by Nick Upton
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Doi Chiang Dao National Park, 23-26th Oct 2002
  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.
Both Doug Judell and myself enjoy relaxing and birding at Doi Chiang Dao, so even though the time of year wasn't really right we decided that with time on our hands it would be a good place to see some early migrants. Having hired a four-wheel drive vehicle in Chiang Mai we drove to Malee's lodge in the village of Chiang Dao where we were welcomed. There was time for a short walk to the nearby forest temple where we saw a number of the usual suspects including Streaked Spiderhunter, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Orange-bellied Leafbird and an early Blue Rock Thrush.

We hired a Suzuki Caribbean, a small four-wheel drive vehicle which can be found very cheaply for hire in Chiang Mai. While being equipped to get up the very muddy road to Den Ya Kat, this vehicle is very underpowered and driving any distance takes a long time due to its low maximum speed. It was also fairly unconfortable and its road handling was poor.

Field Guides
1. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson
2. Guide to the Birds of Thailand by Philip D. Round & Boonsong Lekagul

The evening consisted of chatting with some other birders over dinner and a couple of beers. Doug was happy to discover that the birders' logbook he had started years ago at Malees was still running, and it is an excellent source of information although there were not too many entries for this seldom-visited time of year.

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Neither of us were that keen to wake up extremely early so we waited for Malee to serve us breakfast before heading to the forest temple again. Lots of birds were around, with a decent helping of drongos, minivets, bulbuls and flycatchers, but nothing really special. For me the best bird was a Purple-naped Sunbird feeding on nectar at the base of the temple stupa; this is a widespread bird in Thailand but until now had proved to be a "bogey" bird for me. Lurking around the monks' quarters turned up a Black-hooded Oriole, but there was no sign of Streaked Wren Babbler which we have both found very common on previous visits and which, incidently, many have mistaken for Limestone Wren Babbler; be careful!

A little disappointed in the birding, light rain completely dampened our spirits and we strolled back to Malee's to read and wait for better weather, but not before a very difficult little bird crossed our path: skulking around in some low bushes was a Seicercus warbler which after much deliberation we decided was Plain-tailed Warbler from its call. Whilst lounging around the idea to drive up to Den Ya Kat near the top of Doi Chiang Dao was put forward by Doug. Having never been there before I was happy to agree so it was off to the National Park HQ, a short distance up the road, to obtain a permit. This is a simple formality and once completed it was back to our reading.

In the afternoon the weather improved sufficiently for us to consider a drive to a higher altitude in hope of finding some "better" birds. We drove along the road which goes behind Malee's, through a checkpoint and then up the mountain; taking this route can increase your altitude significantly and the species that you will see. The road is pretty narrow and finding suitable places to stop isn't particularly easy; our first stop was in similar habitat to further down the mountain with bamboo and broad-leaved trees, but the birds appeared more active here and we very quickly saw White-browed Piculet which was located by its surprisingly loud banging on bamboo. This amusing little bird proved to be at the head of a bird wave, with Long-tailed Broadbill, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and Golden-fronted Leafbird some of the most colourful highlights. Continuing up the mountain, the forest became more open and dominated by pine trees; this more open nature allows the sun to penetrate and it is wise to find shadows to stand in whilst observing birds. Species such as Grey Treepie, Japanese Tit and Eurasian Jay were some of the most obvious birds, with the subspecies of Jay found here differing greatly from the one I'm used to back in the UK but equally handsome in its own way. Whilst jumping from shade patch to shade patch and taking turns to move the car along the road a bird hawking overhead drew our attention. At first we only had brief views as it revealed itself from behind a ridge but eventually we both obtained great views of an Oriental Hobby; a first for Doug and only the third time I'd ever seen it. This species is unmistakeably a Hobby in terms of its behaviour and shape, differing in its rufous coloured underparts, making it perhaps even more special than the European version. We were tiring in the heat by this point and a shower and some food were beckoning, but I managed to persuade Doug to make one more stop, something I am very pleased about as we saw one of the birds of the trip (at least for me it was): Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo. I can't remember what it was that made us peer down a hill through the pine trees, but when we did a juvenile of this species showed itself well for a few minutes before departing into the forest. Having decided that we had had as much excitement as our constitutions could take for one day we descended to Malee's. At the base of the mountain we stopped at the checkpoint to rummage around in a gulley where Tesias had been seen by others; all we saw were a couple of semi-rabid dogs eyeing us up with foaming mouths and suddenly Tesias didn't seem very interesting at all.

As ever, the relaxing atmosphere at Malee's, after a shower, proved a nice way to unwind and share stories with other birders; stories in which the birds we'd seen became larger, more colourful and more endangered in direct proportion to the amount of beer we'd consumed.

We made an early start, but finding the access road which ascends the mountain proved a little tricky in the dark. Once light Doug managed to find it; in fact it seems that all the roads opposite a small teak plantation on the main highway lead to the track. As we went through the farmland at the foot of the mountain an Eastern Marsh Harrier flew over - a welcome surprise. The quality of the road rapidly deteriorated after only about half a kilometre of our ascent, being very steep and slippery. In actuality it quickly became quite concern whether we would be able to continue or not, but as there were no places to turn around we carried on. After around 20 minutes a suitable place to stop presented itself where we saw only a few common species and decided to go for the top. we had been told to expect about 2 hours to reach Den Ya Kat, but in these wet conditions it seemed that it could be longer. Much to our dismay the road got worse! Deep rutted mud on the edge of precipitous drops made for an increasingly worrying journey; Doug's eyes were bulging with concentration and my knuckles were turning white as we slipped around on this so-called road. This seemed like a journey that would never end at times, or at least if it did it wouldn't be a happy end, but Doug aimed the car accurately all the way to Den Ya Kat.
At this altitude there was a little mist at this time (around 9.30 am) which was pleasantly cool, and we headed straight for the trail that heads towards the mountain's summit; this starts to the left of the buildings at Den Ya Kat as one looks at them. Unfortunately there were no burnt areas of grass which would have made seeing Hume's Pheasant more likely, but as we walked along the ridge through pine forest that has proved so productive for other we began to see birds. One of the first to be seen was a Common Hoopoe, a bird I never tire of seeing, followed by Eurasian Jay, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo and Grey Treepie. These birds felt like the "warm up" as what we were hoping to find was Giant Nuthatch, which has been consistently seen here; so we stood and waited, every movement filled with expectation that it was our target. First a Japanese Tit showed itself; false alarm; next a hoard of Olive-backed Pipits, then a nuthatch! But this turned out to be a Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, and then another nuthatch, this time Velvet-fronted Nuthatch! Then finally Giant Nuthatch. Incredibly this meant that we had three species of nuthatch on one branch and indeed the size of the giant was obvious against these smaller species. We watched these birds for as long as possible and we had two giants together and possibly three. When eventually they disappeared we moved on with Doug confirming that this was the exact spot he had seen the species some years before. A little further along is a lookout, with agreat view over the mountain and to our right the summit was clear; a beautiful sight and a long walk! At this point Himalayan Swiftlets were swooping around and a group of Small Minivets were startled into flight at an altitude far higher than expected.

We continued for a way up the summit trail without ever expecting to reach the top and indeed we turned around as the weather began to heat up. Interesting species we saw near our highest point were Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Grey-backed Shrike and the abundant Flavescent Bulbul. It still took a few hours to walk back to the car and we then spent some time birding along the road which at this height winds fairly gently along the ridges; by this method we added Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Large Cuckooshrike, Black Bulbul and Scarlet Minivet to our list. It occured to me that it would seem just as likely to see good birds along the road up here as it would to walk the summit trail. As time was pressing we decided that it was time to descend which was a pity; to get the best out of this location it would be a good idea to spend the night at the small campground at Den Ya Kat so that the whole day can be enjoyed at this fantastic location.
  Birdwatching Trips to NorthernThailand:
Birding northern Thailand is always delightful with a large number of colourful species
easily seen in a number of beautiful locations. Some of the specialities need expert knowledge to find but the supporting cast is always great while searching.

Contact me to arrange a trip and/or to discuss the best birdwatching options for you:
Some Northern Thailand Trip Reports
The journey down was as terrifying as the upward one, perhaps even worse as the expectation of seeing some good birds wasn't with us anymore. At times it seemed that Doug struggled to control the vehicle and to me he did excellently to stop us from sliding down into one of the many steep gulleys. A four-wheel drive vehicle is an absolute neccessity to drive this track at this time of year, and it would be useful if the driver was experienced in very poor conditions. PLEASE do not attempt to drive this road after prolonged periods of rain in anything other than a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Back at Malee's we gradually came down from our adrenaline induced high and enjoyed another relaxing evening when we discovered that some other birders attempted to drive to Den Ya Kat that same day and turned around due to the dreadful conditions. The next day we headed towards Doi Ang Kang for more birds.

N.B. Since this trip we have been back to DYK in February 2004 and the track up the mountain was in far better condition, nothing to worry about at all. A four-wheel drive vehicle would still be advisable due to steep gradients and it being a dirt road, but at this time of year it did not resemble a mud slide.
Nick Upton (
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 Birds seen at Doi Chiang Dao
Birds are listed in the order from Craig Robson's Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand. I have updated the names to reflect splits and indicated their former names.
Eastern Marsh Harrier
Oriental Hobby
Mountain Imperial Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo
Green-billed Malkoha
Blue-bearded Bee-eater
Blue-throated Barbet
White-browed Piculet
Stripe-breasted Woodpecker
Grey-capped Woodpecker
Long-tailed Broadbill
Himalayan Swiftlet
Crested Treeswift
Olive-backed Pipit
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
Large Cuckooshrike
Black-winged Cuckooshrike
Small Minivet
Scarlet Minivet
Common Iora
Golden-fronted Leafbird
Orange Bellied Leafbird
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Stripe-throated Bulbul
Flavescent Bulbul
Puff-throated Bulbul
Grey-eyed Bulbul
Black Bulbul
Ashy Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
Hair-crested Drongo
Black-hooded Oriole
Asian Fairy Bluebird
Eurasian Jay
Green Magpie
Grey Treepie
Japanese Tit
- formerly Great Tit
Chestnut-vented Nuthatch
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Giant Nuthatch
Grey-throated Babbler
Pin-striped Tit Babbler
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
Blyth's Shrike-babbler
- formerly White-browed Shrike-babbler
Plain-tailed Warbler
Yellow-bellied Warbler
Davison's Leaf Warbler
- formerly White-tailed Leaf Warbler
Rufescent Prinia
Common Tailorbird
Oriental Magpie Robin
White-rumped Shama
Pied Bushchat
Grey Bushchat
Blue Rock Thrush
Taiga Flycatcher
Grey-headed Flycatcher
Verditer Flycatcher
Hill Blue Flycatcher
White-throated Fantail
Black-naped Monarch
Brown Shrike
Grey-backed Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Common Myna
Purple-naped Sunbird
Little Spiderhunter
Streaked Spiderhunter
Plain Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Oriental White-eye
White-rumped Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
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