Saturday 29 March. After an overnight flight we arrived in Bangkok seeing 3 Little Cormorants, Javan Pond Heron, Asian Open-billed Stork and 4 Black Drongos from the terminal. We then flew to Hanoi where a vehicle was waiting to take us to Cuc Phuong National Park. We arrived at dusk having seen White-throated Kingfisher, Ashy Wood Swallow and more Black Drongos on the way. Accommodation at the Bong Substation, about 20km into the park, was basic but perfectly adequate and one of the locals brought us meals from HQ by motorbike. Tony Palliser was also staying at Bong, having arrived before we did.
Sunday 30 March. After looking around the Bong clearing Nick and I decided to spend most of the day on the loop trail, first birding the grids then climbing up on the ridge. It was very cloudy and a bit damp. We started really well seeing a male Fukien Niltava and the first of three vocal male Bar-bellied Pittas encountered during the day. Bar-bellied was my most wanted bird and it is always nice to see the main target early on. We continued birding along the trail and bumped into Tony. The three of us continued along the trail which eventually started dropping and continued to do so for some time. By now we were a little concerned that we might have taken a wrong turning, or missed the right one, but we were on a well-used trail, not that anyone else was on it, and had seen no alternatives. Time was getting on but we felt we’d past the point of no return so continued as it must lead somewhere. We continued dropping, left primary forest and descended into more open scrub, then we could see paddyfields and a small village - we’d managed to walk out of the park. We arrived in the village just before dusk and, with some difficulty, managed to make our predicament understood and negotiated for three guys with motorbikes to take us back to Bong. It wasn’t far off a 50km trip as we had to travel the length of the park to enter at the HQ and then once inside back to the Bong substation. I’d only once been on the back of a motorbike in the 25 years since since leaving School and was probably like a dead-weight for my poor driver. Back in the park about 5kms short of Bong I was probably too rigid going around a corner and we skidded over in the rain. I’d had enough and walked the rest although the others eventually sent the van back for me. By then I was almost home, and very wet despite an umbrella. I had also managed to melt the sole of one shoe unknowingly resting it on the motorbike’s exhaust pipe although I didn’t realise that until later. An eventful first day that rapidly went downhill, in many respects, since our early success with Bar-bellied Pittas. Other notable birds seen were the disappearing back of a male Silver Pheasant, 2 Long-tailed Broadbills, 2 Puff-throated Babblers, 2 Streaked Wren-Babblers, Rufous-throated Fulvetta and a male Hanian Blue Flycatcher. It rained all night.
|outside Cuc Phuong|
Tuesday 01 April. It was dull but at least it didn’t rain all day. We’d established a routine of being out early, returning mid-morning for a late breakfast and then be out again until dusk. Nick and I concentrated on the grid trails hoping for Blue-rumped Pitta but with no success although another male Bar-bellied Pitta was reasonable compensation. We also birded along the road. Birds seen included the male Pied Falconet, 25 Chinese Bulbuls, 3 Rufous-throated Fulvettas, 2 Hanian Blue Flycatchers, an immature male Crested Bunting and a White-winged Magpie. Silver-breasted Broadbill had been seen by the others, a new bird for Nick who wasn’t best pleased and didn’t mind who knew. I was starting to worry about Blue-rumped Pitta which no one had seen or heard but we had another day and a half at Cuc Phuong.
|the big tree at Cuc Phuong|
Friday 04 April. I birded around the HQ but walking was still painful and I soon sat outside the HQ waiting for my lift. I later found out that Nick had phoned the HQ while I was waiting outside and was told that I had left. I eventually did, arriving at Hanoi mid-afternoon. I negotiated for the jeep to take me on to Tam Dao where I arrived after dark and found a guest house. At 930m it was appreciably cooler than Cuc Phuong which was nice. It had effectively been a feeling pissed off cum travel day so I didn’t see much. My highlights were 12 Grey-faced Buzzards, 2 Crested Serpent Eagles, male Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, 2 Yellow-browed Warblers and a male Black-naped Monarch. The others went out by boat to some mudflats where they successfully saw Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Saunder’s Gull and Chinese Egret although I wasn’t sure why they needed to leave so early the previous morning to do so s it was only three hours away. All would have been nice although I would have preferred Blue-rumped Pitta.
|leaving Cuc Phuong|
|driving back to Hanoi|
|typical weather at Tam Dao|
Monday 07 April. Our last morning at Tam Dao. Visibility was good and my feet were on the mend but birds remained thin on the ground. Nick and I concentrated on the steps up to the transmitter which turned out to be a good move as we saw 5 Grey Laughtingthrushes and even better 5 superb Short-tailed Parrotbills, both of which were new. Crested Honey Buzzard and Golden-throated Barbet were the only other species new for the trip and my Tam Dao total moved up to 28. We returned to Hanoi and caught a flight to Ho Chi Min City. We’d arranged a vehicle to take us to Cat Tien National Park, about 160 km to the North. The journey seemed to take ages and we were very pleased to cross the river and be shown three chalets near the park headquarters. It was hot and humid, although not unexpectedly so.
|over the Mekong River|
|approaching Ho Chi Min City|
|big tree at Cat Tien|
Thursday 10 April. Much of the day was spent on the forest trails, mostly on my own. They day’s highlights for me were a Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant preening on a log for five minutes and another on the road nearby for a couple of minutes. A third was later seen on rock where it was calling in full view for several minutes before slowly walking off. Superb, as was a male Bar-bellied Pitta watched on a log for two minutes. I also saw 4 Red Junglefowl including a male on the road, Black Bittern, Lesser Adjutant, 2 Emerald Doves, Banded Bay and male Violet Cuckoos, a day-roosting Barred Owlet, Brown Hawk Owl, 4 Great Eared Nightjars, 15 Brown Needletails, female Banded and Stork-billed Kingfishers, 3 Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Great Hornbill, 5 Black & Buff and 4 Great Slaty Woodpeckers, flight views of a vocal Blue-winged Pitta (heard towards dusk in an area we’d been to most days so we assumed it was new in), good views of a female Siberian Blue Robin, 3 Grey-faced Tit-Babblers, 2 White-crested and 6 Black-throated Laughingthrushes, Two-barred Greenish and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, a Brown and 2 Taiga Flycatchers, male Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher and 7 Racket-tailed Treepies. Back at HQ we saw Jon Eames had arrived at Cat Tien and we spent some time catching up with him in the evening as we’d all known from autumn visits to Scilly in the early 1980s. Blue-rumped Pitta was often hard to find and would probably have to wait for a return visit one day.
|butterflies on the edge of the main track|
Saturday 12 April. I saw a Tree Sparrow in Ho Chi Min City and nothing at Bangkok Airport. Our return home was uneventful, as it should be. not my most enjoyable trip but it had some great moments, Bar-bellied Pitta particularly was as good as I'd hoped.
Postscript. Nick and I returned to Vietnam in 2009 where I saw Blue-rumped Pitta twice at Cat Tien, on our first full day after Nick had gone back for lunch (!!), and again with Nick when it hopped out onto the trail soon after dawn on our last morning. It was well worth going back for. I’ve since seen the three birds I missed by not going to the coast so I’m no longer bitter about being left behind at Cuc Phuong (well not so much)! I saw Saunders’s Gull in Japan in 2003 and China in 2010, Chinese Egret in Philippines in 2008, China in 2010 and Taiwan in 2011 and Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China in 2010. Nice as they were, well maybe not the egret, for me Blue-rumped Pitta wins hands down.
[blogged April 2020]
[blogged April 2020]