My previous visit at Da Lat was in 2001 when I (Sébastien Delonglée) was traveling by bicycle. I remember a quiet town with old French colonial buildings across rolling hills. Thirteen years later, I discovered a bustling and noisy city. I just did not recognize it. Visiting “the City of thousands flowers” during Têt (Vietnamese New Year) holidays is not the best idea if you like quietness…
I must say that I came to Da Lat not only for birds. My wife accompanied me, and she loves flowers... I did morning birding and the afternoon was devoted to 'tourism' (I hate this word)... I birded Ta Nung valley three mornings. Three days of blue skies and glorious sun!
The Ta Nung valley (more exactly the place called "Di Nong Trai") is one of the most popular places for birdwatching near Da Lat. It only takes15-20 minutes by motorbyke from the city center. This site holds a large patch of remnant evergreen forest where many of the Da Lat specialities can still be found. It has been bought by a company planning to make an 'eco-tourism' (I also hate this one) resort and there has been some preliminary construction works. There is fence and a locked gate but the caretakers allow the birdwatchers to enter. Just need to give them a small amount of money to smooth things. I found the site very birdy at each visit. I even can say that the birding was better than any other place I have been to in Vietnam!
Poor quality shot at dawn of White-cheeked Laughingthrush. The white tail tips are very obvious in flight
Two mornings, I stumbled across big flocks (20-30 ind.) of restricted range White-cheeked Laughingthrushes even before I got to the entrance of the site, allowing prolonged great views. The first time the flock crossed the road in front of me. The second time, I found it below the road, in pines and thickets. I tried to approach a flock and flushed a Nightjar sp. At the same place, I had also great view of a small party of White-browed Scimitar-Babblers and a lone Eurasian Jay (of the subspecies leucotis, with a black cap and a wide black moustachial band). I heard some Greenfinches – probably Vietnamese G. but never made contact with them.
Leucotis Eurasian Jay
A few meters after the gate, near the caretakers’ house, I ran into 2 wintering White-throated Rock-Thrushes, a male and a female. I also spotted there a nice male Mugimaki Flycatcher. The dirt road goes down through a mix of pine forest, thickets and open broadleaved forest. I hit there a mixed flock of Black-crowned Parrotbill (split from Grey-headed), Blue-winged Minla (which I hardly recognized: subspecies orientalis, without blue crown/wings unlike the race occurring in northern Vietnam. A potential split apparently), beautiful Rufous-backed Sibia of the endemic non-rufous-backed eximia subspecies (potential split also), Maroon Oriole...
White-throated Rock Thrush, male & female. Hid behind a bulldozer to take these pictures!
Good numbers of stunning red-breasted johnsi Black-throated Sunbirds (potential split) were feeding on trackside bottlebrush trees along with Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds. I had also a Black-headed Sibia (of the local race robinsoni, with broad white eyering and white ear-covert streaks) in the same trees, feeding on the same flowers.
Some Annam Barbets (split from Black-browed) were feeding on various fruits, a nice Blue-bearded Bee-eater sat at the top of a dead tree, with a dozen of Thick-billed Green Pigeons. Also good was a male klossi Blue-throated Flycatcher. A calling Bay Woodpecker was tracked down. Many Verditer Flycatchers and Ashy Drongos were doing lots of hawking for insects from the pine trees. The latter seemed to be resident race bondi. I had also a great selection of bulbuls, which included Black, Red-whiskered, Black-crested, Mountain, Sooty-headed (with yellow vent; in northern Vietnam, I only saw the red-vented form), Ashy, Flavescent and Grey-eyed Bulbuls.
Black-crowned Parrotbill, split from Grey-headed
It did not take long before I spotted the local star i.e. the Grey-crowned Crocias! A lone individual foraging slowly in denser middle storey. This area is probably the best site for this rare endemic. This species was first described by a Swedish aristocrat, Count Gyldenstople, in 1939 from three specimens collected at an unknown locality by young adventurer Bertil Bjorkgren. For over 50 years there were no further records until it was rediscovered by Jonathan C Eames, Le Trong Trai and Nguyen Cu at Chu Yang Sin National Park in 1994. The Grey-crowned Crocias is one of the 13 Vietnamese endemics.
Blue-winged Minla, subspecies orientalis
At the valley bottom, upstream of a dam, begin a short (ca. 200m) trail. Below the dam there are also short trails but more or less overgrown. A pair of Slaty-backed Forktails showed extremely well on the stream. At the end of the longest trail I had good views of the elusive Indochinese Green Magpie and a stunning male Large Niltava. In the same area, I bumped into a small party of Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes, another Vietnamese endemic. Incredibly, they stayed a dozen of seconds a few meters away, allowed me close-up shots. Unfortunately all the 30 frame-filling pictures I got were badly underexposed. Wrong settings (took damselflies shots with another lens few minutes before)! Argh, beginner's mistake, hard to swallow!!!...
Thick-billed Green Pigeons enjoying the glorious morning sun at the top of a dead tree
Mrs Gould’s Sunbird feeding on bottlebrush tree
Black-throated Sunbird of the local race johnsi
I ran into many feeding mixed flocks with Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Grey-cheeked Warbler, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Mountain Fulvetta, White-bellied Erpornis, Rufous-backed Sibia… In one of them, I saw my second Grey-crowned Crocias.
During a well-earned break along the stream, a calling Wren-babbler appeared briefly in the open few meters away. I clinched the identification after playing the tape: Pygmy Wren-babbler. I also heard a singing Tesia, another tiny understorey inhabitant, which turned out to be the Grey-bellied. Another individual foraging in the open was seen very well 50 meters below the dam.
Black-headed Sibia of the local race robinsoni
Other species noted: House Swift, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Olive-backed Pipit, Scaly-breasted Munia, White-throated Fantail, Green-billed Malkoha, Asian barred and Collared Owlets (heard), Red-vented Barbet (heard), Long-tailed Broadbill, Burmese Shrike, Indochinese Cukooshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Grey Bushchat, Black-collared Starling, Hill Prinia, Rufous-capped Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Streaked Spiderhunter.
Klossi Blue-throated Flycatcher
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
According to the caretakers, the construction work will start up again as soon as the investors raise enough money. They plan to build a hotel, a restaurant and a road at the bottom of the valley. Considering the Vietnamese conception of 'eco-tourism', looks like this is another site that might be lost in the not too distant future.
During my afternoon touristic strolls, whilst chasing flowers (hard work), I added some other interesting species notably some males of the isolated meridionalis race of Red Crossbill (potential split also), Chestnut-vented Nuthatch and Grey-crowned Tit (split from Black-throated) in pine forest on the slopes of Mount Lang Bian.
I missed Collared Laugher and Vietnamese Cutia, 2 other Vietnamese endemics; a good reason to come back there!
All in all it was an excellent trip, with fantastic birds. And I will connect with the last endemic sooner or later, watch these pages…
A quarry close to the broadleaved forest