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 the border with Myanmar and the Shan State, we’ll encounter some primarily Burmese species, too.
Over the course of this tour we will visit three mountainous regions, including Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon, each heavily forested and each with its 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 stations that attract normally very secretive species.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour, Thailand: The South.
Day 1: The trip begins at 6:00 p.m. with a meeting in the lobby of our hotel, followed by a buffet dinner. Night at the Novotel near Bangkok’s international airport.
Day 2: We’ll board our morning flight to Chiang Mai and upon arrival drive south to Mae Ping National Park. This is one of the best-preserved deciduous forests in Thailand and we’ll carefully explore this area that afternoon and the following morning. Woodpeckers will be one of our objectives and we have a good chance of finding the stunning Black-headed. Two other specialities occur here, the Collared Falconet and the scarce Indochinese endemic White-rumped Pygmy-falcon. Other species we might see include Crested Serpent Eagle, Shikra, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Grey-headed Parakeet, Common, and Large Woodshrikes, Burmese and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, White-crested Laughingthrush, and Black-hooded Oriole. Night at Villa Sangdao, Lamphun.
Day 3: We will spend the entire morning birding Mae Ping National Park. After lunch, we’ll travel to Doi Inthanon stopping along the way to look for the spectacular Green Peafowl near Bang Hong before arriving at our pleasant resort at the foot of the mountain. If time allows late in the day we’ll search for Blossom-headed Parakeet and Rufous Treepie which are often present nearby, otherwise we will look for them late on Day 5. Night at Doi Inthanon Highland Resort.
Day 4: We will 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 marvellous red-flowering rhododendrons and almost certainly a multitude of small brightly-coloured birds including Bar-throated Minla, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Yellow-bellied Fairy-fantail, and the stunning Mrs. Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds (an endemic subspecies, angkanensis, perhaps a separate species). We’ll look for ground skulkers such as Rufous-throated Partridge, Himalayan Shortwing, Dark-sided, and Gray-sided Thrushes, Himalayan Bluetail, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Pygmy Cupwing, 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 Yunnan Fulvetta, Short-billed Minivet, and Spectacled Barwing. Night at Doi Inthanon Highland Resort.
Day 5: This morning we will explore 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 (secretive), 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 Water Redstarts and perhaps the striking Slaty-backed and Black-backed Forktails. Among the red-flowering trees, we’ll search carefully for White-headed Bulbul, an endemic to this part of Thailand and adjacent Myanmar. Night at the Doi Inthanon Highland Resort.
Day 6: On our final morning on Doi Inthanon we’ll be flexible and search for species we may have missed on previous days at on the lower and mid-elevation slopes. After lunch, we will check a raptor site noted for concentrations of Black Kites and perhaps other species, and then head back to Chiang Mai. Night at the Dusit Princess Hotel, Chiang Mai.
Day 7: This morning is flexible. We will likely bird Mae Tang, an area with numerous ponds and canals. We’ll stop along the way and see if we can spot a Crested Treeswift on powerlines north of Chiang Mai. At Mae Taeng we have an excellent chance of seeing Green Sandpiper and perhaps Rufous-winged Buzzard and Citrine Wagtail. Various land birds will be present, and we have a reasonable chance of seeing Wryneck, Wire-tailed Swallow, and Red Avadavat. If we missed Green Peafowl there is a good spot for them in some lowland forest northeast of Chiang Mai. After lunch, we’ll head north to Fang where we’ll spend the next four nights at Sleeping Tree Motel in Fang.
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 people of Chinese descent who trace their lineage back to Chiang Kai-shek’s army 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 persists in the open oak-pine forests. Among the specialities we will look for are Brown-breasted Bulbul, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Scarlet -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, Giant Nuthatch, Long-tailed Minivet, Black-breasted and Scaly Thrushes, Gray-winged Blackbird, Crested Finchbill. 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 in Fang.
Day 9: We will make a very early start for Doi Lang, where a steep blacktop road takes us along the south ridge of Doi Lang 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, can usually be found on Doi Lang. We have a good chance here for Giant Nuthatch, Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush, and Slender-billed Oriole. We’ll spend the entire morning on the mountain and then bird our way down after lunch. A series of blinds have been constructed by bird photographers where secretive forest species come into feed. Species we might see include White-gorgeted, Rufous-gorgeted and Slaty-blue Flycatchers, Rufous-bellied Niltava, and Rusty-cheeked and White-browed Scimitar-babblers and White-bellied Redstart. Rarer species we have encountered in the past include Spot-breasted Laughingthrush, Rusty-naped Pitta and Ultramarine, Slaty-blue, and Sapphire Flycatchers. We will encounter various feeding flocks in the forest during the day and will keep a watchful eye for the spectacular Himalayan Cutia which occurs with these flocks. Along the road there is also a distinct possibility of seeing Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant and Mountain Bamboo-partridge. Night in Fang.
Day 10: This morning we will return to Doi Lang, this time in jeep trucks along the more rugged north side which is moister and more forested and, as a result, the mix of birds is somewhat different. Crested Finchbills are more numerous here and the striking Whiskered Yuhina is likely. Scarlet-faced Liocichlas are here, and in 2020 we found a party of Coral-billed Scimitar-babblers. If the road is impassable, we will return to the south road searching for species we missed previously. The list of possible species on Doi Lang is long and exciting. Night in Fang.
Day 11: This morning we will check Fang Hot Stream in Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park, or paddies near Mae Ai, or Tha Ton, or perhaps even return to the south side of Doi Lang to try again for Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant and Mountain Bamboo-partridge. Then we’ll head east towards the Mekong River and the Golden Triangle for lunch. We will look along the river flats for Small Pratincole and Asian Plain Martin. After checking into our resort at the Golden Triangle where, from the deck, we can look at Laos across the Mekong, and even closer Myanmar (Burma) across an adjacent stream we’ll head to Chiang Saen Lake where there is a large harrier roost. Dozens of harriers come in at dusk to the marsh at the northwestern corner of the lake. Most will be Pied with some Eastern Marsh, but Hen has been recorded too. We’ll do some other birding in the area before the harriers start coming in. Night at the Imperial Golden Triangle Resort.
Day 12: There are several birding opportunities around Chiang Saen. We will start by returning to the lake and take a boat trip around the margins. The lake is good for wintering ducks, mostly Ferruginous, but Tufted Duck and Common Pochard are possible too along with Ruddy Shelduck. Indian Spot-billed Ducks should be present in good numbers and Baikal Teal has been found on several occasions. We have a chance of seeing a Baer’s Pochard here as one or two have been recorded during some winters. This species has been recorded on other lakes in the area too, and if we hear of one, we’ll look for it. In 2020 we saw a male on a lake near Chiang Rai. This is a rare and declining species throughout its range and major concerns have been expressed about its long-term prospects. In addition to the lake, Nam Kham Nature Reserve has several species of interest particularly if the hides are open. Freckle-breasted and Laced Woodpeckers are possible here too along with Jerdon’s Bushchat. Night at the Imperial Golden Triangle Resort.
Day 13: This morning we will visit Nong Mae Lua, another lake about 20 km south of Chiang Saen. This lake is excellent for waterfowl and waders, notably various plovers, stints, Wood Sandpipers, and Spotted Redshanks. Chestnut-capped Babbler and Greater Spotted Eagle are possible too. Late in the morning, we will head south towards Chiang Rai ascending Doi Thung for lunch and Mae Fah Wong Arboretum afterward, where various visiting birds are fed. Rarities like Naumann’s, Dusky, and Chestnut Thrushes, and Blue-fronted Redstart are occasionally present. In the winter of 2018-19, a pair of Rusty-naped Pittas regularly visited the feeding station. Other higher elevation species are possible as well. Later we’ll head to Chiang Rai. Night in Chiang Rai.
Day 14: This morning we may return to Mae Fah Wong Arboretum if we have missed any of the key species that are present. Nong Laung Lake south of Chiang Rai also offers excellent birding particularly for waterfowl. This past winter a thousand or more Lesser Whistling-ducks along with a single Red-crested, Common, and Baer’s Pochard were present with a small flock of Ferruginous Ducks. A few Falcated Ducks were present before our visit. Oriental Darter, Great Cormorant (subspecies sinensis), and Long-tailed Jacana are possible too. After lunch in Chiang Rai, we’ll head out to the airport for a late afternoon flight back to Bangkok and have a final group buffet dinner at our hotel. Night at Novotel Hotel, Bangkok international airport.
Day 15: The tour concludes this morning in Bangkok. The airport is only five minutes away with shuttlebuses that run continuously.
Updated: 23 November 2020