Smiley goodbyes and another Thai iced fry-up later and we pulled out of the Inthanon Highland Resort at 0815 on January 23rd, and drove north through the morning through the rush hour smog of Chiang Mai and through the astonishing hills between there and Fang on the hairpin-tastic road to Tha Ton and Doi Lang up on Thailand's northern border.
We were up at Tha Ton by mid-morning and decided to give the Jerdon's Bushchat stake-out beside the Mae Kok river (no tittering at the back there, it's an impressive tributary of the Maekong) in blistering heat.
The farmland, rice paddies and maze of dust tracks leading to the site held plenty of Long Tailed Shrikes, Pied Bushchat, Sibe Stonechats, bulbuls and egrets.
A cracking Burmese Shrike at the side of the road burst into song as we watched it from the wheels.
After a few wrong turns, we got down to the "mushroom water tower" Jerdon's site and began scanning the river.
Black Shouldered Kite, Red Wattled Lapwing and a gorgeous group of three Small Pratincoles flying into a shingle bar made the heat bearable on the steep banks.
The Small Pratincoles were tiny, really beautiful even by elegant pratincole standards.
Common and White Breasted Kingfishers were on the river, when not disturbed by boats zipping round the bend.
On the opposite bank a raised sandy beach scattered with driftwood with a papyrus curtain as a backdrop was the site for the Jerdon's Bushchat, and after 30 minutes or so one emerged from the reeds to perch out in the open.
Great scope views of this sought after, if rather plain chat, when it wasn't usurped by a Sibe Stonechat which wanted to monopolise the same piece of driftwood to perch up on.
You can just about make the jerdon's out on the top left of the driftwood in the record shot below.
An excellent morning's work meant a well-earned lunch, after which we decided to hit the rice paddies just outside Tha Ton for the afternoon, a site Bazzo remembered from his last trip to Thailand about 100 years ago.
The paddies were absolutely superb, one of the birding highlights of the trip for me - with a great range of species, including some wonderful Sibe megas that are common winter visitors here in Thailand, and one of the best raptors I've ever seen - male Pied Harrier.
Several gorgeous males were sailing around the vast area of paddies and dusty tracks, often landing for long periods to preen or rummage in the grass.
Stunning raptors, elegant like a Monty's in flight, but with a bit more heft and obviously eye-catching plumage.
Eastern Marsh Harrier was out here too, and the muddy pans held a good variety of passerines - White and Citrine Wagtails, Sibe Stonechats, Grey Bushchats and Paddyfield Pipits.
Still not sure about this chat below, which seems too apricotty underneath for Grey Bushchat, despite the white super, and that dark throat is weird too...
The muddy irrigation ditches either side of the track held Dusky Warblers, Bluethroat, Wryneck and best of all at least two breath-taking Siberian Rubythroats, one of which jumped onto an exposed bank to scold us and pump its tail only feet away in the late afternoon sun - God's Holy Trousers!
Obviously this was a big bird for us, especially as we had failed to find it in suitable habitat elsewhere, despite it being a common, if skulky winter visitor.
Its absence reduced Neill to rename it the "Macbeth bird" in the hope such theatrical hoodoo might result in it showing.
Seems to have worked.
A wonderful afternoon in nice open countryside, a welcome change to the difficulty of them pesky tree-filled jungles.
We drove back into Tha Ton to find our excellent digs at the Old Tree's House, run by Paulo and Nid, who are so accommodating they even put free beer in the fridges in our comfortable jungalow.
Brown Hawk Owl called from the rooftops and palms here and the food was hard to beat.
Icy Changs and more grub by the river were a good way to end the day.
Wonderful place to stay.
We were up in the dark on 24/1/13 for another drive up a mountain-top - this time Doi Lang, not a national park, but a superb birding site nonetheless, with Burma so close you could throw an empty Chang bottle across the border (no, I didn't), deserted military check-points and barely a soul in sight.
We stayed on the mountain all day, birding from 0615 to 1745.
Great Barbet, Eye-browed Thrush, stunning Velvet Fronted Nuthatch and Stripe Breasted Woodpeckers welcomed the dawn in at the Km 22.9 bridge, before we pushed on to the summit.
We gave the open area near the top a thorough working, but with our usual skill failed to find any Fire Tailed Sunbirds in the buddeleia, although Mrs Gould's Sunbird, squadrons of Pacific Swifts ripping over from the Burmese side of the valley, Yellow Cheeked Tit, Mountain Hawk Eagle and Crested Finchbill were just fine.
Waking the vigilant border guards halfway down the hill to present them with some bananas was a good ploy - this is the currency used at their makeshift feeding station behind one of the most godforsaken military outposts on the planet.
The only thing moving were scabby dogs in the afternoon heat until we put the bananas out - then the birds came in...
Dark Backed Sibias thronged the branches above us before we'd sat down, and were soon joined by Chestnut Crowned Laughing Thrush (much to the chagrin of the Sibias) and a ridiculously tame full-on Red Flanked Bluetail.
Moving down the mountain we enjoyed more cracking forest birding, hitting a few bird waves as we went, with Olive Backed pipits, Red Billed Blue Magpie, Buff Barred and Pallas's Warblers, plenty of sunbirds, Snowy Browed Flycatcher and oodles of other goodies.
Hard work, but superb habitat, the far north was a great place to visit.
Blog readers tired of the Thai opus will be relieved to know that there's just one more instalment left.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies....
Tha Ton/Doi Lang list
Indian Roller, Golden Fronted Leafbird, Common Iora, Barn Swallow, Black Drongo, Spotted Dove, Ashy Woodswallow, Commn Myna, White Vented Myna, CHinese Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Wire Tailed Swallow, Common Kestrel, Pied Bushchat, Siberian Stonechat, Black Shouldered Kite, Common Buzzard, Sooty Capped Bulbul, Small Pratincole, Brown Shrike, Red Wattled Lapwing, Common Snadpiper, Jerdon's Bushchat, Long Tailed Shrike, Burmese Shrike, Grey Bushchat, Citrine Wagtail, White Wagtail, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Pied Harrier, Green Sandpiper, Intermediate Egret, Bluethroat, Common Snipe, Dusky Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat, Paddyfield Pipit, Common Kingfisher, Wryneck, Zitting Cisticola, Great Barbet, Eye-browed Thrush, Red Whiskered Bulbul, Blue Throated Barbet, Stripe Breasted Woodpecker, Velvet Fronted Nuthatch, Chestnut Vented Nuthatch, Orange Breasted Leafbird, Ashy Drongo, Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Pacific Swift, Crested Finchbill, Greenish Warbler, Spectacled Barwing, Dark Backed Sibia, Grey Faced Buzzard, White Tailed Warbler, Hill Prinia, Yellow Cheeked Tit, Whiskered Yuhina, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Yellow Bellied Fantail, Blyth's Leaf Warbler, Red Flanked Bluetail, Chestnut Crowned Laughing Thrush, Buff Barred Warbler, Pallas's Warbler, Chestnut Sided White-eye, Grey Backed Shrike, Olive Backed Pipit, White Browed Shrike Babbler, Snowy Browed Flycatcher, Black Throated Sunbird, Green Billed Malkoha, Grey Headed Parrotbill, Red Billed Blue Magpie, Brown Hawk Owl.