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

29 April 2015

MEGA : Fairy Pitta in Hanoi!

First glimpse...

This morning (29th April) I met Hung at my habitual patch, when I arrived he told me he had just seen and photographed a Fairy Pitta!!! We decided to move in two opposite directions to increase our chances to relocate it. The patch is small (ca 3 ha) but the vegetation is dense. Nevertheless, we were confident to find it again.
After 45 minutes or so, I flushed it at about 200m from the place Hung saw it. It perched 10 meters away on a fallen branch, at eye-level. I moved verrrry slowly to get a better look and fired some (well, many…) shots. After 1 minute of observation the bird dropped down to the ground to continue its Pitta's job, never to be seen again (by me). Later, Hung relocated it, almost in the same area, and got better images than the ones taken in the early morning (low light conditions at this time).
Apparently, there are few records of Fairy Pitta in Vietnam. A once-in-a-lifetime bird for me, I think.

Remark : this patch is dominated by paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), a very invasive small tree, common in disturbed areas, reaching a maximum heigh of only 10m. Located 2 km from city center, the patch is surrounded by reeds beds, grasslands and agricultural lands. Generally speaking migrant birds are not too fussy about habitat quality - Pittas also apparently!

Hide-and-seek with some spring migrants

Some birds are easy to get close and easy to photograph. Some other are not particularly cooperative models. Some exemples below, photographed the last few days at Hanoi. I had to play hide-and-seek with them for some time in order to capture these images - not "clean" ones. But it's one of my favorite games :)

A wandering female White-bellied Green Pigeon
My second Treron in the city, the first one in autumn 2014. Most green pigeons are noted wanderers so there is always the possibility of encountering vagrants in unusual locations

Black-naped Oriole
One of the main target of the local hunters (with drongos), so a very good reason for them to be skittish
I don't understand how people can hunt such a beautiful creature

 Imm. Accipiter, very likely Japanese Sparrowhawk 

Oriental Cuckoo
Perches inside the canopy. Not often oberved in Hanoi, but certainly overlooked.
Other passage migrant Cuckoos there include Chestnut-winged C., Large Hawk C., Hodgson's Hawk C., Drongo C.. I also heard last week a singing Indian C.

28 April 2015

Pix, call and song of passage migrant Arctic Warbler (s.s.)

Arctic Warbler, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler and Japanese Leaf Warbler (the splits of the Arctic Warbler complex) cannot be safely separated on physical features alone, even if the Japanese is on average more yellow than the others. That leaves us with calls and songs as the only safe method of identification. 

At Hanoi, I have so far only recorded  the Arctic Warbler (sensu stricto). It is now the peak passage. They tend to be very vocal and are often heard before they are seen.

Recording of call + song (Hanoi, 27th April):

Other singing phylloscs seen recently included Dusky, Radde's and Yellow-browed.

23 April 2015

Narcissus Flycatchers galore !

Hi all,

Below some shots of migrants taken recently at Hanoi. The highlight was a Narcissus Flycatcher, which is the third one recorded this spring in the city! And all of them seen in the same patch – amazing! 

I also photographed the same day, amongst other, a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, a female Mugimaki Flycatcher and a Blue-throated Flycatcher - all of them lifer! Some days before, at Thanh Tri district, I encountered a Crow-billed Drongo, which is also a great bird for the city.

We have definitely a great patch for migrant birds!

Le Viet Tuan Hoang

 male Narcissus Flycatcher - 19th April
a careful examination revealed that this is a different male from the 2 others seen over the last few weeks

 female Mugimaki Flycatcher

female Yellow-rumped Flyctacher

female-type Black-naped Monarch

male Blue-throated Flycatcher (cf klossi race)

Sebastien : This Blue-throated F. showing a light orangey wash on breast and a white throat triangle puzzles me. I have found no indication of a similar taxon further north (e.g. in China). One thing is certain: it is a passage migrant in Hanoi, in both passage periods, but in small numbers (4-5 sightings in 4 years for my part).
Some have identified it as a pale variant/morph of the klossi race - the latter considered as a southern Indochina endemic (and resident). This migrant must, in all likelihood, come from China so has a very distinct breeding range.

Seicercus sp. Warbler

Crow-billed Drongo
Already recorded in spring 2014 so, in all likelihood, passage migrant 

22 April 2015

Green-backed Flycatcher - 21th April

This scarce passage migrant in Vietnam was previously known as a race of the Narcissus Flycatcher. It was subsequently split to a full species and named Green-backed Flycatcher (Ficedula elisae). It is also known as Chinese Flycatcher or Elise's Flycatcher in some other references. Some authors still prefer to retain this species as a sub-species of Narcissus Flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina).
This female-type (a term used here to describe all females, and also immature males that have yet to develop any obviously- male features) was photographed on 21/4 at Hanoi.

Very helpful are the notes on identification of Narcissus Flycatchers

Whether immature male or female, confident identification of this individual as elisae can be based on e.g. the olive-green upperparts ; the obvious yellow wash to the underparts (ruling out narcissina) ; the obvious and evenly yellow eye-ring (typically rather more two-toned in narcissina); and on its structure - a combination of heavy bill and medium-length primary projection (with 7 primary tips visible from the rear on the left wing).

The yellowish rump suggest this might perhaps be a second calendar-year male.

One second before it flew off towards a prey...

20 April 2015

Passage migrant Japanese Sparrowhawk - 19th April/Hanoi

I finally got my first shot of a perched Japanese Sparrowhawk. I'm just extremely pleased that I at least got a shot of one finally haha. It was a very quick "oh my gosh there it is quick take-a-picture-as-fast-as-you-can before it flies away" shot. Luckily I did manage to get the shot off right before it flew off. It is an adult female.

Sparrowhawks are very shy, they always see you before you see them and fly away as fast as they can. Very hard to get good looks at them. Almost impossible to approach. If you are lucky enough, one individual will land in a nearby tree. If you are very lucky, it will allow you a few seconds to take your photo. The chance of that ever happening in a forest is very very small. But in a 2 ha wooded patch, there are definitely grounds for hope!
Accipiter species are not uncommon around the city in both passage periods but almost all my sightings remained unidentified.

19 April 2015

Another exciting passage migrant - 18th April

The incei subspecies of Asian Paradise-flycatcher, from China, is a quite common passage migrant in East Tonkin. I have been waiting for a long time in Hanoi the Japanese Paradise-flycatcher, considered as scarce in Vietnam. Finally flew into the right patch!

At first glance, I noticed the black hood extending further down onto breast, very different to the migrant incei APF  I am used to seeing on passage. At closer range, breast appeared dark grey but without clear demarcation with the black hood.  
This bird show also clear maroon tone on the mantle and a dull tail - not bright orangey-chestnut as in APF. 
Another detail is the black crown lacking metallic gloss, which also points to female Japanese PF.
The clearly bluish bill and orbital indicates an adult.

Due to its resemblance to its more abundant female Chinese cousins, I reckoned the female Japanese Paradise-flycatcher may have been overlooked  and under-recorded in Vietnam.

15 April 2015

Green Cochoa - Tam Dao / 15th April

First of all, I want to thank Richard Craik, owner of  Vietnam Birding, a company offering services for birders to Vietnam and beyond (website here), who kindly informed me there were a pair of Green Cochoas busily collecting nesting material near a trail at Tam Dao, seen on 2 days the 11 and 12th April – very exciting! 

According to Richard, the Cochoas were spending most the time collecting moss from some branches and flying behind the trunk (of the same tree) which is where - he guess - the nest is being built. 

I decided to try my luck 3 days later. Richard gave me detailed indications about the location of the famous tree.  I found it easily but the Cochoas lived up to their reputation i.e. sluggish and elusive. I had a glimpse of two birds - maybe the same individual - around the tree, frustrating brief views but not so bad after all. I covered up with my camo blanket at 20 meters from the tree, down the trail a bit (didn't want to be seen by walkers...) and waited. 45 minutes later, a female landed on a branch, stayed few seconds then flew up and away, not to be seen again the two following hours. End of the show. Short but intense!

Seeing this near-mythical creature was a dream – finally fulfilled. I hope this pair will breed successfully and will not be too sensitive to disturbance by noisy walkers that invade the place each weekend. With the coming of spring and warm weather, their number will increase significantly over the next few weeks.

The brownish wash on wings indicates a female

14 April 2015

More photos of Brown-breasted Flycatcher from Hanoi

Another Brown-breasted Flycatcher found the 13th April, one day after the one photographed one day before (see previous post), at a different patch.

Note the rufous edges to the greater coverts and tertials, the pale lower mandible, the pinky/fleshy legs.The lores are pale and the eye ring is conspicuous. The chin and throat are white while the breast and sides of the body are pale brown.

Some information found on the internet : this species was described by E.L. Layard in 1854 as Muscicapa muttui from a specimen procured from Point Pedro in Jaffna, the northernmost point in Sri Lanka. It was thought to have been an endemic till the end of the 19th Century!
The grateful Layard named it after his cook Muttu who brought him the specimen and the dedication of the species reads as follows: “I name this new species after my old and attached servant Muttu, to whose patient perseverance and hunting skill I owe so many of my best birds. This one he brought to me one morning at Pt. Pedro during the month of June.”

The Brown-breasted Flycatcher (or Layard’s Flycatcher) is quite similar to the closely related Asian Brown Flycatcher and some have difficulties in telling them apart. But, the differences in plumage and habits help to make a positive identification. The Asian Brown Flycatcher is smaller in size, has gray-brown upperparts, lacks brown breast-band and has a pale, fleshy-pink base to the bill.

However, the best feature that helps to definitely tell them apart is the colour of the legs, which are dark gray, gray brown or black in the Asian Brown Flycatcher as opposed to the prominent pinky/fleshy of the Brown-breasted.

I spotted it feeding mainly on small flying insects but sometimes it also picked up other creatures off the branches and even picked prey off from the ground. Often perched low (1-3 meters, sometimes lower).

This species breeds in NE India, S China, N Vietnam, NE Myanmar and NW Thailand. Spends non-breeding season in SW India (Western Ghats S from Goa) and Sri Lanka.

In Vietnam, Robson (2009) listed it as scarce breeding visitor in West and East Tonkin.  Given the number of records in Hanoi the last 5 years, both in spring and autumn, it should also be listed as scarce or uncommon passage migrant in East Tonkin. Dear M. Robson, if you read these lines.... :)