alister Benn)
  4. Fishing Lake : Once again, this lake is not particularly great for water birds, although Little Grebe, Pond Herons, Lesser Whistling Duck and Egrets can be seen here. Many small open-country species are attracted to the vegetation around the lake including Brown Shrike, Burmese Shrike, Dusky Warbler and Green Bee-eater.

5. Crossroads : A number of mature trees and open woodland alongside boggy fields and pools make this an excellent spot for birds, including Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, Drongos, Barbets and other woodland edge species. In the undergrowth it is worth keeping an eye out for Dusky Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler, Yellow-streaked warbler, Puff-throated Babbler and Siberian Rubythroat. This is also a good spot for raptors with Rufous-winged Buzzard a regular.

6. Into the Woodland : At this point the site becomes more and more wooded, and there is a way into Doi Suthep National Park which is signposted. Red-billed Blue Magpie is often found around here and some have found Blue Pitta. Quite frankly anything could turn up and by dividing ones time between the open country and these wooded areas, birdwatchers can gain quite a high number of species here.
The close proximity of Mae Hia to the town of Chiang Mai means that the total lack of any facilities on site is not a major issue. With a great selection of hotels of all types in Chiang Mai, one is spoilt for choice: Chiang Mai Hotels. In fact, given the lively night market, excellent food and whole host of other tourist facilities, one would be crazy to stay anywhere else when visiting Mae Hia. Mae Hia is a pleasant place for a picnic so it is worth bringing a packed lunch, or even breakfast! It gets very hot here quite quickly, so make sure you bring plenty of water, although I have used the water dispensers on the site in the past.

There are no toilet facilities for public use, but with a polite request and a smile you may be allowed to use the college toilets.

Mae Hia is not a national park and there is no charge to go birdwatching here.
Doi Suthep from Mae Hia
(Photo by Mick Robson)
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  Birdwatching Trips:
Mae Hia is a great place for a morning's birding for those staying in Chiang Mai but it is also an excellent site to stop for an afternoon on longer tours due to a number of interesting species possible here - most notably Burmese Shrike. This is also a good place to look for a few difficult skulking birds.

Look at some suggested itineraries, Thailand bird tours, or contact me for more information:
 Related Blog Entries
A Morning at Mae Hia - posted 10/03/08

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