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23 April 2012

Indochinese Fulvetta on Mount Bi Doup


Mount Bi Doup is the highest peak (2,287 m) in the Dalat area and home to the Indochinese Fulvetta. This little bird has not yet been seen by many birders, as it only occurs at high altitudes in places that are difficult to access (Bi Doup, Chu Yang Sin and somewhere in Laos).

Mount Bi Doup, Lam Dong Province

After several fruitless attempts to get up to the summit of Bi Doup by Richard Craik, Simon Mahood and others, I was extremely fortunate to be in Vietnam at the right time to join Luyen and Richard's latest attempt.

Luyen organised the trip with the Bi Doup Nui Ba National Park office. K'Vang from the ecotourism centre, park ranger Cuong, Tamari Kyotaka from the JICA project and a support team from the NP joined us. The plan was to start from Klong Klanh, camp just below the summit, then the following day walk over the summit and down to Bi Doup Ranger Station.

On the morning of 17.4.12 we crossed the river on narrow log bridges at Klong Klanh and soon entered nice broadleaved forest, which after one or two hours of walking showed no signs of recent logging.

Huge Fokienia trees, endemic Krempf's pines, varying rich undergrowth, branches full of moss, orchids and other epiphytes... the best forest in Vietnam I have seen so far.

Cuong climbing the 1,300 year old Fokenia

Beautiful forest

Richard's first attempt of playing Collared Laugingthrush calls produced an immediate response from the Laughers on one side of the trail and of a Blue Pitta from the other side. I went in for the pitta and quickly had good views, excellent start!

Collared Laughers remained to be present everywhere and very responsive to tape. Every single playback resulted in inquisitive Laughers coming in quickly. They seemed to be one of the commonest birds on the mountain.

After a rather pleasant and not overly steep five hour walk, we arrived at the camp site. We left the luggage and went up the final steep ascent to the summit to look for our target bird.

On the way up Luyen had good views of a Buff-cheeked Gibbon, I managed a brief glimpse before it disappeared. Several Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher entertained us during our frequent breaks to catch our breath on the way up.

On reaching the summit we found it to be covered with 10 metre tall trees with little undergrowth, not bamboo as expected. We then searched the wider summit area and discovered the gradually descending flank of the mountain was covered with a dense understory. There we quickly found our bird: Indochinese Fulvetta, Alcippe danisi bidoupensis! Pishing brought in a pair, which gave soft calls, checked us out and then disappeared back into the thicket...

Indochinese Fulvetta (Photo by Luyen)

Shaking hands all around, relieved about our quick success, we went back to enjoy dinner prepared by the national park crew. The evening was dark with menacing clouds and distant thunder, but we were lucky and had no rain at all.

The camping was well organised, no problems with cleanliness as we seemed to be the first users of the tents and sleeping bags. The night was a little cold, lots of frogs and a Grey Nightjar were calling. The Collared Laugingthrushes did the wake-up calls and we started the day with trying to photograph them and look for other birds around the camp.

Collared Laugingthrush (Photo by Luyen)

Right next to the camp we found a nest of Black-crowned Fulvettas that were busy with feeding young.

Black-crowned Fulvetta at Nest (Photo by Luyen)

Luyen and I also thought we heard calls of Grey-crowned Crocias, at around 2,150 m, well out of their usual altitudinal range. However we did not get any response on playing their calls, so this remains somewhat unconfirmed.

After breakfast, which was accompanied by singing Gibbons, we packed up and returned to the summit.

On Bi Doup summit

There we spent two hours to look for more Indochinese Fulvettas, which we easily found among the denser undergrowth. In total we saw maybe 10 pairs. They were all in dense undergrowth and thin mossy lianas hanging down from trees.

Indochinese Fulvetta (Photo by Luyen)

Richard in the Indochinese Fulvetta's preferred habitat

The whole morning was extremely birdy, quite a change from the usual hard work that comes with birding in Vietnam. Collared Laugers were present up to the summit, Dalat and Clicking Shrike Babblers, Vietnamese Cutia, Grey-bellied Tesia, Pygmy Wren Babbler, Grey-crowned Tits, more Black-crowned Fulvettas, Kloss' and Blyth's Leaf Warblers and many more plentiful and very easy to see. Very enjoyable!

I checked out some strange sounds just below the summit that seemed to be coming from a hidden group of primates. Despite the intimidating noises I tried to get closer but couldn't get views through the dense trees. I guess they were the same group of gibbons seen the previous day.

We then walked down the gently sloping ridge and after around two hours reached pine forest (which had Vietnamese Greenfinch and the other usual species found in Dalat pine forest), another two to three hours down we arrived at the Bi Doup ranger station. There we enjoyed a late lunch of instant noodles before crossing the river on a rickety raft and driving back to Dalat in the fancy JICA Landcruisers, comfortably ending a fantastic trip.

Florian

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