Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Morning At Doi Lang

Red-faced Liocichla - photo by Sujan

March 22nd. 2008 - Doi Lang is a mountain and part of the Doi Phahompok range on the Burmese border in north Thailand, the Thai army was in charge of that border road but they were fairly laid-back and friendly, which isn’t always the case. This latter mountain is the second highest in Thailand at 2,285 metres and at its highest Doi Lang is 2,100 metres. We got as high as 2,047 metres (courtesy of John’s GPS thingamabob) and searched for that elusive 53 metres but they were nowhere to be seen. ‘We’ included my pal John Moore. When I said a morning at Doi Lang, it wasn’t that easy as it is a three and a half hour drive from Chiang Mai and it makes sense to stay at least one night. We stayed at the Garden Home Nature Resort for the night (tel. 053 373015) but I couldn’t tell you what it looked like because we arrived in the dark and left the next morning, also in the dark. The rooms were excellent, very clean, airconditioned (600 baht) and if you needed entertaining the rooms come with cable TV. We had dinner in the very pleasant riverside restaurant and the food was good and incredibly cheap, no dish over 100 baht and most of them just over half of that.

But on to what we went for. This was my first visit to this particular area and bird-wise I was very pleasantly surprised. We documented 78 species during the morning and four of note were the Crimson-breasted Woodpecker (male) which was a new bird for me and it’s not very often that that happens to me nowadays. The other three were Jerdon’s Bushchat, one male, a Red-faced Liocichla which obliged us by singing its heart out and we obliged it by recording its song for posterity. Then there were the Crested Finchbills , they were everywhere in the higher reaches of the mountain, if a bird flew across the road it was invariably a finchbill. We also got some recordings of this birds call but it was a battle against the persistent shrieking of Cicadas and they came out even louder when I was editing the calls. But I managed to salvage a recognisable version in the end. This is one of the best times of the year for recording birdcalls as all the male birds are proclaiming their readiness for breeding.

The only thing that clouded the trip was the poisonous air created by the ‘slash and burn’ by the local villagers. In the dark the mountains were covered in ring fires, semi-circles of fire (some a kilometre long) obviously created by humans. So some of the more spectacular views were spoilt by the smog that resulted. All this after the horrendous fires last year and nobody is doing anything about it, Thaton should be declared a disaster area! But, having said that, it was well worth the visit – many birds were still active later in the morning than is usually the case anywhere else. At this time of year the hot weather would put most species into siesta mode around 9.30 to 10am.

Another disappointment was the fact that the border road at one point was impassable due to a landslide and the soldiers at the checkpoint didn’t think it would be removed any time soon. We had planned to do the return trip all along that mountain road to Chiang Dao but instead had to backtrack to Thaton and return along the busy Fang road (route 107).
I have to end on a happier note and say that even the ‘slash and burn’ didn’t spoil our enjoyment and the results made it all worthwhile.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Home-makers, a very productive time

Grey-headed Parakeet - Photo by John Moore

(March 17th. HTT) A very interesting morning and probably the sighting of the morning was a pair of Chinese Francolin with the male displaying to a female in the rice stubble. She looked as if she didn’t want any part of it, running this way and that to elude him. Obviously she was leading him on otherwise she could have just taken wing and left him all fluffed up and excited.

Another bird I had my suspicions about was a Ruddy-breasted Crake. Now normally this bird is very shy and skulks but this one was strutting about within 3 or 4 metres of me but not a female in sight. Anyway, this is the closest I have been to one of these birds for any length of time, so it was another exciting moment.

Now for the continuing saga of ‘The Hole In The Tree’ as mentioned in my last piece. The Chestnut-tailed Starlings did take over the tenancy of the hole and the Plain-backed Sparrows seemed to have lost out. But – they have now found another abode just down the block in the same tree. This hole is actually on the underside of the branch but is proving no problem for these acrobatic birds. This hole was probably originally hacked out by Coppersmith Barbets as I have seen many of them nest in holes on the underside of branches.

A Grey-headed Parakeet was spotted feeding on seeds in a tree. Now this one I can tell you, with certainty, was an Ex-Con (an escapee), how do I know? It had a silver chain and a red tag attached to one leg. What did worry me was the chance that this chain might, in the future, get snagged on a branch or twig and that could prove fatal for this bird. But it was nice to see that it had adapted to living in the wild. One hope is that it will join up with a flock that is occasionally seen in the area.

Three separate Olive-backed Sunbirds nest were seen, all in the process of being built. It is no mistake or sloppy workmanship that these nests look like rubbish thrown into a tree, if you didn’t know what you were looking for you would never mistake them for a nest, does that make sense? All three nests were identical down to the ‘rubbish’ hanging

Friday, February 29, 2008


Common Koel (female parasitic cuckoo) photo by John Moore

(February 26th. KMP) This mountain road never ceases to produce, this morning three new species brought our figure for the area to 200 species they were the Bamboo Woodpecker, Brown Hawk-Owl and the Black Baza, and would you believe it John forgot to bring the champagne – I think he didn’t believe that we would reach that mark this morning. Anyway, champagne or not this road is always a pleasant diversion from my usual sites and this morning was no exception. The dawn chorus played like an orchestra with the Barbets forming the rhythm section and the other birds taking on the melody. The only way to enjoy this is to sit, eat breakfast and take it all in.

( February 29th. HTT) The holding pattern is over and things are coming to life. This is mostly due to the breeding season being upon us. Most birds are calling louder than usual and this applies more so to the Common Koel with its earsplitting, never-ending kow-wow call.

There are skirmishes for the best nesting holes and three in particular have provided great excitement over the past few years. One instance this morning was a nesting hole that had just ended a nesting cycle and the lucky first tenant was the Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker. Over the last few weeks I have watched it enter the hole, first to lay and brood the eggs and then making repeated visits to feed the young. This ended as the young left the nest but as you’ve probably guessed that wasn’t the end of the story. This morning the first in line for the second tenancy were a pair of Plain-backed Sparrows. The female was giving the hole the once-over and seemed to approve of it but it was not to be. A pair of Chestnut-tailed Starlings also showed great interest in this obviously up-market abode and and in no uncertain terms showed them the door. The sparrows sat on a nearby branch and looked on, if sparrows could look crestfallen that’s how they looked. But for these contenders there is no loser in this house-hunting game, each will have its turn if they show a little patience.

Also seen this morning was a stunning female Emerald Cuckoo – her irridescent green upperparts glistened brightly in the sunshine and the contrast of her orange head and black and white barred underparts came together to form a sight to behold!

So there you have it, for me we have arrived at the most interesting time of year, the songsters are at their most melodic, waxing lyrical, and the hooligans at their most raucous but either way this is how they show their feelings for their temporary or sometimes permanent partners. And let’s not forget our numerous parasitic cuckoo species, they are sneaking around looking to lay their eggs in some unsuspecting host bird’s nest, what was Nature thinking about when it created these lazy birds?

Friday, February 08, 2008

A not so glossy Glossy Ibis

The Glossy Ibis - not the actual bird we saw but a borrowed picture (not a decent camera between us)

(February 6th Mae Jo) I got a call from Paul Mackenzie, a Canadian, reporting a sighting of a Glossy Ibis (very rare in Thailand). He was staying in an up-market housing complex on the Mae Jo road and it backs onto a wetlands area. So the next evening fully armed with all my equipment consisting of pistol-grip microphone and recorder (well you never know, it might squawk or something), my binoculars and telescope I arrived at the wall overlooking the wetlands where Paul was waiting for me. It only took a couple of minutes before we spotted the Ibis and we watched it for about 40 minutes. It didn’t appear very ‘glossy’ but that was either due to worn plumage or the fact that it was evening and there was no direct sunlight to reflect off the feathers. From our viewpoint we could see over close to two acres.

Other birds seen were: 15+ Purple Swamphens, 10 Common Redshanks, 80+ Black-winged Stilts, 20+ Snipe (not sure which one’s) , 2 Little Egrets, dozens of Common Moorhens and heard the drawn out trill of the Ruddy-breasted Crake. The evening before Paul said he saw a Water Rail.

What I did find amazing was that these wetlands should exist in a fairly well built-up area bordered by a highway, another busy road that leads to Chiang Rai and this housing complex. The birds seemed perfectly at ease surrounded by the hurly-burly going on around them.

(February 8th. Mae Hia) Quite a good morning for raptors, A Peregrine Falcon was spotted sitting in a dead tree, a Rufous-winged Buzzard, a Shikra and a Crested Serpent Eagle seen and heard soaring above. The latter bird was using its full five note ascending call, the first three notes fairly fast and the last two drawn out. I’m not noted for my bird imitations but I did my best with its call and it hastened over and was obviously intrigued by this biped who was having an identity crisis, but the purpose was served and I got a closer look at it.

It doesn’t rain but it pours with Racket-tailed Treepies, I don’t see them for weeks and then, like today, they are all over the place, nice to see them. This morning I saw the biggest flock of Junglefowl I’ve ever seen at Mae Hia, at least eight females and three and a half males, one was a juvenile and was just growing into its comb and splendid plumage.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Things are just ticking over

Long-tailed Broadbill - photo by Chatree Pitakpaivan

(January 14th. HTT) I was just coming to the conclusion that the Black-capped Kingfisher which, in previous years, has stayed with us instead of passing through on its way south had abandoned us. Well, I spotted one this morning. As you might have gathered this bird is a passage migrant up here in the north. In the previous three years it was regularly seen during the winter months until it was time to migrate back north.

A flock of Crested Treeswifts was spotted this morning. The first indication of this bird’s presence is usually its kee-kyew call as it flies overhead. Even knowing it’s there it can sometimes be difficult to spot, like all swifts it is built for speed with narrow body and wings.

As nothing much else happened this morning I thought it worthwhile mentioning some of the birds that inhabit the overgrown lot at the back of my house. Two or three Siberian Rubythroats can be heard ‘cherking’ and ‘squeaking’ in the early morning in the thorny mimosa bushes, two Brown Shrikes sitting on vantage points spend quite a lot of time ‘churring’ at each other, no doubt defending their territory. Plain Prinias and the Grey-throated Prinias are often seen lurking in the undergrowth together with unknown numbers of White-breasted Waterhens. A Blue Rock Thrush (male) can usually be found perched on our rooftop carrying out its usual bobbing and tail-cocking posturing. In fact one could spend a morning looking out of my bedroom window and not get bored at all. The calls of the Asian Barred Owlet, the Greater Coucal, the Coppersmith Barbet, and various Bulbuls form a background orchestra to all this activity.

(January 22nd. HTT) Took out a party of four this morning and managed a count of 53 species seen and 5 identified by call. One bird of note seen was an Osprey flying low over the lake – having guests with me it was a good bird to come across. Others seen were a flock of 12 Blue Magpies feeding in a Silk cotton Tree (Bombax Ceiba). This is the time of year when many of the trees start flowering and these flowers attract many different species of birds. One could spend hours just watching as the different species come and go from these trees.

(Saturday 26th. KMP) Up in the mountains today at Ka Mu Phuket with friend John and we added another two species to our list bringing it to 197 species. These were the Great Tit and the Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush. The latter bird I almost mistook for the Blue Rock-Thrush (M..s. philippensis) It wasn’t until I saw the female on the next branch with its scaly belly and distinctive pale throat and neck markings that I realised it was the male Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush.

Another pleasant surprise was to see a flock of 10+ Long-tailed Broadbills flying across a gap in the trees, an amazingly colourful bird and with such clear delineation between the colours that it could have been dreamt up by Walt Disney for one of his animated films. Finally, the ever present Silver-eared Mesias were there, in fact we were hearing flocks of them every 100 metres or so.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Winter happens at night in Thailand

Mae Hia - at 7am the temperature was 9c.

(January 8th. HTT) Now I know where all the Common Moorhens have gone, there was a dearth of them on the big lake but today I discovered at least 8 on a distant pond on the other side of the causeway. Obviously they find it quieter in that distant pond. At the other end of the lake a not often seen Striated Warbler was observed preening whilst sitting in the long grass.

Just around the corner from there is my ‘Breakfast Tree’ and it produced as usual. In addition to those regulars was a male Long-tailed Minivet and a hunched up Asian Barred Owlet trying to keep a low profile. When it finally flew off there was a great diving about and protesting shrieks from the other birds in the tree and then they settled down as if nothing had happened. They must have known it was there so why all that fuss when it decided to leave?

Seven Grey Herons were seen flying overhead. Normally they would have distributed themselves around the lake but recently they have taken to ignoring our lake and carrying on into the military area where there is another lake which is forbidden to us civilians! How do I know they are there? Because I have sneaked into that area to confirm it. I did a stint in the Royal Marines, 45 Commando, plus I was in my jungle greens so my infiltration was carried out with comparative ease, with my long Sennheiser microphone plus pistol grip at the ready for any outburst of bird-calls!

(January 11th. Mae Hia) Number-wise not a bad morning, 64 species seen and 9 identified by call. An exceptionally cold morning, 9c at 7am. But it soon warmed up as it always does. I have to admit, rather sheepishly after my recent outburst, that the burnt out area of mimosa bushes and undergrowth produced this morning. Two Red Avadavats, male and female, were spotted along with a few Baya Weavers, 6 or 7 Plain Prinias were busy feeding along with various warblers, Thick-billed, inornate and dusky. A couple of Stonechats, a flock of Chestnut-capped Babblers, a Lesser Coucal, a White-breasted Waterhen and various bulbuls.

Others seen was a lone Cattle Egret scurrying around the feet of ten Friesian cows, two Rufous-winged Buzzards, a lone male Eurasian Kestrel and a Black-shouldered Kite. On one stretch of road five Asian Barred Owlets were heard calling from all points of the compass. Common Koels have become more noticeable with their resounding kow-wow calls which generally means that they will soon be on the lookout for suitable mates. Four Hair-crested Drongos were seen in the distant foothills in their usual tree with large white flowers. Finally four different species of shrikes were seen.

Back to the ‘slash and burn’ around the ponds and other places at Mae Hia. This area is the Agricultural Training Centre for the Chiang Mai University and by their actions they are telling the students that it’s okay to farm this way. This is in contradiction to the laws laid down by the Thai government. The latest tightening of these laws was brought about by last years devasting clouds of smoke that covered S.E. Asia causing the deaths of the elderly and children and they are still being ignored by the University. I pick them out as they are a state university and should therefore set the standard for others to follow.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A shrinkage of birds ?

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker by Yurie Ball

(December 24th. HTT) This year there seem to be a drop in numbers within the species seen. For example the Common Moorhen down to 2-3 whereas we we used to see 10+. Both Kingfishers, the common and white-throated are always there but in lesser numbers. no Little Grebes have been seen on the lake this year compared to 3-4 in previous years.A lone Common Sandpiper was seen today which again leads me to mention that the waders are also in short supply – not as many Common Snipe seen as in usual years along with the, normally solitary, Green Sandpiper. The Richard’s Pipit and the Rufous-winged Bushlark are also sparse on the ground. But, today produced a fairly respectable count of 56 species seen and 10 species identified by call, go figure! (I always wanted to use that expression).

(December 31st. HTT) My ‘Breakfast Tree’ was fairly busy this morning. The Yellow-vented Flowerpecker made its usual entrance at the top of the tree and then disappeared into the dense foliage. A Verditer Flycatcher put in a brief appearance, A flock of 15+ Japanese White-eyes made there way busily through the tree, a male and female Black-naped Monarch were also seen giving their pwish-pwash call. A Grey-headed Flycatcher entertained us with its usual aerobatics in the lower branches plus 3 or 4 Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, a few Inornate Warblers were also present and sundry Bulbuls. All this in the time it took me to eat my thick pea and ham soup.
In one patch of woodland there was a mobbing scene going on but I couldn’t see what was being mobbed. Obviously a flock of 20+ White-crested Laughingthrushes could as they were cackling away, taking no notice of me. Along with them were 2 male White-rumped Shamas churring away and a whole host of smaller birds adding their shrieks of indignation.
Another fruiting tree was taken over by 10+ Lineated Barbets. By fruit we imagine apples, oranges, pears etc. but these fruit were clumps of small unappetising looking brown berries, but each to his own.

(January 3rd. 2008 Mae Hia) Rather a shock to find that one of my popular ponds had its surrounding mimosa bushes and reeds cut right down to the bare earth. Contemplating my navel would have been more productive than trying to find a bird around that pond!! Also a lot of the other wild patches have been burnt but just enough was left to make it worthwhile for the birds to visit. So the count wasn’t bad at 61 species seen and 9 identified by call.
Some of the birds seen in the burnt out area were a flock of 40+ Baya Weavers, male and females indistinguishable at this time of year. The Long-tailed Shrike, nominate race, was still persevering against all odds to eke out a living in this burnt patch. Yet another exhibitionistic male Siberian Rubythroat put in an appearance and churked and squeaked in indignation at us for daring to get so close to it. Another fruiting tree produced a splash of bright yellow which turned out to be a Black-naped Oriole and it was accompanied by a host of mixed bulbuls. Farther on a Banded Bay Cuckoo was heard calling using its ascending series of notes. A Ruddy-breasted Crake was seen skulking in some overhanging undergrowth in another pond and what stood out were its bright reddish/orange eyes and the black and white barring under its tail. And finally but in fact the first birds of note we came across was a flock of Lesser-whistling Ducks in the Office Pond. I say they were in the pond but as we put in an appearance they all took off together and I estimated that there were 400+ in the flock. At least that pond has been left alone but one wonders for how long!