Doi Phu Kha and exploration: 26 Nov - 1 Dec 2017






26 Nov - 1 Dec 2017.
Dry and sunny with variable cloud cover. Temperatures ranged from 18°C to 32°C.
Wiang Kosai National Park, Tham Sakoen National Park, Doi Phu Kha National Park, Tat Man Waterfall, Phu Nang Ing Waterfall and Mae Song Reservoir.

With Steve Tibbett. Although much improved over the past month, northern weather patterns were still exhibiting rather unseasonal showers and cloud. However, in the interests of visiting Doi Phu Kha before the festive season madness took hold we pencilled in a couple of days, together with exploration of previously unvisited sites along the way. The primary aim was to search for some of the speciality butterflies of Doi Phu Kha, together with birding this highly interesting mountain, although timing for butterflies was far from optimal, being nominally the cool season.

26 Nov. Left Chiang Mai and drove to Wiang Kosai, a park neither of us had visited previously, by 10:40. Although we'd had a cloudy start, with improving weather and sun we found the area very good for lowland butterflies. During the remainder of the morning and until 14:30 we worked the entrance road, the short trail up the waterfall, the campsite, and the signposted Nature Trail we discovered accidentally. The Nature Trail did a kilometre loop mainly through bamboo and dark understorey, but was good for forest floor species such as Tufted Jungleking, Great Evening Brown, Common Archduke, foresters and the such like, athough in a couple of places, typical of Thai nature trails, we had to resort to crawling on hands and knees to overcome tree falls and obstructions. A few hours gave us a good number of species, though nothing particularly rare. Drove to Nan by 17:30 with an overnight in town and a good feed at the restaurant recommended by the staff. Fruity massaman curry anyone?

27 Nov. An early start, to drive to Tham Sakoen, arriving before 09:00. This 40 kilometre route through the hills, if coming from Nan or Pua, must be the most winding road in Thailand - an incredible series of hairpins and curves, with interesting scenery to boot. But decidedly not for those liable to motion sickness.

This was a second visit here, and along the entrance road, an exact repeat of having to rescue a Sooty-headed Bulbul from the same illegal net as on the first visit. No such luck for Olive-backed Sunbird or several bats in the net though. Incredibly, entry to the park was free and we were simple waved in, not stopping to enquire why in case they changed their minds.

Given the cool, cloudy conditions, and the topography of the river within a steep-sided gorge, we found little activity. A couple of early treks up and down the trail along the waterfall, produced Slaty-backed Forktail and Plumbeous Water Redstart. The weather remained cloudy until 10:45, when the sun finally broke through, at last producing some butterfly activity. Finished with a walk along the entry road and several tracks off that we found. All in all some good species including Fruhstorfer's Yamfly and Great Swift.

Silver-breast Ace
Silver-breast Ace

Plumbeous Water Redstart
Plumbeous Water Redstart

En route to Pua, we decided to check Tat Man Waterfall, about which we knew absolutely nothing. Discovered that it was a reasonable looking waterfall with a two kilometre entry road through dry mixed forest. This looked promising, but as very late afternoon we found nothing, so earmarked it for a return visit. Overnight at one of the several cheaper hotels in Pua town, that proved more than adequate, though the profusion of crowing cockerels at 03:00 daily proved a disappointment to say the least.

28 Nov. We started the day at the 1,715 metre pass, beyond Doi Phu Kha, from where we took an early walk along the ridge trail with, surprisingly, leeches still very prevalent, annoyingly so, for this time of year. Few birds, with only Slaty-backed Flycatcher and Pallas's Leaf Warbler of any note and butterflies almost totally absent.

Worked our way slowly down to the star-gazing cum viewpoint cum campsite and shrine, where over coffee a small flock of Indochinese Yuhina visited. In the late morning sun, Crenulate Darkie and the rare Tailless Plushblue found. With the sun out, returned to the ridge, but still quiet so drove down the opposite side toward Bo Kluea, stopping occasionally. Late afternoon we again tried spots lower on the western slope with some success in the form of White Commodore, Fruhstorfer's Yamfly and a bunch of confusing sapphires. A second night in Pua.

29 Nov. As early in the day at altitude and with cool conditions, we tried walking both ends of the Doi Phu Kha Nature Trail - it bring difficult to follow the section through the middle. A couple of Bianchi's Warbler and Alstrom's Warbler, together with a good mixed flock containing Black-eared Shrike-Babbler.

Burmese Mountain Snake
Burmese Mountain Snake

Rusty Forester
Rusty Forester

Phu Nang Ing Waterfall
Phu Nang Ing Waterfall

After midday a return to lower slopes and then, with improving weather, back to the viewpoint where a flowering tree proved excellent for jezebels, with Yellow Jezebel, Painted Jezebel, Red-breast Jezebel and Great Windmill. A late visit to the top found Rusty Forester, another rare species. A final overnight in Pua with the chickens.

30 Nov. Figuring that weather would be warmer and sunnier at lower altitudes we decided to dedicate a day to Tat Man, that we'd checked earlier. Whilst driving from Pua we spotted a sign for Phu Nang Ing Waterfall and thought that, while still early, we'd take a look here as well. A surprisingly scenic gorge for a small provincial waterfall, though unlikely much visited, as unsigned with only dirt tracks leading there. Striated Heron on the river and a few butterflies in the early sun. A lack of much surrounding habitat means this would be unlikely to harbour much wildlife.


At Tat Man itself we found the area rather interesting - both the waterfall and the the forested entry road. Bird-wise most surprising was Collared Babbler. During several hours we found Jeweled Nawab, Dingiest Sailor and Burmese Batwing. Late afternoon, a three hour drive to Phrae where we took accommodation by the highway - thankfully without the chicken dawn chorus.

1 Dec. A cool foggy morning, much like the weather expected at this time of year, with an early fog burning off to a cloudless, hot day. Spent the morning in an exploratory visit to Mae Song Reservoir, though not much of note.

Burmese Batwing
Burmese Batwing

A mid afternoon return to Chiang Mai with a few celebratory beers in town. All in all a good and varied trip with several new areas investigated.

Species List

  Doi Phu Kha Count   Wiang Kosai Count
  Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo 1   Common Emerald Dove 1
  Great Barbet 4   Black-crested Bulbul 3
  Blue-throated Barbet 2   Yellow-browed Warbler 1
  Speckled Piculet 1   Two-barred Warbler 1
  Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker 1   White-rumped Shama 2
  Bay Woodpecker 1      
  Scarlet Minivet 3   Tham Sakoen Count
  Grey-backed Shrike 1   White-breasted Waterhen 1
  White-bellied Erpornis 2   Common Emerald Dove 1
  Blyth's Shrike-babbler 2   Green-billed Malkoha 1
  Black-eared Shrike-babbler 1   Black-hooded Oriole 6
  Ashy Drongo 2   Black-naped Monarch 1
  Hair-crested Drongo 12   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 1
  Black-naped Monarch 2   Black-crested Bulbul 3
  Striated Bulbul 2   Sooty-headed Bulbul 10
  Sooty-headed Bulbul 10   Puff-throated Bulbul 2
  Flavescent Bulbul 20   Grey-eyed Bulbul 2
  Asian House Martin 20   Yellow-browed Warbler 2
  Mountain Tailorbird 1   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 4
  Pallas's Leaf Warbler 1   Slaty-backed Forktail 2
  Yellow-browed Warbler 6   Plumbeous Water Redstart 1
  Claudia's Leaf Warbler 4   Grey Wagtail 1
  Davison's Leaf Warbler 6   White Wagtail 1
  Bianchi's Warbler 2      
  Martens's Warbler 1   Tat Man Count
  White-browed Scimitar Babbler 1   Grey-eyed Bulbul 2
  Golden Babbler 2   Yellow-browed Warbler 2
  Rufous-winged Fulvetta 1   Two-barred Warbler 2
  Yunnan Fulvetta 15   Grey-crowned Warbler 2
  Spot-throated Babbler 1   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 4
  Indochinese Yuhina 10   Collared Babbler 2
  Oriental White-eye 10   White-crested Laughingthrush 4
  Asian Fairy-bluebird 3      
  Blue Whistling Thrush 3      
  Slaty-backed Flycatcher 2      
  Blue Rock Thrush 1      
  Black-throated Sunbird 1      
  Little Spiderhunter 2      
  Grey Wagtail 1      
  White Wagtail 2