Trip report: Myanmar and NW Thailand custom tour (February 2017)

Guided by Ken Behrens. This was a custom tour

Southeast Asia has a complex biogeography, and many birds with restricted distributions. This custom tour was designed around a single client’s “wish list”, which included many of these localized birds, plus a few more widespread Asian species. The trip started as Myanmar-only, but we expanded it to include Thailand when I realized that quite a few of the most-wanted targets were better sought there.

Myanmar has opened up to the outside world only in the last 15 years, and although it is developing quickly, it still offers something of a “look back” at what much of the region used to be like. There are already decent roads, lots of domestic flights, and excellent lodges near the major birding sites. The Burmese people are wonderfully warm and hospitable, the landscapes are attractive and distinctive, and the cuisine a savory mix of Indian, Chinese, Thai, and uniquely Burmese components. Myanmar is of major cultural interest, and its top attraction is Bagan, where thousands upon thousands of beautiful temples litter the dusty landscape. This historical and archeological treasure is often placed on par with the much better known Angkor Wat of Cambodia.

Myanmar boasts several birds that are endemic to its dry central valley, which has more in common with the Indian subcontinent than the rest of southeast Asia. These are “Burmese” Eurasian Collared-Dove (a likely split), White-throated Babbler, Jerdon’s Minivet (likely to be split or already split depending on your authority), Burmese Bushlark, and Hooded Treepie. The best birding in Myanmar is found in the western mountains, whose crown jewel is Mount Victoria or Nat Ma Taung. This mountain has its own endemic, the beautiful White-browed Nuthatch, which was something of a “holy grail” bird during the many decades during which Myanmar was closed to outsiders. The mountain also hosts another likely endemic in the form of the likely-to-be-split “Burmese” Black-browed Bushtit. On top of these endemics there are several birds that are only found in western Myanmar and a small portion of northeast India, including Assam, Striped, and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, “Mount Victoria” Chinese Babax (a likely split), Chin Hills Wren-Babbler, and Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler. Finally, Mount Victoria supports a lot of delectable though more widespread Asian mountain birds like Rusty-capped Fulvetta, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Streak-throated and Rusty-fronted Barwings, Himalayan Cutia, and Darjeeling Woodpecker. Biogeographically, the Chin Hills are the southernmost extension of the great Himalayan chain.

Eastern Myanmar and northwestern Thailand hold yet another set of birds, which are surprisingly different from those found on the other side of the dry central valley of Myanmar, and many of which are shared with Yunnan, in southern China. This part of Myanmar is the best spot on Earth for the highly localized Burmese Yuhina. Northwest Thailand is one of the best-known and most often visited birding areas in Asia, and for good reason. It offers wonderful and varied birding, both in the hot lowlands and on the towering mountains that dominate the skyline. Some of the top birds of northwestern Thailand are Hume’s Pheasant, White-necked Laughingthrush, and Giant Nuthatch. With several such nodes of diversity and endemism within a small area, which is now accessed by decent infrastructure, this part of the world is undoubtedly an attractive destination for world birders and naturalists. Tropical Birding’s Myanmar set-departure tour is virtually identical to the Myanmar portion of this custom trip.

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