DEPART LONDON FOR BANGKOK
Our birdwatching tour to Northern 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, directly 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 simply 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, which winters here in tiny numbers. The Gulf is also a reliable spot in winter to see 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.
If time permits, 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)
FLY BANGKOK NORTH TO CHIANG RAI, TRANSFER TO CHIANG SAEN
After breakfast and some early morning birding close to Petchaburi, we return to Bangkok in time to catch our flight north to Chiang Rai, in the northernmost region of Thailand. Our driver will be waiting for us here and, as we push further north, we enter the ‘Golden Triangle’. Our destination this evening is Chiang Saen, where we spend the night.
In the late afternoon we'll pop out to the Yonok harrier roost, where a large mixed gathering of Eastern Marsh and exquisite Pied Harriers can hold more than 200 birds. Night Chiang Saen
CHIANG SAEN TO THA TON
This morning will be spent at Chiang Saen lakes, checking for various species of wildfowl that assemble here in winter in large flocks. Ruddy Shelduck occurs on the lake along with other wintering Eurasian species. Ferruginous and Falcated Duck need to be searched carefully for - and there's the chance of rarer species such as Baer's Pochard and Baikal Teal.
On the Mekong River itself, wader watching can prove rewarding. Long-billed Plover, Small Pratincole and River Lapwing have all been seen here and the sandbars sometimes hold Spot-billed Duck and Pallas's Gull. As Plain Martins scoot over the water, we will take care to search the long grass that borders the water for Jerdon's Bushchat.
After lunch, we head west to our riverside hotel at Tha Ton with views of the northern hills to our right as we drive - and Pied Bushchat and various bulbuls to watch for on roadside wires. Tha Ton will be our base for a two-night stay.
If time permits, once we have checked in, we will take a quick look at the river from the hotel. Black-collared Starlings and Stejneger’s Stonechats may be seen before we pay a late afternoon visit to a local riverbed. Here we can search again for wintering Jerdon’s Bushchat and Citrine Wagtail, plus Long-tailed Shrike and Pied Harrier. Night Tha Ton
The forested hills of Northern Thailand extend across the border into neighbouring Burma (Myanmar), and are rich in birdlife. This is especially so in late autumn and winter, 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 this morning 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. Night Tha Ton
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
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 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 two 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! Two nights 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 big White-bellied Woodpeckers, Black-hooded Oriole, Rufous Treepie and Purple Sunbird. With luck, we might come across a 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. 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 (same day) at London Heathrow, where our birding tour to Thailand ends.