Thailand Highlights Feb 12—28, 2006
Posted by Susan Myers
Thailand has long been known as a great destination for first-time birders in Asia, and it unfailingly lives up to high expectations! First-time visitors and experienced Asian birders alike enjoy Thailand for its great national parks and superb birding opportunities, along with its fine cuisine, friendly people, and fascinating culture and history. In a nutshell, a birding trip to Thailand is a win-win situation. Our shorter Thailand Highlights tour this year was typically exciting with stays in four of the country’s, in fact the region’s, premier nature reserves: Kaeng Krachan, Khao Yai, Doi Ang Khang, and Doi Inthanon.
Our first day was spent at Khok Kam and Lam Pak Bia, south of Bangkok, in search of migratory waders. We met with limited success at Khok Kam; the much hoped for Spoonbill Sandpiper was nowhere to be found, despite our best efforts. But plenty of other good sightings of Nordmann’s Greenshanks and Terek Sandpipers, amongst others, made up for our disappointment. Undaunted, we moved further down the coast to Lam Pak Bia where we soon found three fabulous spoonies that we were able to study at length. What a treat!
Kaeng Krachan is unarguably one of the most exciting nature reserves in Southeast Asia. This huge area of evergreen forest on the southern Burmese border simply abounds with all sorts of exciting wildlife. The mixture of birds from the Sundaic region (Malaysia and Indonesia) and the Orient is one of the most exciting aspects of this superb reserve. There were too many sensational highlights to mention them all, but a fruiting tree full of Brown Hornbills would have to rate very highly! Incredibly close views over lunch of the highly unusual Ratchet-tailed Treepie were among many thrilling encounters.
As always at Khao Yai, we had some wonderful experiences, particularly a night of spotlighting which turned up an incredible list of mammals and birds?porcupines, civets, fish-owls, and jackals. Khao Yai is well-known for its abundance and diversity of birdlife; it holds a fabulous representation of the Indochinese avifauna, and we sampled an array of small mixed-flock species, as well as many elusive ground-dwellers, not to mention raptors, hornbills, and nightbirds.
We concentrated on two very important birding sites in the north: Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon, and the picturesque Doi Ang Khang, right on the Burmese border. On an early morning visit to Hua Kong Khai, one of the Queen’s projects just north of Chiang Mai, we were rewarded with stunning Green Peafowls in the morning mist on the lakeside. Up in the far northwest at Doi Ang Khang, the birding is always super exciting! This year we found flowering trees just full of birds feeding on the nectar and insects; White-headed Bulbul, Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Silver-eared Mesia, and Streaked Spiderhunter were all in evidence this year. Small areas of grassland at the higher altitudes were especially productive with some very exciting birds seen exceptionally well?Chestnut-capped Babbler, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Rufous-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, and White-browed Laughingthrush, to name but a few. Another undoubted highlight must be mentioned?those incredible Red-faced Liocichlas that put on such a wonderful show for us this year. We don’t always see this elusive species so well!
The drive between Doi Ang Khang and Doi Inthanon is not only scenically captivating, but often produces many good sightings. This year we took a detour to Doi Chiang Doi where we spent a morning birding along the roadside through wonderful forests full of birds! Notably, we spotted two incredible Asian Emerald Cuckoos and a somewhat uncooperative, but rather cute White-browed Piculet. Later, as we traveled to Doi Inthanon, we had super looks at the increasingly scarce Rufous-winged Buzzard, as well as eye level Fork-tailed Swifts.
One of the most exciting aspects of Doi Inthanon National Park is that the central road provides us with a transect through the lowland dry dipterocarp forests to moist evergreen forests and, ultimately, to montane cloud forests. This allows us to sample a wonderful variety of the wildlife of northern Southeast Asia. Essentially we started at the top and worked our way down over three days. On the boardwalk on the Doi Inthanon summit, affectionately known as The Bog, we soon encountered two incredibly cryptic Eurasian Woodcocks and a foraging Dark-sided Thrush. As the sun moved over us, the remarkable mixed flocks took advantage of the warming rays and we thrilled in the nonstop activity of Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds, Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Yellow-bellied Fantails, Blyth’s Leaf-Warblers, and Dark-backed Sibias. A group of Chestnut Thrushes was a very special treat this year. Moving down the mountain we found barbets, forktails, babblers, bulbuls, and plenty more. One evening we ventured out the back of our lodge down below the park border and came up trumps with large congregations of Chestnut-tailed and Black-collared starlings, Plain-backed Sparrows, many simply gorgeous Blossom-headed Parakeets and, best of all, a stunning pair of Grey-headed Parakeets feeding in a flowering tree.
As I said earlier, in Thailand you can’t go wrong!