Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Thailand 2018: Part 4

Day sixteen, Feb 17. Our flight from Chiang Rai to Bangkok went off without a hitch. We checked into the Amaranth Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel with time enough to freshen up before the group’s farewell evening dinner. Everyone except Rick and Janice gathered in the dining area. They were out collecting custom made clothes ordered from a tailor when they arrived in Thailand prior to the start of the main tour. They eventually joined the group late just in time to share their top 5 birds. They, along with José, and Greg, had opted out of the tour extension and were heading home the next morning.
Carol’s broken wrist remained frustrating for numerous reasons but adding insult to injury, the focus wheel on her bins had started acting up. The fix was to swap with Tom’s identical pair since Tom had two good hands for holding his bins and better equipped to deal with a fussy focus wheel. Using binoculars with only one hand is not easy, but at least a sticking focus wheel would no longer be an issue.
Day seventeen. The remaining members of the tour reconvened for a leisurely breakfast where we were joined by a local bird guru, Wichyanan “Jay” Limparungpatthanakij. He graduated with a Master’s Degree in Biology from Bangkok’s Mahidol University, focusing on the ecology of avian mixed-species foraging flocks. He is a member of the BCST Records Committee and an eBird reviewer for Thailand, is involved in a number of ornithological and ecological research projects in Thailand, and a freelance guide specializing in bird tours. He's also an active volunteer for conservation NGOs.
It turned out that Jay had spent a year as a high school foreign exchange student in southeast Wisconsin. Not only was Jay’s English impeccable, but he was familiar with many locations in Wisconsin! At the time we met Jay we had no idea he is the co-author of the newest “Birds of Thailand” field guide.

By late morning we were in the air on our a two-hour flight to Krabi, a bustling tourist city in the heart of Southern Thailand’s Sundaic forest habitat. New landscapes, cuisine, and of course birds awaited. As we deplaned it was duly noted that we had traded Thailand’s cool northern climate for hot humid conditions. Emphasis on humid.

After checking into our lodgings at the Green House Hotel and dropping our bags, we boarded long boards to cruise the Krabi River and associated labyrinth of the Krabi mangroves. Our boatmen’s keen ears and eyes picked up numerous birds lurking in the mangroves, often stopping and drawing near to try and bring birds into the open. During one attempt, he found a resting Mangrove Viper. Our daily list grew with Ashy Tailorbirds, Ruddy Kingfishers, Korean Flycatchers, and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. Rufous-bellied Swallows and massive Brown-winged Kingfishers.

One highly sought after trip bird was Mangrove Pitta. True to form, as with pittas everywhere we’ve encountered them, they tend to make loud calls but throwing their voices with the art of a ventriloquist. After several failed attempts to draw one out, and with the afternoon waning, we vowed try again the next day. For now, our appetites were driving us to return to Krabi’s popular waterfront district, bursting with shops and restaurants. Jay suggested a floating restaurant which as it turned out, due to low tide, was more of a leaning restaurant. But the food was delicious.

The next morning we headed back to explore the mangroves, this time on land via the Mangrove Forest Walkway, a wooden boardwalk several feet above the water line. This was when we marveled at Jay’s amazing warbler ID capabilities as he sussed out several warbler species, each looking the same as the last. Eventually we heard not one but two Mangrove Pitta persistently. They seemed seemed tantalizingly close while at the same time, far away. We spent an inordinate amount of time pacing back and forth along the boardwalk peering into dense tangles of of mangrove roots. As we paced, we met a couple of foreign birders trying to track down the pittas. One of the birders, despite several trips to Thailand. If anything he was more keen to find one than us.

Finally, we caught sight of a pitta. Well, some of us did. The bird was barely visible through a tiny window of mangrove tangle but the placement of the scope was raised to such a high position that it was impossible for some to view the bird. A bit of creative scrounging produced enough wood to assemble a makeshift step stool. In the end, everyone got to see the pitta, thank goodness!
Leaving Krabi behind we drove to the Morakot Resort in our luxurious leather appointed rental van replete with rear seat video screens. In spite of the intense afternoon heat, the group was eager to keep birding so after we checked in and dropped our bags, we were off to explore part of Khao Pra Bang Khram, better known as Khao Nor Chu Chi, a 183 square kilometer sanctuary. There are many trails, some in an overgrown state providing opportunities for both forest edge species and birds of the forest interior. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Little and Purple-naped Spiderhunters and Whiskered Treeswift, Silver-rumped Spinetails, and Banded Woodpecker.

Following dinner at the resort, we ventured out that evening for a bit of owling. In no time at all we had our flashlights focused on a Brown Wood Owl that continued to escort us up and down the road, hooting all the way.
Not unlike birding in the heat of the desert southwest, the best time to bird in tropic heat it is early morning and late afternoon when birds tend to be more active. Walking a small narrow road we added Scaly-crowned, Chestnut-winged and Ferruginous Babblers plus a variety of new bubuls and a Gray-and-buff Woodpecker.

Veering off onto a side-track we picked up a stunning Van Hasselt’s Sunbird plus more warblers and flowerpeckers. The location of a Green Broadbill, with its distinctive rising yodeling, had us puzzled until we pinpointed it high in the foliage above. Always tricky to find a brilliant green bird in brilliant green surroundings.
Wisely choosing to take a break in the mid-day heat following lunch at the resort, some took naps while others photographed birds coming to resort feeders but by mid-afternoon we were antsy to get back into the forest. A different section presented us with another ‘pocket bird’: Rufous Piculet. A Rufous-tailed Tailorbird taxed our binocular skills as it darted in and out of sight before we added the last drongo species needed for a drongo slam - Crow-billed Drongo. Another broadbill was heard calling back and forth with another broadbill. Unlike the Green Broadbill, this Black-and-Yellow Broadbill was decked out with an array of yellow and pink feathers contrasted with an outrageous sky-blue bill. No better time than to retire to the resort and celebrate with some cold drinks.
The next morning, Tom was physically feeling out of sorts. While he went so far as to accompany the group, he stayed in the van while the rest of the group went forth to collect Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Raffle’s Malkoha and a Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, the last of the birds found at Khao Nor Chi Chi.
Packing up our bags we lit out for the last lodge on the extension, Yoeser Beach Resort, located across the peninsula on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand. Tom still wasn’t feeling a whole lot better and again elected to stay behind, along with Carol,  while the rest of the group headed directly to Krung Ching, part of the Khao Luang National Park complex.
Day twenty-one, February 22. Tom, now very devoid of energy, missed the final full day of birding in the forests of Krung Ching. Carol was so concerned she spoke with the lodge owner, a Canadian, who had started the resort some years earlier with his Canadian born Thai wife (who sadly had succumbed to cancer a few years earlier). He suggested that Tom’s lack of energy was due to dehydration and that a visit to a local hospital was in order. He graciously drove us to a local hospital where we wound up spending the afternoon.
Tom was put on a saline drip lasting about two and a half hours while a blood workup was performed. Sure enough, he had a viral infection which had knocked him for a loop. With prescribed medication and cautioned to drink lots of liquids, we returned to the resort for more rest. Cost of the visit? A staggering $25 cash.
While we were now registered in three Thai hospitals - what a sorry lot we were - the group had been busy collecting more new birds. Banded Broadbill, Yellow-eared and Gray-breasted Spiderhunters, Golden-whiskered Barbets, Scaly-breasted Bulbuls and Sooty Barbets.
In fact, as Phil put it, the afternoon was “likely the most rewarding of our entire visit to Southern Thailand”. The list included Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoos, Violet Cucukoo, Black Hornbill, Rufous-winged and Maroon-breasted Philentomas, Black-throated babblers, and Fluffy-backed Tit-Babblers. Red-beared Bee-eater and Scarlet-rumped Trogon.
Rounding out the day they ticked Spectacled Spiderhunter, Green Iora, Red-billed Malkoha, Dusky Broadbills and one final bird for the day, Buffy Fish-Owl. About the only thing the group got that we didn’t mind missing was the first and only encounter with leeches for the whole trip. And the leech socks several had purchased for the trip did not stop the leeches (which Tom knew from his experiences with leeches in Vietnam).

The last day of the extension began with the group lounging about the resort, walking the beach, swimming in the resort’s pool, and organizing belongings for our eventual return to the states the next day. Unfortunately, our flight from Krabi back to Bangkok didn’t get in until late which put a crimp into the group gathering for one last farewell dinner. Just as well since everyone was pretty knackered plus both our guides were already prepping for their next Thailand tours which were to begin in less than 36 hours.
Epilogue: After Carol had broken her wrist we had been anxious to setup an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in Tucson. An email exchange with friend Nancy Novak in Tucson resulted in an appointment. Two days after our return, Carol met with the surgeon. Then two days after that she had her surgery in late February. By late November, the hardware the surgeon had implanted to facilitate the healing process was removed. The binoculars with the focus wheel issue were sent into Nikon. Nikon’s lifetime warranty resulted in a new pair of binoculars to replace the old pair. If only fixing her wrist had been so simple.
While we missed some stellar birds on the last few days, our life bird total still exceeded well over 450 species while adding a number of new bird families, all the while enjoying a kaleidoscope of landscapes and tastebud challenging cuisine. Yet another memorable Tropical Birding tour. Hats off to our guides Laurie Ross and Phil Chaon (who has since joined the regular guide staff at TB), and “Thai Jay” who made IDing warblers in the peninsular look so easy.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Thailand 2018: Part 3

Day nine. We awoke before first light to the sounds of Spotted Owlet and Brown Boobook calling from trees on the grounds of the Inthanon Highland Resort. Brekky while still dark, then boarded our vans to reach the upper elevations of Doi Inthanon National Park just before sunrise.
Suitably layered up against cold crisp air, we arrived not too far below the park’s summit and began scouring the northern montane forest habitat for flocks of birds. A few flocks finally appeared, momentarily curtailing talk of hot coffee and tea. Mountain and Striated Bulbul, Speckled and Ashy Wood-pigeon. Sprightly Yellow-bellied Fairy-Fantail, Golden-throated Barbet and a very vivid blue Vivid Nitava that shone extra brightly in the morning sun. Before reloading our vans to head to the summit we added several “yellow-themed” birds: Yellow-cheeked Tit, Yellow-browed Tit, and Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker.

can't go birding without some go-juice!
At the summit we honed in on caffeine from a small coffee shop with an immense menu of hot drinks. High elevation sunbirds bounced through the foliage - Gould’s and Green-tailed. A Blue Whistling-Thrush was found behind the men’s restroom (never leave your binoculars too far away, even when peeing).
Tearing ourselves away from the coffee stand, we descended a path into a mossy forest via a boardwalk. Skulking in the understory we found Ashy-throated Warbler, Chestnut-tailed Munia, Japanese White-eye, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Dark-sided Thrush, and White-browed Shortwing. Snowy-browed Flycatchers bobbed along the boardwalk’s handrails reminding us of our water-thrushes in the U.S..

lunch at Mr. Deang's where we were encouraged to sample everything 
A very memorable break for lunch at Mr. Deaang’s Shop where we were introduced to more northern Thai cuisine and friendliness. Also not too shabby birding as we sat and ate, watching the feeders adjacent to the cafe’s patio. We all agreed that on our next day back on the mountain, we must include a revisit to sample more of Mr. Deang’s menu.
Fortified with food, and with warming temperatures, we resumed our mountain birding with gusto. More large flocks with better looks at birds we’d seen earlier plus Black-eared and Clicking Shrike-Babbler, Blue-winged Minia, Hume’s Treecreeper, and stunning Silver-eared Mesia.
A particular target bird was the White-capped Redstart. It inhabits swift streams and happily, our guides knew just where to look - a waterfall in a less travelled part of the park. Rounding out the day we stopped at the “Inthanon Birds Centre” run by a Mr. Deang (is everyone named Mr. Deang?). The draw to this birding center was that it’s a reliable spot to pickup Blossom-headed Parakeet.

Blossom-headed Parakeet at Mr. Deang's Bird Sanctuary
Climbing a wooden observation tower, we soon encountered our target birds, feeding and preening in the late afternoon sun. While signing into the guest log, we happened to see that Wisconsin friends, Bill and Connie Volkert, had visited the tower in 2015. You’ll recall from our Colombia blog report that we have a funny way of running into Bill and Connie in out of the way places.
Returning to the resort we noticed a large tour bus in the parking lot with several what appeared to be cyclists milling about. Was this part of an organized bike tour? No matter. Time for relaxing with adult beverages before being treated to another fantastic meal followed by searching for owls that some of the group had missed during the pre-dawn hours.

Thai cyclists prepping for the climb
Day ten, February 11. We were met with some disconcerting news. The road to the summit of the park where we had birded the day before was to be closed until noon for a special cycling event, the annual bike tour to the summit. That would explain the bus load of Thai cyclists who, when we arrived for our pre-dawn breakfast, were assembling to embark on their ride up Thailand’s highest peak. Thank goodness we had chosen to do the higher elevation the day before! Unable to return to the summit or any other portion of the park until the afternoon, what to do in the meantime? Plan B it is.

Plan B
Plan B was to drive through a patchwork of small farms, mango orchards and woodlands, surrounding the resort, then stopping at various locations to walk and bird.
Pied and Gray Bushchat, Gray-capped Pygmy-Woodpecker (reminded us of a smaller version of our Arizona Woodpecker), and Crested Treeswift. Some had a distant glimpse of Red-billed Blue-Magpie. A raucous inquisitive flock of Eurasian Jays stopped to check us out. More birds revealed themselves as the day warmed. Working clusters of flowers in a large flame tree were: Black Drongo, Great and Common Myna, Chestnut-tailed Starling, and finally, a pair of Rufous Treepies.

you can't see the birds?
Following lunch at the resort (sadly, we were unable to get back to Mr. Deang’s), we reentered the park amidst thousands of cyclists descending the park’s main road. But at least the road was now reopened as we made our way into mid-elevation habitat. Rufous-backed Sibia, Marten’s Warbler (oooh, but the warblers in this part of the world are tough to ID), Bronzed Drongo, and Chestnut-vented Nuthatch posing and posturing in true nuthatch fashion.

requisite group photo in front of waterfall
Another waterfall, this time a bit more touristy but which also had a small snack bar with more coffee and pastry options. And another target bird that frequents fast moving water - Plumbeous Redstart. Tiny birds but finally found a few flitting in the shadows, hopping from rock to rock.

shopping and Carol's new iPad carrier/purse
We stopped for a brief bit of roadside shopping during which time some of us had a chance to chat with a few of the cyclists. Most impressive mix of men and women anxious to chat with Americans. One rider in particular had garnered first place in his age group on the 2,474 meter climb to the top.

nightjar stakeout 
Not wanting to waste what daylight we had left, we first made a quick stop to pick up some snacks and beverages, then drove to a spot on the shore of a lake to watch the sunset and await awakening nightjars. To our astonishment, we garnered three species in short order: Large-tailed, Savannah, and Indian, all hawking insects over the water and landing on the road just feet away.
Day eleven. A longer driving day. With breakfast under our belt and with packed bags loaded aboard our vans, we departed the resort, heading further north in search of our first target bird of the day. Unfortunately, owing to the fact that the site where we would have looked was busy with vehicle traffic we missed it. The somewhat reclusive and shy Black-backed Forktail most likely was in hiding. Instead we drove further up a dusty, winding road, also busy with construction trucks. Putting up with the dust, we stood alongside the road, instructed to watch a small cavity in a bare tree limb without a clues promised
 as to what we were waiting to see. Finally, something started to emerge. First one, then two more. Eventually a family of seven Collared Falconets clustered on the bare branches. Barely the size of a large sparrow, these diminutive members of the falcon family feed mainly on butterflies. What a treat to observe them hunting, preening, and even a brief courtship display! Before descending back to the main highway, we found our second target bird, a pair of Black-headed Woodpeckers.

Collared Falconets; Black-headed Woodpecker
By mid-afternoon we arrived at Malee’s Nature Bungalo just outside Chiang Dao. Mallee and her husband are ardent collectors of orchids which graced the grounds. Given the longer ride and heat of the afternoon, some of the group opted for a brief nap (or bird the grounds and photograph orchids) before we set out to explore nearby rice paddy fields. Common Buzzard, Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Greenish Warbler, Black-collared Starlings, Crimson Sunbird and a surprise flock of Gray-heaed Lapwings. Rounding out the paddy tour were a pair of Pin-tailed Snipe. Because Mallee’s does not serve meals, we took our evening meal at a nearby restaurant (the desserts were superb!).

birding Doi Chang Dao NP
Day twelve. Once more foregoing our vans for 4WD pickup trucks as we had earlier in the tour, we began a pre-dawn chilly, bumpy and bone-jarring (at least for those of us in the beds of the pickups) journey up the pine covered slopes of Doi Chiang Dao National Park. Mercifully, we reached a grove of pines where we disembarked to stretch and start seeking some new birds. As the sky brightened we found Velvet-fronted and Chestnut-vented Nuthatch high up in dead limbs (felt like we were getting ‘warbler’ neck). Gray-capped and Stripe-breasted Woodpecker joined the fray but eventually the star of the show appeared: Giant Nuthatch. This was one giant nuthatch, easily over twice the size of our White-breasted Nuthatch. Following up the nuthatch sightings we scored a Large Cuckooshrike and a stunning red and royal blue Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush.
Back aboard the trucks (oh, my, a short step stool would have been helpful!) we arrived at the end of the road where in a large clearing we ate our boxed breakfast, keeping an eye on surrounding pine habitat. From our vantage point we added Sooty-headed, Flavescent, Black, and Mountain Bulbul, Japanese Tit, and Slender-billed Oriole. Working the edge of the clearing was a Gray-backed Shrike as Maroon Orioles flew overhead.
From the clearing edge we lit out on the summit trail. Overhead, Cook’s Swifts soared. Orange-bellied Leafbirds and a chance encounter with an Oriental Turtle Dove plus more sightings of birds we’d seen earlier.
Back at the clearing we climbed into the trucks for our decent off the mountain, stopping occasionally along the road to walk/bird our way down. Yunnan Fulvetta (don’t you just love some of these bird names?), Striated Yuhina, Gray-throated Babbler, and a “pocket bird”, a bird so cute you want to scoop it up and put it in your pocket to take home: a Speckled Piculet, the smallest of the woodpecker family.

makeshift sling; Carol, Mallee, José atChiang Dao hospital
It was right after our piculet sighting misfortune struck. Carol lost her footing on a slopped gravel road. When she tried to break her fall with her hand, that's when her wrist gave way. At best it was fractured. At worst, it was broken. Carol spent the rest of the descent with a makeshift sling until we reach Mallee’s.
In order to determine the scope of damage, Mallee, insisted we pay a visit to the local Chiang Dao public hospital. She bundled us into her personal car along with one of our tour group members, Jose Padilla-Lopez, a pediatrician from Fort Meyers, FL.
Once inside the hospital Mallee was a bulldog, whisking us through registration and getting staff ramped up for an X-ray. Once the X-ray was taken, a physician pronounced that it was in indeed broken; that we should visit an orthopedic doctor in Chiang Mai. Mallee phoned the hospital to find out if an ortho doc would be available. Yes, one would be there until 7:30 that evening. Mallee then called for a taxi, instructed the driver where to take us, and that he should wait to return us to the resort.
The cost of the X-ray and consultation at the Chiang Dao public hospital? Just over $12. Imagine what it would have cost in the United States? Soon we were on our way to Chiang Mai with a taxi driver who spoke just a few words of English.
The private Chaing Mai hospital (RAM), an hour and a half away, was incredible. Bright, clean and ever so efficient. It felt like a five star hotel. We were immediately ushered to reception. After showing Carol's passport, filling out a short form, and having her photo taken, we were ushered to the ortho desk and adjoining waiting room. Ten minutes later we were taken to an exam room where her vitals were taken while she answered a few basic questions about her fall. Lots of face grimaces and the word “Ouch” which seems to be an internationally understood term. Alas, our mastery of the Thai language was pretty non-existent. Fortunately, most everyone in the hospital spoke passable English.
We hardly had a chance to return to our seats in the waiting area before being whisked into a consultation room to meet with an orthopedic surgeon, who, it turned out, had spent a year of residency at Mass General in Boston.
The doc confirmed that Carol's radius was definitely broken and would require surgery. How soon was it needed? Would we be able to stay in Thailand to finish the tour? He explained that she had about a two week window of time before surgery. Any further delay  might prove problematic. Since we had just under two weeks left in our tour, we could stay if she wished. He applied a large soft but stiff cast to immobilize and restrict movement, limiting motion of her wrist and fingers. He made her promise not to fall again (really!?). He also wrote a prescription for ice packs, pain and anti-inflammatory medications, and provided a letter stating she was capable of flying aboard a commercial airline, something we would need to prove in order to leave Thailand. Very friendly and professional staff all the way around. Over to the pharmacy area to collect her prescriptions, ice packs and pay our bill. Our cost? $150 paid with a credit card. Fast and painless. Well, except for Carol’s broken wrist.
As promised, our taxi driver was waiting outside to begin our ride back to the resort. By now it was early evening and we’d missed any chance of eating with the group wherever they had eaten. Using rudimentary sign language (scooping imaginary food into his mouth) he wanted to know if we were hungry. Mallee had said the driver had been driving the same route for almost thirty years so he knew just where to stop. The problem was reading a menu but soon enough, via a three-way phone conversation with us, the driver and Mallee, and the cook, we enjoyed a tasty large bowl of soup. Our happy-go-lucky driver even serenaded us with Thai songs during our return journey.
Back at Mallee’s we informed our guides of what had transpired at the RAM hospital. Tropical Birding staff in Quito had already been informed and offered us some options. One was to stay and finish the tour or two, take a flight back to Bangkok and rebook our return flight to the states. The latter proved to be far too expensive and besides, with the doc’s blessings to continue the tour, we had opted to stay realizing that the remainder of Carol’s tour was going to be challenging and somewhat limited.

group photo at Mallee's; Mallee and Carol
The next morning we bid Mallee farewell, thanking her profusely for all her help with Carol’s medical emergency. Upon reflection, had this accident happened most anywhere else during our tour, we would have been hard pressed to receive such prompt care. It was amazing that our trip to two hospitals and subsequent medical care in the span of just one afternoon had not not inconvenienced the rest of the group in the least (aside from their concern for Carol’s welfare).

Not far from Mallee's was Wat Tham Pha Plong, a forest temple sitting atop a mountain northwest of Chang Dao on the way to Fang. While we were visiting hospitals, our group had taken the previous afternoon to visit the same temple but were happy to return.
The walk to the temple - 510 steps - was daunting, but with many places to stop and contemplate countless panels with Buddhist wisdom and advice, the effort was easier. House Swifts, Black-throated Sunbird, Buff-breasted Babbler and Striped Wren-Babbler were a few of the species we encountered. And the view from the top was spectacular.
Back in the vans we negotiated a series of intricate switchbacks and impossibly steep slopes of Doi Ang Khang (our Thai driver was not impressed). We arrived at the Ang Khang Nature Resort in time for lunch which we enjoyed seated on a picturesque balcony. More northern Thai specialty dishes to match our northern Thai specialty birds. This was Carol’s first experience eating a full meal one-handed. It was clear it was going to be a learning curve but she proved to be up to the task. If there was a silver lining, it was that her non-dominant hand was the one out of commission.

Myanmar border outpost
Post-lunch we saddled up and headed to a few well known hides in a small hill tribe mountain village. As we pulled into a parking area, we were immediately admonished by very rough looking Thai soldier who demanded we get back in our vehicles and leave at once. Taken aback but not wanting to start an internationally incident, plus judging from his gruff demeanor, we complied. As we drove away we noticed several members of the Thai military in formation so there must have been a special event taking place that warranted our not being there. Sure enough, as we drove away, we encountered a small convoy of black SUVs. Later we learned it was the crown prince’s wife, Princess Srirasm Suwadi, who was visiting the area. Update: As of December 2018, the princess, the crown prince’s third wife, was stripped of her title and thrown out of the royal family. Apparently this has been common practice by the crown prince as he had done the same with his second wife. It’s reported that the crown prince, who has a reputation of being a philanderer, already has a child with his current mistress who may become his fourth wife. A regular Peyton Place. The crown prince has now ascended to the throne as his father, a much beloved ruler, passed away. The new king apparently has the reputation of being a reckless playboy and isn’t nearly as popular as his father.
So, another Plan B diversion was required. We headed to a small lodge to use a viewing area well known by Thai photographers. In fact, it was during a good part of the rest of our main tour in northern Thailand that we came to understand and appreciate several viewing areas used by Thai photographers. Here we found Eye-browed and Black-breasted Thrush, Sooty-headed Bulbul, and Brown-breasted Bulbul. Moving to a nearby waterfall we added brilliant White-capped Redstart and Daurian Redstart.

Royal Projects grounds
Attempting to reach a small patch of bamboo at the Doi Ang Khang Royal Projects (a formal garden) we again encountered another road block. We were informed by the head of security that the princess was in a nearby residence “resting”. Fortunately we did not appear to pose a threat and were allowed entry to the bamboo area where we found White-tailed Robin.
Knowing the princess was now not at the first site where we had been unable to visit, we returned and had no problem parking as the military was now absent. Decorations still adorned the area including a raised throne and evidence that the princess had been seated at another location overlooking a distant outpost in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Yellow-streaked Warbler and Long-tailed Shrike plus views of the Miramar border.
Princess Carol; Luke Seitz
Returning to the lodge for another wonderful Thai meal, we happened to run into Luke Seitz who was co-leading a Wings tour with Jon Dunn. We first met Luke when he arrived as our volunteer host replacement at Tandayapa Lodge in Ecuador. Luke has since graduated from Cornell University and is working in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
By now Carol was becoming more accustomed to eating with one hand but required assistance showering and dressing. Even more challenging was when we were on the road and using restroom facilities. Typically, bathrooms were devoid of toilet paper and worse, lacked conventional toilets. She was relegated to using only a hole in the floor referred to as a “squatter”. Tough enough with two working arms. Fortunately, a favorite stop was at 7-Eleven stores which were all over Thailand. These had “squatters” but many also had a handicapped bathroom with a conventional toilet. A life saver! She still needed assistance buttoning her pants but at least she didn’t have to make like a tripod over a squatter.

Myanmar checkpoint guard
Our next day we again birded Doi Ang Khang but rather than focusing on hides, we opted to find mixed flocks. Arriving at a small checkpoint at the Myanmar-Thai border, we strode through the checkpoint, apparently no passport needed. No new birds except we did bulk up our Myanmar country list with six species. In Myanmar for less than a half hour before walking back to Thailand where we posed for photos with a very friendly Thai guard on duty.

Birding Do Ang Khang; Ultramarine Flycatche
We ventured down another road toward a large campsite where we picked up Silver-eared Laughingthrush, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler and Spectacled Barwings. An annoyingly loud bird, Scarlet-faced Liocicha, proved to be nearly impossible to find. Eventually everyone did get looks, albeit short ones, as it flitted in and out of dense tangles of understory. We even found a little time for poking around the shops in the hill tribe's village.
Having scarfed up all the immediately available target birds we motored on to the town of Fang. With a half day of birding remaining, we dropped our bags at our hotel then stocked up on provisions for next day boxed breakfasts and lunches at a Fang open-air market. Back in our vans, we headed up a steep and winding road to explore some of the more notable Thai photographer hides in dry pine forest.
Thai photographers have used these hides so often - baiting hides with meal worms - that birds anticipate their arrival whenever they hear a vehicle. Such was the case at one site where we had no more than stopped when a very impatient Ultramarine Flycatcher flew in with expectations of a hand out. Neither the bird nor us were disappointed!

Rufous-bellied Nitava (top); Spot-breasted Parrotbill
Further down the road we stopped at a second feeding station where a steady stream of birds provided us with eye-popping views. White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Nitava, and Greater Yellownape. Another nearby site a short walk away revealed Himalayan Bluetail, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Redstart and an exceptionally cooperative Spot-breasted Parrotbill that sat up and vocalized for several minutes.
Our final roadside stop produced what initially appeared to be a rather unremarkable bird until it turned to face us, exposing its brilliant ruby throat: an aptly named Siberian Rubythroat.
We retraced our route back to Fang and our spartan but clean accommodations at the Khunyuw Hotel. An evening out at a local restaurant and we were more than ready for bed knowing that our departure time in the morning would be well before dawn.
Quite unexpectedly, the hotel had laid out a smattering of fresh fruit and hot water for instant coffee as we brought our bags to the lobby to be loaded onto our vans. If our Thai driver Som Sok had any reservations concerning steep mountain roads before, he was now fretting about his fully loaded van with most of our luggage. Would he have enough power to motor up the mountain?

Hulme's Pheasant
We absolutely needed to be at a specific site before sunrise. It’s a location well known for a chance to see our target bird, a bird the Wings tour had missed the day before. It’s also a location where Thai photographers set up blinds in the middle of the road making it impossible to pass. However, luck was with us as we arrived on time, the road completely devoid of any traffic. We positioned the vans crossways in the road, opening the van’s sliding doors turning our vehicles into makeshift hides. We remained inside (on comfortable seats) as our guides scattered the requisite meal worms across the road. And then we waited. And waited.
As first light reached the road, two large shapes emerged from the shadows. In a whispered voice, our guides said, “They’re coming!”. Indeed, our target birds were coming into view, a male and female Hume’s Pheasant, one of THE most sought after bird species in Thailand. At this point we were happy to catch any glimpse at all. But as the sun rose higher, the birds approached closer and closer, giving us all excellent looks. At one point I was able to exit our van along with Som Sok who by this time was just as excited to see these birds as the rest of us. At one point the male displayed several times, raising up, beating its wings and tail. Another male suddenly burst out of the understory and flew directly over us. More than we could have ever hoped to see!
As the stars of the show continued to scarf up mealworms, there were bonus sightings of other birds taking advantage of the free handout. Little Pied Flycatcher, Crested Finchbill, and Black-throated Tit. Eventually the pheasants moved back into the understory and we moved on to revisit a couple of the sites we had stopped at the day before. A few other feeding stations produced more new birds: Crested Bunting, and an Aberrant Bush Warbler.
We opted to have our box lunch at the Ultramarine Flycatcher site. And yes, the bird instantly reappeared just as we stopped, rewarded with another mealworm handout.
Our drive to the luxurious Maekok River Resort didn’t take long at all. Arriving in the heat of the day, most of the group chose to relax in the resort's opulent surroundings, some electing to have a Thai massage ($10/hour - ridiculous!). Even Carol managed to make herself comfortable enough on our bed for an in room massage.

Small Praticole
Realizing that this would be our the last full day of birding during the main tour, several of us opted to partake in a short drive to the Tha Ton rice paddies. Navigating a confusing maze of narrow farm roads didn’t produce much new until we reached an overlook of the Maekok River. Scanning the shore we found a tiny tern-like bird, Small Pratincole. Members of the shorebird family, this was another one that qualified as a “pocket bird”.
Retracing our route through the paddies we came across the critically endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting, a small flock that had made its way from Northern China to South-East Asia for the winter. Very fortunate to have stumbled across these not usually seen birds on any Thailand tour.

Our final morning of the main tour. Heading toward Chiang Rai we witnessed a misty sunrise over the Mekong River. Gazing across into Laos, smitten with the scenery, we almost missed Gray-throated Martins. A stop at Nong Bong Khai to intake our boxed breakfasts followed by a leisurely stroll along a boardwalk in search of waterbirds. Several by now familiar species were observed plus we added White-browed and Ruddy-breasted Crake. Both jumped up briefly from dense marsh habitat. After more lapwings, kingfishers and swamphens, we eventually spotted Lesser Whistling Ducks and enjoyed looks - albeit distant looks - at Spot-billed and Ferruginous Ducks as well as Ruddy Shelducks. Even a couple of familiar species: Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler. Hey. Country bird ticks, right?
Keenly aware of the need to get to our plane at Chiang Rai airport for our flight to Bangkok, we had just enough time for one more stop where we added a pair of very secretive Baikal Bush Warblers. We bid our farewell to our loyal driver Som Sok who, we suspect, had never chauffeured a group of birders around before. Maybe his experience with the Hume’s Pheasant has made him a convert? Probably not. We can only hope.

Red-whiskered Bulbul

our Northern Thailand van driver Som Sok

Black-breasted Thrush

White-gorgeted Flycatcher
Siberian Rubythroat

Little Ringed Plover