Notes on birding the Chiang Dao area in August

Sunset at the Ping River, south of Chiang Dao (photo taken in February 2015).
Sunset at the Ping River, south of Chiang Dao (photo taken in February 2015).

I spent 8 days in the area on various dates between August 10th and 22nd, 2015. The weather was quite good, with only one day of constant rain – in fact many of the days were predominantly hot and fairly sunny with an occasional heavy afternoon shower or overnight rain.

The bad ……

  • The trails are muddy and slippery. The Nature Trail and Fence Trail are very steep on places and in my view basically impassable, even dangerous.
  • The Summit Trail is not maintained at this time of year, and is officially closed – again it would probably be impassable even for the truly determined.
  • The Gully Trail near the temple contains water during this season. Rain boots are necessary, and overhanging vegetation is only periodically cleared by the monks. In other words, not ideal birding conditions.
  • Although I didn’t try going there, I expect the DYK substation area would be impossible to reach unless you have a good 4×4 vehicle and plenty of skill. The approach track is extremely steep in places and would be very slippery and muddy after rain.
  • Mosquitoes are abundant especially early and late.
  • Owls and other night birds are not vocal at this time.

…. and the good:

  • Bird activity is high, and continuous throughout the day.
  • Very few other people are around, making for relaxing birding.
  • It doesn’t rain as much as you might expect from the “rainy season” and my birding activities were rarely curtailed by the weather.

Notable bird sightings

I birded for just a few hours each day in the early morning and usually for an hour or two in the late afternoon. I spent almost all of my birding time around the Wat Tham Pha Plong, along the road between there and Chiang Dao Nest 1, and on the Muang Khong road as far as the checkpoint. I tried and failed to get far along the Gully, Fence and Nature trails. On one occasion, I drove beyond the checkpoint as far as the high point of the Muang Khong road (at about Km 16), and I made one afternoon visit to the Chiang Dao rice paddies.

Scaly-breasted Partridge: two at the beginning of the Gully Trail.

Rufous-winged Buzzard: one from Chiang Dao Nest 1.

Besra: one along path to monk’s residences above gully.

Banded Bay Cuckoo: heard only, near start of Summit Trail.

Collared Owlet: heard calling several times near the temple, the only owl species heard.

Crested Treeswift: easy to see at this time of year, viewable daily from Chiang Dao Nest 1.

Orange-breasted Trogon: one in forest along the jeep track on the right, just before the high point of the Muang Khong road.

Oriental Pied Hornbill: up to 4 birds together, seen regularly late afternoon from the temple or checkpoint road.

Blue-bearded Bee-eater: seen opposite Chiang Dao Nest 2 and along checkpoint road.

Grey-headed Woodpecker: a pair about 50 meters before the checkpoint, my personal first record of this species in the area.

Long-tailed Shrike: one near the river south of the rice paddies, a nationally declining species.

Large Cuckooshrike: one near highest point of Muang Khong road.

Streaked Wren-Babbler: one at the temple steps but much less conspicuous here than in the dry season.

Black-throated Laughingthrush: a pair in thick scrub behind Chiang Dao Nest 1 seen twice from my bungalow balcony, and another opposite Chiang Dao Nest 2, not a bird I have seen here in the dry season.

Dark-sided Flycatcher: one near the spirit houses at about Km 13 of the Muang Khong road, presumably an early passage migrant.

White-crowned Forktail: one on the stream 100 meters before the checkpoint.

Thick-billed Flowerpecker: in trees next to the high point of the temple.

Purple-naped Spiderhunter: one next to the temple steps.

Baya Weaver: several breeding colonies beside the river south of the Chiang Dao rice paddies.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Full list (total 97 species)

Scaly-breasted Partridge
Cinnamon Bittern
Black-shouldered Kite
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Rufous-winged Buzzard
Crested Goshawk
Besra
White-breasted Waterhen
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Spotted Dove
Emerald Dove
Mountain Imperial-Pigeon
Banded Bay Cuckoo
Green-billed Malkoha
Greater Coucal
Collared Owlet
Himalayan Swiftlet
House Swift
Crested Treeswift
Orange-breasted Trogon
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
White-throated Kingfisher
Blue-bearded Bee-eater
Coppersmith Barbet
Blue-eared Barbet
Great Barbet
Blue-throated Barbet
Gray-capped Woodpecker
Gray-headed Woodpecker
Ashy Woodswallow
Common Iora
Great Iora
Scarlet Minivet
Large Cuckooshrike
Long-tailed Shrike
White-bellied Erpornis
Black-hooded Oriole
Ashy Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Hair-crested Drongo
White-throated Fantail
Black-naped Monarch
Amur Paradise-Flycatcher
Eurasian Jay
Barn Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow
Striated Swallow
Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher
Japanese Tit
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Black-headed Bulbul
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Stripe-throated Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Puff-throated Bulbul
Gray-eyed Bulbul
Yellow-bellied Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Golden-headed Cisticola
Common Tailorbird
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Rufescent Prinia
Plain Prinia
Oriental White-eye
Chestnut-capped Babbler
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
Gray-throated Babbler
Puff-throated Babbler
Buff-breasted Babbler
Streaked Wren-Babbler
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
Black-throated Laughingthrush
Asian Fairy-bluebird
Dark-sided Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie-Robin
White-rumped Shama
Hill Blue-Flycatcher
White-crowned Forktail
Pied Bushchat
Black-collared Starling
Common Myna
Great Myna
Blue-winged Leafbird
Thick-billed Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Black-throated Sunbird
Little Spiderhunter
Purple-naped Spiderhunter
Streaked Spiderhunter
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Baya Weaver
White-rumped Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia

2015 Year Ticks: Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Besra, Chestnut-capped Babbler, Scaly-breasted Partridge, Orange-breasted Trogon, Purple-naped Spiderhunter, Thick-billed Flowerpecker (total 834).

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White-browed Laughingthrush and some unseasonal surprises, Doi Angkhang, August 20th

Doi Angkhang summit (photo taken in February 2015).
Doi Angkhang summit (photo taken in February 2015).

Every birder has them – those supposedly “common” species that you have somehow never seen. My list of such birds in Thailand includes the infuriatingly regularly heard – but not yet seen – Collared Owlet and Mountain Scops Owl. the possibly overlooked Barred Cuckoo-Dove, and the enigmatic Blue Pitta.

I didn’t want to leave anything to chance for my one-day visit to Doi Angkhang, for a concerted effort to finally get White-browed Laughingthrush on my list. I’ve visited this remote corner of northwest Thailand on a number of occasions over the years and it’s one of my all-time favorite birding sites. White-browed Laughingthrush is common in montane scrub in the area, and is apparently seen by most visiting birdwatchers – except me, that is.

After careful research on the excellent websites North Thailand Birding and Thai Birding, I reckoned I should probably concentrate on the Ban Khoom Valley trail for my best chance. This happened to be an area I have seldom visited, so I was cautiously optimistic. I started at the Ban Luang end of the trail, where the orchards were heavy with orange fruits and teeming with birds. I saw over 40 Crested Finchbills here, alongside numerous bulbuls of several species including the local speciality Brown-breasted Bulbul. To my surprise I kept hearing the thin “tsee” call of turdus thrushes, birds which I would not expect here outside the November to February winter season. Unlike the bulbuls, the thrushes remained low down in the orchards or on the ground, and it was hard to get the chance of views due to surrounding vegetation. Eventually I had brief views of what looked to be an adult female Black-breasted Thrush, a regular winterer here which breeds in neighboring countries and is the most likely of the three possibilities. I couldn’t absolutely exclude Grey-backed Thrush and Japanese Thrush on the views I obtained, but either of the latter two species would be very rare indeed.

In any case, judging from the calls there were at least three, probably four, turdus thrushes present here – in all likelihood post-breeders from the nearby breeding ranges attracted to the area by a bumper fruit crop.

A little further along the trail, areas of scrub and rocks on the left quickly produced the day’s target bird, White-browed Laughingthrush – and not just one, but about fifteen birds seen in various small parties. It never rains, but it pours. I had been expecting a skulker, but these birds perched up on rocks and bushtops and showed very well indeed. A quite unexpectedly easy tick.

Other noteworthy birds in the general Ban Khoom Valley trail area included a Mountain Bamboo-Partridge, two Maroon Orioles and a Rufous-backed Sibia.

With my target bird under the belt and the pressure off, I drove down to Km 24 and walked the Mae Per forest trail as far as the dam and back. This trail passes through excellent habitat and has a long list of mouthwatering but seldom-seen birds such as Red-tailed Laughingthrush and Pale-billed Parrotbill. It was quite “birdy” along here today, with several feeding flocks encountered, but nothing spectacular was seen although Ashy Bulbul was a year tick, and a pair of White-gorgeted Flycatchers showed well.

After a spot of lunch in Ban Khoom, I went up to the trails at Km 21.5. Surprisingly, it hadn’t started raining yet although the afternoon was becoming increasingly cloudy and misty. Outside of the dry season, the trails here become increasingly overgrown or even impassable although I could just about get to the base of the summit trail. Generally hanging around for a couple of hours in the area produced some nice birds including Scarlet-faced Liocichla, a singing Lesser Shortwing in the dark forest that showed nicely for a few seconds, several groups of Silver-eared Mesias, and another White-gorgeted Flycatcher that approached me to within six feet as I sat motionless on the forest floor. Following this morning’s thrush sightings, another seemingly unseasonal bird was a male Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, which the literature suggests is only a winter visitor here – perhaps they also breed in small numbers?

Lifer: White-browed Laughingthrush (total 1,966).

2015 Year Tick: Ashy Bulbul (total 832).