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3 November 2015

Nicobar Pigeon in Con Dao

This was a pure family holiday (6.-9. October), with most time being spent floating in the warm water with the kids or eating through the seafood restaurants.

I initially planned to take my 10 year old to Bay Canh island to see the turtles laying eggs (and looking for Nicobar Pigeon in the forest). But as we were a little late in the season and turtles not guaranteed we didn't go. Also a longer boat trip to the Egg Island (hon Trung) was not so compatible with the family plans, so my birding was limited to morning walks through the forest of the main island, Con Son.

Near Ong Dung Beach

Of course the main target was Nicobar Pigeon, however with low hope, as this bird seems to be rarely or never seen by birders. Hung has photographed it some years ago during a survey, but I've found no other reports of sightings. On the other hand, not many birders make that detour to the Con Dao Islands....

My main walk was up to the So Ray Plantation and down the other side until the coast near Ong Dung Beach. The start of the trail is marked by a sign at the road, so easy to find. After 50 m through banana trees the forest starts and it is actually pretty nice forest with relatively tall trees. Into the forest I was welcomed by Common Tailorbirds, Pin-striped Tit-babblers, Streak-throated Bulbuls and White-rumped Shamas, which remained the most common birds I saw on the Island. Also rather soon I saw a group of Red Junglefowl. And then I flushed a bird from the ground, it flew up and perched in sight but mostly hidden behind branches. Darkish body and a few times a wierd shaped thin head peaked out. I tried to approach for a photo, but it escaped unphotographed. Before, when the bird was flying up, a white tail flashed, the rest was very dark. That was it then, Nicobar Pigeon! Less than satisfying views, but the bird was there, with only 20 min on the trail.

 Common Con Dao birds

After this sighting the trail went up steeply, and when almost reaching the highest spot, several Pied Imperial Pigeons were flying off from the trees above the trail. That spot remained the only place where I saw them, again when returning. On the top it got flat again, I guess that's what is called So Ray Plantation. More Junglefowl here, a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Common Iora, some Phyllos Warblers, Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo. 

Then the trail descended steeply down the other side. A lot of Long-tailed Macaques and also quite many Giant Black Squirrels down here. The black variant of Variable Squirrel was very common everywhere. All three are endemic subspecies. Also a few Northern Treeshrew. The mammals seemed more common than birds, actually. Almost all the way down the slope I flushed another Nicobar Pigeon. This time I saw the short while tail and the dark back and wings of the bird quite well. Like the first bird, it made a loud woosh-woosh sound with the wings when flying up.

 Con Dao mammals

Ahaetulla Sp., but which one?

I returned the same way and reached the road around lunch time. The way back could also be shortend by going up the new paved path to the road leading to Ong Dung beach, when arranging pick up there.

Along this road, they are constructing a new National Park headquarter, if I read the construction sign right. Shortly after this, there is a signpost marking trails to Bai Bang Beach (2.4 km) and Dat Tham Beach (3 km). I tried this path another morning. As the ones decending to Ong Dung beach, these ones where also recently paved. One of thoe works not so uncommon in Vietnam's national parks: a 3 m wide path made from granite blocks and lots of mortar, surely very expensive and totally useless. The algue growing on the mortar made the path extremly slippery. It was rather dry and I managed not to  hurt myself too badly. The forest here is also nice, but much lower trees and dryer than the one at So Ray trail, and I saw much less birds here. Forest wagtails and a White-bellied Sea Eagle at Bai Bang Beach were the only new birds here. However, during the first km on the trail, lots of Pigeons were calling, probably Pied Imperial.

Slippery path

I did not see much else: Kentish Plover, Common Sandpiper and Pacific Reef Egret on the Beaches, 2 Terns hunting on the Lotus ponds, I believe it were moulting White-winged Terns. And Flying Foxes feeding in the trees of the hotel compound.

So very happy about the two Pigeons, but nothing really exiting besides. So for a birding trip to Con Dao, I'd recommend to focus on the So Ray trail (both my sightings of the Nicobar Pigeon were at the parts with tallest forest near the lower end of the steep slopes on either side of the hill) and try to get out to Trung Island (see Richards report here).  Here a map of the Island, the mentionned trails can be seen west of "Con Dao Town". Another trail in the North of the Island is marked there as well, could be interesting, but I havn't tried it.