Welcome to Vietnam Bird News

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

30 January 2015

A few good birds from Hanoi

We've been spoiled by several weeks of great weather, the kind that makes it hard to stay inside and work. But this winter is one that definitely will not go down in Hanoi birding history. The unusually warm weather (but also dry and sunny, which did not displease me…)  has kept wintering bird numbers down.
Nevertheless, just need to keep getting out - even when it feels like there's NOTHING to see! 

Below some shots taken recently around the city, of both resident and wintering birds:

Local Masked Laughingthrush (still alive, quite amazing !!!) - one out of the two or three in a small flock

male Chinese Penduline Tit in its favorite habitat
Flock of 5 individuals found at a small pond on 30th December, still hanging around mid-January. Hopefully they will stick around all winter.
Vagrant in Vietnam

An Indian Roller shaken by the wind. Recently found a pair around the city. 
A common South Asian species, but surprisingly scarce in East and West Tonkin (northeastern range limit?). Not recorded in Robson for East Tonkin.

Hmm.... what’s that ? A dull brown guy with 2 obvious wing-bars which turned out to be...

 ....a juv. Common Rosefinch (broader buffy wing-bars, richer brown tone above than the ad. female). It did show briefly, this is the best shot I could get.

Grey-capped Greenfinch feeding on Parthenium histerophorus - an invasive weed common in field margins

Little Bunting a presumably female-type Black-faced Bunting

Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler
Photographing this skulker needs luck and a bit of perseverance.

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher

And here's a bonus non-bird - an Oriental Garden Lizard  Calotes versicolor enjoying the winter sun... An amazing looking little chap.
A quite common sight in cultivation, thickets.This is a male showing breeding colors. A nice consolation prize when there are no birds around!

27 January 2015

Trip at Cuc Phuong & Van Long

Been recently to Van Long and Cuc Phuong (respectively 90 and 120 km from Hanoi) for a 2 days trip with friends. I missed a shot of Red-headed Trogon in Cuc Phuong (awww so sad...). I saw it through the bins and carefully took my camera, but it flew off before I could press the shutter button. I also bumped into some Sunbirds included Olive-backed, Crimson and Fork-tailed, but couldn't get some clean shots.

In Van Long Nature Reserve, Common and White-throated Kingfishers, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Purple Swamphens, White-browed Crakes, and some other common birds played ball for the camera. Sadly, no Open-billed Storks, maybe they gone because of hunting pressure around. Van Long is a protected area, but some kilometers away, in the rice fields, that's another story. And the fact that Open-billed Stork is listed in Vietnam's Red Data Book (Vietnamese: Sách đỏ Việt Nam) makes very little difference... 

I also spotted Delacour's Langurs, but they were very high up in the rocks. Great looks but too far to get decent shots.

All in all it was a nice trip despite my disappointment with the Trogon, the Sunbirds and the Storks...But I will be back again soon !

Le Viet Tuan Hoang

Crimson Sunbird

White-browed Crake

White-throated Kingfisher

Purple Swamphen

Chinese Pond Heron

Delacour's Langurs
A very rare endemic Vietnamese primate listed as Critically Endangered (the total population is no more than 250 individuals). This species occurs in a very restricted area of north-central Vietnam, in limestone mountain ranges. Van Long is the best place to see Delacour's Langur in the wild.

Common Kingfisher

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

22 January 2015

An accomplished fisherman at Hoan Kiem Lake

I (Sebastien) was at the Hoan Kiem lake (dowtown Hanoi) on the morning of the 21th January when I came across the local Little Heron (I know this bird for at least 4-5 years), doing an unusual thing.  It was picking up pieces of bread and dropping them into the water, and then snatching the fish that were attracted to it! The bird kept repositioning his bait, like a fisherman casting his line over and over again! Amazing show ! The bird's high rate of success, as well as its dexterity in manipulating the bait, indicated that it was probably experienced in bait-fishing.

This behavior is well known among Little Herons (and also among the closely related North American Green Heron), but I’ve never seen it before.

I wonder whether this behavior is innate or learned?

According to literature only a small percentage of Little and Green Herons engage in bait-fishing.  It may indicate that it is not only an innate behavior, but a combination of innate and learned factors. According to some researchers only the exceptionally intelligent individuals acquire this skill. They can use lure bait (bread, small fruits, twigs, features, leaves) or live baits (flies and other small insects).

Active bait-fishing has also been reported for some Black-crowned Night Herons and... Crows !(look here, video from Israel). Passive bait-fishing, where the bird forages near bait but does not actually manipulate it, has been described for the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron.

They are very few bird species that are known to use tools to capture food.

For a bird to learn this and know to use bread,which isn't a naturally acquired food in the wild and use it as bait, means that it probably isn’t an inborn instinct but aquired through observation, trial and error. It should give new meaning to the term "bird brain".

16 January 2015

Presumed 1cy Mongolian Gull in Hanoi

Mid-november 2014, at about 2.30 p.m. a single gull drifted down river past Bãi Đá sông Hồng (Hanoi) until it was out of sight, in clear weather.

At almost 3 p.m. the gull drifted upriver, and several photographs were taken. The bird continued upstream until it was out of sight.

Photographs were circulated by know experts on birds/gull identification including Jonathan Eames (Cambodia), Philip Round (Thailand), George Carey (Hong Kong), Nial Moores (South Korea) as well as Osao and Ujihara Michiaki (Japan). Most of these authorities concurred that the bird in question was a first calendar-year mongolicus than a tamiyrensis / barabensis or a really advanced vegae.

Although it looks browner-toned, darker and more marked on the head for a straightforward ID as a mongolicus, the main things that suggest mongolicus in these three images are:

1. In November, most taimyrensis and vegae are still largely in juvenile plumage, while mongolicus that breed in Korea are already moving into 1W plumage in August / September. This bird has several elements that are much more indicative of a First-winter than juvenile.

2. The bird looks largely pale-headed with a darker hind-collar and some streaking round onto the breast sides. Most mongolicus have constrasty fine streaking on the hind-nape and a few have some streaking "coming round" to the breast sides too. Most taimyrensis in Korea at least are in juvenile plumage in November. They tend to have strong face-masks, diffuse streaking and brown tones on the head, and quite a dense, sprawlingly dark look to the nape, not suggested by your images.

3. The bird has a strong blaze across esp. pp 1-4. The darker shafts end in a club-like darker pattern near the tips. This is quite typical of mongolicus and seems too extensive and too mongolicus-like for taimyrensis or vegae.

4. The bird lacks a darker, more solid area across the greater coverts which you would expect on taimyrensis. Various other smaller details of what we can see on the upperwing seem mongolicus-like (including the strong contrast between the dark alula and the paler primary coverts).

5. The underwing shows extensive dark on the undersides of the primaries, contrasting with paler axillaries and light-brown patterned underwing coverts etc. This looks pretty mongolicus-like in these three images.

6. The tail band is complete-looking but narrow and black, with already much white on the rump and uppertail coverts. Most taimyrensis and vegae in Korea have wider dark tail bands and more mottling / marking across the rump and uptcvts than this. However, many mongolicus look quite like this.

7. The bill is already showing some paler to the base. This is typical of mongolicus in November but would be a few weeks earlier than typical in most taimyrensis or vegae.

This is thought to be the second record for Vietnam, following a sighting of a first-winter Mongolian Gull at Dat Mui in the Viet Namese Mekong back in 2000 (Nial Moores, per comms).

John Parr

7 January 2015

Some pictures from Hanoi

Here are a few pictures taken since the middle of November, in Ha Noi and the surroundings of the city.
I've met Sebastien who gave me tips, told me about nice places to go for birdwatching (thanks a lot Sebastien!): the botanical garden, Hoan Kiem lake, the island under Long Bien bridge, and Bai Da Song Hong (Ngo 264).

Even if the weather is often cloudy in winter time, Ha Noi offers good opportunities for birdwatching. I have to admit I didn't expect to see a striated heron and a common kingfisher right in the center of the city. But actually, as soon as ponds provide foods.. it works!

My goal is to improve my skills as a bird watcher (identification clues..), and as a bird photographer. I'm not looking for particularly rare species. That's why those pictures only show quite common birds of the area.

I'll try to carry on for one more week, before going back to France.

Hope you'll enjoy.

Jean-Daniel L'HERIAU

(Photo gear : EOS 7D + 100-400mm Canon)

Chinese Pond Heron

Striated Heron

Cinnamon Bittern

White-breasted Waterhen

Common Kingfisher

Black-capped Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

Citrine Wagtail

White Wagtail

Paddyfield Pipit

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Taiga Flycatcher

Common Tailorbird

Dusky Warbler

Japanese White-eye

Common Prinia

Siberian Stonechat

White-throated Fantail