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

16 April 2013

Tam Dao Birding - April 10th and 12th

I spent about 1.5 days birding Tam Dao this past week.  I arrived in late afternoon on the 10th in crumby weather and left a little after noon on the 12th in very nice weather.

Tam Dao is a VERY weird place.  It reminds me a lot of the tourism scene on Cat Ba Island because there are over 50 hotels!  Literally!  And almost all are empty...  how is this feasible???  Is there an incredibly high 'peak' season where they make a ton of money to live off of the rest of the year?

I tried to find a smaller hostel type accomodation but in the end all I could do is get the cheapest hotel room. They need a bloody hostel for low budget travellers!  I also didn't understand their idea of a National Park.  The only people of significance I encountered was 2 or 3 men at the gate to the Water Tank Trail.  They charge 50 000 dongs for each entry which is a fair price... but a far cry from the 4 000 to enter the Hanoi Botanical Gardens or the 40 000 for multiple daily entry in Cuc Phuong N.P.  And really... all you do is walk along a path for a few hours.

On the afternoon of the 11th I encountered an organised birding group from Tropical Birding led by Sam Woods, an excellent guide that I have had the pleasure of working with briefly in the past.  Another short encounter with the group the following morning (12th) had me shaking hands with Robert S. Ridgely.  Definitly a high point in my birding career.  For all you Asian birders, this man is one of the most famous South American ornithologists.  He co-wrote the two-volume Birds of Ecuador and discovered the Jocotoco Antpitta of southern Ecuador, just to name two things off the top of my head.

Both the birding group and I missed the sought-after Short-tailed Parrotbills.  I put a huge effort in looking for these too!  I may try again before I leave on the 21st if I can spare the time!

For a list of the birds seen please see my eBird checklists found at the following urls:


15 April 2013

Bird Poachers on the Red River Island!

On Saturday morning (April 13th) I set out to bird the Red River Island in hopes of some hot migration birding.  I only had about 3 hours to spare but that was enough time to have the usual vietnam birding adventure.  What I mean by this is that every day of birding in Vietnam is an adventure for me!  Saturday was no exception.  About half way through my birding I encountered two groups of two bird poachers.  I stood and watched the first two guys and made really mean faces at them.  They knew that I was there to watch the birds and that I wasn't happy with them being there.  One guy had a rifle-type gun and was dressed in camouflage.  The other was in plain clothes and moved through the forest patch yelling loudly while the other guy stood back.  It was clear to me they were hunting pigeons, which I often see in here.  I left these guys alone for the most part and they buggered off eventually.  The second group of two guys were much more interesting.  They came towards me moving through the bushes and wacking trees with sticks.  I started yelling at them and swearing in English and they moved away a bit but continued moving to the other side of the forest patch.  Moments later I heard the one guy yelling for the other and I went running towards him too because I was sure he had caught something.  I couldn't believe what I saw next.  I came across a huge net that was set up to catch birds!  The net was almost as wide as the whole forest patch and almost as tall as the trees within it!  There was little chance any birds could pass by it.  The one man was starting to extract a bird from the net.  I had just had a glimpse of the head of a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo moments before those guys arrived and that bird was now caught in the net.  I ran at the guy, yelling at him the whole time and he quickly gave the bird to me after removing it from the net.  I then took photos of both guys and the net structure and created a video of the scene, explaining what was happening.  This was all done on my iPhone.  What a handy tool!  The men looked surprised that I was going to all this trouble and eventually began taking down their net.  I travelled back south towards the bridge and released the cuckoo into some riverside reeds, well away from the forest patch so that it didn't try to fly back right away and get caught again.  What an incredibly beautiful bird.  I was really hoping to see this species here on migration and now that I have held it in my hand I really think it is one of my favorites during this trip.  The tail is so long.  The colors so vivid.  I also took a recording of the birds' raspy calls while in my hand which I will eventually put on www.xeno-canto.org.

Just a few minutes after releasing the cuckoo, the two Vietnamese men showed up on their motorbike, speaking in Vietnamese and motioning me to come forward.  I went to them and they showed me they had caught a Blue Whistling-Thrush (black-billed race).  They had it's legs tied together with red twine.  They gave the bird to me and told me to release it.  I was now VERY confused!  I got out my bird book and showed them the species they had been catching.  They also recognized Asian Paradise-Flycatcher immediately.  We said our good-byes and I released the bird into the same reeds as the cuckoo.  Both birds seemed fine and flew off immediately upon release.

The men seemed to go off back in the same direction and I can't help but wonder if they just set up the net again after I left.  Just another weekend in Hanoi... poor Asian birds... they really don't stand a chance against these people in the long term...

13 April 2013

A nice surprise at Tam Dao

In life, sometimes the best things come when you least expect them to. In birding also...

The 12th April, during a dragonfly watching trip on the lower slopes of Tam Dao (near Dai Lai lake, 60 km northwest of Hanoi), as I was walking along a rocky stream in forest, I saw a yellowish passerine landed on a rock in the middle of the stream (probably for bathing or drinking), then flew off to a nearby tree. I put my bins on it and was more than happy to see a male Narcissus Flycatcher, a bird I have long dreamed of seeing.

Definitely an unexpected surprise finding that bird, especially during a non birding trip when I was concentrated on little bugs flying close to the ground!

I waited one hour and half and got 3 other good views of this guy – fortunately I had with me my 400mm lens. What an absolute stunner, my bird of the year so far!

male Mugimaki Flycatcher, photographed in the same area than the Narcissus

And a list of some migrants seen the first week of April in my Hanoian patches (i.e. Red River Island RRI, Botanical gardens and some orchards) :
Black-naped Monarch, many species of Flycatchers (Taiga, including some fine males, Mugimaki, Hill/Chinese Blue, Hainan, Asian Brown, Asian Paradise, Yellow-rumped, Grey-headed Canary), Ashy and Spangled Drongos, small flock of Crested Buntings (RRI, reeds), Seicercus Warbler, Thrushes (Blue Whistling, Japanese, Grey-backed), Chinese Blackbird, phylloscs (Arctic, Dusky, Yellow-browed, Pale-legged, Eastern-crowned, Radde’s), Pied Harrier, Red-throated Pipit (RRI)...

3 April 2013

Cuc Phuong - New guests at the pool. And a new arrival…

Hi all,

I bring my hide into forest very often. I got some new guests at the pool as pictures below. And Malayan Night Heron just arrived a week ago for breeding season. Hopefully I will get more...

A male Asian Paradise Flycatcher

A pair Blue and White Flycatcher

A male Blue and White Flycatcher

An adult Malayan Night Heron

Bui Duc Tien - Freelance birding guide (tienpitta@gmail.com)