Terns and turtles: A short holiday in Con Dao

Great Crested Terns
Great Crested Terns

Jonathan Eames, Dinh Thi Hoa, my wife Lan, daughter Carmen and me, Richard Craik, had a short holiday on Con Dao Island from 10th to 14th July. A typical holiday for us really, a mix of family fun (the swimming pool and trampoline at the resort provided most of this), sweaty games of tennis on hot, sticky afternoons and morning birding trips.

On our first afternoon there we met up with the very helpful Ms Thuy from Con Dao National Park. Through her we made arrangements to hire a speedboat for a morning at Trung Island on 11th July and another trip on the 13th and 14th to Troc and Tre Nho islands and Bay Canh Island where we would overnight to watch the Green Turtles egg-laying on the beach. Fortunately the speedboat was already booked for the morning of 12th July so I could enjoy a lay-in after staying up till four in the morning to watch the World Cup Final.

Approaching Trung Island just after 7.30 in the morning we could see that Bridled Terns made up the majority of the birds circling above the small egg-shaped island along with smaller numbers of Great Crested and Roseate terns. In nooks and crannies at lower levels Brown Noddy and Brown Booby were nesting. We had not been able to get onto Trung Island on earlier trips to Con Dao but this time we were to be luckier as the calm sea conditions meant the speedboat could briefly get close enough for us to hop onto the slippery barnacle encrusted rocks. Mind you, that was the easy bit! We now had to scramble up the sheer jagged rocks to reach the nesting terns near the top of the island.

Con Lu
The sheer jagged rocks of Trung Island

Not having the best head for heights I called it a day around 10 metres below the summit and settled into a nice shady spot while Jonathan clambered up to the top to photograph the nesting birds close up. After an hour or so watching terns wheeling around our heads it was time to scramble back down to the boat and rescue the womenfolk who were by now beginning to turn varying shades of green as the speedboat bobbed around offshore.

On the morning of the 13th we boarded the speedboat loaded down with our provisions for the next 24 hours and headed for Tre Nho via Troc Island. There was not a lot happening on Troc Island but we did get some nice looks at a group of Black-naped Terns including at least one recently fledged young bird as we passed close by the island.

 

Orange-headed Thrush
Roseate Terns on Trung Island

Continuing to Tre Nho we disembarked with our bottles of water, banh mi pate and oranges to spend the morning searching for the extremely elusive Nicobar Pigeon. We had failed to find the little bugger on previous trips to Con Dao and after a hot and sweaty morning scouring Tre Nho we were to fail again this time. What we did discover though was that Tre Nho has to be the easiest place in the world to see Mangrove Whistler, which was literally everywhere on this tiny little island. A couple of “pishes” would bring the inquisitive little whistlers in from every direction. So, no Nicobars on Tre Nho this time but there were Pied Imperial-pigeons, a few Emerald Doves, plenty of White-rumped Shamas and a small colony of Bridled Terns on the rocky cliffs.

 

A Birding Bonanza in the Red River Delta
Green Turtle heading out to sea

In the afternoon we continued to the much larger Bay Canh were we searched in vain once more for Nicobar Pigeon and after a swim and an early dinner we set the alarm for two o’clock and hit the sack. Well, hard wooden beds actually, a sack would have been sheer luxury. Up at two, we only had to wait thirty minutes or so before the first Green Turtle hauled itself up the beach and started to dig a hole in the sandy beach. By five o’clock we had watched eleven Green Turtles lay their eggs before disappearing back into the moonlit ocean. And we disappeared back to Con Dao Island before our speedboat moored nearby was left high and dry by the fast receding tide.