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Sunbird – Itinerary

Thailand: The Northwest

Thursday 6 February to Wednesday 19 February 2020
with Jon Dunn and a local guide as leaders.

Maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader.

2020 Tour price : £3,750

  • Single Room Supplement : £350
  • Plus flights estimated at : £870

A Maroon Oriole seeks nectar on the slope of Doi Inthanon. Photo: Jon Dunn

Northwest Thailand is distinctly different from the rest of the country with little humidity and, in the mountains, cooler days and sometimes cold nights. With a series of mountain ranges that rise to over 8000 feet, the avifauna is more Himalayan in flavour and many of the bird species are different. Because much of our time will be near (sometimes nearly on) the border with Myanmar (Burma) and the Shan State, we’ll encounter some primarily Burmese species too.

We’ll visit three mountainous regions, including Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon, each heavily forested and each with its own distinctive flavour. We’ll also explore the dry deciduous forests below as well as the plains, which have some very good wetland birding areas and the Golden Triangle region where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand all meet. In addition to the resident species, there will be many migrants from the north (China and Russia), and at several places we’ll visit established feeding blinds that attract normally very secretive species. 

Northern Thailand has a rich culture. We’ll visit at least one temple, and the old northern capital of Chiang Mai, with its famed night market (within easy walking distance of our hotel), will be our headquarters intermittently as we visit the various mountainous areas.    

This tour can be taken in conjunction with Thailand: The South.

Day 1: The trip begins at 6:00 p.m. with a meeting in the lobby of our Bangkok hotel. Night near Bangkok’s international airport. 

Day 2: We’ll board our morning flight to Chiang Rai.  An hour away is Chiang Saen Lake not far from the Mekong River.  Here we will the next two days.  This has become one of the best birding sites in northern Thailand.  Several hides have been constructed within the marsh where normally very secretive and difficult to see species have been found.  Bush-Warblers in particular are notoriously difficult to actually see, but here from the hides are often visible.  Most will be Baikal Bush-Warbler, but other species have been found too.  For the last two winters Thailand’s first Firethroat has wintered here and has been widely viewed.  Night at a resort at Chaing Saen Lake.

Day 3: In addition to rare and secretive passerines, the lake is good for wintering ducks, mostly Ferruginous and Tufted, but Eastern Spot-billed Ducks should be present too, and Baikal Teal has been found on several occasions.  We have a very real chance of seeing a Baer’s Pochard here as one or a few have been recorded about every other year here.  This is a rare and declining species throughout its range and major concerns have been expressed about its long term prospects. Dozens of harriers come into roost in the marsh at the northwestern corner of the lake.  Most will be Pallid and Eastern Marsh, but Hen is regularly recorded, too.  Buntings of several species are often also present. Night at Chiang Saen Lake.

Day 4: This morning will be spent birding the Mekong River, one of the largest rivers of Asia, and the World.  The mud flats along the river are full of birds, wagtails (Citrine and two wintering races of White, leucopsis and ocularis) and a variety of shorebirds are present, including the distinctive Long-billed Plover.  The elegant, almost ghostly, Small Pratincole is numerous. Downriver where the terrain becomes more wild and hilly, the vegetation along the banks hold the scarce and local Jerdon’s Bushchat along with the striking resident subspecies of White Wagtail, alboides.  Night at Chiang Saen Lake.

Day 5: After a final morning around the blinds at Chiang Saen Lake we’ll head west to another river drainage, the Kok and Tha Ton.  Depending on the time we may stop at Mae Fang National Park Hot Springs for White-capped and sometimes Plumbeous Redstarts and possibly Slaty-backed Forktail. We’ll also have the chance to add a few more forest species, perhaps including Black Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Crimson Sunbird, or Spot-winged Grosbeak. If there is time, we might bird a bit in the Tha Ton paddies, a location we’ll bird again later on in the tour. Night at Khun Mai Baan Suan Resort.

Day 6: We’ll make a very early start for Doi Lang, where a steep blacktop road takes us above 6500 feet. We’ll be birding mostly along the roadside forest edge, which allows for spectacular views over the steep scarp that slopes away across the border into the Burmese hills. Crested Finchbills, scarce on Doi Ang Khang, usually abound on Doi Lang. Other species we’ll hope to find include Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Black-throated Tit, Whiskered Yuhina, White-bellied Redstart, Pale Blue Flycatcher, and if we’re very lucky, Red-tailed Laughingthrush, Golden Bush Robin, Fire-tailed Sunbird, and Scarlet Finch. We also have a good chance here for Giant Nuthatch and Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush. We’ll spend the entire morning on the southwest side of the mountain and then bird our way down after lunch, looking especially for red-flowering trees, which attract Gray Treepie, Orange-bellied Leafbird, and Slender-billed Oriole, among others. There is also a distinct possibility of seeing Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant and Mountain Bamboo-Partridge. Recently Thai bird photographers have established blinds that attract secretive species, including White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Spot-breasted Laughingthrush, Rusty-naped Pitta, both Himalayan and Red-flanked Bluetails, Ultramarine Flycatcher, and Golden Bush Robin. Night at Khun Mai Baan Suan Resort.

Day 7: Depending on the condition of the Tha Ton paddies, we might see Bluethroat or Siberian Rubythroat and various species of buntings are sometimes present or we might take a look at Fang Hot Stream if we didn’t get a chance to on Day 5.  Later in the morning we’ll drive up another peak to the south, Doi Ang Khang, and we’ll arrive in time to have lunch at the beautiful Royal Project at about 5000 feet.  We’ll have time to bird around the flowering gardens in the afternoon and at the nearby army checkpoint. Night at the beautiful Ang Khang Nature Resort.

Day 8: We’ll spend today exploring Doi Ang Khang, a rugged and scenic mountain perched on the Thai-Burmese border. The mountain is home to a Chinese population (remnants of some of Chiang Kai-shek’s armies who settled here after the Chinese Revolution) as well as Shan, Lahu, and Palong tribespeople. The Thai government has established watershed protection and upland agriculture projects to help conserve the environment. The forest cover is much reduced, but a great diversity of forest birds remains, and the open oak-pine forests supports many species. Among the specialities we expect to see are Brown-breasted Bulbul, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Red-faced Liocichla, Maroon Oriole, Chestnut Bunting, Common Rosefinch, and with good luck Spot-breasted Parrotbill and Buff-throated and Chinese Leaf Warblers. We’ll also look for hard-to-find species such as Mountain Bamboo Partridge, Long-tailed Minivet, Black-breasted and Scaly Thrushes, Gray-winged Blackbird, Crested Finchbill, and the rare Black-browed Parrotbill; we’ll have another chance to see Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant and Giant Nuthatch. At times the airspace above teems with Cook’s Swifts (a recent split from Pacific Swift) that nest and roost in a cave on the mountain, and there is always the possibility of seeing something unexpected - perhaps a rare thrush, bunting, or finch. Night at Ang Khang Nature Resort.

Day 9: After a final morning of birding on Doi Ang Khang, we’ll head for Chiang Mai stopping along the way for lunch at Chiang Dao and with a few birding stops in the afternoon near Mae Tang.  Here we will look for wintering Grey-headed Lapwings and,  at the irrigation project, for Rufous-winged Buzzard, Green Sandpiper, Crested Bunting, and possibly Red Avadavat and Wryneck.  Night in Chiang Mai.

Day 10: This morning we’ll visit the Huai Hong Khrai Royal Development Project, a fine area of low rolling hills covered with deciduous forest and scattered with lakes. Here we’ll be looking for one of the most elusive and threatened large birds in Asia, Green Peafowl, which has recently recolonized this area after being accorded greatly improved protection. Other species present may include Lesser Whistling-Duck, Swinhoe’s (Brown-rumped) and Rosy Minivets, and Hainan Blue Flycatcher.  In 2016 an Oriental Darter was on one of the lakes. We may also visit lowland paddy habitats to look for Oriental Skylark, Pintail Snipe, and Gray-headed Lapwing. After lunch we’ll travel to Doi Inthanon and our pleasant resort at the foot of the mountain. Late in the afternoon we’ll search for Blossom-headed Parakeet and Rufous Treepie, which are often present nearby. Night at Doi Inthanon Highland Resort.

Day 11: We’ll spend the morning around the Doi Inthanon summit with its abundance of gorgeous flowering rhododendrons and orchids. We’ll stop first just below the summit, where wintering Speckled Woodpigeons, and sometimes an Ashy Woodpigeon, often sun themselves at first light. We’ll add many other species, including Striated Bulbul and perhaps a rare wintering Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker. At the summit we’ll spend the entire morning walking on a sphagnum moss boardwalk surrounded by marvelous red-flowering rhododendrons and almost certainly a multitude of small brightly-coloured birds, including Bar-throated Minla, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Yellow-bellied Fantail, and the stunning Mrs. Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds. We’ll look too for ground skulkers such as Rufous-throated Partridge, White-browed Shortwing, Dark-sided and Gray-sided Thrushes, Himalayan Bluetail, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Pygmy Wren-Babbler, and Silver-eared Laughingthrush. After a picnic lunch we’ll begin our descent, searching for additional birds as we go, notably at the military checkpoint and at the park headquarters. Here we hope to see Gray-cheeked Fulvetta, Short-billed Minivet, and Spectacled Barwing. Night at Doi Inthanon Highland Resort.

Day 12: We’ll begin on the lower slopes of Doi Inthanon, where our main target will be Collared Falconet. Although many species are found in this dry deciduous habitat, most of them are difficult, but Black-hooded Oriole, Blue-throated Flycatcher, and woodpeckers such as Gray-capped and Black-headed are possible. At the river crossing we sometimes see Yellow-bellied Warbler and Black-backed Forktail. Later we’ll continue up to the middle elevations to look for Lesser Shortwing, Omei Spectacled Warbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Rufous-bellied Niltava, and with good luck maybe a Black-tailed Crake. In addition we’ll have another chance of seeing the spectacular Dark-sided Thrush. Night at Doi Inthanon Highland Resort.

Day 13: We’ll spend our last morning on Doi Inthanon exploring the loftiest and most species-rich forest at elevations between 5000 and 6000 feet. Among the many birds, we’ll look especially for Maroon Oriole, Short-billed Minivet, Brown-throated Treecreeper, White-necked Laughingthrush, Silver-eared Mesia, Spectacled Barwing, Rufous-backed Sibia, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Slaty-bellied Tesia, and Large Niltava. There is also a slim possibility of finding Green Cochoa. Heading back down the mountain, we’ll check along the cascading streams for White-capped and Plumbeous Redstarts and perhaps the striking Slaty-backed Forktail. Among the red-flowering trees we’ll search carefully for White-headed Bulbul, an endemic to this part of Thailand and adjacent Myanmar. We’ll return to Chiang Mai in the mid- afternoon in time to catch our return flight to Bangkok. Night at the Novotel hotel in Bangkok.

Day 14: The tour concludes this morning in Bangkok.


This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS

Updated: 24 November 2016