Friday, 11 May 2012

Chiang Dao

Red-whiskered Bulbul
Pycnonotus jocosus
Malee's Nature Lover's Resort
Chiang Dao

I had been to Chiang Dao before and had birded along the Muang Khong road. It was a rather hurried affair, driving from Chiang Mai in the morning and returning there that same day. On this occasion we decided to stay overnight and I am so glad that we did. It really provided a sense of the unique atmosphere of this area: peaceful and relaxed. Everything is dominated by Doi Chiang Dao itself, the third highest peak in Thailand, it towers over everything and makes an impressive sight. Lots of very high trees provide excellent cover at all levels and also mean lots of birds everywhere. We stayed at Malee's and it would be hard to think of a place that blends in more harmoniously with the setting. Malee's is birder friendly and children friendly and Malee herself is an excellent host.

Grey-eyed Bulbul
Iole propinqua
Doi Chang Dao

This time we went en famille and Dave Sargeant came along too. After meeting up on Thursday 3rd May 2012 we drove north and stopped en route at the Mai Teng Irrigation Project. Here we did see Wire-railed Swallow (lifer ⌗337) after we had seen  lifer ⌗336, the humble House Swift . The real story, however, was the presence of two Asian Openbills. In Dave's absence I would have treated these birds as I would were I to see them locally: indifference with occasional interest when in very large numbers. It is very common. It is, however, according to Dave an uncommon bird in the north, rarely seen north of Bueng Boraphet. So an excellent stop and I am particularily pleased to bag two species which are theoretically easier to see in the north of the country.

Oriental Honey Buzzard
Pernis ptilorhynchus
Doi Chang Dao

After lunch at Malee's Dave and I went to get our permit for entering the Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary. Now this is a totally different arrangement than entering a national park where you show up at the barrier, pay the entrance fee and proceed. You cannot do this with a "wildlife sanctuary".  For Chiang Dao you have to go to the Wildlife Sanctuary's Headquarters, fill out the paperwork and pay the fees; the staff then issue you with a permit and this is what gets you through the various barriers and check points. The real point is that the Headquarters operate to normal office hours. This means that you simply cannot show up early in the morning and enter the sanctuary; you'll have to wait for the office to open in order to get your permit.

Mountain Imperial Pigeon
Ducula badia
Doi Chang Dao

We then went round to the Muang Khong Road and concentrated on butterflies in view of the heat and the fact that there weren't many birds around. I know nothing about butterflies so I guess I have to start somewhere!

Blyth's Shrike-babbler
Pteruthius aeralatus
Doi Chang Dao

Later in the afternoon we walked from Malee's to the temple at the roadhead, Wat Tamplaplong. This is the perfect way to experience the feel of the area. In general terms Buddhist temples make little appeal to me, it's usually a case of "seen one, seen them all" such is their uniformity to my mind. Wat Tamplaplong is exceptionally and exquisitely beautiful, atmospheric and deeply tranquil especially late in the day. There's the small matter of 500 or so steps to negotiate to get to the temple buildings but worth every step. And then there's the birds.....

Ashy Drongo
Dicrurus leucophaeus
Doi Chang Dao

In the space of a couple of hours I added nine lifers and that might be higher but I don't see any point in claiming a bird that I get a glimpse of but of no discernible feature. So Dave called an aerial Violet Cuckoo but I got a glimpse of its rear before it disappeared; I didn't get any view of the bird's features and I didn't see anything which I would describe as "violet" so it doesn't make it onto my list. The same applies to Pin-tailed Green Pigeon. I did see some lovely birds and was especially happy to get close to a couple of Streaked Wren Babblers which, in response to playback, gave great views - a first Wren Babbler;  plus Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Drongo Cuckoo, Little Spiderhunter, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Ruby-cheeked Flowerpecker, Black-throated Sunbird, Black Bulbul and Brown-cheeked Fulvetta and lastly the Streaked Wren-babbler which was lifer ⌗346. All of these birds were lifers.

The next morning we started very early and after an amazing drive up a dreadful track we made it to the sub-station known as "DYK" (Den Ya Khat?)  at an elevation of about 1500 m. We stopped a couple of times on the way up in a vain attempt to find Giant Nuthatch and Mrs Hulme's Pheasant; we did get reasonably close to an Oriental Honey Buzzard perched on a tree. On arrival at the sub-station we flushed a pair of Bamboo Partridges - I can hardly claim these as they were gone in an instant and in Dave's absence I would have had no knowledge what species they were. Sadly it became a bit like this for me, a day of glimpses and as a result I don't feel able to claim a lot of good birds.

I did see a fair few lifers nonetheless starting with White-throated Fantail (⌗347), Streak-breasted Woodpecker, Blyth's Shrike-babbler, and Blue-eared Barbet. In addition to this there were a number of more birds I had already seen: Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Ashy Drongo, Silver-breasted Broadbill, plus a number of Oriental Honey Buzzards flying high in the sky. I missed out on Grey Treepie, Great Barbet, Orange-bellied Leafbird and a number of other species ...... glimpses of birds but not enough to claim. I wouldn't even be able to list these birds without the benefit of Dave's presence.

But the lifers kept coming: Indochinese Swiftlet, Blue-eared Barbet, Davison's Leaf Warbler and then the two biggest scores of the day, a pair of Green Cochoas and a pair of sexually dimorphic Pale Blue Flycatchers. The Green Cochoas were a successful glimpse in that they showed enough of their wing pattern to confirm an ID and the Pale-blue Flycatchers had us working for a while as initially we could only see the female. The arrival of the male enabled Dave to call this species and it posed for a little while but not long enough for me to shoot. 

Lots of great birds and I managed to miss out on some biggies:  Giant Nuthatch, it had flown by the time I arrived at the tree where Dave had finally spotted it: once more I watched it fly off and we pursued it but I was not able to see it; I also missed out on Grey-headed Parrotbill and Japanese Tit both of which were simply too quick for me. There were also lots of breeding Burmese Shrikes and Flavescent Bulbuls flying around the camp site at DYK.

I was far from unhappy about the morning: I added a further nine lifers to my list. I rather fancy I will be back. I reckon next time I will bring the family up too. It really is a wonderful area. However we had to get back to check out of Malee's so in real terms we only managed a few hours at DYK. 

On our way back to Chiang Mai we stopped briefly at the rice paddies to the south of Chiang Dao village where I saw a further lifer ⌗ 356, Striated Swallow, a number of which were perched on cables.

A great trip and as well as good birding our enjoyment was enhanced by great accommodation and great food. At Malee's I ate home made brown wholemeal bread, (toasted), with jam - first bread of this quality in years and it was so good I scoffed four slices! The toast went down very well with a couple of cups of fresh coffee made from home-grown beans and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. We also had an outstanding meal in Chiang Dao village at Mon & Kurt's Restaurant, offering Thai-German  fare. We had Roast Beef, Bratwurst and Ham Burgers  served with freshly mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy and some cold shakes. The bill came to 690 baht. So I will be back, we will back and I have little hesitation in recommending a trip to Chiang Dao.

1 comment:

  1. So nice to read your trip report to northern Thailand. Mae Taeng and Chiang Dao are truly my comfort zones! I'd recommend you to visit Wat Tumphaplong in the afternoon, if you want to see the Pin-tailed Green Pigeons. They often roost in large trees near the pagoda. As for the Giant Nuthatch and Hume's Pheasant, you can probably give it another try at Doi Angkang next winter. It's another place where these birds can be seen quite often.

    PS. You're REALLY lucky to see the Green Cochoa, especially at this time of the year. And like Dave said, the Openbills are still considerably scarce in the north but more and more of them are beginning to invade the northern rice fields.