Thursday, January 31, 2008

29th January, 2008, Doi Inthanon, NW Thailand

My last day's birding dawned bright and clear - an answer to prayer! Up at the summit at dawn it was chilly, but at least there was no fog.

On the summit trail birds materialized in waves out of nowhere, and then were suddenly everywhere, leaving me scarcely knowing where to look!

Some common bird wave participants were Yellow-bellied Fantails, Yellow-cheeked Tits and Rufous-winged Fulvettas.

This leaf warbler appeared briefly in front of me. It seems to have a different head pattern (especially the eyestripe and lores) from the one I photographed on the 26th, so maybe it's the other one of the White-tailed/Blyth's pair!

The real treat was the presence of some thrushes. Wintering thrushes are difficult to see except as brief fly-overs. Here though, there was a large flock - perhaps 30-40, feeding in the dense undergrowth. Most were only visible as they were disturbed by some workmen. I managed to identify Grey-sided and Chestnut, and got a few snaps of the latter.

I was able to get a few 'improvement shots' of birds I photographed on the first day. Here's a Chestnut-tailed Minla grappling with a large fruit in a manner reminiscent of a tit. The weird orange background is actually the sphagnum bog in the early morning light!

A Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush defending his territory with his loud, distinctive song - "RRRREEEEP-ee-cheep"!

And a Dark-backed Sibia in front of a popular mobile phone company advert!

After a few hours I decided to go down the mountain in search of warmer temperatures!

I caught up with both male and female Grey Bushchats by the roadside.

I decided to spend my last few hours in the hide at Mr Deang's. In contrast to yesterday, the stream in front of the hide was birdless for over an hour. Then finally several birds arrived at once.

The male Hill Blue Flycatcher is obvious enough, but did you notice the Dark-sided Thrush on the left?

Here's a slightly better pic of the flycatcher...

... and of the thrush. Watching the thrush feeding, it was easy to understand why this species is difficult to see. It moved across the ground extremely slowly, and would spend long periods completely motionless. Once it found a good spot for food, it stayed in exactly the same place for an hour and a half, digging and removing leaves and root wads, and even small branches, in order to extract the grubs that were underneath. Eventually it had dug a very noticeable hollow, completely cleared of debris.

Mmmm - looks delicious! Who'd like to try some? Check out those rictal bristles. Perhaps it should be called 'Bearded Thrush'!

What do you do while watching a stationary bird for an hour and a half? I experimented with different camera settings! This is one taken without flash, handheld, at 1/15th of a second!

One more pic of my 'old friend', the female Siberian Blue Robin.

Right at the end of my time in the hide, a surprise! After sitting in the hide over several days, I thought I had seen everything that frequented this particular spot. Then, this male Lesser Shortwing suddenly popped out of the undergrowth. That's the great thing about birding - you never know what you're going to see!

A nice end to my Thai trip!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

28th January, 2008, Doi Inthanon, NW Thailand

With the weekend over, the big plan was for me to head for the summit today. Unfortunately the big plan hadn't taken into account that today, for the first time since August last year, it rained almost all day, and the summit was shrouded in dense cloud!

Still, what could have been a wash-out actually turned out to be my best day yet! This was entirely due to meeting up with two Thai bird photographers, who invited me to join them. Time to introduce the team!

In front, Uncle Deang and his lovely wife; at the back from the right, Dr Piya and Mr Porn, and yours truly!

The latter two kind gentlemen took me along to a 'stake-out' at dawn, to see two eagerly sought-after species at Checkpoint 2:

The rarely photographed White-gorgeted Flycatcher...

... and the spectacular Rufous-bellied Niltava. These were about the only shots I got that didn't turn out milky due to the swirling fog.

Dr Piya and Mr Porn then decided to go and look at a nesting Great Tit. Great Tits are nice birds, but don't have a big draw factor for me, with them being rather common in the UK, so I decided to stay at Mr Deang's and sit in a hide that had been erected under the restaurant. A stream caused by wastewater from the kitchen (laden with rice and other bits of food) proves a magnet for certain birds.

This female Siberian Blue Robin was my constant companion, and was ludicrously tame.

A Dark-sided Thrush is a regular visitor at Mr Deang's. Usually a skulker in thick undergrowth, fleeting views in poor light are normally the best one can hope for, so what a treat to get frame-filling views for over an hour!

After lunch the urge to get to the summit overcame me, so, despite the weather, I set off on my rented motorbike for the top! The fog was dense and the temperature extremely cold, so a I found a place behind the kitchen of the summit restaurant (I'm a fast learner!) and sat and waited!

This Blue Whistling Thrush was a brief visitor.

After about 45 mins, when I had almost reached the limit of my resistance to the cold, three Rufous-throated Partridges walked into view.

Well worth the wait! (Spot the raindrops on the birds!)

So, despite the weather, a fantastic day. Still, I prayed for better weather tomorrow!

27th January, 2008, Doi Inthanon, NW Thailand

Hoping to avoid the crowds, I headed downhill to the dry forest at km 13. The river and forest here is reminiscent of parts of Australia and very beautiful. The area is a site for specialities such as White-rumped Falcon, Black-headed Woodpecker and Black-backed Forktail, though I didn't see any of them (and later found that I'd been looking in the 'wrong' place!) Still, there were lots of birds about.

A female Blue Rock Thrush feeding on a rather attractive rock formation (if you look carefully!)

A slightly closer view!

A female Rosy Minivet ...

...and a male.

And in the same flock, a female Small Minivet, with a Common Woodshrike.

And a very fine male Small Minivet.

Further up the mountain, at km 34, the common minivet species is Short-billed. Here's a female.

Also at this point I finally caught sight of a barbet! Barbets call incessantly throughout the day, yet, despite their bright colours, they are surprisingly difficult to locate. Their green body is exactly the same colour as the leaves, and the yellow and red bits blend perfectly with the fruits they feed on. This one is a Golden-throated Barbet, a montane specialist.

One of several stunning waterfalls on the mountain.

Even the children are colourful! School assembly was never this much fun in my day!

A mystery to finish off with. This blue flycatcher was at the campsite, where I kept vigil most evenings in the (forlorn) hope of seeing a Black-tailed Crake. I was puzzled by this flycatcher, and eventually put it down as a Tickell's, even though it doesn't look much like the ones I see in Malaysia.

26th January, 2008, Doi Inthanon, NW Thailand

Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand, and also an extensive national park. The road from the park entrance to the summit (2,565m or 8,415ft) is about 40km long. It is a highlight of many birders visits to Thailand, as the range of altitudes and habitats provides a home for a large number of bird species.

I arrived late on the 25th, and put up at the legendary Mr Deang's. Before retirement Mr Deang was a forest ranger in the park. Guiding foreign birders around the mountain ignited his own passion for birding, and he has set up a 'Birding Centre' which functions as a guest house and general meeting point for birders, both foreign and Thai.

My first full day was a Saturday, which meant that the summit was awash with daytrippers. Nevertheless, I got a good introduction to some of the commoner species.

I started at dawn at the 37km checkpoint and birded along the road.

One of my favourites was Spectacled Barwing, which had a contact call I transcribed as "Doom on you!" (just like the dodos in Ice Age 2!).

The summit has a stunningly beautiful boardwalk trail through mossy forest, sphagnum bog and many-coloured rhododendrons, which is advertised as the 'Gateway to the Himalayas'.

At the summit, Dark-backed Sibias sounded and behaved just like the Long-tailed Sibias I'm familiar with at Fraser's Hill, but were decidedly more attractive!

A couple of species which are rather rare in Malaysia (not many places high enough) but common at the summit here are Chestnut-tailed Minla and Rufous-winged Fulvetta.

Here's the minla, common in noisy flocks.

And this is the fulvetta, also common in noisy flocks! They were so preoccupied with looking for food that they seemed oblivious to my presence; one actually landed briefly on my leg (no jokes about legs like tree trunks please!), and this one was about 5 feet away!

Mrs. Gould's and Green-tailed Sunbirds abound, though getting a good picture is another matter! This is the Green-tailed.

Worth another look!

Any idea what this is? Me neither! Blyth's and White-tailed Leaf Warblers both occur at Doi Inthanon. They look almost the same, they have similar calls and even similar songs. Apparently White-tailed is the commoner of the two - not that that means this is one! Whichever it is, it's a pretty-looking warbler.

In the late afternoon I went down to about km 30 near the Park HQ. This photo was taken at km 26, where there is a hill tribe village and an area of paddyfields.

Oddly enough, Striated Swallows were the only hirundine in evidence - no swifts either. Striated Swallows look very similar to Red-rumped, but have a dark rather than pinkish nape and broader streaks below. I also think their wings look broader and the tail streamers don't seem to curve inward as much as on Red-rumped.

While photographing the swallows I saw this flock of white-eyes fly past and managed to grab this single shot. It's a great illustration of the difference between my new camera and the old one - my old Konica Minolta would never have been able to focus quickly or accurately enough to get this picture. The Canon not only gets it in focus, but the resolution is so good I can identify two species in this flock!

Here's a Chestnut-flanked White-eye (a new species for the trip)- cropped from the right of the original...

... and here's a crop of the left hand most bird, revealed as an Oriental White-eye by the pale yellow stripe down the centre of the belly!