Short visit to Vietnam Dec 07

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Subject: Short visit to Vietnam Dec 07
From: "Eric Finley" <>
Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2008 11:17:30 +1100

I enjoy reading the odd international report posted here on birding-aus
and thought I would post a few sightings from a recent trip to Vietnam.
The trip was a work one but I did get to do a couple of early morning
walks with some good sightings. Vietnam is an interesting birding
destination, but definitely requires work - birding in urban and
heavily-populated rural areas (ie virtually all lowland areas)  is
relatively poor compared with some other Southeast Asian nations, but
can be extremely rewarding in more isolated and protected areas and some
disturbed habitats too. I lived in Vietnam for several years until 2003
but have not seen a significant number of the country's birds as my time
there was mainly in the cities. A quick look at the trip reports on any
of the main birding report sites shows there are a few sites which most
visiting birders visit, some of which are best done with an experienced
local guide as they can be a bit tricky in terms of access - and of
course to ensure key species are seen local expertise can be invaluable.

Tan Son Nhat Airport, Saigon 7 Dec

A couple of interesting species seen alongside the runway as we taxid
in, neither of which I had previously seen here despite many arrivals
and departures here over ten years. First was a Common Buzzard, the
second a Grey-headed Lapwing.

Also seen a few days later in Saigon city were several parties of
White-shouldered Starling (typical at this time of year and into the
summer months), Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Coppersmith Barbet and
Common Tailorbird. I did not have time to visit any of the parks where
I've previously recorded various mynas, starlings, pigeons, warblers,
munias, cuckoos and Red-breasted Parakeet.

Ninh Van Bay, north of Nha Trang (south central coast)  8-9 Dec

Spent a night at the superb Evason Hideaway at Ana Mandara resort here,
which although on the mainland is accessible only by boat, being backed
by huge hills which are still covered in an interesting type of dense
coastal forest interspersed with huge granite outcrops. The isolation,
habitat and relative low impact of the resort means many interesting
coastal birds can be seen here, although the price tag is probably not
what most birders are looking to spend on a night's accommodation!

Highlight here was an unexpected encounter with a troop of 21+
Black-shanked Douc Langurs, a spectacular monkey and a threatened
Indochinese endemic which I had never seen before and didn't expect
here. Apparently there is a healthy population living in the hills on
the Bay. I watched the troop clambering around a huge granite stack
across a valley, great views for an hour, by the end of which several
had gathered side by side, out on the rockface on their stomachs, heads
down, for a snooze in the early sun - surprising as very conspicuous to
possible resident predators (thought I heard a Black Eagle calling but
did not sight it -  this species may not survive in the area), their
white rumps exposed to the elements.

Birding was very hit and miss here, with quite a bit of effort required
to get decent views of anything in the thick forest with only very
narrow trails. Added to that the fact that I only had about 2 hours of
the morning meant the list was small but there were some nice species -
some of these along the resort paths. Highlight was a small party of
Golden Babbler. Others included the striking Bar-winged
Flycatcher-shrike, Streak-eared and Stripe-throated Bulbul, Shikra, a
Red Junglefowl cock, Plain Prinia, Germain's Swift, Spotted Dove,
Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Oriental Magpie-robin, Common and Dark-necked
Tailorbird, Red-throated Flycatcher and Oriental White-eye. Olive-backed
Sunbird was seen but several more sunbird glimpses weren't enough for an
id. Fairly common but shy was the dark-billed  caeruleus subspecies of
the Blue Whistling Thrush - and its more open country counterpart the
Blue Rock Thrush also seen on beachside rocks. Common Sandpiper were on
the beach.

Sapa area 16-17 Dec

Again I had very limited time for birding in this very interesting
highland area on Vietnam's northwest border with China. This was my
first visit to Sapa in about 4 years and development on the town fringes
made for a noticeable decline in the early morning bird chorus in the
orchards, gardens and bamboo clumps on the lower side of the town facing
Mount Fansipan, Vietnam's highest peak and a popular birding site for
its many highland species at the eastern limits of their ranges. Sapa
itself is at around 1600 m - and can get very chilly at this time of
year. On this occasion we were blessed with high 20s day time temps and
relatively mild nights, but previous experience in winter has been of
several days of foggy, cold conditions.

On the town edge at sunrise birds included Chestnut-crowned Warbler,
White Wagtail, Mountain Tailorbird, Grey-capped Greenfinch, Chinese
Pond-heron and Oriental Tree Sparrow. I did not have time for the
gardens on the hill behind town which can be good for migratories and
some interesting local species.

The night was spent at Topas Ecolodge, a nice little setup out on a
dramatic hilltop overlooking huge highland valleys and ethnic minority
villages about 25 minutes out of Sapa. Exploring this area might prove
fruitful for visiting birders, although the most commonly birded habitat
in this area is in the other direction on the roads west of Sapa, where
there are many more interesting species including several parrotbills
and laughing-thrushes. Around Topas the hillsides have been severely
degraded in most parts, with extensive secondary scrub. I birded the
roadside heading back to Sapa in the late afternoon in mild conditions,
and did not see a single bird in over an hour. The following morning
from sunrise was a different story, with exactly the same route
revealing Crested Bunting, Olive-backed Pipit, Long-tailed Shrike,
Sooty-headed and Brown-breasted Bulbul, Grey Bushchat, very noisy
Chestnut-capped Babblers, Hill Prinia, Yellow-browed Warbler,
Rufous-fronted Babbler and White-rumped Munia. 

The last trip sightings were 2 favourites, the very smart White-capped
River Redstart, and Slaty-backed Forktail, both at the beautiful
waterfall behind Ban Ho village.

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