Coming soon – highlights of our wildlife week in Northern Greece

Squacco Heron – one of fifty or more seen along the north east shore of Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece

We’ve been meaning to visit Northern Greece ever since we came across Steve & Hilary on the Lake Kerkini and Birdwing stall at the Rutland Water Birdfair, a few years ago. They, along with Nikolaos, who runs an excellent hotel for birders close to the eastern shore of the lake, do a fabulous job of promoting bird conservation in this beautiful but threatened corner of Greece. Armed with a copy of Steve’s site guide, Birdwatching in Northern Greece, we, accompanied by our youngest son Jake – a passionate birder himself, recently enjoyed a weeks birding and general wildlife watching holiday exploring the numerous sites between Lake Kerkini and the Evros Delta. A full annotated check-list and selected photos will appear on this blog in the very near future.

Doi Lang and Thaton Rice Paddies

Our penultimate stop was at Fang, a good base from which to visit the rice paddies around Thaton and the mountainous areas of Doi Lang. Unfortunately the top of Doi Lang, at a height of over 2,000m., is occupied by the military, which means that you have to access the ridge (which has the most interesting birds of course) from two directions – the western approach being infinitely easier but, as a consequence, more popular. You can however walk along the connecting road through the various check-points, which we did on several occasions.

The birding along the ridge was excellent and we spent many happy hours walking the same kilometre stretch of road, seeing an ever-changing cast of species. There are several unofficial ‘feeding stations’ situated along the road – despite the signs in Thai and English saying that they are illegal, which attract a variety of fabulous birds, which the ‘clickers’ take great pride in approaching, within a couple of feet, to obtain their eye-wateringly good photos. On several occasions we’d be watching a bird from a discreet distance when photographers would say ‘excuse me’ and stand right in front – it takes a bit of getting used to!!

When we weren’t at the top of the mountain we were down on the plains, driving around the superb rice paddies of Thaton looking for everything from Buttonquail to Buntings.

We saw surprisingly few raptors, this Crested Serpent Eagle was a welcome exception

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Best bird at one of the lower ‘feeding stations’ was this Ultramarine Flycatcher

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Hill Prinia is normally a rather shy species

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In marked contrast to many of it’s more gaudy cousins, this White-gorgeted Flycatcher was a stunning bird

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Speaking of brightly coloured, this is White-bellied Redstart

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Big, brash and noisy – Spot-breasted Parrotbill

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Similar colour scheme but much less bold, this is White-browed Scimitar-babbler

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Up the less accessible east side, Whiskered Yuhina

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The dazzling and tongue-twisting, Crimson-faced Liocichla

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The positively electric Himalayan Bluetail

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Seen at dusk, on our final attempt, male Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant

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Apart from the bevy of buntings seen on the Thaton rice paddies, this gymnastic Zitting Cisticola providing a touch of European familiarity

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Another Babbler, this time Chestnut-capped

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and finally, another familiar species – Bluethroat, which winters in a broad sweep from North Africa, Middle-East, Indian sub-continent, Southern China to SE Asia

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Final stop on our three week tour, Mae Wong, more fabulous birds.. and a monkey!

 

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

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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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