By 16th March things were coming to a head with the global pandemic. Our return flight, scheduled for 30th March, was cancelled with no suggestion as to any alternative and borders with neighbouring countries were closing. Miraculously I managed to find an alternative return flight leaving in a couple of days and so on the 18th Suntan gave us a lift to the bus station in Chiang Dao and we began the journey back to the UK. I don't think I've ever been so sad to leave a place and we had no idea if we would make it back.
The main birding areas are outlined below but we did also make trips to nearby Wat Tham Pakpiang, the main cave complex at Wat Tham Chiang Dao and the Hot Springs. At the latter we saw a fairly large snake but couldn't identify it. Fortunately no one else noticed it and it was allowed to go on its way undisturbed. Streaked Wren-babbler and Hill Blue Flycatcher were at Wat Tham Pakpiang but otherwise only common species noted. The only Mountain Hawk-eagle I saw was over Wat Tham Chiang Dao.
Chaing Dao Hut
Almost straight away I picked up a bird I must have overlooked on our previous visit here. Blue-throated Barbets were singing much of the time and showing well at times. Other birds common in the gardens were Spotted Dove, Coppersmith & Lineated Barbet, Common Iora, Common & Dark-necked Tailorbirds, Red-whiskered, Sooty-headed & Streak-eared Bulbuls, Yellow-browed Warbler, Oriental Magpie-robin, Taiga Flycatcher and Olive-backed, Brown-throated, Purple & Crimson Sunbirds. Brown Boobook, Asian Barred Owlet and Large-tailed Nightjar called in the evening and at night.
|Blue-throated Barbet Megalaima asiatica|
At the hide the regulars were Olive-backed Pipit (<=4), Buff-breasted (<=2) & Puff-throated Babblers (<=2), Pin-striped Tit-babbler (<=5), Black-naped Monarch (male and female), White-rumped Shama (<=3), Little Spiderhunter (<=2) and Black-headed (<=2), Streak-eared (<=2), Sooty-headed (<=6) & Red-whiskered Bulbuls (<=5) and White-rumped Munia(<=8). Common but less frequent were Grey-crowned Warbler, Indian White-eye, Black-crested and Stripe-throated Bulbuls.
|Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni|
|Buff-breasted Babbler Pellorneum tickelli|
|Puff-throated Babbler Pellorneum ruficeps|
|Pin-striped Tit-babbler Macronus gularis|
|Black-naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea|
|White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus|
|Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra|
|Streak-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus conradi|
|Sooty-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus aurigaster|
|Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus|
|Stripe-throated Bulbul Pycnonotus finlaysoni|
|Indian White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus|
|Grey-crowned Warbler Phylloscopus tephrocephalus|
One individual that was ever present was a first winter male Siberian Blue Robin, only sexed by the two blue greater coverts on its left wing. During our three weeks here it gradually attained more blue adult feathering but only on the body. No further wing feathers or coverts were replaced either then or for the next month after our departure. It went on to virtually complete the body moult before it migrated around the third week in April.
|Siberian Blue Robin Luscinia cyane|
Last two photos by Suntan on 18 April just before it migrated
Scarcer visitors to the garden and hide included Bronzed & Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Asian Emerald & Zebra Dove, Asian Palm Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Indochinese Roller, Scarlet Minivet, Black-hooded Oriole, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Great Iora, Striated Swallow, Radde's & Two-barred Warbler, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Great Myna, Hill Blue & Indochinese Blue Flycatcher, Thick-billed, Yellow-vented & Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Crimson Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter, Blue-winged & Golden-fronted Leafbird and a splendid male Violet Cuckoo. Overhead there were occasional Crested Goshawks and Shikra and a single Black Baza. Banded Bay Cuckoo was also heard almost daily but only seen once in flight on the final day.
|Asian Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica|
|Great Iora Aegithina lafresnayei|
|Hill Blue Flycatcher Cyornis banyumas|
|Streaked Spiderhunter Arachnothera magna|
|Blue-winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis|
|Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons|
|Violet Cuckoo Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus|
|Black Baza Aviceda leuphotes|
One of the most remarkable sightings was while we were having breakfast one morning. Watched a female Asian Emerald Cuckoo visit a Purple Sunbird nest hanging from the edge of the restaurant and take a single egg. Despite it coming back several times we did not see it lay its own egg.
|Asian Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx maculatus|
(photo by Suntan)
Wat Tham Pha Plong (วัดถ้ำผาปล่อง)
This fabulous temple complex is a half hour walk up the valley up many steps, passing not only many Buddhist mantras but also some excellent birding habitat. Just before the temple itself a path heads further up the dry river bed through varied forest habitat and over the three weeks continued to deliver new species right to the end.
Concentrating on the highlights. Up to 3 Scaly-breasted/Green-legged Partridge showed on three visits always in roughly the same area (and the same as my previous visit here in 2018), an Asian Emerald Dove on one occasion. A flock of up to 10 Pin-tailed Green-pigeon regularly feeding at a tree near the foot of the steps had a Thick-billed Green-pigeon with them on one day. Mountain Imperial Pigeon showed on a couple of occasions, as usual flying over high A female and an immature male Violet Cuckoo made it three individuals including the full adult male at Chiang Dao Hut.
|Thick-billed Green-pigeon Treron curvirostra|
with Pin-tailed Green-pigeon T. apicauda
|Violet Cuckoo Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus|
|Silver-breasted Broadbill Serilophus lunatus|
3 Black Baza flew north on 9th March and single sightings of Oriental Hobby and Crested Goshawk. An Orange-breasted Trogon showed briefly along the gully on one morning and one heard only on another. One Oriental Pied Hornbill flying over at dusk was the only hornbill I've seen here.
A fabulous male Banded Kingfisher showed in the gully on 7th March. Up to 2 Great Barbet heard on several occasions but not seen. Single Speckled Piculet seen once along the steps and once in the gully. A Silver-breasted Broadbill also along the gully once. Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike also only seen once. Blyth's Paradise-flycatcher showed rather well. Grey-backed Shrike seen twice and a Eurasian Jay heard just once. Thick-billed Warbler also on two days, one Radde's Warbler, 2 Yellow-bellied Warbler, 2 Grey-throated Babbler. White-throated Fantail seen around the carpark a couple of times. Black Bulbul often feeding along by the steps and one sighting of Mountain Bulbul.
|White-throated Fantail Rhipidura albicollis|
|Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush Pterorhinus pectoralis|
Streaked Wren-babbler once again showed well along the tighter, darker parts of the gully on several days and not far from there detected an Eyebrowed Wren-babbler
moving quietly around dense leaf cover among damp fallen trunks. This went on to show again a few days later. Incredibly hard to see and felt like a real find.
A single Black-throated Laughingthrush and, on four visits, up to 6 Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes. The latter definitely a lifer and the former maybe as well since only previous encounter was in Luang Prabang and I strongly suspected captive origin.
Single Black-throated Sunbird on two days near the temple and a Purple-naped Spiderhunter was my first for some years.
|Black-throated Sunbird Aethopyga saturata|
Best find though was a Brown-breasted Flycatcher, which showed on 10th & 11th March in a wider part of the river bed where both the the Broadbill and the Trogon had showed. Probably pretty scarce in Thailand.
|Brown-breasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui|
Pha Tang Road
Although my main focus was on the garden hide and temple areas I also made the walk up to the checkpoint at Pha Tang twice, which yielded a few species not seen elsewhere.
|Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi|
A pair of Bay Woodpeckers
moving noisily and low through bamboo thickets were hard to get good view of but a welcome lifer. 2 Eurasian Jays heard along here were the only ones of the trip. On on of the last days we picked up a Baikal Bush Warbler
in a small grassy area - as with most Locustella warblers, also incredibly hard to see well. Also single sightings of Grey-backed Shrike, Grey-breasted Prinia, Thick-billed, Radde's and Dusky Warblers. A pair of skittish Black-backed Forktail proved very difficult to relocate and only gave brief views.
Chill Chiang Dao
|Siberian Rubythroat Luscinia calliope|
Towards the end of the dry season water becomes very scarce in the foothills so Suntan makes regular trips with bowsers to collect water from the low lying farmland. Chill Chiang Dao is a small coffee place with some excellent accommodation and we visited 3 times. As well as expected species for wetter, farmland habitats we picked up some other good birds. An immature male Siberian Rubythroat
was a lifer for me and a Wryneck found by Scott was my first in Thailand. Other birds included a Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Long-tailed Shrike and 10 Chestnut-tailed Starlings. A Black Baza flew north as part of the small passage noted late on in the trip.
|Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach|
|Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla|
Chiang Dao Hut 2 Hiking Area
|Rufescent Prinia Prinia rufescens|
Our host also arranged two short trips to their hiking area in the mountains to the south. This was mainly secondary forest with a lot more open land and some river valleys. Birds included an Asian Emerald Dove, Crested Honey Buzzard, Black Baza, Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Shikra, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Great Barbet (still only heard), Grey-backed Shrike, Rufescent Prinia, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Rufous-fronted Babbler and a flock of 12 Pacific/Cook's Swifts. It was good to see a new area and help out a bit with littler clearance along the trails. The huge tree containing masses of enormous bee nests harvested by hand via intrepid climbers was very impressive.
|Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus|
On 13th March we arranged a day trip with Suntan and, accompanied by another photographer, we made a pre-dawn start to drive across the mountain to the village of Mueang Khong. The main purpose of the trip was to photograph the pair of Crested Kingfishers
nesting along the Mae Taeng river. These large Megaceryle kingfishers are certainly spectacular but other than these we saw mainly common lowland birds. A flock of c100 swiftlets dropped in though and I could see no reason why these weren't Himalayan Swiftlet, although if Germain's occur here it would be difficult to be absolutely certain. Among them was a single Cook's Swift.
|Crested Kingfisher Megaceryle lugubris|
Eating overlooking the Mae Khong river added Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper, Rufescent Prinia and Wire-tailed Swallow were notable and the hospitality, food and drink here were second to none. Otherwise birding interest centred around a stop along the forested road climbing back into the mountains.
|Orange-breasted Trogon Harpactes oreskios|
The early start meant that it was mid-late morning as we headed back and there was still a lot of bird activity here. Highlights included exceptionally good views of a cuckoo and, despite the difficulties of identifying Cuculus species in this region in the winter I felt confident enough to recorded it as Himalayan Cuckoo
. 4 Orange-breasted Trogons were very vocal and one showed very well. Banded Kingfisher is always a welcome sight but the Great & Green-eared Barbets and Dusky Broadbill
remained heard only. A party of 4 Silver-breasted Broadbill however did show. 2 Rosy Minivets were my first since Sukhothai in 2018. 3 White-crested and 14 Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes were nice and 2 Black-backed Forktails worked their way along the dry valley floor. 1 Blue Whistling Thrush, 2 Asian Emerald Doves and a Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler were the only other additions here. Further up this road at one of the higher points we found a Greater Yellownape and had Hill Blue Flycatcher and a Cook's Swift.
|Himalayan Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus|
|Northern Treeshrew Tupaia belangeri|
|Grey-bellied Squirrel Callosciurus caniceps|
|Many-striped Skink Eutropis multifasciata|
|Argiope versicolor (Multi-coloured St Andrew's Cross Spider)|
|Chocolate Pansy Junonia iphita|
|Common Archduke Lexias pardalis|
|Common Earl Tanaecia julii|
|Common Hedge Blue Acytolepis puspa|
|Common Jay Graphium doson|
|Common Map Cyrestis thyodamas|
|Circe Hestina nama|
Full list (165 species)
Asian Emerald Dove
Asian Emerald Cuckoo
Banded Bay Cuckoo
Asian Palm Swift
Little Ringed Plover
Chinese Pond Heron
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Baikal Bush Warbler
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
Hill Blue Flycatcher
Indochinese Blue Flycatcher
Siberian Blue Robin
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Pied Wagtail/White Wagtail