Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mae Hia & Huay Teung Tao, NW Thailand

Chestnut-tailed Starling

Back in Chiang Mai for a few days after our time out in the sticks, a couple of worthwhile birding sites were within striking distance of our base in the heart of the city. Both were reachable via cab or tuk-tuk, and both promised a range of species I was unlikely to see elsewhere on our journeys (especially with the Thai section of our trip almost over).

Huay Teung Tao - an area with habitats including a large lake, mixed woodland and non-intensive agricultural land - promised much, but in truth, delivered little. Bad luck with disturbance, ones that got away totalling more than usual, and a mercilessly hot day conspired to make it pretty hard going. But there were silver linings.....

male Siberian Stonechat

.... commoners included Brown and Long-tailed Shrikes, Ashy Woodswallows, White-vented Mynas, Yellow-browed Warblers (of course), Two-barred Greenish Warblers, Siberian Stonechats and (Little) Green Bee-eaters; more notable were the first Pied Bushchats, Purple Sunbirds and Grey-breasted Prinias of the trip, two Golden-fronted Leafbirds, and a skulker that I eventually got to grips with....

.... in the shape of  a Manchurian (Oriental) Bush Warbler (above), which played hard to get in trying conditions but eventually provided the highlight of the day.

Lesser Whistling Ducks

Half-regretting the decision not to kick back with a good book in the heat of the day at a lakeside bamboo-shack restaurant (like my far more intelligent wife), we retreated back to Chiang Mai, cooled off in our hotel pool, and plotted the next day's action - which would be the last day's birding in the best part of two months in Thailand.

Burmese Shrike

An earlier start, a little more research, and slightly less oppressive temperatures made this final day of Thai birding a memorable one. Our destination was Mae Hia Agricultural College, an easy-to-miss site on the outskirts of the city, and comprising an impressively diverse mix of habitats in a relatively small area.

Radde's Warbler

Arable land, orchards, overgrown hedgerows, small copses, sandy wasteland and several pools made for a compelling few hours before the heat of the day fully kicked in. Plenty of sibes, amongst them double figures of Taiga Flycatcher, Brown Shrike, Yellow-browed Warbler and Siberian Stonechat, as well as a couple of Two-barred Greenish Warblers and a (very yellow-streaked) Radde's Warbler.

first-winter Black Drongo

Other highlights here included Pintail Snipe, Indochinese Bushlarks, Grey-breasted Prinias, Pied Bushchat, Chestnut-tailed Starling, at least five Wire-tailed Swallows, and a Burmese Shrike - several lifers and plenty of quality back-up over a very enjoyable few hours there, and a suitably productive way to end of our Thai birding experiences.

Purple Sunbird

Coppersmith Barbet (lower left) and Ashy Woodswallow (upper right)

Little Green Bee-eater

Black-collared Starling