Thursday, June 28, 2007

Birdwatching in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

Introduction
Vietnam is home to one of the richest but most poorly known avifaunas of any Southeast Asian country, with a number of endemic, near-endemic, and highly threatened species found there. As a matter of fact, no other mainland Southeast Asian country can boast as many endemics as Vietnam. Although intense agriculture, population pressures, and the long era of strife in this small country have taken their toll on the native wildlife and habitat, several fine reserves and national parks dot the length of the country and shelter some of Southeast Asia's rarest birds and mammals, including several species new to science. Figures for the total number of bird species recorded in the country range around 870 species. The high bird species richness in Vietnam can be attributed to the wide latitudinal and elevational variation present within the country, which has led to the development of a wide range of habitat types.

Edward's Pheasant - photo by Bao Nguyen
This species is no longer seen in the wild by birder for at at least 40 years

WHERE and WHEN to watch birds in Indochina 

The three countries have some well-known birding spots in each, beside many hotspots already known by international birders, lot of other sites are developing for nature tourism that promise to become incredible place of birding in the future.

Vietnam has the most advanced eco-tourism sites and the best-known network. In Cambodia, recent conservation work has discovered several excellent areas. Lao is still developing and birding isn’t popular yet in the country.

As the monsoon climate, the best time to visit southern Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao is during dry season (winter) during December-April, when many species are breeding, they usually active and vocal during this time, especially in the morning. The North Vietnam is a bit different, Spring occurs in March-May, the best period to visit mountainous parks to avoid misty, cold and fogy in winter or hot and humid in summer.


Vietnam

In the south, Cat Tien national park perhaps the best choice for those who want to bird for 2-4 days. Several small spots in Mekong delta including Tram Chim wetland reserve area, muddy beaches in Tien Giang or Ben Tre provinces and some bird sanctuaries are good for waterbirds and waders during migration time. Come up to montaine, Da Lat area is superb; birders can enjoy both unique birdlife and cool climate with beautiful landscape in this tourist town.

In central highland, Yok Don national park offer tourists other kind of habitats, deciduous depterocarps forest, and Serepok river here supports habitat for Mekong Wagtail. Kon Tum plateau providing excellent sites including Mang Den and Lo Xo pass, recently babblers (Chestnut-eared Laughingthrus and Black-crowned Barwing) are main targets for all birders in the World.
Chestnut-eared Laughingthrus - Photo by Bao Nguyen

The lowland annamite in the central nearby Hue city, Da Nang, Hoi An… the evergreen forest in Bach Ma national park is one of the best birding spot. A bit further north, Phong Nha – Ke Bang national provides a good limestone forest and wonder caves.

In the north, there are several excellent sites near Ha Noi. Tam Dao national park is a good montane forest where just about 1.5 hours drive from Noi Bai airport. Ba Vi mountain is also good for some good species. Cuc Phuong national park has some best limestone forest. In the very north, Sa Pa region will introduce birders Himalayan avifauna and Ba Be national park is for one who serious to see White-eared Night-heron.

Detailed information of all these sites can be found on each page providing link above.


Cambodia

Around Siem Reap, several excellent birding sites are home to Sam Veasna Center for Conservation (SVC).  Ang Trapeang Tmor, the Sarus Crane reserve area is just about 2 hours drive. It has excellent small wetland and grassland habitats. Prek Toal in the core of Tonle Sap supporting breeding colonies of large waterbirds.  Following road 6 Siem Reap – Phnompenh, a grassland near Kompong Thom providing good habitat for Bengal Florican and also many grass-birds, crakes. Tmatboey locates on the east perhaps the best spot in Cambodia, both mythical Ibises are found during dry season. A village named Kampi nearby Kratie is one of the best site to see Irrawady Dolphin, you also find Mekong Wagtail here while searching for dolphin.
Giant Ibis at Tmatbouy - Photo by Bao Nguyen

Laos

As mentioned, Lao is still developing and birding here is difficult. Only the best-known site is Nahin. Locating on the road 8 leading to Vietnam, this spot supports a population of a very recently describe species, Bare-faced Bulbul. Beside, near-endemic taxa Sooty Babbler and Limestone Warbler can be encountered.

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