Central and Northern Thailand Birding Tour
1st-22nd February 2024: Thailand birding tour highlights include Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Siberian Rubythroat, Great Hornbill, Giant Nuthatch, Blue Pitta, Siamese Fireback, Black-and-red Broadbill, Mrs Hume’s Pheasant, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Long-tailed Broadbill, Pied Harrier, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Asian Dowitcher, Dark-sided Thrush, Silver-eared Mesia, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Chinese Egret – £4295 Per Person
- Dates: 1st-22nd Feb 2024
- Cost: £4295
- Single Supplement: £650
- Deposit: £700
- Tour length: 22 Days (20 days birding)
- Min/Max group size: 5 / 9
- Start/Finish: Chiang Mai/Bangkok
- Tour Type: Birding
- Photo Opps: Very good
- Physical Classification: Easy
- Leaders: Lee Collins & Ingkayut Sa-ar
If you have any questions about this trip please feel free to ask by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thailand Birding; Central & Northern Regions
Picture yourself immersed in a country full of new cultural, culinary and architectural experiences coupled with a variety of habitats as diverse as coastal wetlands, lowland tropical forest, dry dipterocarp woodland, lotus swamps, evergreen montane forest and rice fields; more importantly, a country where exciting species including Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Great Hornbill, Blue Pitta, Banded Broadbill and Siberian Rubythroat can all be seen. That is birding in Thailand.
Thailand is at the heart of Southeast Asia and the meeting point of three biogeographic zones blessing the kingdom with a large and varied avifauna that includes lots of colourful, tropical species alongside many much-desired East Asian migrants. The welcoming people, the well-developed infrastructure, comfortable accommodation and delicious food along with an amazing array and number of birds make Thailand the ideal country for birding in, especially for those making a first trip to the region. Thailand is a safe and enjoyable country to travel in as well as an awesome birding destination. The habitats and birds of the northern region have a strong affinity to the Himalayas although east Asian migrants give a hint of the cultural trends of the region. The mountain peaks of the north often provide pleasantly cool temperatures to go birding in with comparison to the hot lowlands but both have ornithological delights in store of equal excitement. In the central region tropical forests with amazing strangler fig trees extend from the borders with Myanmar and Cambodia into Thailand while closer to the coast mudflats, salt farms and rice fields provide an interesting contrast as well as an insight into some traditional Thai ways of life.
With such variety of habitats and biogeographical regions there comes a huge number of species. In terms of species diversity, numbers and rarity value the Gulf of Thailand is the best wader-watching site in the world and it is here that we expect to find the iconic and critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper while the tropical forests hold such gems as Great Hornbill and Blue Pitta. Colourful birds in the northern forests include Green-tailed Sunbird, Ultramarine Flycatcher and Yellow-cheeked Tit although we will not ignore skulking “little brown jobs” such as Pygmy Cupwing or Aberrant Bush Warbler. Throw in a huge supporting cast of shorebirds, woodpeckers, bulbuls, leaf warblers and raptors and you have some of the best birding in the world.
Day1, Arrival in Thailand – 1st February 2024
Overnight flights arrive in Bangkok on the morning or early afternoon of 30th January with a short domestic flight to Chiang Mai to follow. At Chiang Mai airport you will meet your local guide and drive the short distance to a comfortable hotel for the night. At dinner there will be a pre-tour briefing.
Day 2, Muang Sam Ma Swamp – Doi Lang West – 2nd February 2024
After a good breakfast at the hotel, a 25 minute drive to the northern outskirts of the city of Chiang Mai will get us to the lotus swamp of Muang Sam Ma just as the sun is emerging; a great time to be there. We will spend a few hours at this little site which serves as an excellent introduction to birding in Thailand. Here an abundance of common species such as Black-collared Starling, huge flocks of Lesser Whistling Ducks wheeling around in the sky, Dusky Warbler, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Common Iora, Purple Heron, Chinese Pond Heron, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul and many more coming in thick and fast will serve as a sort of birding second breakfast.
It is not just common species here though, this spot is also a great place for turning up a couple of cryptic and skulking species that can be hard to find on a Thailand birding tour, even though they are not exactly rare. Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Eurasian Wryneck are two notable species that we can usually find here as well as Black-browed Reed Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler and Oriental Reed Warbler.
Wetland species such as Grey-headed Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana (in non-breeding plumage) Eurasian Coot, Yellow Bittern, Intermediate Egret and Eastern Great Egret are usually easily seen too. Sometimes there are small groups of Garganey or Ferruginous Duck here and species such as Plaintive Cuckoo or Long-tailed Shrike perch on emergent vegetation.
By mid-morning we will leave and drive a few hours north to the small town of Fang for a lunch stop. After this we head uphill to Doi San Ju (Doi Lang West) where we can expect some close-up views of some exciting birds. Although Siberian Rubythroat is a common winter visitor to Thailand it is usually very skulking and hard to see but not here, we predict the best views of this stunning little bird! A series of stakeouts usually provides us with a wonderful afternoon with species including Silver-eared Laughingthrush, White-gorgetted Flycatcher, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Spot-breasted Parrotbill and Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher. In the late afternoon it is here that we have our first chance of seeing Mrs Hume’s Pheasant before heading down to our accommodation around one hour away in the village of Thatorn.
Day 3, Doi Lang East- Thatorn Rice Fields – 3rd February 2024
Breakfast at our guesthouse is followed by a short drive uphill and then a change of vehicle. Suitable local transport will take us up the rutted road that ascends Doi Lang East where some superb birds await us. Stopping at a lookout allows us to spot species that include Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Black Bulbul, Blue-throated Barbet, Maroon Oriole, Slender-billed Oriole and Stripe-breasted Woodpecker as they go about their morning business. This can be a good place to see Cook’s Swift at close range too and there is often a surprise or two; perhaps some Long-tailed Broadbills, a Bamboo Woodpecker or flypast Grey-headed Parakeets?
However, it is further up the mountain, in an area of moist forest at an altitude of around 2000 metres that the real reason for coming here is revealed. At a border police checkpoint there is a regular spot for getting incredible views of Scarlet-faced Liocichla, one of the most colourful and stunning birds of this Thailand birding tour. Joining them are likely to be Silver-eared Laughingthrush, Dark-backed Sibia and wonderful Spectacled Barwings.
Just hanging around and taking this area in usually provides lots of other good birds including close-up studies of Buff-barred Leaf Warbler and Davison’s Leaf Warbler, allowing you to get to grips with two of this challenging group of birds. Whiskered Yuhina often comes to feed on low branches here and Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Mountain Bulbul, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird and Ashy Bulbul will often join them. In some years, if the weather has been cold in northern regions, a thrush or two will make a winter territory here with the most likely candidates being Eyebrowed Thrush and Chestnut Thrush.
Lots of other species can be found in this area too so we should not have to go too far to find Large Niltava, Himalayan Bluetail or White-tailed Robin and with a little luck we might spot a soaring Mountain Hawk Eagle. We will have a picnic lunch while we wait to see what else arrives but in the early afternoon we will head back down hill to our accommodation for a short afternoon break.
As the day cools down we will drive a very short distance to nearby Thatorn rice fields where we should add birds such as Citrine Wagtail, Pied Bushchat, Grey-headed Lapwing, Plain Prinia and Yellow-bellied Prinia to our list. However, it is the critically endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting that we are really here to see and a small flock of up to a hundred birds regularly comes in to patches of riverside vegetation before roosting. This is a really great bird to end a memorable day with.
Day 4, Doi Lang East – Chiang Saen – 4th February 2024
Today we revisit Doi Lang East for the morning. We can stop at some different spots early on to look for some different species from the previous day. Stopping at a set of rice fields in the mountains should gain us good views of Oriental Turtle Dove, Olive-backed Pipit and possibly Grey-backed Shrike. Taking a walk around sometimes reveals a Little Bunting or even Crested Bunting and as the sun begins to shine on the trees there are often a few raptors to spot, regularly occurring species include Grey-faced Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle and Crested Goshawk.
We can inspect any flowering trees we find for White-headed Bulbul or Golden-throated and Great Barbets or if we are really lucky a flock of White-necked Laughingthrushes may show themselves from the undergrowth. There are bound to be Hume’s Leaf Warblers around, best told by their call, as well as Little Pied Flycatcher, Streaked Spiderhunter and possibly something rarer such as Red-billed Scimitar Babbler. By spending this extra time on this side of the mountain it means that we are not in a rush and can enjoy the key species as well as having time to try for a few of the ones that are not seen too frequently.
In the afternoon we will descend the mountain and drive around two hours to the small town of Chiang Saen. We plan to arrive in time to check in but then head off to an area of wetlands where species like Grey-headed Swamphen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Asian Openbill and Striated Grassbird can be seen but we are really here to witness a huge gathering of roosting harriers. Pied Harrier, in particular, is one of the most stunning raptors in Asia and we will be able to enjoy plenty of adult males here. As dusk approaches around two hundred harriers come in to roost with both Pied Harrier and Eastern Marsh Harrier in large numbers and we will be in a perfect position to see them. The sight of 100+ harriers circling their roost site before plunging down into it is something not quickly forgotten.
We will be out to dusk but our accommodation is very nearby.
Day 5, Chiang Saen – Fang – 5th February 2024
A number of good birding spots are scattered around the area close to our hotel so this morning’s journey will be a very short one. One of the star species of this area is Jerdon’s Bushchat but its habitat of riverine grasses is quickly disappearing and finding it is getting harder all the time. However, there are a couple of places we can try in the area for it in the early morning and along the way we should see Racket-tailed Treepie, Lineated Barbet, Dusky Warbler, Green Sandpiper, White Wagtail (leucopsis), Grey-throated Martin and a good chance of finding a skulking Baikal Bush Warbler.
Chiang Saen lake always has some wildfowl on it with large numbers of Indian Spotbilled Duck being normal. Other regularly occurring species include Lesser Whistling Duck, Garganey, Northern Pintail and Ferruginous Duck with small numbers of Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Northern Shoveler but this location is the best one in the country for turning up rarities and Baer’s Pochard, Baikal Teal and Falcated Duck have all been seen in recent years. Burmese Shrike is a beautiful bird that can usually be seen around the lake and we should listen out for drumming from Freckle-breasted Woodpecker too. This area has many possibilities and exactly what we do depends very much on the intimate local knowledge we have at the time.
When we feel like we have had enough from the day we will make the two hour journey back to the town of Fang.
Day 6, Doi Lang West – 6th February 2023
Today it will very important to be in exactly the right spot early enough to set up and wait for the emergence of one of the key target species of northern Thailand: Mrs Hume’s Pheasant. At this time of the year several of these rare birds come out to feed in the open just as the sun hits the right spot so we aim to be there before time so as not to disturb them. We are hoping to be able to watch this beautiful species at length and other species that might join them include Mountain Bamboo Partridge, White-browed Laughingthrush and even some arboreal birds such as Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Olive-backed Pipit, Japanese Tit and Ultramarine Flycatcher. This should be a really great start to the day.
On this side of the mountain the habitat is one of mixed open forest, pine trees, an understorey of grasses with patches of moister forest; this variety means there are a lot of different birds to see. In the grassy area Buff-throated Warbler and Rufescent Prinia are fairly easily seen but Aberrant Bush Warbler and Grey-crowned Warbler are faster-moving and more skulking – tricky! In the ancient pines we expect to find Giant Nuthatch, often calling from exposed perches, and birds such as Blyth’s Shrike Babbler, Long-tailed Minivet, Slender-billed Oriole and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker are likely to join them.
Moving on we can check the stakeouts again to see if there are any birds we did not see before. Often White-bellied Redstart, Hill Prinia or something rarer take a bit more waiting than we may have done on our previous visit. Flocks of birds usually contain Dark-backed Sibia, Yunnan Fulvetta, Blue-winged Minla and Claudia’s Leaf Warbler but the flocks containing species such as Rufous-backed Sibia and Giant Nuthatch will be worth a closer look. These species tend to indicate the presence of scarcer birds such as Himalayan Cutia which is rare and often inconspicuous, while groups of Grey-headed Parrotbill may also share the same food source. We would do well to see all of these in one visit, but that is why we make multiple excursions up the mountain, to give ourselves the best chance of seeing as many of these superb birds as possible without being in a rush to tick them all off in a short space of time and inevitably miss many of them.
After a picnic lunch we can check out a reliable area for Crested Finchbill, surely one of the smartest bulbuls we will see, and possibly find a Chinese Leaf Warbler in areas where shrubs are mixed with bamboo. Other possibilities include Great Barbet, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Golden-throated Barbet, Maroon Oriole, Spectacled Barwing, Yellow-cheeked Tit and Mountain Hawk Eagle. If we stay out until late afternoon we have a decent chance of locating Crested Bunting, Common Rosefinch and possibly Chestnut Bunting.
Day 7, Fang Hot Springs – Doi Ang Kang – 7th February 2023
After a long day on the previous day we do not need to get up particularly early to get to Fang Hot Springs at the right time. A ten minute drive after breakfast gets us there at a great time to spot Asian Barred Owlet, Coppersmith Barbet and the distinctive Eurasian (White-faced) Jay early on. Checking a stream might reveal Slaty-backed Forktail or Plumbeous Redstart and the trees should hold Long-tailed and possibly Rosy Minivets. The main reason to visit, though, is to view a regular flock of Spot-winged Grosbeaks that favour a few trees in particular. We only intend to spend a short morning here but it is also a great place to see Blue Rockthrush at close quarters as well as Two-barred Warbler and Striated Swallow at eye-level. Checking exposed perches as the sun hits them can result in a sighting of Lineated Barbet, Shikra or even Blue-throated Bee-eater and there are often one or two surprises here – perhaps Pin-tailed Green Pigeon or Little Cuckoo Dove feeding on a fruiting tree.
By mid-morning, after a coffee, we will head up another nearby mountain for the afternoon: Doi Ang Kang. This is a very picturesque area with a series of spots for us to check out for some key birds such as Yellow-streaked Warbler, Daurian Redstart and Brown-breasted Bulbul as we stare across the border into Myanmar. Gardens here should have flowering trees that attract Black-throated and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird as well as noisy Orange-bellied Leafbirds. This can be a good area for White-headed Bulbul and Silver-eared Mesia too.
Leaf Warblers are abundant at this site with Hume’s and Yellow-browed common in the pines and gardens as well as small numbers of Pallas’s and Chinese Leaf Warblers to look for. Raptors usually include Eastern Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle and Crested Goshawk but there are lots of other possibilities too. Bird activity usually finishes very early here as the sun falls below the mountain ridges so we should be back at our accommodation in time to have a drink before dinner.
Day 8, Doi Lang West – 8th February 2023
Today we have another chance to ensure we get excellent views of Mrs Hume’s Pheasant or any other key species not yet seen. We should have already enjoyed the pheasant to the full so this morning could be devoted to a different spot on the same mountain. We could visit an area to look for Crested Bunting and Chestnut Bunting, both tough species in Thailand these days. Perhaps rare species such as Crimson-breasted Woodpecker might be known to be active in one of its semi-regular places or a flock of cute Black-throated Tits may pass through. Skulking Aberrant Bush Warbler might still be eluding us and it often takes some effort to track down Himalayan Cutia. The possibilities on Doi Lang are many and this visit gives us the chance to find some of the rarer birds, get improved views of some we have seen before and to become more familiar with some of those seen just once, briefly before.
Photo opportunities here are excellent and sometimes the stakeouts turn up something really special, particularly if a cold front has moved in. In past years Rusty-naped Pitta, Lesser Shortwing, Golden Bush Robin and Spot-breasted Laughingthrush have appeared – fingers crossed for something special!
Day 9, Doi Ang Kang – Doi Inthanon – 9th February 2023
A second visit to Doi Ang Kang sees us at the right spot as the sun hits a patch of pine forest. At this point birds are very active in the early morning with Giant Nuthatch frequently performing extremely well along with Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Blyth’s Shrike Babbler, Japanese Tit, Long-tailed Minivet and many others. Chestnut-bellied Rockthrush often frequents this area as does Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher and Eyebrowed Thrush. There are a lot of possibilities at this time of day.
We can also revisit the gardens at Doi Ang Kang this morning where a stakeout ought to provide us with point-blank views of some new birds, in particular Black-breasted Thrush. At a feeding station this bird will usually appear along with White-tailed Robin, smart Hill Blue Flycatcher, small groups of charming Silver-eared Mesias and possibly a Rufous-bellied Niltava. Once again, if this year has experienced a cold snap then there can be surprises in the form of a rare thrush or something else.
We can make a visit to a couple of spots for Brown-breasted Bulbul if we have not seen it already and use what time remains to try and track down any species key to the area that we have not already seen. After lunch we begin our longest drive of the trip heading to our accommodation at Doi Inthanon, making a brief stop along the way to see if we can spot a Rufous-winged Buzzard.
By the time we get to our accommodation it should be time to go just around the corner to view a small flock of Blossom-headed Parakeets at a pre-roost gathering. Plain-backed Sparrow, Burmese Shrike and Striated Swallow are possibilities here too. Back at our accommodation we should have time to look for Spotted Owlet.
Days 10-11, Doi Inthanon – 10-11th February 2023
We have two full days to enjoy the birds of Doi Inthanon. This is Thailand’s tallest mountain and as such it contains a wide range of altitudinal habitats. In this variety of habitats are wide range of species for us to see. At the summit are some really special birds with colourful Green-tailed Sunbirds, Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Rufous-winged Fulvettas and Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds. Another summit speciality is Ashy-throated Warbler, a Phylloscopus that everyone should be able to identify without a problem! Silver-eared Laughingthrush abounds up here and fruiting trees can attract Grey-sided Thrush, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker and Golden-throated Barbet. If we time it right we should see both Ashy and Speckled Woodpigeons while on the summit boardwalk we will look for skulking Dark-sided Thrush, White-browed Shortwing and Pygmy Cupwing.
Slightly lower down the mountain birding will be along a quiet track where flocks of birds usually contain Yellow-cheeked Tit, Clicking Shrike Babbler, Grey-chinned Minivet, Silver-eared Mesia, Mountain Tailorbird, Rufous-backed Sibia and many other species.
This is also a good place to look for Slaty-bellied Tesia, a tiny bird that behaves like a clockwork toy, and Hume’s Treecreeper. In this area Green Cochoa sometimes appears but we will need a fair bit of luck to see this bird although Large Niltava, Marten’s Warbler and Little Pied Flycatcher should be easier. Other birds to look for here include Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Grey-throated Babbler and White-browed Scimitar Babbler.
Streams and waterfalls at Doi Inthanon contain some nice birds and we have a good chance to find Slaty-backed, White-crowned and Black-backed Forktails, such elegant birds. White-capped Water Redstart is a lovely bird too and we should see this at one of the waterfalls along with Plumbeous Redstart.
We also plan to make a brief visit to the dry dipterocarp woodland at the base of the mountain. Birds here are few and far between but we know where there is a roost site of Collared Falconet and if we hang around until very late Black-headed Woodpeckers should show up too. Doi Inthanon has a lot of possibilities for us.
Day 12, Doi Inthanon – Bangkok – 12th February 2023
We will use this morning to track down any species we are still looking for in the north. There are always a few species that play hard to get so this is time to try and locate them. By mid-morning we will travel towards Chiang Mai airport, have lunch and catch an early afternoon flight to Bangkok.
We arrive by mid-afternoon and take a short walk to our hotel for the night where we have a few hours to relax, catch up with emails, process photographs and recharge the batteries before starting the central Thailand section of our tour.
Day 13, Wat PraPhuttabaht Noi – Khao Yai – 13th February 2023
We leave Bangkok very early to avoid the traffic, arriving at Wat PraPhuttabaht Noi, nestled among the limestone pinnacles, a little after first light. Here it should not take too long to track down Limestone Wren Babbler, split by some as Rufous Limestone-babbler, jumping around on the rocks. Other birds here are Common Iora, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Coppersmith Barbet and Lineated Barbet. After an hour or two here we continue towards Khao Yai national park, stopping along the way to admire some Red-breasted Parakeets.
Inside Khao Yai we can enjoy our first forest birding in this region. Asian Fairy Bluebird, Black-crested Bulbul, Blue-winged Leafbird, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Scarlet Minivet and brown-rumped Minivet are all common birds but we hope to find some of the harder species too in this first afternoon. Red-headed Trogon is a strong possibility and we will be in the right area for Siamese Fireback if it emerges from the forest.
As the day draws to a close we hope that Brown-backed Needletails are coming down to drink from a roadside pool before waiting for Great Eared Nightjars to fly overhead at dusk. This is a great way to end the day.
Days 14-15, Khao Yai National Park – 14-15th February 2023
Two full days in Thailand’s oldest national park means that there is plenty of time to search for the key species that dwell within it. The quality of the forest here is exceptional with some of the most incredible strangler fig trees in Asia. Many of these trees have enormous canopies and have completely destroyed their original host tree creating an amazing structure. These fig trees can also be a magnet to wildlife and if we find a good fruiting fig species such as Great Hornbill, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Moustached Barbet, Oriental Pied Hornbill and White-handed Gibbon should all be present. Let’s hope we find one of these trees!
Birding at Khao Yai is not easy, we will require some patience and persistence for the best rewards here. Although there are a lot of superb birds that we hope to see many of them are very shy and difficult to find. However, we have allocated enough time here to have an excellent chance of finding many of them and top of our list of difficult targets is Blue Pitta. This is a real gem of a bird.
This bird is not rare but it is shy so we will need to be quiet and patient to get the best views. While we are in the realm of Blue Pitta we will also be on alert for the superb Red-headed Trogon, Banded Kingfisher, Long-tailed Broadbill as well as the wail of Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo. This bird is one of the most sought-after in Thailand and although, once again, it is not rare here, it is extremely hard to see. Some years it comes to a stakeout but usually a lot of luck is needed, although if it is calling we have a decent chance of luring it in.
Mammals are a feature at Khao Yai and there is a good chance of seeing wild Asiatic Elephants here, although if we do extreme care must be taken, these animals are dangerous. White-handed Gibbon, Red Muntjac, Sambar and Pig-tailed Macaque are all likely too and Black Giant Squirrel is an impressive beast. If we are extremely lucky we may see Malayan Porcupine, Dhole or even Asiatic Black Bear!
Birding along the road to the highest point of the national park is the best way to find Siamese Fireback and Silver Pheasant. Flocks of birds along here tend to include noisy White-crested Laughingthrush, Black-throated Laughingthrush, Common Green Magpie, Laced Woodpecker, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and White-browed Scimitar Babbler. Flowering trees in campsites often draw in smaller birds such as Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, cambodianum Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Little Spiderhunter and Blue-eared Barbet. Areas of open country also provide us with the opportunity to watch beautiful Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. We can also look out for raptors which usually include Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk and Oriental Honey-buzzard but we might get lucky with Jerdon’s Baza or Rufous-bellied Eagle too.
Day 16, Khao Yai National Park- Petchaburi Rice Fields – 16th February 2023
We finish with a final short morning back in Khao Yai national park. This can be used to chase any of the target birds that we have not yet seen. We will also use this time to visit an area of the forest for two little gems: Van Hasselt’s and Crimson Sunbirds. Leaving in the mid-morning we start our journey towards Petchaburi rice fields, timing it so that we pass through the massive metropolis of Bangkok when everyone is at work, avoiding the worst traffic.
After a lunch stop we continue the journey arriving at Petchaburi rice fields in time to see Asian Golden Weavers starting to come into breeding plumage and building their nests in vegetation emerging from the watery ditches. Alongside them we also expect large numbers of Baya Weavers as well as smaller numbers of Streaked Weaver. Rice fields here are often full of large numbers of Asian Openbill as well as Little, Great and Intermediate Egrets with overgrown edges harbouring Bronze-winged Jacana and Ruddy-breasted Crake. We will make an effort to locate areas of habitat that have the right combination of low water levels and floating vegetation which attract Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Cotton Pygmy Goose and White-browed Crake.
Skulking species such as Black-browed Reed Warbler, Oriental Reed Warbler and Chestnut-capped Babbler occur in roadside reeds and Typha giving us another chance of them if not previously seen. Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler often occurs in this area while species such as Plain Prinia and Yellow-bellied Prinia are fairly common. Staying out until the late afternoon is usually rewarding as birds emerge from their shady hiding places. Pink-necked Green Pigeons gather on roadside wires, Oriental Darters fly overhead and Stork-billed Kingfisher may emerge too. This location usually provides us with lots of interesting birds and is a nice change of pace to break up forest birding on this trip.
Other possibilities here include Yellow Bittern, Chestnut Munia, Freckle-breasted Woodpecker, Cinnamon Bittern, Brahminy Kite, Grey-headed Lapwing and Watercock. As the day draws to a close there can be a real flurry of bird activity here and it is only a very short drive to our hotel for a well-earned shower, dinner and a beer.
Day 17, Pak Thale/Laem Pak Bia – 17th February 2023
For many this will be the most anticipated day of this Central and Northern Thailand Birding Tour. Staying just a short distance away we will arrive at Pak Thale in the early morning where we expect to locate one or two of the few critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpipers that winter here. Sometimes we find this species within moments of arrival, other times it can take up to a few hours of searching, but this bird is very reliable here. While we are searching for this bird there are other key species to look for too including one or two Far Eastern Curlews that join the larger numbers of Eurasian Curlews here. Commoner species here include Curlew Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Red-necked Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank. Groups of terns are likely to include the huge Caspian Tern as well as tiny Little Terns and Brown-headed Gull is common although we will need luck to see any other gull species.
In the morning we will also focus on finding Nordmann’s Greenshank and Asiatic Dowitcher, both key target species. While the greenshank has a fairly reliable area it favours, the dowitcher will require searching the vast area of salt farms and fish ponds that cover this region.
Pre-historic-looking Painted Storks will also be a feature, wading around in the deeper water, while other shorebirds should include Terek Sandpiper, large flocks of Great Knot, Long-toed Stint, Greater Sand Plover, Temminck’s Stint, Ruff and Bar-tailed Godwit.
Some birds prefer the sand spit that the district of Laem Pak Bia is named after and today includes a pleasant boat trip to take us out there, looking out for Collared and Black-capped Kingfishers along the way. On arrival we bird on the beach where we expect to find handsome Malaysian Plover which breeds here in small numbers. This is where we should find “White-faced Plover” too and at this time of the year the males should be coming into their very distinctive breeding plumage. Chinese Egret is also another key bird in this area, usually feeding on exposed mud. We also expect Pacific Reef Egret, Great Crested Tern and Sanderling and sometimes the large flock of terns here can include Pallas’s Gull, Heuglin’s Gull or something even rarer.
There are lots of scraps of habitat around other than just wetlands and throughout the day we also might find Oriental Skylark, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, White-shouldered Starling, Indian Nightjar, Indochinese Bushlark or recently returned Oriental Pratincoles.
Day 18, Pak Thale/Laem Pak Bia/Petchaburi Rice Fields- Kaeng Krachan – 18th February 2023
This area is one that is full of birds and so that we are not in a rush we have scheduled a second day here. This will allow us to enjoy the birds we see at a sensible pace as well as ensure that there is a second chance to find any of the key birds that we did not see on the first day. What we do exactly will very much depend on what we have seen previously. If there are any know rarities in the area, such as Black-faced Spoonbill or Milky Stork, we can target these. If we did not succeed in finding Asiatic Dowitcher then we can focus on this. On the other hand we might spend time finding Oriental Pratincole on the ground or we can look for Pin-tailed and Greater Painted Snipes. Other species that we can look for if not already seen are Slaty-breasted Rail, Plain-backed Sparrow, Indian Nightjar or Ruddy-breasted Crake. There are always lots of options in this area.
Alternatively we can make an early morning visit back to the rice fields where there is always a lot of activity in the first few hours of light. Species such as Stork-billed Kingfisher, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Freckle-breasted Woodpecker are much easier to locate at this time of day.
By late morning we will start our journey to our accommodation at Kaeng Krachan, having lunch there while maybe watching White-rumped Shama or Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush. We might see a few small mammals too including Northern Treeshrew and Western Striped Squirrel.
In the afternoon the plan is to sit in a hide that overlooks a bathing and feeding area in a patch of dry forest. Here many species of birds come to take advantage of the water and food giving us incredibly good views of them. This is a great way to get point-blank sightings of some of the common forest birds that can be tricky to see well. Species like Black-naped Monarch, Puff-throated Babbler, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and Siberian Blue Robin are usually easily seen here. Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush regularly appear too and when they arrive in a gang they make quite a commotion. We hope for some really shy birds to arrive here, so if we are very quiet. Large Scimitar Babbler, Bar-backed Partridge, Kalij Pheasant and Green-legged Partridge could all appear. If things have been very dry the show here can be quite spectacular with Common Green Magpie, White-browed Scimitar Babbler and even Grey-headed Woodpecker all possible. Visiting this spot usually provides a lot of lasting memories.
Days 19-20, Kaeng Krachan National Park – 19-20th February 2023
Two full days at this fantastic location give us the time we need to focus on the key species here. We will split our time between the lowlands and upper levels, both of which have a distinctive set of birds to look for. This national park is the largest in Thailand and is just a part of a large area of forest along the Thai-Myanmar border which is home to a healthy population of a wide variety of wildlife including mammals such as Leopard, Tiger, Gaur and Asiatic Elephant. Seeing these would require a lot of luck but the bird communities here are just as rich.
In the lower altitudes we are hoping to see several species of broadbills including the elegant Silver-breasted Broadbill which usually starts to become detectable at this time of year. As well as this beauty we have a high probability of finding some really crazy looking birds in Black-and-red Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill and Banded Broadbill. These are just the sort of colourful, tropical birds we travel the world to see. Here we have another chance at Blue Pitta if we did not already see it at Khao Yai as well as Great Hornbill, Banded Kingfisher and several other species.
Orange-breasted Trogon and Sultan Tit are two amazing birds which are usually found at Kaeng Krachan while in the early morning Green-eared Barbet, Greater Flameback, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Greater Yellownape and Oriental Dollarbird often perch out in the open. Fruiting trees can attract Tickell’s Brown Hornbill as well as numerous Oriental Pied Hornbills as well as Common Hill Myna, Eyebrowed Thrush, Blue-eared Barbet and many other species. Kaeng Krachan is a good place for woodpeckers and we hope to find several species from the little Heart-spotted Woodpecker to the monster Great Slaty Woodpecker. Other species here include Black-thighed Falconet, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Golden-crested Myna and Boobook, demonstrating what an excellent birding site this is.
The higher altitudes of Kaeng Krachan contain more superb birds. The incredible Ratchet-tailed Treepie is the key species here; its tail looks like some sort of medieval war weapon! This species often follows flocks of other birds that include smart Collared Babblers, White-browed Scimitar Babblers and Black-throated Laughingthrushes. While the treepie will be our main focus there are a lot of birds up here and it gives us a chance to get better views of some species from the north. Perhaps Blue-throated Barbet, Great Barbet, Mountain Imperial Pigeon or Speckled Piculet will show themselves well. This part of the national park also gives us the possibility of a few birds that we will not have encountered elsewhere due to range restrictions. Cute little Rufous-browed Flycatcher inhabits the undergrowth and Grey Peacock Pheasant may cross the road if we are lucky. Red-bearded Bee-eater is always possible in this area too, quite an amazing creature.
The gardens of our accommodation should not be overlooked either with Black-hooded Oriole nesting there, Brown Boobook roosting in the larger trees and Collared Scops Owl calling after dark.
Day 21, Kaeng Krachan National Park- Petchaburi Rice Fields-Bangkok – 21st February 2023
We will use our final day for looking for any species we have not already seen. This may mean a visit to another nearby hide if we know of any special species that are regularly visiting, or it may be an opportunity to do some birding around the accommodation gardens.
Alternatively this could be another chance to look for any rarities in the salt farms back at the coast if we have heard of any being present. A nearby area of farmland can often produce Vinous-breasted Starling or Indian Thick-knee so we can consider this too.
The plan for the afternoon is to visit rice fields or other wetlands on our way back to Bangkok to look for any birds not seen before. Visiting some fish ponds to look for Black-headed Ibis or maybe an early returning Spot-billed Pelican is a potential way to spend our time.
The decision on exactly what to do will be down to the guides after assessing how best to use the time. We will try to maximise the chances of adding some more good birds to our list even at this late stage. Returning to Bangkok we will have a final dinner together at our hotel.
Day 22, Departure – 22nd February 2023
This Central and Northern Thailand birding tour will conclude with a free transfer to Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Our hotel provides this service according to their shuttle bus timetable.
The list below contains many of the key species that we have a good chance of seeing based on the experience of previous visits. it is not an exhaustive list of target birds but they are all notable for the memories they create or for being range-restricted. Of course we cannot guarantee that we will see them all but we do expect to locate a high proportion of them. Forest birds can be hard to observe after all.
- Rufous-throated Partridge – Arborophila rufogularis
- Bar-backed Partridge – Arborophila brunneopectus
- Green-legged (Scaly-breasted) Partridge – Arborophila chloropsis
- Grey Peacock Pheasant – Argusianus argus
- Mountain Bamboo Partridge – Bambusicola fytchii
- Mrs Hume’s Pheasant – Syrmaticus humiae
- Kalij Pheasant – Lophura leucomelanos
- Silver Pheasant – Lophura nycthemera
- Siamese Fireback – Lophura diardi
- Indian Spotbilled Duck – Anas poecilorhyncha
- Speckled Woodpigeon – Columba hodgsonii
- Ashy Woodpigeon – Columba pulchricollis
- Great Eared Nightjar – Lyncornis macrotis
- Indian Nightjar – Caprimulgus asiaticus
- Brown-backed Needletail – Hirundapus giganteus
- Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo – Carpococcyx renauldi
- Black-headed Ibis – Threskiornis melanocephalus
- Chinese Egret – Egretta eulophotes
- “White-faced” Plover – Charadrius alexandrinus (dealbatus)
- Malaysian Plover – Charadrius peronii
- River Lapwing – Vanellus duvaucelii
- Far Eastern Curlew – Numenius madagascariensis
- Great Knot – Calidris tenuirostris
- Long-toed Stint – Calidris subminuta
- Spoon-billed Sandpiper – Calidris pygmaea
- Asian Dowitcher – Limnodromus semipalmatus
- Terek Sandpiper – Xenus cinereus
- Nordmann’s Greenshank – Tringa guttifer
- Brown Boobook – Ninox scutulata
- Greater Spotted Eagle – Clanga lcanga
- Eastern Marsh Harrier – Circus spilonotus
- Pied Harrier – Circus melanoleucos
- Rufous-winged Buzzard – Butastur liventer
- Orange-breasted Trogon – Harpactes oreskios
- Red-headed Trogon – Harpactes erythrocephalus
- Great Hornbill – Buceros bicornis
- Austen’s Brown Hornbill – Anorrhinus austeni
- Tickell’s Brown Hornbill – Anorrhinus tickelli
- Oriental Pied Hornbill – Anthracoceros albirostris
- Wreathed Hornbill – Rhyticeros undulatus
- Blue-bearded Bee-eater – Nyctyornis athertoni
- Banded Kingfisher – Lacedo pulchella
- Stork-billed Kingfisher – Pelargopsis capensis
- Moustached Barbet – Psilopogon incognitus
- Heart-spotted Woodpecker – Hemicircus canente
- Black-and-buff Woodpecker – Meiglyptes jugularis
- Black-headed Woodpecker – Picus erythropygius
- Great Slaty Woodpecker – Mulleripicus pulverulentus
- Collared Falconet – Microhierax caerulescens
- Black-thighed Falconet – Microheirax fringilarius
- Blue Pitta – Hydrornis cyaneus
- Long-tailed Broadbill – Psarisomus dalhousiae
- Black-and-red Broadbill – Cymbirhynchus macrorhyynchos
- Silver-breasted Broadbill – Serilophus lunatus
- Banded Broadbill – Eurylaimus harterti
- Black-and-yellow Broadbill – Eurylaimus ochromalus
- Black-eared Shrike Babbler – Pteruthius melanotis
- Clicking Shrike Babbler – Pteruthius aenobarbus
- Burmese Shrike – Lanius colluriodes
- Ratchet-tailed Treepie – Temnurus temnurus
- Common Green Magpie – Cissa chinensis
- (White-faced) Eurasian Jay – Garrulus leucotis
- Sultan Tit – Melanochlora sultanea
- Indochinese Bushlark – Mirafra erythrocephala
- Black-browed Reed Warbler – Acrocephalus bistrigiceps
- Pygmy Cupwing – Pnoepyga pusilla
- Pallas’s Grasshopper warbler – Locustella certhiola
- Crested Finchbill – Spizixos canifrons
- Brown-breasted Bulbul – Pycnonotus xanthorrhous
- White-headed Bulbul – Cerasophila thompsoni
- Sulphur-breasted Warbler – Phylloscopus ricketti
- Slaty-bellied Tesia – Tesia olivea
- Aberrant Bush Warbler – Horornis flavolivaceus
- Black-throated Bushtit – Aegithalos concinnus
- Spot-breasted Parrotbill – Paradoxornis guttaticollis
- Grey-headed Parrotbill – Psittiparus gularis
- Whiskered Yuhina – Yuhina flavicollis
- Large Scimitar Babbler – Erythrogenys hypocleucos
- Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler – Erythrogenys erythrogenys
- Collared Babbler – Gampsorhynchus torquatus
- Limestone Wren Babbler (Rufous Limestone-babbler) – Napothera crispifrons (calcicola)
- Himalayan Cutia – Cutia nipalensis
- Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush – Garrulax monileger
- Black-throated Laughingthrush – Garrulax chinensis
- Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush – Pterorhinus pectoralis
- Silver-eared Laughingthrush – Trochalopteron melanostigma
- Silver-eared Mesia – Leiothrix argentauris
- Scarlet-faced Liocichla – Liocichla ripponi
- Bar-throated (Chestnut-tailed) Minla – Actinodura strigula
- Hume’s (Manipur) Treecreeper – Certhia manipurensis
- Giant Nuthatch – Sitta magna
- Dark-sided Thrush – Zoothera marginata
- Black-breasted Thrush – Turdus dissimilis
- Eyebrowed Thrush – Turdus obscurus
- Grey-sided Thrush – Turdus feae
- Small Niltava – Niltava macgrigoriae
- Large Niltava – Niltava grandis
- White-gorgetted Flycatcher – Anthipes monileger
- Himalayan Shortwing – Brachypteryx cruralis
- Siberian Blue Robin – Larvivora cyane
- (Red-spotted) Bluethroat – Cyanecula svecica (svecica)
- Siberian Rubythroat – Calliope calliope
- White-tailed Robin – Myiomela leucura
- Himalayan Bluetail – Tarsiger rufilatus
- Slaty-backed Forktail – Enicurus schistaceus
- Black-backed Forktail – Enicurus immaculatus
- White-crowned Forktail – Enicurus leschenaulti
- Rufous-gorgetted Flycatcher – Ficedula strophiata
- Ultramarine Flycatcher – Ficedula superciliaris
- White-capped Water Redstart – Phoenicurus leucocephalus
- (Cambodian) Fire-breasted Flowerpecker – Dicaeum ignipectus (cambodianum)
- Van Hasselt’s (Maroon-breasted) Flowerpecker – Leptocoma brasiliana
- (Doi Inthanon) Green-tailed Sunbird – Aethopyga nipalensis angkanensis
- Asian Golden Weaver – Ploceus hypoxanthus
- Spot-winged Grosbeak – Mycerobas melanozanthos
- Yellow-breasted Bunting – Emberiza aureola
The map below details the main birdwatching sites that we visit on this Thailand birding tour.
1. Muang Sam Ma
5. Chiang Saen
9. Wat PraPhuttabaht Noi
13. Kaeng Krachan National Park
2. Doi Lang West
6. Fang Hot Springs
10. Khao Yai National Park
3. Doi Lang East
7. Doi Ang Kang
11. Petchaburi Rice Fields
4. Thatorn Rice Fields
8. Doi Inthanon
12. Pak Thale/Laem Pak Bia
The following is a selection of birds photographed in Thailand at sites that we will visit on this tour.
All above photographs copyright Nick Upton/Calidris Birding Tours.
Tour Cost: £4295 per person
Single Supplement: £700
Included in the tour cost: All transport including airport transfers, road tolls, national park entry fees, accommodation including on the night before commencement of the tour and on the final night, hide fees, all meals, bottled water, boat trip, services of English-speaking birding guide and Calidris Birding Tours guide.
Not included in the tour cost: International flights, travel insurance, visa (most nationalities get visa-free entry for up to 30 days), alcoholic and soft drinks, tips, laundry, excess baggage fees, hotel mini bar, phone calls and any other items of a personal nature. There have been rumours that camera fees may be introduced at some national parks; these fees will not be included in the tour cost should that happen.
Accommodation: All accommodation on this tour is good to very good in quality with all rooms having en-suite toilet and showers as well as air-conditioning. Hotels and guest houses are all the best balance of proximity to the birding sites with quality and convenience. Wifi is available at all locations although a little slow at one or two of them.
Physical effort: This is not a physically demanding trip with birding done along wide tracks and quiet roads with almost all walks being short distances. Long days in the field are normal though, but the carefully planned itinerary has ensures that there is not too much time pressure. This birding tour is suitable for most people.
Weather: Expect temperatures to be mostly high, Thailand is a tropical country. In the lowlands it will be hot for most of the day with maximum temperatures around 33C, perhaps higher at times. Humidity is high in all lowland areas. However, much of the tour in northern Thailand will occur at higher altitudes where in the mornings temperatures will be much cooler. At times in the early morning it could be quite chilly and a light fleece is useful. It is hard to predict how cool it will or will not be, each year is different.
Food: Thai food is famous as one of the world’s most popular cuisines. Although Thai food is famous for being spicy, most dishes can be adjusted to suit anyone’s taste so don’t let this put you off enjoying great food. Thai food is based on a variety of stir-fried dishes eaten with steamed rice. Most dishes are meat or fish based but catering to vegetarians is not a problem at all. Vegan food can also be provided although it may take a little more time in preparation. People with food allergies can also be catered for but please advise us in advance of any eating requirements you have so that we can check that we can provide for you.
Lee is a lifelong birder who specializes in local patch birding at Dawlish Warren, UK, where he has found many national rarities. Having travelled in most continents he is a highly-experienced birder and his attention to detail, honed through ring-reading is highly valued. Lee’s good humour and people skills are as important to us as his expertise in birding.
While every effort will be made to adhere to the advertised itinerary of this Central and North Thailand birding tour, we reserve the right to make changes in the case of unforeseen circumstances that are beyond our control. These include problems with accessibility, national park closures, unseasonal weather events or any other reason that may demand an itinerary change.
Recommended Field Guide
Birds of Thailand
In 2018 Lynx Edicions solved the problem of which field guide to recommend for birding tours to Thailand with this publication. This guide contains all of the species we are likely to see on this Thailand birding tour and deals with the question of varying taxonomies extremely well. We recommend that all participants on this tour obtain a copy of this book. The checklist that Calidris Birding Tours will issue for this trip will use IOC taxonomy with reference to the taxonomy used within this field guide.
When booking this Thailand Birding Tour customers will be given a 10% discount code for use when ordering the book directly from Lynx Edicions.
Read our full review of the book here – Birds of Thailand.
Related Birding Blog Posts
- An Afternoon at Nui Hide – posted by Nick Upton 21/01/20
- A Morning at Fang Hot Springs – posted by Nick Upton 16/04/19
- Doi Lang East Photography Day Trip – posted by Nick Upton 26/02/19
- A Big Wader Day – posted by Nick Upton 29/12/17
- Doi Lang in November – posted by Nick Upton
- Birding in Petchaburi Province – posted by Nick Upton 07/02/16
Terms and conditions: Please read the full Calidris Birding Tours terms and conditions which apply to the Central and Northern Thailand Birding Tour.