“I wish our common birds were ridiculously colorful.”
Ryan, Scott, and I were eating a “breakfast” of Pad Thai in Chaing Mai, on plastic seats in a street stall facing the river Pai. Opposite a Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) and not far from a rat scrounging for scraps, was a Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala). While not the gaudiest or sought after of barbets in Thailand, the setting was odd. A palate of shades of green, yellow, red, and black it surpassed Washington’s most vivid birds yet here it was mingling with the street riffraff.
In my opinion, when visiting a foreign country, it is absurd to jump into nature without first spending time to see how the people live. Wandering Bangkok for the sake of exploring was magical but after a few days of city grime, the “hey you, where you go?” of the tuk-tuk drivers (a tricycle taxi), and thumping backpacker slums it was time to move on.
Ryan’s first day in Bangkok was also his last for the time being. A simple breakfast of Pad Thai and iced coffee, sufficed and we hit a nearby park to think about our plans for Chaing Mai. Santichaiprakan Park, adjacent to Phra Sumen Fort that guarded the moat to the old city, had a surprising amount of bird life. While Scott read the Thailand guide, Ryan and I couldn’t help but get engrossed in the animals overhead.
We’d already seen Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) but quickly noticed a White-vented Myna (Acridotheres grandis) gulping down figs along with the other species. Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus), a large black cuckoo sat veiled by vegetation in the top of a tree, constantly calling back at someone in the park imitating it with a flute. Scarlet-rumped Flowerpeckers (Dicaeum cruentatum), a more common species in Bangkok foraged along with Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia), a single Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus), and a lone Asian Pied Starling (Gracupica contra). Some Asian Palm-Swifts (Cypsiurus balasiensis ) bent over the Chao Phraya river. With birds so very different it wasn’t surprising the squirrels overhead, dropping half eaten figs on us, were equally as foreign, piebald rodents.
Although this was only my second day in Thailand and I’d already seen nearly two dozen new species, I was anxious to get further afield and into actual habitat. A 12 hour, overnight bus ride to Chaing Mai with other backpackers was fairly welcome. It is the jumping off point into more forested areas of Thailand, places still with primary forest and much of their original avian fauna (mammals as a rule appear to be heavily hunted and not easily found). Reclining seats and air conditioning meant the trip was bearable certainly.
As we were trundled into Chaing Mai at 6:30AM, we slipped through narrow streets and slid by a morning market. Groggily we stumbled our way to the first reasonable guest house, in a back alley lined with plants (the Thai have a way of making urban places seem pleasant with traipsing vines everywhere). Red-whiskered Bubuls chortling and cavorting through the building tops greeted us as we made our way out to find breakfast at a market.
Transportation for the day was by bike, for less than two dollars each. We visited Wat Phrasing (the most visited temple in Chaing Mai), spoke with two 19 year old Monks for a half an hour (amidst a few shy younger monks who couldn’t get the courage to talk to us), and pedaled off towards Chaing Mai University (the first in the region). Biking was hectically fun in the city and combined with navigation challenges of un-named streets, we took a bit to reach the forested grounds. Apparently it was graduation time for some of the students, some of whom seemed confused by three farang gliding through on aging bicycles.
Birding wasn’t a great option being the middle of the day, but we still managed a few new species. An immature Chinese Pond Heron flew from a man made pond, at a flowering tree Chestnut-tailed Starlings (Sturnia malabarica), Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus), and the surreal Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus). Even just a few new species were welcome while we were still acclimatising but I could feel the shrouded mountains behind the university pulling.
Late afternoon food and beer made for a groggy evening and we called in an early night. Tomorrow we head for Doi Suthep National Park, a few kilometers from the city, and will hopefully make a good run of exploring it – birds and all!