Friday, 27 December 2013

Thailand - the middle bit. Spoonies, waders and Kaeng Krachan

This is part two of my blog about our trip to Thailand. Part one (the north) is in the previous post.

Day 9 - Spoonies and other waders

Day nine was our day out with Peter Ericsson. We'd arranged this day with Peter before leaving the UK in order to maximize our time in the salt pans of Pak Thale and our chances of catching up with spoon-billed sandpiper.

Peter collected us before dawn from our hotel in Samut Sakhon and we headed for the salt pans of Pak Thale. Arriving shortly after 6am we were soon scanning likely areas for spoonies. After not long at all, Janet and Peter got onto two different birds, we spent a long time watching two (or probably three) spoonies before heading off to look for other waders after a brief diversion to a nearby temple to see Stejneger's stonechat and pied starling in the adjacent grasslands.

Pointing the way to the Spoonies
Spoon-billed sandpiper habitat

Our other main target of the day was Nordman's greenshank and Peter soon had them in the bag between Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia with at least 14 view-able.

As the morning was hotting up, we headed for the Laem Pak Bia Royal Project, a series of pools, mangrove and grassland that you can mostly bird from the car. We saw a lot of waterbirds here as well as paddyfield pipit and plain-backed sparrow. Golden-bellied gerygones were heard but frustratingly not seen.

Pied starling at the Royal Project
Either Chinese or Javan pond heron - indistinguishable here out of the breeding season

black-capped kingfisher

Next on our itinerary was to join another group of birders for the trip boat trip out to the Laem Pak Bia sand spit. Along the short stretch of river leading out to the spit we saw many egrets and pond herons. Once out of the boat, we set up our scopes on the sand to go through the waders picking up 15-20 Malaysian plovers and at least two white-faced plovers. Pacific reef and chinese egrets were also added to the list.

Monitor lizard from the boat
Scanning for waders on the sand spit

distant white-faced plover
Malaysian plover (back)
A late lunch of fantastic Thai food was followed by a couple of additional stops to see some more waders and a group of painted storks where a milky stork had been reported. Before heading back via some fields that are usually good for raptors, but weren't that day.
Asian openbills
Asian openbill
Our day out with Peter will live long in our memories. We saw 32 waders species alongside some other fantastic species.

Day 10 Laem Pak Bia then drive to Kaeng Krachen. 

A transit day with some birding.

We started at Mahachai Mangrove Research Station near our hotel. The tide was in so we dipped Asian dowitcher but saw lots of golden-bellied gerygone's in the mangroves as well as mangrove whistler.

Concrete boardwalk at the Mangrove Research Station

Oriental whiteye at the Mangrove Research Station
We then drove to our base near Kaeng Krachan National Park via the Laem Pak Bia Royal Project and the coastal route.

We arrived at Baan Maka, our base and then headed straight for Ban Song Nok to arrange access to an amazing garden set up with hides. Once arranged and our slots booked in the hides, the owner was happy for us to watch birds until dusk. We were treated to amazing views of bay-backed partridge, Tickell's blue flycatcher, slaty-legged crake, siberian blue robins and Abbott's babbler amongst others.

Day 11 Kaeng Krachan

We arranged a guide with a 4x4 with the owners of Baan Maka and set up with him before dawn for a full day in Kaeng Krachan National Park. He spoke no English, but knew his birds. First stop, in the half-light was a well-known stakeout for white-fronted scops owl, two were sat in the bushes - amazing. Another brief stop for ratchet-tailed treepie was also successful.

Kaeng Krachan National Park
We headed for the top of the mountain to avoid the the crowds who would follow. We saw a lot of the species that we expected to see here, highlights included great, blue throated and blue-eared barbets, green magpie, mugimaki flycatcher, dark-sided Fletcher, thick-billed pigeon and black-winged cuckooshrike.

blue-throated barbet

broad blue tiger butterfly (we think)

flavescent bulbul
green vine snake
 Our guide sped off along a narrow track with steep-sided drops, stopping at some bushes he obviously knew well. He was soon pointing at pin-tailed parrotfinches, a species we didn't expect to see. We saw 96 species in the park, a quality days birding.

pin-tailed parrotfinches
 Day 12 Kaeng Krachan

We started the day at Ban Song Nok.

As well as the species seen on the first night, we saw both greater and lesser necklaced laughingthrushes coming into bathe and pale-legged warbler, kalij pheasant, scaly breasted partridge and black-naped monarch.

greater necklaced laughingthrush
greater necklaced laughingthrush
lesser necklaced laughingthrush
'bonny chicken' - red jungle fowl
Siberian blue robin
spotted dove
Tickell's blue flycatcher
white-rumped shama
Burmese striped squirrel

Indochinese ground squirrel
'Around the back' of the house, the owner had another hide overlooking a blue-bearded bee-eater nest site. A pair hung around for an hour or so.

blue-bearded bee-eater
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We then birded around the gatehouse of the park and Penang camp,  where we had a great lunch and saw dark-necked tailorbird, rufous-bellied hawk-eagle and vernal hanging parrot before returning to Baan Maka and Ban Song Nok for another session in the hide adding pin-striped and puff-throated babblers to the list.

Day 13

Our last day in 'the middle'. We birded around Baan Maka before breakfast adding pied hornbill, chestnut-capped babbler olive-backed sunbird and black-browed reed warbler to the list.

chestnut-headed bee-eater at Baan Maka
After breakfast we headed back to Bangkok's Don Mueang airport for our Nok Air flight to Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Thailand - the north

A short piece about our recent trip to Thailand (28th December 2012 to 20th January 2013)

I’ll split the trip into three sections – the north, the middle and the south.

The North.

Day 1 - Chiang Saen

We flew into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport and then caught a connecting flight to Chiang Rai in NE Thailand. We picked up a car and drove the 50 or so kilometres to Chiang Saen Lake.

We arrived just in time to see harriers arriving into the world’s largest harrier roost. We only caught the end, but still witnessed over 50 pied harriers and 20 eastern marsh harriers coming to roost.

Oriental honey buzzard near the harrier roost
Overnight at the very comfortable Viang Yonok hotel on the edge of Chiang Saen Lake

Day 2 Chiang Saen and the Mekong River

In the morning we explored the lake before heading to the Mekong River beyond Chiang Saen town towards the ‘Golden Triangle’. Our target species here was small pratincole, accessing the riverside was very difficult due to development and we only managed to view from a couple of points. No pratincoles were found but long-billed plovers were nice.

Lake Chiang Saen
White-throated kingfisher at lake Chiang Saen

Plain Prinia at Chiang Saen
ashy woodswallows at Lake Chiang Saen
Mekong River with Laos in the distance and a golden Buddha  behind the crane
From here we drove west to Tha-ton our next overnight stop. In the evening we birded around River Maekok looking for Jerdon’s Bushchat without success.

Overnight at Garden Home Nature Resort in Tha-ton

Days 3 & 4 – Doi Lang

The entire day was spent in the Doi Lang area, a high area of evergreen forest with scrub. The road from Tha-ton was rough in places for our little Toyota Vios, but with care we made it.

The birding here was excellent, easily the best site on the whole trip – we wished we could have had more time here.

Doi Lang
Rice paddy area at Doi Lang - Jerdon's Bushchat habitat

In the paddy area, Janet found a brambling - a very rare bird for Thailand. It caused a bit of a twitch!
grey-faced buzzard

Davison's leaf warbler
dark-backed sibia - coming to rice
Himalayan bluetail
Himalayan bluetail
and another - can't get enough of these!
large niltava
male grey bushcat
We left Doi Lang after two excellent days for the short drive west, via Fang to Doi Ang Kang arriving quite late into our accommodation at Ban Luang.

Day 5 and 6 Doi Ang Kang

These days were spent around  Doi Ang Kang, an area high on the Burmese border with forest, scrub and hilltribe villages. For some reason I hardly took any photos at Doi Ang Kang.We visited several areas including the King's Agricultural Project, the Arunthai road and Chinese Cemetery and the Ban Nor Lea Army Camp. Some of the target species here included gaint nuthatch, Mrs Humes' pheasant, daurian redstart and crested finchbill.

Doi Ang Kang

brown-breasted bulbul

grey bushchat

Thai-Myanmar Border - seemingly we may have strayed into Burma.....
orange-bellied leafbirds
We left Doi Ang Kang early for the long drive, via Chiang Mai, to Doi Inthanon. Again, we wished we's ahd more time here.

Day 7 and 8  - Doi Inthanon

Doi Inthanon is the highest point in Thailand at 2, 565m above sea level, it is about 60km south-west of Chiang Mai.

We spent most of our two days in the National Park, birding the summit area and various forest-habitat types at different altitudes. We also visited the blossom-headed parakeet conservation area near to our accommodation at Inthanon Highland Resort.

Some of our target species connected with here included pygmy wren babbler, green-tailed sunbird, ashy-throated warbler, bar-throated minla and white-capped water redstart

Boardwalk at Doi  Inthanon summit

Mr Deang's shop and birding centre

blue whistling thrush (eugenei ssp) at Doi Inthanon summit

ashy-throated warbler

green-tailed sunbird

Stejnerger's stonechat in farmland near hotel

white-capped water redstart or river chat

blossom-headed parakeets.
From Doi Inthanon we drove back to Chiang Mai airport for our flight back down to Bangkok for part two - the middle bit!