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Doi Phu Kha plus: 10 - 18 Jan 2017


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10 - 18 Jan 2017
Initially very wet becoming dry and warm.
Doi Phu Kha National Park, Tham Sakoen National Park, Dong Chen Lake, Pratu Pha and Doi Suthep-Pui National Park.

With Ian Dugdale. Although having earmarked this cool, dry time of year for a second attempt at finding Beautiful Nuthatch, it was with some trepidation we set out from Chiang Mai given the appalling weather having been experienced across Thailand the past month. A first trip here in 2012 had been unsuccessful in locating the nuthatch, mainly on account of attempting it during the wet season, although this trip started similarly wet. In addition to seeking Beautiful Nuthatch, the trip was aimed at reptiles and amphibians of the north, though at this, the coolest time of year, we were unsure of the impact of cold, dry season temperatures on these species.

10 Jan. Left Chiang Mai early afternoon, driving through constant light rain, as far as the provincial capital city of Nan where we found a guesthouse in the backpacker's quarter of town. We were rather surprised to find a local restaurant serving reasonable pizza just around the corner.

11 Jan. Disappointingly the same restaurant failed to open at the promised 08:00, so we had to forego the full English fry-up breakfast, instead hitting the nearest 7-Eleven. A two hour drive through more cloud and rain to Doi Phu Kha National where we checked into our pre-booked park bungalow, of a surprisingly good standard considering usual park accommodation. The remainder of the day spent sheltering from rain and generally mentally preparing for hopefully improved weather granting the possibility to hike into the mountains in search of Beautiful Nuthatch. The few species seen in open areas around the park headquarters included Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Greenish Warbler and a good number of Indochinese Yuhina. At dusk, despite the continuing rain, we ventured onto the Nature Tail, and were rewarded with finding a stunning gecko, that on subsequent discussion will probably turn out to be an undescribed Cyrtodactylus sp. Stayed out till 22:30, having tried to walk the Nature Trail loop but turning back when the trail became difficult to follow and appeared to be heading into the hills rather than looping back to the headquarters. Discovered that even in the dry season, a few leeches still around.

Indochinese Yuhina
Indochinese Yuhina

Cyrtodactylus sp. nov.
Cyrtodactylus sp. nov.

During a late beer on the balcony a single Hodgson's Frogmouth heard - apparently enjoying the damp conditions. A nice bonus was also a couple of Yunnan Dwarf Gecko on the walls.

12 Jan. Rain all night easing by 06:00 to a cloudy and overcast start with occasional rain. With few possibilities in the birding line we hung around our accommodation till midday, coinciding with checkout time, then following lunch and slightly drier weather we attempted the opposite end of the Nature Trail. Having walked a kilometre or so, up to 1,500 metres, seeing little, we returned when rain started yet again. After, whilst killing time in the coffee shop, the clouds miraculously cleared to reveal some very welcome late afternoon sun.

Amolops sp. nov.
Amolops sp. nov

Toward dusk, another herping session, rewarded with Mud Litter Frog and yet another probably new species - a seemingly undescribed cascade frog Amolops sp. As all park accommodation full we drove the 25 kilometres to Pua town. Strolling down the main street after dark we discovered the huge Barn Swallow roost in trees along the central reservation. Even more surprising was the Eastern Barn Owl that glided past and dived straight into the roosting flocks, scattering them - probably a regular hunting technique.

13 Jan. Finally a day of beautiful weather, so a first attempt at the nuthatch. Headed up the Nature Trail and took a left onto a small side trail leading to the ridge. However, as evidently hardly used in recent times, after 200 metres it simply disappeared into a maze of forest bananas. As we'd kind of suspected this would be an issue we had a GPS reference for the ridge above, so simply headed in that direction. As always, theory much easier than practice and two hours later, having fought though undergrowth and some way too steep inclines, we finally found the ridge. Once here it was easy to follow the trail along the spine, for about one kilometre to a height of around 1,900 metres. We spent from 11:00 - 15:30 working this stretch, but disappointingly failed to locate the nuthatch, although an interesting collection of species included Whiskered Yuhina, Bianchi's Warbler, Rufous-backed Sibia, Asian Stubtail, Long-tailed Sibia, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Slaty-backed Flycatcher and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. We failed to find any reptiles and saw only a couple of butterflies. At 15:45 attempted the trail downward, this time with more success, but again losing it near the bottom within the bananas. An after dark return to Pua, where Large-tailed Nightjar and Collared Scops Owl in the hotel garden.

Crenulate Darkie
Crenulate Darkie

Yellow-cheeked Tit
Yellow-cheeked Tit

14 Jan. Given yesterday's exertions and failure, a lazy start around Pua before heading up, past the park, to the pass over the mountain toward Bo Kluea. We spent considerable time at the pass heading out along the firebreak. Although fairly quiet, we did manage Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Assamese Macaque, Crenulate Darkie and Scale-bellied Tree Lizard. After, descended to the shrine to look for Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch but not in evidence, so descended farther to check a stream at 1,100 metres for potential herping options, that looked promising. With an hour or so to kill before dark, returned to the shrine, where we found a female Vivid Niltava. Back to the river, where after dark found presumed Isan Big-headed Frog, and more individuals of the Amolops sp. recorded earlier. A late return to Pua to find our favourite restaurant already closed, so ate at a large bar cum restaurant with live music along the main drag.

15 Jan. Despite the late finish yesterday, an earlier start for another attempt at Beautiful Nuthatch. Half way up the trail to the ridge we caught up Khun Tawin, one of the park rangers, plus two Thai birders also trying for the nuthatch, so good to have additional pairs of eyes looking. Another day of clear, bright weather and perfect viewing conditions. Several feeding flocks found, including one containing a single Beautiful Nuthatch, initially picked up by Tawin.

Unfortunately views were short as the bird party moved off, never to be relocated. A very happy result though. Other additions to the list were Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Common Emerald Dove and Verditer Flycatcher. Walked down at 15:00 and out by 17:30, back to Pua for beers and celebration.

16 Jan. Back to the shrine early on for another try for Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch but not in evidence. A good selection of smaller birds included Black-eared Shrike-babbler. Another trip to the pass and a walk along the firebreak, but very quiet, so decided to do open areas from the pass downward concentrating on butterflies, of which quite a few in the warm sun. The biggest surprise was a male White-bellied Green Pigeon perched close to the roadside. After 2-3 kilometres we arrived back at the shrine to find a pair of Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, although photographing them proved tricky as horribly against the sun and distant. We hung around the shrine a while hoping for a passing songtaew but no luck, so walked back to the pass to collect the vehicle and move on to our next stop - as yet undecided. From Pua, we took the Phayao road cross-country, randomly stopping en route, late afternoon, at Tham Sakoen National Park. Knowing nothing of this park other than it contained a waterfall and a cave, we decided to investigate and stay the night. This turned out to be a bit of a hidden gem really. Well maintained accommodation, peaceful, with an excellent view from the balcony and a clear clean river containing frogs and butterflies. The only slight negative was a lack of electricity, other than a few hours in the evening, so no fridge and limited charging capacity. A quick run out to the highway for dinner, there being a very poor choice in the local village, then back to the waterfall where we spent three hours on the rocks and trail. Several frog species including Dark-sided Frog and yet another Amolops sp. difficult to identify. Finally also photographed Spiny-tailed House Gecko, a supposedly common species in Thailand. However, best find of the evening was Gumprecht's Green Pit Viper.

17 Jan. Early morning on the balcony produced a usual collection of foothill birds - Vernal Hanging Parrot, Black Bulbul, Great Barbet and the like. A final session at the river produced an excellent selection of butterflies including White-banded Pierrot. It was so good that we failed to make time to investigate the cave before needing to head toward Dong Chen Lake near Phayao to search for the recently report Red-crested Pochard. In an hour here we found Ferruginous Duck, Garganey and hundreds of Lesser Whistling Duck, but not the pochard.

White-bellied Green Pigeon
White-bellied Green Pigeon

Gumprecht's Green Pit Viper
Gumprecht's Green Pit Viper

White-banded Pierrot
White-banded Pierrot

As a local boatman disturbed all the ducks, we were sure the pochard was not still present, so headed toward Lampang, stopping at a roadside resort off Highway 1.

18 Jan. We'd earmarked this morning for an attempt at finding Lampang Bent-toed Gecko. Other than a set of coordinates of the type locality we had no information on this recently described species. Turning off the highway and heading across fields and dirt tracks we began to experience a sinking feeling that something might be wrong, especially as on the opposite side of the highway were impressive limestone cliffs likely holding geckos in caves.

Cave Painting
Cave Painting

Nonetheless we persevered, scrabbling down a mud gully inside bamboo the last 20 metres, to indeed find the coordinates were way off! Asking a nearby local we ascertained there were indeed a couple of nearby caves about two kilometres away, adjacent to the famous Pratu Pha prehistoric rock paintings site. Initially, we walked the northern face of these impressive cliffs, being quietly impressed with the quantity and quality of the rock paintings. Along the way we encountered Limestone Wren-Babbler, a new site and new province for this patchily distributed bird. Having found no caves, we took a coffee at one of the local stalls where the owner indeed confirmed and pointed out a couple of small caves.

Swinhoe's Forest Bob
Swinhoe's Forest Bob

This looked a lot more promising, and almost certainly is the collection site of this gecko. However, a thorough exploration of the cave interiors and outside rock faces failed to find it, so no doubt a night visit would be required.

Spotted Pierrot
Common Pierrot and Spotted Pierrot

Drove to Chiang Mai for a try for our next recently described gecko - the Doi Suthep Bent-toed Gecko. Again we had only a set of coordinates, but at least here was a stream with rock faces, indicating correct coordinates. Returned after dark, but despite an hour searching could not find a single gecko, so decided to try the stream behind the temple a little farther down the hill that we'd found earlier. Having negotiated a noisy pack of dogs and spoken to the monk we were given permission to search behind the temple. This proved very successful, with a single Doi Suthep Bent-toed Gecko found on a rock face after quite a search. Late return to Chiang Mai and the end of another rather successful trip, notwithstanding the initial days lost to rain.

Doi Suthep Bent-toed Gecko
Doi Suthep Bent-toed Gecko

Species List

  Doi Phu Kha Count   Tham Sakoen Count
  Rufous-throated Partridge 2   Common Emerald Dove 1
  Mountain Hawk-Eagle 1   Banded Bay Cuckoo 2
  Black Eagle 1   Mountain Scops Owl 1
  Crested Goshawk 1   Collared Owlet 1
  Barred Cuckoo-Dove 1   Asian Barred Owlet 2
  Common Emerald Dove 1   Great Barbet 1
  Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon 20   Blue-throated Barbet 2
  Green-billed Malkoha 1   Blue-eared Barbet 1
  Banded Bay Cuckoo 5   Vernal Hanging Parrot 4
  Mountain Scops Owl 1   Grey-backed Shrike 1
  Collared Owlet 5   Ashy Drongo 2
  Asian Barred Owlet 2   Black-crested Bulbul 20
  Hodgson's Frogmouth 1   Sooty-headed Bulbul 10
  Asian Palm Swift 20   Grey-eyed Bulbul 2
  Blue-bearded Bee-eater 1   Black Bulbul 4
  Great Barbet 5   Yellow-browed Warbler 1
  Golden-throated Barbet 4   Two-barred Warbler 1
  Blue-throated Barbet 10   Common Tailorbird 1
  Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker 2   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 2
  Stripe-breasted Woodpecker 2   Asian Fairy-bluebird 1
  Long-tailed Broadbill 4   Blue Rock Thrush 1
  Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike 5   Little Spiderhunter 2
  Black-winged Cuckooshrike 1   Scaly-breasted Munia 10
  Grey-chinned Minivet 4   Grey Wagtail 2
  Scarlet Minivet 2      
  Grey-backed Shrike 3   Dong Chen Count
  White-bellied Erpornis 5   Lesser Whistling Duck 400
  Blyth's Shrike-babbler 20   Garganey 8
  Black-eared Shrike-Babbler 3   Ferruginous Duck 11
  Maroon Oriole 5   Striated Heron 1
  Ashy Drongo 3   Chinese Pond Heron 1
  Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo 2   Rufous-winged Buzzard 1
  Hair-crested Drongo 50   Eurasian Coot 4
  White-throated Fantail 2   Black-winged Stilt 4
  Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 2   Spotted Dove 2
  Yellow-cheeked Tit 4   Common Kingfisher 1
  Black-headed Bulbul 1   Brown Shrike 2
  Black-crested Bulbul 12   Black Drongo 1
  Flavescent Bulbul 20   Common Myna 4
  Puff-throated Bulbul 20      
  Grey-eyed Bulbul 20   Pratu Pha Count
  Mountain Bulbul 20   Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo 1
  Ashy Bulbul 10   Limestone Wren-Babbler 2
  Black Bulbul 10      
  Striated Swallow 4      
  Pygmy Wren-babbler 8      
  Mountain Tailorbird 15      
  Slaty-bellied Tesia 15      
  Asian Stubtail 1      
  Black-throated Bushtit 10      
  Buff-barred Warbler 3      
  Pallas's Leaf Warbler 7      
  Yellow-browed Warbler 25      
  Hume's Leaf Warbler 6      
  Greenish Warbler 4      
  Claudia's Leaf Warbler 4      
  Davison's Leaf Warbler 25      
  Grey-crowned Warbler 2      
  Bianchi's Warbler 5      
  Martens's Warbler 15      
  Rufescent Prinia 2      
  White-browed Scimitar Babbler 6      
  Rufous-fronted Babbler 2      
  Buff-chested Babbler 2      
  Golden Babbler 6      
  Rufous-winged Fulvetta 6      
  Brown-cheeked Fulvetta 3      
  Yunnan Fulvetta 60      
  Spot-throated Babbler 2      
  Buff-breasted Babbler 3      
  Silver-eared Laughingthrush 8      
  Blue-winged Minla 10      
  Silver-eared Mesia 10      
  Rufous-backed Sibia 3      
  Long-tailed Sibia 3      
  Indochinese Yuhina 70      
  Whiskered Yuhina 10      
  Chestnut-flanked White-eye 40      
  Japanese White-eye 60      
  Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch 2      
  Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 2      
  Beautiful Nuthatch 1      
  White-gorgeted Flycatcher 3      
  Hill Blue Flycatcher 4      
  Vivid Niltava 1      
  Large Niltava 8      
  Small Niltava 10      
  Verditer Flycatcher 2      
  Blue Whistling Thrush 2      
  Slaty-backed Flycatcher 1      
  Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher 4      
  Little Pied Flycatcher 3      
  Blue Rock Thrush 1      
  Grey Bush Chat 1      
  Orange-bellied Leafbird 4      
  Fire-breasted Flowerpecker 6      
  Mrs. Gould's Sunbird 20      
  Black-throated Sunbird 12      
  Little Spiderhunter 6      
  Streaked Spiderhunter 12      
  Grey Wagtail 2      
  White Wagtail 1      
  Olive-backed Pipit 1