Five a day – Bunting Bonanza

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Black-headed Bunting – Thaton rice fields

One of the most memorable birding episodes of our recent trip to Thailand was the morning we spent at the Thaton rice fields, bunting hunting.

We’d seen Chestnut-eared previously but, thanks to some excellent information from local guide Nick Upton, we were on station, just as the sun was rising, to catch up with Yellow-breasted and the duo of Thai rarities Black-headed and Red-headed. First fleeting glimpse was of a Yellow-breasted departing from the reed beds and flying away over the fields! Next were distant views of another Chestnut-eared, again hidden in the reed-beds. By systematically walking the elevated tracks we eventually tracked down both Black-headed and Red-headed. Later that afternoon I was lucky enough to encounter a Chestnut Bunting in the upland pines of Doi Lang, making it five bunting species in a single day – not bad!

Chestnut-eared Bunting

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Yellow-breasted Bunting

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Red-headed Bunting

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and finally, Chestnut Bunting 

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Chiang Saen, revisited

Chiang Saen, as well as being a district of northern Thailand, is a large lake with a convoluted shoreline and luxuriant margins. Home to hundreds of Lesser Whistling and Spot-billed Duck, as well as many of  Thailand’s rare visiting wildfowl. We spent four nights at Viang Yonok but despite scouring the lake morning, noon and night pretty much every day, we drew a blank on all of the rare ducks which were being reported around the time of our visit, including Baer’s Pochard, Falcated Duck and Baikal Teal – oh well, that’s birding for you! We did manage to find a dodgy Mallard x though, which wouldn’t have looked out of place on Salthouse duckpond, and a leucistic Moorhen!

Compensation for our many hours of fruitless lake-watching however came in the shape of the delightful private ‘pocket’ nature reserve at Nam Kham (see previous post) and the nearby rice fields, where we saw a hat-full of new and interesting species.

Here’s some of the stuff we saw:

Male Purple Sunbird in the garden of Viang Yonok

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Long-tailed Shrike – relatively common in this part of Thailand

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Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – one of only two regular ‘peckers’

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An awesome male Pied Harrier – one of several seen flying into the roost by the lake

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Also at the same roost, a rare Western Marsh Harrier

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Spotted Bush-warbler (Baikal I think), coming to drink at Nam Kham

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along with a Dusky Warbler

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We found several interesting waders along the Mekong – this River Lapwing was the best, if a little distant!

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In the rice fields – several Citrine Wagtail

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and, of course, Paddyfield Pipit – not without the usual id. controversy though!

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Finally, my own version of two of the star birds of the area – Firethroat and Siberian Rubythroat

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Next stop Doi Lang, for more upland forest birding…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normal services have been resumed!

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Daurian Redstart, male, Doi Ang Khang

We’ve just arrived back from an exhilarating but exhausting three week birding trip to northern Thailand. Ordinarily I’d have posted regular updates of our trip highlights as we went along. From previous experience this process is most usually interrupted by the lack of decent internet but on this occasion is was a broken lead that meant I couldn’t upload the photos! Fortunately Jane provided some excellent substitutes but the process was protracted and as we were birding pretty much non-stop it proved impossible to keep up.

Having spent most of yesterday uploading the photos, here is the first in a series of catch-up posts covering the remainder of our Thailand holiday highlights.

After Doi Inthanon we spent a few days at the excellent Marlee’s before moving on to the Myanmar border, at Doi Ang Khang.

Here the top bird was Daurian Redstart, a rare bird in Thailand. First looked for at it’s traditional wintering ground around the border check-point, in a bitterly cold northerly wind, at dawn – eventually seen at the Chinese cemetery in evening sunshine

IMG_4225 We visited a couple of bird ‘feeding stations’, a euphemism for the local midden, and had a fine collection of species, including this Rusty-naped Pita. Unfortunately, photographed practically in the dark

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Several thrush species were also present including Eyebrowed – with it’s rusty underparts, Grey-sided and Black-breasted 

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Warblers were well represented, with a mix of wintering and resident species. This Buff-throated, looking rather similar to our own Chiffchaff, was a welcome addition to the list

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Along with one of the many ‘leaf warblers’, this one was Pallas’s I think

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There was plenty of babbler action too, with several new ticks. This Crested Finchbill was a particular favourite

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The next stop was Chiang Saen, for a bit of tropical low-land birding and a frustrating duck-hunt!

 

Chiang Saen

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Local private nature reserve – location of some of our best birds

We’re spending a few nights at the excellent Viang Yonok resort, on the shores of Chiang Saen, close to the river Mekong and neighbouring country of Laos. The quality of the accommodation is only matched by the varied birdlife. One of our favourite locations has been a private ‘pocket’ nature reserve at Nam Kham, where we’ve encountered several fabulous species include an over-wintering, ‘first’ for Thailand – Firethroat and several Siberian Rubythroat, along with an impressive supporting cast.

As I’m still experiencing difficulties uploading my own photos, I’ve happily  ‘borrowed’ some from Jane – thus setting a new standard, which will be hard to follow in future posts.

A ‘first’ for Thailand, last year’s returning wintering bird – a Firethroat. One of only a handful of Thailand ticks for Neil so far 

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The absolutely majestic Siberian Rubythroat

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Yellow-bellied Prinia

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Red Avadavat

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Doi Ang Khang

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View of the border post, on the Myanmar side

We’ve just spent the last couple of days at Doi Ang Khang, in the north west corner of Thailand, on the Myanmar border. Whilst the birding has been great, the weather has been somewhat thermally challenging. The hotel we were staying in served ‘breakfast on the terrace’, which I guess in ordinary circumstances would be idyllic but, at 4 deg C. as it has been, was more like boot camp! By the time you got back to your table from the buffet, your food and drinks were stone cold. It was misty with a slight drizzle yesterday morning, which meant we couldn’t even enjoy the stunning views! Supper though has been enjoyed sitting in front of a roaring log fire.

We had some fabulous birds to make up for it though but unfortunately I’m currently experiencing difficulties uploading photos so you’ll have to use your imagination…

Today we’ve driven east to the shores of Chiang Saen lake, with plenty of good birds on route.

Doi Chiang Doa

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 Wat Tham Pha Plong,  just a stroll from Malee’s front door. Photo by Jane Williams

We’ve just spent three nights at Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows, situated at the entrance to the Doi Chiang Doa National Park, where the food and hospitality has been excellent. Unfortunately we’ve had a couple of setbacks to our itinerary, including having to taking Bob to Chiang Mai yesterday for an emergency dental appointment to have a nasty abscess dealt with. I’m pleased to say that he’s now on the mend. Today was a ‘before dawn’ start to ensure we arrived at the top of the mountain by day-break, but despite doing so, the birding proved to be rather under-whelming. However, one of our two ‘birds of the day’ came almost on arrival at the top, in the shape of a superb Black-tailed Crake. Our other best bird came at the very end of the day, just as it was getting dark – a splendid Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl, at the entrance to Wat Tham Pha Plong.

The generally elusive Black-tailed Crake

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Record shot of Spot-bellied Eagle-owl

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Doi Inthanon Photo Gallery

We’ve spent the past couple of days birding in the national park of Doi Inthanon, at the top of Thailand’s highest mountain – formerly known as Doi Luang, ‘Big mountain’, reaching a height of 2565m. Much of the park is pristine rainforest which supports a range of birds, unique to this part of Thailand. Breakfast on the terrace at Mr Daeng’s has been enjoyed at temperatures as low as 7 degrees – struggling to reach the mid-twenties in the middle of the day. We’ve seen some lovely birds but given the nature of the habitat – the best of which is a dark, dank forest bowl, accessed by a circular boardwalk, close to the summit, photography has proved to be challenging! Here is a selection of the more reasonable ones.

Large Niltava, male

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Long-tailed Minivet

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Yellow-cheeked Tit

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and the much rarer Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker

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There are a number of Sunbirds at Doi Inthanon, Two of which were absolutely stunning, Mrs Gould’s and the scarcer Green-tailed

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A good number of Thai passerine families seem to have blue and orange as their main colours – making identification for the novice something of a challenge. This one, seen at the very summit of the mountain, is Snowy-browed Flycatcher

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This, rare Blue-fronted Redstart was one of our ‘celebrity’ birds

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This bird, White-browed Shortwing, lives in the deepest, darkest parts of the forest – record shot, taken at 1/4 sec at 6400 ISO!

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Another skulker was this Hill Prinia

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Some birds however did put on a show, this Banded Bay Cuckoo was in the car park at Mr Daeng’s

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One of our favourites was Bar-throated (Chestnut Tailed) Minla

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