Doi Phu Kha National Park - Landslides and nuthatches: 8-11 July 2012


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8-11 July 2012.
Cool and humid. Wet first two days, becoming dryer.
Doi Phu Kha National Park and Khun Nan National Park.

8 Jul. With Steve Tibbett. With four days available and wanting to try a new area we opted for Doi Phu Kha and the idea of loosely looking for the two extremely rare nuthatches which are recorded from this mountain; Beautiful Nuthatch and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch.

The drive to Nan took just over four hours. A further couple of hours, via Pua, had us climbing the highway up the mountain to arrive at the park HQ around 13:30. Having been dry all the way, it promptly started raining! With little in the way of accurate up to date information for this area - it being another infrequently visited site - the strategy for the afternoon was to get a feeling for the layout of potential birding areas and a quick assessment of habitats available. A quick once-around the drivable loop within the park HQ area showed open forest edge habitat with pines which looked OK for birds. A half hour at the campground looking for the start of the unmarked Chompoo Phu Kha Discovery Trail produced a good flock of Indochinese Yuhina as well as Black-eared Shrike-babbler and several Brown-cheeked Fulvetta.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Exited the park HQ and continued up the mountain to figure out the location of the various trails and view points. Discovered the newish-looking Chompoo Phu Kha Nature Trail just down from the star-gazing area, but didn't investigate this 700 trail further. Also looked at the Nature Trail, aka the Nuthatch Trail, behind the star-gazing area, but steep, muddy, overgrown and full of leeches so one to keep for later when not raining and better used. Stopped at the shrine next to the Chompoo Phu Kha tree and from here walked up the road a kilometre or so. A lot of recent landslides under repair and major construction traffic along the road. Walked downhill back to the star gazing area.

On return to the shrine around 17:00 a good feeding flock included Large Niltava, Small Niltava, Black-eared Shrike babbler and White-tailed Robin. A pair of Slaty-bellied Tesia were very vocal behind the shrine.

Worked our way up the pass just below 1,700 metres and within a couple of minutes had four Whiskered Yuhina. Descending the eastern side of the mountain, toward Bo Kluea, we found horrendously muddy conditions, road repairs and many active landslides under various states of repair and non-repair. Had it not been for the accommodation booking at Bo Kluea we would have considered it prudent to stay at Pua and work the mountain from the less steep western side. Definitely the worst road conditions encountered in several years driving around Thailand. Looking at the mud, darkening skies and likely heavy rain to come, we were not looking forward to attempting the conditions on the way up the following morning. Arrived at the previously arranged Bo Kluea View Resort around 18:30. Mountain Scops Owl heard in the forest behind the resort.

Western Striped Squirrel
Western Striped Squirrel

8 Jul. Heavy overnight rain made us ponder if we'd be able to get up the mountain given the conditions the day previously. A quick stop at the shop in the village for provisions where we also had Wire-tailed Swallow along the river.

Ascended the mountain to the first major landslide where we decided to scan a few trees whilst assessing the mud situation and wait to see if any vehicles were coming down in order to find out if the road was passable after overnight rains. Almost immediately our attention was drawn to a mixed feeding flock passing through the area with, amazingly, a pair of Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch - a bird know from this area but with previously only a couple of records. Unfortunately the birds moved off before we were able to get extended views but a great start. Ascended higher to the main problem landslide area where, as feared, overnight rain had made the going impossible with the area now occupied by large Caterpillar bulldozers and backhoes attempting to remove the liquid mud from the road and repair the damage. Had to wait around an hour for this, but whilst waiting two fly over Barred Cuckoo-Dove seen. The first vehicle to try the "cleared" road promptly got stuck in the mire and had to be cleared out by a bulldozer. The second vehicle to attempt crossing the sea of mud similarly got bogged down and towed out. Obviously the dozer driver wasn't going to take any further chances so reversed down the road to attach a metal cable to our 4x4. He then hauled us 200 metres up slope through the goo; assistance gratefully received and we were on on way to the top where we arrived to overcast conditions low cloud and drizzle.

Landslide
Landslide - one of many

Given the weather conditions we descended part way down the other side where we took a walk past the shrine and star-gazing spots which seemed to offer the best forest. Several Small Niltava, a number of singing Slaty-bellied Tesia, a Pygmy Wren-babbler, Buff-breasted Babbler, Lesser Shortwing and after a lot of effort eventually got views of a flying Blue Pitta. Had to spend most of the time dodging rain showers and by 12:00 arrived back at the summit to find conditions still pretty miserable so descended to the park headquarters where we were let in with yesterday's ticket.

An hour of so spent walking the campsite and road was pretty quiet with only four Whiskered Yuhina and a couple of Grey Treepie of note. Returned to the pass and in the rain walked a kilometre of so down the east side but wet weather forced us to abandon the idea and head lower back toward Bo Kluea. Dryer conditions lower but few birds of note. At evening dinner a Phayre's Flying Squirrel visited the tree right next to restaurant veranda.

Doi Phu Kha
View from pass on Doi Phu Kha

10 Jul. Quite dry overnight but rain starting early morning. Having forgotten to arrange an early breakfast we left and headed up the mountain. Got about two thirds of the way up but some grinding noises in the front wheel or brakes wouldn't go away so we decided to head back to the village and try to find a workshop. Driving into the village the noises suddenly disappeared, so headed back up the hill only to arrive at the worst landslide area to find several road stone trucks backed up and a fourth completely stuck in the mud. So we had to make a decision to either wait for maybe a couple of hours for the situation to get sorted and the road rebuilt, or drive the 90 kilometres around via Pua to access the other side of the mountain.

Common Birdwing
Common Birdwing

As the rain was starting we opted to drive round as at least we'd have some control over when we would actually get there. The drive, on very winding roads, took almost two hours but a least we got the other side where clearing weather turned into a great day of sun and partial cloud.

As dry, we decided to do the top first. A walk down the first kilometre gave a flock of Black-throated Bushtit, singing Spot-throated Babbler, Whiskered Yuhina, and an Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler heard. Thereafter we spent the rest of the day walking down and back from the top to past the shrine.

Not as many species as yesterday but picked up a few new for the list - the highlight being a pair of Lesser Cuckoo - not known from this site previously. Toward 16:00 returned to the top and spent 45 minutes scanning, in excellent visibility, the surrounding slopes hoping for fly past pigeons. Some Himalayan Swiftlet and a perched and calling Collared Owlet. Around 17:00 it clouded up so we descended down the other side where the road had been repaired but was still basically a mud slide.

Painted Bushbrown
Painted Bushbrown

11 Jul. With only a morning available, we decided to check out Khun Nan National Park - just a few kilometres down the road from Bo Kluea. Evidently rarely visited, especially by foreigners, the two staff on the gate nearly fell off their stools when we arrived.

Common Fivering
Common Fivering

After some discussion on the state of the track to the view point they let us in free of charge. Parked the car at the end of the paved road and walked the couple of kilometres to the view point. The track passes through forest edge and older secondary forest to emerge at the rather spectacular view overlooking a river valley and forested hills toward the Laos border. Along the walk we had several Buff-breasted Babbler, an Orange-breasted Trogon and a couple of groups of Indochinese Yuhina. Around the view point were a larger group of Indochinese Yuhina as well as a few Brown-backed Needletail over the valley. We attempted the trail to the waterfall but, as usual in national parks, it was overgrown and disappeared after a couple of hundred metres. Left at 11:00 and arrived back in Chiang Mai just before 18:00.

Species List

  Doi Phu Kha Count   Khun Nan Count
  Barred Cuckoo-Dove 3   Crested Serpent Eagle 1
  Common Emerald Dove 2   Barred Cuckoo-Dove 2
  Green-billed Malkoha 2   Brown-backed Needletail 6
  Banded Bay Cuckoo 1   Orange-breasted Trogon 1
  Lesser Cuckoo 2   Blue-throated Barbet 2
  Collared Owlet 2   Blue-throated Barbet 4
  Himalayan Swiftlet 20   White-bellied Erpornis 4
  Great Barbet 8   Blyth's Shrike-babbler 2
  Golden-throated Barbet 5   Ashy Drongo 1
  Blue-throated Barbet 15   Bronzed Drongo 1
  Speckled Piculet 3   White-throated Fantail 2
  Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker 2   Black-naped Monarch 2
  Stripe-breasted Woodpecker 4   Grey Treepie 2
  Blue Pitta 1   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 6
  Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike 20   Black-crested Bulbul 6
  Grey-chinned Minivet 1   Red-whiskered Bulbul 2
  Short-billed Minivet 6   Flavescent Bulbul 5
  Scarlet Minivet 4   Grey-eyed Bulbul 10
  White-bellied Erpornis 20   Ashy Bulbul 4
  Blyth's Shrike-babbler 8   Common Tailorbird 2
  Black-eared Shrike-Babbler 5   Dark-necked Tailorbird 4
  Bronzed Drongo 2   White-browed Scimitar Babbler 1
  White-throated Fantail 12   Buff-chested Babbler 2
  Grey Treepie 2   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 10
  Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 8   Brown-cheeked Fulvetta 10
  Yellow-cheeked Tit 10   Puff-throated Babbler 2
  Crested Finchbill 3   Buff-breasted Babbler 3
  Red-whiskered Bulbul 6   Blue-winged Minla 4
  Sooty-headed Bulbul 6   Indochinese Yuhina 24
  Flavescent Bulbul 60   Oriental White-eye 12
  Grey-eyed Bulbul 5   Hill Blue Flycatcher 4
  Mountain Bulbul 8   Plain Flowerpecker 3
  Ashy Bulbul 3   Black-throated Sunbird 4
  Pygmy Wren-babbler 2   Streaked Spiderhunter 2
  Mountain Tailorbird 12      
  Slaty-bellied Tesia 10   Around Bo Kluea village Count
  Black-throated Bushtit 14   Greater Coucal 1
  Davison's Leaf Warbler 20   Plaintive Cuckoo 1
  Hill Prinia 10   Mountain Scops Owl 2
  Rufescent Prinia 10   Asian Barred Owlet 1
  Common Tailorbird 1   House Swift 25
  Dark-necked Tailorbird 1   Great Barbet 4
  White-browed Scimitar Babbler 2   Stripe-throated Bulbul 2
  Grey-throated Babbler 2   Wire-tailed Swallow 1
  Golden Babbler 25   Rufescent Prinia 4
  Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 20   Common Tailorbird 2
  Brown-cheeked Fulvetta 6   Oriental Magpie-Robin 2
  Yunnan Fulvetta 40   Scaly-breasted Munia 20
  Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler 1      
  Spot-throated Babbler 1      
  Buff-breasted Babbler 1      
  Silver-eared Laughingthrush 2      
  Blue-winged Minla 30      
  Spectacled Barwing 6      
  Silver-eared Mesia 30      
  Indochinese Yuhina 55      
  Whiskered Yuhina 15      
  Oriental White-eye 40      
  Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch 2      
  Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 6      
  Blue Whistling Thrush 1      
  Lesser Shortwing 10      
  White-tailed Robin 1      
  Grey Bush Chat 1      
  Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush 1      
  Little Pied Flycatcher 4      
  Hill Blue Flycatcher 5      
  Verditer Flycatcher 1      
  White-gorgeted Flycatcher 7      
  Large Niltava 3      
  Small Niltava 9      
  Orange-bellied Leafbird 2      
  Plain Flowerpecker 5      
  Fire-breasted Flowerpecker 12      
  Black-throated Sunbird 15      
  Little Spiderhunter 3      
  Streaked Spiderhunter 10      
  White-rumped Munia 10