Some interesting sightings from our 2008 tours have included several species high on the wanted lists of many birders that are rarely recorded in Vietnam.
One of the most memorable sightings occurred during a morning visit to the beautiful Ta Nung Valley, near Dalat, back in February. While the group was focused on trying to locate a typically tricky Grey-bellied Tesia calling from the forest undergrowth a huge dark shape passed over our heads across the trail and disappeared into the forest canopy behind us. Fortunately one of our eagle-eyed (or is that eagle owl-eyed?) group soon located the mystery bird sitting high up in a tree – a Spot-bellied Eagle Owl. A scope was hastily set up and everybody had their 10 seconds at the eyepiece as the magnificent beast stared disdainfully down at us before disappearing back into the depths of the forest.
Blue-naped Pitta, a real rarity in Vietnam, was another highlight of the same February tour. It was a cold and blustery morning in Tam Dao so instead of heading out on the exposed trail that leads to the bamboo forest we opted to bird on the more sheltered steps leading up to the transmitter tower above the town. It was here after rounding the first corner of the winding path that we noticed a thrush-like bird scratching around in the dead leaves by the edge of the steps. Closer inspection with bins revealed not an over-wintering thrush but a pitta – a Blue-naped Pitta. We watched spellbound for a full five minutes as our serendipitous prize picked around in the early morning gloom on the concrete steps before it hopped off and out of view.
A very fine male Narcissus Flycatcher was another surprise find while birding at Ta Nung Valley one sunny April morning. It must have stopped off at Dalat for refueling on its spring migration up the eastern coast of Asia and we were very glad it had for it was only the second record of Narcissus Flycatcher from southern Vietnam
A few days earlier while birding on the same tour at Cat Tien we had joined up with the legendary Thai birder Uthai Treesucon and Josep del Hoyo, founder of Lynx Publications, publisher of the superlative Handbook of the Birds of the World for a night-time trek. Josep was keen to film Javan Frogmouth for his Internet Bird Collection project and I was of course equally keen to find this nocturnal weirdo of a bird for my tour clients. It wasn’t long before we heard the eerie call of a female Javan Frogmouth along a forest trail. After ten minutes or so of frantic searching we succeeded in finding the bird in our spotlight, sitting on a branch right above us. It was soon joined by its mate and neither bird seemed at all concerned by the spotlight as we all had some very nice views of these strange looking birds and Josep got his footage. The other frogmouth found in Vietnam, Hodgson’s Frogmouth, is regularly seen on our visits to Bach Ma National Park in Central Vietnam.
In addition to these unexpected treats, 2008 has been an excellent year for Vietnamese specialities on our tours with the endemic Collared and Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes, Vietnamese Cutia, Black-crowned Fulvetta, Grey-crowned Crocias and Vietnamese Greenfinch putting in regular appearances. Other highlights of 2008 have included multiple sightings of Siamese Fireback, Germain’s Peacock Pheasant, Green Peafowl, Eared, Blue-rumped and Bar-bellied Pittas, White-winged and Indochinese Green Magpies, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, Grey-crowned Tit, Masked, Grey, White-cheeked and Black-hooded Laughingthrushes, Indochinese Wren Babbler (formerly known as Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler), Sooty Babbler, Grey-faced Tit Babbler, Black-crowned Barwing and Black-crowned Parrotbill.
And it’s not only birds, mammals seen on our tours in 2008 have included several endemic and endangered primates including Black-shanked and Red-shanked Douc Langurs, Delacour Langur and Buff-cheeked Gibbon.