Birding on Mount Bi Doup – Quest for the Indochinese Fulvetta

At 2,287 metres, Mount Bi Doup is the highest peak in Bi Doup-Nui Ba National Park and the second tallest mountain after Chu Yang Sin on the Dalat Plateau. It is one of only two sites in Vietnam where the high altitude-loving Indochinese Fulvetta has been found. The other known sites for this little-known bird are nearby Mount Chu Yang Sin and a site in neighbouring Laos.

Mount Bi Doup, Dalat Plateau, Vietnam
Mount Bi Doup, Dalat Plateau, Vietnam                                  

The summit of Mount Bi Doup has long been off limits to visitors but now, with assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Bi Doup-Nui Ba National Park is keen to develop ecotourism in the park and in April 2012 we were finally able to explore it. At the kind invitation of Bi Doup–Nui Ba Ecotourism Centre and JICA project manager, Tamari Kyotaka, Vietnam Birding guide Luyen Nguyen, Florian Klingel and I spent two days exploring Mount Bi Doup. We were ably assisted by guide K'Vang from the park Ecotourism Centre, park ranger Cuong, and a support team from the national park.

We started the ascent at Klong Klanh District with a hair-raising river crossing over a bridge made from a rather too skinny tree trunk. After following a trail weaving through razor sharp elephant grass for thirty minutes or so we entered some beautiful broadleaved forest. It’s a real rarity to find such large areas of undisturbed forest nowadays in Vietnam. There were enormous red Fokienia trees, endemic Krempf's pines and overhead branches draped in moss, orchids and epiphytes.

Beautiful broadleaved forest
Beautiful broadleaved forest                                                     

During a break in the climb, our first attempt at playing the call of the normally shy endemic Collared Laugingthrush produced an immediate response with two of these beauties coming in to take a closer look at us. Meanwhile another rarely seen Dalat Plateau resident, a Blue Pitta, called close by. Florian disappeared into the undergrowth after it and in a few minutes was enjoying nice views of this equally stunning bird. We were to discover over the course of the two days that the much sought-after Collared Laughingthrush was actually one of the commonest birds on the mountain.

Beautiful broadleaved forest
Collared Laughingthrush                               

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached our camp site in broadleaved forest a couple of hundred metres below the summit. Dumping our heavy backpacks here we made the final steep ascent to the summit to have a go at locating our main target, that enigmatic LBJ, the Indochinese Fulvetta. A Buff-cheeked Gibbon was seen briefly on the climb to the summit and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers flitted around us as we made frequent stops to catch our breath on the steep slope.

A Birding Bonanza in the Red River Delta
The dense, tangled habitat of Indochinese    

Reaching the summit we found it to be covered with 10 metre high trees with little undergrowth, not bamboo as expected. We searched the wider summit area however and soon discovered the gradually descending flank of the mountain was covered with a dense understory. Some gentle pishing here quickly brought in our first inquisitive pair of Alcippe danisi bidoupensis, Indochinese Fulvetta. They gave soft chattering calls as they came closer to check us out and then just as quickly disappeared back into the tangle of the undergrowth.

The dense, tangled habitat of Indochinese Fulvetta
Indochinese Fulvetta                                                                    

Relieved with finding our target so quickly, we called it a day and descended back down the slope to enjoy dinner prepared by our wonderful support team around a blazing fire. The evening was dark with menacing clouds and distant thunder, but we were lucky and the rain that had been threatening all day never arrived.

The following morning we awoke to the calls of Collared Laughingthrushes seemingly everywhere in the forest around us while right next to our camp site we discovered a pair of Black-crowned Fulvettas busily feeding young in a neat little nest of moss and lichen two meters above the ground.

Indochinese Fulvetta
Black-crowned Fulvetta at nest                                                
After breakfast accompanied by singing Gibbons, we packed up and returned to the summit. There we spent a very enjoyable couple of hours birding finding several more pairs of confiding Indochinese Fulvettas along with yet more Collared Laughingthrushes. It was interesting to find that many of Dalat’s most notorious skulkers such as Collared Laughingthrush, Pygmy Wren-babbler and Grey-bellied Tesia, were not all shy up here on the summit, a reflection of just how undisturbed this forest currently is. Long may it continue to be so!

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