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Indochina 2023: Cambodia, southern Vietnam, and Laos (8 Viewers)

ovenbird43

Well-known member
United States
I've just returned from a month-long, solo trip covering most of Cambodia, southern Vietnam, and central Laos. I used professional guides with drivers for all of Cambodia and most of southern Vietnam, though I birded Cat Tien National Park on my own, and I did Laos independently. Though independent birding is always my preference when feasible, most of the top birding sites in Cambodia are owned by local communities, so entry would be difficult to arrange without the help of a guide; for Vietnam, my choice to use guides was a combination of access to birding hides and other local knowledge, as well as arranging transport to areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach on my own. In Laos, it was extremely easy to rent a car and to find information about my primary target there (Bare-faced Bulbul) online.

My overall itinerary was as follows:

Nov 29: Depart from Gulfport, Mississippi. Stopovers in Atlanta and Paris before arriving in Ho Chi Minh City the morning of Dec 1. Domestic flight to Da Nang, transfer to Hoi An Love.Ly Hostel.
Dec 2-3: General sightseeing around Hoi An with some casual birding. Original plans for snorkeling and scuba dashed because it turns out this is the wet season here (unlike the other regions visited on this trip), so dive shops were closed and my snorkeling trip was canceled due to poor visibility
Dec 4-5: Birding Bach Ma National Park with Mr. Phuong from Ecoguidevietnam (Bach Ma Birding Tour -). Flight Da Nang to Siem Reap, Cambodia, evening of Dec 5.
Dec 6-12: birding Cambodia with Mr. Cham of Cambodia Bird Guide Association (Best Birding and Nature Tours from Siem Reap). Sites included Prek Toal Waterbird Sanctuary, Phnom Kron wetlands, Changkron Roy community forest, Bengal Florican reserve, Tmatboey, and Kratie, with a stop en route to Phnom Penh for Cambodian Tailorbird. Pm flight back to HCMC on Dec 12.
Dec 13-18: birding with Mr. Quyen of Vietnam Birding Tours (Vietnam Birding) around Di Linh and Da Lat for highland and endemic species. Dec 18 afternoon drop-off at Cat Tien National Park
Dec 19-21: solo birding around Cat Tien. Dec 21 transfer to HCMC for flight to Vientiane, Laos.
Dec 22-26: travel via rental car to Ban Nahim and birding that area for Bare-faced Bulbul and Sooty Babbler. Dec 26 flight back to HCMC
Dec 27: Flight home, with a 22-hour layover in Paris allowing for some sleep and birding before arriving back home late on Dec 28

Trip Preparation
I applied for eVisas to all three countries online roughly ten days before departure and found the process easy for all of them. I booked most non-tour accommodation prior to my trip using booking.com, or Agoda.com in the case of the Forest Floor Lodge inside Cat Tien National Park. I booked internal flights prior to departure, using Vietjet for HCMC to Da Nang, Cambodia Angkor Air for Da Nang to Siem Reap and Phnom Pehn to HCMH, and Lao Airlines roundtrip HCMC to Vientiane. All flights were smooth and hassle-free. Heck, so were all my international flights! Other than immigration lines at HCMC that just seemed to get longer every time I entered or exited the country.

I obtained local currencies in each country using ATMs, which always had an English language option. The US Dollar is accepted in populated areas of Cambodia, though they can be finicky about the quality of the bills, and ATMs often only dispensed dollars in $100 denominations. I used Cambodian Riels for most expenses except for paying my tour balance and guide tip. A note about the Lao Kip: don't leave Laos with too much unspent or unexchanged cash, I couldn't find anywhere in HCMC (whether in the airport or in the city center) that would take them for exchange. Perhaps it would be different if your next destination were in Thailand or northern Vietnam. Fortunately what I had left only amounted to about $20.

For both study and travel, I used the Lynx and BirdLife International Birds of Vietnam and Birds of Cambodia field guides. I also downloaded the southeast Asia pack for Merlin, which I frequently consulted while in the field (for viewing species profiles - using Merlin to try to identify songs and calls in Asia is a waste of time). When birding Laos, I found that having Birds of Vietnam and the Merlin pack were sufficient for my needs (especially since by then I was familiar with the common and widespread species).

Details to follow!
 
Dec 1-5: Hoi An and Bach Ma National Park

I arrived to HCMC via Air France on the morning of Dec 1, and even after getting through immigration, I had some 5+ hours to kill before my flight to Da Nang in the afternoon. I parked myself at a Highland Coffee for a while, drinking some strong Vietnamese coffee in attempt to stay alert and birding the nearby patch of trees and shrubs - getting first trip birds in the form of Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Streak-eared Bulbul, Coppersmith Barbet, and my first lifer, Burmese Shrike. Eventually it was time to board my flight to Da Nang. I had arranged transportation with the hostel, and after a 45-minute drive from Da Nang airport I arrived at Love.Ly Hostel in Hoi An. I was shown to my private room, which was basic but roomy, clean, and comfortable. I showered and went straight to bed - though I woke up every 30 minutes or so despite my exhaustion, a combination of jet lag and excitement.

The next day I had originally scheduled for a snorkeling trip, but I received a Whatsapp message the night before saying it was canceled due to weather and poor visibility. I opted for an afternoon sight-seeing tour instead, and so spent my first morning just wandering Hoi An, familiarizing myself with the surroundings and new culture and picking up a few birds here and there - ubiquitous Germain's Swiftlet, Spotted and Zebra Doves, and lifers Amur Stonechat and Sooty-headed Bulbul. The afternoon/evening tour featured visits to Marble Mountain, the giant Lady Buddha, an evening river cruise, and a visit to the local market. On Dec 3 I had another tour booked, this one a bike tour from Hoi An to the My Son temple grounds. I noted a view birds on the bike ride, including my first Racket-tailed Treepies, though it rained during most of the temple grounds visit.

On Dec 4 I was picked up at my hostel at 6:30 by my guide and driver for the tour of Bach Ma National Park. Two hours later we reached the base of the mountain, where we tried unsuccessfully for Masked Laughingthrush. We entered the park and as we climbed in elevation, we made several birding stops, though a steady rain kept activity down to pretty much nothing. Other than brief views of White-crowned Forktail, there was nothing of note on the drive up to the top of the mountain. Once there, the rain had really settled in, though we gave birding a good try, getting soaked through despite my poncho. We had lunch and checked in to our basic accommodations, where we changed and waited for the weather to clear. It didn't - so out we went again in the rain. Unsurprisingly there was just nothing to be found in the constant downpour. This was followed by dinner and and early bedtime, no chance for owling - though the lights around our accommodation attracted some spectacular moths.

We were up the next day at 5:00, and thank heavens, the rain had stopped. We ate some breakfast and then started walking the road up from the restaurant as it got light. The first bird we saw - Silver Pheasant, a ghostly male that appeared from the dark fog to wander the road ahead of us. After such a rough day yesterday, we were both elated, and my guide gave me a hug in excitement and relief that we finally found A BIRD!! As the morning brightened, activity picked up, and we began to pick off some species - a group of Sultan Tits, a couple of White-browed Shrike-Babblers, a group of Black-throated Laughingthrushes, and an obliging Rufous-throated Partridge. We walked back down and past the restaurant, where we found a Golden Babbler within a mixed flock, bright, tiny, and active, a delightful and much-wanted species. The birding was finally good, but all too soon it was time for lunch and the drive down to Da Nang for my flight to Cambodia. En route though, we stopped for Red-Shanked Douc Langur and Brown Hornbill.

Pm flight to Siem Reap was uneventful. I was picked up by my guide and taken to my room in the Sonolong Boutique Village and Resort and then shown to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The rooms and courtyard at the resort seemed quite luxurious by my standards, though checking online, rooms are only about $35 per night.

Due to rain, I took no photos of birds on this part of the trip - so here are photos of scenery, food, and moths. And the langurs!
 

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Dec 6: Prek Toal Waterbird Sanctuary

We departed the hotel at 5:00 and arrived at the boat launch at 6:00 for the boat ride to Prek Toal, the breeding site of large numbers of wading birds including both adjutants and the endangered Milky Stork. The boat ride took about three hours, which included a ~20-minute stop for breakfast and birding somewhere along the waterways. At this stop we saw Yellow-bellied Prinia (lifer), Malaysian Pied Fantail, Dark-necked Tailorbird, and host of other common species. Other birds common along the waterways included Oriental Magpie-Robin, Greater Coucal, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, and Black Drongo. Our boat traveled through a number of floating villages, and about two hours in, we stopped at one of the villages to check in to the sanctuary and hop onto a smaller boat for the remainder of the ride. From here we started entering narrower waterways, and began seeing increasing numbers of waterbirds - Little Cormorants, Oriental Darters, and Asian Openbills chief among them.

At 9:00 we arrived at the viewing platform, a shaky bamboo structure built into a tall tree overlooking the waterbird breeding area. From here we could see thousands of nesting birds, many attending nests and others coming and going. The must abundant species were Asian Openbill, Painted Stork, Spot-billed Pelican, and Little Cormorant. With the help of the guide's spotting scope, we were able to pick out one each of Greater and Lesser Adjutant and Milky Stork. Nesting birds were rather far for my camera, but the platform offered nice opportunities for photographing birds in flight. Having secured the main targets, we returned to the boat for the ride back, picking up Gray-headed Swamphen en route.

ebird checklist from the platform:

We returned to Siem Reap in early afternoon - I hadn't realized that no additional birding stops were included in today's itinerary, so I ended up with an afternoon and evening to kill. I wandered the streets of Siem Reap for a bit, stopping at the Royal Independence Gardens to see the big daytime roost of Lyle's Flying Foxes.
 

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Dec 7: Phnom Krom rice fields and Changkran Roy community forest

We started out this morning at some rice fields/lotus ponds about a half hour's drive from the hotel in Siem Reap. I didn't have any major targets for this area, just general wetland birding at somewhere close by before making the drive to Changkran Roy later in the day. We arrived shortly before sunrise, and as we waiting for it to get light, my guide told me that this area used to be a lot better for birding, but that some of the agricultural practices had changed and that many farmers were using explosives to try to scare away birds. CBGA works with local farmers to try to encourage bird-friendly practices, though of course some farmers go along with it and others don't.

However, I wasn't disappointed with the morning's birding, perhaps because I did not have specific targets. The weedy edges of the fields and ponds held Plain Prinia, Oriental Reed-Warbler, and Scaly-breasted Munia. The lotus ponds had good numbers of both Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, and some patience rewarded us with a brief view of Cinnamon Bittern as it popped up for a quick flight. Plaintive Cuckoos made many appearances, and the surrounding trees held Great Mynas and Yellow-vented Bulbuls. The real star of the morning was a group of 10 or so Red Avadavats, a species I'd really wanted to see but had not actually expected to connect with. A second stop in the area was less productive, but did give me lifer Plain-backed Sparrow, plus decent views of Paddyfield Pipit.


We then hit the road for Changkran Roy, stopping for lunch en route. The drive took roughly three hours, with a brief stop for Spotted Owlet. We arrived and checked in to the rustic community accommodation at Changkran Roy, and then visited the bird hide for the remainder of the afternoon. Things were slow at first, but as the afternoon wore on, there was nearly a constant rotation of different birds coming to bathe or drink in the water features, while Asian Emerald Doves and Red Junglefowl came in to the mealworms. Lifers included Puff-throated Babbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler; some other visitors included Abbot's and Scaly-crowned Babblers, Siberian Blue Robin, and Puff-throated and Stripe-throated Bulbuls. My most-wanted target here, Bar-bellied Pitta, called a few times but did not come in. My guide told me that species is more reliable later in the dry season. After dinner, a brief owling session gave us stunning views of Oriental Bay Owl.
 

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Dec 8: Changkran Roy

We returned to the hide just before first light for another session in hopes of some of the remaining targets. It wasn't long after dawn before one arrived - a group of 5 Siamese Firebacks, which arrived on the heels of a couple more Red Junglefowl. One spectacular mature male in the mix, along with one immature male and three females. They stayed in the vicinity for at least 20 minutes, allowing for extended views. A Scaly-breasted Partridge also come into view. Once the gamebirds departed, it was quite slow, without all the songbirds coming in to bathe, and the pitta remained absent. We left the hide shortly before 9 am to bird some other areas.


My guide decided we should try walking along the main road from the community lodge, though in retrospect, walking one of the interior forest tracks would likely have been more productive in the already blazing sun of late morning. We picked up a group of three Crested Serpent-Eagles and the only Brown-backed Needletails of the whole trip, but otherwise we mainly connected with common forest edge species such as Gray-eyed Bulbul (and other bulbuls), Ashy Drongo, Common Tailorbird, and a few species of sunbird. After lunch, we began the drive back to Siem Reap, with a stop along the main road to walk a dirt track through some deciduous forest. Activity was subdued due to the time of day (1:00 pm), but highlights included Rufous Treepie, Crested Treeswift, Golden-fronted Leafbird, and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. Afterwards, we returned to Siem Reap for the evening.

 

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Dec 9: Bengal Florican Reserve and Tmatboey

After about an hour and a half drive from Siem Reap, we arrived at the Bengal Florican reserve at 6:30 a.m. This reserve is an area of active rice production, managed in such a way as to provide foraging and resting habitat for the endangered Bengal Florican. This species provided difficult to find, and the story was starting to sound all too familiar - "it's a little too early in the season". In this case, many of the rice fields were still too wet, limiting our ability to explore much habitat, and the birds were mostly not yet visiting the easily-accessible areas. The local guides spent a lot of time searching other fields and communicating with each other, as well as walking through areas of tall grass to see if any were roosting. The lesson being, if this is an important target and/or if your preference is to see more than a flushed bird in flight (not my preference either!), wait until at least mid- to late-January to schedule a trip.

We did eventually connect with one, a male Bengal Florican that flushed up out of some tall rice just as we had given up and were walking back to the car for the final time. The fields and ponds were full of birds and so it was a generally enjoyable morning, Zitting Cisticolas and Oriental Skylarks singing, many Paddyfield and a few Richard's Pipits around, and a bonus group of three Yellow-breasted Buntings. We also managed to see a group of 6 Sarus Cranes, though they were so far away that they were little more than gray crane-shaped lumps in the scope - barely tickable and certainly better views desired, though I had written this species off my itinerary in the interest of time/other areas so it was not really a loss.


From the florican reserve, it was several hours' drive to Tmatboey. Once there, we checked in to the community lodge, picked up a local guide, and drove out to an area of deciduous forest for some birding, targetting various woodpecker species and Savanna Nightjar. We had a productive two hours of birding before dark, netting five woodpecker species; the spectacular Rufous-bellied, plus Freckle-breasted, Laced, Lesser Yellownape, and Common Flameback. We got the Savanna Nightjar, though it didn't allow close approach and only flushed a few times from large distances. There were several active mixed-species flocks with the likes of Small Minivet, Common Woodshrike, and White-browed Fantail, plus the first parakeets of the trip - Red-breasted and Blossom-headed Parakeets. We stayed in this area until dusk, spot-lighting an Oriental Scops-Owl before walking back to the car.

 

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Gripped by your Bay Owl pic - one of my most wanted in Asia - as indeed is Plain-backed Sparrow, which really deserves a better name.
 
Dec 10: Tmatboey

This was a full day birding the Tmatboey area, with main targets being the two ibis species: White-shouldered and Giant Ibis. Though both can be seen by visiting their preferred foraging grounds, we elected for the more guaranteed options - for the White-shouldered Ibis, visiting their nocturnal roost, and for the Giant Ibis, visiting an active nest.

White-shouldered Ibis was up first, so we left quite early and hiked in the dark to a known nocturnal roosting area. The birds were certainly there - 6 White-shouldered Ibis perched on the outer tips of a large dead tree in a clearing - dark lumps that slowly turned into recognizable ibis shapes as the light grew, and then one could make out the white shoulder patch and ring on the head. The birds preened and began flapping around as it got light enough for photography, and then one by one they began flying away. But then in came another species vying for bird of the morning - a family of Great Slaty Woodpeckers, initially calling behind us, but all perched on the snag and displaying in response to playback. Afterwards, we spent a bit birding the surrounding area, the local guide finding a Spotted Wood-Owl on its day perch, although views were too obscured to be worth a photo.


We returned to the car and drove to a different location, hiking to an area by a stream that was a regular roost site for Brown Fish-Owl. Sure enough, there were two there, my first ever fish owls! The surrounding deciduous forest mostly had the same common passerines, though we added Large Cuckooshrike and Red-billed Blue Magpies to the trip list.


The morning's main targets in the bag, we returned to the lodge for a little bit around lunch, chasing down a calling White-bellied Woodpecker and taking some photos of Red-billed Blue Magpie at the hide. We left around 2:30 to drive and then walk to an area with an active Giant Ibis nest. We stopped a respectful distance away, the guide telling me that their nests are surprisingly flimsy for such a large bird and that disturbance can cause them to accidentally kick an egg or chick out. This nest had an attending adult and a chick, I don't recall the age but about halfway grown. We watched for several hours, waiting for a mate swap. An immature hawk of some sort (there was discussion that was never quite resolved) came by and circled close above the nest, clearly interested in its contents, causing the adult Giant Ibis to sound its bugling, crane-like call and extend its wings protectively over the chick. Fortunately the hawk lost interest just as the guides were getting ready to try to shoo the hawk away. The mate did finally arrive at dusk, switching with the attending parent and delivering food to the chick. Overall, an awe-inspiring day!

 

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Dec 11: Tmatboey and drive to Kratie

We spent the morning birding a few more spots not far from the Tmatboey lodge before departing for Kratie. At our first stop, we quickly found our main target for the morning, a trio of White-rumped Falcons. We birded this area for a bit before moving on to an open area with a pond down the road, where we had three White-shouldered Ibis perched high in some trees, and a nice group of Indochinese Bushlarks. A quick bit of birding at the lodge before an early lunch got me two lifers, Thick-billed Flowerpecker and Ashy Minivet.


After lunch, we had about a 5-hour drive to Kratie. We arrived into town around 4:00 pm and stopped at some nearby rice fields for birding before checking in to the hotel for the evening. Our main target here was Asian Golden Weaver, though my guide told me they had declined recently at this site - I noted some mist nets up in one of the fields with some birds hanging in them :mad:. We did not find any weavers, but a lotus pond had a nice assortment of waterbirds such as Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Gray-headed Swamphen, and even a White-browed Crake that make a brief appearance. Afterwards, we checked in to our rooms at the Mekong Dolphin Hotel overlooking the Mekong River, and had dinner at a restaurant just down the street.

 

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Dec 12: Kratie and travel back to Vietnam

This morning's main event was a boat tour of the Mekong River, searching for Irrawaddy River Dolphins and riverine birds, primarily Mekong Wagtail. We launched at 7:30 and motored northwards toward an area of the river dotted with small, vegetated islands. It didn't take long for the first Mekong Wagtail to appear, along with the trip's first Pied Kingfishers. Several Indian Spot-billed Ducks flew by overhead, and a pair of Small Pratincoles were seen roosting on a sandbar. Stork-billed Kingfisher is evidently possible in this area, though we did not connect with one. Next up, we motored toward the west bank of the river, where a group of about 5 Irrawaddy River Dolphins were actively feeding. The boat captain cut off the engines and we stayed with the group for a little bit, at one point a few of them coming quite close to the boat. It's difficult to get good photos of dolphins, what I managed doesn't quite capture how close and clear the views were during their brief visits to the surface to breathe. After a bit the group moved off and dispersed, and we motored back to the launch to begin the long drive to Phnom Penh.


The drive from Kratie to Phnom Penh took about 5 hours, not including a stop for lunch and a stop for Cambodian Tailorbird. The tailorbird spot was an open lot surrounded by brushy vegetation right next to the main highway. The midday sun was blazing, but the the tailorbirds were quick to respond vocally to playback. They were less keen on actually coming out of their dense, shady refuge, so getting decent views required us to climb down a steep bank in order to get close. But there they were - two Cambodian Tailorbirds, one of Cambodia's few endemic bird species.


I was dropped off at the airport in Phnom Pehn around 4:00, unnecessarily early for my 9:00 pm flight, but I killed some time by catching up on photos. I had an uneventful flight to HCMC, another longish line through immigration, and then transfer and check in to the nearby Lotus Airport Hotel Saigon around midnight. It would be a short night before beginning the next leg of my trip!
 

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Dec 13: Di Linh

I was picked up by my guide and driver from Vietnam Birding Tours at 6:00 am, and set off for the 5-hour drive to Di Linh (variously pronounced as zee-lin or zee-ling), with a stop for breakfast en route. We arrived into Di Linh around 11:30 and made a brief stop to check in to An Coffee Guesthouse, enjoying fresh coffee and views of my first Chestnut-tailed Starlings, before grabbing lunch at a local chicken place and heading up the nearby mountain for the afternoon.

We spent the entire afternoon at one of the nearby bird hides. Activity was fairly consistent throughout the afternoon, picking up as the hours wore on toward evening. Orange-headed Thrush was first on the scene and made frequent repeat visits. A female White-throated Rock Thrush was also a regular fixture. Flycatchers came and went almost continuously: Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher, and Mugimaki Flycatcher. A Lesser Shortwing was a real treat, and it became bolder as the light faded in the evening, coming in for extensive bathing sessions. A stunning set of six Silver-breasted Broadbills did the same, diving in to plunge briefly into the water feature before returning to a nearby perch. A Greater Racket-tailed Drongo also came down to provide nice photo opportunities. We left as it began to get dark, grabbing some dinner on the way back to the guesthouse.

 

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Dec 14: Di Linh

We had the entire day to bird the Di Linh surroundings, and divided the time up between hides and hiking the roads/trails in the area. First up was a visit to a different hide, a bit higher up the mountain than the one we visited the prior afternoon. We arrived at 6:45 a.m. and spent just a bit under 3 hours here. One of the primary targets at this hide, Blue Pitta, showed up almost immediately. What a stunner! In the end, this was to be my favorite species from my time in Vietnam, though it had many other goodies to contend with. A Dark-sided Thrush was also a very much-wanted lifer that made an appearance - several long-lasting appearances in fact. Aside from these highlights, activity was generally slow, and there was no sign of our other main target here (Blue-rumped Pitta), so by mid-morning we decided to exit the hide and walk the main road for a bit.


We walked downhill along the main road from the hide, encountering several good mixed-species flocks along the way. Additions to the trip list included Ashy and Brown-rumped Minivets, Clicking Shrike-Babbler, Black Bulbul, Black-chinned Yuhinia, Black-headed Parrotbill (near-endemic), Black-throated Tit, Black-throated Sunbird (endemic subspecies), and Red-vented Barbet. We stopped our walk when we reached a small home-based restaurant overlooking a coffee plantation, where we had lunch and were picked up by our driver.


After lunch, we returned to the same hide we had visited in the morning. The Blue Pitta returned, providing photo opportunities with better light, but otherwise, activity was still slow and consisted of all the same species. As I recall, this hide did not have a water feature, so there was not much reason to expect activity to pick up later in afternoon. So, we again abandoned the hide, and drove to a nearby trail. The trail was very quiet too, none of the hoped-for laughingthrushes responding to playback, so we wrapped up the afternoon by walking the road again, this time in the other direction. Here we picked up Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Yellow-vented Green-Pigeon, a flyover Mountain Imperial-Pigeon, and Hair-crested Drongo, along with various expected bulbuls and mixed-flock participants.

 

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One of the primary targets at this hide, Blue Pitta, showed up almost immediately. What a stunner! In the end, this was to be my favorite species from my time in Vietnam, though it had many other goodies to contend with. A Dark-sided Thrush was also a very much-wanted lifer that made an appearance - several long-lasting appearances in fact. Aside from these highlights, activity was generally slow, and there was no sign of our other main target here (Blue-naped Pitta), so by mid-morning we decided to exit the hide and walk the main road for a bit.
Great trip and very nice write up! The Blue Pitta is also one of my favourites!
Blue-naped does not occur there though, probably you mean Rusty-naped?
 
Dec 15 - Di Sinh and Da Lat

This morning we hiked up the trail at the Deo Nui San pass, again trying for laughingthrushes that were a no-show. We had some decent mixed-species flocks though, most importantly one containing a pair of Vietnamese Cutias. A few other notable species included Ms. Gould's Sunbird and Maroon Oriole.


On the way back down the mountain, we made a quick stop at the trail leading to the first hide we had visited on Dec 13. We walked up the steep hillside to where we could hear a mixed flock high in the canopy, containing Black-headed Parrotbills and a remaining desired target - a Long-tailed Broadbill that came in briefly to playback. What a spectacular bird! Too bad it remained high in the canopy and partly obscured, precluding any reasonable shot at a photo.


We made several more stops on the way down the hillside, this time in open, cultivated areas in search of a localized target - Annam Prinia. My guide repeatedly called this bird Hill Prinia, and so I was rather confused when we finally saw the bird and it seemed to lack the bold face pattern and exceptionally long tail of the Hill Prinia pictured in my field guide. Later sleuthing online revealed that the bird we saw was actually Annam Prinia, though the calls are similar enough that our bird (eventually) responded to what the guide was playing.


We stopped for a lunch of chicken and rice in Di Linh before continuing up to the Da Lat plateau, where we would spend the next few days. After roughly an hour's drive, we began to climb steeply up into pine forest. We made a brief stop along this road for Red Crossbill, along with the first of many Verditer Flycatchers.


We arrived into the outskirts of the down of Da Lat and parked at the Datanla Waterfall Resort parking area. From here, we walked along some of the roads to pick up pine forest specialties of this area. Chestnut-vented Nuthatch was an easy one to get, present in most flocks we encountered, as well as solo. Several flocks contained Green-backed and Black-throated Tits. After wandering around for a while, we returned to the resort for some drinks and watched birds from the balcony. Birds came in close in response to barred owlet playback and offered nice opportunities for photos of species such as Blue-winged Minla, Black-throated and Ms. Gould's sunbirds, and Streaked Spiderhunter.


In late afternoon, we departed for our hotel in downtown Da Lat. We stayed at Dreams Hotel, where I was given an interior room that was very quiet despite the central location in town.
 

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Dec 16: Da Lat

We began the morning at a hide within Bi Doup National Park. We spend close to 4 hours here waiting for a few key species that were no-shows: Rusty-naped Pitta and Collared Laughingthrush. However, Gray-bellied Tesia was a regular visitor and a much-wanted lifer. Other new species for the trip included Snowy-browed Flycatcher, White-tailed Robin, Large Niltava, Black-headed Sibia, Mountain Fulvetta, Gray-faced Tit-Babbler, and Short-tailed Scimitar-Babbler. We were also treated to visits by a very scruffy juvenile Blue Pitta.


After a lunch of cheese sandwiches at the car, we walked along the main road for a bit. Some goodies that we picked up included Eurasian Jay (White-faced subspecies), Mountain Bulbul, Long-tailed Minivet, Mountain Tailorbird, Yellow-browed Tit, Rufous-capped Babbler, and Yellow-billed Nuthatch. A flyover Vietnamese Greenfinch was unmistakable, though not the best way to encounter this endemic species. Best of all though was a group of 20 or so White-cheeked Laughingthrushes. They were quite shy, coming in for only brief looks at us before disappearing back into the forest or crossing the road and diving back into the brush. It was magical, but one of the unfortunately very few encounters with laughingthrushes on this trip.


We returned to the hide in early afternoon to try again for our missing targets, though I got pretty antsy and was ready to leave when it seemed clear we weren't going to get anything new (I was also still feeling a little unwell from something at dinner that had disagreed with me the previous night). The one exception was a group of Black-crowned Fulvettas that came by several times, another welcome endemic tick. We called it quits and headed back into town for a relatively early end of the day, giving me a little time to rest, as well as to buy a sweater to replace one I had lost early on in the trip. It was chilly in this highland region!

 

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