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

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...


  1. Wow!What a story!
    Please be careful.
    Very fragile beautiful bird:-)
    Greetings from Norway:-)

  2. Wow babe, that's pretty crazy! So that's the kind of stuff you're getting into without me there to keep you out of trouble!!!

  3. Tragic! But well done Andrew! Bird trapping occur almost EVERYDAY there...
    Please take care, tempers can flare up quickly in this country ;)
    your iPhone is a good tool : not agressive but pretty destabilizing...

    A third of this small wooded area has been cut down recently. It will probably completely disappear this year... and replace with banana trees. Maybe not a bad thing for migrant birds...