If you need help organizing a birdwatching trip to Thailand,
take a look at the suggested itineraries for ideas on
creating a tailor-made trip and contact me for advice:
After the publication of BirdingAsia
22 the presence of Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis bakeri
at Mae Moei National Park, in Tak province, became common knowledge.
Having been informed of a couple of successful visits by other birders
I decided to make the trip out to Western Thailand to search for this
recent addition to the Thai bird checklist for myself.
I drove a Toyota Vigo from Bangkok, spending a night at Mae
Sot before traveling on to Mae Moei National Park. The road
from Tak to Mae Sot is in good condition but has a large number
of hairpin bends and there are a lot of accidents along it;
driving this road should be done with caution.
From Mae Sot to the turn off for Mae Moei the road (Route 105),
again, is in good condition with a couple of small fuel stations
along the way. After leaving the national park I drove north
towards Mae Sariang (Route 105) - this part of the road was
in exceptionally poor condition in places and there were many
road works. There was also nowhere to refuel until almost reaching
The road up to Mae Moei National Park (Route 1267) was sealed
but fairly badly potholed in places both before and after the
HQ; a vehicle with good ground clearance is advisable.
We stayed 2 nights in national park accommodation at the HQ which
was acceptable but only had a cold water shower and no electricity
outlets; so no AC or fan, although it was cool enough at night for
it not to matter.
There was no food available in the national park but a couple of small
restaurants served food at lunch time at the junction of routes 105
and 1267. We took our own food and cooking equipment with us.
Notes on Finding Birds
Bird activity levels were exceptionally low at all areas of the national
park visited. Early morning and late afternoon were particularly frustrating
and the only time that birding was productive was mid morning to early
2nd May: I arrived at the national park headquarters
a little after lunch and arranged some accommodation with the park
staff, who were able to tell me where sightings of Rufous-headed Parrotbill
had been made. They told me that a number of sightings had been made
near Chao Doi waterfall, just 4.5 km from the park HQ so I began my
search in this area. It was very hot at this time of day and bird
activity was virtually nil, indeed, despite walking up and down the
road for several kilometres and along the trail to the waterfall there
was precious little to see all afternoon. Olive Bulbul was abundant,
a bird which is not often seen by Thai birders, and in fact it was
common in all areas of the national park. Apart from Olive Bulbul
and a pair of Rufous-winged Buzzards the only birds I saw were very
common species such as Pin-striped Tit Babbler, Black-crested Bulbul,
Dark-necked Tailorbird, Sooty-headed Bulbul and Yellow-bellied Warbler.
After dark Collared Scops Owl and Brown Boobook were both easily found.
3rd May: First light was a little before 6am and
only a few common birds were calling early on. After a quick breakfast
I returned to the area near the waterfall hoping for more activity.
Unfotunately activity levels were still quite low but over the next
hour or so I managed to see White-crested, Lesser Necklaced, Greater
Necklaced and Black-throated Laughingthrushes as well as a couple
of Black Bazas. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo was very abundant but
the few birds I saw required a lot of effort to see apart from two
very noisy Common Green Magpies and several species of Bulbul.
By 8am it was already uncomfortably hot and apart from Vernal
Hanging Parrot and Common Emerald Dove there continued to be
very little bird activity at all, although a Black Eagle was
nice. I had received information of a previous sighting of Rufous-headed
Parrotbill further up the mountain so I decided to drive further
on to Kilometre 11. The kilometre markers started at HQ and
I was able to read them from 1 to 6, after that they were covered
in moss but I counted them off as I went.
The habitat at this altitude seemed far better for a Parrotbill
and there seemed rather an increased level of bird noise, so
I was encouraged. However, things were really slow here too
and it was a struggle to find a few birds - Speckled Piculet,
Olive Bulbul, White-throated Bulbul, Hill Blue Flycatcher and
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta. A calling Long-tailed Broadbill came
in to call playback to liven things up and it was interesting
to see how common Striated Yuhina was; certainly not a common
bird in the locations I usually visit.
Having walked up and down hill several times it was time to
move to another spot and a little parking area just after Km
13 with a trail to a "Buddha footprint". Finally,
there was some level of bird activity in the nice forest along
this trail with a flock containing Velvet-fronted Nuthatch,
Ashy Bulbul, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher and White-browed
Piculet. While photographing this lovely little bird I heard
the call of a Pale Blue Flycatcher and after a little searching
I was able to see this bird too.
At lunchtime I went back to HQ and drove down to the main road
for something to eat, returning to Km 11 again later in the
The afternoon began with promise with more views of Speckled
Piculet, White-throated Bulbul, Olive Bulbul, White-browed Scimitar
Babbler and a Slaty-bellied Tesia but as the day progressed
clouds began to build and the weather became very oppressive.
As normal for these weather conditions, the levels of bird activity
plummeted and I searched in vain for Rufous-headed Parrotbill.
One nice sighting was a Rufous-browed Flycatcher singing by
the side of the road but, again, it was back to the accommodation
without the target species, although I did add Orange-bellied
Leafbird and Flavescent Bulbul to my trip list at the highest
point of the road - a viewpoint at around Km 14.
Regardless of the time of year there is always something
good to see on birding trips in Thailand.
trips focusing on a few sites/species can be arranged
and longer tours taking in a wide variety of Thailand's
bird life always turn up a large number of excellent
4th May: Having become quiet tired of walking up
and down the road and exploring side trails and tracks with very little
reward, I decided that this would be the last morning at Mae Moei,
so expectations of finding Rufous-headed Parrotbill were high. I returned
to Km 11 in the hope that bird activity would be higher in the early
morning. Unfortunately, it was not. I did get some opportunities to
photograph Striated Yuhina, Olive Bulbul and Speckled Piculet which
were nice but although activity levels were slightly higher than on
my previous stops at this spot it was still hard to see very much
at all. Silver-breasted Broadbill was a notable exception and Streaked
Spiderhunter was my constant companion but after an hour or so of
this I decided to try another spot.
I drove just a little way further up the road to Km 12, stopping
there largely because there was a flat section of road and I
was tired of walking uphill. This area had some nice forest
in some gullies either side of the road but the birding was
still quiet until I found a small flock containing White-bellied
Erpornis, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and
Sometimes sneaking around slowly can be the wrong thing to do,
particularly when there is hardly any bird activity, so I decided
just to walk on and cover some ground. At 10.30am I was just
preparing to turn around and leave when I heard a call that
I did not recognize. I easily mimicked the call and immediately
a bird flew across the road, offering a flash of its orange
head! I repeated the call and another response, this time with
the bird right above me so that I could clearly identify it
as Rufous-headed Parrotbill. Over the course of the next ten
minutes or so it gave me plenty of time to observe it and I
had some opportunities to photograph the bird too.
It was particularly pleasing to get extremely good views of
this Parrotbill, especially given the amount of effort I had
put in to find it, enduring more-or-less nothing but quiet during
the course of my stay. I felt quite lucky to see this species
just at the point that I was about to give up and leave; was
it luck or determination? Well, there is always quite a degree
of luck involved when seeing scarce or rare birds.
After spending quite some time with the Parrotbill I went back
to the car and quickly investigated a few other spots a little
higher up the mountain, but with the heat building and noon
approaching, predictably, I did not see anything much more so
headed back to HQ where my late checkout was tolerated by the
friendly park staff.
the way down the mountain, heading back to the main road I noticed
that the habitat changed and there were areas of dry dipterocarp woodland,
so for those spending more time at Mae Moei quite a large list of
birds is probably possible by visiting the different habitat zones.
I hope, however, that things are not always as deathly quiet as they
were on my visit.
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.