Tuesday, January 22, 2008

20-21st January, 2008: Doi Chiang Dao, northern Thailand

Some circuitous planning enabled me to meet up with David Walsh (old school friend) and John Pilgrim (Birdlife Int'l office in Hanoi) for a quick weekend trip to Doi Chiang Dao. Quite apart from any birds, the scenery at DCD is breathtaking, and difficult to do justice to in photographs!

Added to this is the exquisite Thai cuisine served up at Chiang Dao Nest 2, and you have the makings of a perfect trip. David and John were planning a 4 day stay, but as I had to be back in Chiang Mai by midday Monday, I was only able to fit in one full day's birding this time.

Daybreak found us up on a high ridge along the road to Muang Kong. Our first birds were a small party of garish Eurasian Jays, looking very different from their counterparts in Europe. Then as we got back into the vehicle a scythe-winged raptor speeded overhead, looking a bit like a gigantic needletail. A little further along the road the mystery was solved when we spotted a dead tree up on a ridge above us, with a pair of exquisite Oriental Hobbies waiting for the first rays of sun. For me this was a much-anticipated moment, and one that exceeded expectations. Oriental Hobby quickly went up in my estimation, as one of the most exciting birds I've had the privilege of seeing.

In another tree from the same location we also spotted a Rufous-winged Buzzard, so within the first half hour of daylight I had seen two new birds. Not a bad start!

A male White-throated Rock Thrush put on an obliging show for us, but frustratingly, a Slender-billed Oriole showed well only for John, while a flock of minivets got away before we could pin them down as either Long-tailed or Short-billed.

Grey Bushchats flew along the road in front of us regularly.

An idyllic location for a hill tribe village.

After a late and sumptuous breakfast/lunch, we got permits and headed for the legendary Den Ya Kat, home of Giant Nuthatch and Hume's Pheasant, among other goodies. At this point we wasted much time and many miles trying to locate the right road up the mountain.

This Purple Sunbird was a welcome distraction during breakfast.

Pied Bushchat and another Rufous-winged Buzzard, seen while wandering around trying to find a way up the mountain!

The map we were using was misleading, to say the least, and we ended up not finding the key location for the nuthatch and pheasant till almost dusk. Still, we were amidst some of the most spectacular scenery, and some great birds were to be seen, so we couldn't complain too much!

Asian House Martins overhead.

I was pleased to see Himalayan Swiftlets, as they are supposed to occur in Malaysia during the northern winter. I thought they looked longer-winged and more swift-like than the other small swiftlets.

Flocks of Olive-backed Pipits flew up into the pine trees from a cleared area near a helipad at the top.

This Stripe-breasted Woodpecker (a female) is a rarely-seen montane species.

Wedge-tailed Pigeon and Mountain Bamboo Partridge were other good birds see, but possibly the best and most frustrating was a poorly seen Seicercus warbler which gave a repeated 'chup' call, which is apparently distinctive of Omei Warbler.

A road less travelled!

Next morning I just had time for a short walk around the temple at the base of the mountain before going into town to catch my 'song thaew' back to Chaing Mai.

An immature Crested Goshawk in the early morning, probably at its overnight roosting spot.

The fruiting trees near the temple held a number of bulbul species, including Puff-throated.

The one and a half hour trip back to town was a memorable cultural experience. At one point I counted 25 people crammed into and onto the little red truck that would probably legally seat 7 in Europe! Apart from me, the other occupants were hill tribespeople heading for the city. There were at least three babies, at various points imbibing and excreting food, which, mixed with the smell of exhaust fumes and the dust that was sucked back into where we were crammed, produced a potent aroma! Yet what struck me the most was the total lack of fuss, either from the babies, who uttered barely a squeak, nor the men young and old, hanging off the back mere inches from the tarmac by one hand while speaking into their handphone with the other, nor the mothers, who mostly slept. I tried to imagine such a scene occurring in England ... but couldn't!

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