Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thailand Nov-Dec 08: 4th-5th Dec - Doi Chiang Dao

The view from Malee's.

I visited Doi Chiang Dao in January with David Walsh and John Pilgrim, but due to having to leave a few days early to catch my flight, and losing our way on our first attempt to get to Den Ya Kat, I missed Giant Nuthatch. This small detail had something to do with my desire to revisit the place, that and the fact that is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to.

This time we were able to stay at Malee's. In January the place was so full of tourists that you had to book in advance, whereas now we could just bowl up and have the place almost to ourselves. I can't recommend Malee's highly enough. It has a great family atmosphere, amazing food, and a logbook that could provide hours of bedtime reading.

On our first morning there we set off at 5.30am for Den Ya Kat, the substation where Giant Nuthatch and (if you are lucky) Hume's Pheasant can be found. The latter is easier early in the year when the long vegetation in the forest has dried out and died off a bit. We found an excellent and accurate map in the logbook, and found the turning off the main road without too much trouble. Here is the vital sign, which can only be viewed by northward-moving vehicles, or by looking back over your shoulder if travelling southwards from Malee's!

We managed to avoid a repeat of January's fiasco and found the road up the mountain first go. However, thick fog and darkness contrived to cause us to shoot off the uphill track on a hairpin bend and onto a very minor track which eventually led us to a river. Having wasted an hour with some fairly hairy 'off-road' driving and repeated U-turns, we eventually hit the road again, and arrived at Den Ya Kat by about 8am. We spent the first hour birding back along the road.

Mrs Gould's Sunbirds were plentiful on several flowering trees, though unfortunately males were warier than females.

A more obliging female.

I was surprised to find that the commonest minivets were Scarlet Minivets. The commonest warblers were Hume's Warblers, though getting a picture was a different matter altogether. A Rusty-naped Pitta called briefly, and Maroon and Slender-billed Orioles were both vocal.

Moving onto the substation we had good views of a flock of Himalayan Swiftlets.

These were not nearly as distinctive as I had hoped they might be!

The one thing that I did notice as possibly distinctive was a slight greenish or bluish gloss to the blackish upperwings. Robson (2000 edition) mentions this as a distinctive feature of Himalayan, but an old 1961 paper by R W Sims mentions a "sooty gloss" to the upperparts of Himalayan, Black-nest and Edible-nest (he classified German's as a race of Edible-nest). Checking back on my photos of German's however, I can't see any with a hint of this gloss.

I was surprised at the paleness of the underbody.

A view of the peak above the substation.

A walk along the trail to the peak led us to a spot marked 'Giant Nuthatch stake-out' on our map. Within a few minutes of our arrival, a bird started calling, and was then intermittently visible at some distance for the next 10 or so minutes. Although they weren't the best views, the ghost of last January had been laid to rest!

A pair of Stripe-breasted Woodpeckers kept the nuthatch company - this splendid male...

...and a more sombrely-capped female.

A glimpse of the view from the trail.

On our way back to the car a calling raptor drew our attention to this female Mountain Hawk Eagle, which was doing its best to attract the attention of her mate.

At first it looked as though things were looking up for her...

...but the male seemed to be having some commitment issues, and she was visibly deflated!

Try again!

"Well, are you interested or aren't you?!"

If looks could kill...! At this point she flew off in obvious disgust at the male's vacillations.

Other highlights of our return walk to the car was a group of White-browed Scimitar Babblers and a brilliant red McClelland's Coral Snake. It crossed the path and dived into the undergrowth too fast for any photos unfortunately.

The temple just above Malee's has some good birds and trails that certainly warrant a longer stay.

The following morning I spent some time in the trail known as Temple Gully, recording Eye-browed and Streaked Wren Babblers, Buff-breasted Babbler, Omei Warbler, Banded Kingfisher and Scaly-breasted Partridge. I only managed to photograph this attractive leaf though.

This female Hill Blue Flycatcher was the last bird of the trip, before we headed south to Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and then home to Penang.

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