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Birding Thailand - Long-toed Stint

(Not) Birding Thailand

This is a trip report from a largely non-birding trip to Northern Thailand from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao, onwards to Phaayo and finally to Chiang Khong. The trip continued into Laos and ultimately ended up in Bangkok where a full days birding in the area around Pak Thale/Pak Bia was truly a day to remember. The trip was largely planned around a "typical" Lonely Planet back-packing/road trip style holiday in order to take in a selection of the sights to see in this area. Birding was more or less incidental for the majority of the time, although we did aim to spend time in the countryside..

Although this was essentially a non-birding holiday there were still quite a few birds to see. I was truly hampered by not having much in the way of experience with the birds of SE Asia - knowing the calls would have helped tremendously. It was therefore a time-consuming task both to find and identify birds in dense foliage. I undoubtedly missed a lot of stuff in this way.

I took a couple of cameras with me - my usual DSLR with a 400mm telephoto lens and a compact superzoom which unfortunately gave up the ghost on the Mekong. The struggle to find cameras that cope with birding continues...

For a list of species seen see this species list page
For more about (Not) Birding Laos see this link.

Itinery in northern Thailand
09 November 2014: Arrive Bangkok, flight to Chiang Mai
10 November 2014: Chiang Mai
11 November 2014: Chiang Doi - mountain trek up to the summit of Doi Luang Chiang Dao
12 November 2014: Chiang Doi
13 November 2014: Drive from Chiang Doi to Phaayo
14 November 2014: Drive from Phaayo to Chiang Khong
(15-20 November: Laos)
20 November 2014: Arrive Bangkok
21 Novmber 2014: 
A full day's birding around Pak Thale/Pak Bia

Wat Doi Suthep
Wat Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai:
Arrived here on afternoon of 09 November. Spent the afternoon around the hotel (BaanBooLoo) and the following day doing tourist things such as a visit to the temple Wat Doi Suthep and a lunch to the east of the town. The hotel was superb - the room concept was truly memorable and the staff very helpful.

Species seen in / from the hotel grounds included Spotted Dove, Kestrel, White-vented Myna, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Oriental White-eye, Ashy Woodswallow and House Swift. Around the town Black-crowned Night Herons (almost certainly breeding), Common Myna and Taiga Flycatcher were noted. Wat Doi Suthep produced Sooty-headed Bulbul, Olive-backed Sunbird, good numbers of Ashy Woodswallow, more unidentified Swifts and plenty of stuff that was only heard - including Yellow-browed Warblers.

Ashy Woodswallow, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ashy Woodswallows, 10 Novemeber 2014, Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ashy Woodswallow, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Two essential books for Thailand (both of which I had with me):

View from the summit of Doi Luang Chiang Dao
View from the summit of Doi Lunag Chiang Dao, 11 November 2014

Chiang Dao:
After an early morning pick-up from Chiang Mai we headed to Chiang Dao where we ate breakfast at Chiang Dao Nest before heading up to the summit of Doi Luang Chiang Dao. This was quite a walk and an amazing hike through the jungle to the summit. Bird-wise there was plenty to see but there was not really enough time / opportunity to stop and check stuff out. Birdwise it would probably be better to do an overnight trip in order to spend a bit more time looking around rather than just walking.

Species seen on the walk up and down the morning included Blue-throated Barbet, Crested Finchbill, Dusky Crag Martin, White-headed Bulbul, Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Hair-crested Drongo, a variety of phylloscopus warblers and LOADS of unidentified stuff!

The following day (12 November) I walked from the hotel to the monastry. Birds here included White-rumped Munia, Black-naped Monarch, Little Spiderhunter, Blue Rock Thrush, Black-crested Bulbul and Grey Wagtails. Again many species evaded identification - being either only heard or glimpsed in the canopy. In the hotel gardens Oriental White-eye, Crested Treeswift, Bronzed Drongo and the "usual" species such as Sooty-headed and Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Taiga Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler and Oriental Magpie Robin were observed.

Chiang Dao Nest
Our room at Chiang Dao Nest

During breakfast on 13 November  a couple of Large-billed Crows and a Two-barred Greenish Warbler were among the species noted.


Crested Finchbill, Chiang Dao, Thailand Sooty-headed Bulbul, Chiang Dao Nest, Thailand
Crested Finchbill, Chiang Dao, November 2014 Sooty-headed Bulbul, November 2014
White-rumped Munia, Chiang Dao, Thailand Crested Treeswift, Chiang Dao, Thailand
White-rumped Munia, Chang Dao, November 2014 Crested Treeswift, Chiang Dao, November 2014

TThis book was very useful, we used both the digital and hardcopy versions on our trip:

Common Kingfisher, Pha ayo, Thailand
Common Kingfisher, Pha ayo, Thailand, November 2014

Phaayo Sunset
Sunset over the lake at Phaayo, November 2014

Brown Shrike, Pha ayo, Thailand
Brown Shrike, Phaayo, Thailand, November 2014

Pha ayo
We took a private car - well "pimped up" - to take us from Chiang Dao to Pha ayo on 13 November, stopping at a birdless waterfall or two and a hot spring along the way. There is a large inland lake at Pha ayo; it is artificial and did not seem to attract much in the way of waterbirds, although Common Kingfisher and Great Egret were seen here, most of the species noted were typical urban birds.

The nest morning I took a pre-breakfast stroll along the waterfront seeing Brown Shrike, the usual selection of Mynas (White-vented and Common), Spotted Dove, Magpie Robin, House Swift etc. At  least two other species of swift/swiftlet were seen here but I didn't manage to identify them conclusively. Grey-breasted Prinia and Chestnut-tailed Starling were other new species for the trip here. House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow and White Wagtail were, as usual, common here.

At Pha ayo we stayed at the Cozy Nest.

The lake at Pha ayo, Thailand Looking over to Laos from Phu Cha Fa
Floating (and mobile!) mats of vegetation cover the lake at Pha ayo Looking over to Laos from Phu Cha Fa, November 2014
Dark-rumped Swifts, Ban Huak, Thailand Dusky Crag Martin, Phu Cha Fa, Thailand
Possible Dark rumped Swifts, Ban Huak, November 2014.
The combination of forked tailed, darkish throat and lack of white rumps identify these swifts but they are a rarity...
Dusky Crag Martin, Phu Cha Fa, November 2014.
Good numbers of this species were present at the viewpoint

Red-throated Pipit, Phu Cha Fa, Thailand
This Red-throated Pipit was remarkably confiding at the viewpoint at Phu Cha Fa

The "slow road" from Pha ayo to Chiang Khong
The Lonely planet book recommends the slow and scenic road through the mountains taking in, among other things, the village of Buan Hak and the viewpoint at Phu Cha Fa. We did these things - perhaps not to be recommended for those with a tendency towards travel sickness. In the lowlands we saw the rice being harvested in the paddyfields by gangs of wokers. In the mountains the views were stunning and the level of manual agriculture was both impressing (for the amount of work involved) and disturbing as the removal of the trees increases the number of landslides - something we experienced a few times at first hand when the road was blocked or under repair.

Buan Hak was a sleepy market town. For me the visit was made worthwhile by seeing Striated Swallow and flocks of Dark-rumped Swift. Other stuff included the ever present Yellow-browed Warblers, Brown Shrike, Grey Wagtail and Blue Rock Thrush. Time here was too short as several species escaped ID here.

Phu Cha Fa threatened with fog - the magnificent view over to Laos closed in as we walked to the summit (700m from the car park). Waiting for the weather to clear I had time to photograph Dusky Crag Martins, a confiding Red-throated Pipit and Brown-breasted Bulbul. A large accipiter avoided ID here as it dived into the forest never to be seen again.

Green Bee-eater Red-wattled Lapwing
Green Bee-eater, November 2014 Red-wattled Lapwing, November 2014
Female Laced Woodpecker Marsh Sandpiper, Pak Thale, Thailand
Female Laced Woodpecker Marsh Sandpiper were one of the commonest waders at Pak Thale.

Little Cormorant, Laem Phak Bia Project
Little Cormorant

Pak Thale - birding paradise
The return to Bangok came as something of a shock to the system after a number of idyllic days in rural Laoe. We stayed immensly high up at the Chatrium riversside - a new trip species as we checked in was Zebra Dove - a very common species in the area.

Zebra Dove
Zebra Dove

The last day in Thailand was spent birding in the area around Pak Thale - no self respecting birding could visit Thailand in November without having a go for Spoon-billed Sandpiper! I opted to sort out a guide for this - largely as a telescope is required here and I didn't fancy dragging my scope around for two weeks without having use for it. There were a number of other advantages to having a guide too and this turned out to be one of the best day's birding I've had anywhere. This area impressed not just with the variety of species but also the sheer numbers of birds seen. Only an hour's drive from Bangkok this area cannot be recommended highly enough.

There were so many highlights on this day it is difficult to list them all. At Pak Thale and the Laem Pak Bia Project we saw two Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a Far-eastern Curlew, hundreds of Great Knot, a Painted Snipe, several Pintail Snipe and Long-toed Stints were among the 35 species of wader seen during the day. Caspian terns, huge flocks of Whiskered Tern, Painted Storks, Green Bee-eater, Chinese Egret, Reef Heron, a few species of Kingfisher and so much more besides were seen during the course of a day where well in excess of 100 species were seen.

The water cleaning project at Laem Pak Bia is a superb place for photography where is it easy to get close to a variety of species. It  is also a a superb location to see quite a lot in a short space  of time. Getting quality photos takes decent equipment but also a keen eye. If you have problems with your vision you can try Lasik Austin. A Lasik operation can correct your vision.

Bangkok by night Bangkok by day
The view over Bangkok from our room on the 33rd floor Same view but in the daytime

Publications, information and books

Many thanks to Phil Round for assistance with ID and for a day to remember guiding around Pak Thale / Pak Bia

Links to other websites covering Thailand can be found below:


Nick Upton's site covering Birding in Thailand:

Birding Thailand

Other wildlife:
In Chiang Mai a species of some kind of squirrel were common in the hotel grounds.

The most fantastic butterflies were seen absolutely everywhere.

Even in downtown Bangok we managed to see two huge fruit bats during a night-time cruise on the river (a superb way to experience the city!)

Gecko, Chiang Dao Nest

Geckos were constant companions during the evenings

Water Monitor
Water monitors were a feature at the Laem Phak Bia Project

Long-tailed Macaque
A roadside group of Long-tailed (or Crab Eating) Macaque were amongst the first things we saw on the way to Pak Thale

The photographs on this page were taken with various cameras, all the wildlife pictures were taken with a DSLR and a 400mm telephoto lens, the remainder were taken with a compact superzoom, a normal compact camera and a mobile phone. For camera reviews and other articles about photography please see this page.

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