Friday, 12 January 1979

THAILAND January 1979: Khao Yai

5 January.  We spent the whole day at Bong Boraphet in the very outside chance of seeing White-eyed River Martin.  Dr Boonsong told us that the last sighting had been 3-4 winters previously but it seemed worth a try.  As expected we failed but had an enjoyable day.  We spent the morning to the south of the reservoir seeing Blue-tailed Bee-eater and distant Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas.  We then found a study centre and hired a guy to take us out in a boat.  This was fairly useless as he wanted to drop us off at a floating cafĂ© nowhere near any decent habitat.  We persuaded him to drop us on a small island and come back 3 hours later to pick us up.  His parting words were to ‘beware of snakes and crocodiles’ but fortunately we saw neither although there were some large lizards present.  We were picked up at dusk, having seen little.  Back at the car we drove overnight to Khao Yai and camped outside the park entrance.
6 January.  We started birding just outside Khao Kai National Park seeing Green-eared Barbet, Red Jungle Fowl, White-throated Needletail and Red-breasted Parakeet.  At a stall by the entrance gates we indulged in some excellent corn on the cob, at 1 Baht (2.5p) each!  We slowly drove into the park seeing Hill Mynas and Indian Pied Hornbill from a flashy hide overlooking a waterhole.  We finished the day at Boswell’s hide, a much less stable affair constructed for a TV programme.  Here we had excellent, eye-level, views of Great Slaty Woodpecker and Great Hornbill.  While in the hide we heard a shout that sounded a bit like ‘Walton’ but we all ignored it until we heard it again – ‘Walton are you up there?’.  Looking down we saw Mark Chapman who Peter and I had been to Kenya with the previous winter.  Chris Heard had been on the Kenya trip too and we were travelling in his footsteps as it was his tales of Thailand in 1976/77 that had inspired us to come.  It was good to see another keen birder and we exchanged information.  Most useful to us was that Mark had seen Blue Pitta on one of the trails and that a pair of Coral-billed Ground Cuckoos often appeared on the rubbish dump behind the restaurant at dusk.  We had no luck with the latter that evening but 20 Great Eared Nightjars hawking over the restaurant forecourt was adequate compensation as they appeared as large as Hen Harriers!  After eating we crashed out on a nearby drinks stall – it was nice not to have to put up a tent.
Boswell's Hide at Khao Yai, it was a bit more stable than it looked
Wreathed Hornbill
Great Hornbill appearing to have had an accident with a bunch of bananas and sounding like a steam train struggling uphill in flight
7 January.  We spent the whole day birding at a variety of places in Khao Yai.  We visited the Blue Pitta trail twice with Peter seeing one the first time and Steve the second.  Andrew and I were quite despondent which rather took the edge off seeing Orange-breasted and Red-headed Trogons, Long-tailed Broadbill, Radde’s Warbler and at dusk the Coral-billed Ground Cuckoos and Great Eared Nightjars.  Another meal in the restaurant and night at the drinks stall.
me at Khao Yai, three weeks away beginning to show ...
8 January.  I spent pretty much the whole day on the Blue Pitta trail but had no success in 11 hours of searching.  Birds seen included Spotted Babbler, Long-tailed Broadbill, Red-headed Trogon, Black-throated Laughtingthrush and Sulphur-breasted Warbler.
trail at Khao Yai
9 January.  Another Blue Pitta day but this time, after nearly 6 hours on the trail, I saw the bird getting 3 brief but good views, all in the same area.  An initial feeling of extreme relief at finally having seen it after over 20 hours of searching, followed by a rush of excitement at actually watching such a superb bird and finally disappointment as it hopped out of view leaving me wanting more.  My first pitta, with its dark royal blue back, buffy flaring to fiery supercilium, black eyeline and moustacial and lightly barred underparts, it was every bit as good as I expected and almost certainly bird of the trip.  Pittas have to be the best bird family there is, totally brilliant!  Silver-breasted Broadbill, Collared Pygmy Owl, Pale Niltava and Laced Woodpecker made this an excellent day for me.  Andrew unfortunately dipped again.
Andrew on the pitta trail, taking a break from looking on the deck
Green-billed Malkoha at Khao Yai
I couldn't find this distinctive butterfly in a borrowed Thai Butterfly Field Guide so a friend sent this photo to the British Museum.  Much to my embarrassment it is a day flying moth, Milonia regina

10 January.  Our last day at Khao Yai and thankfully Andrew quickly saw the Blue Pitta.  We then tried the Waterfall Trail where Mark Chapman had seen Eared Pitta but were not successful.  Mark was clearly a lot sharper at finding these forest skulkers than we were.  Radde’s and Sulphur-bellied Warblers were my highlights for the day and at dusk we rushed around after owls.  We saw 2 Brown Hawk Owls fairly easily but Mountain Scops Owl gave us a real run around.  I ripped my clothes while crashing through a particularly dense patch of jungle and ended up with a poor flight view, great!  We ate then drove to Wat Tan En.

11 January.  We reached what we thought was Wat Tan En in the early hours but were finding Thai writing on signs very challenging and were trying to match what we were seeing with what was written on a postcard.  Steve knocked on the door of the nearest house, waking up some unfortunate guy, to make sure we were at the right place.  He seemed a lot more understanding than I’m sure we would have been in a similar situation and indicated that it wasn’t and where we should go.  We drove on seeing 4 Spotted Owlets on the way.  We slept in a bus shelter and were soon awake to see hundreds of fruit bats flying into the dawn.  It was an incredible site as fruit bats and Night Herons flew into roost while egrets, cormorants and ibis flew out to feed.  Here we saw Stork-billed Kingfisher, Darter, breeding plumaged (and so definitely identifiable) Javan Pond Herons, Oriental Ibis, Indian Shag and 3000+ egrets.  Next to Pathantani where we caught a boat along a busy waterway to the temple which doubled as an Open-billed Stork colony.  Finally on to Chang Rak and Rangsit where we saw Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler in the (paddy)field and trapped Dusky and Black-browed Reed Warblers.  We slept in another local bus shelter.

Wat Tan En
returning Fruit Bat

Indian Shags
Oriental Ibis
waterfront store
waterside temple
barge train
Asian Open-billed Stork

12 January.  Our last day in Thailand didn't start well as we were woken by the army at 02:00 and moved on, to another seemingly identical bus shelter!  While the others argued with the soldiers and were taken to a nearby hotel I crashed out where we were.  I was up at dawn walking towards Rangsit with my sleeping bag under my arm feeling quite fed up when I flushed first Cinnamon Bittern and then Watercock from the roadside. Fortunately I’d slept with my binoculars in my sleeping bag and got reasonable views of them.  I met the others as I reached Chang Rak to discover the hotel they’d been taken to was one of ill repute.  At Chang Rak we saw Black Bittern, female Painted Snipe and Clamorous Reed Warbler.  We then drove to Bang Poo where we saw Flyeater and another Cinnamon Bittern.  We left it a bit late leaving and rushed back to Bangkok where 5000+ Swallows were roosting on wires in the streets, dropped off the car and three of us checked in at Don Muang airport with 10 minutes to spare.  Pete was staying on for another month ...
Chang Rak paddyfileds
Andrew with Dusky Warbler

Black-browed Reed Warbler

A big thank you to my companions Andrew Moon, Peter Walton and Steve Whitehouse for making this a very enjoyable trip. Also to the late Dr Boonsong for his hospitality, helpful advice, encouragement and 'Thai permits', Chris Heard for providing information before we left and Mark Chapman for sharing sightings while out there.

[blogged July 2013]

Thursday, 4 January 1979

THAILAND Dec 1978/Jan 1979: the North

25 December.  We stopped at Lumphun, a little way to the south of Chang Mai, at 02:00 feeling really shattered (and I’d not done any driving – something I’d yet to learn to do).  We crashed out straight away but were up before dawn to put up a mist net, soon catching a Thick-billed Warbler and female Siberian Rubythroat.  We packed up and continued into Chang Mai, arriving at 10:00.  Here we visited the Tourist and Post Offices before driving up to Doi Suthep.  Here we met the Australian Birders we’d seen in Bangkok although they didn’t seem to have seen an awful lot.  We found a useful looking trail behind the temple and met an expat American Birder along it who had a tape recorder and played us some interesting calls.  He’d also seen a Red-headed Trogon that morning, very gripping.  I saw two more new phylloscopus warblers and a Grey Bushchat which were good but completely outshone by a superb Chestnut-fronted Shrike-Babbler.  We returned to Chang Mai at dusk to eat and write up notes before camping in a grim area south of Chang Mai.
Siberian Rubythroat south of Chang Mai

Thick-billed Warbler

Doi Suthep Temple
entrance steps

all very ornate

looking back down on Chang Mai
26 December.  I saw a couple of Dusky Warblers from the tent at dawn and then we headed straight up towards Doi Pui, rather anxious as to whether we’d get past the King’s Palace as there had been loads of soldiers there the previous day.  We made it past the palace and got to what we thought was the summit.  Here we decided to split up with Andrew and I working our way slowly down a ridge where we saw Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey-headed Parrotbill and, as we were returning to the road, an amazing Spotted Babbler – our best birding of the trip so far.  On the road a Landrover with six soldiers stopped by us somewhat suspiciously.  Fortunately one spoke English as Peter had the Thai cards that Dr Boonsong had written for us.  After looking at our passports, Boonsong’s Bird Guide of Thailand, and asking a few questions they drove off, telling us that the summit of Doi Pui was actually another 6-7 kms further on.  We returned to the car, ready to continue to the top when the others returned, to find an armed guard sitting on it.  He did not speak English or understand when I tried to explain that his captain had given us the OK.  Peter and Steve returned, having seen a White’s Thrush – very gripping indeed, then a pickup full of police.  They made insistent gestures that we turned around and go back.  We argues for 15 minutes saying we’d come all the way from England to visit Doi Pui to no effect.  Dr Boonsong’s cards cut no ice here either.  We reluctantly turned around when they started making shooting gestures.  We drove a mile back down the track to an open picnic area, a god viewpoint, to await further developments.  The police left and after 30 minutes the army returned.  As they’d been more positive towards us we spoke to them again and were told that it was OK for us to continue but to beware of bandits.  Also the army was doing a survey of the area for about 3-4 days, although I wasn’t sure that ‘survey’ was the word he was looking for?  With this consent to continue we wasted no time driving to the top, not least before the army changed their mind or the police returned.  We spent the rest of the day there hearing occasional distant explosions and not so occasional, not too distant shots.  I hoped survey meant training exercise rather than bandit clearance.  We saw Spot-winged Grosbeak towards dusk but otherwise the summit area was a little disappointing.  We returned to Chang Mai after dark and decided to hear further north for a few days in the hope that the army would have finished their ‘survey’ by the time we returned.  We drove up to Ban Dan Kaeo, just north of Chang Mai, where we camped.
Doi Pui

view to NE
leaf insect somewhat staged on a similarly coloured leaf
me on Doi Pui
Doi Pui sunset

27 December.  We spent 3-4 hours at in mainly open scrub at Ban Dan Kaeo seeing Painted Snipe, Siberian Rubythroats and at least 3 Lanceolated Warblers.  By then it was getting quite hot and we continued north towards Tha Thon with a few unproductive roadside stops.  The last two hours of daylight were spent in a large area of marsh and paddyfields about a mile south of the town.  Here we saw Rufous Turtle Dove, buntings, an amazing sunset and, after 45 minutes of crashing around after dark, torchlight views of Collared Scops Owl.  We slept on site.
Doi Chang Dao from the road north to Fang, an interesting looking area that we knew nothing about or even if it was possible to get up there
poor shot of Indian Roller
even worse of Chestnut-backed Shrike
Taffon paddyfileds at dusk
Taffon sunset
28 December.  We were up at dawn and split up to more fully cover the paddyfields where we spent most of the morning.  It was a bit like crop bashing on an amazing Fair Isle and I saw Citrine Wagtail, Red-throated and 3 Richard’s Pipits, Lanceolated and 7 Dusky Warblers and 5 Little, 10 Crested and 40 Yellow-breasted Buntings.  Andrew also saw a Chestnut Bunting although didn’t see the Blossom-headed Parakeets the rest of us did.  We drove south stopping in various patches of roadside woodland where we saw Grey-headed Parakeet, Large Cuckoo-Shrike and Black-hooded Oriole.  North of Chang Mai we saw a sign to Mae Sa Waterfalls and diverted to spend the last couple of hours of daylight there.  This turned out to be an excellent move as although I only saw 8 species they included three species of Forktails, Plumbeous Redstart, River Chat and Blue Whistling Thrush – all new.  We ate in Chang Mai and drove up to the summit at Doi Pui where we camped.  Thankfully the army and police seemed to have moved on.
Taffon paddyfields
Mae Sa Waterfalls
Peter and Steve watching forktails
Black-backed Forktail
29 December.  We were up at dawn wandering around the summit at Doi Pui but with no success until Peter and Steve saw another White’s Thrush.  Andrew and I were most gripped and headed down after it, spending a couple of hours crashing through impenetrable unworkable habitat and nearly being charged by a large unseen beast.  Dejectedly we walked back up to the summit and flushed a/the White’s Thrush on the way!  Amazing.  I sat down by the plantation to wait for the others and had a brief view of what I thought was a male Red-flanked Bluetail but despite spending the rest of the day in the area we failed to get further views of either it or the thrush.  We returned to Chang Mai at dusk and to Ban Dan Kaeo to camp after we’d had a meal.
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker

30 December.  We woke at Ban Dan Kaeo at dawn to find we were surrounded by most of the villagers who were looking on with amazement as we packed up the tents.  We had a friendly chat with the local policeman telling him of the birds we had seen although this probably further convinced him that we were mad foreigners.  We saw little around the campsite and headed back up to Doi Poi to give the bluetail another try.  It failed to show causing a bit of self doubt to creep – had my views really ruled out a niltava?  We drove back down to Doi Suthep and spent an hour at the temple which was most impressive, if somewhat busy.  We finished the day walking down the trail which we had to ourselves.  Here I saw 8 new birds including Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, White-hooded Shrike-Babbler and Small Minivet.  Again we returned to Chang Mai to eat and then drove to Doi Inthanon.

Moon hand, spider and prey

31 December.  We reached the top of Doi Inthanon thanks to Dr Boonsong’s cards which helped us get past three checkposts on the way.  Habitat was patchy with much of the forest cleared in places.  Peter found an Ashy-throated Leaf Warbler around the edge of the summit marsh and caused some excitement - I actually stayed ahead of Andrew racing along the boardwalk to get there although it had disappeared when we got to Pete.  Fortunately it or another reappeared 20 minutes later giving excellent views and I went on to see 8 around the summit as well as Brown-throated Treecreeper and Green-tailed Sunbird.  We took all day driving back down the road stopping regularly and saw Red-headed Trogon,  White-browed Shortwing and Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush although I missed a Maroon Oriole.  Peter and Steve dropped Andrew and myself off at our ‘hotel’ outside the park, an apparently disused Banana planters hut, while they drove back into Chang Mai to celebrate the New Year.
view from Doi Inthanon 
1 January.  Peter and Steve returned at dawn just as Andrew and I were getting up, having had little or no sleep between them.  Black-collared Starling was the first bird of the year.  Andrew drove us back up the mountain where we spent the day at different altitudes.  Peter and Steve crashed out and missed our first sortie which produced an immature Red-flanked Bluetail (no issues at all with this one) and a Black-breasted Thrush feeding on the ground along a quiet forested track although the day's highlight was an amazing Chestnut-crowned Warbler.  A very enjoyable day.  We returned to our ‘hotel’ after a not particularly informative talk with one of the wardens  - he did not know where we could go to see Brown Dipper.
Inthanon Hotel
2 January.  Our third and unfortunately final day on Doi Inthanon and I still saw 11 new birds.  This rather suggested there was a lot more to see here and that we were moving on too soon.  My new birds included two I’d previously missed – a male Chestnut Bunting which we saw around some paddyfields half way up and a small party of Red-headed Laughingthrushes from the summit car park.  Vivid and Large Niltavas were most impressive as were 2 more Chestnut-crowned Warblers.  On the way back down we checked some low scrub hoping to find wintering Radde’s Warbler but with no success.  We drove back to Chaing Mai at dusk and after eating returned to Ban Dan Kaeo to kip.

3 January.  We spent the whole day on Doi Suthep.  We parked at the waterfall near the bottom and, after a wait of 30 seconds, caught a taxi up to the temple.  We walked quickly to the reserve and then slowly down the trail taking arbitrary decisions as to which way to go when faced with a choice.  Amazingly we hit the main road at the car.  I saw 7 new birds which was a bit disappointing as there were a lot of others we could have seen.  I was learning that forest birding in the tropics takes time.  However they did include a Radde’s Warbler at the top of the trail and a mind blowing view of a Mountain Hawk Eagle perched in the forest and being mobbed by Green Magpies and drongos before flying off.  Despite us being together I was the only one to see this spectacle – it must have happened much quicker than I remembered and my directions must have been pretty poor for none of the others to get onto it.  We all saw 2 immaculate Sulphur-breasted Warblers on the trail down and I had untickable views of a female Red Jungle Fowl (my initials bird), a species all the others had seen earlier in the trip.  We finished the day below the temple seeing little except Emerald Doves.

4 January.  A disappointing day.  We tried to take a road northwest of Chang Mai to Pi which Dr Boonsong had told us could be very good but we were not sure if we were in the right area or even on the right road and could not find any decent habitat.  My few photos from this day along with several others I recall having from the trip seem to have been lost or inadvertently thrown away.  In hindsight an attempt to get up Doi Chang Dao would have been more productive.  Plain Flowerpecker was my only new bird although I was pleased to see Oriental Hobby, Orange-bellied Leafbird and Ashy Drongo again.  We gave up after a few hours and, uncertain what to do, ended up at Mae Sa where we spent twice as long as on our previous visit seeing the same (or fewer in my case) species.  I saw my second Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, another male.  We drove south overnight to Boraphet Reservoir.  Arriving in the early hours we camped by a road and were somewhat surprised how many people were about at 3 am!