Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Thailand Nov-Dec 08: 18-25 Nov - Chiang Mai and environs

Just under three weeks in northern Thailand was mainly a family holiday, and chance for my parents and children to spend some time together, but we did manage to squeeze in a bit of birding - mainly early mornings when the non-birders were still in bed!

Here is a place-by-place report, rather than a day-by-day account.

The first week was spent in and around Chiang Mai, and my Dad and I birded Mae Hia Agricultural College, Phuping Palace and around the Night Safari area (by day!).

I couldn't resist taking a snap of this notice on the Malaysian-Thai border - worth the price of a train ticket alone. If you're thinking of visiting Thailand, make sure you click on this pic so you can read this first! Fortunately I'd just had a haircut!

Our first evening in Chiang Mai we took a drive west to Samoeng to take in a spectacular sunset.

These seed pods were set on fire by the setting sun.

A view over one of the lakes at Mae Hia Agricultural College.

Mae Hia is a short way south-west of the city of Chiang Mai. Details of how to find it and what to expect there are on Nick Upton's excellent website, Thaibirding.

Red-whiskered Bulbul is one of three common bulbul species seen in open areas.

White-vented Mynas are another commonplace species.

Ashy Woodswallows can be seen in almost any open area, and their distinctive nasal calls quickly become a familiar sound. Compared to the birds I saw here in January
, these were duller below, lacking obvious vermiculations on the vent, so were presumably in more worn plumage.

There were more Paddyfield Pipits around than in January, but there was less fallow land, giving fewer opportunities to observe pipits on the ground.

One or two Richard's about too, but they were wary and difficult to approach.

Most of my views were in flight like this! I did notice that, when flushed, Paddyfield would tend to keep quite low and fly only a short distance, whereas Richard's more often tended to fly up to a greater height and to fly further before settling, rather like the difference between Common and Pintail Snipes. Call, size and structure were the easiest ways to tell them apart.

Birds in general were wary at Mae Hia, and I heard shooting in the area, suggesting that there may be some hunting going on. I caught this Indochinese Bushlark slinking quail-like into the longer grass.

Several Dusky Warblers fed in the vegetated lake fringes, chacking nervously at my approach.

Burmese Shrikes, including one singing bird, seemed more widespread than Long-tailed.

Siberian Stonechats were commoner than Pied Bushchats during these visits.

We watched this Common Kingfisher hunting successfully for freshwater shrimps.

A pair of Black-collared Starlings displaying to one another. I couldn't decide whether the intentions were amorous or aggressive!

A pair of Coppersmith Barbets allowed close approach on some overhead wires.

Plain-backed Sparrows are always good to see, being quite a scarce and localized species in Malaysia.

Red-rumped/Striated Swallows have been a puzzle to me ever since I realized that Red-rumped can show a dark nape and no paler nuchal collar(see here). Anyway, there were plenty at Mae Hia, well-streaked on the underbody and underwing coverts, and showing dark thigh-patches, which Robson (2000 edition) mentions as being a diagnostic feature of the vernayi race of Striated.

Look Ma, no head! No #43 in my series of photos you probably shouldn't make a drawing from!

A pair of Wire-tailed Swallows were in exactly the same spot that I saw them in January, but they were so, so shy!

Not at Mae Hia! But I couldn't resist including this one of one of the white tigers at the Night Safari, where, incidentally, I saw my only Yellow-streaked Warbler of the trip.

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