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

27 December 2010

Tristram's Buntings for Christmas

Hi all,

One day trip to Mount Ba Vi last Sunday (26th December).
In winter, this mountain can be very foggy and birding impossible. Sunday, the weather was nice, cold for sure but no mist, and the 3 famous peaks were perfectly visible as the photo shows (foreground : Đồng Mô lake):

I focused on the degraded forest and thickets around the restaurant area. Surprisingly, I saw many interesting species that we encounter generally in good forest, mixed with birds of more open habitats and forest edges. Many fruiting trees yielded flocks of Thrushes and other good birds.

Highlights : 2 Tristram's Buntings, 1 male Fujian Niltava and 1 Chestnut Bulbul (hard to believe I know, but good views...)

Seen also, among many others : - Barbets : Great (heard only), 1 Green-eared, 1 Blue-throated

- Thrushes : 1 Black-breasted, some Grey-backed and Scaly

- 1 Verditer Flycatcher

- 1 Stripe-Tit Babbler

- 1 Oriental Turtle Dove

- Flowerpeckers : 1 Scarlet-backed and 2 Fire-breasted feeding on the same fruiting tree

- very showy Orange-bellied Leafbirds, male singing and female

- 1 Chestnut-flanked White-eye in a flock of Japanese ones.

- Sunbirds : 2 Crimson, 1 Fork-tailed

- some Orange-flanked Bush Robins

- 1 Green Magpie sp
Tristram's Bunting. I flushed 2 birds, non identified. One of them, more curious, reappeared in the thickets in which they had just disappeared, and observed me during long et nice seconds.
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker male

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker female

Gorgeous Crimson Sunbird male

Blue-throated Barbet. I saw this bird 500m after the cactus garden, so at low altitude (300m). Each time I go to Ba Vi, I stop at this place which offer panoramic view on the valley and I have generally a contact with this species, moving in a degraded open forest. I don't understand why this bird which don't seems to have narrow habitat requirements (I mean good forest) is so rarely spotted elsewhere.

Scaly Thrush

A Japanese Thrush which seems to hesitate : Hmm, which one to choose ?

On the way back to Hanoi, I came across a flock of 20-30 Grey-capped Greenfinches at Đồng Mô lake, along the dyke (the northest one), feeding over grasslands grazed by cattle and perching sometimes on eucalyptus trees. Difficult to approach.

A nice birding trip with 2 lifers in the pocket (the Greenfinch and the Bunting), exactly one year after I began to interest myself in the vietnamese avifauna and twitched my very first local bird, it was a Robin Magpie...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone !


21 December 2010

27 hours in Laos

I know that Laos isn't in Vietnam, but arguably the easiest way to see the recently described Bare-faced Bulbul is by making a quick trip into Laos from Vietnam. I don't want to set a precedent for expanding the scope of this website beyond Vietnam, but I thought that information on how to do this might be of interest.

Aside from the endemic bulbul, Sooty Babbler is easier to see in Laos than in Vietnam. In addition, going to Laos to see it invalidates the need to visit Phong Nha Ke Bang. Red-collared Woodpecker is also much easier to see in Laos than in Vietnam. So visiting birds could add these three species to their Vietnam trips by just visiting Laos instead of Phong Nha Ke Bang, as long as they get a multiple entry visa for Vietnam.

Laos is expensive to fly to, even from adjacent countries, return tickets to and from Vietnam cost $400, and it is very easy to visit using public transport. So that is what I did. The total cost including transport, accommodation, food and visa was just under $100.

I began by taking the overnight train from Hanoi to Vinh arriving at 4am on Saturday morning. You could equally travel north from Da Nang to Vinh overnight, if that was where you were based. The first bus to Trung Tam (the border town in Vietnam) leaves at 6am, and from there I caught a bus to Lak Sao, in Laos. The border crossing was uneventful aside from a Nepal House Martin (sadly not on the Vietnamese side), and once in Lak Sao it was easy to hitch a ride along Highway 8 to Na Hin village.

Just after lunchtime I arrived at the Mi Thuna Guesthouse in Na Hin village. I hired a motorbike from the guesthouse and drove up to the viewpoint described on Stijn de Win's website. After about an hour of scanning with the scope I located a trio of distant Bare-faced Bulbuls perched atop the karst. After another hour of waiting I headed downhill to an area where the karst is next to the road. A short walk along the road quickly produced a party of 10 or so Sooty Babblers flopping around on the rocks, giving great scope views. I returned to the viewpoint and spent the rest of the afternoon getting increasingly good views (ending with very good views) of trios of the bulbuls (although only two trios may have been involved) and found a troop of seven Laos Langurs before dark.

An early start on Sunday was curtailed because my motorbike had been boxed in by a 4x4. I improvised a ramp out of some planks, drove the bike up onto a thankfully very low wall and got round the car. At 6:30am I arrived at the track to the pumping station at km 48.3. However, on reaching the small trail just before the pumping station I found four kids with guns shooting at anything that moved. I quickly abandoned this plan and instead tried a different trail located approximately 200 meters before the pumping station on the left as you head up hill/away from the road. This trail descended steeply into good forest.

With the ipod dead I tried whistling an imitation of Stijn's Red-collared Woodpecker vocalisation, a sort of explosive kwaa!. After about 150 meters of walking I heard a response, coming from the forest floor to my left. I then heard what sounded like a Blue-naped Pitta vocalisation coming from the same location. Keen for a bit of two for the price of one action, I began to imitate the "pitta" as well. A bird flew up to a branch c. 1 meter off the ground from the direction where the sounds were coming from - it was the woodpecker. This bird soon flew off (and continued to make the sound like Stijn's recording), so again I whistled the Blue-naped Pitta type noise. There were no more pitta type sounds from the forest floor, instead the woodpecker flew in to a tree 20 meters up and showed well. Twice, Blue-naped Pitta type vocalisations came from the location where the woodpecker now was, high in the tree. For obvious reasons, I then gave up trying to find the "pitta" and went back to the guesthouse for breakfast. It was 8am.

After all that enjoyable and satisfyingly successful birding, the only thing left to do was to retrace my steps to Vinh. I did this and took the late train back to Hanoi. This arrived at 5am, in time for work.

19 December 2010

Pittas in Cuc Phuong

Last chance for birding in Vietnam for quite a while, I chose Cuc Phuong for that (16.-18.12.2010). Christian went with me. We spent 2 nights there, first at the HQ, second at Bong, with a stop at Van Long on the way back. It was quite cold, except the last afternoon, which was as good as weather can get in northern Vietnam.

First I tried to look for the Pied Falconet, which I still needed to see despite a few previous attempts. Easy this time, one bird was at the spot indicated by Simon, then a family of 4 perched near the gate at the end of the road through the botanical garden, and finally one more showed nicely and real close at Bong.
Luck was with us, when we flushed a Blue-rumped Pitta on the valley trail, which wasn't too scared and allowed for wonderful close views. Really nice bird, with almost all blue back. Very happy about that, after having tried many times in Cat Tien to find that one. Even better, we saw one more briefly the next day on the loop trail.

Earlier in the morning on the stairs to the loop trail (starting from the swimming pool), we met a family of Silver-breasted Broadbills, with a lot of small birds around. I could not concentrate well on those however, as Bar-bellied Pittas started to call from two sides. One came in to the tape and crossed hurriedly the trail, giving short but nice views.

Descending towards the big old tree, we got great views of a pair of Silver Pheasants. There where a few more nice birds around, here is the complete trip list.

At Van Long, we couldn't take the boat to see the Delacour's Langurs as apparently water is too low now, but we managed to find them in the scope from the dike. Quite far but nicely seen climbing over the rocks, at least 8 adults with 1 baby.

A Peregrine made a spectacular show by snatching a water bird (I didn't see what it was, but from size I guess it was a Crake) and then taking it to the top of the nearest rock for us to watch him plucking and eating his prey...

That was a great last trip of 2,5 years birding in Vietnam. Hope to get more of that in one of the holidays to come, and hopefully with you guys then! I enjoyed it to be out with you and I definitely learned a lot from you... Thanks for that!
Keep up posting good stuff here for me to envy!

A few more pics taken by Christian:

14 December 2010

Blue Rock Thrush

Just to put on something new, here a pic of a Blue Rock Thrush seen today from my house.
This morning with Simon in the botanical gardens, we saw a Red-flanked Bluetail, a couple of Olive-backe Pipits and the White-tailed Robin, which looks almost normal and healthy now.

Cheers, Florian

5 December 2010

White-tailed Robin in the city

Hi all,

Productive afternoon (Sunday 5th December) in the Botanical Garden, with some different migrants/winter visitors showing up.
The best being 1 impressive bullnecked White-tailed Robin male, 1 Grey-backed Thrush male 1st winter, 1 Taiga Flycatcher, 1 Orange-flanked Bush Robin female.

The Orange-flanked Bush Robin, with a big tumor on the head.

Please use settings 480p for best quality.

Have a look here : http://www.youtube.com/user/TheDELONGLEE (other videos of this funny Robin)


Dalat and Cat Tien NP, 28.11. /1.12.-4.12.

I made use of a work trip to the south to squeeze in quite some birding in Dalat (Tuyen Lam lake, 28.11.2010) and Cat Tien National Park (1.-4.12.2010). In Dalat I was with my colleague Nils. In Cat Tien I joined Swedish birder Peter for some of the time, he was on a tour organised by Richard and in Cat Tien guided by Mr. Duyen. Excellent birding throughout, below some of the highlights.
In Dalat, best bird was certainly the Blue Pitta that I was so lucky to spot for a second near the trail (very silent the Pittas otherwise at this time of the year). Also very nice were the Vietnamese Cutia and the Indochinese Green Magpie, favorite birds of mine, but not less nice the Rufous-browed and Snowy-browed Flycatcher found in the forest under-storey.
Plenty of birds in Cat Tien NP, including a few lifers for me:
  • A Lesser Fish Eagle not far from Ben Cu Rapids was one of the highlights.
  • A secretive Germain's Peacock Pheasant at the headquarters, 20 m from the bear enclosure, and Siamese Firebacks seen very well from the Crododile Lake trail.
  • Woodpeckers: Black-and-buff and Heart-spotted Woodpecker were new to me, also seen Bay, Rufous and Laced Woodpecker and Greater Yellownape. And a White-browed Piculet. Great Slaty Woodpecker was heard very close-by but remained invisible, still needing that one. Three Common Flamebacks were doing some Drongo-style insect hawking from a dead tree stump in the evening sunlight, an amazing sight.
  • Black-and-red Broadbill and the very funny looking Dusky Broadbill.
  • Orange-bellied Trogon was another long wanted lifer, also seen Red-headed Trogon.
  • Two Bar-bellied Pittas seen and many more heard but not found, no sound and sight of Blue-rumped Pitta, one more reason to come back....
  • Quite a few Hainan Blue and Tickell's Flycatchers, one Blue-throated Flycatcher.
  • A female and a stunning male Siberian Blue Robin and also a first winter male Siberian Thrush.
  • A nice selection of sunbirds including a party of the incredibly colourful Purple-throated Sunbirds.
  • One more bird very high on my wanted list, the Banded Kingfisher, was heard twice very close-by but kept hidden.
  • Very last bird before leaving was a Large Scimitar-Babbler, excellent finish!

Apart from birds, I was amazed by the number of primates seen. I saw Black-shanked Douc Langurs every day and they appear not to be very shy.

Finally a few clumsy snapshots, partly through the scope: Golden-crested Mynas, Lesser Fish Eagle, Bronzed Drongo, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Douc Langur and Siamese Crocodile.

Full bird list here, please let me know if you find any implausible birds in there ;-)

Cheers, Florian

3 December 2010

Red River Island / 03-12-2010

Hi all,

This week, I focused on the small forest of the Red River Island. I tried to shoot Manchurian Bush Warbler(s), but it's almost "mission impossible".

Apart this skulker, I saw :

- 1 strange White-rumped Shama male with a short white-edged tail, which make me VERY confused, you can imagine. Very secretive bird, I had to build a blind to get a decent pic. Well, I think it's this species, what else could it be ?!
- some Dusky, 1 Radde's, 1 presumed Two-barred, some Yellow-browed, 1 Pallas's Leaf (photo below) Warblers

- 2 Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers
- 1 Siberian Rubythroat male

- 1 Seicercus Warbler

- 2 Red-billed Leiothrix

- 2 Black-shouldered Kites

- 1 Accipiter sp

- and 1 stunning female Barred Buttonquail on the way back, crossing quietly the trail and a cabbage field

I wish all of you good birding !


30 November 2010

Cuc Phuong and Van Long 27-28th November

Stephan, Nicolas, myself and others went to Cuc Phuong from the 26th (evening) till the 28th midday, when we went to Van Long. We didn't get Hung's cochoa double, or even a single cochoa, but we had a good time nonetheless. Avian highlights were:

Spot-bellied Eagle Owl - one heard on the loop trail at 10pm
Pied Falconet - a family of four seen from the botanical gardens, to find these guys follow the main path past the first concrete bandstand thing on the left until you get paralel to the second concrete bandstand thing on your left. Then, look up to the karst hill on your right and the family of falconets should be perched on top of a dead shrub.
Amur Falcon - two at Van Long together with single Peregrines and Common Kestrels, seen well only by Nicolas and Stephan
Bonelli's Eagle - one at Van Long
Pheasant-tailed Jacana - three at Van Long
White-browed Crake - five at Van Long
Common Coot - 15 at Van Long, also five Moorhens and about five distant ducks in flight (of two species)
White-winged Magpie - three in the botanical gardens, one at the HQ
Thrushes - at Bong, almost entirely Japanese, with a few Chinese Blackbirds, Grey-backed and Eye-browed Thrushes and one Scaly Thrush. At the HQ most were Chinese Blackbirds with a few Japanese and Black-breasted Thrushes
Other frugivores - one tree contained 14 Green-eared Barbets and two Red-vented Barbets. Another tree contained two Hill Mynas and 10 Gold-crested Mynas
White-bellied Green Pigeon - one on the valley trail
Other winter visitors - on the loop trail: one Rufous-tailed Robin, one Fujian Niltava and one White-tailed Flycatcher.
Limestone Leaf-warbler - what was probably this species (and not a wintering Sulphur-breasted) was on the loop trail in a mixed species flock at the start of the steps.

A really good weekend!


20 November 2010

Small Pratincoles - Red River Island

Hi all,

Nice surprise this morning at the northern tip of the Red River Island with 2 Small Pratincoles trying to find a quiet place to rest between the wedding couples posing for photos.

One with greyish streaky-throat...
The other one still in breeding plumage


19 November 2010

Japanese Thrush male adult - video

Seen last tuesday in the Botanical Garden.

17 November 2010

Thrush headache

Hi all,

I always thought that the Japanese Thrush male adult was ONLY like this (and therefore always thought that its illustration in the Robson had been a little bit botched !) :

with a strong contrast head - mantle/wings

… until I saw this stunning bird 2 days ago in the Botanical Garden :

I told myself : woaah, so nice bird ! An adult male, exactly like the illustration of the Robson ! Ok, but all my contrasted head - mantle males of before, how should I call them now ?

- In the Robson (edition 2006), there's absolutely nothing about this pattern (both plates and texts). Very strange.

- In the Brazil (thanks Florian !), there’s an illustration of this kind of plumage with the legend: 1st winter male.

Not convinced at all, I search on Internet and found something very interesting on OrientalBirdImages, especially the pics of Jonathan Martinez, a French birder who’s living in China, in the Hunan province. He took pics at mid-June 2010 of juveniles, females and males (http://orientalbirdimages.org/search.php?Bird_ID=2464&Bird_Image_ID=44540&Bird_Family_ID=&p=6), in a Japanese Thrushes breeding population. Today, I send him an email to have confirmation that those males were adults and even breeding ones.

He answered this (sorry, in french, please use Google traduction) :
« Pour tout t'avouer, ces thrushes m'ont également laissé perplexe. J'ai une bonne population nicheuse dans le Hunan en Chine et je n'ai pas encore vu un seul mâle nicheur qui ait un pattern classique comme décrit dans de nombreux guides, sans fort contraste manteau-tête, tout les mâles que j'ai pu observer sont identiques à ceux de mes photos. J'en viens à me demander si les oiseaux qui nichent en Chine ne serait pas différents de ceux qui nichent au Japon, j'ai trouvé très peu de choses dans la littérature mais n'ai pas eu encore trop le temps d'approfondir, dans tout les cas il y a quelque chose d'étrange, et je n'ai rien trouvé qui mentionne que la population qui niche dans le centre de la Chine soit une sous-espèce différente. A mon avis il y a matière à creuser».

He wrote, I resume, that among the 10 pairs he have observed over there, he have never seen males without strong contrast head-mantle like described in the majority of the identification guides. All its pics definitely show adults breeding males !

So, different races of Japanese Thrush ? In my humble opinion, the very black males could come from North-Est Asia (Japan, Korea...). Have a look at the blogs of the Land of the Rising Sun birders.

Now, I want to show you a mysterious bird that I have observed last Tuesday in the Botanical Garden. That's a tricky one isn't it ? Look this grey-blue mantle/wings, the contrast head-mantle, the black breast, the bluish spots on the flanks... Why not a 1st winter male Japanese Thrush ?
Thoughts/suggestions/confirmation welcome !

More thrushes

Morning visit to the botanical gardens:

Japanese Thrush 10 + (1st winter m and f, adult f)
Grey-backed Thrush 2 (?) 1st winter f
Eyebrowed Thrush 1 f
Siberian Thrush 1 f
Scaly Trush 1

Simon and Florian

Black-breasted Thrush male adult

Video made Tuesday 16th November at the Botanical Garden.

Please have a look at the last post of Simon (yesterday) , I sent many pictures there.

Grey-backed Thrush female adult

Video made Tuesday 16th November at the Botanical Garden.

16 November 2010

Some great thrushes in the botanical gardens

This morning there were at least 20 thrushes in the botanical gardens. Since I was in a rush I concentrated on identifying the easy ones:
Japanese Thrush adult male 3
Japanese Thrush adult female 2
Japanese Thrush 1st winter male 4
Black-breasted Thrush adult female 1
Chinese Blackbird 2 (male and female)

I left all the 1st winter females....

Florian then visited shortly afterwards and found an adult male Black-breasted Thrush!

  • At noon there, I saw also :
Grey-backed Thrush female adult 1
Grey-backed Thrush 1st winter 1-2
Eyebrowed Thrush male adult 1
Siberian Thrush 1 (without tail !)
Orange-headed Thrush 1
Rufous-tailed Robin 1

Videos will follow !

Eyebrowed Thrush male (the shiest of all the Thrushes there)

Siberian Thrush... with a little problem

Grey-backed Thrush female. Compared to the Black-breasted female : brownish bill, slightly marked on breast, paler brown-olive tinged upperparts (Robson).
Grey-backed Thrush female (in the background/no spots on the rufous flanks, slight streeks on breast) and - I suppose - a Grey-backed Thrush 1st winter

This supposed Grey-backed Thrush 1st winter : flanks largely orange with spots, heavily marked on breast than adult female.

Black-breasted Thrush male adult