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