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

30 October 2014

Green Pigeon & Thrushes in the city

I have grabbed a couple of brief opportunities to get out in the last few days. At the Botanical Gardens good sightings of Thrushes with Orange-headed T., Blue-Whistling T. and White-throated Rock T.

Spotted also there all the usual suspects including 4 species of Flycatchers, 2 species of Drongos (Ashy, Spangled), 5 species of Phylloscopus..., + 2 species of Flowerpeckers (Fire-breasted and Scarlet-backed, the first one considered as a good bird for the city). Fire-breasted F. is assumed to be a sub-montane and montane forest resident, although there is evidence that some short-distance movements take place in some areas during the non-breeding season. This is the second or third time I bump into this species at Hanoi.

But the highlight was a Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, my first Green Pigeon in the city! Unfortunately it was perched very high in a fig tree and I only got some poor shots. 

Blue Whistling-thrush of the black-billed migratory race caeruleus 

female White-throated Rock Thrush
Uncommon but regular passage migrant in the city. But this is my first sighting on autumn passage.

                                                                    male Orange-headed Thrush

Ashy Drongo

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Japanese White-eye

Record shot of the Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon feeding in the canopy of a fig tree.
According to literature, this species is generally resident but with local nomadic or altitudinal migratory movement, which may explain its presence in this city park. A caged escapee or released bird can't be ruled out, but very improbable.

24 October 2014

Peregrine Falcons are back for the winter

Peregrine Falcons are back at Hanoi and roosting on the higher buildings of the city. But the guy below prefers the fresh air of the countryside; it has chosen an electricity pylon along the Red River, just above my favorite mudflats :((
It's a large bird, so I'm pretty sure it's a female*.
Similar to the one I photographed in January last year (see this post) - note very pale underparts with unbarred belly (barring restricted to flanks and thighs). 

Could it be that this bird is the subspecies calidus ? This subspecies breeds in the Arctic tundra and is completely migratory - very long distance migrant, travels south in winter as far as South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. According to literature, the very similar japonensis subspecies is noticeably darker above, has usually wash pale pinkish breast (pure white breast in calidus), broader moustachials and heavier spotting and barring on the belly and flanks (japonensis show much more extensive barring starting from lower breast, while calidus has more restricted area of barring, mostly at the thighs).

I'd be interested to hear views on this bird.

*well, considering the fact calidus is a large-sized Peregrine, that's merely speculation...

Calidus Peregrine candidate

21 October 2014

Two nice breasted goodies from Xuan Thuy NP

Hi Friends!

Below are some shots of two new species for Northern Vietnam, taken in Xuan Thuy NP on 17 October 2014 : Orange-breasted Green Pigeon and Vinous-breasted Starling.
It seems to be more birds moved up North due to an increase of temperature. It was pity that I had limited time to get better photos of the Starling!

All the best!

Le Manh Hung

18 October 2014

Some shots of "Blyth’s Leaf Warblers" cf P. claudiae actually passing through Hanoi City

"Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" complex has been split into 3 very similar species: P. reguloides (Blyth's Leaf Warbler), P. claudiae (Claudia's Warbler) and P. goodsoni (Hartert's Leaf Warbler). This group represents an ID puzzle. It is is extremely difficult and usually impossible to tell them apart in the field solely by their plumage - especially without the use of a camera - and don't count on the field guides to be of much help. Some interesting informations about diagnostic features can be found on online forums or blogs, but their reliability is open to question. Nevertheless, everyone bring his piece to the puzzle, that's good! 

"Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae

During migration passage periods, I try my best to get as more as possible good shots of "Blyth’s", with the hope that one day a consensus will emerge on the reliable diagnostic plumage features – likely to be very subtle, so photo quality is essential.

 "Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae

                                                "Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae

"Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" is a quite common passage migrant at Hanoi but this autumn has seen a veritable influx of this bird. Actually it is certainly the phyllosc I encounter the most in my city patches. It’s very likely to be Claudia's Warbler, which is the "Blyth’s" passing at the same time through Thailand (identification generally admitted but, according to Phil Round, not yet confirmed through DNA). P. reguloides and P. goodsoni (ssp. fokiensis) are not to be excluded in the city, but more likely as altitudinal migrants, in smaller numbers and later in the season.

                                                        "Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae

This phyllosc has a very characteristic foraging style. It often climbs up and down tree-trunks, explores vertical and horizontal branches, like Nuthatches or Tits, including tips of twigs and leaves like the other phylloscs.

Different views of birds creeping along trunks and branches

I thought that this behavioral trait was sharing by all the species of the Blyth’s complex, but in his website, in a post about Blyth’s/Claudia’s/Davison’s, Ayuwat Jaerwattanakanok explains that the Blyth's Warbler P. reguloides (ssp assamensis) doesn't climb along tree-trunks and branches like Claudia's mostly do. It feeds pretty much like a ‘normal’ phyllosc, by hopping from twig to twig looking for small bugs among the leaves. Interesting!

"Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae

                                                    "Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae

 "Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae. Because of its foraging style it often appears long-necked.

                                                   "Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae

                                               "Blyth’s Leaf Warbler" cf P. claudiae

Shots of the undertail pattern showing the narrow white edge to outer tail-features (broader in P. reguloides).

15 October 2014

Pied Harriers roam around the capital city

Hi everyone,

Last Saturday I had a free afternoon so I spent a couple of hours looking for birds at Yen My, Thanh Tri district, Hanoi.
After some shots of common birds like White Wagtails, Tailorbirds and Little Egrets I bumped into a pair of Pied Harriers, one of them holding a prey. Suddenly the other one came and attacked the first one. They were about 100m away so I couldn’t get a great shot but that’s enough to see what happened. Pied Harriers are simply stunning birds!

After that, I came back to Vietnam Forest Museum (there is a 2 ha nice wooded area there) where a fellow birder was waiting me. We found a Spangled Drongo,some Asian Brown and Taiga Flycatchers, a Common Kingfisher, lots of Red-whiskered Bulbuls, a flock of a dozen Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers, a couple of White-Crested Laughingthrushes. My friend told me he often  sees them there but he couldn’t photograph them yet... Probably 2 escapees, but nice to see them free, not in a cage!

Happy birding everyone :)

Le Viet Tuan Hoang

male Pied Harriers

Spangled Drongo

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

White-crested Laughingthrush

10 October 2014

More autumn migrants

I check out almost every day the fall migrants at the Botanical Gardens. No great surprise there, a trickle of migrants rather than a flood but still a feeling that anything is possible. Just need to be at the right place at the right time!

Spotted recently in this green oasis in the middle of the big city my first Thrushes of the season - Orange-headed and Blue Whistling Thrush -, also my first Siberian Rubythroat, Hill Blue/Chinese Blue Flycatchers and female Fujian Niltava, a pair of Asian Koels, a female Blue-and-White Flycatcher, to name but a few.

Male Orange-headed Thrush in bright morning light

                                 A male Chinese Blue/Hill Blue (glaucicomans/banyumas) Flycatcher* (PHOTO 1)

Glaucicomans and banyumas are apparently unidentifiable on field views alone (in fact I have contradictory informations about this ID issue), however, the songs of the two are noticeably different - unusable for migrant birds of course! According to some experienced birders, glaucicomans's leg is black-brown as the banyumas' leg is pinkish. I don't know how well it works...

*See discussion in comments section

So, pinkish or not pinkish? Well..... (PHOTO 2)*

Sits quietly on low perches, hunt near to ground

Female Blue-and-White Flycatcher, same hunting strategy : catch terrestrial bugs by dropping to the ground from a low perch

Another male glaucicomans/banyumas, showing a weird throat (PHOTO 3)
A bird with very pale pink legs so presumably a banyumas (Hill Blue Flycatcher)**

                                                                            (PHOTO 3)**

** Phil Round identified it without any doubt as a first-winter male Chinese Blue Flycatcher C. glaucicomans (see discussion in comments section)

A male Siberian Rubythroat - always a thrill to spot this one!

Female Blue-and-White & Dark-sided Flycatcher (real photo, not artificial composition)

-B&W : "Hey mate, how is your migration? Everything's ok?”
-Dark-sided : "Yehh, great park, isn't it! But I am a bit fed up with the hairy paparazzi over there. He keeps following us everywhere!"
-B&W : "Don't worry, I know him, he was there last year. He is a bit crazy but he wouldn't hurt a fly. Just pose nicely, smile and say cheeese..."

Dark-sided Flycatcher - the one of the shot above

A smart juv. Dark-sided Flycatcher

 Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Passage migrant male & female Asian Koels, feeding together in the canopy of a fig tree
Autumn offers fun and easy birding at the fruiting trees 

5 October 2014

A trip to Ba Vi NP

Hi all,

Yesterday (4rd October), a day trip to the tri-peaked Mount Ba Vi (an isolated often fog-enshrouded 1300 meters high mountain, located 60km west of Hanoi) produced a good mix of resident and migrants/winter visitors, amongst others Asian Barred Owlet (heard), Puff-throated and Ashy Bulbuls, White-bellied Erpornis, Fork-tailed and Crimson Sunbirds, Grey Treepie, Crested Goshawk, Pin-striped tit-Babbler, Grey-throated and Buff-breasted Babblers, Golden-throated, Red-vented (heard) and Blue-throated Barbets, Scarlet and Rosy Minivets, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Eastern Crowned, Sulphur-breasted, Yellow-browed and “Blyth’s” Leaf Warblers, Taiga, Brown, Yellow-rumped and Dark-sided Flycatchers, Black-naped Monarch, Small Niltava, Orange-headed and Siberian Thrushes, Ashy Drongo, White-browed Piculet, Oriental Honey Buzzard pale morph, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Siberian Blue Robin,…

  Black-naped Monarch

 Pin-striped tit-Babbler - a perky little fellow!

                                                                     Small Niltava enjoying the evening sun

 Fork-tailed Sunbird

 Red-billed Blue Magpie - although it is common at Ba Vi, I never get bored of photographing this stunning bird

 Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher showing its nice bum

2 October 2014

Quest for migrant waterbirds around Hanoi

Hanoi is certainly not a heaven for waterbirds. City lakes and ponds are birdless, suburbs have quite a lot marshes and wetlands but most of them are over-frequented - by hunters amongst other - and their waters are too deep for shorebirds (only suitable for diving/dabbling birds and Ardeidae). The few good spots for birders are the exposed mudflats along the Red River. At the end of the rainy season (September-October), the water levels drop quickly. Many sandbars and mudflats appear, providing excellent habitat for migrating shorebirds. Diversity and numbers always remain low but it is possible to find some goodies if you give it enough time and effort. Autumn passage is far better than in spring.

Last week, I saw the following during a one day trip 20 km from the city (upstream) :

-        flock of 80+ Garganeys (ducks are a rare sight in Hanoi, but Garganeys are regular at this period of the year)
-        Oriental Pratincoles (3 flocks of 30-40 individuals, often roosting in cultivated fields. Regular passage migrant in autumn)
-        Pacific Golden Plovers (ca 15 individuals, mudflats and wet fields)
-        some Spotted Redshank
-     20 Black-winged Stilts (autumn passage peak in early September)
-        2 Curlew Sandpipers + 5 Marsh Sandpipers in one inundated field – interesting record for the city I think
-        50+ Grey-headed Lapwings in different flocks (regular autumn migrant)
-        some Temminck’s Stints (passage migrant and winter visitor, uncommon)
-        10-15 Kentish Plovers (passage migrant and winter visitor)

.... not to mention Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Snipes sp., Egrets, Grey Herons, Little Ring Plovers, Common Greenshanks, Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns, etc.

Also noteworthy were Sand and Grey-throated Martins, a lone Eurasian Hobby gliding overhead, many Harriers (Eastern Marsh ad.+juv., Pied juv.), a pair of nesting Grass Owl - all along the marshy/grassy banks of the river.

Oriental Pratincoles & Garganeys - shot of the latter heavily cropped

Pacific Golden Plovers & Oriental Pratincoles roosting in a cultivated field

Common Greenshank & Curlew Sandpipers

male Pied Kingfisher, a common year-round resident
Like a lot of people, it was the charisma of kingfishers that lured me into birding.