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Bird news from Vietnam, from Vietnam's resident and visiting birders.

22 January 2015

An accomplished fisherman at Hoan Kiem Lake

I (Sebastien) was at the Hoan Kiem lake (dowtown Hanoi) on the morning of the 21th January when I came across the local Little Heron (I know this bird for at least 4-5 years), doing an unusual thing.  It was picking up pieces of bread and dropping them into the water, and then snatching the fish that were attracted to it! The bird kept repositioning his bait, like a fisherman casting his line over and over again! Amazing show ! The bird's high rate of success, as well as its dexterity in manipulating the bait, indicated that it was probably experienced in bait-fishing.

This behavior is well known among Little Herons (and also among the closely related North American Green Heron), but I’ve never seen it before.

I wonder whether this behavior is innate or learned?

According to literature only a small percentage of Little and Green Herons engage in bait-fishing.  It may indicate that it is not only an innate behavior, but a combination of innate and learned factors. According to some researchers only the exceptionally intelligent individuals acquire this skill. They can use lure bait (bread, small fruits, twigs, features, leaves) or live baits (flies and other small insects).

Active bait-fishing has also been reported for some Black-crowned Night Herons and... Crows !(look here, video from Israel). Passive bait-fishing, where the bird forages near bait but does not actually manipulate it, has been described for the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron.

They are very few bird species that are known to use tools to capture food.

For a bird to learn this and know to use bread,which isn't a naturally acquired food in the wild and use it as bait, means that it probably isn’t an inborn instinct but aquired through observation, trial and error. It should give new meaning to the term "bird brain".

16 January 2015

Presumed 1cy Mongolian Gull in Hanoi

Mid-november 2014, at about 2.30 p.m. a single gull drifted down river past Bãi Đá sông Hồng (Hanoi) until it was out of sight, in clear weather.

At almost 3 p.m. the gull drifted upriver, and several photographs were taken. The bird continued upstream until it was out of sight.

Photographs were circulated by know experts on birds/gull identification including Jonathan Eames (Cambodia), Philip Round (Thailand), George Carey (Hong Kong), Nial Moores (South Korea) as well as Osao and Ujihara Michiaki (Japan). Most of these authorities concurred that the bird in question was a first calendar-year mongolicus than a tamiyrensis / barabensis or a really advanced vegae.

Although it looks browner-toned, darker and more marked on the head for a straightforward ID as a mongolicus, the main things that suggest mongolicus in these three images are:

1. In November, most taimyrensis and vegae are still largely in juvenile plumage, while mongolicus that breed in Korea are already moving into 1W plumage in August / September. This bird has several elements that are much more indicative of a First-winter than juvenile.

2. The bird looks largely pale-headed with a darker hind-collar and some streaking round onto the breast sides. Most mongolicus have constrasty fine streaking on the hind-nape and a few have some streaking "coming round" to the breast sides too. Most taimyrensis in Korea at least are in juvenile plumage in November. They tend to have strong face-masks, diffuse streaking and brown tones on the head, and quite a dense, sprawlingly dark look to the nape, not suggested by your images.

3. The bird has a strong blaze across esp. pp 1-4. The darker shafts end in a club-like darker pattern near the tips. This is quite typical of mongolicus and seems too extensive and too mongolicus-like for taimyrensis or vegae.

4. The bird lacks a darker, more solid area across the greater coverts which you would expect on taimyrensis. Various other smaller details of what we can see on the upperwing seem mongolicus-like (including the strong contrast between the dark alula and the paler primary coverts).

5. The underwing shows extensive dark on the undersides of the primaries, contrasting with paler axillaries and light-brown patterned underwing coverts etc. This looks pretty mongolicus-like in these three images.

6. The tail band is complete-looking but narrow and black, with already much white on the rump and uppertail coverts. Most taimyrensis and vegae in Korea have wider dark tail bands and more mottling / marking across the rump and uptcvts than this. However, many mongolicus look quite like this.

7. The bill is already showing some paler to the base. This is typical of mongolicus in November but would be a few weeks earlier than typical in most taimyrensis or vegae.

This is thought to be the second record for Vietnam, following a sighting of a first-winter Mongolian Gull at Dat Mui in the Viet Namese Mekong back in 2000 (Nial Moores, per comms).

John Parr

7 January 2015

Some pictures from Hanoi

Here are a few pictures taken since the middle of November, in Ha Noi and the surroundings of the city.
I've met Sebastien who gave me tips, told me about nice places to go for birdwatching (thanks a lot Sebastien!): the botanical garden, Hoan Kiem lake, the island under Long Bien bridge, and Bai Da Song Hong (Ngo 264).

Even if the weather is often cloudy in winter time, Ha Noi offers good opportunities for birdwatching. I have to admit I didn't expect to see a striated heron and a common kingfisher right in the center of the city. But actually, as soon as ponds provide foods.. it works!

My goal is to improve my skills as a bird watcher (identification clues..), and as a bird photographer. I'm not looking for particularly rare species. That's why those pictures only show quite common birds of the area.

I'll try to carry on for one more week, before going back to France.

Hope you'll enjoy.

Jean-Daniel L'HERIAU

(Photo gear : EOS 7D + 100-400mm Canon)

Chinese Pond Heron

Striated Heron

Cinnamon Bittern

White-breasted Waterhen

Common Kingfisher

Black-capped Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

Citrine Wagtail

White Wagtail

Paddyfield Pipit

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Taiga Flycatcher

Common Tailorbird

Dusky Warbler

Japanese White-eye

Common Prinia

Siberian Stonechat

White-throated Fantail

3 January 2015

Common Starling in Xuan Thuy NP, Vietnam

Happy New Year 2015!

I had been in Xuan Thuy with clients in the middle of Dec, 2014. As normal, we saw lots of shorebirds and other winter visitors. Before leaving for Hanoi, we saw a big flock on a rice field, a bit far away and dark at the first spotting, then they flew closer to us - Common Starling. A nice surprise!

Common Starling

Wish you a successful year!

Bui Duc Tien: tienpitta@gmail.com

31 December 2014

Chinese Penduline Tits at Hanoi

Today (31th  December) was one of those days that makes me grateful to be a regular patchworker. There is always something new to see, something new to learn, and sometimes a great surprise around the corner.
This morning I headed to the Red River, more exactly to the place called “Bai Da Song Hong”, only few kilometers from the city center. This area is a mix of shrubs, woodland, grassland, reedbeds, sandbars and open water, crossed by small tracks. This is the most popular place in Hanoi for... wedding photos. A scenic place, good birds, beautiful brides..... A great spot!

I parked my bike and headed out onto the trails. After a few minutes walk, a small bird perched on a reed attracted my attention. I hurriedly put my bins to my eyes and was more than happy to discover a Chinese Penduline Tit, part of a small party (ca 5 ind.) busily exploring reedbeds.

Below a heavily-cropped (photographer speak for crap) record shot taken with a... 100mm macro lens (a great lens for butterflies and dragonflies but not for birds!). The worse photo ever published on this blog for sure, sorry for that, but enough to validate the sighting. Should have my 400mm next week, fingers crossed.

Apparently there are very few records of Chinese Penduline Tit from Vietnam (1 or 2 according to Lê Manh Hung), although of course the lack of people checking suitable habitat in winter is certainly a factor.
This species is recorded in Robson for East Tonkin, as vagrant. 

Happy New Year!
May you see wonderful birds in 2015!


PS : relocated the flock on January 2. Got better views and slightly better images. Five individuals, majority of first-winter (pale mask), at least one adult male. Perched on reeds and tall grasses at the edge of a pond, sometimes on top of peach trees in a nearby orchard.

Remiz consobrinus, male ad. and 1st winter bird. 
Hopefully they will stick around a few more days and someone will take better photos than me.

According to literature, breeds in the Russian Far East and northeast China. Winters in eastern and southern China (Yangtze valley, Yunnan, Hong Kong), South Korea and South Japan. An increase in the wintering grounds was recorded in the last decades.

24 December 2014

A short trip to Ba Vi NP

Last week I went to Ba Vi for work-related reasons but but I did manage to sneak off and do a bit of birding in the National Park :) 

I got a female White-throated Rock Thrush, a White's Thrush, a flock of 17 Red-billed Blue Magpies, a couple of Grey Treepies, a Ashy Bulbul, a female Fork-tailed Sunbird, lots of Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers (and one good opportunity of photo missed arghh.....), a Red-flanked Bluetail...

The day after, in a rural cultivate area in Thanh Tri district (near Cong Bang pagoda, Hanoi), only a Wryneck and a Siberian Stonechat played ball for the camera.

Le Viet Tuan Hoang

Grey Treepie - one of the avian specialities of Ba Vi (more often heard than seen)

Ashy Bulbul

Red-flanked Bluetail

White-throated Rock Thrush, female

Fork-tailed Sunbird, female

White's Thrush

Red-billed Blue Magpie


Siberian Stonechat