Tuesday 5 March 2019

Northern Thailand - February 2019 : Part 3

Day 5 - Doi Lang (Western Slope)

Our third day at Doi Lang allowed us to clean up on several species we missed previously, especially the Himalayan Cutia and hopefully getting a better look at the Giant Nuthatch. We did not have to stop for the Hume's Pheasant, meaning we were able to get there later, although the moon was still out when we arrived. Our first bird at first light was a beautiful male Ultramarine Flycatcher. Flocks of Cook's swifts drifted past over our heads.

Ultramarine Flycatcher - male

Cook's Swift

We walked along the pine covered ridge, listening out for the call of Giant Nuthatch. It wasn't long before Ball was able to pick out the call and soon located an individual! This time it behaved better and everyone got a good look, and we were all able to marvel at it's massive beak.

Giant Nuthatch - amazing views of the largest nuthatch in the world

In the next thirty minutes or so we recorded at least 5 individuals! Considering how hard they made us worked the day before, this was quite an improvement. At one point we saw a Giant Nuthatch eating a huge caterpillar, certainly a big breakfast even for a Giant!

Giant Nuthatch - with big breakfast!

We were able to focus on other birds after the Giant Nuthatch, Ball found a flowering tree with a flock of Fire-capped Tits, having only seen females and juveniles before I was keen in finding a male, and we were not disappointed as we found at least two within the flock.

Fire-capped Tit - male

Davison's Leaf Warblers were fairly common around the same area, while a Buff-barred Warbler was spotted in the distance. 

Davison's Leaf Warbler

Buff-barred Warbler

We returned to the patch of moist forest near the feeding stations, hoping the Himalayan Cutia will show up. Things were rather quiet mid-morning, Grey-chinned Minivets and a pair of Yellow-cheeked Tits made an appearance, we observed the female Tit picking up horse droppings on the road, likely as bedding for their nest. 

Grey-chinned Minivet - male

Yellow-cheeked Tit - female collecting nesting materials

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Things were quiet so we decided to sit down by the van and have lunch. We saw another group of birders further up the road looking at something in the tree above, so we went over to investigate, only to be told that a Himalayan Cutia was here two minutes ago! They even had photos to proof it! That sent us into a frantic search, but all we saw were Rufous-backed Sibias...They are sometimes known as the 'Tourist Cutia' as they resembles Himalayan Cutia, especially the way they forage along the tree trunk.

Rufous-backed Sibia - the 'tourist cutia'...

By that time it was near noon. Just as I thought we were going to dip the Cutia, Ball spotted a female feeding along an orchid filled branch! Soon, we found a male nearby, and everyone got great looks at the bird! This had been a dream bird of mine for a while, and certainly one of the most charismatic species in the region.

Himalayan Cutia - female

Himalayan Cutia - male

After successfully getting the Himalayan Cutia, everything else felt like a breeze! A large feeding flock with most of the common species plus a few Large Woodshrike and Greater Yellownape came past.

Large Cuckooshrike

Greater Yellownape - female

We heard the call of White-browed Scimitar Babbler, knowing they occasionally come to the feeding stations we sat down and waited. The White-bellied Redstart was so much easier today, and showed multiple times. The female Slaty-backed Flycatcher was also showing a lot better. But nothing else was seen except for the Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher.

White-bellied Redstart - male

Slaty-blue Flycatcher - female

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher - male

Back on the road, the Spot-breasted Parrotbill made another appearance, this time it was demonstrating the use of it's powerful bill, as it ripped a whole through the grass stem and pulled out a fat beetle larvae. A Mountain Hawk Eagle was also spotted.

Spot-breasted Parrotbill - working hard for the tasty worm...

Aftermath of Parrotbill's meal

Mountain Hawk Eagle

A mixed flock came through containing a few Blyth's Shrike-babblers, many Yunnan Fulvettas and Golden Babblers. A large flock of Long-tailed Broadbills also joined briefly, a species that always bring so much delight!

Blyth's Shrike-babbler - male

Yunnan Fulvetta

Golden Babbler

Long-tailed Broadbill

Since we got most of our target species here, Ball suggested that we head back to the Hume's Pheasant stakeout to look at them one more time. Before we left a Blue Whistling Thrush made an appearance, while a Golden-throated Barbet feeding on a fruiting tree at eye-level was quite a nice bonus.

Blue Whistling Thrush

Golden-throated Barbet

We did not put up the portable hides, as Ball suggested the pheasants are far less skittish late afternoon, so we just sat down by the van and waited. The same group of supporting cast came in before it got dark.

Chestnut-vented Nuthatch

Japanese Tit

Slaty-backed Flycatcher - female

Siberian Rubythroat - juvenile male

Ultramarine Flycatcher - male

A surprising drop in was an Oriental Turtle Dove and soon after the female Hume's Pheasant also appeared. The male however did not appear until 6:15pm, by that time it was really dark, but it came in really close to us, I had to change to my 100-400mm lens to fit it all in frame! We enjoyed such close encounters for another 15 minutes before a car came and spooked the male away, the female remained for another minute before strutting back into the undergrowth. That night we celebrated with more great food and beer!

Oriental Turtle Dove

Hume's Pheasant - female

Hume's Pheasant - male

Hume's Pheasant - female and the car...

Day 6 - Doi Tung to Chiang Sean

We headed east towards the Chiang Rai county, our first birding spot was the Mae Fah Luang Arboretum near Doi Tung, a botanical garden that sits right at the Myanmar border. The first bird we saw at the garden was a Blyth's Shrike-babbler, feeding surprisingly low.

Mae Fah Luang Arboretum

Blyth's Shrike-babbler - male

The park staff had setup a feeding station for birds over the years, attracting some interesting species. We sat down near the stakeout and waited, and very soon Puff-throated Babblers made an appearance, it is a very attractive looking species, but it was soon outshone by a pair of Rusty-naped Pitta! Our main target at this park! This species is probably one of the least colourful of the Pitta family, however is also one of the most elusive in the past, thanks to these kind of feeding stations this species is now more 'available' for birders. We heard from one of the manager of the park that now there are at least 3 pairs of these elusive pittas within the park premises.

Puff-throated Babbler

Rusty-naped Pitta - male

Rusty-naped Pitta - female

Only a yellow-billed Blue Whistling Thrush and a Grey-backed Thrush was added at the feeding station, so we decided to walk around the park to look for other birds.

Blue Whistling Thrush - race eugenei

Grey-backed Shrike

A pair of White-browed Scimitar Babblers in the distance was added, while a large fruiting tree had attracted few dozens of thrushes, mostly Eye-browed Thrush. Ball spotted a Grey-sided Thrush amongst the flock, but views were rather obscured.

White-browed Scimitar Babbler

Eye-browed Thrush

Grey-sided Thrush

I was slightly bewildered by a few Silver Pheasants, turns out these were released individuals by the park, they are free to roam into the nearby forest as they please, although they do come back into the park to feed with the chickens occasionally.

Silver Pheasant - female

Silver Pheasant - juvenile male

The most exciting find in the garden were no doubt 3 Asian Emerald Cuckoos, this species had been one of my most wanted birds for a long time, but I never had any luck with them, and no better way than seeing three at the same time! We were able to observe them for as long as we wanted.

Asian Emerald Cuckoo - male

Things got slightly quieter, Ball showed us the area where Green Cochoa usually breed during the wet season, I listened out for their whistle call but got nothing, all I found was a single Ashy Drongo.

Ashy Drongo

Beautifully managed gardens

Back at the feeding station, a female Black-breasted Thrush nearly had me mistaken it as a Japanese Thrush, they do look quite similar but Black-breasted seem to have a much larger bill and more sparingly marked flank. A female Himalayan Bluetail also made an appearance.

Black-breasted Thrush - female

Himalayan Bluetail - female

We left the Mae Fah Luang Arboretum at around noon, along the way we added a pair of Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, a supposedly common species in South East Asia which somehow I've never seen.

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

We went past Chiang Sean, sitting at the Thailand and Laos border, with Laos just across the Mekong River. Chiang Sean is also known as the oldest city of Thailand, with many ancient monuments and ruins.

Overlooking Mekong River towards Laos

Ball took us to Chiang Sean Lake, a lake just to the west of the city. We got off to a good start with a fruiting tree next to our van, there we saw numerous Black-crested Bulbuls as well as Coppersmith Barbet. A few Common Ioras were also seen in the nearby trees.

Black-crested Bulbul

Coppersmith Barbet

Common Iora

We hid in the shade of trees under the mid-day heat, flocks of Black-winged Stilts scattered along the lake shore, while a single Asian Openbill allowed close views. Lesser Whistling Ducks were very common here.

Black-winged Stilt

Asian Openbill

Lesser Whistling Duck

Grey-headed Swamphens were also fairly common, they weren't skittish either and were relatively tolerant of our presence. I spotted a Pheasant-tailed Jacana feeding near the water buffalos. A White-throated Kingfisher perched near the water, although the lighting did not allow for a good photo.

Grey-headed Swamphen

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

White-throated Kingfisher

We drove past more buffalo fields and added a few more species, including a few Indian Spot-billed Ducks, Pin-tailed Snipes, many Grey-headed Lapwings and a single Red-wattled Lapwing. I also found a Citrine Wagtail nearby.

Indian Spot-billed Duck

Pin-tailed Snipe

Grey-headed Lapwing

Red-wattled Lapwing

Citrine Wagtail

Before we left Ball spotted a bird perched on a bamboo in the distance which turned out to be a Racket-tailed Treepie, I've only seen one fly-by in Cambodia, so this distance view was a slight improvement.

Racket-tailed Treepie

We visited the Wat Bamakno Harrier Roost next, this is a must for visiting birders to northern Thailand, as this is probably the largest wintering roost for Pied Harriers as well as Eastern Marsh Harrier in the world. Hundreds of these magnificent raptors roost together each evening from October to April. As we got there early, we birded along the small water channel where many Asian Openbills were roosting, they made perfect models under the setting sun.

Wat Bamakno Harrier Roost

Asian Openbill

A large flock of birds flew over our heads which turned out to be Baya Weavers. A Common Kingfisher posed nicely by the river bank, while a Long-tailed Shrike of race longicaudatus perched at the bird hide entrance.

Baya Weaver

Common Kingfisher

Long-tailed Shrike - race longicaudatus

Before we headed into the bird hide, a female Eastern Marsh Harrier flew past. Once inside we all got into position, the bird hide is itself a simple structure constructed with bamboo and grass, the hide overlooks a raised grassy platform. A juvenile Pied Harrier was already perched at the far end when we scanned the trees.

Eastern Marsh Harrier - female

Inside the bird hide

Pied Harrier - juvenile

We waited patiently inside the hide, it was already 7pm when Harriers started flying back to the roost. First a few females came past and landed on the grass. Juveniles also came in, they are darker overall and having a distinctive facial mask.

Pied Harrier - female

Pied Harrier - juvenile

It was getting very dark by the time any males came close to the hide, but thanks to modern day technology flight shots in such dimmed conditions were still possible, not the best of images but I was happy with a few of them at least.

Pied Harrier - male

Although the grand finale was not birds inflight, but perched adult male Pied Harriers! These beauties are no doubt one of the most handsome raptors out there! To be able to observe them up close was quite remarkable, let alone having at least fifty right sitting in front of you! I put down my camera and just marvelled at them with my binoculars for the last few minutes.

Pied Harrier - male

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Informative and eyes opening natural expedition tour. I could not have known and seen so many variety of species of birds in my life time if not because of this travel blog of Matthew. It triggers the thought of the origin of all those wonderful creation that whether they are existing just by chance or by design with a purpose of each and every single life forms on earth in the nature.