Trip report: Vietnam (South & North) March-April 2013 by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods and Ken Behrens. This was a custom tour.

Vietnam offers distinctly more challenging birding than some of its Southeast Asian rivals (e.g. Thailand and Malaysia), due to the low density of many species, caused largely by extensive deforestation and devastating habitat loss, a situation which is compounded by the extreme shyness of many species that are still commonly trapped for the cage bird trade. However, while the birding may be very difficult at times, the rewards are a set of specialties and endemics confined to Indochina, or to restricted areas within the region. Thus, this tour, like many to Vietnam, was set up for a group who had already traveled in Southeast Asia before and were especially focusing on the high number of regional specialties found in country. To this end it was a successful tour, yielding some of the most prized birds in the areas visited, such as the extremely rare and poorly known White-eared Night-Heron, along with extended views of Malayan Night-Heron too; Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Siamese Fireback (photo below, Ken Behrens) and Green Peafowl in the pheasant capital of Vietnam, Cat Tien; Blue, Bar-bellied and Blue-rumped Pittas; Vietnamese Cutia which showed so well at two sites around Dalat; good views of the normally shy Collared, Orange-breasted and Black-hooded Laughingthrushes; Gray-crowned Crocias and Black-headed Parrotbill in the endemic rich hills around Dalat; in addition to both White-winged and Indochinese Green Magpies; a popular, daytime, Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl in the north (Cuc Phuong), and a surprise daytime Oriental Scops-Owl in the south (Dalat); the unique Ratchet-tailed Treepie, and the recently-described Limestone Leaf-Warbler to name just some of the highlights. A further highlight, perhaps due to the later timing of this tour, compared to most that visit the region, was some interesting raptor migration, while we were at Cuc Phuong in the north, where over 100 Gray-faced Buzzards passed through in a single day, and a single flock of more than 200 Black Bazas passed over on another.

The tour took in some of the Vietnam’s most well-known, long-established, birding sites, such as Cat Tien National Park and the Dalat Plateau in southern Vietnam, and Cuc Phuong National Park in northern Vietnam; in addition to birding some lesser known sites in northern Vietnam such as Van Long Nature Reserve, (to see one of the rarest primates on Earth, Delacour’s Langur); and Ba Be National Park, which has risen to birding prominence in recent years with the discovery of a tiny (though very significant) breeding population of the endangered White-eared Night-Heron there, (world population <1000 birds).

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