Monday, 20 January 2020

MYANMAR 2020: Mount Victoria (15-20 January)

This is the second of three posts covering a very enjoyable trip Duncan Brooks, Gary Howard, Barry Wright and I made to Myanmar. We'd spent two days birding around Bagan expertly guided by Ko Thet and driver cum budding bird guide Win was about o take us all up to Mount Victoria. Most of the photos illustrating this blog are mine although the better ones were taken by Barry who had organised the trip.

Wednesday 15 January. We had breakfast at 05:30 and after a false start, Ko Thet forgetting something, were on our way a little after 06:00. We made several stops taking all day to drive to Mount Victoria where we arrived at dusk. We followed the Ayeyarwady south for 45 minutes before crossing it on an impressive bridge. We then headed west, stopping first in some very low, stony hills near some roadworks. There we looked unsuccessfully for the local race of Long-billed Pipit, an experience significantly worsened by the accompaniment of pop songs interspersed with propaganda played at excessive volume. The noise emanated from the road ahead where a group of mainly women were collecting funds for a new monastery, probably not very successfully for who would stop to be deafened even for a minute? We tried two sites near Kazunma for White-rumped Falcon but disappointingly none responded. Little was seen at the first but the second stop was a more prolonged affair. A brief Hooded Treepie was seen at the first but I was unsighted then Ko Thet found a pair of Jerdon’s Minivets by the road which remained in the area for 20 minutes. Barry found a Stripe-throated Woodpecker with a second responding to tape, a new bird I’d not really expected to see. We stopped in a small village for lunch but I walked up into some dry hills behind it instead although saw nothing. We continued towards Mount Victoria with roadside stops producing Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Grey-headed and Red-breasted Parakeets, Oriental Hobby and Red-billed Blue Magpie. We arrived at Pine Wood Villas in Kanpetlet, our base for the next five nights, at dusk. We were staying in pleasant chalets set in a small plot of tall pines on a steep ridge. Barry and Gary had the end one with Duncan and I next door, nice to be tucked away although other than being just above the road the site was generally quiet. We were welcomed by calling Yellow-browed Warblers and furtive Olive-backed Pipits. After a decent meal we walked up the road playing Hodgson’s Frogmouth recordings to which none responded. Most reports suggested several attempts were usually needed to find the frogmouth and I had a feeling we’d be no different. It was cold at night but I tried the very heavy blanket rather than getting out my sleeping bag. It was warm enough but made breathing difficult.
crossing the Ayeyarwady
site where we failed to find Long-billed Pipit
it was not enhanced by very loud music and presumed propaganda blaring across from the main road
traditional transport
female Jerdon's Minivet near Kazunma
male Jerdon's Minivet
they moved into a weedy field before disappearing

Pied Bushchat in the same field
Stripe-throated Woodpecker near Kazunma
surprisingly well camouflaged roadside Red-breasted Parakeet
White-throated Kingfisher
approaching the Chin Hills
Blue-bearded Bee-eater by the road
Burmese Shrike

seamstress in Saw
pagodas in Saw
Thursday 16 January. Breakfast at 05:00, we departed at 05:30 and drove up onto Mount Victoria. We stopped for a performing Grey Nightjar on the way and we were in the higher pine forest at dawn. We spent all day birding along the road, mostly at higher elevations. It was cold and I started with five layers, reducing to two by early afternoon and back to four by the time we left the mountain. We had roadside stops for mid morning and afternoon tea or coffee while a decent lunch (omelette and noodles) was brought up by motorbike enabling us to keep an eye out birding all day. Ideal really. White-browed Nuthatch was the expected highlight, I saw 12, while Burmese Bushtit, Mount Victoria Babax, Brown-capped Laughingthrush,Grey Sibia and Black-bibbed Tit were also new. Other good birds included Red-tailed Minla, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Whiskered Yuhina, Himalayan Bluetail, Blue-fronted Redstart and Fire-tailed Sunbird. Gary saw five or more Himalayan Griffon Vultures coming up from behind a hillside which I quickly glanced at, seeing two or three, but was then distracted by something else and by the time I looked again they’d all disappeared. Not something I’d expected to see and I rather wished I’d paid them more attention than I did. We left Mount Victoria at 17:30 and were back soon after 18:00, had a quick dinner and tried the ‘frogmouth trail’ from 19:00-20:30 but only succeeded I hearing Hodgson’s Frogmouth, as well as Brown Wood and Mountain Scops Owls. Despite this failure it had been an excellent day. I’d had a fifth layer on for the frogmouth trail but used my sleeping bag on top of the bed covers rather than the heavy blanket at night. It was a bit cold but not sufficiently so for me to get up and do anything about it.
Mount Victoria Babax

Burmese Bushtit

higher forest on Mount Victoria
early coffee stop on Mount Victoria - Ko Thet, Barry, Duncan, Gary and me
White-browed Nuthatch, a stunning looking endemic and probably our main target 
they tended to keep high 
and not always the right way up

brilliant from any angle

as usual Barry took a lot better photos than me (photo: Barry Wright)
White-browed Nuthatch on Mount Victoria (photo: Barry Wright)
Brown-capped Laughingthrush high on Mount Victoria in poor light

Friday 17 January. We were up at 04:25 and out before breakfast trying for Hodgson’s Frogmouth. We heard one by the Pine Wood Villas entrance several times but it was only possible to view from the road and it remained hidden even when sounding very close. We drove to the summit of Mount Victoria and a short distance down the other side, arriving soon after dawn. We spent all day birding down the Mindat road with al fresco stops for tea/coffee and a motorbike delivered lunch. We saw some excellent birds with Chin Hills Wren-Babbler, Rusty-eared Fulvetta and Assam Laughingthrush new for me. Also a superb Scaly-breased Wren-Babbler, a flock of Black-throated Bushtits, Streak-thorated Barwing, Himalayan Cutia, Mount Victoria Babax, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, three more White-browed Nuthatches and Slaty-backed Flycatcher. It was 45 minute drive back to Pine Wood Villas where we arrived at dusk. We had a quick turn around for a 18:30 dinner which Barry missed as he’d been feeling rough all afternoon. Fortunately it did not stop him coming out again immediately after dinner when Win drove us back to the ‘frogmouth trail’. Ko Thet led us to the area where we’d been close to one the previous evening and a bird was soon heard calling quite close but it moved further away without being seen. We tried a bit further down the trail and after an hour of mainly listening, during which time two were heard calling, it looked as if another failure might be on the cards. We tried some prolonged torching to no avail but Barry turned back and after 50m spotted a Hodgson’s Frogmouth sitting almost directly above the trail, a female according to Ko Thet. We must have walked right under it. A brilliant end to the day and at the third attempt I found the ideal sleeping conditions - sleeping bag under the lighter bed covers.
Mount Victoria sunrise

Spot-breasted Parrotbill on Mount Victoria
the unprepossessing summit of Mount Victoria, we didn't go there
Himalayan Cutia on Mount Victoria
another White-browed Nuthatch

Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler (photo: Barry Wright)
Chin Hills Wren-Babbler (photo: Barry Wright)
Black Eagle over Mount Victoria
Hodgson's Frogmouth with my Bridge Camera not helped by it facing away
how I would have liked to photograph it, Hodgson's Frogmouth with mirrorless Olympus (photo: Barry Wright)
Saturday 18 January. A well deserved lie in, we had breakfast at 06:15 then drove up to just below the ‘frogmouth trail’ to look for Striped Laughingthrush. Two birds responded and gave good but brief views. We tried a small cultivated area nearby and ended up on the ‘frogmouth trail’ where we spent the rest of the morning, our third visit and the first in daylight! We saw a number of lower elevation species, the important one for me being Red-faced Liochicla which gave brief views, first of its head then its body only and finally of the whole bird. Also seen were Crested Finchbill, Silver-eared Mesia, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Grey-hooded Warbler and Hume’s Treecreeper. We returned to Pine Wood Villas for lunch and then drove over half-way back up Mount Victoria and birded along the track back down for a few kms hoping for parrotbills, bird flocks and fruiting trees. It was rather quiet on those fronts although 8 immature Himalayan Griffons appeared over a hillside and this time we give them the attention they deserved. We were back at sunset, stopping on the way for some hazy views of the clouds rolling up the valleys as the sun went down. Very atmospheric. Nice not to have to go out after dinner for frogmouths.
Mount Victoria National Park rules, I particularly liked but didn't quite understand 'Don't fetch pet'
Hume's Treecreeper 

Great Barbet
Crested Finchbill from the frogmouth trail on Mount Victoria
views from the frogmouth trail

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
Duncan going in for lunch
Rufous-winged Fulvetta on Mount Victoria
Himalayan Buzzard on Mount Victoria
then the vultures appeared again
one of 8 Himalayan Griffons on Mount Victoria

back in the pine forest
no nuthatches this afternoon
Duncan on Mount Victoria
Barry with an eye for a photograph ...
as a motorbike came by in the dust (photo: Barry Wright)
sunset on Mount Victoria

Sunday 19 January. We had breakfast at 05:30 and left Kanpetlet by 06:00. We drove up towards Mount Victoria continuing what we’d been doing the previous afternoon - looking out for fruiting trees and checking bamboo patches for parrotbills. After a stop for sunrise photos we walked the road through a section of deciduous forest. It was a bit lower than we’d finished yesterday and here to the soundtrack of a close very loud Western Hoolock Gibbon we found a fruiting tree hosting at least 4 Grey-sided Thrushes. While watching the thrushes 14 Brown Bullfinches flew in and the gibbon put in a show stealing appearance. A magical few minutes. We continued to and down the Mindat road checking bamboo patches for parrotbills unsuccessfully. The forest was very quiet, not helped by a strong wind which made everything feel colder. It was to be the only day when conditions were less than ideal – we were very fortunate. We spent some time looking for a Spotted Elachura, something I’d seen once before when it was considered to be a Wren-Babbler. Disappointingly it wasn’t very responsive and only appeared briefly three times with Duncan and I slow to get onto it properly. We tried again after lunch but it had lost interest. Further bamboo stops finally paid off with good views of 4 superb Black-throated Parrotbills of the distinctive buff-breasted ripponi race, our final Mount Victoria target seen. Continuing back towards Pine Wood Villas we descended into the deciduous forest seeing at least another 4 Grey-sided Thrushes. We returned at dusk, first stopping at the main viewpoint to watch the clouds rolling in up the valley below. It had been a very enjoyable stay and other than a few quiet spells the birding had been excellent throughout, helped on our first three days by ideal weather. My thoughts turned to the drive out and hopefully a more successful attempt at White-rumped Falcon. An uneasy night followed …
dawn on Mount Victoria
distant hilltops looking like islands
Grey-sided Thrush on Mount Victoria
Brown Bullfinch on Mount Victoria

female Western Hoolock Gibbon
she was noisy

like something out of the X-Files

looking north towards Mindat from one of the viewpoints
Fire-tailed Sunbird on Mount Victoria
fractal trees

me taking a rest on Mount Victoria
back at the Mindat viewpoint with the clouds coming in

Monday 20 January. We had breakfast at 05:00 and departed Pine Hill Villas at 05:30 for the drive into the lowlands beyond Saw. At about 07:00 we stopped and scanned an area of dry forest where Ko Thet had sometimes seen a White-rumped Falcon perched up. Nothing doing this time and him telling us that the falcons rarely perched out in the open gave me little encouragement. After an hour we reached a gradual decline with scattered dry forest on each side of the road. We started walking but it was already quite warm and I was wishing we’d been there an hour or so earlier. Four Grey-headed Parakeets were the only birds of note seen in a couple of kms to some roadworks. Win had been following in the van and took us a km or so through the roadworks and we started walking again. Soon after 09:30 while playing falcon recordings at km 62 we picked up a small falcon flying directly towards us - a superb Oriental Hobby. It was brilliant but at the same time disappointing as not the falcon I’d been hoping for. My disappointment was short lived as about five minutes later Win started shouting and a female White-rumped Falcon flew by, with heavy undulating flight, and landed in a nearby tree. Initially out of view - how many might we have driven past? It gave excellent views on either side of the road, being joined after several minutes by a male. One of the best raptors I’ve seen and an instant bird of the trip contenders for me. We continued walking down the road seeing Himalayan Flameback, poorly in my case, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Burmese Nuthatch. We stopped for lunch, Duncan putting me to shame as he went birding while I caught up on some sleep. As we were passing we had another hot, noisy, abortive Long-billed Pipit search. Back in Bagan the male Laggar was sat on the spire of its pagoda, nice to see it in daylight. We had just enough time to see sunset from the second of two raised embankments, along with about 200 other tourists. The first was even more packed. Sadly our time with Ko Thet and Win was coming to an end. They’d been brilliant and we’d seen pretty much everything we could have hoped for.
Crested Honey Buzzard
female White-rumped Falcon at km 62
a real wow moment

male and female White-rumped Falcons

male White-rumped Falcon

female White-rumped Falcon (photo: Barry Wright)
female White-rumped Falcon (photo: Barry Wright)
where our search came good
lunch break, me dreaming of White-rumped Falcons while Duncan was out birding ...
the male Laggar on his spire

waiting for sunset at Bagan

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.