Trip report: Thailand custom tour (Feb 2018) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Charley Hesse and Sam Woods. This was a custom tour
Report written by Sam Woods.

Thailand has been a long-time favorite amongst visiting birders dipping their toes into the diverse waters of Southeast Asia for the first time, a distinct region within the continent. The former Kingdom of ‘Siam’ is a veritable one-stop shop for Southeast Asian birds, offering a taste of Malaysia and beyond in the south of the country, the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Central Thailand, and a variety of Himalayan migrants alongside handsome resident species in the north. For this tour, the concentration was on Central and North Thailand, with a further extension to the mountains of Doi Ang Khang and Doi Lang, on the border with ‘Burma’ (now Myanmar) provided for half the group too.

Highlights in Thailand are always many – after all, at the time of writing this report the country stood at tenth worldwide, in terms of species reported there for the year by that point. The regular bird-of-the-day competitions were often fraught with doubt, and the ending bird of the tour, and bird of the extension competitions were filled with a dizzy variety of species. However, these vexations, are, after all, pleasant to be subjected too, and popular birds were Spoon-billed Sandpiper at Pak Thale, on the edge of the Gulf of Thailand, several confiding Long-tailed Broadbills in Kaeng Krachan excited us all, as did the toy-like Black-and-yellow Broadbill (and pink) at the same venue, as did the shock stellar showing by the usually shy Gray Peacock-Pheasant in the same park too. The chesty Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo and Blue Pittas that shared a feeding station in Khao Yai National Park. The final site of the main tour was popular too, The Roof of Thailand, at 2565m-high, the country’s highest point. This provided us with Dark-sided Thrushes, Himalayan Bluetail, and Yellow-bellied Fairy-Fantails in the dank, chilly stunted alpine forest at the top, and Blossom-headed Parakeets, tiny Collared Falconets, and beautiful Black Bazas in the extremely different deciduous forests at the bottom.

At that point, some left us behind to return to normal life back in South Africa. However, some ventured on, with a stop at the dramatic temple of Wat Tham Pha Plong in Chiang Dao, providing not only a fascinating insight into Thai Buddhist culture, but also forest birds around the 400 or so steps required to reach the hallowed building at the top. This will long be associated for us by nightbirds, as a Spot-bellied Eagle emerged just before dusk and sat in a large tree above us, (and not long after Mel had joined the group), on the first night of the extension. Then, an Oriental Bay Owl clamped to a forest vine near the temple featured later the same night for Vernon and Sam! From Chiang Dao we swapped mountains to Doi Ang Khang perched on the edge of Thailand and Myanmar. The World’s largest nuthatch, the aptly named Giant Nuthatch was an early catch there, as was Scarlet-faced Liocichla, two birds that might have given us considerable more trouble than they did. Feeders in the area brought in a stream of migrant birds, like White-capped Redstart, Large Niltava, and Eyebrowed, Gray-sided, and Black-breasted Thrushes. Not to mention, White-tailed Robin, Hill Blue-Flycatcher, and Silver-eared Mesia (the latter ended up on the top five birds of this section).

Moving on to our final major destination, Doi Lang, there was considerable excitement as the Thais have long established a set of feeders close to the Burmese border. In particular, one spot has proved reliable for seeing foraging Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant early in the morning. Two things were critical here, our early arrival before the birds had started to come in, and then finding a position for the van so that we can see the birds without disturbing either the birds or the ever-present Thai Bird Photography Fraternity. Our later plan, to try and race into Myanmar by briefly crossing border in order to start our Burma birdlists, didn’t go down well with the guards there, and so we remained firmly in Thailand, but could see birds just over the border inches away from our boots. The feeders were typically active and exciting, bringing us first Rufous-bellied Niltava, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Siberian Rubythroat, and finally, near the end, in exactly its usual spot, an immaculate male Ultramarine Flycatcher.

After lots of disgruntled comments, about the difficulty of trimming choices to just five birds, these were the final top fives, first for the main tour, and then for the Northern Highlands Extension:

TOP FIVE BIRDS OF THE MAIN TOUR (CENTRAL THAILAND AND DOI INTHANON):

1 SPOON-BILLED SANDPIPER, Pak Thale
2 CORAL-BILLED GROUND-CUCKOO, Khao Yai NP
3 BLUE PITTA, Khao Yai NP
4 GREAT HORNBILL, Kaeng Krachan NP
5 LONG-TAILED BROADBILL, Kaeng Krachan NP
PYGMY CUPWING, Doi Inthanon NP

TOP FIVE BIRDS OF THE NORTHERN HIGHLANDS EXTENSION (DOI CHIANG DAO, DOI ANG KHANG & DOI LANG):

1 RUSTY-NAPED PITTA, Doi Ang Khang
2 (Mrs.) HUME’S PHEASANT, Doi Lang
3 SILVER-EARED MESIA, Doi Ang Khang
4 ULTRAMARINE FLYCATCHER, Doi Lang
5 SPOT-BELLIED EAGLE-OWL, Doi Chiang Dao

FULL Thailand custom tour report (8.6 MB file)