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14 February 2014

Hanoi : some shots of winter & resident birds

Below are some photographs taken last month around Hanoi - not in the city parks this time. Mostly common stuff, except the first one.
Grass Owl in flight against the typical Hanoi grey sky in wintertime! Note the very long, mostly bare, dangling legs extending well beyond the tip of the tail (an adaptation for hunting preys in tall grass).

Sadly all my Eastern Grass Owl sites along the Red River are threaten, and things are getting worse and worse. One has been destroyed to make room for banana plantations and other crops, the other one still have some hectares of seasonally inundated grassland (dominated by Imperata cylindrica) but crops are tightening the noose around these last remnants. Another place that will be lost soon...

When disturbed, they will fly only a short distance before dipping down into dense growth again

For some reasons, I didn’t search nests this winter. Recently I came back to the best site I know and flushed 4 different individuals. I also found an empty nest. An obvious track in the grass leaded to it, that’s not a good sign. That's a problem with Grass Owl : finding/visiting a nest means leaving tracks in the grass that can be later followed by ill-intentioned people. My owls sites seems deserted by humans but are in fact quite frequented, amongst others, by kids, farmers and... rat hunters (yes, for human consummation!). When walking in tall grasses, the first and logical reflex is to follow tracks, no matter how tiny. 
There have been very few recent Grass Owl breeding records in Vietnam (all from Hanoi apparently!), and it is also the case in the neighboring countries. This species is not easy to find and require special surveys (i.e. walking kilometers through tall grass!).  


Found also many pellets, all containing rodents skulls except one (photo below). I don’t know what bird it might be, but that’s not a small one (length tarsus : ca 5 cm). Maybe a Green or Common Sandpiper.

A Grass Owl site destroyed to make way for vast banana plantations

Another inhabitant of grasslands : the Red Avadavat

Never found this handsome species before around Hanoi. Two flocks spotted at 2 locations, in dry grasslands. 

                                            Also called "Strawberry Finch", I don't know why...

 Little Bunting

Uncommon but regular winter visitor in fields/open areas around the city. Another interesting Bunting spotted in January was Chestnut-eared, more skittish and much harder to photograph.

Juv. Eastern Marsh Harrier, against a much better sky.

Red-billed Starling, adult & juv.  

This superb-looking starling is not often seen in winter in the Hanoi area, but is quite common along the coast of East Tonkin.

Manchurian Yellow Wagtail Motacilla [flava] macronyx

A smart Amur Wagtail Motacilla [alba] leucopsis

A blurred shot of Swinhoe’s Wagtail Motacilla [alba] ocularis. Less common than leucopsis

male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher with tail features missing 

This species, common at Hanoi in autumn/spring passage, winter in South Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia... so its presence here in winter is very surprising. This bird has lost all of its tail features and I'm guessing it is a lucky escape from a cat or other predator. It can still fly fairly good but I can tell it has to work harder, which may explain it stopped its migration. Could be a cage released/escaped specimen also. As you can see, this guy has a solid appetite!

Taiga Flycatcher

The commoner Flycatcher here in winter.

female Mugimaki Flycatcher

Uncommon winter visitor at Hanoi, more reliable in passage periods.

Dusky Warbler - common winter visitor

male Daurian Redstart

In winter I usually spot several along the margins of agricultural areas. This isn't so common round here, I only see two or three a year. They are almost all females, I don't know why there are so few males (the last one I saw : November 2010); I guess they winter further north.

As you can see the male is a stunning bird. It is a flighty nervous thing, not easy to approach and photograph (I had to use a hide for this one). 

Siberian (or the recent split Stejneger’s) Stonechat

Common winter visitor in open, agricultural habitat. There are few, if any, diagnostic plumage differences between Siberian and Stejneger’s Stonechats – even in the hand! The main structural difference between these two species (the width of the bill at the proximal edge of the nostrils) is also sometimes hard to apply (from Birdskorea website).

             male Grey Bushchat

Quite common in agricultural areas, but prefers margins (thickets).

Rufous-tailed Robin

Uncommon winter visitor (wooded areas). Often ridiculously tame. 

male Grey-backed Thrush

A quite common winter visitor Thrush at Hanoi - but less than the Japanese. 

                            An unlucky guy, but very fortunate I was passing by - I left a quite large hole in the net :))

It is a pity that many places which are good for birdwatching have been discovered by bird trappers as well.

Scaly Thrush, common but rather elusive

A cracking male Siberian Rubythroat, photographed from a blind.
My target was Thrushes, but this stunner was a very welcome thrill!

Grey-capped Greenfinch, juv. & male 

Only appears in winter in the Hanoi area. Status unclear, maybe vagrants from the coast.

Plaintive Cuckoo

Chinese Pond Heron - very common but never easy to photograph at close range


  1. More fabulous photos Sebastien! Thanks for posting.



  2. Hanoi in winter really takes some beating...

  3. Great pictures! Thank you for posting. Sorry to hear about the habit loss :(

  4. Amazing pictures and commentary!! Thank you for sharing!

    - Birder in Minneapolis, MN, USA