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

4 February 2013

Ba Vi National Park

A day trip to Ba Vi (60 km west of the capital city) last week produced a short list of 30-35 species, but with some goodies (and a lifer!).

I focused around the restaurant area (ca 600m a.s.l.), mostly secondary growth and scrub. At higher altitudes, it was just too foggy - this is the big problem when birding Ba Vi in winter.

I observed amongst others : 1 Tristram’s Bunting, 2 Chestnut Bulbuls, 1 Bradypterus Bush Warbler sp. (this is the lifer, unfortunately not yet ID, so please help me, thanks!), Blue-throated, Golden-throated and Green-eared Barbets, 1 Fujian Niltava, 1 Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, 1 small flock of delightful Red-billed Leiothrix, 1 Red-flanked Bluetail, 1 Manchurian Bush Warbler, 1 Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Crimson and Fork-tailed Sunbirds, 3 White-browed Piculets, 1 Silver-breasted Broadbill…
Surprisingly, not a single Thrush in this list!

 1st winter/female Tristram's Bunting

Silver-breasted Broadbill perched motionless high up in the canopy.

Chestnut Bulbul (at Ba Vi, resident or winter visitor ?).
White throat contrasting with chestnut face and black crown are diagnostic.

 Golden-throated Barbet

Rufescent Prinia- everywhere in grass and scrub.

 Striped Tit Babbler, the commonest babbler there.

 White-browed Piculet

 Red-billed Blue Magpie
Very noisy, conspicuous and usually in small parties. A common but gorgeous bird.

And a mysterious Bradypterus Bush Warbler to end with.
It was skulking in a thick bush and I  had to use manual focus to get these shots. At that time I had no idea what the bird was.
These images from different angles are pretty good (with this kind of guy I am not hard to please), so I was confident to clinch the identification quickly. But...

Major features :

-dark-brown above and flanks
-pale brown-speckled throat, darkish speckling on upper breast
-plain brownish undertail-coverts
-pale lower mandible
-no supercilium

4 species of Bradypterus Bush Warblers have been recorded in Vietnam : Brown, Chinese, Russet and Baikal. And only the latter 2 are speckled on throat or breast.

But my bird refused to be shoe-horned into either Russet and Baikal, both unmistakable with their dark undertail-coverts with whitish tips.

Need some experienced birders help please!


  1. Hi Sebastien

    Sounds like a nice day out. I have posted a querry on Birdforum (http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=250028). Lets see what comes back from there


  2. Thanks Wayne, that`s a very good idea


  3. My bush-warbler book hopefully makes its way to Oz inside the shipping container from VN!
    Without any reasoning I would say one of the Baikal BW group.
    Exciting news from VN, as always!

  4. Hi Falk, thanks for your comment
    I've read somewhere that the Baikal B-W variants/forms show slightly difference in plumage. I think that this guy show obvious differences, especially in undertail-coverts (plain and not white-tipped) which are a key feature for this species.

    Could it be a young bird ?


  5. Hi,
    Very interesting Bradypterus bush warbler here. With that long tail and almost unscaled undertail coverts, I believe we can eliminate Baikal Bush Warbler from the choices. The only guess I have is that it's a Russet Bush Warbler, either subspecies B. m. idoneus or B. m. melanorhynchus. Undertail coverts of Rsset can be quite plain, much different from what generally illustrated in many guidebooks. For example, this photo I took in Thailand http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Lh-O47MCE3c/T5V2CPnQueI/AAAAAAAAAxA/HWcC8iQbXrU/s1600/IMG_0727.jpg

    Ps. Since it is a different subspecies (B. m. mandelli), my bird has almost completely dark bill unlike the other 2 subspecies I mentioned above which has striking pale lower mandible.

    Also, I don't think that this is a young bird since young Bradypterus should show more yellow tinge to underparts than this. This one should rather be in a non-breeding plumage.

  6. Hi Sebastien

    I threw the question out to several friends who are very good birders. None could answer but my friend Neil Morris asked a friend of his, who had the following to say:

    “Having carried out some work on the bush warbler plates in the SE Asia guide, several of which had the distinct or indistinct spotting on the breast – the id for many of them was based on a mixture of overall colour, undertail covert pattern, bill colour and supercilium. Although Baikal resembles this bird, the skins I studied for this species were colder in colour, stronger undertail covert pattern, stronger supercilium, paler underside, less extensive pale lower mandible and looked shorter tailed.

    The species that to me looks closer would be Chinese Bush Warbler (Bradypterus tacsanwskius) – the longer tailed look and more rufous upperparts, and more richly coloured underparts with whitish restricted to centre belly area (see shot from back end), weaker supercilium, extensive pale lower mandible, the undertail coverts are a much better fit for this species and some (many?) first winters show chest spotting, though I am not sure how long they retain this feature? “ Mike Langman

    Hope this helps!

  7. These are really excellent and tantalizing photographs Sabastien. If I may add my two cents... the birds overall dark brown coloration and weak facial (supercilium, lores, eyeline) pattern suggest Russet Bush-Warbler to me. The lack of patterning on the undertail and pale lower mandible are a bit vexing but hopefully an informed Asian birder can put a reason forth for this... Subspecies differentiation, etc. I love reading comments here.

  8. I (Sebastien) send a mail to Philip D. Round. He very kindly answered me and wrote this :

    I think this bird looks like Bradypterus tacsanowskius. I have never seen one as boldly speckled on the breast as this, but Kennerley and Pearson make it clear that some do show a speckled breast. My reasons for this i/d are:-

    1) Undertail coverts which show broad whitish tips but not sharply demarcated from the darker feather centres/ bases (which are not so dark) I am puzzled that you say under-tail coverts are plain brown. The one image which shows this well they do not look brown at all and, additionally, one can see a contrasting darker feather centre.

    2) Longish tail (as well as under-tail covert pattern) rule out Spotted and Baikal.

    3) Under-tail covert pattern rules out Brown. Additionally, Brown would be a foxier rufous-brown, rather than dark brown (though admittedly the bird doesn't look too dark brown in your photos) and should have a more yellowish (rather than pale fleshy) lower mandible. So far as I know Brown is almost always unspotted on the throat.

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