Friday, March 20, 2020

Chiang Dao

Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang
The sleeper north was pretty comfortable and arrived an hour late and in the couple of hours before managed to see a few birds from the train including a Burmese Shrike and many Green Bee-eaters. On arrival at Chiang Mai everyone had temperature taken and was given hand sanitiser. Checked into a great value hostel close to the Tha Phae Gate for a couple of nights while we got visa extensions sorted out. That proved to be very easy giving us time to explore a bit and see a couple of sights we missed on our last trip through here.

Nong Buak Haad Public Park

Spent one morning at Nong Buak Haad Park, a small area of lakes, fountains and flower gardens. Among the usual suspects it was interesting to watch a pair of Wire-tailed Swallows visiting a probable nest site under an island pagoda and the huge hawk moth, Meganoton nyctiphanes (with the dubious English name Dull Double-bristled Hawkmoth), was an impressive beast.

There was also a Wire-tailed Swallow on the moat near the hotel and a huge roost of White Wagtails there in the evening.

Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus

Dull Double-bristled Hawkmoth Meganoton nyctiphanes

As planned we set off for Pai but on getting to the bus station found that the public bus no longer runs and minivans were now the only option. Memories of hideous van journeys through the Laotian mountains and the knowledge that the road to Pai is a notoriously windy one made us give up the idea and take a local bus to Chiang Dao instead. We'd visited here two years ago but only stayed four days and I was very keen to explore more. See here for that account.

Chaing Dao

Who knows what the journey to Pai would have been like but this one was ok until Karen sprained her ankle badly getting off the bus in the town. Managed to get a songthaew to the Chiang Dao Hut resort but once in our little cabin that's where she stayed for a week until she could limp across to the restaurant for meals. It took nearly three weeks before she was properly mobile again, and even then only with care.

While she was laid up I got to know the local guide ("Suntan") who worked here and spent much of the time either at his hide by an artificial pond in the dry river bed or walking the route past the temple steps along the gully further upstream. I also hitched up with a great guy from the US, and Scott & I had some excellent birding together, often with others in the company of Suntan. Evenings in The Cave Bar were pretty good too. The only down side was the extreme air pollution from extensive, illegal burning activity. Off the scale levels of particulates, often the worst in the world, caused me breathing difficulties and very poor visibility at times.

Suntan is a top local guide with vast knowledge of the area. Check out his birding and hiking offers here.

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

Mueang Khong

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

Other Wildlife

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

Tinolius eburneigutta

Stick Insect

Full list (165 species)

Scaly-breasted Partridge
Rock Dove
Spotted Dove
Asian Emerald Dove
Zebra Dove
Thick-billed Green-Pigeon
Pin-tailed Green-Pigeon
Mountain Imperial-Pigeon
Greater Coucal
Green-billed Malkoha
Asian Koel
Asian Emerald Cuckoo
Violet Cuckoo
Banded Bay Cuckoo
Plaintive Cuckoo
Himalayan Cuckoo
Large-tailed Nightjar
Brown-backed Needletail
Himalayan Swiftlet
Cook's Swift
House Swift
Asian Palm Swift
White-breasted Waterhen
Red-wattled Lapwing
Little Ringed Plover
Common Snipe
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Asian Openbill
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Chinese Pond Heron
Crested Honey-buzzard
Black Baza
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Mountain Hawk-Eagle
Crested Goshawk
Brown Boobook
Orange-breasted Trogon
Eurasian Hoopoe
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
Common Kingfisher
Banded Kingfisher
White-throated Kingfisher
Crested Kingfisher
Blue-bearded Bee-eater
Chestnut-headed Bee-eater
Indochinese Roller
Coppersmith Barbet
Great Barbet
Green-eared Barbet
Lineated Barbet
Blue-throated Barbet
Eurasian Wryneck
Speckled Piculet
Bay Woodpecker
Greater Yellownape
Oriental Hobby
Dusky Broadbill
Silver-breasted Broadbill
Scarlet Minivet
Rosy Minivet
White-bellied Erpornis
Black-hooded Oriole
Ashy Woodswallow
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
Common Iora
Great Iora
White-throated Fantail
Black Drongo
Ashy Drongo
Bronzed Drongo
Hair-crested Drongo
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher
Brown Shrike
Long-tailed Shrike
Grey-backed Shrike
Eurasian Jay
Large-billed Crow
Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher
Common Tailorbird
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Rufescent Prinia
Grey-breasted Prinia
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Thick-billed Warbler
Baikal Bush Warbler
Barn Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow
Striated Swallow
Black-headed Bulbul
Black-crested Bulbul
Red-whiskered Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Stripe-throated Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbul
Puff-throated Bulbul
Grey-eyed Bulbul
Black Bulbul
Mountain Bulbul
Yellow-browed Warbler
Radde's Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Grey-crowned Warbler
Two-barred Warbler
Yellow-bellied Warbler
Indian White-eye
Pin-striped Tit-Babbler
Rufous-fronted Babbler
Grey-throated Babbler
Puff-throated Babbler
Buff-breasted Babbler
Streaked Wren-Babbler
Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler
Brown-cheeked Fulvetta
White-crested Laughingthrush
Black-throated Laughingthrush
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Black-collared Starling
Chestnut-tailed Starling
Common Myna
Great Myna
Brown-breasted Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie-Robin
White-rumped Shama
Hill Blue Flycatcher
Indochinese Blue Flycatcher
Verditer Flycatcher
Siberian Blue Robin
Blue Whistling-Thrush
Black-backed Forktail
Siberian Rubythroat
Taiga Flycatcher
Amur Stonechat
Pied Bushchat
Thick-billed Flowerpecker
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker
Plain Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird
Brown-throated Sunbird
Purple Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird
Black-throated Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Purple-naped Spiderhunter
Little Spiderhunter
Streaked Spiderhunter
Asian Fairy-bluebird
Blue-winged Leafbird
Golden-fronted Leafbird
Scaly-breasted Munia
White-rumped Munia
Plain-backed Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail
Pied Wagtail/White Wagtail
Paddyfield Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit