Trip Report: South and Central Vietnam

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Trip Report: South and Central Vietnam

Trip Report, Vietnam and Cambodia
January and February 2014

Vietnam is without a doubt one of the most comfortable, if not the most comfortable place in South East Asia to travel. Hotels are clean, very modern and most feature excellent breakfast buffets. Vietnam is a great place to bird in general because of the variety of birds and habitats. Many trip reports detail the number of endemics in Vietnam, especially the Laughingthrushes, and information is fairly easy to find before visiting. The birding sites are very well known throughout the country and most are easy to reach with public transportation. We birded in Dalat, Cat Tien, and Bach Ma. We also visited the Mekong Delta and Phong Nha National Park, but not specifically for bird watching. Visits to these places provided additional species nevertheless.

For us, Cat Tien was certainly the most rewarding destination in Vietnam, while Dalat was somewhat frustrating from the perspective of an independent birder despite the wealth of information available to us online. This, of course, is reason enough to return to the Dalat Plateau at another time. The key to our next visit will certainly be to spend less time getting lost or almost killed by local traffic!

Dalat Plateau
We did not do well with the Laughingthrushes in Dalat, in fact we only heard the Orange-Breasted Laughers calling once and saw fleeting glimpses of the White Crested Laughers. Most of the time I was birding by myself and this made things difficult considering that all calls were new to me. In fact I only encountered one other birding group the entire 5 days, and they also seemed to struggling with the Laughers. Finding the good locations via motorbike considering the amount of construction everywhere on the plateau was sometimes difficult/bewildering. Also, Dalat is currently being built up in a major way. In the coming years, Birders may have to travel quite far away from Dalat to see good birds.

As a side note, the transition zones between montane deciduous forest and coniferous forest immediately around Dalat are bizarre.  In places, broad-leaf trees were on one side of the street and pines were on the other. Locals are constantly burning in the forest and reshaping the ecology. The artificial ecoclines are unlike any I have ever seen before. In Dalat, we stayed at the hotel Thien An. Mr. An is an excellent host and the food at breakfast is very good. Early starts and organizing a motorbike to visit the surrounding areas were no problem.

Cat Tien National Park
Perhaps because birding in Dalat was occasionally frustrating, birding in Cat Tien seemed like paradise. Mr. Duyen was our guide for three days in the park and we stayed a few extra days to bird some of the hot spots he showed us in the forest. We overnighted outside of the park at the Green Hope Lodge, meaning that we had to pay the entrance fee to cross the river into the park each day. Not to fear, however, the fee is modest. In retrospect, I would do the same again despite the extra 1km walk to the Green Hope. Green Bamboo is directly on the other side of the river and may also be a nice place to stay. Accommodation inside the park is overpriced and is in somewhat of a state but with has the added benefit that afternoon breaks between the morning and evening sessions can be enjoyed in the room (you can take a quick nap!). Instead, we hung out at the park restaurant. We did have a look at the rooms inside the national park, and some were nice, but they did cost nearly double of what Green Hope was asking. Green Hope has really nice, well-built rooms with fridge, comfortable bed, air con, etc. It is also very quiet and the food is very good and comes in the form of generous servings. Forest Floor Lodge is located inside the park and is said to be very nice ($$$$).

Mr. Duyen is a ninja in the forest and a very pleasant man to bird with. I have seldom met anyone who knows his local patch so well. He is an excellent bird guide and hiring him is a very good value. Contact the park staff via email to book him.

Though the entrance to the park is inexpensive, transport to other areas of the park (grasslands, hill forest, Crocodile Lake) is pricey. A visit to Crocodile Lake (beautiful) is essential for seeing Peacock Pheasant. Pitta can be seen seemingly everywhere in the forest though they are very elusive. Playback for the pittas does not work year round and according to Mr Duyen is actually only effective in April and March. Patience is a prerequisite.

Some of the park facilities immediately around the main office are in a shocking state of disrepair. This goes for the watchtowers (deathtraps) in the grasslands. In the end, however, what shines through the most is the beauty of the park and the variety of birds and animals.

Bach Ma National Park
We spent two days, one night birding in Bach Ma National Park. This proved to be somewhat difficult to arrange and slightly expensive due to Tet (Chinese New Year). Accommodation at the summit is not in very good shape, but the food is good despite costing double at the time due to the Tet. Bach Ma has just recently reopened after four years of road construction and renovation. Perhaps the lodging will be upgraded next, though it is nothing that will shock a seasoned birder (it can be cold up there, however). Actually, the word adequate comes to mind to describe everything. Birding is done along the road, around the skeletons of abandoned park facilities, and in open spaces where some buildings once stood. Blue-rumped Pitta can be heard calling in the morning but closing the distance within the dense forest is difficult. One trip into the woods did produce White-Gorgeted Flycatcher which is an amazing bird.

As a side note, those considering a trip to Vietnam during Tet should remember that for two weeks before and one week after Tet, everything doubles in price. Logistics can be difficult.

List in order according to Robson’s Birds of Southeast Asia:

Scaly-Breasted Partridge Cat Tien
Red Jungle Fowl Cat Tien
Siamese Fireback Cat Tien
Germain’s Peacock Pheasant Cat Tien
Green Peafowl Cat Tien
Lesser Whistling Duck Cat Tien
Heart-Spotted Woodpecker Cat Tien
Grey-Capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dalat
Greater Yellownape Cat Tien
Laced Woodpecker Cat Tien
Streak-Throated Woodpecker Cat Tien
Common Flameback Cat Tien
Bay Woodpecker Bach Ma
Red-Vented Barbet Cat Tien
Lineated Barbet Cat Tien
Golden-Throated Barbet Bach Ma
Black-Browed Barbet Dalat
Blue-Eared Barbet Cat Tien
Coppersmith Barbet Cat Tien
Great Hornbill Cat Tien
Oriental Pied Hornbill Cat Tien
Common Hoopoe Phnom Penh
Indian Roller Cat Tien
Dollarbird Cat Tien
Orange-Breasted Trogon Cat Tien
Red-Headed Trogon Phong Nha
Common Kingfisher Cat Tien
Black-Backed Kingfisher Cat Tien
Pied Kingfisher Cat Tien
Banded Kingfisher Cat Tien
Stork-Billed Kingfisher Cat Tien
White-Throated Kingfisher Bach Ma, Cat Tien
Black-Capped Kingfisher Cat Tien
Drongo Cuckoo Cat Tien
Banded Bay Cuckoo Cat Tien
Green-Billed Malkoha Cat Tien, Dalat
Greater Coucal Cat Tien
Lesser Coucal Cat Tien
Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater Cat Tien
Vernal Hanging Parrot Cat Tien
Grey-Headed Parakeet Cat Tien
Red-Breasted Parakeet Cat Tien
Siver-Backed Needletail Cat Tien
Asian Barred Owlet Cat Tien
Brown Hawk Owl Cat Tien
Great Eared Nightjar Cat Tien
Rock Pigeon Bach Ma
Green Imperial Pigeon Cat Tien
Oriental Turtle Dove Dalat
Spotted Dove Bach Ma, Cat Tien, Dalat
Red Collared Dove Cat Tien
Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon Cat Tien
Pompador Green Pigeon Cat Tien
Thick-Billed Green Pigeon Cat Tien
Purple Swamphen Cat Tien
Bronze-Winged Jacana Cat Tien
Red-Wattled Lapwing Cat Tien
Black Baza Cat Tien
Osprey Cat Tien, Phnom Penh
Grey-Headed Fish Eagle Cat Tien
Creasted Serpent Eagle Cat Tien
Crested Goshawk Bach Ma
Shikra Cat Tien
Besra Cat Tien
Grey-Faced Buzzard Dalat
Greater Spotted Eagle Dalat
Black Eagle Bach Ma
Little Egret Cat Tien
Intermediate Egret Cat Tien
Cattle Egret Dalat
Chinese Pond Heron Cat Tien, Dalat
Purple Heron Cat Tien
Yellow Bittern Cat Tien
Cinammo Bittern Bach Ma
Wolly-Necked Stork Cat Tien
Bar-Bellied Pitta Cat Tien
Blue-Rumped Pitta Bach Ma, Cat Tien
Blue-Winged Leafbird Cat Tien
Golden-Fronted Leafbird Cat Tien
Common Iora Cat Tien
Great Iora Cat Tien
Asian Fairy Bluebird Cat Tien
Brown Shrike Cat Tien
Burmese Shrike Dalat
Long-Tailed Shrike Bach Ma
Eurasian Jay Dalat
Indochinese Green Magpie Bach Ma
Racket-Tailed Treepie Cat Tien, Bach Ma
Ratchet-Tailed Treepie Bach Ma
Black-Naped Oriole Cat Tien
Slender-Billed Oriole Dalat
Black-Hooded Oriole Dalat
Large Cuckooshrike Dalat
Long-Tailed Minivet Dalat
Scarlet Minivet Dalat
Ashy Minivet Cat Tien
Black Drongo Cat Tien
Ashy Drongo Cat Tien, Dalat
Bronzed Drongo Cat Tien, Dalat
Spangled Drongo Cat Tien
Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo Cat Tien
Ashy Woodswallow Cat Tien, Dalat
Bar-Winged Flycatcher-Shrike Cat Tien, Dalat
White-Browed Fantail Cat Tien, Dalat
Grey-Headed Canary Flycatcher Bach Ma, Dalat
Black-Naped Monarch Cat Tien, Dalat
Asian Paradise-Flycatcher Cat Tien
Large Woodshrike Cat Tien
Common Woodshrike Cat Tien
White-Throated Rock Thrush Cat Tien, Dalat
Blue Rock Thrush Bach Ma
Blue Whistling Thrusch Bach Ma
Orange-Headed Thrush Bach Ma
Scaly Thrush Bach Ma
Eurasian Blackbird (Chinese Blackbird) Bach Ma
Dark-Sided Flycatcher Cat Tien
Asian Brown Flycatcher Cat Tien
White-Gorgeted Flycatcher Bach Ma
Large Niltava Dalat
Hainan Blue Flycatcher Cat Tien
Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher Cat Tien
Orange-Flanked Bush Robin Bach Ma
Oriental Magpie Robin Cat Tien, Phong Nha
White-Rumped Shama Cat Tien
Siberian Stonechat Cat Tien
Grey Bushchat Dalat
White-Crowned Forktail Bach Ma
Common Myna Phnom Penh
Hill Myna Cat Tien, Dalat
Black-Collared Starling Dalat
Vinous-Breasted Starling Cat Tien
Chestnut-Vented Nuthatch Dalat
Yellow-Billed Nuthatch Dalat
Green-Backed Tit Dalat
Yellow-Cheeked Tit Dalat
Black-Throated Tit Dalat
Sultan Tit Bach Ma
Barn Swallow Cat Tien
Black-Headed Bulbul Dalat
Black-Crested Bulbul Dalat
Stripe-Throated Bulbul Cat Tien, Phong Nha
Flavescent Bulbul Dalat
Red-Whiskered Bulbul Dalat
Sooty-Headed Bulbul Cat Tien
Ashy Bulbul Dalat
Black Bulbul Dalat
Puff-Throated Bulbul Bach Ma
Ochraceous Bulbul Cat Tien
Brown Prinia Cat Tien
Plain Prinia Cat Tien
Pale-Footed Bush Warbler Cat Tien
Oriental Reed Warbler Cat Tien
Common Tailorbird Dalat
Dark-Necked Tailorbird Cat Tien
Dusky Warbler Cat Tien
Ashy-Throated Warbler Dalat
Arctic Warbler Dalat
Grey-Cheeked Warbler Bach Ma
Masked Laughingthrush Bach Ma
White-Crested Laughingthrush Bach Ma
Black-Throated Laughingthrush Bach Ma
Buff-Breasted Babbler Cat Tien
Puff-Throated Babbler Cat Tien
White-Browed Scimitar Babbler Bach Ma
Short-Tailed Scimitar Babbler Bach Ma
Golden Babbler Bach Ma
Striped Tit Babbler (Pin-Striped Tit Babbler) Bach Ma, Cat Tien
Grey-Faced Babbler Cat Tien
White-Browed Shrike Babbler Dalat
Blue-Winged Minla Dalat
Rufous-Winged Fulvetta Dalat
Mountain Fulvetta Bach Ma, Dalat
Rufous-Backed Sibia Dalat
Striated Yuhina (Chestut-Collared Yuhina) Bach Ma, Phong Nha
Scarlet-Backed Flowerpecker Cat Tien
Purple-Throated Subird Cat Tien
Mrs Gould’s Subird Dalat
Fork-Tailed Sunbird Bach Ma, Dalat
Black-Throated Sunbird (Johnsi) Dalat
Crimson Subird Cat Tien
Brown-Throated Sunbird Cat Tien
Ruby-Cheeked Sunbird Cat Tien
Purple-Naped Sunbird Cat Tien
Olive-Backed Sunbird Cat Tien
Little Spiderhunter Cat Tien
Streaked Spiderhunter Dalat
Grey Wagtail Dalat
Olive-Backed Pipit Bach Ma
Plain-Backed Sparrow Dalat
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Dalat
Scaly-Breasted Munia Cat Tien
Black-Headed Munia Cat Tien
Vietnamese Greenfinch Dalat
Red Crossbill Dalat