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Mae Hong Song: 19-22 Dec 2017


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19 - 22 Dec 2017.
Dry and sunny with variable cloud cover. Temperatures ranged from 12°C to 28°C.
Huay Nam Dang National Park, Tham Lod, Pha Suea National Park and Namtok Mae Surin National Park.

With Steve Tibbett. A purely exploratory trip around Mae Hong Son, based mostly on visiting the large, Namtok Mae Surin National Park, about which we knew almost nothing, nor could we find any information on visiting naturalists. Likely areas for exploration were earmarked by scanning satellite images. Despite the seemingly short distances between sites, all driving times in Mae Hong Son are affected by the never-ending mountain roads that dominate this province. Many hours were spent behind the wheel.

19 Dec. Left Chiang Mai around 07:00 and drove to Huay Nam Dang, just inside Mae Hong Son province. Given the windy conditions and 12°C temperature at 1,700 metres, together with its associated lack of likely birds or butterflies, the 300 Baht entrance fee was a bit steep. Spent the morning driving the first 20 kilometres along the dirt road through the park. As expected, almost zero in the butterfly line, but good numbers of Black Bulbul, with a few White-headed Bulbul mixed in, as well as the white-headed leucocephalus race of the former, just to keep us on our toes. Early afternoon we cut our losses to try the lower altitude, drier, forest around Tham Lod. An hour here, en route to Mae Hong Song, was quite productive for commoner lowland forest butterflies. Arrived Mae Hong Son town late afternoon, checked into our pre-booked accommodation and discovered an excellent eatery, with cold beer, around the lake in town. Though not before finding ourselves driving through the pedestrian-only evening market around the lake in town, that took some reversing out of.

20 Dec. In town, a cool 14°C and fog to start the morning. A quick traditional Thai birding breakfast of coffee and 7-Eleven, then drove north of town about 20 kilometres to explore any open tracks and trails we could find around Phu Suea. Most access consisted of tracks leading through forest toward plantations and fields, so over the morning we covered a few, finding one good butterfly puddling area. Mid afternoon we explored the Pha Suea Waterfall itself, though shade in the deep valley kept the temperature cool and activity low. In-keeping with Thai national park tradition, the Waterfall Trail lacked maintenance and was overgrown and impassible after 200 metres. At the top of the falls a female Plumbeous Water Redstart found. Other than that, the best birds of the day were Orange-breasted Trogon, Bamboo Woodpecker, Greater Flameback, Blue-bearded Bee-eater and Vernal Hanging Parrot. Late afternoon we chanced upon a group of Chestnut-headed Bee-eater picking off bees from several large colonies attached to a water tower - no doubt a daily occurrence. Overnight in Mae Hong Son town again.

Black Bulbul
Black Bulbul

Angled Cyclops
Angled Cyclops

Red-spot Jezebel
Red-spot Jezebel

21 Dec. An initial stab at Namtok Mae Surin, saw us driving into the first sign-posted access, five kilometres south of town. Once through the checkpoint, where an entrance fee of 200 Baht collected, the road winds steeply up and along a ridge at just over 1,000 metres, though continuing to ascend and descend for a fair distance more. We drove a good 20 kilometres, with the road continuing farther to a small village and probably beyond. Very good scenery, with the first few kilometres paved, but with extensive roadworks indicating more paving in progress. However, beyond ten kilometres the track was steep and rough, requiring a vehicle with good clearance. We made several stops during the morning for both butterflies and birds, though given the dry forest not much of note. Mid afternoon we decided to try the park's Nature Trail, a map of which we'd received on entry. Amazingly this trail was in good condition and maintained throughout its three plus kilometres - congratulations to the park staff here. In sections the trail was rocky and steep, but passed three interesting waterfalls and was good exercise for a couple of hours. Unfortunately the trail does not do a complete loop through forest, and an additional kilometre needed to be walked back along the entrance road. Great Slaty Woodpecker heard, as well as Bamboo Woodpecker. Back to Mae Hong Son for some welcome beers early evening.

22 Dec. Having so far only tried one access road into Namtok Mae Surin we started the day slightly farther south, where a sign to a ranger station and Phu Bong Waterfall attracted our attention. Only a couple of kilometres off the road, and no entrance fee charged as the place looked to be falling into disrepair. However the small waterfall looked as though it could be interesting later in the year when sun would actually enter into the gorge. A sign indicated a Nature Trail, but looked long since discontinued.

Asian House Martin
Asian House Martin

Rustic
Rustic

Continuing farther south our attention was next drawn to a road sign-posted to a microwave station ten kilometres in. Figuring that meant altitude we gave it a try. Steep and winding, with a number of local hill tribe pickups coming the other way, that required some attentive driving. Scenery interesting, and for some bizarre reason on entering the park boundary the forest disappeared and agricultural fields started - very odd. At the TV and microwave station, at 1,500 metres, we parked the vehicle and walked around the overgrown fields at the top. More fantastic views, and the first bird of interest was Buff-throated Warbler, that appeared common, as well as several Red-throated Pipit giving strange calls. Of most interest though was a flushed Yellow-legged Buttonquail, as well as good numbers of Asian House Martin.

Returned to Highway 108 and again headed south, taking Highway 4009. More great scenery and good dry forest, along a very steep winding road. After some kilometres we tried a badly signed track to Mae Surin Waterfall, that passed through excellent forest and eventually again emerged onto Highway 4009 and the waterfall. Although the waterfall itself is quite impressive, it didn't justify the 200 Baht entrance fee, as the forest we'd passed was far more interesting. By 13:00 we started the return, cross-country, drive to Chiang Mai, arriving five hours later.

All in all an interesting trip, with potentially good forest and easy logistics. We'll definitely be back in the warmer weather, when more activity should be present.

Species List

  Huay Nam Dang Count   Pha Suea Count
  Great Barbet 2   Striated Heron 2
  Golden-throated Barbet 1   Chinese Pond Heron 1
  Bay Woodpecker 1   Spotted Dove 10
  Maroon Oriole 2   Orange-breasted Trogon 1
  Ashy Drongo 1   Blue-bearded Bee-eater 1
  Hair-crested Drongo 6   Chestnut-headed Bee-eater 12
  Eastern Jungle Crow 2   Greater Flameback 2
  Black-crested Bulbul 2   Bamboo Woodpecker 1
  Sooty-headed Bulbul 4   Vernal Hanging Parrot 2
  Flavescent Bulbul 5   Black-hooded Oriole 1
  Mountain Bulbul 10   Ashy Drongo 2
  Black Bulbul 200   Black-naped Monarch 2
  White-headed Bulbul 12   Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 4
  Barn Swallow 5   Black-crested Bulbul 4
  Hume's Leaf Warbler 3   Grey-eyed Bulbul 2
  Greenish Warbler 1   Striated Swallow 10
  Davison's Leaf Warbler 5   Yellow-browed Warbler 2
  Eyebrowed Thrush 2   Two-barred Warbler 2
  Oriental Magpie-Robin 2   Claudia's Leaf Warbler 1
  Streaked Spiderhunter 2   Rufescent Prinia 2
  Grey Wagtail 2   Dark-necked Tailorbird 2
        Rufous-fronted Babbler 2
  Namtok Mae Surin Count   Pin-striped Tit-Babbler 3
  Crested Serpent Eagle 1   White-crested Laughingthrush 4
  Yellow-legged Buttonquail 1   Japanese White-eye 10
  Spotted Dove 5   Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 2
  Common Emerald Dove 2   Eyebrowed Thrush 1
  Greater Coucal 1   White-rumped Shama 1
  Banded Bay Cuckoo 2   Tickell's Blue Flycatcher 1
  Large Hawk-Cuckoo 1   Plumbeous Water Redstart 1
  Asian Palm Swift 3   Blue Rock Thrush 1
  Great Barbet 2   Little Spiderhunter 3
  Greater Flameback 2   Grey Wagtail 1
  Bamboo Woodpecker 2   Olive-backed Pipit 4
  Great Slaty Woodpecker 2      
  Grey-backed Shrike 1      
  Black-hooded Oriole 2      
  Maroon Oriole 3      
  Ashy Drongo 3      
  Hair-crested Drongo 30      
  Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 4      
  Black-crested Bulbul 3      
  Grey-eyed Bulbul 6      
  Barn Swallow 2      
  Asian House Martin 30      
  Striated Swallow 12      
  Buff-throated Warbler 8      
  Yellow-browed Warbler 5      
  Two-barred Warbler 3      
  Claudia's Leaf Warbler 2      
  Hill Prinia 2      
  Rufescent Prinia 4      
  White-browed Scimitar Babbler 1      
  Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 4      
  White-rumped Shama 2      
  Slaty-backed Forktail 1      
  Blue Whistling Thrush 2      
  Taiga Flycatcher 6      
  Blue Rock Thrush 1      
  Grey Bush Chat 1      
  Golden-fronted Leafbird 2      
  White-rumped Munia 10      
  Grey Wagtail 7      
  Olive-backed Pipit 12