Black bill

Great-billed Kingfisher
Great-billed Kingfisher

Great-billed kingfisher is a Sulawesi endemic. Also called Black-billed Kingfisher, or Celebes Stork-billed Kingfisher, this kingfisher is only found on Sulawesi, Banggai, Sula and other nearby islands of Indonesia. There are considered to be three subspecies:  Pelargopsis melanorhyncha melanorhyncha,  P. m. dichrorhyncha and  P. m. eutreptorhynchma. All of these photos are of birds seen in the mangroves near Tangkoko National Park, North Sulawesi, Indonesia, and are therefore of P. m. melanorhyncha.

Preparing to boat at Batu Putih beach
Preparing to boat at Batu Putih beach

In order to see this bird, I went by boat from the village of Batu Putih, northern Sulawesi, with my guide Esli from Tangkoko Tour and Travel Co. accompanying me on the boat trip to the mangroves. The short trip across the bay and around the headland to the north of the village, is also a good place to see the lovely blue-green, Sacred Kingfisher (alas too far away to photograph).

The entrance to the river leading upstream to the mangrove site was very shallow and the boatman had to get out and push the boat along. At one spot we decided to stop and check out the river bank.

Boating in the mangroves   looking for the kingfisher
Boating in the mangroves looking for the kingfisher

It was not until we were deep into the mangroves, up quite a small creek, that we came across Great-billed kingfishers, perched on the branches extending out over the water.

Mangrove creek with Great-billed kingfisher on a branch
Mangrove creek with Great-billed kingfisher on a branch

The boatmen edged the boat nearer and nearer to the perched bird, which allowed us to get quite close and take better and better photos. They were probably used to seeing birders with their long lenses poking about in the mangroves. Hopefully they can tell friend from foe!

Great-billed Kingfisher
Great-billed Kingfisher

It is not know how large the population is of this species; although it is described as being generally sparse throughout its distribution, it can also be locally common. It is described as having a loud, barking call (“kak-kak-kak”) but the ones we saw did not make any noise.

There are three species in the genus Pelargopsis, this one, Brown-winged kingfisher (Pelargopsis amauropterus) and Stork-billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis). They are all quite big birds (c. 35 cm in length) and have very large bills.  Pelargopsis kingfishers like well-wooded habitats near to lakes, rivers or estuaries where they typically perches above the water, scanning for prey items (fish, crabs or crayfish).  Brown-winged Kingfisher is one of my favourite birds. It is only found in mangroves along the coastlines of Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Krabi in southern Thailand is a very good place to see it.  Stork-billed kingfisher has a wide distribution throughout South and Southeast Asia.

 Great-billed Kingfisher

Great-billed Kingfisher

Great-billed kingfisher is the least colourful of these three kingfishers, but it is still an impressive bird, with its big black beak and subtle green, grey and brown markings on its back. Lets hope that there are enough crayfish and mangroves to keep this magnificent species well fed and thriving, into the future.

Great-billed Kingfisher 4_edited-1

Forest walk

Visitors to Chiang Mai usually head up the mountain to visit Wat Doi Sutep. Beautiful and impressive though this temple is, it can get quite crowded on weekends and holidays. But just beyond the temple, and hardly visited at all, is a lovely peaceful national park (Doi Sutep-Pui NP) where it is possible to walk through the forest, look up at towering canopies and visit tranquil waterfalls. It is also a good place to look for birds and butterflies.

Wat Doi Sutep from Doi Sutep-Pui National Park
Wat Doi Sutep from Doi Sutep-Pui National Park

The park headquarters are located just beyond the hustle and bustle of Wat Doi Sutep (there is even a path leading up from the temple to the HQ). I have never stayed in the park, but there are a variety of differently sized bungalows and a camp site; school and university parties sometimes stay here.

Bungalow at Doi Sutep-Pui NP
Bungalow at Doi Sutep-Pui NP

From the HQ it is possible to walk along an old track through the forest which eventually leads, after quite a few miles, to a Mong village.

Path through the forest in Doi Sutep-Pui National Park
Path through the forest in Doi Sutep-Pui National Park

There is also a footpath leading off the track which goes down to the small Sai Yoi waterfall, but it is steep, so care is needed.

Sai Yoi Waterfall in Doi Sutep-Pui NP
Sai Yoi Waterfall in Doi Sutep-Pui NP

I have walked this track for many years. A few years back however, I was quite surprised to see signs appear, which stated that it was not permitted to walk the paths without obtaining prior permission. Since one had to go all the way back to Chiang Mai city to get permission, this presented one with something of a dilemma! I was however, most relieved on my last trip (in December 2014) to see that the signs had been taken down and the policy seems to have reverted to that of advising visitors to take care. There must have been some incident which led to the strict policy and it is certainly a good idea to go with a friend, or let someone know where you are going. Having said that, I enjoy the experience of walking in the forest by myself! It is not exactly an unspoiled wilderness; mountain bikers also use this track, so it you take care it is quite safe.

Common Earl (Tanaecia julii odilinia)
Common Earl (Tanaecia julii odilinia)

It is a good place to see butterflies and other insects, especially around the streams which run across the track in some places. Birds also tend to congregate near water. I saw my first silver-breasted broadbill (Serilophus lunatus) on this walk. Some butterfly species are very common, including the Common Earl (Tanaecia julii odilinia) – see separate blog: The Common Earl, a butterfly with green eyes! – and The Tailed Judy (Abisara neophron chelina), both of which tend to alight on foliage along the track.

The Tailed Judy (Abisara neophron chelina)
The Tailed Judy (Abisara neophron chelina)

Another species, which is very common, is the Dark Judy (Abisara fylla), which typically alights on the dried, fallen leaves on the ground where it is perfectly camouflaged.

Dark Judy (Abisara fylla)
Dark Judy (Abisara fylla)

Another type of insect which I enjoy seeing on this walk are damselflies. These delicate little jewels are particularly common near the streams and waterfalls, where they hunt for insects. They perch on foliage, with their huge eyes looking out for suitable prey items to sieze!

Damselfly  (Vestalaria smaragdina)
Damselfly
(Vestalaria smaragdina)
 Anderson's Greenwing (Mnais andersoni)

Anderson’s Greenwing (Mnais andersoni)

To try to capture my experiences of walking this track, I painted a picture where I incorporated a few butterflies, based on photographs I had taken. I an not sure whether it does it justice, but at least it reminds me of the many enjoyable walks I have had through this piece of forest in northern Thailand.

A painting entitled 'Butterflies on the Path at Doi Sutep-Pui National Park' by Ray Cannon
A painting entitled ‘Butterflies on the Path at Doi Sutep-Pui National Park’ by Ray Cannon

As well as the species already mentioned, the other butterflies I included in this painting are the Red Lacewing (Cethosia bilbis bilbis) – see separate blog: Cethosia biblis Drury, 1770 – and the Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea) which is flying upwards at the top of the painting.