by Nick Upton
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Mae Moei National Park, 2nd-4th May 2015
  Bird Watching Trips:
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: Thailand bird tours.
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 Mae Sariang.

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.
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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 afternoon (9.30am-1pm)

Bird Calls
Bird calls used were downloaded from Xena Canto; the call I heard the bird making more-or-less matched this recording - Rufous-headed Parrotbill.
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
3. Birds of Southeast Asia by Craig Robson
Birding Highlights
  • Rufous-headed Parrotbill
  • White-throated Bulbul
  • Olive Bulbul
  • White-browed Piculet
  • Silver-breasted Broadbill
  • Black Eagle
  • Black Baza
  • Slaty-bellied Tesia
  • Long-tailed Broadbill
  • Striated Yuhina
  • Birding Diary

    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 afternoon.

    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.
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    Short 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 birds.

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    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 Yellow-bellied Warbler.

    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.
    Some More Trip Reports

    Rufous-headed Parrotbill
    (Photo by Nick Upton)
    On 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.
    Nick Upton (
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     Species list

    1. Black Baza
    2. Oriental Honey-buzzard
    3. Crested Goshawk
    4. Shikra
    5. Rufous-winged Buzzard
    6. Black Eagle
    7. Common Emerald Dove
    8. Vernal Hanging Parrot
    9. Large Hawk Cuckoo
    10. Collared Scops Owl
    11. Asian Barred Owlet
    12. Brown Boobook
    13. Blue-bearded Bee-eater
    14. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
    15. Great Barbet
    16. Blue-throated Barbet
    17. Speckled Piculet
    18. White-browed Piculet
    19. Greater Yellownape
    20. Common Flameback
    21. Long-tailed Broadbill
    22. Silver-breasted Broadbill
    23. Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
    24. Scarlet Minivet
    25. White-bellied Erpornis
    26. Blyth's Shrike-babbler
    27. Ashy Drongo
    28. Bronzed Drongo
    29. Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
    30. Hair-crested Drongo
    31. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
    32. Black-naped Monarch
    33. Common Green Magpie
    34. Grey Treepie
    35. Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher
    36. Black-headed Bulbul
    37. Black-crested Bulbul
    38. Red-whiskered Bulbul
    39. Sooty-headed Bulbul
    40. Flavescent Bulbul

    41. White-throated Bulbul
    42. Olive Bulbul
    43. Mountain Bulbul
    44. Ashy Bulbul
    45. Black Bulbul
    46. Slaty-bellied Tesia
    47. Yellow-bellied Warbler
    48. Greenish Warbler
    49. Davison's Leaf Warbler
    50. Rufescent Prinia
    51. Common Tailorbird
    52. Dark-necked Tailorbird
    53. White-browed Scimitar Babbler
    54. Grey-throated Babbler
    55. Rufous-fronted Babbler
    56. Golden Babbler
    57. Pin-striped Tit Babbler
    58. Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
    59. Puff-throated Babbler
    60. Buff-breasted Babbler
    61. White-crested Laughingthrush
    62. Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush
    63. Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
    64. Black-throated Laughingthrush
    65. Rufous-headed Parrotbill
    66. Striated Yuhina
    67. Oriental White-eye
    68. Common Myna
    69. White-rumped Shama
    70. Rufous-browed Flycatcher
    71. Pale Blue Flycatcher
    72. Hill Blue Flycatcher
    73. Blue-winged Leafbird
    74. Orange-bellied Leafbird
    75. Plain Flowerpecker
    76. Ruby-cheeked Sunbird
    77. Crimson Sunbird
    78. Little Spiderhunter
    79. Streaked Spiderhunter
    Nick Upton can be contacted at
    More information on Mae Moei  
    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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