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Doi Inthanon Birding
17-21 January 2000
by Peter Ericsson
Having once experienced the thrills of this mountain, the time had come for another exciting trip.
This year Thailand has experienced some unusual drops in temperature with even a slight fraction of under 10 degrees Celsius here in Bangkok. So we all had to scramble to find enough warm clothing for our adventure up ahead. Temperatures of below zero had been recorded at the summit of DI around New Year.
We pulled out of Bangkok before 6 am taking the new nice expressway out of town. Estimated 8-9 hours travelling before arriving at DI. About 100 km outside of Bangkok thick fog rolled in over the highway and we were forced to pull our van over by the roadside as it was virtually impossible to go on driving. This was a real test of everyone's patience as we all were 'dying' to get going. After a little over an hour we slowly started driving again. Meanwhile we had watched many screeching ghostlike vehicles come roaring by in the intense fog. We figured 'an hour lost on earth is better than a life lost for eternity' and so had to bid our time. After only a few hundred meters there was a big pile up of smashed cars and after another few hundred meters there was a gigantic earthmover overturned right over a pick-up truck. This had happened about the time we would have been passing so we were all very thankful for our Heavenly protection.
The long ride went fine. Upon arrival we found out the whole park would be shut down for visitors shortly as the Queen of Thailand was coming to inaugurate her new residence. We spent a couple of nights at the regular campground by headquarters but then decided to move on to the campground at HuaySaiLuang waterfall. This is located a 6 km drive off the road from km 37. It's a winding road through beautiful stands of pine (planted I believe) for the first part. Then a graveled bump road (not suitable for normal passenger car) leads down to an estimated altitude of 12-1300 meters. Here the forest is mainly deciduous broadleaf. The campground is located next to a stream and here one can be guaranteed of long and spectacular sights of female Plumbeous Redstart feeding from the boulders in the stream. Two individuals were present the whole time we were there, about 100 meters a part from each other. Slaty-backed Forktail can readily be seen here as well and Great Tit is also rather common. (Somehow seems out of place here in the tropics!)
It wasn't as cold at this campground but due to the presence of the stream the air was moist and one can easily get a little chilled.
A further 500m from campground took us to the waterfall, Mae Baan. To get their we had to walk through some more moist shady area and here we encountered Pygmy-Wren Babbler, Long-tailed Broadbill as well as Speckled Piculet. Other birds along the way were Orange-bellied Leafbird. (This bird has a beautiful song it likes to sound off) , Rosy Minivets as well as a pair of Velvet-fronted Nuthatches.
Then comes a crossroad leading either down or up the fall. We choose the way up as a pair of tourists was going the way down. This proved to be a correct decision. Our goal, besides refreshing ourselves in the cold waters, was to find the famous River Chat and male Plumbeous Redstart.
About 200 meters after the road divider we took a peak down the fall. The waters have carved out rather steep banks down along its course and the waters were rushing towards lower ground. There on a branch next to the waters a River Chat were perching in splendid colors. It drew lots of 'aahs and oohs' from the boys! Only a few feet away the male Redstart were faithfully feeding from the low-lying boulders.
We tried to approach the birds a bit closer slowly moving down the banks. However this attracted their attention and they went further down the fall. On top of it I dropped my camera resulting in a broken flash. Then after having refreshed us in the cold waters up above we took to the bottom of the fall and fought our way back up along the banks. This led to more views of the birds.
A visit to Mr. Daang's restaurant filled us in on the latest. He told us that Red-throated, Chestnut and Dusky Thrush were present at the summit. These birds are very irregular visitors at the top of the mountain flying in from as far away as Siberia. Also Blue-fronted Redstart, he said, were present. Naturally we tried to get these birds but somehow never saw any. Many other birders confirmed their presence though. We did see Scaly Thrush at the summit and large flocks of Eye-browed Thrushes around km 37. Dark-sided Thrush, a resident bird, was also present in the bog.
Right next to Mr. Daang's shop a little feeder had been put up. Here the Rufous-bellied Niltava allowed for long views and photography. Very colorful bird! Also female Blue-throated Flycatcher used the feeder as food provider along with Blue-whistling Thrush.
Well, back up the summit we didn't encounter anything different from the previous year. Woodcock was not seen this year. The Sunbirds were small in numbers as a result of the frost having had a detrimental affect on the rhododendrons that normally attract the birds. While we were there the temperature went down to 3 degrees one morning. Experiencing frost on the ground was a new experience for some of us. However we did have an amazing encounter with a group of Rufous-throated Partridges. These ground dwelling birds were almost tame and got as close as 1-2 meters from us. We felt like we could have picked them up in our hands. My experience with Partridges in general is that all you get is a quick glimpse of them and then it is all over.
At the jeep track we had two life birds. Small and Large Niltavas. Deep blue colors appearing black if not enough light. Black-eared Shrike-Babbler was here again and Green Magpies were seen high in the canopy but generally this part is rather quiet. I was told by regular visits to the park that the most productive part of the track is the first few hundred meters. It is a very tranquil and lush forest though and most worthy of a stroll.
Outside along the road there was more activity with the most interesting birds being, Spectacled Barwing, Silver-eared Mesia, Mountain-tailor bird, Striated Bulbul, Rufous-winged and Grey-cheeked Fulvettas as well as Chestnut-backed and Black-headed Sibia. Stripe-breasted Woodpecker flew across the opening (a lifer) and Maroon Oriole kept to the canopy of some taller trees. (Also a lifer) A flock of Wedge-tailed Pigeons calmly occupied another tree and Ashy-throated Pigeons could at times be seen dashing through the trees. Here we also saw Vivid Niltava perching from a treetop. Its behavior being different from other flycatchers which prefer middle or lower storey.
We skipped the lower elevations this time as the main attraction is the higher grounds. Many more life birds could probably be produced if we'd had more time but all in all it was satisfactory and we hope to be back again sometime.