Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chiang Dao, NW Thailand - November 2011 (1)

Striated Swallow

Leaving Bangkok via the luxury of an internal flight (trains being out of the question with the lines underwater) provided first-hand evidence of the devastating extent of the floods; from the northern suburbs and for many miles northwards, entire communities and their lands were submerged beneath a shimmering blue sheet - another close encounter with meteorological chaos on the trip, and another timely reminder of our privilege.

male Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Barely an hour later and we'd arrived in Thailand's historical capitol Chiang Mai - a magical introduction, with the nightime streets and canals festooned with intricate, illuminated sculptures (our visit coinciding with both Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals).

Black-crested Bulbul  (ssp. vantynei)

After a memorable few days enjoying a city with numerous beautiful shrines, plenty of cultural interest and a (comparatively) relaxed undercurrent, we journeyed north via tuk-tuk, public bus (much fun and great views) and then Songthaew to the idyllic, rural retreat of Malee's, near Chiang Dao.

Yellow-bellied Warbler

The far north-west of Thailand hosts a mouth-watering array of species that effectively 'spill' over the borders to the north and west, with many residents and winter visitors found nowhere else in the country; hence our often-delayed and much-anticipated time here was unlikely to disappoint.

Taiga Flycatcher

Malee's - our base for the next part of the trip - is tucked away in a lush valley between two forested ranges that dominate the skyline, and is established as an ideal stop-off for birders and other naturalists to, with access to several mountains - and their avian specialities - close by, and excellent birding opportunities within a couple of km (not least within and around the garden surrounding the accommodation).

Streaked Spiderhunter

Our plan, based on the above, was to stay two or three days - one day set aside for a specific excursion to the nearby mountain of Doi Chiang Dao for higher altitude species (and more besides), and a day or two within the immediate vicinity picking up whatever was possible within walking distance.

female Hill Blue Flycatcher

As implied by our staying six nights (and only then departing through necessity), it was hard to leave; an almost inexhaustible supply of birding thrills was augmented by the wonderfully peaceful and relaxing environs and good company (human and otherwise).

Part two to follow....