Extreme Northeast: 30 Jan - 10 Feb 2017






30 Jan - 10 Feb 2017.
Dry and pleasant. Hot in the lowlands by midday.
Chiang Saen, Chaiyaphon, Phu Thok, Phu Wua Wildlife Sanctuary, Phu Langka National Park, Phu Wiang National Park, Phu Pha Man National Park and Bueng Boraphet.

With Ian Dugdale and, in part, Steve Tibbett. The trip was aimed primarily at exploration of the extreme northeast of the country - an ornithological backwater little visited by birders and never personally. The region is however known for a few endemic reptiles, but with so little available information on sites and access we simply tried sites based on likely habitat, looking for birds, reptiles, butterflies, mammals and amphibians. A couple of days prior were spent at Chiang Saen on account of recent sightings of Mandarin Duck, Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler and Manchurian Bush Warbler.

30 Jan. Left Chiang Mai early, with Steve, and drove to Chiang Saen, where we checked in to one of the numerous accommodations. Despite being Chinese New Year, Chiang Saen was surprisingly quiet - evidently not a big destination at this time. Having juggled the merits of visiting the hides to try for bush warblers, or the lake for Mandarin Duck, we opted for the duck on account of the heat of the day. So for the next few hours we circumnavigated the lake, seeking access points to scan. As usual at Chiang Saen, vast changes had taken place to the landscape with agricultural clearance, and access tracks being changed or restricted. A larger number than usual of Ferruginous Duck present, but a distinct lack of dabbling ducks or Mandarin Duck. Around 15:00 decided a change of strategy required so headed for the hides to try Manchurian Bush Warbler. In two hours, hardly a bird stirred, with only a single Siberian Rubythroat and a Taiga Flycatcher present. Definitely Birders 0 - Birds 1. Later that evening we discovered a single Mandarin Duck had been found on the lake late afternoon, so Birders 0 - Birds 2. A pleasant evening meal and beers overlooking the Mekong where we ran into several other visiting birders.

31 Jan. Thinking that the lake would likely be fogged in, and the hides likely productive early in the day, we started looking for Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler. As with it having been sighted the previous morning we rated our chances as pretty good. However, another really quiet session, hard-going, with just the third winter returning Firethroat, a single Dusky Warbler and a single Siberian Rubythroat seen in seven hours. More interesting was a large Indochinese Rat Snake present in the bird bath for a couple of hours, that probably didn't help the birding! Gave up at 14:00, at Birders 0 - Birds 3, to run into another birder, having had four Mandarin Duck on the lake first thing. Grrr. 0 - 4 to the Birds.


Subsequently we spent the remainder of the day atop one of the lake viewpoints finding a few additional duck species - Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler and Eurasian Teal, but again no Mandarin Duck.

1 Feb, As not so foggy, we took a quick look at the lake first off, where a 20 minute scan found few ducks, other than the usually ubiquitous Lesser Whistling Duck. Surprisingly, the the fog thickened so we returned to the hides for another attempt at Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler. No luck however, so left the area at 11:15 to return to Chiang Mai. Definitely Birders 0 - Birds 5.

2 Feb. Took the direct Nok Air flight from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani, only a third full, arriving ahead of schedule at 10:30. Met up with Ian and we headed to Thailand's newest province - Bueng Kan - located in the extreme northeast. Checked into a riverside resort, then headed back, westward, a little to a promising-looking area of rocks in the river.

Phu Thok walkway
Phu Thok (South Thailand Birding)

Little in the way of bird activity, but far less destroyed than the Mekong at Chiang Saen. A handful of Small Pratincole on the rocks, River Lapwing and about a dozen Wire-tailed Swallow. Next we headed to Phu Thok, with its temple and impressive rock formation. Climbed the wooden steps to the lookout, where the only birds of note were Dusky Crag Martin and a Common Kestrel circling. On the ascent we also found the endemic Phu Wua Lizard, a single Long-tailed Sun Skink and a couple of smaller, darker-eyed geckos, that on subsequent discussion proved to be Fehlmann's Four-clawed Gecko, though evidently this species complex is in need of revision, having such a wide range with differing morphology throughout. The skies clouded over late afternoon, almost threatening rain, but stayed dry. Remained at the top till dusk, before walking a circuit of the wooden walkway that runs around the cliffs. This one is definitely not for the faint-hearted as the wooden walkways are simply hammered into sheer cliffs and appear to be hanging from the cliff faces with long drops below. Siamese Ground Gecko appeared rather common in the bamboo understorey.

Despite a couple of hours wandering after dark, only one brief view of the endemic Jarujin's Bent-toed Gecko, one of the chief targets for the trip, so decided to check out another area of rocks inside forest edge a few kilometres farther. However, despite good-looking habitat, only a few more Siamese Ground Gecko found. Drove back to the accommodation by 22:00, unsurprisingly unable to find anywhere to eat en route - Bueng Kan, a decidedly rural province, appearing to shutdown by 20:00.

3 Feb. A lazy start, catching up on notes and some Google Earth research in an attempt to locate drivable tracks offering access to rocky habitat at the base of the escarpment cliffs - the only known habitat of Jarujin's Bent-toed Gecko. The afternoon then spent driving around oceans of rubber plantations trying various tracks and small temples at the bases of cliffs, but extremely difficult to find any access to suitable areas.

At one small temple. a monk took us to a nearby cave that had a number of Black-bearded Tomb Bat. Late afternoon returned to Phu Thok finding a few Rhesus Macaque, a very scarce mammal in Thailand. After dark, a more thorough search around the boulders and gullies where we'd had a glimpse yesterday, proved unproductive again, so opted for yet another try as yesterday where the habitat looked most promising. On arrival Brown Wood Owl heard, and during a longer search we we located an excellent rocky gully that housed a sleeping Phu Wua Lizard, but again failed to find Jarujin's Bent-toed Gecko.

4 Feb. Rather than spend another fruitless day searching for gecko habitat we headed east to try some new spots. Our first port of call was Phu Wua Wildlife Sanctuary, where a couple of hours along the Nature Trail gave us two large rat snakes too quick to identify, plus Curved Cyclops and Large Faun butterflies. Walking the Nature Trail was a refreshing change from the monotony of rubber plantations we'd been subjected to the last two days. Heading farther east we arrived at Phu Langka National Park where, as the only accommodation unit was booked, we selected one of the newer resorts nearby on the highway. Phu Langka turned out to be a rather pleasant park, with a good trail network, river walk, butterflies, reptiles and some interesting birds.

Mid afternoon we walked to the third level of the Waterfall Trail. A good number of butterflies although few species - Large Faun, Dwarf Crow, Common Indian Crow dominating, but also Indian Leaf and Large Assyrian. Some small skinks in the leaf-litter were identified as Mimic Forest Skink, but very difficult to photograph. Beyond the third level the trail lead to bamboo ladders directly ascending to a cliff lookout, that we had insufficient time to investigate. A large fruiting tree had both Thick-billed Green Pigeon and Rhesus Macaque. Around 18:30 we left the park as most likely the entrance gate would be closed later.

Phu Wua Lizard
Phu Wua Lizard

Curved Cyclops
Curved Cyclops

Large Faun
Large Faun

5 Feb. Back into the park to secure the only accommodation unit for the night. Pretty good accommodation for a national park, with hot shower, kettle and fridge. We again spent several hours walking the Waterfall Trail, picking up Broad-scaled Stream Skink and Reeve's Leaf-litter Skink. Some reasonable forest held Red Junglefowl, Crested Serpent Eagle, White-browed Piculet, Radde's Warbler, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Alstrom's Warbler, Abbott's Babbler and, unusually, Thick-billed Flowerpecker.

Jarujin's Bent-toed Gecko
Jarujin's Bent-toed Gecko

Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail

On the return we took one of the the drier Nature Trails toward the road to the Pagoda, completing the loop to the park headquarters. A late lunch in Paeng town, then another start along the Waterfall Trail to the third level where we remained till dusk. Once dark, we started on the dry boulders above level three and worked our way down stream. Finally found Jarujin's Bent-toed Gecko; making this a new site for this gecko that is currently only known from around the type locality near Phu Thok. Other species encountered were Dark-sided Frog and Gyldenstolpe's Frog. We also heard Blyth's Frogmouth, that is a considerable range extension within Thailand, as previously unknown north of Khao Yai in the northeast.

6 Feb. Another walk for butterflies and a final try to photograph the Mimic Forest Skink, that failed. On the return we took a second Nature Trail that unexpectedly turned into something of a death march, being much longer than expected and through more open forest and bamboo. Consequently, left the park later than planned, at 14:00, heading southwest toward Phu Kradueng National Park, as far as Udon Thani where we checked into a new hotel that also had a good western food restaurant across the road.

7 Feb. Overnight, a rethink had us shelving Phu Kradueng in favour of something of lower altitude, that should be warmer and maybe better for herps at this cooler time of year. So around 10:30 we arrived at a hot, dry, Phu Wiang National Park, mostly famous for its dinosaur fossils. This proved to be one of those times that trying out new sites didn't work. Hot, arid, no water in gullies and no accommodation at the park. After a look at the only pond and a short walk on the Dinosaur Fossil Trail we cut our losses and moved on. Few birds or butterflies, and likely even fewer reptiles in this habitat.

Common Red Pierrot
Common Red Pierrot

Undescribed Gekko sp. nov.
Undescribed Gecko - Gekko sp. nov.

Doria's Bush Frog
Doria's Bush Frog

Next we tried Phu Pha Man National Park, about which we knew nothing other than it having a large bat cave and a waterfall. On arrival first checked the small Phalanthong Waterfall, where good to see some flowing water plus some reasonable access to the adjacent stream bed. Looked promising, so we headed to the park office to try to secure accommodation. Unfortunately due to 200 plus boy scouts and girl guides, the usual accommodation was full, so we had to make-do with some basic huts with no facilities, for 200 Baht - fine for one night. An initial find was Common Red Pierrot, that despite its name is a highly local and scarce butterfly in Thailand. So things were looking up.

Finding a sign to three caves eight kilometres away, we tried them, driving off road, through a variety of forested and field habitat, with butterflies much in evidence but no real time to stop. Arrived at the caves and started with Lai Tang Cave. Rather too small for any bats or reptiles, with the cave being mostly known for its 2,000 year old rock paintings just outside the entrance. The second, Phaya Nakarath Cave, was a solid 400 metre hike uphill and comprised of a huge cavern with some stalactite formations, but no bats and few insects. Lastly tried Kled Khao Cave, a more gentle 300 metre walk, but another huge cavern with no bats, although a couple of hard to identify geckos at the entrance were probably Common Four-clawed Gecko. We hung around the area till dark, when further exploration found, rather surprisingly a couple of undescribed Gekko sp. nov. the same as currently known only from Phitsanulok province.

From here we returned to Phalanthong Waterfall, clambered down the bank and took a slow walk upstream. Hundreds of small chorus frogs of a couple of species along the stream bed, plus Isan Big-headed Frog, Dark-sided Frog and Siamese Ground Gecko. Also, most interestingly, a couple of Doria's Bush Frog and a Reeve's Leaf-litter Skink. So an excellent haul, although strangely no snakes, given the huge frog buffet on offer.

Returned to our accommodation where the noisy kids, around the campfire, were partaking of the Thai equivalent of Ging Gang Goolie (Public address system, electric guitars and bongos), with the noise finally dying-down shortly before midnight. Brown Wood Owl and Eastern Barn Owl active during the night.

8 Feb. With a party of Greylag Geese having been found at Bueng Boraphet during the last couple of days we thought it about time to give them a try. Arrived late morning, with the whole afternoon spent in area where last seen, at the eastern end of the lake. Unfortunately not found, though a sizeable collection of waterbirds present, with 700 Glossy Ibis of particular note, plus a bigger surprise in the form of a Greater Flamingo, of unknown origin.

9 Feb. Back at dawn to the same area with another drive around the fields and ponds, but again no geese. A large flock of 3,000 Garganey and a couple of Ferruginous Duck. Nakhon Sawan for lunch, during which we contacted Khun Phanom, the local boatman and birder for assistance and a revisit to the same area. He showed us a couple of different ponds we'd not found earlier, but no different result with us coming up empty-handed.

10 Feb. A final attempt to hunt for the geese, but again totally elusive. So definitely a wild goose chase to finish the trip. Drove to Bangkok and return flight to Chiang Mai.

Plain-backed Sparrow
Plain-backed Sparrow

Species List

  Chiang Saen Count   Chaiyaphon Count
  Lesser Whistling Duck 1,000   Little Egret 2
  Ruddy Shelduck 11   River Lapwing 2
  Indian Spot-billed Duck 150   Common Sandpiper 1
  Northern Shoveler 1   Small Pratincole 6
  Northern Pintail 1   Asian Barred Owlet 2
  Garganey 7   Lineated Barbet 1
  Eurasian Teal 1   Common Iora 2
  Common Pochard 1   Black Drongo 5
  Ferruginous Duck 38   Eastern Jungle Crow 2
  Chinese Francolin 5   Wire-tailed Swallow 10
  Chinese Pond Heron 5   Dusky Warbler 1
  Eastern Cattle Egret 25   Yellow-browed Warbler 2
  Purple Heron 3   Grey-breasted Prinia 1
  Great Egret 3   Chestnut-capped Babbler 2
  Intermediate Egret 3   Great Myna 10
  Great Cormorant 4   Oriental Magpie-Robin 2
  Western Osprey 1   Stejneger's Stonechat 3
  Eastern Marsh Harrier 1   Pied Bush Chat 2
  Pied Harrier 3   Eurasian Tree Sparrow 10
  Rufous-winged Buzzard 2   White Wagtail 2
  White-breasted Waterhen 5   Paddyfield Pipit 1
  Common Moorhen 4      
  Eurasian Coot 170   Phu Thok Count
  Red-wattled Lapwing 1   Eastern Barn Owl 1
  Green Sandpiper 1   Brown Wood Owl 1
  Small Pratincole 4   Asian Barred Owlet 2
  Spotted Dove 10   Asian Palm Swift 2
  Zebra Dove 10   Lineated Barbet 2
  Greater Coucal 12   Coppersmith Barbet 1
  Green-billed Malkoha 2   Common Kestrel 1
  Asian Barred Owlet 2   Ashy Drongo 2
  Asian Palm Swift 20   Black-naped Monarch 1
  White-throated Kingfisher 2   Eastern Jungle Crow 10
  Common Kingfisher 2   Black-crested Bulbul 2
  Green Bee-eater 5   Barn Swallow 2
  Lineated Barbet 6   Dusky Crag Martin 6
  Coppersmith Barbet 2   Yellow-browed Warbler 4
  Freckle-breasted Woodpecker 2   Two-barred Warbler 2
  Ashy Woodswallow 10   Dark-necked Tailorbird 1
  Brown Shrike 4   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 2
  Burmese Shrike 3   White-rumped Shama 1
  Long-tailed Shrike 2   Stejneger's Stonechat 2
  Black Drongo 10      
  Black-naped Monarch 1   Phu Langka Count
  Racket-tailed Treepie 5   Red Junglefowl 5
  Sooty-headed Bulbul 20   Little Egret 3
  Streak-eared Bulbul 6   Crested Serpent Eagle 1
  Barn Swallow 30   Pin-tailed Snipe 1
  Striated Swallow 4   Zebra Dove 1
  Dusky Warbler 10   Thick-billed Green Pigeon 4
  Yellow-browed Warbler 10   Greater Coucal 2
  Two-barred Warbler 2   Collared Scops Owl 2
  Thick-billed Warbler 4   Brown Wood Owl 1
  Baikal Bush Warbler 10   Asian Barred Owlet 5
  Yellow-bellied Prinia 3   Blyth's Frogmouth 1
  Plain Prinia 2   Asian Palm Swift 6
  Common Tailorbird 2   Lineated Barbet 1
  Puff-throated Babbler 1   Blue-eared Barbet 4
  Great Myna 200   Coppersmith Barbet 2
  Common Myna 20   White-browed Piculet 3
  Chestnut-tailed Starling 5   Brown Shrike 1
  Oriental Magpie-Robin 4   Black Drongo 2
  Siberian Rubythroat 4   Ashy Drongo 2
  Firethroat 1   Black-naped Monarch 2
  Taiga Flycatcher 4   Eastern Jungle Crow 1
  Eurasian Tree Sparrow 10   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 2
  Scaly-breasted Munia 15   Streak-eared Bulbul 4
  White Wagtail 4   Puff-throated Bulbul 4
  Richard's Pipit 12   Striated Swallow 3
  Olive-backed Pipit 4   Radde's Warbler 1
  Red-throated Pipit 2   Yellow-browed Warbler 2
        Two-barred Warbler 2
  Phu Wua Count   Pale-legged Leaf Warbler 1
  Red Junglefowl 2   Claudia's Leaf Warbler 1
  Crested Serpent Eagle 1   Alström's Warbler 4
  Asian Barred Owlet 1   Dark-necked Tailorbird 2
  Blue-eared Barbet 4   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 10
  Black-crested Bulbul 2   Abbott's Babbler 3
  Puff-throated Bulbul 3   Puff-throated Babbler 2
  Grey-eyed Bulbul 2   Buff-breasted Babbler 2
  Dark-necked Tailorbird 2   Great Myna 10
  Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 2   Common Myna 2
  Abbott's Babbler 2   Oriental Magpie-Robin 1
  Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 1   Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 2
  Blue Whistling Thrush 1   Verditer Flycatcher 1
  Taiga Flycatcher 1   Blue Whistling Thrush 3
  Olive-backed Sunbird 2   Taiga Flycatcher 1
        Thick-billed Flowerpecker 2
  Bueng Boraphet Count   Little Spiderhunter 1
  Northern Shoveler 9   Plain-backed Sparrow 6
  Northern Pintail 120   Eurasian Tree Sparrow 10
  Garganey 3,000   Grey Wagtail 1
  Ferruginous Duck 2   Paddyfield Pipit 1
  Painted Stork 12      
  Asian Openbill 2,000   Phu Pha Man Count
  Black-headed Ibis 1   Red Junglefowl 4
  Glossy Ibis 700   Eastern Cattle Egret 6
  Yellow Bittern 3   Lesser Coucal 1
  Black-crowned Night Heron 3   Greater Coucal 2
  Eastern Cattle Egret 80   Spotted Dove 2
  Grey Heron 10   Asian Barred Owlet 2
  Purple Heron 1   Eastern Barn Owl 1
  Great Egret 100   Brown Wood Owl 1
  Intermediate Egret 100   White-browed Piculet 1
  Little Egret 2,000   Lineated Barbet 2
  Little Cormorant 30   Common Iora 2
  Indian Cormorant 10   Great Iora 1
  Oriental Darter 5   Black-naped Monarch 1
  Black-winged Kite 2   Oriental Magpie-Robin 1
  Eastern Marsh Harrier 2   White-rumped Shama 1
  White-breasted Waterhen 2   Asian Brown Flycatcher 1
  Ruddy-breasted Crake 4   Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 2
  Watercock 2   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 2
  Grey-headed Swamphen 20   Black-crested Bulbul 2
  Eurasian Coot 180   Puff-throated Bulbul 3
  Black-winged Stilt 2,000   Stripe-throated Bulbul 2
  Grey-headed Lapwing 10   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 4
  Red-wattled Lapwing 10   Two-barred Warbler 2
  Eastern Little Ringed Plover 40   Dark-necked Tailorbird 2
  Pheasant-tailed Jacana 8      
  Common Snipe 2   Phu Wiang Count
  Black-tailed Godwit 100   Chinese Pond Heron 1
  Spotted Redshank 6   Crested Serpent Eagle 1
  Wood Sandpiper 6   Greater Coucal 2
  Temminck's Stint 5   Coppersmith Barbet 1
  Oriental Pratincole 1   Radde's Warbler 1
  Brown-headed Gull 3   Pale-legged Leaf Warbler 1
  Whiskered Tern 20   Dark-necked Tailorbird 2
  Rock Dove 20   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 5
  Red Turtle Dove 10   Puff-throated Babbler 2
  Spotted Dove 2   White-rumped Shama 2
  Zebra Dove 6   Olive-backed Sunbird 2
  Greater Coucal 3      
  Asian Koel 5      
  Asian Palm Swift 10      
  Indian Roller 1      
  White-throated Kingfisher 3      
  Black-capped Kingfisher 1      
  Common Kingfisher 3      
  Pied Kingfisher 1      
  Blue-tailed Bee-eater 6      
  Lineated Barbet 1      
  Coppersmith Barbet 1      
  Ashy Woodswallow 10      
  Brown Shrike 3      
  Long-tailed Shrike 1      
  Black Drongo 20      
  Malaysian Pied Fantail 2      
  Eastern Jungle Crow 8      
  Streak-eared Bulbul 6      
  Sand Martin 1      
  Barn Swallow 50      
  Dusky Warbler 5      
  Oriental Reed Warbler 10      
  Black-browed Reed Warbler 5      
  Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler 4      
  Striated Grassbird 8      
  Plain Prinia 2      
  Great Myna 40      
  Common Myna 10      
  Pied Myna 5      
  Oriental Magpie-Robin 3      
  Stejneger's Stonechat 10      
  House Sparrow 5      
  Plain-backed Sparrow 5      
  Eurasian Tree Sparrow 20      
  Asian Golden Weaver 10      
  Streaked Weaver 2      
  Baya Weaver 10      
  Chestnut Munia 2      
  Eastern Yellow Wagtail 50      
  White Wagtail 10      
  Paddyfield Pipit 2