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

15 April 2016

Red River Island, Hanoi, April 8th-15th (by Dominic Le Croissette)

Male Green-backed Flycatcher, Red River Island, April 13th (photo by Hung Le).

Almost daily coverage of the island this week resulted in a total of 115 bird species seen. I was often joined in the field by Joy Ghosh and Hung Le, and between us we managed to find an excellent array of migrants during one of the very best weeks of the year.

At the same time as the birds pour through, local people have been doubling their efforts to destroy all remaining fragments of “natural” woodland on the island. The north wood has been decimated, with virtually all of the best trees now gone (although the non-native eucalyptus trees – which are fairly useless for birds – have been left standing). Much of the grassy understorey has also been cleared. It seems likely that the north wood will barely be worth visiting in another week’s time. A sad end to what was until very recently a splendid habitat and refuge for birds.

Simultaneously, a strip of good habitat at the far south of the island is currently being bulldozed, and its imminent disappearance seems inevitable. The “middle wood” is now the largest expanse of remaining forest, but for some inexplicable reason it doesn’t seem to be very popular with the birds, perhaps because of its location in the center of the island away from the river.

On a more positive note, hunting pressures seemed lower than usual, with no mist-netters encountered and just a few munia traps here and there (I released any birds I found in them). Hopefully most of the migrants using the small patches of remaining forest this week were able to pass through this dangerous area unscathed.

Notable sightings on Red River island from my seven visits between April 8th-15th included the following:

Japanese Quail – one flushed from the overgrown field next to the north wood on 12/4.

Jerdon’s Baza – three over on 11/4 and two on 15/4, corresponding with peak passage of this species at Tam Dao.

Pied Harrier – an adult male flew north on 13/4.

Japanese Sparrowhawk – two sightings of single birds.

Ruddy-breasted Crake – one flushed in the overgrown field north of Bai Da on 8/4.

Oriental Pratincole – one flew north on 11/4.

Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon – one in the north wood on 12/4, in exactly the same place as two birds on 22/3.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo – one glimpsed in the north wood on 12/4, followed by excellent views of another along the western edge of the island on 14/4.

Large Hawk Cuckoo – one seen and photographed near the north wood on 12/4.

Hodgson’s Hawk Cuckoo – one seen very well at the middle wood on 11/4.

Oriental Cuckoo – one at the far south of the island on 14/4.

Northern Boobook – one in the north wood on 9/4.

Grey Nightjar – one in the north wood on 11/4, and perhaps the same individual seen and photographed by Hung Le on 13/4.

Black-capped Kingfisher – up to two seen on three dates.

Dollarbird – one at the southern tip of the island on 11/4, and another north of Bai Da on 15/4.

Eurasian Wryneck – one on 13/4.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike – two on 11/4.

Black-naped Oriole – one at the north wood on 13/4 and 14/4.

Hair-crested Drongo – at least 17 on 11/4, with smaller numbers on other dates.

Racket-tailed Treepie – one along the western edge on 14/4.

Pale-footed Bush-Warbler – three on 8/4 and two the following day, located by distinctive song and also seen on several occasions.

Radde’s Warbler – one in the north wood on 14/4.

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler – one in the wood north of Bai Da on 15/4.

Eastern Crowned Warbler – one seen daily in the north wood from 11/4-13/4.

Grey-crowned Warbler – easily recognisable call heard in the north wood on 9/4, but not seen. 

Other seicercus warblers seen on several dates during the week didn’t call and therefore could not be reliably identified.

Masked Laughingthrush – sadly only one bird apparently remains from the 4-5 individuals present last month.

Black-throated Laughingthrush – one in the middle wood on 11/4 may have been an escapee.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher – up to three on four dates during the week, mainly gorgeous males.

Green-backed Flycatcher – adult male photographed in the north wood on 13/4, the first record of an adult male for Vietnam.

Orange-headed Thrush – one in the north wood on 14/4 was probably the same bird photographed by Hung Le the previous day.

Eyebrowed Thrush – small flock of up to 7 present daily around the north wood from 8/4 to 11/4.

Grey-backed Thrush – one at the far south of the island on 14/4.

Yellow-breasted Bunting – long-staying adult male still at cornfield along western edge on 9/4 but not since.

Chestnut Bunting – female-type with above bird on 9/4.

In addition, a selective list of regular migrants and resident birds seen during the week included the following: Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Grey-faced Buzzard, Barred Buttonquail, Oriental Turtle Dove, Asian Koel, Lesser Coucal, Germain’s Swiftlet, White-throated Kingfisher, Burmese Shrike, Ashy Drongo, White-throated Fantail, Black-naped Monarch, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Hill Blue Flycatcher, Blue-and-White Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Bluethroat, Siberian Rubythroat, Citrine Wagtail, Red-throated Pipit, Olive-backed Pipit, Richard’s Pipit, Oriental Greenfinch and Little Bunting.

12 April 2016

Hanoi: Noctural Roost of ca 25 Migrating Serpent-eagles

On  April 10th, while checking on early morning a quite large wood in the suburbs of Hanoi, I flushed many roosting Crested Serpent-eagles. They were disseminated everywhere in this 10ha wood, often 2 or 3 birds close to each other. Around 9pm I counted ca 20 birds in the air, in 2 flocks. Subsequently I flushed 3 other roosting individuals. I estimate at ca 25+ the number of Crested Serpent-eagles that have spent the night in this area close to the city center.  Just a small patch of forest in an ocean of inhospitable agricultural fields and agglomerations. This wood seems to be a very good stopover habitat for raptors. Last week, I had 3-4 roosting Jerdon's Bazas there also.

Other raptors seen above this wood included 2+ Chinese Sparrowhawks, 4-5 Grey-faced Buzzards, 8 Jerdon’s Bazas high overhead.

Crested Serpent-eagles (different individuals) forced to wake up early - not bad after all, the area is not really friendly...

Adult Chinese Sparrowhawk and Grey-faced Buzzard (typical silhouette with quite narrow, pointed wings).

 2ndcy male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher showing an interesting transitional plumage.

Grey-throated Martin
Resident at Hanoi, breed in vertical banks along the Red River

10 April 2016

Tristram's Bunting at Red River Island (Hanoi) and Raptor Migration over Tam Dao (by Tom Kompier)

Last week Red River Island went through a "pimp-my-island" episode - NOT. People have been digging at the soil quite a bit over the years, but recently activity has increased substantially. What is more, the little forest patch towards the northern side has been decimated and the reedy grasslands have been turned into banana plantations. But migrants still turn up. Many of them actually end up in traps and nets, but even so, birding can be pretty good still. Here a few records of interest from the recent past:

Baikal Bush Warbler was a nice addition to my Vietnamese list on April 2. After a sighting by Dom this spring and the Chinese Bush Warbler seen by Sebastien I was ready to see a Locustella (besides the rather common Lanceolated Warbler, that is).

Short-eared Owl was another great bird on April 2. I hope it survived, as several local bird-catchers were actively pursuing it.

Apparently a good bird in Hanoi was the male Tristram's Bunting on April 4, the first time I saw 3 species of bunting on the island on a single day (the others being Yellow-breasted and Little). 

April 6 I saw a Northern Boobook and a Jerdon's Baza. The latter was carrying a lizard and showed very well. Both were new for me in Vietnam. 

Chinese Penduline Tits have been around regularly, with sightings on March 26 (1), April 2 (2), and April 4 (3). 


On April 10 finally a sunny day seemed to be truly happening, a rare event in springtime Hanoi and even rarer for it to be on a weekend. I know that Tam Dao can be pretty good for raptor migration, but it is very much dependent on the cloud cover (even on good days Tam Dao can be locked in cloud and mist) and the wind. After a spell of pretty bad weather raptors are eager to circumnavigate the higher mountains on their way to the north. I have seen good migration at various points, notably Pia Oac in Cao Bang, and Tam Dao. Pia Oac seemed a bit far for a day outing, so I opted for Tam Dao. When I reached the hill station at 9 AM it was shrouded in mist, but the sun peeked through it vaguely and soon I started seeing the mountains over a sea of cloud. Because the mist returned I went a little higher up the town and found a spot with good views. Between 10 AM and 4 PM I saw around 280 raptors migrating. No big flocks, irrespective of the seemingly good weather. Maybe they passed already the last few days, or maybe the lack of wind was not good. 

Accipiter species were out in good numbers. Many could not reliably be identified, but the more striking Chinese Sparrowhawk clocked 40, Japanese Sparrowhawk 13, Eurasian Sparrowhawk 7, and 46 I left unidentified. So, 106 Sparrowhawks in total, not bad.

I was very surprised that Jerdon's Baza, allegedly a resident species that does not occur to the north of Vietnam, nor around Hanoi for that matter, was migrating in considerable numbers. I had only seen my first reliably last week at Red River Island (on the same day that Sebastian saw several close to Hanoi), so I had dismissed what looked like it yesterday in Sa Pa as probably something else. Here in Tam Dao I again dismissed several pairs and singles mixed in with Crested Serpent Eagles. I though my eyes were playing tricks on me and that they just had to be immature Oriental Honey Buzzards. Even when I saw two singles that I positively identified, I still could not bring myself to accept that the others had been Jerdon's too. Until at the end of the afternoon I saw 6 together. These too were obviously Jerdon's, so I dashed to the car and took out my camera to shoot some proof. In the end I tallied 10, but there must have been at least 15-20 passing.

The other Baza, Black Baza, passed in small numbers. Only one small flock of 5 and a few singles, for a total of 8.

I saw 6 Eastern Marsh Harriers, 4 males and 2 females. I was hoping for Pied, but that did not happen.

Crested Serpent Eagles can be quite numerous at Tam Dao, but today I only saw 64, with the largest group 15.

I counted 51 Oriental Honey Buzzards, but if we deduct some misidentified Jerdon's Baza, then there were little over 40 passing.

Grey-faced Buzzard was scarce, with only 11, and now flocks to mention (largest number together 3). Disappointing. Maybe they passed through already.

A single Black-eared Kite, a single Eastern Buzzard, and a single Osprey added some spice, as did single Kestrel and Amur Falcon.

Local Crested Goshawks completed the picture. 6 Raptors I did not identify at all.

Below some pics of Jerdon's Bazas:

9 April 2016

Two big birds in a small patch

Yesterday in Cau Giay district, in downtown Hanoi, near the 3rd Ring Road, I checked a 3ha wasteland partially wooded found on Google Earth. I discovered a very promising patch, but surrounded by barriers and 'no trespassing' signs.  I found a kind of entry but the bao vê (guards) told me that public access was not permitted. I then explained to them that “my parrot escaped from its cage and took refuge here”. A little miracle occured, they allowed me to enter! (gesture of solidarity between bird-keepers?) Three minutes later, I flushed 2 Crested Serpent-eagles, quickly mobbed by 4 Red-billed Blue Magpies. They didn’t go far and perched at the other side of the patch.

Amazing to spot such beasts in this bustling city (even the group of Magpies was unexpected). The light was very poor and there was a constant drizzle. I suspect the poor weather was the reason these raptors dropped in this urban green space, a highly unlikely place but very quite and (apparently) safe – i.e. without f*****g poachers around.

This area will soon be urbanized, but I think I will again "search my parrot" there over the next few weeks! 

Migrants can be everywhere now, even in a lone tree in your backyard or in a crowded urban park.The best strategy for the month of April is bird often, bird everywhere! Well, do the best you can!

One of the 2 Crested Serpent-eagles spotted in downtown Hanoi on April 8th, obviously an immature bird.
Last record of this species in the city (Red River Island): mid-October 2011 (2 individuals also)

A 2ndcy male Mugimaki Flycatcher found in the same area.

7 April 2016

Red River Island, Hanoi, April 1st-7th (by Dominic Le Croissette)

Habitat devastation at Red River Island, photo taken on April 4th 2016. 

Migration is in full swing in Hanoi, but despite some good bird sightings my overwhelming emotion this week was one of despair. Local people have gradually been turning the wood at the northern end of the Red River Island into an open-cast mine over the last couple of weeks, cutting down trees and transporting the soil out of the wood in carts pulled by buffaloes or motorbikes. Last weekend, the scale of the operation rapidly increased, with about half the forest clearfelled when I returned to the site on Monday morning.
It seems likely that the entire wood – one of the very few remaining areas of natural cover for migrants on the island – will disappear entirely very soon, with the timber and topsoil sold for a quick buck, and the land made available for yet another banana plantation.
This pillage-the-environment-for-fast-cash approach is one of the most depressing aspects of living in Vietnam. The local view seems to be that everything is there for the taking – the birds, the trees, and even the ground itself – with no regard whatsoever for the future.

To top it off, the man with the mist-nets was active in the small area of the wood that still remains.  I was still reeling from seeing the trees lying on the ground, and I told him in no uncertain terms to take down his nets and clear off. He may not have understood my words, but the tone of my voice and body language made my position clear, and he beat a hasty retreat with his equipment. A little later, I bumped into a Vietnamese birder in the wood, who was similarly despondent about the situation. He told me that he had spoken to the trapper earlier in the morning, and asked him to release a male Hainan Blue Flycatcher they had in a cage. The trapper had refused, claiming it was an Oriental Magpie Robin and would fetch a good price in the bird market. It seems they just ignorantly trap anything they can, sell it if possible, and if it dies – the likely destiny for this flycatcher – they don’t care at all.

Male Mugimaki Flycatcher in the clearfelled area of the wood 
at the northern end of the island, April 4th 2016.

Thoroughly despondent after my experiences of the morning, I decided to explore the island to see if I could find any other wooded areas. About two-thirds of the way back to the Long Bien bridge, close to the eastern shore of the island, I found a small wood. Although part of the area has been very recently cleared, a decent patch of trees still remains, with thick ground cover and no paths inside. This should provide a disturbance-free haven for tired migrants, at least for the time being. Hopefully the wood will survive at least until spring migration is over.

Despite all the bad news, I did see some interesting birds this week. Prior to the disastrous clearfelling, I made two visits to the wood on Saturday 2nd April, the first time in the company of Manoli Strecker and Alex Yates. Drizzly weather had brought in plenty of migrants, with the highlight being a Japanese Robin, and a singing Pale-footed Bush-Warbler which responded well to tape and later in the day came in for some very close views as I sat quietly in the wood. Eurasian Wryneck and a briefly-glimpsed Large-tailed Nightjar were both personal firsts for the site, while other excellent sightings on Saturday included a smart male Mugimaki Flycatcher and one or two Blue-and-White Flycatchers.

On Monday, my “new” wood near the eastern shore produced a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, a Hainan Blue Flycatcher, a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, an Ashy Minivet and a rather odd sighting of a Striated Heron perched in a treetop. However, when I returned there on Wednesday with Joy Ghosh, we saw very little – but I am still hopeful that this new location will continue to reward further visits during the spring.

Up to four Yellow-breasted Buntings – including an adult male – have been present in a dead cornfield along the western edge of the island all week, sometimes joined by a small flock of up to nine Little Buntings. Yellow-breasted Bunting is formerly abundant bird that is now officially classified as Endangered by the IUCN, with a precipitous decline in the last twenty years due to hunting of this species in China. Yet another sad story of the state of bird conservation in East Asia.
After Monday’s depressing incidents in the wood, I haven’t yet had the stomach to return to that area, but will probably have to do so next week to see how the destruction is “progressing”.
In total I observed 78 species on Red River Island during the week, and my total site list after just over a month stands at 128 species.

Barred Buttonquail near my “new” wood, April 4th 2016

6 April 2016

Sightings of Jerdon's Bazas in Hanoi

On the morning of 6th April while I was out searching migrant birds 10km west of West lake (Hanoi), I chanced upon a pair of Jerdon's Bazas landing on a tree nearby and got stunning prolonged views of them. Subsequently one maybe two other birds were sighted in the same area. I also spotted the same morning 1 Brown-breasted Flycatcher (my second one this spring, 1st one on 29th March) and 2 Orange-headed Thrushes, among others.

Amazingly, at the same time, 15 km away from here, at the well-known Red River Island, Tom saw also one Jerdon's Baza! He had also 1 Northern Boobook.

Unfortunately I didn't have my camera on me. I think I'm going to regret this a long time, especially for the Bazas which were sighted at exceptionally close range.

Jerdon's Baza is a scarce and (apparently) irregular passage migrant in Hanoi. Previous records (that I am aware of): 12th April 2011, 22th October 2011, 20th December 2011. 
Brown-breasted Flycatcher and Northern Boobook are rather scarce though regular passage migrants (recorded almost every year). Orange-headed Thrush is not uncommon in spring and autumn. 


2 April 2016

Short-eared Owl - Passage migrant in Hanoi

A Short-eared Owl found by Tom on 2nd April, I relocated it few hours later. A great bird that is rarely seen in Vietnam (or maybe just under-recorded due to the lack of people checking suitable habitat at the good period of the year).

This is my third sighting in Hanoi, the 2 first ones in November 2011 and 2012, always in the same habitat: large sandy areas along the Red River, seasonnally flooded, with sparse vegetation.

Some buttonquails's hunters tried to catch it for the pot. Between the guns, the traps, the mist nets or the slingshots, the avian world in Hanoi - and unfortunately almost everywhere in Vietnam - is under constant attack.

Met the same day Dominic who found a female Japanese Robin in the wooded patch at the northern tip of the Red River island! Hope he will be posting on this blog some of his records.

Scaly Thrush, on 3rd April - better shooting conditions today after fog and heavy overcast over the last few days which made photography under tree covert almost impossible
Scaly Thrush is an uncommon but regular passage migrant in Hanoi