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In Search of 4 Target Species in Northern Thailand, 28-29th July 2008
 
  Bird Watching & Photography Trips:
If you need help organizing a bird watching or photography 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.
Introduction
Having spent some time in the north of Thailand over the preceding week with visiting birders, there were a few species that I was keen to connect with. Over the previous week, I had had a couple of terrible views of Green Cochoa on the Km 37.5 jeep track at Doi Inthanon, both times at 400m along the trail. The bird was identified by call but we never had more than a fleeting glance at it, and never through binoculars. Similarly, the abundant Slaty-bellied Tesias had eluded us, despite frequent calling, mainly due to the rain making it almost impossible to spot the bird's movement in the undergrowth.

At Doi Ang Kang myself and Robert King had frustratingly brief glimpses of what was certainly Red-tailed Laughingthrush along the Mae Per trail and along the Ban Khoom - Ban Luang farmland trail we had heard Russet Bush Warbler singing from an inaccessible place and despite call playback we had not been able to get a look at this species.
With these species in mind I decided to spend two days attempting to see them along with a few other regularly sought-after species in order to provide other birders with information on how to find them in reliable locations.

Car Hire
At this time of year it is the low season for tourism and there are many vehicles available at short notice in Chiang Mai. I decided at 6.30pm that I wanted a car for the next two days, managing to organize a cheap vehicle by 7pm; I paid 800 baht per day for a Toyota Soluna with manual transmission.

I am unable to remember the name of the shop from which I hired the vehicle but in Chiang Mai, particularly in the Thapae gate area, there are a multitude of small shops with vehicles for hire. Most of these shops are closed by 7pm, so arrange your vehicle earlier.
 
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Travel Notes
From Chiang Mai it takes only just over an hour to get to the gates of Doi Inthanon National Park, and another 20-30 minutes to get to the Km 37.5 jeep trail.

The journey to the first birding stop at Doi Ang Kang takes about 2.5 hours, or a little less from Chiang Mai if travlling early in the morning.

Accommodation
I made both trips from Chiang Mai, staying in the Traveller's Inn on Loi Kroh Road. This is reasonably priced at 600 baht per night for an air-conditioned room, although the rooms are a little tired but clean.

Notes on Finding Birds
Generally birding is best in the early morning and late afternoon but in this rainy time of the year most of the best birds were to be found after the morning rain had burned off and before the afternoon rain set in, meaning that getting to the sites early was not really important.

On the jeep track at Km 37.5, Doi Inthanon finding birds was almost totally dependent on listening carefully for calls and tracking birds down. Green Cochoa was finally observed well after 2.5 hours of waiting at the same spot on the jeep track. With light poor and light drizzle I decided that there was only one spot that I had any chance of getting a good view of the bird, so I stood within sight of a large, sparsely foliaged tree close to the 400m mark where a Green Cochoa was calling. Eventually a pair of Cochoas perched in full view in the almost bare, mossy tree for about 40-50 seconds.

Slaty-bellied Tesias were calling from a number of places along the jeep track, but at 800m one was singing from about 150 metres off the trail. A short burst of call playback lured the bird straight up to me. I was able to watch this bird singing at close quarters for a few minutes. Please do not overuse call playback or these birds will become disturbed and will not perform for others. Usually a quick burst of playback is enough and if birds do not react to this they will not react at all.

At Doi Ang Kang birding in the early morning was not essential and generally there were more birds than at Doi Inthanon. Many birds were found by just wandering around and bumping into them, but a few target birds had to be hunted down a bit more earnestly. Along the Mae Per trail Red-tailed Laughingthrush was heard a few times and once again agonizingly briefly seen. Russet Bush Warbler was easily tracked down on the Ban Khoom-Ban Luang trail by listening for its distinctive song and simply walking up to it. The bird allowed me to approach within 2 metres of it, although I had to climb up a 3 metre vertical mud slope which I fell down 3 times before managing to get to the top, covered in red mud. Fortunately light rain helped clean my muddied binoculars!
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

Birding Highlights

Doi Inthanon: Black-throated Parrotbill, Red-headed Trogon, Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Silver Pheasant, Black-headed Woodpecker, Green Cochoa, Slaty-bellied Tesia.
Doi Ang Kang: White-browed Laughingthrush, White-crowned Forktail, Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Crested Finchbil, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler, Russet Bush Warbler.

Daily log

28th July : A not particularly early start from Chiang Mai saw me arrive at the Km 37.5 jeep trail at Doi Inthanon at around 8am. The weather was misty, cool and drizzle making light fairly poor and at first finding birds along the jeep track was difficult. A Green Cochoa was calling at 400m but half an hour of trying to spot it resulted in nothing more than fleeting glimpses as it flew around in the canopy. Moving further along the trail small flocks of birds included Yellow-cheeked Tit, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Golden Babbler and 2 Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes but at 800m a calling Slaty-bellied Tesia was what really caught my attention. After a brief burst of call playback it approached me very closely and gave me excellent and prolonged views as it called from the nearby undergrowth. This species is far more attractive than any illustration indicates and despite its tiny size it is a highlight of any trip in my opinion.

Walking further along the jeep trail a calling Red-headed Trogon alerted me and after some searching I had fine views of a beautiful male. Other birds found along the jeep trail beyond 800m included a Great Barbet, a Golden-throated Barbet, several White-tailed Robins and a pair of Silver Pheasants on the trail.

At 1200m I turned around and for some reason birds suddenly became abundant with flocks including all the more common species such as Fulvettas along with Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Short-billed Minivet, Black-eared Shrike-babbler, White-throated Fantail, Brown-throated Treecreeper and White-bellied Yuhina.

Back at 400m Green Cochoa was still calling so I settled on waiting at a tree that gave a good opportunity of a good view. After more than 2 hours of waiting a couple of Grey-chinned Minivets preceded a pair of Green Cochoas which perched nicely on a mossy branch.

After this success I decided it was time for lunch but on the way back to the car more feeding flocks provided me with a few more species including Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, White-crowned Forktail and Large Niltava; not a bad set of species to get before lunch.

After lunch at Mr Daeng's I took a walk along the Km 34.5 jeep trail. In the early afternoon this trail was not overly productive with a few birds such as Yellow-cheeked Tit, White-browed Scimitar-babbler and Hill Prinia of note. However, I did track down a flock of Black-throated Parrotbills in bamboo only 50 metres or so along the trail. Having seen this species a week prior to this trip on the same trail it would appear to be a good place to search for it.

As the afternoon drew on I headed down the mountain to Km 13 where things were much hotter. Between 4 and 5.15pm there were very few birds along this hot trail but as things began to cool a number of species appeared. A few kilometres along this trail one comes across a gulley with pools of water in it, where I saw some buffaloes bathing. In this area I heard some Black-headed Woodpeckers which were easily located. A group of 5 gave me an excellent performance along with a flock of Lineated Barbets and a pair of Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. As I walked back along the trail to return to the car I came upon a pair of Hill Mynas on a dead snag, a Black-naped Monarch, a family group of Collared Falconets which allowed me to approach them to within a few metres and another group of woodpeckers. This group included 4 Black-headed Woodpeckers, a few Common Flamebacks and a pair of Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers.

The Black-headed Woodpeckers were very easy to track down by there call but I have only ever seen them in the early mornings and very late afternoons. On this occasion it was about 5.30pm when they became active.
 
  Birdwatching Trips To Northern Thailand:
Both of the sites visited here offer good birding all year round. Doi Inthanon and Doi Ang Kang
are must-visit locations on longer tours of northern Thailand or, indeed, the whole country with some rare winter visitors and colourful breeding birds.

Contact me to arrange a trip and/or to discuss the best birdwatching options for you: nickupton@thaibirding.com
 
With all of the birds I wanted to locate having been seen I went back to Chiang Mai for a good dinner.

29th July : A 5.15am start from Chiang Mai saw me arrive at the Mae Per trail, Doi Ang Kang at around 7.30am. Many flocks of feeding birds were to be seen with the beautiful Silver-eared Mesia being particularly abundant. Also proving common was Blue-winged Minla and Crested Finchbill. Flocks of Mountain and Black Bulbuls contained a few Ashy Bulbuls with a pair of Hill Prinias found in one of the small orchards. I waited at one of these orchards as it was where I had had the briefest of views of Red-tailed Laughingthrush the week before and soon heard it calling but no amount of searching got me a sighting of it and eventually it moved away.

Further along a White-crowned Forktail on the trail was some compensation but a real treat turned up in the form of a pair of Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbills. I found these birds after hearing a faint call that I wasn't familiar with originating from high up in a dense tree. After some looking I got some very good views of these birds over a period of about 5 minutes before they just vanished into the foliage. This bird is very seldom seen so I was very pleased to find them.

Much searching along the Mae Per trail revealed many common species such as Golden Babbler, Plain Flowerpecker (very abundant), Streaked Spiderhunter, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Dark-backed Sibia, White-tailed Leaf Warbler and Black-throated Sunbird. Also nice to see were a couple of Spectacled Barwings and a Yellow-vented Flowerpecker.

Lunch in Ban Khoom was followed by a walk along the farmland trail to Ban Luang. Sporadic rain made things a bit tricky but a singing Russet Bush Warbler allowed me to walk right up to it for fabulous views after climbing and slipping up a steep muddy bank. Several of these birds were singing from various places in the grass along this trail.

Blue-throated Barbet was particularly numerous along here as were Red-whiskered, Sooty-headed and Brown-breasted Bulbuls. This trail is an excellent location to connect with White-browed Laughingthrush and as usual I found a few groups of this species. Also, those looking for Scimitar-babblers should have a look along this trail; this walk produced both White-browed and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babblers and I have seen both these species along here a number of times.

Having found the Bush Warbler I went back to the Mae Per trail for Red-tailed Laughingthrush, but once again I saw it but very badly - just a view of the tail sticking out from foliage. For me this was still not enough to tick this very hard-to-find species. However, with 3 of my 4 target species found over the 2 days, as well as a whole number of other good birds, I was happy to take the drive back to Chiang Mai.
Nick Upton (nickupton@thaibirding.com)
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 Species list with notes
1. Silver Pheasant: A pair, jeep track Km 37.5, DI.
2. Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker: A pair, Km 13, DI.
3. Black-headed Woodpecker: Two groups of 7 & 8 birds, Km 13, DI.
4. Common Flameback: A few in flocks with Black-headed Woodpecker.
5. Great Barbet: 1 seen on jeep track Km 37.5, DI. Many heard at DI & DAK.
6. Lineated Barbet: Many, Km 13, DI.
7. Golden-throated Barbet: 1 seen on Km 37.5 jeep track, DI. Many heard DI & DAK.
8. Blue-throated Barbet: Several, DAK.
9. Red-headed Trogon: 1 male on jeep track Km 37.5, DI.
10. Indian Roller: 1, Km 13, DI.
11. Fork-tailed Swift: A few, Km 13, DI, common at DAK.
12. Crested Treeswift: 1 on Ban Arunothai road, DAK.
13. Collared Falconet: Several family groups, Km 13, DI.
14. Bronzed Drongo: A few, DAK.
15. Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo: 2 on Km 37.5 jeep track, DI.
16. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo: Abundant, Km 13, DI.
17. Grey-chinned Minivet: A pair, Km 37.5, DI.
18. Short-billed Minivet: 4, Km 37.5, DI.
19. Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike: A small flock DAK.
20. White-throated Fantail: Several, DI & DAK.
21. Black-naped Monarch: 1male, Km 13.
22. Green Cochoa: 2, Km 37.5 jeep track, DI.
23. Large Niltava: 1 juv male, Km 37.5, DI.
24. Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher: Common, DI & DAK.
25. Oriental Magpie Robin: Abundant at DAK.
26. White-crowned Forktail: 1 on jeep track, Km 34.5, DI & 1 on Mae Per trail, DAK.
27. White-tailed Robin: A few, Km 37.5 & Km 34.5, DI.
28. Siberian Stonechat: A pair, Km 22 DAK.
29. Grey Bushchat: Abundant at DAK.
30. Ashy Woodswallow: Several on Ban Khoom - Ban Luang track, DAK.
31. Hill Myna: A pair, Km 13, DI.
32. Hume's (Brown-throated) Treecreeper: 1, Km 37.5, DI.
33. Yellow-cheeked Tit: Several, Km 37.5 & Km 34.5, DI.
34. Barn Swallow: Fairly numerous, DAK.
35. Crested Finchbill: Fairly abundant, DAK.
36. Black-crested Bulbul: A few, Km 13, DI.
37. Red-whiskered Bulbul: Common, DAK.
38. Brown-breasted Bulbul: Common, DAK.
39. Sooty-headed Bulbul: Common, DAK.
40. Flavescent Bulbul: 2, Km 37.5, DI; common at DAK.
41. Ashy Bulbul: Several, DAK.
42. Mountain Bulbul: Common, DI & DAK.
43. Black Bulbul: Common, DAK.
44. Hill Prinia: 2, Km 34.5, DI; 2 Mae Per, DAK.
45. Rufescent Prinia: A small flock on Ban Arunothai road, DAK.
46. Mountain Tailorbird: Several on Mae Per Trail, DAK.
47. Slaty-bellied Tesia: 1 seen Km 37.5.
48. Russet Bush Warbler: 1 seen on Ban Khoom - Ban Luang track, 3 more heard.
49. Davison's Leaf Warbler: Common, DI & DAK.
50. Chestnut-crowned Warbler: 2, Km 37.5, DI.
51. White-browed Laughingthrush: Several flocks on Ban Khoom - Ban Luang track.
52. Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler: A flock on Ban Khoom - Ban Luang track.
53. White-browed Scimitar Babbler: 3, Km 34.5 jeep track, DI, several DAK.
54. Golden Babbler: Common DI & DAK.
55. Silver-eared Mesia: Abundant, DAK.
56. Black-eared Shrike-babbler: 1, jeep track Km 37.5, DI.
57. Blue-winged Minla: Several, Mae Per trail, DAK.
58. Rufous-winged Fulvetta: Several on Km 37.5 jeep track, DI.
59. Grey-cheeked Fulvetta: Common, DI & DAK.
60. White-bellied Erpornis (Yuhina): 1 on jeep track Km 37.5, DI.
61. Spectacled Barwing: 1 on Mae Per trail, DAK.
62. Dark-backed Sibia: Common, DI & DAK.
63. Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill: 2 on Mae Per trail, DAK.
64. Yellow-vented Flowerpecker: 1, Mae Per, DAK.
65. Plain Flowerpecker: Common, DAK.
66. Black-throated Sunbird: A pair, Mae Per, DAK.
67. Streaked Spiderhunter: 3, Mae Per, DAK.
68. Grey Wagtail: 1 on Ban Arunothai road, DAK.
69. Eurasian Tree Sparrow: Common at Ban Khoom, DAK.
70. White-rumped Munia: Abundant, DAK.
Nick Upton can be contacted at nickupton@thaibirding.com
More information on Doi Inthanon
More information on Doi Ang Kang
More information on other Northern Thailand Birding Sites
If you are interested in arranging a bird watching tour you can see some suggested itineraries here - Birdwatching Trips - and you can contact me at the above email address to discuss the best options.

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