[Birding-Aus] Vietnam Trip report 14/1/16 – 26/1/16 (Long)

To: birding aus <>
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Vietnam Trip report 14/1/16 – 26/1/16 (Long)
From: Nicholas <>
Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2016 09:01:55 +0000
My two week trip to Vietnam was a family holiday. I organised one 24-hour-long 
guided birding trip to Bạch Mã National Park plus some opportunistic 
birdwatching while being a tourist. The result was 99 species, including 58 
lifers, with some IDs still unresolved.
The birding trip to Bạch Mã began on my first day in Vietnam and was selected 
because it was the closest I would be staying to one of the better-known 
birding destinations in Vietnam. I organised it through the helpful Le Quy 
Minh. I met him through Birding Pal but never met him face to face because he 
was away. Minh organised my guide (Nanh) (for more details on Minh and Nanh go 
to as well as a driver, meals and 
accommodation. I paid for everything, but Minh provided advice before the trip 
plus follow-up identification of Bạch Mã birds calls via email after I returned 
to Australia. Several other bird calls from my trip were identified by Marc 
Anderson after I listed them as mysteries on xeno-canto.

We stayed at River Beach Resort near Hội An The resort is 
about 3 hours drive from Bạch Mã. The traffic in Vietnam is slow compared to 
Australia, so the majority of the drive to Bạch Mã was at a speed of about 40 
kilometres an hour. Being new to Vietnam several of the urban birds I saw on 
the way would have been lifers and I was able to ID a few but urban birding 
wasn’t part of the tour, making it a frustrating trip. Once we got into the 
farmland and forest after the turn off to Bạch Mã it was a different story and 
the birding tour began.

Road to Bạch Mã 14/1/16 - 15 species incl Paddyfield Pipit & Siberian Stonechat
Nanh stuck to the roads, getting the driver to meet us once we had worked our 
way up another section of the mountain. It was a sensible approach but hard 
work. The thick forest made it difficult to see many of the birds but Nanh made 
up for it by pointing out whatever was around and then impersonating the call 
of a Collared Owlet so he could pick up anything that didn’t show itself. The 
owlet call worked like ‘pishing’. He also used playback from his phone if we 
could hear an identified species nearby. For some time we were in a band of 
cloud or fog that meant calls were the only way of getting an ID.

Bạch Mã 14/1/16 - 31 species incl Red-headed Trogon, Blue-winged Leafbird and 
Racquet-tailed Treepie
Non-birding highlights included a large black snake, a family of rare 
Red-shanked Douc langurs, squirrels and a Muntjac deer that was close enough 
for me to get a poor photo.
After night-fall we went to the accommodation higher up the mountain. Dinner 
was noodles at ‘The Chicken Restaurant’ across the road with a wonderful array 
of Bạch Mã moths flying in to keep me company. Nanh then took me out 
spotlighting but the fog or cloud made it impossible. He got me up before dawn 
the next morning in time to hear a Mountain Scops Owl calling and then more 
noodles and a nice coffee kept warm with a candle for breakfast. After that 
Nanh covered the summit area, which was above the accommodation. Nanh was good 
company, knowledgeable and tireless in finding birds, many of which we heard 
only and I knew none of the calls. He found many birds that I would have missed 
and it would have been a frustrating experience without him.
Bạch Mã 15/1/16 - 26 species incl Silver Pheasant, Golden-throated Barbet, 
White-browed Scimitar-babbler & Sultan Tit

The way back to Hội An included an attempt to find the once-reliable Brown 
Fish-owls at the entrance to the park. Apparently some recently installed 
floodlights caused them to move from the roost at the gate and we failed to 
find out where they had moved to.

The best birding once back at River Beach Resort was along the river next to 
the resort and in the nearby sand dunes behind Cua Dai beach between Palm 
Garden resort and Zero Seamile Beach Club. The section behind the dunes is 
littered with cactus, a few trees, cow dung and graves/memorials (this may be 
why this block hasn’t been developed. I also got a spike from one of the cacti 
so tread carefully). It is also bombarded with Vietnamese pop music from the 
seafood restaurants but every time I went there I found birds. Unfortunately 
the mornings were always overcast and that was when I had time for birding.
Hội An 16/1/16 – 10 species
Hội An 17/1/16 – 7 species incl Sooty-headed Bulbul
Hội An 18/1/16 – 12 species incl Indian Nightjar, Vinous-breasted Starling,
Hội An 19/1/16 – 5 species -
I had difficulty with IDs for several species at Hội An (images on this link)
 particularly the shrikes. I originally thought they were all Long-tailed 
Shrikes but have since changed all but one of them to Brown Shrikes. I also 
failed to ID many of the swifts in flight and a pipit that I think is either 
Richard’s or Paddyfield. If anyone can ID them from the photos on the link it 
would be appreciated.
There are also 7 unidentified bird calls from Hội An on xeno-canto including this 
one that could be Grey-capped 

From Hội An we went to Hanoi. Central Hanoi has two birding sites that I was 
aware of (the Botanic Gardens surrounding the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and Lenin 
Park). I managed to visit both on one morning. The mornings in Hanoi were just 
as overcast as Hội An, so conditions were far from ideal. The crowds, noise, 
traffic and the crews of people constantly raking the grass and leaves around 
the Botanic Gardens added to the challenges. On the upside were quite a few 
sprinklers leaving large puddles of water in the grass that brought some birds 
out into the open.

Hanoi Botanic Gardens 20/1/16 – 11 species incl Taiga Flycatcher, Asian Brown 
Flycatcher, White-throated Fantail
I’m still not completely confident of my IDs of the two flycatchers. It seems 
clear to me from their calls that both were present (Asian Brown Flycatcher Taiga 
Flycatcher ) but I’m not sure if I’ve got the 
IDs right for the photos and video. There’s also an image of a bird with its 
head obscured by a branch. I’ve called it 
Lenin Park’s local name is Thong Nhat Park. There is another Lenin Park on Dien 
Bien Phu near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Thong Nhat Park costs a couple of 
dollars to enter.
Lenin Park 20/1/16 – 5 species incl White Wagtail

The next destination was an overnight cruise on Hạ Long Bay which sounds like a 
great place for birding but I had been warned from previous trip reports that 
it would be mostly crows and kites. And – sure enough – whilst on the cruise 
Large-billed Crows and Black Kites were the only birds I saw that I could 
identify. Before leaving 
the docks I got some long-range flight shots of ducks that turned out to be 
Spot-billed Ducks and just outside the docks several seagulls flew past. I 
couldn’t ID them but thought they might be Relict or Brown-headed Gulls. On the 
bus on the way out I saw a flock of hundreds of gulls over the same area but 
couldn’t ID them either.
The long wait for the bus after the cruise meant that I was free to wander 
through the many nearby incomplete building sites. There I found Common 
Kingfishers (hunting in the flooded foundations of half-finished apartment 
blocks) plus Siberian Stonechat and Blue Rock-thrush. I also just missed a 
Motacilla wagtail as it flew off.
Ha Long Bay 23/1/16 –

The next stop was Haiphong (no birding) and then Ho Chi Minh City. The only 
site I birded in HCMC was the impressive Reunification or Independence Palace 
and I went there as a tourist without my camera. That was a mistake because the 
gardens were very quiet with lots of birds – the roof of the palace was the 
best location I found in Vietnam for watching swifts

Reunification Palace (24/1/16) 8 species incl White-rumped Munia, White-crested 
Laughingthrush, Great Myna
The final locations I saw birds were on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City to the 
Mekong Delta. The first site was around Cái Bè which included the markets and 
short trip up a mangrove-lined creek across the river. The highlight of this 
was recording the call of an Ashy Tailorbird (identified by Marc Anderson on 
xeno-canto) and a species that I didn’t even know was found in Vietnam. I have 
an out-of-focus attempted photo that looks like it could have been an Ashy 
Cái Bè - 25/1/16 – 11 species incl Ashy Tailorbird

The final location was the village garden of our tour guide. The birds included 
a poorly seen and photographed Olive-backed Sunbird and a cormorant that was a 
long way away.
Xã Hòa Khánh – 25/1/16 – 6 species incl Plain-backed Sparrow, Malaysian Pied 
I also got a photo of a bulbul in HCMC itself that could be Grey-eyed or 

For a first time visitor to Vietnam there were plenty of new birds for me. Most 
of the times that I didn’t take my birding gear on a tourist activity I 
regretted it. I spent a total of two days birdwatching out of the two-week 
trip, so I think the result was well worth the time I put into it. I recorded 
calls of 54 species with 18 mystery calls remaining on xeno-canto and took photos 
or video of 44 species with 4 remaining with ID issues (pipit in Hội An, the 
two flycatchers in Hanoi and the bulbul in HCMC).

The Field Guide I was using was Helm Field Guides - Birds of South-East Asia 
(Concise edition) by Craig Robson. The colour plates and information were 
excellent and will be useful in future if I visit any of the other countries it 
covers. To make up for the lack of distribution maps, I marked the species that 
occur in Vietnam using In the field guide, the 
Range section of the notes on each bird mentions which part of Vietnam it 
occurs in (Tonkin – North, Annam – Central and Cochinchina – south).
As a tourist Vietnam is a wonderful experience with Ha Long Bay, Reunification 
Palace, Bạch Mã, Hội An Old Town and Mekong Delta all highlights. Plus the 
great food/coffee and the odd little experiences that will stay in the mind 
just as long, like having a straight razor shave, having the wax cleaned out of 
my ears by a barber in Hội An, and being hassled by juvenile itinerant shoe 
repairers in Hanoi (who did such a good job repairing one of my much-loved 
hiking boots that I changed my mind about them and went back and got them to 
fix the other one.)

The only real down-side was my decision to use Jetstar for the internal flights 
(HCMC to Danang, then Danang to Hanoi and then Hanoi to HCMC). I chose Jetstar 
because they were cheaper than Vietnam Airlines (the airline we used for flying 
to and from Australia). Jetstar kept re-scheduling flights without explanation. 
The flight between HCMC and Danang ended up being changed several times. The 
first time was weeks before we left for Vietnam and I only found out they had 
changed it because Le Quy Minh checked the arrival times at Danang and found 
the flight wasn’t there. I had based everything else on the timing of this 
flight so having it changed is an experience I don’t want to repeat. We didn’t 
have any issues with Vietnam Airlines so we would pay the extra and use them 
next time.

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