Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Thailand Offers More Birding Highlights
February 27, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     Because so many of you asked, I thought that I would share a few more highlights of my trip to Thailand:

     -On the first day of our tour, we saw two Himalayan griffons from the summit of Doi Inthanon. Doi Inthanon is the tallest peak in Thailand at 8415 feet. Himilayan griffons are the largest vultures in Asia and are huge even when compared to our turkey vulture. These griffons are rare birds in Thailand, a life bird for me, and even a first for our guide, Nick, who has been birding Thailand for thirteen years.

     -We had great looks at the little Asian Barred Owlet on the grounds of our hotel, the Inthanon Highland Resort. We had heard the owlet calling the night before and a couple of people got brief looks at the owl in a spotlight. I missed it that night, but after hearing it again early in the morning, we tracked it down after breakfast (ours, not the owls), we finally had great daylight views of this cute little owl! This is a common owl in Thailand and we did hear it at night in many other locations. We even hit one along the road at night, though we, hopefully, may have only grazed it, as it was not to be found after we turned around to look for it.

     -As cute as the owlets are, the cuteness award has to go to the two species of falconets that we encountered, the collared and the black-thighed. These small falcons are about half the size of our American kestrel and they were handsomely plumaged. The two black-thighed falconets were obviously a pair, sitting very close together as we photographed them.

     -Spending a painfully cold night at the Ban Luang Resort near Doi Lang Kaeng in the mountains of northern Thailand, near the Mayamar border. The resort was set in a low valley and the clear night produced radiational cooling that dropped the temperature into the low 40’s in our unheated cabin. We wore fleece to bed. We endured the pain as this was the home of the riverchat that I described last week, the white –capped redstart that came to meal worms offered by the owner. During the next day, while watching the riverchat at the resort and later, while birding along the border, the temperature rose into the comfortable 60’s.

     -We had a memorable boat ride out onto Bung Boraphet, a huge lake where we found many species of ducks including ferruginous pochards, gargany and tufted ducks. More familiar were the pintails, gadwall and shoveler ducks and even a single female greater scaup –common here, but rare in Thailand. Particularly cute were the duck-sized cotton pygmy geese. The mangrove edges provided perches for many species of herons and egrets, and the extensive lily pads throughout the lake harbored crakes, rails, jacanas and swamp hens. After landing on the opposite shore, we were greeted by a Siberian rubythroat looking for mealworms that the driver provided. This bird is aptly named as its throat is nothing short of a brilliant gem!

     The machete-carrying Thai guides at Khoa Yai National Park seemed out of place. We weren’t sure why they were carrying such large knives – or maybe we didn’t want to know. Maybe they were used when bushwhacking through the jungle. Maybe they were defense against the tigers and other dangerous wildlife that we never encountered. They certainly were not good defense against leeches. We did encounter a few, but very few. Most were discovered by the blood seeping through a piece of clothing. They would have been more of a problem during the rainy season. It didn’t help that we were sometimes crawling in the underbrush, sneaking up on blue pitas or slaty-bellied and chestnut-headed tesias.

     As we birded along the road at Kaeng Krachen State Park the Sunday traffic coming down from the summit of the mountain (where everyone was, apparently, camping for the weekend) reminded me of the weekend summer beach traffic while trying to bird along the road on The Parker River Refuge on Plum Island. It made the birding very unproductive.

     Going half way around the world only to run into author David Sibley, who was also at Pak Thale looking for the spoon-billed sandpiper.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
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