Having added very little in the way of new birds at Chiang Dao, the stars aligned for me in just the right way during an excellent 90 minutes at the Doi Angkhang Royal Project early this morning.
I had heard of a spot where a Rusty-naped Pitta was coming to mealworms provided by photographers. I didn’t need the pitta, but decided to check the spot out anyway, just in case any thrushes were also hanging around. It’s not been a good winter for thrushes in northern Thailand, but I figured I had at least a sporting chance of the semi-regular Black-breasted Thrush.
The Royal Project is an odd place, where hordes of Thai and Chinese tourists descend in mid-winter to experience the cold temperatures, see the fruit-growing orchards and gardens, and buy locally grown agricultural produce. It can be really busy (and noisy) here in December and January, but fortunately things have tailed off a little by mid February. I paid my 50 baht entry fee at the gate and – following the directions of some American birders at my hotel – I quickly found the photographers blind behind the bamboo garden. The only birds in evidence at this very early hour were two male White-tailed Robins and a skulking Eyebrowed Thrush. I decided to wander around a bit and come back later.
The trees around the restaurant have traditionally been the best area for scarce wintering birds, and on arrival in the area I was quickly treated to a succession of year ticks: Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Silver-eared Mesia, Dark-backed Sibia and Hill Prinia. Best of all, though, were four Spot-winged Grosbeaks high in a tall tree, and close by, a lifer in the form of two Black-headed Greenfinches – these two species are very scarce and hard-to-find in Thailand.
At around 8.00am, I returned to the blind to see if anything was happening. It was. As soon as I got there, I was treated to another lifer – two male Black-breasted Thrushes hopping around in plain view on the ground. Over the next twenty minutes – and with the help of some mealworms provided by a Thai photographer – the handful of assembled birders were treated to a roll call of colorful birds at a range of just a few feet, including Siberian Blue Robin, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Hill Blue Flycatcher and Blue Whistling Thrush. A short while later, a movement on the forest floor revealed itself to be the star of the show, a handsome Rusty-naped Pitta. I had excellent views from my standing position, but the seated birders were unable to see it. Their accompanying guide promised the pitta would soon appear in front of the hide, but it never did, preferring to remain skulking at the back – in full view for me but no one else. I quietly left the hide – hopefully the other birders managed to see it in the end.
My final stop for the morning was the trail system at Km 21, where I had spent yesterday afternoon. I added a few new birds to the year list here, namely Yellow-cheeked Tit, Davison’s Leaf Warbler, Radde’s Warbler (both warbler species were heard but not seen yesterday), Long-tailed Minivet, and Rufous-backed Sibia.
Lifers: Black-headed Greenfinch, Black-breasted Thrush (total 1,800).