Part eight of Two Months in Thailand: A Forest Cabin Awaits by Richard Baines, an ecologist and birder enjoying a two-month “biodiversity holiday” in Thailand.
510 steps lead upwards on a path towards Nirvana, birds and butterflies! Wat Tham Pha Plong is a beautiful Buddhist temple in the foothills of Doi Chiang Dao. Cloaked in primary forest and carved into limestone, it is a perfect naturalist’s temple built into the cathedral of the forest. On a quiet day when few tourists are around the only human sounds are the low chanting of the monks, the gentle temple bell or the swish of a monk’s brush on the steps!
My early morning birding walk is up the steep main flight of steps, taking heed of the Buddhist scriptures which are posted here and there. ‘A good listener will know how to receive wisdom’ – so I double my hearing efforts into the depths of the forest.
The first shelter is a chance to take a breath and a great place for Red-headed Trogon, which however has so far eluded my camera. This is also a good place for a bird wave stakeout. In a big foraging ,mixed flock we have seen more than 20 species moving through the trees including Claudia’s Warblers, White-bellied Yuhina, Great Iora, Black-hooded Oriole, Black-throated Sunbird, and on one occasion an amazingly tame Buff-breasted Babbler which appeared below us on the steps.
Onwards through a cut in the limestone, a favourite haunt for Streaked Wren Babblers. The steps lead to a small bridge over the famous Temple Gulley where many birders – including me! – may hear the wisdom of the forest but see little. It’s time for more advice from a perfectly placed sign by the steps: ‘If we have patience and perseverance we can overcome anything that confronts us.’ I think the Buddha was a birder searching for Rusty-naped Pitta!
A short walk to the next bridge is best taken in the late afternoon. At around 4 p.m. a splendid male Silver Pheasant takes his daily walk, sometimes stopping to investigate a nearby human’s toes! The gulley under this bridge is a great place for skulking forest birds. Our best haul on one visit was Scaly-breasted Partridge, Dark-sided Thrush and Siberian Blue Robin.
Upwards to the temple, the path passes nesting House Swifts under the steps to the shrine and leads to a fantastic lookout over the forest. This is a superb birding location. In the early evening small flocks of Pin-tailed Green Pigeons fly to roost past Oriental Pied Hornbills and Blue-bearded Bee-eaters!
After dark the same steps lead to the greater mysteries of night birds. Blyth’s Frogmouth females utter a manic and frightening laugh, and on one night in early February Forest Eagle Owl, Oriental Bay Owl, Asian Barred Owlet, Mountain Scops Owl, Collared Scops Owl, Brown Hawk Owl and Collared Owlet were all calling!
Of all the places I have visited while here in Thailand birding, this Buddhist monastery in the forest has made the biggest impression with its wisdom and peace, its beauty and its birds.
Part I: Two Months in Thailand: A Forest Cabin Awaits
Part II: Two Months in Thailand: Asia’s Winter Jewels
Part III: Two Months in Thailand:Stakeout at the Cherry Tree
Part IV: Two Months in Thailand: Wild Gardens
Part V: Two Months in Thailand: Secrets of Forest Birding
Part VI: Two Months in Thailand: Bulbul Bonanza!
Part VII: Two Months in Thailand: Asian Fairy Bluebirds