After a protracted absence I now hope to catch up with reports on my two most recent foreign trips: Vietnam in March and Mongolia in May 2017.
Although I have visited Thailand twice and also birded in China, north-eastern India, Cambodia and Malaysia, Vietnam still offered a very tempting selection of Oriental goodies. Over the course of 23 days I recorded an amazing 414 species (including 47 life birds). There were some excellent mammals as well including some very rare primates and my first ever pangolin.
Getting there was not without its problems. A long delay due to technical problems at Heathrow meant that it looked like I would miss my connection to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at Bangkok. On arrival those passengers flying on to Vietnam were met on the gangway taken down steps and driven across the apron to our waiting plane without even entering the airport. So it was a great relief when we landed at Saigon on time. However predictably my luggage didn’t make it. It was quite difficult to explain to the very polite lady on the Thai Airlines desk that I was going onto Cat Tien National Park and not some Saigon hotel but fortunately I was able to contact leader Craig Robson who came to my rescue. I was reunited with my luggage the following evening. The photo shows the plane descending over the many channels of the Mekong Delta.
Here we are from the vehicle crossing the Mekong.
Right from the outset at Cat Tien we saw top quality birds like this Green Peacock. This magnificent male was feeding close to the road. We saw about 12 during our stay. This was only the second trip I’ve been on where the species was recorded.
Unlike it’s relative Indian or Blue Peafowl, this species is endangered with a population of just 10-20,00 birds spread over SE Asia, South China and Java. Still hunted for its feathers it has never been semi-domesticated like its Indian cousin.
Bird photography has become big business in SE Asia with many bated hides available. These are not the permanent sort of wooden hides you might find on reserves in Europe but netting with small holes to photograph or observe through and you often have to either squat down or carry a stool with you to sit on. One of first observations wasn’t a bird but a mammal, the cute Cambodian Ground Squirrel.
There were a variety of small birds feeding in the clearing in front of the hide – Puff-throated Babblers and …
… Buff-throated Babblers showed very well.
Smart Siberian Blue Robins here for the winter from their breeding grounds in Siberia and Japan were a real treat …
… and were seen alongside resident Magpie Robins.
Magpie Robins are common but quite shy throughout SE Asia.
Several races of Orange-headed Thrush occur, some migratory others resident differing among other features in their facial marking. The brown hue of the mantle indicates that this is a female.
The long-tailed White-rumped Shama was a delight to see …
… although currently classified as ‘least concern’ populations of this species along with many others in SE Asia are dropping rapidly due to trapping for the cage bird trade.
It’s seldom that you get such stunning views of a pheasant in Asia, this Germain’s Peacock-pheasant performed admirably.
The gorgeous endemic Bar-bellied Pitta was perhaps the star of the show. This endemic pitta is only found in Vietnamese lowland forest but thanks to these feeding stations is quite easy to see.
The endemic Blue-rumped Pitta is quite understated by pitta standards, but it was lovely to watch a pair of these mega-elusive birds feeding in the open.
The 32 species of pitta, an exclusively Old World family) not to be confused with the New World antpittas) are some of the most elusive yet beautiful birds in the world.
There is a big problem in SE Asia with primates being poached for the pet trade. The cage contains Red-cheeked Gibbons that have been confiscated by authorities and are being rehabilitated for release back into the reserve. Wild gibbons attracted by the sight of these caged individuals come to investigate. The black individual is the male.
Other primates included Crab-eating Macaque …
… but far rarer and most unexpected was this endangered Black-shanked Douc Langur. Only about 600 individuals may remain in Vietnam, although maybe more in Cambodia. we had a young lady who was a primatologist on the trip and she was absolutely delighted to see this species.
A pair of habituated Great Hornbills were often seen hanging round the restaurant area. Tragically one morning one of the pair was found dead, entrapped in electrical cables near the HQ.
In the opposite direction the road led into taller, more mature forest.
Species included the charming Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher …
… the bizarre Dusky Broadbill …
… and its cousin the stunning Black-and-Red Broadbill.
There are 15 species of broadbill, three in Africa, the rest in Asia. I have seen all but three (two in Philippines and one in Borneo) however I have no plans to go back to either of these localities so I doubt if I’ll ever complete the family.
From the HQ and accommodation a drivable track runs in both directions. In this direction the forest is more open and eventually leads to dry paddyfields outside the park.
Birds in this area included Orange-breasted Green Pigeon …
… Violet Cuckoo …
… and an elusive Banded Kingfisher.
Wintering birds from Siberian included this Asian Brown Flycatcher.
The large and endemic Red-vented Barbet was high on my wish list.
Non avian species included this striking Neon-blue Dragon.
Eventually we reached some dry paddyfields where we searched for a few open country birds.
In the trees there were a small flock of the scarce and appropriately named Plain-backed Sparrows.
Red-wattled Lapwings and ….
… Oriental Pratincoles were amongst our targets.
Dry country passerines included Indochinese Bush Lark ….
… and Paddyfield Pipit. This species is largely resident, however we also saw its close relative, the migratory Richard’s Pipit which winters in SE Asia from its Siberian breeding ground. These two species are very similar although the larger Richard’s can be distinguished when they are side by side.
We did several night drives and saw a range of mammals including this Red Muntjac …
… and Common Palm Civet.
But the best mammal sighting, indeed one of the best mammal sightings of all time, was this Sunda Pangolin that was found near our accommodation. Here photographed by the light of the leader’s torch and by flash below.
Pangolins are the most traded wild animals in the world. For reasons completely beyond my understanding, the scales (made of keratin, the same stuff as your fingernails) is considered of value in traditional oriental medicine. Millions of these charming and harmless animals are killed every year, this amounts to about 20% of the entire global wildlife trade. No wonder its taken me 35 years to see one.
After three nights at Cat Tien it was time to catch the ferry across the river and meet up with our vehicles.
But let’s end with a photo of one of the most striking bird of Cat Tien’s forest … Great Hornbill.