A few logistics: we flew with EVA airlines (decent enough) and stayed in The Rembrandt in Bangkok, U Chiang Mai in Chiang Mai and La Flora in Khao Lak. All superb and excellent bases for exploring the respective surrounding areas. On this, you would have to be fairly brave to hire a car out here (easier and less busy on the coast) and whilst the countryside is never far from your hotel, trekking alone is hard work and the best areas for birding are not within walking distance of any of the places we stayed. What I am getting at, is for us and our locations, a guide was essential for 2 days and we could not have been happier with the company and expertise of both Uthai at Doi Inthannon and Ike in Sri Phang Nga.
Day 1. August 4th. Doi Inthannon and Foothills.
Uthai picked us up from Chiang Mai bright and early at 5.15am, and the sun would not rise until we arrived in Doi Inthannon National Park an hour later. On the way we saw our only Duck species of the trip, Lesser Whistling. On arrival we paid our entrance fees (300 Baht per person as I recall, so around £6.00 in total for Debs and I) and began birding near the entrance gate in drizzle. We were still at a relatively low altitude and were searching for a Large Niltava which Uthai told us fed on the forest floor and could be elusive. Whilst searching, one of the first birds we encountered I instantly recognised, a migrating Grey Wagtail. Grey-cheeked Fulvetta and Mountain Bulbul are passed through in groups, but no sign of the Niltava. With the weather poor, we headed to lower altitudes to search for birds amongst pine, scrub and swamp.
I caught a glimpse of an Owl species on arrival at our next spot, and using playback Uthai was able to confirm this was an Asian Spotted Owlet which called back loudly. Other birds amongst the pines included the wonderful Shrike-babbler and Stunning Scarlet Minivet. We then tried a site for the rare Black-tailed Crake, and unprovoked the bird called from the swampy reedbed! Uthai was thrilled to know the bird was still present, and so this was enough for us too. At this site we also caught a glimpse of an Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Little Spiderhunter and Speckled Piculet.
Heading back up the mountain, we stopped at a site for Spectacled Barwing and 2 birds responded to playback and gave delightful views preening and calling. One of the birds of the trip without question. At the summit, the birding was dark, misty and dank- perfect conditions for a Brit! Here we found more birds specialised to survive at this altitude and in these micro-climes. Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush, Chestnut-tailed Minla and White-browed Barwing were yet more 'birds of the trip' contenders. We also enjoyed passing Phyloscs here; Ashy-headed and then either Blyth's or White-tailed, nipping in and out of vegetation, gleaning flies from tree trunks, fantastic! We also watched a Crimson Sunbird here, a proper Oriental bird, its bright colours contrasting with the gloom.
Having had a day punctuated with the calls of Barbet species, we finished by heading out of the National Park and into the foothills and surrounding countryside. Here, we were much luckier with Barbets- Coppersmith and Lineated both seen well. Asian Palm Swift, a delightful Indian Roller and an unexpected Burmese Shrike looking splendid as a sentinel on telegraph wires were more 'lifers' as we continued on through open countryside. I was initially lost for words when describing a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo I was watching, and further icing was piped in the form of a Cinnamon Bittern. Still not content, Uthai continued to show us some great birds not far from the road including Paddyfield Pipit, Red-wattled Lapwing and a flock of 40+ Asian Openbill. We finished the day around 5 and were back at our hotel just before 6.
Uthai was great fun and full of local knowledge, not just regarding the birds either. Without him we would not have seen one-tenth of what we achieved today, so we were extremely grateful. A few pictures of birding day one follow, before post two.
First, day list:
Lesser Whistling Duck
Asian Palm Swift
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher
Black collared Starling
Blyth's/White-tailed Leaf Warbler
Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush
Chestnut (a different shade_ crowned Laughing Thrush
Uthai and I admiring some Warblers
Female White-browed Short Tail