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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.
Sunday 7 February to Saturday 20 February 2021
with Jon Dunn as leader

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 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, and we will search carefully for them. Other species we might see include Shikra, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Grey-headed Parakeet, Common and Large Woodshrikes, Burmese Nuthatch, White-crested Laughingthrush, and Black-hooded Oriole. Night at Doi Inthanon Highland Resort.

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’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 colored 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 5: This morning we’ll 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, 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 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 Imperial Mae Ping Resort, 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 for Doi Ang Khang, arriving near dusk at our accommodation at the Royal Project. Night on Doi Ang Khang.

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 persist in the open oak-pine forests. Among the specialities we expect to see 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, 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 on Doi Ang Khang.

Day 9: This morning on Doi Ang Khang we will walk down the well-forested Mae Pur Valley where we should see several woodland species. Maroon Orioles are easier here, and we might see Speckled Wood Pigeon. After lunch at the Royal Project, we’ll head for Tha Ton, perhaps stopping at Fang Hot Stream or along the Kok River near Tha Ton. Night at Khun Mai Bansuan Resort.

Day 10: We’ll make a very early start for Doi Lang, where a steep blacktop road takes us along the west 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, usually can 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 Flycatcher. We’ll 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 at Khun Mai Bansuan Resort.

Day 11: This morning we will return to Doi Lang. If the road is passable we will bird the 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. If the road is not passable 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 at Khun Mai Bansuan Resort.

Day 12: This morning we will bird the Tha Ton paddies along the Kok River and will then head east towards Chiang Saen and the Golden Triangle. We will stop first at Nong Huaung Lake, a fine location for wintering waterfowl along with many other wetland species. Nam Kham Nature Reserve has several species, particularly if the hides are working. Freckle-breasted and Laced Woodpeckers are possible. We’ll head up the Golden Triangle for lunch and check-in at our resort before heading to Chiang Saen Lake where this is a large harrier roost (Pied and Eastern Marsh, and rarely Hen), as well as other birding opportunities. Night at the Imperial Golden Triangle Resort.  

Day 13:  This morning we’ll return to Chiang Saen Lake and take a boat trip around the margins. The lake is good for wintering ducks, mostly Ferruginous, but Tufted 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 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 Pied and Eastern Marsh, but Hen has been recorded, too. Buntings of several species are often also present. After our trip, we’ll head south towards Chiang Rai, perhaps stopping at Mae Fah Wong Arboretum, if there is a Rusty-naped Pitta present. We will catch a late afternoon flight to Bangkok and have a final group dinner at our hotel. Night at the Novotel in Bangkok.

Day 14: The tour concludes this morning in Bangkok.


This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS

Updated: 01 November 2019