Welcome to Vietnam Bird News

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

23 February 2015

Godlewski's Bunting in Ha Giang prov.

Birding the province of Ha Giang over Tet, we decided to spend the night along the TL182. This is a fascinating area, with black karst mountains dominating, sparsely vegetated, and with small hamlets scattered between the mountains. It is not very hospitable. We parked the car on a little side road to a hamlet for the night. The next morning I took coordinates, but made a mistake with the navigation system and registered the coordinates of a different place. So the only thing I can now say was that it was close to Lung Phin. 

The next morning (February 20) we checked the rocky slopes around when we woke up. Magpies are common here, Russet Sparrow and Green-backed Tit, Rusty-capped Fulvetta and Vinous-throated Parrotbill were some of the goodies. I followed a bunting that turned out to be a Little Bunting when I flushed two larger buntings that made a thin "tsii" call. When one perched on top of a rock I was very surprised to see a Rock Bunting like bunting, with chestnut belly and lower breast, grey upper breast, throat and head, with a brownish-black stripe through the eye, bordered above by a grey supercilium, a black moustachial stripe, and a chestnut crown with greyish crown stripe. Wings bars formed by light tips to median and greater coverts, chestnut rump and striped back completed the picture. Godlewski's Bunting! Although we walked quite a bit in the area, this was the only place where we saw them. There were 3-4 males present, and one of them was observed singing for a while from the top of a rock (the bunting, we were standing somewhat lower observing). I only had my iPhone with me and could not make a usable picture, although I did get a faint recording of the song.

Godlewski's Bunting is a rare sight in South-East Asia where Robson lists it as uncommon to parts of Myanmar. In Vietnam there have been only 2 (unconfirmed) previous records: one bird in Lai Chau prov. in 2005 and two in Quang Ba reserve (Ha Giang prov. also) in April 2008 (Lê Manh Hung, pers. comm.). 

Tom Kompier

18 February 2015

Birding Sa Pa / 14-17th Feb.

Spent recently some days at Sa Pa – my 3rd trip there. At this time of the year, like more mountain sites in the north of Vietnam, the weather and especially fog can be a disturbing factor for visiting birders. I spent 3,5 days in the area but lost 1,5 days to rain and fog. Very frustrating when you hear birds calling around you and all you observe are shadows in the fog, sometimes few meters away! Fortunately my third day was sunny and I had a fantastic birding and photo session. 

I focused on 3 places: Ham Rong Gardens, Tram Ton pass (the “Golden stream/Love waterfall” area) and the scrubby hillsides en route to the pass. All of my birding was at elevation between 1500 and 1800m. To go up higher you have to follow the trail to Mt. Fansipan peak (3143m) which is demanding logistically (for "security reasons", the rangers will not allow you to enter the trail without a local guide) and time-wise. But most of the birds below the Camp 1 (2200m) can be seen in the “Golden stream/Love waterfall” area.

-Ham Rong Gardens: just a short walk out of the town. The lower parts are planted with forest-like patches of ornamental trees. Towards the top, grassy and scrubby vegetation takes over, and it is here that most interesting species can be seen.
I spotted there Daurian Redstart, Hill Prinia, Buff-throated Warbler, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Kloss's Leaf-Warbler, mixed flock of Vinous-throated and Ashy-throated Parrotbills, singing Grey Bushchat, Black-throated Sunbird, Little Bunting, Rusty-capped Fulvetta, Black-headed Greenfinch, Olive-backed Pipit, Verditer Flycatcher, Blue-winged Siva, singing Rufous-capped Babblers, singing Brownish-flanked Bush-Warblers…
Note that towards 10-11am a set of mega-loudspeakers is turned on to play pseudo-traditional music at ear-shattering volume!

-Tram Ton pass (15km from Sa Pa) - “Golden stream/Love waterfall” area: mixed flocks up here are amazingly species-rich. But the birding is slow between flocks - on average, I encountered 1 flock  ("bird-wave") every 30-45 min.
Recorded all three species of Minlas (Bar-throated, Red-tailed and Blue-winged), 2 Nuthatches (Chestnut-vented and White-tailed), 3 Tits (Yellow-cheeked, Yellow-browed and Black-throated), 2 Yuhinas (Stripe-throated, Wiskered), Ashy-throated, Chestnut-crowned and Black-faced Warblers, Great Barbet (h), a small party of Red-billed Blue-Magpies, female Red-flanked or Himalayan Bluetail, Golden Parrotbill (in the bamboo stands), Rufous-winged Fulvetta. Ground skulkers are present in good numbers with Pygmy Wren Babbler (only heard) and Grey-bellied Tesia (“crippling” views) sharing the dense undergrowth near streams. Along the Golden stream Blue Whistling Thrush, singing Plumbeous Water Redstart, Slaty-backed Forktail.

Forest below Tram Ton pass

-Scrubby hillsides en route to the pass
Best there were the cool Finchbill duo (Crested and Collared), Black-eared Shrike-Babbler, Spectacled Barwing, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, many singing Kloss's Leaf-Warblers, Rusty-capped Fulvetta, Green-tailed Sunbird, Black-throated Bushtit.

All in all it was a good trip, although the weather was not very cooperative. Again I missed Pale-throated Wren-Babbler, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler, White-browed Laughingthrush... I also never spotted a single Hwamei in the wild, but dozens in cage at Sa Pa town!

The cable car to the top of Mt. Fansipan will open on Vietnam’s National Day, September 2, this year. It will provide easy and quick access to the bamboo forest at 2800-3000m... but I don't think I will take it.
Vietnam seems to have this deep insecurity that its natural beauty and scenic landscapes are not enough -- they must be ‘improved’ with cable cars, touristic complexes and other recreational facilities, even in the heart of national parks… It’s a real shame.


 Black-throated Bushtit
talifuensis race (N Myanmar, north Indochina) with rufescent crown

Vinous-throated Parrotbill
Quite easy to find at Ham Rong Gardens, in mixed flocks with Ashy-throated
Check the scrubby/grassy margins !

Vinous-throated Parrotbill - foggy atmosphere

Rusty-capped Fulvetta, with 2 Parrotbills (Ashy-throated on the left, Vinous-throated on the right!)
In Ham Rong Gardens, this skulker is common in the scrubby margins

Golden Parrotbill prefers bamboo stands

Golden Parrotbill

Golden Parrotbill

Green-tailed Sunbird

Kloss's Leaf-Warbler P. ogilviegranti, one of the splits of the White-tailed Leaf-Warbler complex.
I made some recordings of singers. Common year-round resident at Sa Pa.

Kloss's Leaf-Warbler Pallas's Leaf Warbler
(thanks to James Eaton for pointing out this ID mistake)

Kloss's Leaf-Warbler, more pictures

Yellow-browed Warbler
Abundant winter visitor

Black-faced Warbler

Blue-winged Siva

Crested and Collared Finchbills - found together in heavily degraded or scrubby forests

male Yellow-cheeked Tit (north indochinese race rex, blue-grey above, broad ventral stripe)

A typical component species of mixed-species foraging flocks in forest

female Yellow-cheeked Tit, with olive-yellow ventral stripe

Another female

Yellow-browed Tit

Wiskered Yuhina

Wiskered Yuhina

Stripe-throated Yuhina

Rufous-winged Fulvetta

Bar-throated Minla

Bar-throated Minla

Grey-bellied Tesia
No playback used to lure it into view. Heard its call and found it foraging in the open along a stream, quite indifferent to my presence

Grey-bellied Tesia

More photos of this odd-looking little fellow (unfortunately blurry ones)

Black-eared Shrike-Babbler

Chestnut-crowned Warbler

White-tailed Nuthatch

White-tailed Nuthatch

Hill Prinia - noisy inhabitant of grass and low vegetation

male Plumbeous Water Redstart

even more beautiful when it spread out its rufous tail