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

25 September 2017

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher / Hanoi-Sept. 2017

Again a nice autumn migration season for this scarce species in Hanoi with many (at least 8-10) sightings (1st one 1st Sept) both in Vuon nhan and Bach Thao. In the video above, the dark lower mandible-tip indicate this is a 1st winter bird.

Cyornis brunneatus breeds in southeast China and spends the winter in peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, and Borneo. It is uncommon even in its core range and virtually unrecorded in Vietnam outside Hanoi!

The IUCN lists the species as Vulnerable because of the loss of mature primary lowland forest throughout its range.

10 April 2017

Spring raptor migration at Tam Dao

Last year I (Tom Kompier) had quite a good day at Tam Dao for raptors (see the blog entry) on April 10. Last Saturday (April 8) the clouds above Hanoi seemed ready to dissipate around noon, so I drove up to give it a try. At first not a lot seemed to be happening, but after an hour or so harriers started moving, and soon I had a male Pied Harrier accompanying 4 Eastern Marsh Harriers. A little after that a large pale raptor appeared that had me puzzled for a while, until it finally dawned on me it was a Short-toed Eagle. A very rare bird in Vietnam indeed. The field guide only mentions it as a vagrant from Annam. But there it was. It turned into an eventful day after all.
Below the totals (12.30 - 17.00, from the Belvedere Resort):

Eastern Marsh Harrier 34
Pied Harrier 4 (3 males, 1 female)
Shikra 1 male
Japanese Sparrowhawk 6+
Chinese Sparrowhawk 20+
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 2+ (and about 15+ unidentified)
Jerdon's Baza 17
Black Baza 50 (one group)
Oriental Honey Buzzard 15+
Grey-faced Buzzard 3
Crested Serpent Eagle 5+
Osprey 1
Kestrel 1 (resident?)
Crested Goshawk 2 resident
Peregrine 1 resident

I also made a few record shots:

Short-toed Eagle

 Pied Harrier, males

 Eastern Marsh Harrier, male

 Eastern Marsh Harrier, female

Chinese Sparrowhawk, males

Flock of Black Bazas

16 November 2016

Some Amur Falcons passing over Hanoi City

The Amur Falcon has one of the longest raptor migrations, but is also unique because it flies a long distance over the sea. It is a trans-equatorial long-distance migrant that moves from its breeding grounds in Mongolia, the south Russian Far East, northeast China and North Korea all the way to its wintering grounds in southern Africa, and back every year! 

Recently I spotted some individuals at Hanoi : a flock of 5-6 at dusk on 12th Nov. (catching dragonflies, very likely Pantala flavescens), 2 at noon on 15th gliding high up in the sky, 1 perched on a wire at dawn on 16th , 2 perched on a wire on 19th.

We have relatively few records of Amur Falcons at Hanoi. Just need more skywatching sessions - anyone interested ?

An adult female sits on a wire above open grasslands at dawn - Hanoi, 16th November 2016.
Poor pictures, heavily cropped but... taken at short distance (ca 15m)! I found this confiding bird as I was looking for insects, which means no 400mm lens in the bag but only the 100mm macro.... argh!!!

More  records of Amur Falcons, from Tom Kompier and Vesa Jouhki (many thanks to them for sharing their sightings):

Tom Kompier:
14-11-2016 Hanoi (1 ind.)
13-11-2016 Cao Bang (1)
12-11-2016 Bac Kan (4)
14-05-2016 Quang Binh (1)
10-04-2016 Tam Dao (1)
16-10-2016 Phu Tho (3)
15-10-2016 Phu Tho (200)
16-05-2016 Lai Chau (40)
15-11-2014 North-West (5)
09-11-2014 Phu Tho (100)
08-11-2014 Hanoi (2)
09-04-2014 Tam Dao (4)
20-10-2013 Phu Tho (14)

Vesa Jouhki:
1-11-2016 Dien Bien Phu (100)

Have a look at this map showing some tracked flyways, and see what an astounding achievement this is:
 @copyright Birdlife South Africa

24 October 2016

October birding: Sapa (Fansipan Update), Xuan Thuy, Tam Hai, Hanoi

I ( Florian Klingel) was in Vietnam from 2 to 21 October for a familiy visit with some birding included in Hanoi, a short trip to Xuan Thuy, 3 days in Sapa and some birding during a beach stay in Tam Hai, Quang Nam.

Xuan Thuy (05.-06.10.2016)
I went with my son for one night. We took the public bus from Hanoi My Dinh station to Giao Thien (3.5 h) and stayed at the park facilities. The first afternoon we birded around the shrimp ponds near the HQ and the next morning we went to Lu island to look for migrants. We were joined by NP staffers Truong and Dung and Tomas Najer, a Czech birder who was there for the week.

The shrimp ponds had many waders, including 100 or more Black-tailed Godwits and equally many Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, 20 or so Temminck Stints and other common waders in smaller numbers. In the evening we saw a single Oriental Pratincole.

The island was also good for waders, with 3 Terek Sandpipers and 2 Grey-tailed Tattlers the highlights. 20 + Pacific Golden Plovers and Grey Plovers were also nice.

Black Drongos were moving southwards continously and many Sparrowhawks (probably Chinese) with them. We had spent a lot of time to look for waders, so not that much time was left to search the island for resting passerines, and we had no really specacular sightings. Still good though, with Siberien Rubythroats, Siberien Blue Robins, a Red-flanked Blue-tail, Eastern Crowned Leaf Warbler and other Phylloscopus Warblers, several Chestnut-winged Cuckoos. We also flushed a Red-legged or Slaty-legged Crake but could not see the legs unfortunately.

The island keeps changing, shrimp ponds are now being constructed on its northern side, but there is still a strip of Casuarina trees which are usually good for migrant passerines, and the mud-flats on the western tip are becoming quite extensive. Still good for birding I think.

Full list Xuan Thuy

Little and Intermediate Egrets, Pond Herons, Wood Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers, Back-tailed Godwits
Eastern Crowned Leaf Warbler
Pacific Golden Plovers

Sapa 11.-13.10.2016

Richard Craik and Le Quy Minh from Vietnambirding went to Sapa for checking out how suitable the new cable car would be for birding on Fansipan, and I joined them for the trip.

Having had a very nice trip to Fansipan in 2012 (see here and here), it was of course with very mixed feelings that I went back to the Fansipan of today. Indeed it was sad to see the state of the mountain: lots of attractions being built on the top (still mostly a construction site at the moment) with large stone stairs, several pagodas, a huge Buddha statue and a gigantic bell tower soon being on offer up there. The forest around the pylons of the cable car and the various ropeways for materials also looks pretty damaged from the construction works, and as usual, the construction waste is just tossed down the slopes.

Sapa town is a giant construction site now, with everyone busy preparing for the arrival of mass tourism in Sapa. Huge hotels are being built all over. Even at Tram Ton pass, a big new parking lot is just being finished.


In addition to the depressing sight of these developments came the bad weather: we had thick mist most of the time, which cleared a litte for shorter moments only. Birding was consequently very tough and we did not see many birds overall.

The first day, we took the cable car (600.000 dong and ca. 20 min) and then went down the classical hiking route (Tram Ton route) until the upper camp. The trail can be accessed from near the Buddha statute (the obvious trail leading down is well visible). With the construction noise around the summit, the slippery trail and bad visibility, it was not much fun. Birds were extremly quiet. Most of the tall bamboo on the slope near the upper camp (which used to be good for Laughingthrushes, White-browed Bush-Robin, Sickle-billed Scimitar-babbler) has died off and the young bamboo growth is still very low. We found a spectacular 6 species that day on Fansipan. Most common were White-browed Fulvetta around the summit area and Chestnut-headed Tesia in the remaining pockets of taller bamboo near the camp. Best area was the gully between the summit and the small pass between the camp and the summit (the point where we found Chestnut-crowned Bush-warbler in 2012 and where now is the pylon of a power line). Here we found, thanks to Minh's good eyes, Black-faced and Scaly Laughingthrushes, both very quietly moving through the vegetation. Scaly L. was new for me, so not all bad this day.

The other days we went on the lower part of the trail starting from Tram Ton pass (I went by myself of the first half day and all of us went again the second day). Actually we took the old Fansipan trail, which is apparently not used any more. That trail goes more less parallel to the new one and first leads over the tops of some smaller hills. The entrance is barred and the trail is sometimes a bit overgrown, though still walkable without much effort as far as we went (about 4h walk in birding pace). The staff at the gate may not let one go that way, but it can also accessed via the steps right next to the gate that lead up to a bell (from there a trail leads down to the old Fansipan trail).

It was again very misty most of the time, birds quiet and birding slow. But we found a few good birds, so in the end it was quite enjoyable. I was very luck to find Pale-throated Wren-babbler, which I could observe close up and even managed some nice photos. Very happy about that, as I missed this one on previous trips. We could not refind it on the same or other locations the next day, but I guess in spring and with better weather, it should not be difficult to find along that trail in bamboo understorey. That next day, we started with flushing a Wood Snipe on the first few meters on the trail. Later, we spent some time to stalk a pair of extremly skulking Slaty Blue Flycatchers, lifer for all of us. A few nice mixed flocks, frequent views of Tesias and also some good views of Great Barbets made for a good day in the end.

For visiting Fansipan in future, I guess the best way would still be the classical hike with a few nights spent on the mountain. Of course the hike up can now be saved and the trip be started from the top, but I think at least one night in each the upper and the lower camp would be needed to sufficiently cover the different parts. Without camping, the upper parts from the sumit to the upper camp, and the lower parts from Tram Ton pass can be accessed well. However, the area around the lower camp was also quite good in our 2012 trip and this cannot really be accessed well without camping there (it can easily be reached by hiking, but not at birding pace).

We did not explore other trails down the summit due to the very bad visibility. I think there is another hiking trail leading straight down from the summit (Sin Chai route) and I think this follows mostly the cable car. Access is probably easy as there are many trails from the construction works, but the forest may be quite disturbed. So not sure how good or bad this would be for birding. A further option could be to go down the eastern slope of the summit and continue along the ridge to the east, but not sure if there are any easy trails there. Something to explore in better weather.

Getting to Sapa: We took the new highway to Lao Cai, and it was the most relaxed drive I ever had in Vietnam, hardly any cars (and no bikes) on the road. Took us 5 hours from Hanoi downtown to Sapa. Much quicker than the train. Plenty of buses now also use that road.

Full lists:
- Fansipan
- Tram Ton 

White-browed Fulvetta

Pale-throated Wren-babbler

Tam Hai (Quang Nam) 15.-18.10.2016

Tam Hai was a beach trip with the family. Tam Hai is an island at the river mouth of Truong Giang river and can be easily reached from Chu Lai airport (2 h drive from Danag). There is a nice resort and they had a good low-season discount, so we went there. A good choice (despite the not so great weather), as there were plenty of birds around. Just around the resort I could observe black and white Reef Herons, Whimbrels, Kentish Plovers, Greenshanks, Greater and Lesser Sand Plowers. In the Casuarina scrub around the resort, there was a noisy flock of Masked Laughingthrush. At night, I saw a Boobook hunting over the shrimp ponds behind the resort. Probably Brown Boobook, but I can't exclude Northern. The breast had clear long streaks, isolated dots were only on the lower belly, no obvious heart shapes, but not sure if they were teardrop shapes. A migrant Northern Bookbook could be possible at that location I think, in particular with the bad weather the previous days.

At the beach near the resort, there were many more plovers, including White-faced Plover. I also saw a Red-necked Pharalope briefly resting at a puddle on the beach and then flying onwards. A passing Amur Falcon was another great sighting at the same spot. Views were a bit distant, but its light flight and frequent howering were quite disctinctive.

Full List Tam Hai

Greater Sand Plover / White-faced Plover / Kentish Plove
Most of our time was spent in Hanoi, so I could also do some Hanoi birding in the Botanical Garden and the current favorite of Hanoi's birders, Vuon Nhan.

No real spectacular sightings (the best time seems to be September, seen the few previous posts here), but still plenty of birds and very enjoyable breaks from city life.

On my last visit I saw a Black-headed Gull on the river near Vuon Nhan. New for my Vietnam list ;)

- Botanical garden, 3.10.
- Vuon Nhan, 4.10.
- Vuon Nhan, 21.10.

Vinh Tuy bridge seen from Vuon Nhan

Black-headed Gull

3 October 2016

Hanoi: Some autumn passage records, 19th Sept.-3rd Oct. 2016

The past 15 days have seen much less migrants passing through Hanoi compared to the 2 first weeks of September. The weather is now probably too good ; many migrants simply passed through without stopping. Unfortunately, no overcast skies, contrary winds or rain in the forecast for the next few days.

The lush microforest at Vuon Nhan yielded both Hill Blue and Chinese Blue Flycatchers, 2 other Brown-breasted Flycatchers (on 20th Sept. and 3rd Oct.), Brown-chested Jungle Flycatchers regularly seen, three species of Drongos (Hair-crested and Ashy D. (leucogenis/salangensis and hopwoodi races) in the wood, Black D. in the open landscape), first Siberian Rubythroat on 2nd October, Siberian Blue Robins often seen/heard (mostly female but also 1 stunning ad. male and 1cy male), the first Orange-headed Thrush of the autumn on 20th Sept., 3-4 individuals on 3rd Oct., first Sulphur-breasted Warblers on 21th, often in mixed-species foraging flocks with Japanese White-eyes, resident Cinerous Tits, Pylloscs ssp. (Arctic, Claudia's, Eastern Crowned...), Amur Paradise Flycatchers...

First Baikal Bush-warbler and Black-browed Reed Warbler of the autumn on 25th. Pale-footed Bush Warbler heard on 3rd October. Seicercus warblers seen at almost each visits - didn’t call and therefore remained unidentified.
1 Black-capped Kingfisher and 1 Dollarbird on 2nd October. The same day, a lone Chestnut-crowned Warbler (excellent bird for the city!) and the first Grey-headed Canary-flycatchers of the season.

Some passage of Black-winged Cuckooshrikes also. A secretive Chestnut-winged Cuckoo noted on 21th, a Nightjar sp. (likeky Grey N.) photographed the 20th by Tuong Bach, 2 Wrynecks and 1 passage migrant Hoopoe on 21th. And another juvenile Malayan Night Heron on 29th.

No sighting of Tiger Shrike anymore (early autumn migrant), and much less Amur Paradise Flycatchers than 2 weeks ago. Few sightings of Yellow-rumped Fycatchers also (in Hanoi, most of autumn records are in the last ten days of August and the first twenty days of September) and none of Asian Koels (regularly seen at the beginning of September).

Mid-September, near Vuon Nhan, the mudflats along the Red River at Vinh Thuy bridge also yielded 90+ Grey-headed Lapwings.
At Botanical Gardens, a gorgeous male Siberian Thrush found on 3rd Oct..

In the same area (Vuon Nhan), Tom Kompier also spotted at least 8 Blue-throated Bee-eaters and 1 Thick-billed Green Pigeon on 24th Sept.- both are interesting records for Hanoi. Sightings of  Treron in the city are scarce (the other one recorded here is Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon). Most green pigeons are noted wanderers so there is always the possibility of encountering vagrants in unusual locations. 

And last but not least, Tom's girlfriend, Kameliya, found 3 Red-necked Phalaropes on 28th Sept. at West Lake, the largest lake of the city. Two individuals (juveniles) were still there on 29th, 30th Sept.and 1st Oct. incredibly tame as usual. At the Phalarope's spot, I spotted on 30th a distant flock of 7 unidentified Terns.

At this time of year, considering the number of bird photographers at Vuon Nhan and other small woodlots, we go out not hoping, but expecting to get interesting records. Recently, we have rarely been disappointed. Hey guys, keep up the great work and don't forget to share with me your data (species, count, location and date)  - and not only beautiful images on Facebook ;) !


Male Siberian Thrush, 3rd Oct., Botanical Gardens
It's been too long since I've seen this Thrush, my favorite one, in Hanoi. What a fantastic bird, both beautiful and elusive. The second Zoothera thrush seen this autumn. Turdus thrushes will arrive later (usually in late Oct.-early Nov.).

Male Orange-headed Thrush (top), Vuon Nhan, 28th Sept.
Female Orange-headed Thrush (below), Botanical Gardens, 3rd Oct.
Like the microforest of Vuon Nhan, the Botanical Gardens is a very effective migrant trap.

Brown-brested Flycatcher, Vuon Nhan. A scarce but regular passage migrant

Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes/borealoides, Vuon Nhan. As is usually the case, because the bird in this photo was not singing (passage migrants can sing in spring), I was unable to identify it beyond the level of Pale-legged/Sakhalin

Juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, West Lake, 29th Sept.
A scarce passage migrant in Vietnam, mostly recorded along the coast in C. and S. Annam, Cochinchina, sometimes in large flocks at coastal aquaculture ponds. Also regularly recorded inland in the Da Lat Plateau. Rarer in the North, recorded at least from Xuan Thuy N.P.

Very tame, most approachable of all waders

Female Black-naped Monarch, Vuon Nhan

Female Siberian Blue Robin, Vuon Nhan

1st calendar year male Siberian Blue Robin, Vuon Nhan

Male Hill Blue Flycatcher, Vuon Nhan

Same individual

1st calendar year Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Vuon Nhan

Same individual, close-up on head

1st calendar year Dark-sided Flycatcher, Vuon Nhan, so weak and exhausted it cannot stand on a perch

Chestnut-crowned Warbler, 2nd October, Vuon Nhan
Scarce migrant (altitudinal I think) in Hanoi, all records in autumn (previous ones: 10th Oct. 2013, mid-Nov. 2014)

Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Vuon Nhan

Claudia's Leaf Warbler, 2nd Oct., Vuon Nhan - a common passage migrant

Black-browed Reed Warbler, 25th Sept., Vuon Nhan 

Juvenile Malayan Night Heron playing hide-and-seek, 29th Sept, Vuon Nhan

15 September 2016

Hanoi - migration in full swing

Hi all,

The autumn migration season here in Hanoi has kicked off in style. Leading the parade of migrants was Fairy Pitta, found at "Vuon nhan Vinh Thuy" on 5 Sept. 2016 and still there on 12. Another notable sightings include up to 4 Brown-chested Jungle Flycatchers, Hainan Blue, Brown-breasted Flycatchers, 1 fem and 1 male juv. Siberian Blue Robins, Hill/Chinese Blue Flycatchers (1 male and lots of females lol), 5-10 Amur Paradise Flycatchers with among them 1 white-morph, 1 Malayan Night Heron...

Concerning Fairy Pitta, this is the second record of this endangered species in Hanoi, the first time last year during spring passage. They stayed there for a week (from September 05 to 12). I checked the site yesterday but didn't find them anymore. I loooove Pittas, so till the day I found them in Hanoi, I came everyday and had excellent photo opportunities. Many birders came to see it and no one came back empty-handed!

I already photographed 4 Pitta species (Blue-rumped, Blue, Bar-bellied and Fairy). I intend to photograph all Pitta species in Vietnam, a good challenge :)

About the Malayan Night Heron: this is not the first record in Hanoi. My friend PHAM HONG PHUONG photograph an individual on April 15, 2016 (Pls check the shot below)

Happy birding!

Hoang Le

PS: Sorry for poor image quality, I didn't have enough time for post-processing... Have to head to Tam Dao now... Birds awaiting me lol.

* Some notes concerning the habitat: the patch is a 3ha lychee orchard (old trees). Most of the birds, notably Fairy Pittas and Brown-chested Jungle Flycatchers, were found in the dense, unmanaged scrubby edges (an area of ca 50m x 20m) composed by the pioneer species Broussonetia papyrifera and Ficus sp. (trees), Flueggea virosa (shrubs) and ferns (understorey). The Pittas were mostly seen foraging on the ground, but sometimes perched on branches just before to come at the photography set.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher

Brown-Breasted Flycatcher

Fairy Pitta

Malayan Night Heron - a great bird for the city!

Amur Paradise Flycatcher

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher

male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

female Cyornis sp.

1cy male Siberian Blue Robin

Malayan Night Heron, by Pham Hong Phuong, 15th April 2016 (1st record for the city?)