7 Endemic Birds of Vietnam in Dalat
I was fascinated by the number of endemic birds in Vietnam in the main land as compared with the neighbouring southeast Asian countries like Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Normally islands like Philippines or Borneo bring about habitat isolation with more endemism due to geographical isolation by the sea.
In Vietnam, isolation of habitat occurs within the mainland due to different climates that cultivates a different ecosystem altogether. Vietnam is home to 12 endemic birds seen nowhere else in the world. This has gained an increasing number of visiting enthusiastic bird watchers from all over the region. More specifically in Dalat (the cool highlands northeast of Ho Chi Minh city, in south Vietnam) has a staggering 7 out of the 12 endemic birds in Vietnam.
The most sought after 7 endemic birds of Vietnam in Dalat are:
1. Vietnamese Cutia
2. Dalat Shrike-Babbler
3. Collared Laughing-thrush
4. Orange-breasted Laughing-thrush
5. Black-crowned Fulvetta
6. Vietnamese Greenfinch
7. Grey-crowned Crocias
We spent 4 days in Dalat, from 5 to 8 December 2019, in the hope of photographing the beautiful 7 endemic birds of Vietnam.
Day 1| Five Vietnam endemic birds on our first day.
After a hearty breakfast, we left the town of Dalat for Bidoup Nui Ba National Park at around 6 am. It was a clear and beautiful sunny day with a cold morning breeze at around 10 degrees Celsius. My guide, Tien, from An Nam Birding, wound down the car window and listened intently to the bird calls while driving pass the pine forest. As we stopped the car, with sheer God’s blessing, there was a bird wave coming towards us. I quickly set up my 600mm lens on tripod while Tien kept an eye on the birds with his binoculars. To our delight, the Vietnamese Cutia, Dalat Shrike-Babbler, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Neck-laced Barbet and Minivets were among the birds in the wave. We managed to photograph them all as they fed on the caterpillars on the open pine tree branches from the road side. Our first two endemic birds, the Vietnamese Cutia and Dalat Shrike-Babbler, were captured on camera.
After the bird wave, with the two endemic birds photographed, we proceeded to the national park not far away. Threads of wavy mist started to creep over the road and decreased the visibility, dampening our spirits. Suddenly, the Collared Laughing-thrush and Orange-breasted Laughing-thrush peaked through the cracks of the mist and we were able to photograph them. These 2 species can only be found in Vietnam. We were so delighted to be able to photograph our
3rd and 4th endemics in just a few hours into our trip. To our pleasant surprise, the Black-crowned Fulvetta (also an endemic) also showed up as our 5th endemic bird on this cold misty day in Dalat.
It was a great way to sum up our first day in Dalat, spotting a total of 5 out of 7 endemic birds of Vietnam, we were excited to see more.
Day 2-3|Searching for the 6th endemic bird, Vietnamese Greenfinch
Locating the two remaining endemic birds did not come easy. Our remaining targets among other birds were the Vietnamese Greenfinch and Grey-crowned Crocias. Knowing that the Greenfinch favoured sunflower and daisy plants with seeds, we went in search of those locations.
We arrived at an abandoned military airfield dotted with yellow sunflowers in a sea of green. It was an ideal habitat for the birds, however, no traces of the Vietnamese Greenfinch. We only spotted a female Grey-bushchat and a Burmese Shrike. Just as we were about to leave the area after searching for an hour, I saw a silhouette of a small-medium sized bird on the wire. Tien on the driver’s side suddenly heard a bird call and stopped the car. I asked, “Tien what’s the bird on the wire”? Tien, focusing intently on the call while frantically looking around, said “Forget about that bird you saw, Greenfinch is here”. Coincidentally, the bird that was spotted on the wire was where the bird call was from, a Vietnamese Greenfinch. We found the the Vietnamese Greenfinch! A group of 4 to 6 of them perched on the sunflowers and fed on the seeds. They pranced around for another 30 minutes to let us photograph them in their natural habitat at eye level in bright sun light. We were ecstatic that our 6th endemic bird was photographed before lunch. While we keep the Grey-crown Crocias in our mind, we continue to photograph other birds. Over lunch we have a better shot of the Dalat Shrike-babbler at the Datanla Waterfall Café along with Black-throated Sunbird and Gould’s Sunbird.
Day 4|Photographing the 7th endemic bird of Vietnam, Grey-crowned Crocias.
A brief interesting history about this bird that I read from my Oriental Bird Club Magazine (special Vietnam Issue) Bulletin 33, June 2001. It says “In April 1938, a Swedish ornithologist ,Bertil Bjorkegren, first collected the Grey-crowned Crocias. There was no further field observation for 56 years until the species was rediscovered in January 1994”. To search for the Grey-crowned Crocias, a very distinctive babbler, we had to go to the edge of the forest near Ta Nung Valley. However, there was no chance to photograph the birds as they were always either high up on the tree and well hidden within the sub-canopy or canopy region. The nearest I got to the birds were when they were right above me. It even defecated on my head when one flew off. Some say bird poop is luck.
It was nearing late morning on the final day, we decided to go to Bidoup Nui Ba National Park again for our final try. Weather was cold and foggy. The last place I would least expect to see the Grey-crowned Crocias. But Tien told me that he had encountered the bird in the same area before and he wanted to give the final try. Lo and behold in an unexpected patch of the forest off the main road we heard the calls and Tien called back. Although the pair was at eye level, they remained hidden and snuggled together behind the leaves. For around 50 minutes, they were playing hide-and-seek with us, mostly hiding. How I wish I could invite the birds to just pop out for just a few seconds. It was so close but yet not fully visible. The birds heard my thoughts and did just that by hanging on a clear vine just for a few seconds. Click, click, click. We bagged the 7th endemic birds which was the Grey-crowned Crocias only found in the nearby mountain of Dalat in Vietnam. Our persistency paid off.
With the 7 endemic birds captured on camera in 4 days, we celebrated our achievements with a soupy bowl of Pho in Dalat that evening. The piping hot broth of beef Pho, was much welcomed after a cold misty and windy birding day in Dalat. Other than photographing the 7 endemics birds of Vietnam in Dalat, we had close to 60 different birds over 4 days including the Rusty-naped Pitta and Blue Pitta.