Saturday, December 28, 2013

Baan Songnok, Kaeng Krachan December 2013

Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos)-F
This was our third visit to Kaeng Krachan and this time we stayed at Baan Songnok (GPS 12.84689 deg N 19.57989 deg E), Auntie Aek runs this homestay with her daughter, "X". As it was a short stay we thought we would just take advantage of the waterhole and hides in their gardens.

Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos)
Scaly-breasted Partridge (Arborophila chloropus)
The first morning at the blind we were in luck and saw the Kilaj Pheasant, male and female, the Scaly-breasted Partridge, Taiga Flycatcher and Black-naped Monarch and big flocks of Red Junglefowls. After lunch the smaller birds came, the Siberian Blue Robin, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Babblers with the highlight of the Slaty-legged Crake being the last visitor of the day for their evening bath.
Black-naped Monarch  (Hypothymis azurea)
Slaty-legged Crake (Rallina eurizonoides)

It was good easy birding at Baan Songnok and in addition to having good views of some hard to see babblers we could take  coffee breaks when it was quiet.  We enjoyed their hospitality and the good Thai food that X cooked, she also gave us a complimentary ride to Lung Sin's waterhole and blind for a morning stakeout where we found the visiting birds were similar species found at Baan Songnok.  In between our visits to the hides, we took walks in the gardens and the surrounding area.  Our short stay produced 38 species with 4 lifers.  Auntie Aek recommended that the mountain in April will have more interesting birds as they will be breeding so another trip at that time?

Hill Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis banyumas)-F
Hill Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis banyumas)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Doi Inthanon re-visited November 2013

Rufous-throated Partridge
This was our second visit to Doi Inthanon and as the first visit had been in April it was to check the birds in a different season this time.
As before, our guide Uthai, from Chiang Mai Birding picked us from the hotel in Chiang mai early in the morning and headed for the Mae Hia ricefields where some migrant Red Avadavats had been seen there but we only managed several very fleeting views. We did see many others including Pied Bushchats, EasternStonechat, Indochinese Bush Lark, White Wagtail and many Munias and Black-collared Starlings.
Our next stop was Ob Khan National Park which is still in the process of being established. We stayed only a couple of hours and saw Rosy Minivet, Ashy Drongo, Black-hooded Oriole and both Grey and White Wagtails.
We continued to Li town and checked into our guesthouse, had lunch and headed straight to Mae Ping to look for the woodpeckers. Unfortunately it was not our day, although we did hear many, we only managed a very poor view of a Black-headed Woodpecker. We tried again the following morning before going to Inthanon but again, it was not to be.
Ashy-throated Warbler
Arriving at Inthanon, within 1 hour or so we had excellent views of a Plumbeous Redstart, a White-capped Redstart and a Slaty-backed Forktail. So it was off to dinner feeling very satisfied with our day. For the next 2 ½ days we enjoyed the cool weather and saw many birds, the highlights being the Rufous-bellied Niltava, Small Niltava, Grey-throated Babbler, Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Rufous-throated Partridge, Eurasian Woodcock, Ashy-throated Warbler and White-headed Bulbul.
All too soon it was time to leave and head back to Chiang mai, with a quick stop at Mae Hia, and again, apart from some glimpses of the Red Avadavats it was very quiet.
After a relaxing night in our hotel it was on the plane home. We saw 84 species with 12 lifers.

Grey-throated Babbler
Rufous-bellied Niltava

Eurasian Woodcock

Small Niltava

Plumbeous Redstart

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Birding Taiwan October 2013

Swinhoe's Pheasant
We eventually made our trip to Taiwan this October after thinking about it for a while and reading various trip reports about the easy birding at Dasyueshan for the endemic pheasants. We wanted to do a self-drive trip but for first time birding in Taiwan, we had doubts on directions and getting accommodation reserved at the Forestry website   
After reading a recent trip report from a UK group complimenting local guide Kuen-dar Chiang, we decided to do the trip with a guide. We contacted Kuen-dar in early September and got a reply with a proposed itinerary for the two places we want to go, Dasyueshan and Kenting (for the Grey-faced Buzzard migration); a yearly event held at Manhjou during their National Day, October 10th. He also was able to make all the accommodation arrangements and recommended we fly direct to Taichung and return from Kaohsiung to cut down on road transfers. We found Cathay Pacific offering this routing and on 8th October, flew via Hongkong and arrived in Taichung at 2 pm. Kuen-dar met us and to our relief the weather was fine, as with sheer luck, we had just missed typhoon Usagi. 

Our first stop was Guguan for the night and to check out some lower level species with a target to see the Taiwan Blue Magpie. We checked into the Dragon Valley Spa Hotel and started birding at 4 pm. We saw the White Wagtail, Plumbeous Water Redstart and Grey Wagtail feeding in the river far down the ravine but no Blue Magpie that late afternoon. Next morning we started 5.30 am in search of the Blue Magpie but they were not flying and it was the same birds seen yesterday although the Brown Dipper was sighted in the morning mist.
Taiwan Scimitar Babbler

A stop at the nearby forestry office was more rewarding with Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Varied Tit, Taiwan Barbet, Black Bulbul, Taiwan Scimitar Babbler and an obliging Rufous-capped Babbler, were some of our sightings.
Rufous-capped Babbler
After breakfast we drove to Heping on our way to Dongshih's Dasyueshan Forest Road (formerly road No.200) and the ascent up the mountain. We stopped at KM7 for lunch at a fruit farm with a homestay and Pacific Swallows, Straited Swallows were feeding on insects in the air. After lunch we headed up to the bird watching deck at KM23 where the Swinhoe's Pheasant appeared on cue together with Long-nosed Squirrel and the White-whiskered Laughingthrush (locally called the "iPhone" bird as they come close looking for food).

After the thrill of seeing the Swinhoe's so close, we continued to the Tourist Service and Ticketing Booth at KM35 where we stopped for a short look around. As it was quiet, we continued to the Visitors Centre at KM43 to quickly check-in to our lodge and continue our birding.
A Pair of Mikado Pheasants

As soon as we approached KM42 the Mikado Pheasant was already visible crossing the road and we had good views of both male and female birds. Kuen-dar then decided to try for the Rose-finch and we took a walk near a car-park before the summit. There were only the "iPhone" birds amusing the visitors at the car-park.
Collared Bush Robin

Steere's Liocichla

With the 2 pheasants in our bag it was the "small birds" that we were looking out for the next day at the summit, KM48, also known as "Siaosueyshan" where we spent the full day looking for specialties like Nutcracker, Flamecrest and Rosefinch. Indeed the next morning we were quite relaxed and up early on our own checking the gardens around the lodge. Although we heard the Wren Babblers we could only see it darting between bushes in the morning mist, however we had good views of the Steere's Liocichla feeding on fallen insects near the lights.
White-whiskered Laughingthrush

Rusty Laughingthrush

White-backed Woodpecker


At the summit, Siaosueyshan, we watched a documentary at the visitor center then walked up to the highest point the Tianchih at KM50 where we saw the Nutcracker very high in the treetops. Lunch was at the restaurant and we birded along the trail 230 and it was rather quiet with occasional bird waves of Taiwan Yuhina and Black-throated Tits. As it was 10-10 their National Day there were many visitors trekking and picnicking at the park also. On 11th we had an early start at 5.30am to the summit and after a long time saw the Flamecrest feeding in the pine tree tops, then it was down to KM42 to look for the Hill Patridge and were lucky to see one bird with the Mikado pheasants but it quickly moved off and never came back into view. Back at the KM43 for our breakfast and then check-out, we drove around, and at KM32 we got the White-eared Sibia and at the waterfall two Little Forktails were feeding. A glimpse of the Eurasian Jay up in the trees and further down we saw Nuthatches in a bird wave. We checked into the home-stay at KM7 and birded in the lower levels and in the evening had dinner in Dongshih. On our last day at Dasyueshan 大雪山 we started early at 6 am and drove up to KM23 for the Hill Patridge but had no luck, instead the Swinhoe's Pheasant and White-eared Sibia and a pair of White-backed Woodpecker came to a tree near the deck.  The surprise of the morning birding was seeing a group of 12 Rusty Laughing Thrushes. We then drove down to check out a trail at KM7 for the Taiwan Huaimei and while it was calling loudly in the bushes we did not get a good view of it.  At 11 am it was time to start the 6-hour drive to Kenting, it was 4 hours on the free-way with another 1.5 hours coming off at Xinqi Township. We arrived at the raptor watch site at Manhjou at 5pm when Gray-faced Buzzards were seen coming in to roost in the trees. 
On Sunday, we left the home-stay at 6am for Kenting National Park and the early birds on the wires were Styan's Bulbuls, Grey Treepies, and near the temple, the White-bellied Green Pigeons feeding on the fig tree. We drove further into the park and walked up to the watch-tower where it was windy. A big group of volunteer raptor counters,  raptor watchers and photographers were already there. Each time a flock appeared; sounds of excitement and lots of clicking from the cameras.
Grey Treepie

Styan's Bulbul

White-shouldered Starling
Because it was very windy some flocks were turning back to the trees. By 11.30 am it was getting hot and too crowded and we left as the raptor count on the tower would also end at 12 noon. It was time for lunch in town. We returned to Manhjou in the afternoon where we visited the few booths one of which the Wild Bird Society of Taipei and bought t-shirts and stickers while Kuen-dar chatted with his old friends, some volunteers who came to do the raptor count. We stayed two nights in Hengchun, an old town in Kenting and left for Kaohsiung for one more night at which really impressed with its service, which included free laundry and all day free coffee and ice cream with free snacks!
The following morning, 15th October, we flew home via Hong Kong very pleased with our 7 days birding and glad to have Kuen-dar not only to guide us but also arranging the accommodation and taking us to sample some traditional Taiwanese street food. Kuen-dar is an experienced English-speaking bird guide and his preferred contact is via

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Doi Lang & Doi Angkhang - September 2013

Red-faced Liocichla (Liocichla phoenicea)

After our June birding trip to Kaeng Krachan, it is time for some birding in the north.  Although a bit early, we decided to try the recently opened western route up to Doi Lang which Uthai from Chiang Mai Birding had been and seen some specialties not found at the east side.  He picked us at Chiangmai airport and drove the 3 hour journey to Fang where he had booked us a chalet at Vien Kaew Resort for the night.  This is a small resort with 4-chalets each unit clean and comfortable.  The owner grows hydroponic vegetables in her garden and gave us fresh salads each day.  We started early 05.15 each morning as the drive to the base took 45 minutes, thereafter the uphill climb was easy and we stopped whenever we spot the birds.  Uthai knew of some sections where specific birds were seen and we would wait by the side, we thus had good views of the Giant Nuthatch and the Spot-breasted Parrotbill.  
Spot-breasted Parrotbill (Paradoxornis guttaticollis)
Although we had hoped for Mrs Hulme's Pheasant we only got the Mountain Bamboo Patridges crossing on 2 mornings but it was hard to get decent photographs, with poor early morning light, as they blend into the grassy sides.  At the summit we would rest and wait for frequent bird waves and had good views of the Red-faced Liocichlia, Spectacled Barwing and the ubiquitous Black-backed Sibia.  At this time there is still some light rain and mist but overall we were able to see 80 species with 20 lifers on this west side of Doi Lang.  Fang is a quiet town with little accommodation to offer so we had to get breakfast and lunch items from Tesco supermarket to bring for each day's trip. This inconvenience is compensated by the more comfortable way up as compared to our last February's trip to Doi Lang via the east road which was worn and full of pot-holes that only a 4-wheel truck could manouver making it a tiring and bumpy ride up.
Spectacled Barwing (Actinodura ramsayi)
 The high altitude with cool weather also makes birding less tiring and some of the birds found on this west side could not be seen at the east hence a trip to west Doi Lang via Fang is a must to see these specialties.  After 3 days of Doi Lang we drove to Ang Khang for an overnight stay at the Ang Khang Nature Resort which is next to the King's Project where we birded for a day.  Our last day back at Chiangmai was spent at the Mae Hia research site for a couple of hours of birding before our flight and here we got some nice birds - Wire-tailed Swallow, Yellow-eyed Babbler and the Chestnut-capped Babbler.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kaeng Krachan II - June 2013

On our previous visit to Kaeng Krachan we did not have time to checkout the bird hides in the vicinity so this time the hides were the focus of the trip. We stayed at Samarn Bird Camp for a change, to give it a try.
There were 4 in our party and we arranged an MPV taxi from Bangkok airport to SBC with Thai Happy Taxi for ฿2,600 one way, which was less than our previous trip. The rooms at SBC were clean, comfortable and air-conditioned. The food was also quite good, but we heard it was better when Samarn's wife is there.
Banded Kingfisher (Lacedo pulchella)-Juv
Long-tailed Broadbill (Psarisomus dalhousiae)
We had Mr. Samarn for our guide on the first day into the KK National park and later in the evening to Mr. Yeow's hide, where the Oriental Scops Owl appeared right on schedule, like clockwork.
We spent the following morning at Uncle Sin's hide and later went on to Ban Song Nok for Auntie Aek's hide. She also has accommodation for up to 5 people with aircon (Tel. 086-048 6330). It was raining when we arrived so while waiting for the rain to slacken, we enjoyed a coffee and snack and went over our photos from the morning. Auntie Aek was delighted to ID one of our sightings from the morning as the, quite rare, Eared Pitta.
Eared Pitta (Hydrornis phayrei)
Samarn seemed to concentrate on nesting birds so we had some excellent views of the parent birds feeding their young. We enjoyed our brief visit and our 3 days gave us 38 species including 3 lifers.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fraser's Hill & Bukit Tinggi 29 April - 3 May 2013

As we had not been to Fraser's or Bukit Tinggi for almost a year, we headed north in our VW Golf, with its smaller turbocharged engine and found it as comfortable as our previous SUV. A 6 hour drive and we arrived at The Gap and stopped to check if any birds, but it was all quiet.
Blue Nuthatch
Rufous-browed Flycatcher
After check-in at the Shahzan Inn we went for a recce of the Telecom Loop, and later drove over to Jelai. We found that Jelai had closed.
Next morning we had an unpleasant surprise waiting for us, a flat tyre, not a good start!
Fortunately a quick call to our friend Durei and Mr Amin arrived on his scooter to assist. He advised a trip to Raub to get the tyre repaired, as there are no facilities in Fraser's.
After changing for the spare we continued birding before heading to Raub for lunch. At Goh Tyre they had the tyre fixed in no time, we were very impressed with the service and price (RM20). The cause of the flat was a new shiny screw through the tread?
Back in Fraser's we continued our birding and got some nice birds at the Telecom Loop. Another morning of birding gave us 30 species over the 2½ days.
On 3rd day we left for Bukit Tinggi and checked into the The Colmar Tropicale. We did not have much daylight left and a quick trip up the Organic Farm road was all we managed.
Early the next morning we were at the Japanese Garden carpark. The Silver-breasted Broadbill was still nesting near the carpark. In the garden we met Zaidi, an assistant gardener with 7 years there and an interest in birds. He was kind enough to show us some of his more interesting finds. With his help we spotted the Red-bearded Bee-eater, the Banded Kingfisher nesting and a pair of Whiskered Treeswifts also nesting, on a small tree along the side of the road. We saw 16 species including the Rhinoceros Hornbill.

Silver-breasted Broadbill
Orange-breasted Trogon
Banded Kingfisher
Black-and-yellow Broadbill
Rhinoceros Hornbill
On the way back home we drove by the Janda Baik area with its camping areas and eco resorts. It was a good trip even allowing for the puncture and definitely proved the fuel efficiency of our new car.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

North Island New Zealand - April 2013

We had been meaning to visit New Zealand with our friends Philip and Nariko for quite a while and this time we made it! We spent almost 2 weeks driving around the North Island. We arrived at Auckland airport at almost midnight and were met by Phil and Nariko. Overnighted at the airport hotel and next morning we headed north towards Paihia in our RAV4 that Phil had arranged. We stopped by the Kauri Museum and learned about the "Gum Digging in the 19th century".
In Paihia we stayed 2 nights in a, very well equipped, 2 bedroom apartment almost on the beach. We strolled the beaches had dinner over the sea and visited the Waitangi National Reserve to learn and experience a little of the Maori history and culture.
The Shire
The Blue Door
Next stop was Matamata for Hobbiton movie set tour, which, having been a Lord of the Rings fan since a teenager, was a unique experience. Continuing on to our next destination at Tauranga we stopped by the Warkworth Honey Centre for lunch and to stock up on some Manuka honey to take home.
In Tauranga we stayed in Devonport and had lunch at Mills Reef Winery. It was a good choice and we enjoyed an excellent lunch on the lawn with live music.
Our next stop was Gisbourne and we opted for the coastal route on highway 35. It was a long drive but well worth it for the chance to take in the coastal scenery.
Arriving pretty late in Gisbourne, after checking into the Pacific Harbour Inn, it was a short walk to town and the nearest pub for dinner. We had already discovered that many pubs served really good food, not to mention great beer. We wanted to join a wine tour but it was a little late in the season and most vineyards were closed for their annual maintenance. After several enquiries we arranged a tour to 2 vineyards, Bushmere and Milton. We met very friendly people and sampled some excellent wines, and of course, we could not resist buying a few bottles!
The manager at the Inn knowing that we were heading for Taupo warned us it would be cold, so we were prepared. As it turned out it was not that cold at all, and we managed a late afternoon cruise on a yacht, with wine, what else! Lake Taupo, at 616 sq km, is slightly bigger than the main island of Singapore. So a good size lake.
From Taupo we drove west to New Plymouth where we stayed 2 nights and met Philip's mother and his brother and family. We had a great time and experienced some real Kiwi hospitality.
Mt. Taranaki
We spent a couple days in the nature areas around New Plymouth soaking up the countryside before parting company with our friends and flying to Auckland.
We stayed 2 nights in Auckland and spent one whole day on Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Waiheke is home to many artists and there are plenty of adventure activities, small wineries and small bays and coves to explore, a very laid back idyllic spot
The weather was kind and we had almost no rain the entire stay.
Although not birding we could not fail to see birds, most of which were new to us. A truly spectacular couple of weeks.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Malacca - March 2012

A four day driving trip to checkout some of the birding spots in the Malacca and Muar vicinity. Our main focus was Batang Tiga, a popular birding area of rice fields.
After a quick detour to Panti Forest on the way, we headed for Ayer Keroh, where we checked into the Seri Hotel and had lunch, arriving at Batang Tiga at around 4 pm.
We had little difficulty seeing the birds including Munias, Weaver, Black-winged Kite, Drongo, Egrets, Bee-eaters, Pond herons, Fantail and last but not least the Asian Openbills, of which there must have been 30 to 40 still in residence. We had heard the Openbills had been here for several  weeks, so we were probably lucky they had not all migrated.

Next day was quiet with a walk around the Ayer Keroh Botanical Gardens and a change of hotel to the Puri Hotel in the centre of Malacca old town. Following morning was back to Batang Tiga and more birds including Eastern Marsh Harrier, Common kingfisher, Brahminy Kite and Common Sandpiper.
In the afternoon a quick trip to Pantai Penyengat, south of Muar was not very productive, maybe bad timing.

Another night in Malacca and homeward bound!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Krabi - February 2013

We thought we would try a short break in Krabi from 4 - 8 Feb. staying in Ao Nang.
Although not a serious birding trip we did try our luck one morning around the Mangrove Boardwalk near Krabi town, but we were disappointed with few birds sighted and nothing really notable.
We arranged transport to Khao Nor Chu Chi (KNC) for the following morning thinking we might get lucky with the Gurney's Pitta. But no such luck.
We covered some of the walks in the sanctuary but there were many visitors, especially large groups of school children on their nature appreciation trip, and without a guide we only managed hear the Gurney's Pitta, not even a glimpse. We will organize a guide for our next trip to KNC.

Even though the birds were not cooperating we still enjoyed our stay in Krabi.