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

29 December 2012

Some unfortunate endemics in Dalat

Bad news for Dalat's endemics - seems Dalat's birdkeepers are no longer content with the usual Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Black-headed Sibias and Silver-eared Mesias and the trappers are now more and more targetting the local endemics. Grey-crowned Crocias, Collared & Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes and Vietnamese Cutia have all been seen for sale recently. These photos were taken in a couple of weeks ago. Apologies for the lousy quality!

Richard Craik
Vietnamese Cutia
Collared Laughingthrush
and something nice to end with ...

25 December 2012

Christmas Gift

Finally managed to pick up a (male) Black-breasted Thrush in the Botanical Gardens, what a little stunner!
A perfect Christmas gift for an urban birder!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and good birding to you all!

20 December 2012

Some other winterers in the capital

HANOI (10th -> 17th December) - Last week, I bumped into a small flock of migrant Red-rumped Swallows hawking insects over the channel of the Red River. They were flying low and straightish over the water. I snapped more than one hundred of shots but got only... 1 decent one!

Striated Swallows are very similar to Red-rumped, and differ from them in having heavier streaks on the underparts and rump, less red on the ear coverts and a dark rather than rufous nape.

In this flock I photographed individuals with almost complete nuchal collar but also some with solid dark nape (shot above). The amount of fine streaking was also variable. But I assume they were all Red-rumped.

According to David Bakewell, an experienced birder based in Malaysia (http://digdeep1962.wordpress.com), "in any case, the nape colour is not an altogether reliable indicator. Many migratory Red-rumped in Malaysia show a dark nape and no paler nuchal collar (such as this bird, initially identifed by me as Striated) seen in northern Peninsular Malaysia in March".

Last Saturday's better weather inspired me to try to "improve" on the Swallow shots I'd taken a few days earlier. No Swallows any more but some Swiflets were zipping around, which posed me some identification problems. Germain's and Himalayan look very alike and are not easy to tell apart in the field - for me at least.
According to Robson (2005), Himalayan has darker underparts, deeper notched tail and browner rump than Germain's. But I'd be a bit careful about trying to clinch any ID on my pictures (the colouration of a photo is not always the exact colour of the actual bird).

Upon searching on the net, I discovered that 1/ the depth of the tail notch is not a reliable feature - Germain's tail can also appear very forked ; 2/ Himalayan can show light underneath on throat and belly.
So this has given me more doubt. I could only state that based on the images captured (in particular the pale rump), these Swiftlets displayed pro-Germain's characteristics. Any help of experienced birders would be much appreciated!

A very worn individual

Spotted also 3 Riparia which turned out to be Grey-throated Martins (R. chinensis) : no breast-band, throated and breast greyish.

A smart Citrine Wagtail was also hanging around and I could not resist to snap it...

 picking something at the water surface...

1st winter Eastern Marsh Harrier

female Daurian Redstart - already a handful of sightings this season at Hanoi (this is not so bad). Found in open or bushy wooded areas or along the margins of agricultural fields.

Quite a few activity in the city parks last week, best stuff was :

Crested Goshawk

male Eyebrowed Thrush - my 8th species of turdid in the city this season (after Scaly, Japanese, Grey-backed, Orange-headed Thrushes, Chinese Blackbird, Blue Whistling Thrush, White-throated Rock Thrush). I am now waiting for some "VIP guests" (Black-breasted T. would be the icing on the cake!).

Chinese Blackbird
This species is significantly larger-looking and powerful than the European Blackbird. It shows also a light patch behind the eye, the tail appears longer. The calls are also very different from those of Turdus merula.

This obliging female Fujian Niltava seems to have taken up winter residence at the Botanical Gardens. She likes particularly to perch on the statues. Week after week I see her becoming more and more confident. Flush distance actually : 5 meters. Will she perch on my shoulder in March ?

a female type Red-flanked (or Hymalayan?) Bluetail.
Is it possible to tell the females Red-flanked and Hymalayan apart ? 

female type Mugimaki Flycatcher - a late migrant

catching a caterpillar on the ground

A ghastly shot but an interesting bird (for the city) : male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker.
This species is assumed to be a sub-montane and montane forest resident, although there is evidence that some short-distance movements take place in some areas (in the north of its range only?) during the non-breeding season. This is not the first time I have seen this little fellow in winter at the Botanical Gardens. Frequent the tops of trees, not easy to photograph - its tiny size does not help. Fortunately it's very vocal so easily detected.

At the Botanical Gardens, the Large-billed Crow appeared one month ago is still hanging around, high in the canopy. It has become the Public Enemy Number 1 for the park staff after it added to its menu some young unfledged domestic pigeons - captured directly in the nest box! For the moment, all attempts to eliminate it have failed.

Pallas's Squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus), also known as the Red-bellied Tree Squirrel, is the other species highly protected by the park staff. All the other creatures can be captured or killed without encountering opposition from anyone!.. except from me sometimes, but soft opposition - my self-defense skills are very limited ;)

11 December 2012

The two species of Bluetails on my patch

The last few weeks, I photographed 2 adult males Red-flanked Bluetails at the Botanical Gardens (Hanoi). They were quite different: one had dark blue (Prussian blue) upperparts and shining blue eyebrow; the other one had lighter blue upperparts and white eyebrow.

After some research it appears that they belong to 2 sub-species, respectively rufilatus and cyanurus. But recently, rufilatus has been elevated to species rank as Himalayan Bluetail (Tarsiger rufilatus) on the basis of its more intense blue colour and its migratory behaviour (short-distance altitudinal migrant, not a long-distance migrant). A patch tick and a lifer for me!

The Himalayan Bluetail (Tarsiger rufilatus) is a short-distance altitudinal migrant, breeding in the Himalaya and southeastern Tibet / Photos taken on Nov. 19, 2012.

 Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) / Photos taken on Dec. 10, 2012.

8 December 2012

Expected & unexpected new city guests

Hanoi : Some interesting winterers/migrants spotted last week (3rd -> 9th Dec.) in different wooded patches, not more than 10km from the city center.

-White-tailed Robin (Lenin Park, FIPI)
- Rufous-tailed Robin (Lenin Park + FIPI)
- White-throated Rock Thrush female (Lenin Park the 6th December), 1 late migrant. At Hanoi, very few sightings of this species during the autumn passage, more frequently seen in spring.
- Fujian Niltava (Lenin Park, orchard Vinh Thuy, FIPI + Bot. Gardens) - Interesting to notice that this species is present in ALL my patches !
- Small Niltava (FIPI) - A VIP guest at Hanoi!
- Red-flanked Bluetail (Bot. Gardens)
- Siberian Rubythroat (Lenin Park)
- 4 species of Thrushes (Scaly, Japanese, Grey-backed, Orange-headed) - Japanese T. is the commonest species, present in all the patches
- Taiga Flycatcher (Lenin Park, orchard Vinh Thuy, Bot. Gardens + FIPI)
- Black-naped Monarch (FIPI) - 1 late migrant
- Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher (Lenin Park, Bot. Gardens + FIPI)
- Crested Goshawk (FIPI)
- Light-vented Bulbul (orchard Vinh Thuy)
- Phyllosc Warblers (Dusky, Radde's, Yellow-browed, Pallas's, "Blyth's")
- Thick-billed Warbler (Lenin Park, orchard Vinh Thuy)
- Eurasian Woodcock (FIPI) - 2 flushed

Small Niltava
During the winter months, this strict montane bird sometimes shifts to lower elevations. It is a scarce visitor at Hanoi. Moves lower inside denser vegetation, more skulking in habit than other Niltavas. Photos taken at the Forest Inventory and Planning Institute (FIPI), in a nice patch of 2 ha of good forest (only 10km from the city center). Many thanks to John Parr who show me this place !

female Orange-headed Thrush

Scaly Thrush

female Japanese Thrush

male Japanese Thrush feeding in a fruiting tree

female Red-flanked Bluetail 

"Blyth's Leaf Warbler" with a tiny prey in its bill 

A bit of video of the Crested Goshawk spotted at the FIPI

30 November 2012

Winterers/migrants downtown Hanoi

Not much birding this week (26th Nov ->2nd Dec), the weather was awful. The terrible Hanoi winter has begun : cold, wet and GREY!
At the Botanical Gardens, I flushed an Eurasian Woodcock around the toilet area ! This guy was trying to hide itself behind a tiny bush. My second sighting of a Woodcock in this park. I also picked up a male Mugimaki Flycatcher.
Most of the White-tailed Robins or Fujian Niltavas spotted least week have gone - or have been captured by... blowpipe hunters (see the last photo of this post).
The park held small flocks of Turdus thrushes. Some male Japanese Thrushes with different patterns, whilst the others, all females or first-year birds, presented a significant identification problem and were not all identified conclusively.  I did not found the solution in the guide books or on the Internet...

An adult male Japanese Thrush showing the "usual" pattern (i.e. the most encountered) with grey-blue mantle contrasting with black head

A black-backed male Japanese, with almost no contrast between head and mantle, and big black spots below (my second sighting of this pattern at Hanoi in 2 years, the other one here).
I am almost certain that this bird is coming from Northeast Asia. Japanese Thrush has different populations with plumage variations (curiously not covered in the guide books), birds breeding in China are a bit different from those breeding to the NE in Japan. 

I suspect it's a 1st cy Japanese (heavily spotted below/flanks), but the strong warm orange down the flanks make me confused.

Well-demarcated streaky rather than spotted breast, faint spotted below... I suspect it's a 1st cy Grey-backed.

female White-tailed Robin

What is that ? From this angle, ID is a bit tricky

Hm hm.. a small blue patch in the neck : female Fujian Niltava

Blue Whistling Thrush. Nice bird, but crappy background.

male Mugimaki Flycacher. Regular passage migrant here.

I spent one hour skulking around the toilet area, chasing this Rufous-tailed Robin. And if people saw me as a pervert, I don't care ! That is the price to pay for capturing close-ups of birds which are much more difficult to photograph in the forest.
It is really not too difficult to get nice shots of winterers/migrants in the urban parks because they can often allow much closer approach than the ones we encounter elsewhere.

Careful, it is slippery!

Olive-backed Pipit. Very common winterer.

We do not stop the progress ! Jivaro style hunting in the city !
They can hit a passerine at 20m - I took all my photos at less than 10m...
They do not use darts but soft balls. The objective is not to kill the bird but to stun it, and then put it in a cage.