Northern Thailand


Thailand is situated in Southeast Asia, in the Indo-Chinese peninsula of the Oriental Region and has been described as a zoogeographic crossroads because the country’s avifauna comprises Sino-Himalayan, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Chinese and Sundaic elements and there are a large number of migrant visitors from the Palaearctic Region. There are approximately 962 species (2 endemics) currently recorded, in other words 10% of the world species are present in Thailand.

Thailand has a tropical monsoon climate. In the north the dry season is during November to April and the rainy season from May to October.

Geologically the country can be divided in the following way. The Central Plain extends to the coast around Bangkok and consists of areas of marshy floodplains. The North lying between the Mekong and Salween Rivers, is mainly mountainous, the highest peak at Doi Inthanon is 2,565m above sea level. The Northeast consists of dry plateau (Korat Plateau) mostly consisting of dry soil but there are some good forests such as Khao Yai located in this region. The East and Southeast has the isolated mountains of Khao Soi Dao at the westward part of the country near the Cambodia border. The West and Southwest has a large forested area and is divided from the Burmese border by the Tanassarim range. The South lying between the Andaman sea and the Gulf of Thailand. Peninsula Thailand is the southern part, which is a part of Sunda faunal sub-region.

Thailand has a variety of types of forest as follows:

Evergreen Forest – Tropical rain forest is dense, continuous canopy has a middle storey and a herbaceous forest floor etc. In Thailand it can be divided into two subtypes; the Thai type of rainforest, which formerly occupied most the lowland of Thailand and the Malayan rainforest type which is confined to the provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and southern Trang. Small areas of rainforest are also found in the wettest areas of South-east Thailand. Bird species diversity in this forest type is very high. Semi-evergreen, and dry-evergreen, forest is dense and stratified and usually has a deciduous component, these occur in the lowland and submontane slope below 900m throughout the country. This forest type also supports a great diversity of bird species including pheasants, pigeons, cuckoos, owls, trogons, hornbills, kingfishers, barbets, woodpeckers and many passerine families. Hill evergreen forests occur above 900m or 1,000m on the higher peaks throughout the country especially the north, west, some in the Southeast and Peninsula. Dominant trees are oaks and chestnuts etc. This type of forest supports a great diversity of birds including minivets, bulbuls and babblers and is especially good for Rufus-throated Partridge, Humes` Pheasant and Rufus-throated Hornbill etc.

Deciduous Forests – are found in the lowlands where the rainfall is too seasonal to support evergreen forest. Mixed deciduous forests occur in the plains or valleys and on hill slope up to 1,000m, they are found in the North, Northeast and Southwest regions. Teak is dominant in this forest type. The bird species show less diversity than lowland evergreen forests but it is ideal habitat for Black-headed Woodpecker, Rufus Treepie and Golden-fronted Leafbird, Banded Broadbill, Blue Pitta etc.

Dry Dipterocarp Forests – occur in all the lowlands but the largest and least disturbed areas are found in the north and west. This supports a lower range of birds species than other forest types as there is less middle story and under-story vegetation. Among the smaller birds are Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike & Golden-fronted Leafbird, Rufescent Prinia, Brown Prinia, Great Slatey Woodpecker, While-bellied Woodpecker, Lineated Barbet, Eurasian Jay, Blue Magpie and Rufus Treepie etc.

Coniferous Forests – occur on drier ridges and plateaus at elevations of 400m – 1,400m in the North, and Northeast regions. It supports a low diversity of bird species but is the place for Giant Nuthatch, Great tit, Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Greater Yellow-nape, Eurasian Jay and Grey Treepie etc.

Bamboo – occurs as a mosaic with other forest habitats and a great many bird species utilise bamboo including White-browed Piculet, Rufus Warbler and Pin-tailed Parrotfinch, etc.

Forests On Limestone – occur around the margins of the major mountain massifs. One species of forest bird, the Limestone Wren Babbler is confined to limestone habitats and is found in small areas of the North, Southwest and at the southwest margin of the Khorat Platteau in the Northeast region. Other species relate to this area including Dusky Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Peregrine Falcon etc.

Mangrove Forests – are found in the Gulf of Thailand and along both Peninsular coasts so is not present in the north.

Freshwater Swamp Forest – confined to the south.

Top Wildlife Watching Areas

There are 96 National Parks, 48 Wildlife Sanctuaries and a number of Non-Hunting areas, Watershed Reserves, Forest Parks and Biosphere Reserves that have been protected by law. These areas are the main birding spots all over the country where birds can be seen all year round.

November-February is the peak time for migrating species, most areas are good for birdwatching especially the north where the weather is cooler than in other areas. The most popular destinations are Doi Inthanon National Park, Doi Pui/Suthep National Park, Doi Chiengdao Wildlife Sanctuary, Doi Angkhang of Chiengmai province and Chiengsaen of Chiengrai etc.

March-June is the second best time for both passage migrants and resident species, which are then breeding, although the best areas are the West, Southwest and the south.

July-October is the rainy season, a quiet time but good for resident species, breeding visitors and, in the later part of this period during August-October, passage migrants. The best areas are in the central plains and coastal areas.

A number of the best sites are found in the north, especially Chiang Mai province which include:

Doi Angkhang – Doi Angkhang is an easier version of Doi Chiang Dao, it is easily accessed unlike the hair raising ride needed to get to the best birdwatching on the former mountain but it does lack a certain something and the main ingredient lacking is forest. Nevertheless, it does have the open montane scrubland that attracts certain north Asian birds such as the White-browed Laughingthrush Garrulax sannio and the Brown-breasted Bulbul Pycnonotus xanthorrhous.

Doi Chiang Dao – Doi Chiang Dao is situated approximately 60km. due north of Chiang Mai and it is noted for being the southernmost range of the north asian birds. Three birds that are the main target of the more fanatical birdwatchers are the very rare Deignan’s Babbler Stachyris rodolphei, the rare Hume’s Pheasant Syrmaticus humiae and the uncommon Giant Nuthatch Sitta magna.

Doi Inthanon – Doi Inthanon and Mae Klang River lies 60km. south-west of Chiang Mai and at 2,565 metres is the highest mountain in Thailand. Because of its height it has certain montane species that can be found nowhere else in Thailand, among these are the Ashy-throated Warbler Phylloscopus maculipennis and the Green-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga nipalensis-angkanensis. This sunbird is, in fact, endemic to the summit of Doi Inthanon.

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park – Doi Suthep Pui is the mountain that forms a backdrop to the city of Chiang Mai (1,685m) and is the most convenient for people who are in a hurry and can only manage a half day tour. It has other attractions such as a large Buddhist Temple perched halfway up the mountain, it can be seen with its golden chedi from the city below.

Mae Hia – Mae Hia is another lowland area consisting of scrub, grassland and dipterocarp. For some reason it plays host to a whole range of lowland birds and it is not unusual to list 40-50 species of birds in a couple of hours. Blue Magpies Urocissa erythrorhyncha, Green Bee-Eaters Merops orientalis, the Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus and the Hoopoe Upupa epops are almost certain to be seen.

Tha Thon – Tha Thon, this is a lowland area and again can produce some rare and uncommon birds, three that come to mind are the rare Jerdon’s Bushchat Saxicola jerdoni, the rare Long-billed PloverCharadrius placidus and the rare Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola. Tourists aren’t left out altogether as a little farther north we come to the Mekong river and the Golden Triangle, also a whole host of birds.

Major Source: Fatbirder

Photo Source: 

Map Source: Google Maps

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