Eric Dinerstein William C. Young
FIELD NOTES FOR THAILAND AND ENGLAND
February 5-26, 2001
I arrived in Bangkok before dawn on Monday, February, 5. Our traveling party consisted of four people, and we were on the road by 7 a.m. The first stop was a wetlands area near Bangkok Airport called Rangsit, one of the only wetlands areas we visited, so I saw relatively few waterbirds in Thailand. It was located down a dirt road at a settlement of some poor people — some of the only poor people I saw on the trip other than members of the hill tribes in the north. Later, we drove to a temple at Wat Phai Lom to visit a colony of Asian Openbills. Our final destination was the Khao Yai Garden Lodge, which is 15 minutes from the entrance to Khao Yai National Park. The park is 835 square miles of some of the least disturbed and most accessible tall forest remaining in Thailand. It is at the westernmost tip of a mountain range that forms a wall fencing the northeast plateau from the central plain of Thailand. It became Thailand's first national park about 40 years ago. It offers a variety of habitats at varying altitudes, with a lot of good roads and hiking trails.
We stayed at Khao Yai until mid-day on Saturday, February 10. We drove back to Bangkok to catch an early afternoon flight to Chiang Mai in northwest Thailand. Upon arrival, we drove up to Huai Hong Krai, where various rare birds and animals are bred. We stayed that evening at the Prince Hotel downtown. The following morning, Tony Ball, a British ex-patriate who lives in Thailand, took us birding at an agricultural center and a couple of other areas around Chiang Mai.
That afternoon, we drove about two hours to Mallee's Nature Lover's Resort, which is a few hundred yards from the temple and nature reserve at Doi Chiang Dao. This area features Thailand's third highest mountain. It offers mountain evergreen forest, deciduous forest, mature bamboo, open and half-open woodlands, grasslands, and alpine vegetation, ranging from 500 to 2,175 meters. One day, we went up the mountain in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. There is a substation and a ridge trail that is excellent for birding. Mallee's was my favorite place to stay during the trip. It attracted a wonderful assortment of travelers, hikers, and nature lovers who convened at dinner each evening to exchange stories.
We left Doi Chiang Dao early on Thursday the 15th to drive to Doi Angkhang, a chiefly deforested mountain area near the Myanmar border. We stayed for two nights at the Angkhang Nature Resort, which is operated by a major hotel chain and offered the most comfortable accommodations on the trip. The best birding occurs between the unmanned military checkpoint at Kilometer 19 and the resort at Kilometer 25, with various side paths and trails. An especially good area with a former orchard is near the checkpoint, and an agricultural center with a bonsai collection is near the resort. We stayed at the resort for two nights.
On Saturday, February 17, we left Doi Angkhang to drive more than four hours to Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. We stayed at the Inthanon Highland Resort, a short distance from the entrance to the park. The resort had a small lake that attracted a lot of birdlife. The elevations along the 35 or so kilometers of road through the park run from about 400 meters to more than 2,500 meters. The open dry dipterocarp forests on the poor stony soils of the lower hill slopes gave way to lowland evergreen forests near some of the streams. As the elevation increased, a greater evergreen component appeared until the forests become mountain evergreen, where conditions permitted. We stayed until mid-day on Thursday, February 23, at which time we drove less than two hours to Chiang Mai to catch flights to Bangkok and leave Thailand.
Below is a description of some of the birds and other wildlife I saw in Thailand.
Cormorants and Herons. At Rangsit, a lot of Little Cormorants were flying around. They are somewhat smaller than the similar Little Black Cormorants in Australia. The most common heron was the Chinese Pond-Heron, who was about the size and shape of a Green or Striated Heron. The ones I saw were mostly in non-breeding plumage, which consisted of white wings and a brownish body like an immature night-heron. They were in wetlands areas as well as perched in trees near streams, such as near the visitors center at Khao Yai. In wetlands areas, we saw Little, Intermediate, and Great Egrets, with the Little being the most numerous. Thailand has Cattle Egrets, and I saw a couple riding on the back of water buffaloes. At Rangsit, I saw a few Yellow Bitterns fly, with their distinctive dark wings and yellowish wing coverts.
Storks. Outside of Bangkok in Samkak near the Wat Phai Lom temple, we saw a colony with 20,000 Asian Openbills. These birds are mostly black-and-white, although some appear grayish or brownish. When their bills are closed, you can see a small open space, from which the bird gets its name. The storks visit the colony only during the dry season and leave as soon as the rainy season begins. We saw some soaring in large kettles, like vultures. Some were carrying nesting material, and others were already at nests. On the road from Khao Yai to the Bangkok Airport, we saw a lot of the storks flying and soaring.
Ducks. The areas I visited in Thailand had few waterfowl. Near the temple with the storks was an impoundment with thousands of Lesser Whistling-Ducks, who are small and plain. Like many species of whistling-ducks, they are wary. Some of these ducks were also at the agricultural research station in Chiang Mai to which Tony Ball took us. I saw no other waterfowl on the trip.
Raptors. Raptors are not all that common in Thailand. Many of the areas we visited looked as if they would be suitable for raptor activity, but the number of hawks was surprisingly small. On trips along highways to various birding locales, Black-shouldered Kites were common. This species is similar to the White-tailed Kite in North America and a similar species in Australia. Sometimes it hovers in place like a kestrel, and other times, it flies low with a dihedral like a harrier. I saw no harriers on the trip. At Doi Inthanon, I saw a Black Baza fly over. I saw much more white on its back than is shown in the field guides. The only buteo I saw was a brief look at a Rufous-winged Buzzard as it disappeared from the perch at Doi Angkhang. The wings were rufous.
The most common accipiter was the Crested Goshawk, who is the equivalent of the Cooper's Hawk in the U.S. or the Brown Goshawk in Australia. On one I saw at Khao Yai, there was a contrast between the color of the head and body. At the Doi Inthanon summit, I saw a Chinese Goshawk, who was white underneath and pale on the back. At the agricultural center with Tony Ball, a Shikra flew by. It was bluish-gray on the back, and its tail was narrow.
Thailand has numerous species of eagles. I saw Crested Serpent-Eagles in a few places. The underwing pattern of the adult is distinctive, with a white line across the length of its wings between a black trailing edge and another black line. It also has a pronounced black terminal tailband. I had a good look at one perched bird at Khao Yai and saw the slight crest. I saw both the Mountain and the Changeable Hawk-Eagles. A fieldmark for telling them apart is the banding on the tail. However, they have many different plumages and morphs, so identification can be difficult. I saw a bird at Doi Inthanon that could have either been a Black Eagle or a dark-morph Changeable Hawk-Eagle — probably the latter, because its tail was spread, and the fingers were not, which more closely fits the field guide description of its characteristics. At a Khao Yai overlook, I saw a Rufous-bellied Eagle through a telescope. I saw the yellow bill, white breast, and rufous belly. At the Doi Inthanon summit, we saw a soaring Aquilla eagle who was later determined to be an Imperial Eagle. It had a white patch on the primaries of each wing, a light-colored head, and a light rump. Its plumage was somewhere between the field guide's juvenile plumage, with the wing patches and buff underwings, and the adult, with dark underwings and no patches.
In a lowland area of Doi Inthanon, I saw a pair of White-rumped Falcons, who are uncommon. They are about the size of an American kestrel. The female has a rufous head, and the male's is gray. They show a white rump in flight. I saw the female sitting in tree near a dead tree that had four Collared Falconets. The falconets were small and pudgy, with a black facial stripe, white collar, and rufous belly. They were about 8 inches long. I saw a Eurasian Kestrel, who was larger than either of these species. I saw the yellow feet and grey head.
Pheasants. Some of the really special birds of Thailand are in this family. At Khao Yai, on the Military Road at a relatively high elevation, I saw five Silver Pheasants in a gully by the road. The males are silvery-white on the back and black underneath, while the females are brown and the size and shape of chachalacas. A short way down the road a couple days later, I saw a male Siamese Fireback strutting slowly on the forest floor. The back looked darker gray than in the field guides. He had a large black tail and red skin on his face. I did not see the fire on his rump. On the drive up the mountain at Doi Chiang Dao, I saw a male Hume's Pheasant. This lovely bird appeared to be a dark brick color, with a long white tail edged in black. Tony Ball said that people traveling up the mountain have about a one-in-four chance of seeing these birds by the road.
A center at Huay Kong Krai near Chiang Mai was trying to breed various species of birds and mammals, among whom are Green Peafowl. Wild Green Peafowl have come to the site and wander around outside the cages. These birds are 7.5 feet long, and when you see them in the wild, you have trouble believing that such an improbably showy creature could be real. The male has a green head and tail, blue wings, and a patterned face. He appears to be wearing a costume. His call is a loud kee yow. The three I saw were wary, but not all that shy. The same center had a caged Silver Pheasant, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Siamese Fireback (I could see the fire on the back), Blue Magpie, and others.
One of my favorite birds in this group was the Red Junglefowl, the species who was domesticated to become the chicken. The male looks like a large, long-legged barnyard rooster, with a big black tail and a white rump. He struts rather than walks, and his call is cock-a-doodle-do. During one confrontation between two females, there was a noise that sounded as if it were coming from a henhouse. Junglefowl were not all that difficult to see at Khao Yai, and I saw them at a few other places. They fly with less effort than some of their heavy, short-winged relatives. Seeing them made me realize that creatures we consider to be domestic actually had their origins in the wild.
On one of the paths at Doi Inthanon, we flushed a female Chinese Francolin. I saw the heavy black barring on the underparts. At the summit of Doi Inthanon, I saw two Rufous-throated Partridge males. I saw all of the fieldmarks — the rufous throat, gray underparts, and little spots on the rump. One was scratching in the leaves. The other came close and then moved away. At Doi Angkhang on two consecutive mornings, I saw groups of Mountain Bamboo-Partridges. These plump birds have a white supercilium and big heart-shaped spots on their bellies. I saw seven one morning and four the next.
Rails. At Rangsit, I saw a Ruddy-breasted Crake. It was ruddy underneath and dark on the back. It had a reddish eye and walked around at the edge of the water for a long time. The White-breasted Waterhen behaved more like a long-legged moorhen than a skulking crake. Many Common Moorhens were at various places, but I saw no Eurasian Coots. The Purple Swamphens, the same species who is in Australia, were vocal at Rangsit and flew around a lot.
Waders. Near Bangkok, I saw a male Greater Painted-Snipe flying. I saw the white lines on its patterned brown back as he flew. The male is not as brightly colored as the female. Not far from the same area, I saw a couple of Common Snipes and a Wood Sandpiper. I saw flying Little Ringed Plovers, but I never saw them land. The impoundment with the large flock of lesser Whistling-Ducks also had Black-winged Stilts. On two different days, I saw flying Green Sandpipers, who show a lot of white on the tail in flight and make a squeeze-toy-type call. A common species at Kao Yai was the Red-wattled Lapwing, who resembles the Banded Lapwing in the same genus. It sounds similar to the Masked Lapwing and can be heard calling at night. It does not reside only in wetland areas.
Pigeons and Doves. I did not see a great variety of pigeons and doves. Of the green pigeons, I saw Thick-billed Pigeons at Khao Yai and Doi Inthanon. They have a two-toned bill, but this can be difficult to see in the field. The Doi Inthanon birds were females or young males, because their bodies were almost uniformly light-green. At a Khao Yai overlook, I saw a Pompadour Pigeon, who resembles the Thick-billed Pigeon, but lacks the two-toned bill and an orbital ring. Mountain Imperial Pigeons were fairly common at Khao Yai, and I also saw them around the temple at Doi Chiang Dao. They are large (19 inches), with light bodies and dark wings. When looking at a perched bird face on, it appeared to have dark epaulets. Near the summit at Doi Inthanon, I saw both Speckled and Ashy Wood-Pigeons. I watched a Speckled in a scope and saw the speckles on the back. It had a dark vent, while the Ashy's vent appeared light in flight. Both are in the same genus as the Rock Pigeon. At Khao Yai, I saw Emerald Doves, but a different race than I saw in Australia. Some of the Thai birds had whitish caps, which the Australian race lacks. Sometimes I saw up to five or six foraging on the ground. Spotted Doves were fairly common at almost every stop on the trip. I saw a few Red-collared Doves and Zebra (Peaceful) Doves. A Zebra Dove at our Doi Inthanon hotel was building a nest.
Parrots. Parrots are not common in Thailand. The Vernal Hanging Parrot is a 6-inch green bird with a red rump. When they were feeding in a flowering tree, they were not difficult to find. At a flowering tree near the resort at Khao Yai, I saw a pair of Red-breasted Parakeets, who had grayish heads, red bills, and red breasts.
Cuckoos. Thailand has a lot of cuckoos. Common Koels are widespread, and I heard them almost every day. I saw only one – flying in an erratic manner. They remind me of the crazed black martial birds that used to appear on German postage stamps. Greater Coucals are also widespread. I saw or heard one almost every day of the trip. They look and sound similar to Australia's Pheasant Coucal. Sometimes, I heard coucals duetting with their woop woop woop woop woop song. Another striking song belongs to the Large Hawk-Cuckoo — the crazed, relentless brain fee-ver, brain fee-ver, brain fee-ver. I saw a couple one day at Khao Yai, and they look like accipiters. Green-billed Malkohas are large and colorful, with tails longer than their bodies. The tail is black, with white edges. They sometimes hop up branches like squirrels, and they have a crazed look. The Asian Emerald Cuckoo is more beautiful than the Australian bronze-cuckoos in the same genus. I saw five in a tree at the bridge near the Khao Yai visitors center. The head of the adult is almost like a quetzal's — iridescent green, with a yellow bill. The immature male has a buffy head. I saw a pair of Plaintive Cuckoos outside of Bangkok. In flight, I saw white on the edges of the outer tail. I heard the Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo at Khao Yai, but I did not see one of these large, spectacular birds. The park is in the midst of a lot of work to improve drainage from the roads. Apparently, ground-cuckoos used to be seen by the side of the road, but the roadwork has driven them farther into the forest.
Night Birds. The only owl I saw was a Brown Hawk-Owl, who is a small Ninox owl like Australia's Boobook. I saw three on a spotlighting trip at Khao Yai. They have a spotted breast and a longish tail. I saw no frogmouths, but I saw three species of nightjars. The Great-eared Nightjar is huge — about 16-inches. I saw one calling in a tree, and it sometimes raised its ear tufts as it uttered its haunting Come Heeeeere! song. It has no white on either its long, narrow wings or its tail. The Gray Nightjar is a more typical nightjar size (11 inches). Its song is a repeated chonk chonk chonk chonk chonk chonk. It shows white on both its wings and tail in flight. I saw a couple of Large-tailed Nightjars on the road — the same species as in Australia. I saw a dark mark on each shoulder.
Trogons. The trogons in Thailand, like other trogons, are more often seen than heard, because they often perch in the same place for a long time. I had excellent views of the two species in the areas we visited. The male Orange-breasted Trogon has a brown head and black-and-white on wings. The female Red-headed Trogon is gorgeous, with a violet orbital ring, brown head, red belly, and black patterned wings.
Bee-eaters. I saw half of the six bee-eater species in Thailand. Of the four small bee-eaters, the Chestnut-headed is the only one who does not have an elongated central tail feather. At Doi Inthanon, I saw a group of them flycatching from a tree. Once, I heard them singing ti-deek, ti-deek, ti-deek. The Green Bee-eater also has a chestnut cap, but it is smaller and has a long central tail feather. On one of the Khao Yai waterfall trails, I saw a Blue-bearded Bee-eater, who is in a different family than the other bee-eaters. It is larger and chunkier, with a shaggy throat.
Rollers. Thailand has two species of rollers. I saw a few flying Dollarbirds, with their distinctive white wing patches. The more common species is the Indian Roller, who is about the same size. When perched, it appeared brownish, with some blue trim. In flight, it showed a beautiful blue wing pattern. As with the dollarbird, its voice was a croak.
Kingfishers. Thailand has a lot of kingfisher species, but I saw only two. The Common Kingfisher is the same species found in Europe. One perched regularly at the edge of the pond outside my room at Doi Inthanon. It had red feet, and its back was electric blue when it flew. Near Bangkok, I saw White-throated Kingfishers, who are medium-sized. They have a red bill and a brown head, and they show white patches on their wings in flight.
Hornbills. Hornbills are spectacular, prehistoric-looking birds. They are huge and perch in trees. I saw them only at Khao Yai. The most common species is the Oriental Pied Hornbill, who is 28 inches long. They are not difficult to see near the visitors center. They have black backs and white bellies, with a large casque on their upper mandible. Near one of the saltlicks at dusk, I saw about 30 flying to a roosting area over a ten minute period. From the same site, I saw a distant bird who was probably a Wreathed Hornbill. The huge bird (40 inches) appeared to have little or no tail; because the wreathed hornbill's tail is all white, it may not have been clearly visible in poor light at a distance. A few days later, I had a brief look at two Wreathed Hornbills flying over. Their wings make a heavy whoosh sound, and their call is like a deep woof. I saw one perched in the far distance. Near the end of our final full day at Khao Yai, we encountered a nature tour looking into a fig tree. The leader told us that a pair of Great Hornbills was eating figs in the tree. These birds are more than 4 feet long, with a big horn on their bills. When they fly, they show a black, white, and yellow striped wing pattern. The male has a red eye, and the female has a light eye. I saw the male feed the female. These birds are about to start their nesting season when female will be cemented into tree hole for 4 months, being fed by the food the male passes to her.
Barbets. Thai barbets are noisy, chunky, greenish birds who mostly sit in the tops of trees. I had seen two species of barbets in Costa Rica, who are in the same family as toucans. The Thai barbets are in a different family and are among the most vocal birds in the forest, and many sound alike. The song is usually a long, repeated series of single notes, concentrating on quantity rather than quality. I saw seven species of barbets. The Coppersmith Barbet was the smallest, at about 6 inches. It has a red cap and is streaked underneath. It was one of the easier barbets to find. I saw a couple of them feeding in a tree immediately above the entrance to Khao Yai. The park had quite a few Moustached Barbets. The moustache does not appear to be as pronounced as in the field guide, looking rather like the borders to an ear patch than thick black lines. The Green-eared Barbet is large (10 inches) and chunky. I saw the green ear patch when viewing the bird through a telescope. It had a dark bill, unlike the similar-looking Lineated Barbet I had seen previously whose bill is light-colored. At Doi Chiang Dao, I saw a Blue-eared Barbet in a telescope. When it turned its head, I saw the blue ear patch, which looked similar to the green patch on the Green-eared. The Blue-throated Barbet had a blue throat and a lot of red on its head. At Doi Inthanon, I found a Golden-throated Barbet after hearing many of them. They tend not to sit at the tops of trees, and finding them below the crown can be difficult. He had more white than yellow on his throat and puffed out his throat when doing his incessant call.
Woodpeckers. Thailand has three dozen species of woodpeckers, but they can be difficult to find. Woodpeckers were some of my favorite birds on the trip. The Heart-spotted Woodpecker was only six-inches long, but it had a large head and nape. It looked like the top of a large woodpecker that had been sawn in half. It was white underneath and had heart-shaped spots on its wings. A guide at Khao Yai found three Great Slaty Woodpeckers for us. This is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world, at 20 inches. Their call is not loud, and their drumming seemed slow, deliberate, and quiet. They are mostly gray, with a buff throat, and they look very angular. As I was watching one, two more flew in. I saw a number of the mid-sized greenish woodpeckers. The Laced Woodpecker had a black cap and streaks below. The Gray-headed Woodpecker also had a black cap. In the Doi Inthanon lowlands, I saw a group of Black-headed Woodpeckers. They travelled in groups of three or more, and they were raucous and gregarious like Acorn Woodpeckers. In the same area, I saw two flying White-bellied Woodpeckers, which are in the same genus as the Pileated. They have a red crest and white patches on black wings. They are about the same size as the Pileated, but they looked smaller. Like the Pileated, they are wary and do not allow close approach. Two species of flamebacks — Greater and Common — are like a smaller Pileated with an orange back.
The Common Flameback was fairly common in the lowlands of Doi Inthanon, and I saw a Greater Flameback in the higher elevations at Khao Yai. The two species have different configurations of black-and-white on the back of the neck. I saw Stripe-breasted Woodpeckers at both Doi Chiang Dao and Doi Angkhang. The Stripe-breasted had fewer white spots on its back than other similar woodpeckers. It is in the same genus as the Great Spotted Woodpecker I saw in England. The smallest woodpeckers in Thailand are the piculets. Near the temple at Doi Chiang Dao, I saw a White-browed Piculet. It is a 4-inch orange bird, with greenish wings and a white eyebrow. At first, it was perched, and it then started to forage on a branch. At Doi Angkhang and Doi Inthanon, I saw Speckled Piculets, who were common. They are also 4 inches, with a greenish back, white brow, and speckled breast.
Broadbill. At Doi Inthanon, I saw a Long-tailed Broadbill perched in the same tree as some Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos. It had a yellow head and a black helmet. The underparts were green, and the tail was blue. Its body was about the same size as the drongos.
Pittas. I heard two species of pittas, but did not see either. The Blue Pitta at Khao Yai had a song similar to someone whistling for a dog. I also heard the similar-sounding Rusty-naped Pitta.
Swifts. At various locales, I saw many swifts. A lot of Fork-tailed Swifts were at Khao Yai. Sometimes, they flew with Asian Palm-Swifts, who were smaller, with thinner wings and a more rapid wingbeat. At Doi Chiang Dao, I saw a lot of Himalayan Swiftlets, who were small and had a lighter rump. The larger swifts at Doi Chiang Dao were House Swifts, who have a lighter rump and throat. At a Khao Yai overlook, I saw a few Brown Needletails, which had a white undertail. They were large and glided on downcurved wings. At Doi Angkhang, I saw many Pacific Swifts, with some House Swifts mixed in. At Doi Inthanon, I had a distant look at a couple of flying Crested Treeswifts and saw the long pointed tail.
Swallows. Barn Swallows were the most common swallows almost everywhere we went. At the temple at Doi Chiang Dao, I saw Red-rumped Swallows flying with the swifts. I could not get a good enough look at their collars to tell if they were Striated Swallows, a species recently split from the Red-rumped. Doi Angkhang has huge flocks of Asian House Martins near the agricultural center. They are plain, with white rumps. I saw a Wire-tailed Swallow at the agricultural center near Chiang Mai. It had a different wingbeat than the Barn Swallows in the same area. It was white underneath, and when perched, I saw the long wires on its tail.
Larks and Pipits. A lot of the larks and pipits have a similar face pattern, with a white supercilium over a cheek patch. Some of the buntings have a similar face pattern. The Rufous-winged Bushlark has this face pattern. So do Olive-backed Pipits, whom I saw foraging on the ground in a couple of places. The Paddyfield Pipit is thinner and lighter than a Richard's Pipit — I saw both species.
Wagtails. On my first day near Bangkok, I saw Yellow Wagtails in a field — the only ones I saw on the trip. White Wagtails are fairly common. I also saw Gray Wagtails in a few locations, including at close range on the path to the temple at Doi Chiang Dao. Their rump and undertail coverts are yellow.
Cuckooshrikes. At Khao Yai, I saw quite a few Black-winged Cuckooshrikes. Some had wings that were not a deep black. They have a black-and-white undertail pattern like some of the American cuckoos. One seemed to have two rows of white spots and a white line on the undertail. An Indochinese Cuckooshrike I saw at Doi Angkhang had gray rather than black wings. A flyover Large Cuckooshrike in the Doi Inthanon lowlands looked stocky, with a black face and a gray body; I heard it call in flight. I saw a few Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrikes, who were much smaller than the cuckooshrikes (only 6 inches). They were black-and-white, with a white slash on the wing and no supercilium. They look a lot like Little Pied Flycatchers, who do have a supercilium. They hawk insects like flycatchers and sometimes are found with other birds in feeding parties.
Minivets. Minivets are among the prettiest birds in Thailand. They look a lot like American orioles, with black heads and usually a red-and-black body pattern. Because the breeding season was starting, I mostly saw minivets in male-female pairs rather than alone. They are in the same tribe as the Eurasian orioles, cuckooshrikes, and trillers. The Scarlet, Long-tailed, and Short-billed Minivets all look alike, differing only by the amount of red in the tail and slight differences in the amount and pattern of red on the wing. Despite the names, one cannot easily distinguish the latter two by bill or tail size. The females are yellowish rather than red. In flight, all the species seem to show a line (red for male, yellow for female) across the span of their underwings. A male Gray-chinned Minivet I saw on the ridge at Doi Chiang Dao had a gray chin and plumage that was more orange than red. The yellowish female also showed gray on the chin. A Rosy Minivet at Khao Yai was much less brightly-colored than the other minivet species I saw, being tinged with color rather than brightly colored. At the higher elevations at Khao Yai, I saw a pair of Brown-rumped Minivets, who have been split from the Rosy Minivet. The Brown-rumped is mostly a gray-and-white bird and resembles the other minivets in shape rather than coloration.
Ioras. Ioras are chunky yellow birds who look and act like tanagers. The Common Iora has white wingbars, while the Great Iora does not. The females are plainer. The color scheme on a Common Iora on the ridge at Doi Chiang Dao reminded me of a Lesser Goldfinch.
Leafbirds. Leafbirds are beautiful, chunky, 8-inch, and mostly-green. The males tend to have dark throats. The male Blue-winged Leafbird had blue tips to his primaries. The female was a pretty green. The Golden-fronted Leafbird male had a yellow-orange forehead. The Orange-bellied Leafbird male had a lovely orange belly — probably the handsomest species of the three. Leafbirds forage slowly enough to allow fairly easy viewing. They sometimes perch at the top of bare snags. In the same family is the lovely Asian Fairy-Bluebird. The male is black underneath and a rich blue on the back. It is larger than the leafbirds. At one of the Khao Yai lookouts, I saw a flock of about 20 fairy-bluebirds foraging in a tree.
Bulbuls. Bulbuls are a varied family, and I saw 16 species in Thailand. Many of the bulbuls occupy specific habitat or altitudinal niches. They are all about 8-to-10 inches, and some have crests. They often are seen in small groups or with other birds, and they vocalize a lot and like flowering trees. The most widespread species was the Red-whiskered bulbul, who has been introduced into South Florida and parts of Australia. I saw at least one on all but a few days of the trip. The similar Brown-breasted Bulbul was common at Doi Angkhang, while the Sooty-headed seemed to be common around Doi Chiang Dao. The former has some brown on its breast, while the latter looked white underneath; neither had as pointed a crest as the Red-whiskered. The Sooty-headed male had a red vent like the Red-whiskered. The Black-crested Bulbul was widespread and easy to see. It had an olive back, yellow underparts, and a black head and throat. Its white eye is very prominent against its black face. The Black-headed Bulbul was much less common and did not have a crest. I had a quick look at one in a feeding party at Khao Yai. The Striated Bulbul is robust, with a yellow throat and heavy streaking below. I saw some near the checkpoint at the mid-elevations at Doi Inthanon. The yellow feathers on the throat of the Stripe-throated Bulbul appeared to hang loosely like a beard. It also had yellow on the forehead, and its song reminded me of the White-eyed Vireo.
At the ridge trail at Doi Chiang Dao, the main road at Doi Angkhang, and parts of Doi Inthanon, the most common bulbul was the Flavescent. It showed white eyebrows, but there seemed to be two distinct races, with the ones in the latter two locales looking yellower. The Mountain Bulbul had a brownish cap, olive wings, and a streaked throat. The fly-by Yellow-vented Bulbuls at Rangsit appeared to have white heads with black eyelines, when in fact they have dark heads with a broad white eyeline. One of the dullest of the bulbuls is the Streak-eared. The fieldmark in its name is not prominent, and it looks more brownish than olive-green. Another plain bulbul is the Gray-eyed, who did not look as olive as in the field guide. It had a whiny call, and the light eye was sometimes difficult to see. Puff-throated Bulbuls were common at Khao Yai. They sometimes erected their crests and throat feathers. The Ashy Bulbul was easy to identify because of the light green slash on its wing. Black Bulbuls were all black, with a red bill. They were common around the temple at Doi Chiang Dao. In that area, I had a distant look at a perched White-headed Bulbul, who has a white head and a gray body. I did not see any of the white-headed race of the Black Bulbul, who has a white head and black body.
Drongos. Drongos were among my favorite birds in Thailand. I saw six species. For mostly monocolor birds, they are surprisingly beautiful. They also make many unusual vocalizations. One species is called a Spangled Drongo, but it is a different species than the one in Australia with the same name. The Thai bird is sometimes called the Hair-crested Drongo. A key fieldmark for identifying this bird is the upturned tips to its tail. At one of the Khao Yai overlooks, I saw one in a telescope in good light. I saw the beautiful iridescent spangles on its breast and the fine hairs on its crest — fieldmarks one rarely sees. One day at dusk, I saw some hawking moths. The field guides do not portray the Bronzed drongo to be noticeably different in color from the other drongos. But in the field, they are beautifully iridescent, like some of the American grackles. A lot of the Ashy drongos I saw were more gray than black; apparently, their plumage is variable. The Black Drongo is the least showy of the bunch and is about the same size as the Ashy. I also saw the two racket-tailed drongos. I loved to see the rackets trailing on flying birds or wafting in the breeze on perched birds. The Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo had two long outer tail feathers with rackets on the end. The main edge of its tail was straight. The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo had shorter outer tail feathers, and the edge of the main portion of its tail forms an inverted V.
Orioles. I saw 4 species of orioles in Thailand. They are related to crows, unlike the American orioles, who are related to blackbirds. The male Black-hooded Orioles I saw at Doi Chiang Dao had a total black hood and mostly yellow body. Other similar birds in the area with black heads and yellow bodies were Black-crested Bulbuls and Sultan Tits. On the ridge trail at Doi Chiang Dao, I saw both male and female Slender-billed Orioles. The males were yellow, with a black line extending from the base of the bill around the back of the head to the base of the bill on the other side. At one of the lookouts at Khao Yai, I saw Black-naped Orioles, who look similar to the Slender-billed, but the line on the back of the neck is thicker. At Doi Angkhang, I saw a female/immature Maroon Oriole, who had pinkish undertail coverts. All the orioles are about the same size and shape.
Corvids. The Large-billed Crow is the only regularly occurring crow in Thailand. It sounds like a Fish Crow and in flight looks like a typical crow. However, when seeing it up close, one notices that the bill is large and rounded. Green Magpies are raucous, gregarious birds, often feeding actively in trees. They had red feet and a black eyeline. I saw them at Khao Yai and Doi Inthanon. The only Eurasian Jay of the trip was at Doi Inthanon. It looked more washed out than the race I saw in England. I saw two species of corvids called treepies. These are large, long-tailed birds. I briefly saw two Gray Treepies on the ridge trail at Doi Chiang Dao. When one of them landed, it had the similar crazed looked that the koel had when flying. At Doi Inthanon, I saw Rufous Treepies, both in the lowland areas of the park and at the resort where we were staying. They were somewhat smaller than the Gray treepie (15 vs. 17 inches), and their call sounds like three metallic tones.
Tits. The Great Tits in Thailand are white rather than yellow underneath. The Yellow-cheeked Tit is a common species in the mid-altitude habitat of Doi Inthanon. It has a black crest, yellow face, black down the middle of its breast (wider than on a Great Tit), and dark wings with white spots. The Sultan Tit is large (8 inches) and robust. It has a black head and yellow crest. A birder staying at Mallee's told me to look for it the flowering trees near dusk around the Doi Chiang Dao temple. I went as suggested and saw a Sultan Tit sitting at the top of a bare branch like an angel on top of a Christmas tree.
Nuthatches and Treecreepers. One of the special birds sought at Doi Chiang Dao is the Giant Nuthatch. The name is a bit of an exaggeration, because the bird is only 8 inches. It is found only in relatively large pines at certain altitudes. The road up the mountain at Doi Chiang Dao to the best nuthatch areas was very rough, but we found the birds within about 20 minutes of getting to the site. It is a large gray nuthatch with a light central crown stripe and some rufous and white in the vent area. I saw one slowly pecking at the bark. In the same trees were Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, who are much smaller and more handsome. They have a rich blue back, white eye, and a red bill. The following day not far up the road from Mallee's, I saw a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch in a small feeding party, and it was working a branch at close range at eye level. It is the loveliest nuthatch I have ever seen. At Doi Angkhang, I saw a Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, who is a bit like the White-breasted. It has a chestnut-and-white vent pattern. The Brown-throated Treecreepers at Doi Inthanon Were much like the Brown Creepers in the U.S.
Babblers. Birds with "babbler" in the name are a diverse group who are not related to the Australian babblers. They vary in size, shape, and behavior. Some are extreme skulkers. Among the jungle babblers, I had great looks at Doi Chiang Dao at a few Puff-throated Babblers. These small birds with a rufous cap, white throat and spotted breast reminded me of the Ovenbird in the U.S. They foraged about 10 yards in front of me, and one hopped up onto the concrete path on which I was standing. At Doi Angkhang, I saw the larger (9 inch) White-browed Scimitar-babbler, so named because of its curved yellow bill. I saw some foraging in the mid-levels of evergreen trees. The Pygmy Wren-Babblers I saw at the Doi Inthanon summit looked like little mice, scampering on the forest floor. They were tiny and tail-less. Their call was a slow Tic-Tac-Toe. The second time I visited the summit, I found one in good light and saw the white spots on its brown plumage. However, the birds were not singing as much as on the first visit. On the Nature Trail at Doi Chiang Dao, I saw a Streaked Wren-Babbler, who has a tail. It is a small brown bird, with light streaks extending halfway down its back. The golden babbler is a small golden bird with a dark eyeline that forages in trees like a yellow warbler. The Rufous-fronted Babbler was very similar, only with a rufous cap. I saw both of these species at the mid-altitude levels of Doi Inthanon. Also similar was the Striped Tit-Babbler, who was common at Khao Yai. It was often in feeding parties with other species. It had a rufous cap and yellow underparts, and it darted around quickly. The White-browed Shrike-Babbler was chunky and 6 inches long. I saw one foraging high in a tree at Doi Inthanon and saw the gold patches on its wings; otherwise, it looks black-and-white. The Black-eared Shrike-Babbler is only about 4 inches; it had a rufous chin and was yellow below. I saw its black ear mark. A couple of Gray-throated Babblers foraged in foliage on one of the mid-level trails at Doi Inthanon. They are olive, with a black, white and gray head pattern.
Laughingthrushes. The laughingthrushes are large (12-inch) raucous, robust birds. A lot of them move in groups through the trees and underbrush, and getting a decent look at one can be difficult. Sometimes, a group will descend on a fruiting tree and feed for a few minutes before moving away, one-by-one. They behave somewhat like the Australian babblers, to whom they are not related. At one of the Khao Yai overlooks, I saw White-crested Laughingthrushes during one of their visits to a fruiting tree. I saw the brown on their backs and gray on their necks. I saw a flock of feeding Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes at a fruiting tree near the parking lot at the Doi Chiang Dao temple. They had black lines around their gray ear patch, and they had a full necklace. A couple of Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes were mixed in, but I did not get my binoculars on one. At Khao Yai, I had a quick look at a Black-throated Laughingthrush in a tree, and I saw the large white earpatch. Most of the birds along the boardwalk at the summit at Khao Yai seem unusually used to people, so I had excellent looks at the many Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes there. They were noisy and colorful, with yellow-green on their wings and tail and black, gray, and chestnut on their heads. At Doi Angkhang, I saw Red-faced Liocichlas, who are a little smaller than the other laughingthrushes and a link between them and the closely-related Shrike-Babblers. They have a big red cheek and red on the wing, and they look chunkier than other laughingthrushes.
Fulvettas, Yuhinas, and Minlas. The Gray-cheeked Fulvetta was common at Doi Inthanon. It foraged in trees or near the ground, often with other species. It had a gray head and an eyering. One of its songs sounded like sweet sweet Georgie. At the Doi Inthanon summit, I saw the smaller Rufous-winged Fulvetta (4 inches vs. 6 inches). It had rufous on the wings and a colorful head pattern. In the same area, I saw the similarly colorful Chestnut-tailed Minla, who is sleeker than the fulvettas. These colorful birds have rufous caps, yellow underparts, and complex patterning on their bodies. The more common minla is the blue-winged, which appears to be even sleeker — more like a gnatcatcher than a vireo. I saw quite a few at Doi Angkhang in feeding flocks. The blue on the wing can stand out when seen in proper light. The white-bellied yuhina is a small crested bird that is light olive above and white below — its shape and behavior reminded me of a titmouse. At Doi Chiang Dao, I had good looks at striated yuhinas, which are a bit larger and bulkier than the white-bellied. They have a gray face and brown body, and in the proper light, one can see the striations on the head.
Barwing and Mesia. These two species, who are in the same family as laughingthrushes, were two of my favorite birds in Thailand. The Spectacled Barwing was about the size and shape of a bulbul and sometimes hung around with them. It had a big eyering and bars on the wings. It had a beautiful, haunting song. The best place to see them was around a bridge near Kilometer 38 at Doi Inthanon, where I saw two displaying in a tree. The Silver-eared Mesia was a stunning, multicolored bird who foraged around the mid-levels of trees. It showed gold, olive, red, and black, with a silver earpatch. The song sounded a lot like an American Robin's. I saw them at both Doi Angkhang and Doi Inthanon.
Sibias. Sibias are sleek and long-tailed. At Doi Angkhang and Doi Inthanon, I saw and heard a lot of Black-headed Sibias. The birds at Doi Angkhang had a plaintive 2-note call, similar to the taunting "Dar-rell" chant by baseball fans to annoy Darrell Strawberry. At Doi Angkhang, I saw a Rufous-backed Sibia, who is a bit smaller. It looks like a brownish shrike with a long tail.
Old World Warblers. The Old World warblers pose some of the toughest identification challenges of all the birds in Thailand. Many of them are LBJs in the genus Phylloscopus and look distressingly alike. The Radde's Warbler looked chunky. The Arctic Warbler was a bit more sluggish than some of the others. The Two-barred Warbler had two fairly distinct wingbars when seen at the proper angle. A Buff-throated Warbler near the substation parking area at Doi Chiang Dao looked yellowish underneath. The gray throat on the Ashy-throated Warbler at the Doi Inthanon summit was prominent. The Blyth's Leaf-Warbler had a witchety-witchety song like a Common Yellowthroat. I saw the white on the tail of the similar looking White-tailed Leaf-Warbler. One of the easiest to identify was the Sulphur-breasted Warbler, who was totally yellow underneath and had crown stripes. The Gray-crowned and Chestnut-crowned Warblers are not in the Phylloscopus genus. The Chestnut-crowned was distinctive, with a chestnut cap, gray face, and yellow underparts. The Gray-crowned was recently one of four species split from the Golden-spectacled Warbler.
Reed and Bush Warblers and Tailorbirds. Some of the reed and bush warblers pose difficult identification challenges. Many skulk in the reeds and look alike. They are in the same family as the Phylloscopus warblers. The Great (Oriental) Reed-Warbler had a heavy bill and a white supercilium, and it was larger than the other reed-warblers. The Black-browed Reed-Warbler was common at Rangsit, and its black brow made it fairly easy to identify. The Thick-billed Warbler had a dark eye on a plain face. The bush warblers were difficult to tell apart. One who was different was the Aberrant Bush-Warbler, whom I saw on the drive back down the mountain at Doi Chiang Dao. It had an eyeline, greenish wings, and a brown back. The tailorbirds are easier to see and identify. They move around quickly and cock their tails a lot. The Common Tailorbird had a rufous cap, olive back, and white underparts. I saw them at close range at eye level from a pavilion near the temple at Doi Chiang Dao. The Mountain Tailorbird was similar, but was yellow underneath. I saw some at Doi Angkhang. In the lowlands at Doi Inthanon, I saw a Dark-necked Tailorbird, which had a rufous cap and a large dark mark on its neck.
Prinias. Prinias are small and active with long-tails, and they forage in grass and reeds. Many look similar. Some of the Plain Prinias had a yellowish wash on their breast. I saw Gray-breasted Prinias near Chiang Mai in the same area as Plain Prinias, and the breast was noticeably grayer. The Rufescent Prinia was only slightly more rufescent than the others, and the eyeline on its gray head went past the eyes only a small bit. In the orchard at Doi Angkhang, I found a Hill Prinia and watched it on an exposed perch for about a minute. I saw the faint necklace. The feathers on its long tail seemed to hang loose without being connected. Near Bangkok, I heard the zit-zit-zit-zit of the Zitting Cisticola, who is in the same family, but I never saw one.
Robins, Shortwings, Shamas, Redstarts, and Forktails. This diverse group is all in the thrush family. The Oriental Magpie-Robin was one of the first birds I saw on the road out of the Bangkok Airport. It was robust, with a loud, cheery song. One appeared to be on territory at Mallee's and was singing loudly from exposed branches. Behind the toilets at the Khao Yai campground was a lovely male Siberian Blue Robin, who resembles a Black-throated Blue Warbler. The blue on the crown appeared to be brighter than on the body. The White-browed Shortwing was tiny; I saw one hopping near the boardwalk at the Doi Inthanon summit. The male is uniformly dark, with a white brow, and he was flicking his wings individually. The female was brown, with a rufous forehead and some faint streaking on the breast. The White-rumped Shama was gray on the back and rufous below, and it reminded me of an Eastern Towhee. You could see white on the rump when viewing the bird from behind or when it flew. It cocked its tail a lot.
Forktails are black-and-white, with long, forked tails. They foraged by hopping on the rocks in streams, and they were wary. I saw a pair of Slaty-backed Forktails at Khao Yai. The Black-backed Forktails at Doi Inthanon had slightly darker backs. The White-crowned Forktails at Khao Yai had a black back and more white on the head than either of the other two species. The Plumbeous Redstart had similar habits. I saw a female at Doi Inthanon, who had a white rump and white edges to its upper tail. The male was bluish, with a rufous tail. The River Chat frequented similar habitats. It was lovely, with a white cap, black-and-rufous body, and a black terminal tail band. I saw a few during the trip. The one at Doi Angkhang must have been on territory, because a lot of droppings were on the edge of the low roof where it perched. This species has a lot of energy, and rather than skulking, it aggressively displayed itself. Closely related were the two species of cochoas — Purple and Green. They were about 12 inches long and sat still in the middle of trees for long periods. I did not see either species. The song of each is a single extended note.
Chats and Thrushes. Stonechats are small black, white, and buff birds who perch on top of reeds. Similar were the two species of bushchats I saw. The Pied Bushchat was dark, with a white wing slash, like a Lark Bunting. Like the stonechat, preferred open fields. The male Gray Bushchat resembled a Black-throated Gray Warbler, while the female was brownish. It was fairly common, foraging in trees. An Orange-headed Thrush was behind the same toilets as Khao Yai as the Siberian Blue Robin. Its head was similar in color to a Wood Thrush, but its wings were dark brown. It is in the same genus as the Varied Thrush in the U.S. and the two native Australian thrushes. Also in this genus was the strange Dark-sided Thrush, who pecked in the mud like a shorebird near the boardwalk at the Doi Inthanon summit. I had never seen such a large bill on a thrush — it was long and thick, with a small hook at the tip.
The Blue-whistling Thrush is 13 inches long and looked like a small crow with a yellow bill. I am not sure why it is called a whistling-thrush, because its call was a harsh croak rather than a whistle. It hopped rather than walked, and it had some streaking on its head and back. All of the ones I saw had yellow bills, but a migrant race has a dark bill. The Blue Rock-Thrush was a much smaller (9 inch) version of the whistling-thrush, with a dark bill. The first one I saw was in an area undergoing construction at Khao Yai; it hopped on the building materials and on the counters inside an open building. A White-throated Rock-Thrush obligingly perched near the toilets near one of the waterfalls at Khao Yai. It had white on the throat, which appeared to be a border to the rufous on the throat rather than a large patch. It had an eyering. I saw a perched Chestnut-bellied Rock-Thrush near the summit at Doi Inthanon.
Flycatchers. The Thai flycatchers are all in the same family, except for the Asian Paradise-Flycatcher. I saw a female paradise-flycatcher at Khao Yai. She had a rufous back and tail, a dark head, an eyering, but lacked the long tail streamers of the male. She looked rufous when flying. The Asian Brown Flycatcher had large eyes with a prominent eyering. The Red-throated Flycatcher was common. The males have a red throat only when in breeding plumage. I saw a few who had traces of the red, but most had white throats, and were either females or non-breeding males. Their call was deep and harsh. They had a black tail, with white on the upper outside edges. The male Little Pied Flycatcher was all black-and-white, with a supercilium. The female was plain brown. They darted around. At the Doi Inthanon summit were two family groups of Snowy-browed Flycatchers. One family had two young who were begging. The male was handsome, with a gray back and a reddish breast. Gray-headed Flycatchers were common in many of the places we visited. They had gray heads, yellow bellies, and olive backs. They often served as flock leaders in feeding parties with other species. The Hill Blue Flycatcher was common at Khao Yai and Doi Chiang Dao. The male had a color scheme similar to an Eastern Bluebird. I saw one from above at Doi Chiang Dao, and he had small iridescent patches on his blue wings. The female had a similar color scheme to a female Eastern Bluebird, with a brown back and reddish breast.
Some slightly larger flycatchers called niltavas have a similar color scheme, but the colors seemed richer. The Vivid Niltava was dark blue on the back and rufous underneath. The amount of rufous on the throat was one way of telling the male of this species from the male Rufous-bellied Niltava, but this fieldmark was sometimes difficult to see. A female Rufous-bellied Niltava perched near one of the waterfalls at Doi Inthanon. She had a chestnut tail, olive back, and white on her throat. The Large Niltava, who is only 8 inches long, is a uniform dark blue, and it had a small bill. I saw one perched in a tree at Doi Inthanon. My favorite flycatcher was the Verditer Flycatcher, who was a beautiful turquoise blue, with slightly darker blue wings and a black eyeline. It was a fairly common and often sat in the open at the tops of branches. The Pale Blue Flycatcher I saw at the ridge at Doi Chiang Dao was indeed paler.
Fantails. The Thai fantails look and behave similarly to the ones in Australia. Pied Fantails were common and easy to see at Rangsit, with a brown back, white underparts, and a brown breastband. The White-throated Fantail I saw at the mid-ranges of Doi Inthanon was dark underneath, with a white throat. The Yellow-bellied Fantails at the summit darted around and chased each other. The Black-naped Monarch behaved like a fantail. The male was mostly blue, with black trim and a white belly, while the female had a blue head and brown back.
Shrikes. I saw four species of Thai shrikes. The Brown Shrike was the most common and looked like a standard-sized brownish shrike. I saw a Gray-backed Shrike perched on a support wire at eye level at Khao Yai. I was surprised at how rufous its flanks were. On the drive to Bangkok Airport from Khao Yai, I saw a Long-tailed Shrike perched on top of a reed. It was brownish, with a long black tail. And with Tony Ball, I saw a Burmese Shrike, who has a gray head, brown back, and white on the wings. Its tail was not as long as the long-tailed.
Woodswallows. Thailand has only one species of woodswallow — the Ashy Woodswallow. At Khao Yai, it hung around with the Barn Swallows. The Barn Swallows preferred to perch on utility wires, while the wood-swallows preferred the tops of the poles supporting the wires.
Starlings and Mynas. Thailand has no regularly occurring European Starlings. I saw Asian Pied Starlings, who have a black throat, a white ear patch, and a yellow orbital ring. Near Chiang Mai, I saw a Black-collared Starling on a wire. The black collar appeared to be raised. At Doi Chiang Dao, I saw many flocks of Chestnut-tailed Starlings fly over. They looked plain, and I never saw any at close range. Thailand has a lot of Indian Mynas. At Khao Yai, I saw Hill Mynas perched in a tree at one of the overlooks. They are about a foot long, with an orange bill and a yellow nape. In the same telescope field, I saw the much smaller Golden-crested Myna, but it had its head down, and I never saw its crest. The White-vented Myna, who is about the same size as an Indian Myna, was common in populated areas.
Sunbirds, Spiderhunters, and Flowerpeckers. The sunbirds are among the loveliest species in Thailand. However, unless you see them at a reasonably close distance in good light, you will miss the full effect of their beautiful iridescence. The best place for viewing sunbirds was the summit at Doi Inthanon. Two species found there — Mrs. Gould's and Green-tailed (a race of the which is endemic to Doi Inthanon). The males of both species had elongated central tail feathers. Both showed varying amounts of red-and-gold plumage. I saw some of the females at such close range that I could almost touch them. One of the females was carrying nesting material — strings of green moss. At Khao Yai, I saw good color on the Black-throated Sunbird, the most common sunbird in the park. The male's plumage was blue and brick-colored. Near Bangkok, I saw a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds in a flowering tree; it is the same species as the Yellow-bellied Sunbird in Australia. I saw a male Purple Sunbird in the Doi Inthanon lowlands. He looked uniformly dark, but showed a purple gloss. On the nature trail at Doi Chiang Dao, I saw a Ruby-cheeked Sunbird nest with a pair of adults feeding young. The adults were difficult to see, because they darted in and out of the nest. I had a couple good glimpses of the male, and I saw his yellow belly, ruby throat, and greenish back at one time or another. The hanging nest was a little rounder than the nest of the Yellow-bellied Sunbird I saw in Australia.
The flowerpeckers are in the same family as the sunbirds. The only one I had seen previously was the Mistletoebird in Australia. As with the sunbirds, the females of the species tend to be much plainer. The male Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker looked as if someone ran a scarlet paint roller from his beak to his rump. I saw Thick-billed Flowerpeckers near Mallee's. The male was plain and stocky, with a dark back, light underparts, and faint streaking on his breast. As with some of the other flowerpeckers, he wagged hiss tail side-to-side, but not quickly. At Doi Inthanon, I saw a Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, who had recently been split from the Buff-bellied Flowerpecker. The name represents overstatement about a small bird with a dark red breastband.
Spiderhunters are also in the sunbird's family, and they favor flowering trees. The spiderhunters have improbably long, curved bills. I saw a Little Spiderhunter perched high on a bare branch on the Military Road at Khao Yai. It had a dark back and a yellow belly. I saw the enormous bill in profile. I subsequently saw other spiderhunters perched like this, and they seemed to use these perches to scout things out. At Doi Chiang Dao, I saw a Streaked Spiderhunter foraging in a flowering tree. It was larger, greener, and streakier than the Little Spiderhunter.
White-eyes. I saw three species of white-eyes. The Oriental White-eye was the most common around Khao Yai. It is supposed to have a yellow line down the middle of its gray breast, but this fieldmark can be difficult to see at a distance on these small, fast-moving birds. The Japanese White-eye was the most common around Doi Chiang Dao. Near Mallee's, a lot of them foraged in the short trees near the road. At Doi Angkhang, I saw a lot of Chestnut-flanked White-eyes. They had chestnut flanks, similar to the chestnut-sided warbler.
Weavers, Munias, Finches, and Buntings. I did not see any House Sparrows in Thailand. The Eurasian Tree-sparrow is common. I saw quite a few cocking their tails, which I have never seen House Sparrows do. In the same genus is the Plain-backed Sparrow, who is lovely, with a brown back and yellowish underparts. At Rangsit, I saw a pile of dead Scaly-breasted Munias and one dead Chestnut Munia. The people living there put up mist nets and use rice to attract the birds (munias are sometimes called ricebirds). I saw both of these species flying around Rangsit. I saw about a half a dozen Common Rosefinches in a tree along the ridge trail at Doi Chiang Dao. They look like Purple Finches with dark eyelines. Chestnut Buntings were common at Doi Angkhang and on the ridge trail at Doi Chiang Dao. The male was all chestnut with a yellow belly, while the plainer female was yellowish underneath with a rufous rump. Also on the ridge trail were Crested Buntings, who had a dark crest and rufous wings. Near Doi Angkhang, I saw a couple of little buntings, who look like winter plumage Lapland Longspurs.
Mammals and Other Wildlife. Some of the most exciting sightings on the trip involved mammals. Most were at Khao Yai, and with the exception of a few squirrels and bats, I didn't see much non-avian wildlife in the north. On the Military Road at Khao Yai, I saw a pair of Clouded Leopards. Someone else had seen them earlier walking across the road. When I went to the area, they were not in view. But after I walked back up the road about 100 yards, the leopards came back and crossed where I had just been. When crossing the two-lane road, their length from the tip to their nose to the tip of their tail appeared to stretch across one lane. They had long striped tails and black-and-tan patterned bodies. When spotlighting at Khao Yai, we saw three species of civets. We saw a Three-striped Palm Civet in a tree, a Common Palm Civet walking in a meadow, and a Small Indian Civet. One night, we saw a Malayan Porcupine, who looked like a large black pig with an attitude. It appeared to be many times larger than an echidna, and its spikes got longer toward the middle of its back. Khao Yai has tigers and elephants, but I didn't see any, although I did see fresh elephant droppings.
I saw Pileated Gibbons, my first apes in the wild. I had a nice look at a female. They are sexually dimorphic, and the females are a whitish-brown. Their arms are amazingly long (reminding me of the joke on the Sir Henry at Rawlinson's End album about "P.C. Gibbon, the long arm of the law"). Gibbons are very vocal, and you hear them more often than you see them. I saw one jump down about 15 feet in a tree and grab a branch. Pig-tailed Macaques were common at Khao Yai. I saw them along the road, and many actively approach cars to beg for food. I saw macaques suckling young, and some of the older youngsters seemed to enjoy sliding down the small concrete embankments that the park was installing to facilitate drainage. The ears and front hands of the macaques looked a lot like a human's. The toes were twisted and much longer. The adults appeared to be wearing blue eyeshadow and red eyeliner. They had four long canine teeth which I could see when they opened their mouths. I followed one around for awhile, and he yawned very much like a human. His rump was red, and he had two small marks below his anus. At a temple about 30 minutes from Khao Yai, I saw Long-tailed Macaques in a tree.
At the Khao Yai visitors center, I saw some large sambars, who are deer. A pair grazing slowly in front of one of the buildings appeared to be stuffed until the male with his huge rack of antlers moved his head. I also saw the smaller Barking Deer. On one of the Khao Yai forest trails, a large deer came crashing through the woods at breakneck speed as if being chased by something. It may have been frightened by a Dhole, a species of wild dog I did not see. A lot of squirrels were at Khao Yai, some of whom were large and had a lot of white on their bodies. One night at dusk, we went to an area in the park to observe the entrance to a cave where Wrinkle-lipped Bats roost. At the appointed time, they came out in a seemingly endless sine wave. I don't know how many there were, but if someone said hundreds of thousands or even millions, I would not quarrel.
The only snake I saw was swimming in a stream. One morning at Khao Yai, I saw a really beautiful spider. Some of its legs were blue, while others were black, with yellow joints and yellow feet. It had two yellow stripes on its body that formed a V. It also appeared to have two blue stripes on its sides that formed a V. It had white, yellow, and red spots on top.
I flew from Bangkok to London to spend a few days with my friend Bob and his wife. I had met Bob on a trip to Australia in 1996. The most enjoyable day of birding while I was in England was on Saturday, February 24, near Leicester. I went with Bob and his brother Hugh, and we saw some wonderful birds at a leisurely pace in beautiful countryside. We started out from Bob's home in Oadby, going through Stoughton. We drove on the A47 to Tugby through the Launde Abbey Grounds. From there, we went through Braunstone to Prior's Coppice. We intended to spend a lot of time in the Rutland Waters Reserve, but it was closed because of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. Instead, we birded around the eastern arm of the reserve before going to Hambleton for lunch at the Finch's Arm pub. We then went through Uppingham to the Eye Brook Reservoir. We ended the day by going to Northamptonshire and Harringworth, ending near Bullock.
I more than made up for the paucity of waterfowl in Thailand when I birded in England. A highlight was seeing Smews. I saw five (three males and two females) at the reservoir, and two of them mated. The males were small and white, with black trim and black around the eyes. The female looked like a winter Ruddy Duck. When the two mated, the female submerged under the male.
I saw many other species of waterfowl, including Pochards, (Eurasian) Wigeons, Mallards, (Common) Goldeneyes, Goosanders, Red-breasted Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, Common Shelducks, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, and Mute Swans. I saw a lot of Tufted Ducks, and I saw the tuft on the back of the heads of the males. I saw Egyptian Geese, an introduced species; they were walking in fields, and they remind me of shelducks. The backs of a Pochard is darker than a Canvasback but lighter than a Redhead. Some of the Goldeneye males were doing their "head back" display. The Teal had a horizontal line on its side rather than the vertical line of the Green-winged Teal, who is a different race of the same species in the U.S. Also, the facial pattern looked a bit different from the U.S. race.
I had nice looks at Little Grebes. Some of the winter-plumage Great Crested Grebes were plain and looked like Western Grebes. The Great Cormorants had white breeding patches on their flanks. Most of the gulls were Common Black-headed, but I also saw Common Gulls, who have yellow-green legs. We saw a field full of Lapwings, who have a lovely blue-green back and rufous undertail coverts. We saw a huge flock of European Golden Plovers flying near the reservoir, where they later landed with a flock of Lapwings. In the same group were Dunlin and a few Redshanks.
Wood Pigeons were common, and they showed a lot of white on their neck and wings in flight. We saw a perched Stock Dove, which was large but did not have the white markings. Some pheasants were in the fields. And we saw a field with a flock of at least ten Red-legged Partridges, who have rufous-patterned bodies and white marks on their faces.
A highlight was seeing five Red Kites. The first two we saw in silhouette as they flew together in the fading daylight. They had a distinctive kite shape and a loopy wingbeat. We then went to an area where they roost near Bullock and saw three more fly in; I saw color on some of these birds. Centuries ago, Red Kites used to be common, scavenging dead bodies in London. Their numbers have plummeted, but they are making a comeback. Because a lot of the birds in the area have already paired off for the breeding season, not as many were coming into the roost.
Early in the day, we saw a field full of hundreds of Fieldfares, a thrush with a gray head. Mixed in were a few Redwings, which were smaller and had a white eyeline. Near the kite roost, we saw a couple of perched Mistle Thrushes perched on wires and poles. They were large and showed a white underwing in flight. In the fields were a couple of Song Thrushes, who were also smaller than the Fieldfares. The Blackbird was the most common thrush. They sometimes cock their tails. Carrion crows were in the area. Other corvids were Jackdaws, who were smaller than crows and had smaller heads and bills, and rooks, who had white around their bill. Magpies were common.
The Great Tits were a different race than the ones in Thailand. They are yellow underneath rather than white, and the black on the breast is more pronounced. Blue Tits are beautiful, having a faint line on their breast and lines on their head rather than a solid cap. We saw one Marsh Tit darting back and forth to a feeder. It had some white on its wing feather edges, but no white patch like a Willow Tit. The Long-tailed Tit had a black cap; it is related to bushtits rather than chickadees.
Chaffinches were common. They had white on the wing and tail. We saw a perched male Bullfinch, who had a black cap and reddish breast. Hugh said that they are not often seen at feeders, and when they are, they spend most of their time trying to chase away other birds (Bully Finches?). We saw some Yellowhammers near the kite roost; they are finch-sized, with a yellow-patterned head. Earlier, we had seen Goldfinches and Greenfinches. Tree Sparrows were supposedly not common, but I saw more of them than House Sparrows. Dunnocks looked like sparrows with gray heads and collars and thinner bills, but they are actually accentors.
The best non-avian sighting of the day was a large Red Fox at the reservoir. I saw it in the reeds while I was scoping some ducks at the reservoir. It later came to the water's edge to drink, and the hundreds of ducks seemed unconcerned.
On Sunday, February 25, I left Leicester to visit my friend Andy in Chelmsford, Essex. I saw a couple of new species. On Monday, shortly before leaving Andy's house to take a train to London, I was standing with his wife Sue in their kitchen and saw a Green Woodpecker fly into a tree in their backyard. With Bob and Hugh, we had looked in a couple of places for woodpeckers without any luck. The Green Woodpecker perched like a flicker. It was light-colored, with a red cap and some black over its eyes. Around the same time, I saw a Eurasian Jay, who was in better plumage than the one I saw in Thailand.
Later that day in London, I was walking in St. James Park when I heard a woodpecker drumming. I pinpointed the sound and found a Great Spotted Woodpecker banging on a dead branch. It was about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker, with a red vent, white slash on the wing, spots below the slash, a white cheek, and a dark eye. It landed on a branch almost right over my head. As I stood looking at it, a few people stopped, and I let them look at the bird through my binoculars. It was my final new bird of the trip, and I enjoyed being able to share it with people in London.