DEPART LONDON FOR BANGKOK
Our birdwatching tour to Thailand commences with departure from London Heathrow today on British Airways nonstop overnight flight bound for Bangkok.
Days 2 - 3
THE GULF OF THAILAND... SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER & MORE!
We shall be met on arrival in Bangkok on the morning of day two by our local guide and head southwest from the Thai capital to the shores of the Gulf of Thailand. A two-night stay at a comfortable coastal hotel will obviate the need to run the gauntlet of Bangkok’s traffic congested streets each morning and evening.
Our birding destinations for these two days are the coastal sites of Khok Kham, Pak Thale and Laem Pak Bia - areas of intertidal mudflats, saltpans, shrimp and fish ponds, rice paddies, mangroves and marshy pools that are outstanding for wintering shorebirds from northern Asia. Topping the bill, this area has become famous in recent years as the best place to look for one of the world’s rarest, oddest and most charismatic waders: Spoon-billed Sandpiper! December, January and February are the very best months to try for this fantastic little shorebird, which winters here in tiny numbers. The Gulf is also a reliable spot in winter to find the endangered Nordmann’s Greenshank. With a world population estimated to be less than 1000 individuals, this is another of the world’s rarest waders and we have chances to unearth both these five-star Siberian shorebirds here today, and again tomorrow.
It will come as no surprise to discover that waders generally are excellent here, with an exciting cast of migrant and wintering species present. Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers, Pacific Golden Plover, Broad-billed, Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, Great Knot, and Red-necked and Long-toed Stints are among a range of more “exotic” shorebirds we could see. With luck, we might come across the rare Asian Dowitcher, which also passes through the Gulf of Thailand at this season, while more familiar species we could see include Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, plus Red-necked Phalarope.
If the tide is right, we will take a boat trip out through the mangroves to a sandy spit to look for the rare and localised Malaysian Plover, as well as the recently rediscovered White-faced Plover, the latter an enigmatic bird which many authorities now regard as a separate species.
Herons, egrets and terns are numerous in the coastal wetlands that fringe the Gulf of Thailand, with both Chinese and Javan Pond Herons, and buoyant Whiskered Terns much in evidence. Heavy-billed Collared and Black-capped Kingfishers hunt crabs amongst the mangroves, as striking chestnut, black and white Brahminy Kites patrol lazily overhead. Among a wide variety of other species we are likely to come across over these two days are Pacific Reef Egret, Striated Heron, Heuglin’s and Brown-headed Gulls, Caspian, Crested and Lesser Crested Terns, Pink-necked Pigeon, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Golden-bellied Gerygone (Flyeater), Pied Fantail, Asian Pied Starling, White-vented Myna, Brown-throated and Yellow-bellied Sunbirds, and Streaked Weaver.
On one evening we will visit the limestone outcrop at Na Yang, where we can marvel at the nightly exodus of millions of Wrinkle-lipped Bats from their roost high in the limestone cliffs - whilst marauding Grey-faced Buzzards and Common Kestrels pluck them from the sky. Two nights Petchaburi (Pak Thale)
TO KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK, VIA RUFOUS LIMESTONE-BABBLER
We leave the Gulf coast after an early breakfast this morning and head north. Skirting around Bangkok, we’ll make one or two short stops at some freshwater swamps along the way to look for Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Cotton Pygmy Goose, and Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers. Asian Openbill is another fascinating wetland bird - one that flourishes by breeding in the protected grounds of Buddhist temples - and something to watch out for today as we continue on across the predominantly flat agricultural plain of central Thailand.
Our destination this evening is Khao Yai, Thailand’s first and best known National Park. Rising to 1351m (4432ft), Khao Yai's protected limestone hills are cloaked in superb dry evergreen and mixed deciduous forest, with grasslands dominating the valley bottoms. Khao Yai will be our base for three nights and our comfortable resort hotel is located within a short distance of the entrance to this very fine park.
Before we reach the park, however, in the afternoon we'll visit some impressive limestone outcrops to look for the local form of Limestone Wren-babbler, which occurs only in this small region of Thailand. Night Khao Yai NP
Days 5 - 6
KHAO YAI NATIONAL PARK
Set amidst spectacular scenery, our comfortable hotel makes the perfect base from which to really get to know Khao Yai. More than 540,000 acres in extent, the park is exceptionally beautiful, its cool rivers and waterfalls, and the many and varied trails that criss-cross the forest and glades, adding to the enjoyment of birding in this magical place, which in 2005 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Not only are its birds many and varied, but their very names will make us want to see them, too! Vernal Hanging Parrot, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Scarlet Minivet, Blue Whistling Thrush, Black-naped Monarch and Little Spiderhunter are among a wealth of exciting species that awaits us here! Khao Yai’s liana-draped trees are home to a wonderful array of other creatures as well: Asian Elephant, Sambar, Black Giant Squirrel, Common Palm Civet and Pig-tailed Macaque can all be found, while the whooping of White-handed Gibbons as they swing wildly and wail like demons high in the forest canopy is a sound that will forever live in your memory.
We spend much of our time at Khao Yai birding along roadsides and trails within the forests. The reserve is home to four species of magnificent hornbill: Brown, Wreathed, Oriental Pied and the enormous Great Hornbill, the latter swishing noisily overhead as if flying on wings of stiffened canvas. Every now and then, a faint chorus of bird calls heralds the approach of a mixed feeding flock of anything up to a dozen or more species; soon, a frenzy of warblers, bulbuls and babblers will surround us, before just as suddenly moving on again.
Excitable Black-throated Sunbirds and tiny flowerpeckers whizz between the gigantic trees - which may tower up to 70 metres above our heads - as we go in search of a plethora of forest woodpeckers, barbets, kingfishers, bee-eaters, broadbills, trogons, orioles and leafbirds. Key species we shall be especially watching out for include stunning Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons perching quietly in the middle storey, Banded and Long-tailed Broadbills, Banded Kingfisher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and Greater Flameback.
With patience and stealth, we may be fortunate to spot the elusive Silver Pheasant, the very shy Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo or perhaps a pulse-quickening Blue Pitta with its flame-orange topknot, bounding across the forest floor. At dusk we hope to thrill at the sight of enormous Great Eared Nightjars as they whistle plaintively like plovers and float harrier-like against the evening sky, or marvel at Brown-backed or Silver-backed Needletails as they swoop to dink over a lake. One morning we will enter the park in time for Siamese Fireback, which can often be found first thing, feeding by the roadside. Two nights Khao Yai National Park
Days 7 - 8
FLY BANGKOK NORTH TO CHIANG RAI, DOI LANG & THA TON
After breakfast we bid farewell to Khao Yai and travel back to Bangkok in time to catch a flight north to Chiang Rai, in the northernmost region of Thailand. Driving from there to our riverside hotel at Tha Ton will provide us with our first views of the northern hills as well as handsome Pied Bushchats perched on roadside wires.
If time permits, we will have a brief look at the river from the hotel, where Black-collared Starlings and Stejneger’s Stonechats may be found, before paying a late afternoon visit to a local riverbed. Here we can search for wintering Jerdon’s Bushchat and Citrine Wagtail, plus Long-tailed Shrike and Pied Harrier.
The forested hills of northern Thailand extend across the border into neighbouring Burma (Myanmar), and are rich in birdlife. This is especially so in January and February, when the region’s numerous resident species are boosted by an abundance of wintering birds from northern Asia. Possibilities include Brown Shrike, Dusky Warbler, Eyebrowed Thrush and Olive-backed Pipit... and the prospect of getting to grips with an excellent selection of these over the coming days will fill our dreams tonight!
We make a very early start on the morning of Day 8 for the steep drive (about an hour) up towards the summit of Doi Lang, at an elevation of more than 2000m (6500 feet). After a picnic breakfast near a Thai/Burmese border post, we will sit and watch for birds coming into small ‘feeding stations’ set up for them. We should find many specialities: Rufous-throated Partridge, Blue Whistling Thrush, 'embarrassed-looking' Scarlet-faced Liocichlas, Silver-eared Laughingthrush, Grey-winged Blackbird, Striated Yuhina and Spectacled Barwing are among the most regular at the summit. Various wintering species might also be found, including the large and distinctive Scaly Thrush, plus localised birds such as the very smart Black-throated Tit - a member of the Long-tailed Tit family - with Grey Treepie and Orange-bellied Leafbird in the flowering trees.
Gradually working our way back down, we will stop to bird along the roadside forest edge and to sit and watch at more small feeding areas. Here we have the chance for more great views of new species: lovely White-gorgeted and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers, Chestnut-headed Tesias, and both Himalayan and Red-flanked Bluetails. The scarce Crested Finchbill can be locally common here and we may also find Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Whiskered Yuhina and White-bellied Redstart. As well as great birding, there are spectacular views from the escarpment over the Burmese Highlands. This is a seldom visited and poorly known corner of Thailand, with much still to be discovered and we might be lucky to spot one or two rare species, such as Red-tailed Laughingthrush or Scarlet Finch.
The pine trees up here hold populations of Cinereous and Yellow-bellied Tits, and are home also to the rare and highly localised Giant Nuthatch. The not so rare Cook’s Swift (now 'split' from Pacific Swift) breeds and roosts in limestone caves nearby and may pass overhead in huge numbers. Two nights Tha Ton
Days 9 - 10
THE FORESTED BORDER PEAKS OF DOI LANG & DOI ANG KHANG
After enjoying a further morning birding at Doi Lang we head to our next venue: Doi Ang Khang, where the Ang Khang Nature Resort will be our base for the next two nights. Set at an elevation of ca. 1500m (5000ft), we will spend the whole of the next day exploring the scenic, forested landscape. Although the extent of forest cover here has been much reduced over recent decades, thanks to government intervention some of this threatened environment has belatedly been protected and Doi Ang Khang is still home to an excellent variety of forest birds.
In the open pine-oak woodlands, we might encounter parties of Short-billed and Long-tailed Minivets, large flocks of Chestnut-sided White-eyes and Yunnan Fulvettas, the 'bandit-masked' Slender-billed Oriole and the gaudy Mrs Gould’s Sunbird. Specialities up here include Brown-breasted Bulbul, White-browed Laughingthrush and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler. In more pine woodland, if we are fortunate, the scarce and elusive Giant Nuthatch might put in another appearance, too! Two nights Doi Ang Khang
DOI ANG KHANG TO CHIANG MAI
Our final early morning at Doi Ang Khang will be in search of any species we may have missed, or aimed at getting better views of others. A number of hard-to-see specialities are present locally and we will keep a sharp eye and keen ear out this morning for the likes of Mrs Hume’s Pheasant, Mountain Bamboo Partridge, and Buff-throated and Chinese Leaf Warblers. A visit to a lovely inhabited orchard and feeding station could bring great views of Black-breasted and Eyebrowed Thrushes, Grey-winged Blackbird and White-capped Redstart, perhaps a White-crowned Forktail or even the rufescent Black-browed and Spot-breasted Parrotbills - the latter is distinctly parrot-billed! With wintering species arriving from further north there could also be the chance of a surprise or two!
After lunch en route at another lovely Thai restaurant, we will aim to reach Chiang Mai in time to enjoy some late afternoon birding at a small wetland area on the edge of town. Here, Wire-tailed Swallow, Green Bee-eater, Burmese Shrike and Rufous Treepie should round the day off nicely. With luck, we might also encounter Rufous-winged Buzzard, Crested Bunting or the fabulous Siberian Rubythroat - and there is even a chance of unearthing a Pallas’s Grasshopper or Baikal Bush Warbler in the paddyfields. Night Chiang Mai
Days 12 – 14
GREEN PEAFOWL & DOI INTHANON NATIONAL PARK
After breakfast in Chiang Mai, we visit the Royal Project area at Huai Hong Krai. Our target bird here is the majestic Green Peafowl, a spectacular but endangered Southeast Asian pheasant that’s difficult to see elsewhere nowadays since its population has declined rapidly through habitat destruction and over-hunting. A walk along the trail here might also produce Swinhoe’s and Rosy Minivets, and Asian Barred Owlet. Or perhaps a Brown Hawk Owl will let us know of its presence via its characteristic ‘boobook’ call. The manmade pools at Huai Hong Krai can also be good places to see Lesser Whistling Duck.
After lunch we drive southwest to Doi Inthanon National Park, where we spend the next three nights at the comfortable Inthanon Highland Resort. Around the resort we might find Indian Roller, Hoopoe, Arctic Warbler and Purple Sunbird, while in the local wood and paddies we will look for the extraordinary Red-billed Blue Magpie or Bright-capped Cisticola.
At 2565m (8415ft), Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s highest mountain. Encompassing more than 120,000 acres, the National Park is not only fantastic for birds but the best locality in northern Thailand to appreciate a succession of different habitats controlled by altitude - ranging from scrub and open, dry deciduous forest on the lower slopes through montane evergreen forest to moist ‘cloud forest’ at the top. It will come as no surprise to discover that the park’s avifauna is equally varied and magnificent!
The shrike-sized Collared Falconet, pint-sized Violet Cuckoo, Rufous Treepie, Blue-winged and Orange-bellied Leafbirds, Yellow-bellied Fantail, the sought-after but shy and seldom seen Green and Purple Cochoas, Large and Vivid Niltavas, tiny Snowy-browed and Little Pied Flycatchers, Chestnut-crowned and Blyth’s Leaf Warblers, Silver-eared Laughingthrush (recently split from Chestnut-crowned), Bar-throated Minla, Silver-eared Mesia, Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Dark-backed and Rufous-backed Sibias, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Yellow-browed and Yellow-cheeked Tits, and jewel-like Mrs Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds are among a mouth-wateringly long list of exotic names and appearances to conjure with! Minuscule Pygmy Wren-babblers and diminutive Ashy-throated Warblers haunt the fringes of the summit bog, where we may also encounter the tiny White-browed Shortwing, Red-flanked Bluetail and various wintering thrushes, possibly including the understated Grey-sided Thrush and the timid Dark-sided Thrush with its fantastically incongruous and outrageously oversized bill.
Many of Inthanon’s forest birds rove the woodlands in mixed species feeding flocks, just as at Khao Yai further south - except here, the make up of species is different. Pin-striped Tit-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis and the restless Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher are typical flock components in the more elevated woodlands, with Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Red-billed Scimitar-babbler and Clicking Shrike-babbler (formerly known as Chestnut-fronted Shrike-babbler) among scarcer associates. Flighty Slaty-backed Forktails grace the upland streams, where we might also see the attractive duo of White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstarts.
All in all, we are assured of an exciting few days exploring Thailand’s highest mountain, with the added bonus that, in February, the dry season climate is at its best, too. Nights at the Inthanon Highland Resort
DOI INTHANON, FLY CHIANG MAI-BANGKOK
After breakfast, we’ll enjoy a final morning of birding at Doi Inthanon, investigating the lower elevation forests that are home to noisy Lineated Barbets and whinnying Greater Flamebacks, the uncommon Black-headed and large White-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-hooded Oriole, Rufous Treepie and Purple Sunbird. With luck, we could come across Black-backed Forktail, Black Baza or White-rumped Falcon to round off our birding in style!
After lunch, we head to the airport in Chiang Mai and catch the afternoon flight back to Bangkok, where we'll enjoy a farewell dinner and overnight stay at a comfortable airport hotel. Night Bangkok
After an early breakfast, reluctantly, we must return to Bangkok airport and check-in for our morning flight home. Late afternoon arrival at London Heathrow, where our birding tour to Thailand ends.