MYANMAR / BURMA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Myanmar: Day 1 Our Myanmar birding tour begins around midday at Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon), where we will stay overnight. During the late afternoon we shall take a walk around the famed Shwedagon Pagoda, the city’s primary landmark, with its magnificent golden stupa.
Myanmar: Day 2 This morning we will pay a visit to Hlawga National Park, a small wetland and dry secondary woodland area on the outskirts of the city which supports a good variety of birds. During our explorations we should come across Green Imperial Pigeon, Irrawaddy Bulbul (split from Streak-eared), Davison’s Bulbul (a likely future split from Stripe-throated), Racket-tailed Treepie and, with luck, the uncommon, localized and partly nomadic Pale-capped Pigeon.
Widespread species include Little Grebe, Oriental Darter, Little Cormorant, Eastern Cattle Egret, Indian and Chinese Pond Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, Asian Openbill, Lesser Whistling-Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Red Junglefowl, White-breasted Waterhen, Red-wattled Lapwing, Spotted Dove, Plaintive Cuckoo, Green-billed Malkoha, Asian Palm-Swift, White-throated Kingfisher, Green and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Coppersmith Barbet, Barn Swallow, Forest and Amur Wagtails, Rosy Minivet, Black-crested, Red-whiskered and Red-vented Bulbuls, Common Iora, Two-barred Warbler, Taiga (or Red-throated) and Blue-throated Flycatchers, White-crested Laughingthrush, Black-naped and Black-hooded Orioles, Common Myna, Black, Ashy, Hair-crested and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Thick-billed and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, Olive-backed Sunbird and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
Later we will catch a flight to Bagan (or Pagan) for a two nights stay. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Myanmar: Day 3 The magnificent Bagan area, with over 4000 pagodas and other monuments, dotted along the banks of the impressive Irrawaddy River, is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in the world. Built between 1057 and 1287, when Kublai Khan’s Mongols overran the area, the numerous crumbling temples and other buildings are all that remain of a vast royal capital that stretched across 40 square kilometres!
Bagan is also an excellent place to go birding in Burma’s/Myanmar’s dry-zone. Sheltered from the southwest monsoon by high mountains, central Burma/Myanmar receives little rainfall and is a true semi-desert, with plants like euphorbias and acacias, reminiscent of parts of northwest India. Birding here is an unforgettable experience. Everywhere one looks are relics of all shapes and sizes, from golden stupas glittering in the hazy sunshine to tumble-down temples, each reflecting the architectural style of a different period.
During our stay we will go birding along the Irrawaddy, with its huge sand-bars, and should find a selection of Southeast Asia’s resident ‘big-river’ birds, including River Lapwing, Small Pratincole, Sand Lark, Grey-throated Sand Martin (split from Brown -throated), White-tailed Stonechat and Striated Babbler. We should also find Great Cormorant, Little and Eastern Great Egrets, Grey Heron, Ruddy Shelduck and Indian (or Burmese) Spot-billed Duck as well as numbers of waders, including Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Little and Temminck’s Stint, and Common and Pied Kingfishers.
In the dry open country with clumps of scrub and scattered trees we should encounter four Burmese endemics, Burmese Bushlark (split from Rufous-winged), the semi-nomadic Jerdon’s Minivet (split from White-bellied), Hooded Treepie and White-throated Babbler (the latter a gregarious species which is common here and travels around in small parties feeding quietly under bushes).
Other typical resident birds in this habitat include Oriental (or Crested) Honey-Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Shikra, Common Kestrel, Laggar Falcon, Barred Buttonquail, Red Turtle Dove, Indian Nightjar, Indian Roller, Paddyfield and Long-billed Pipits, Pied Bushchat, Blue Rock Thrush, Zitting Cisticola, Brown, Grey-breasted and Plain Prinias, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Purple Sunbird, Brown and Burmese Shrikes, House Crow, Jungle and Vinous-breasted Mynas, Plain-backed Sparrow, Baya Weaver, Red Avadavat and Scaly-breasted Munia. The local form of the Eurasian Collared Dove may merit full species status as Burmese Collared Dove.
Walking down some of the shallow, bush-clad gullies will perhaps give us a chance of flushing Rain Quail and we could even, if we are really lucky, see one on the ground. There will also be some wintering migrants to look for, including Olive-backed and Red-throated Pipits, East Siberian (or Swinhoe’s), Citrine, Eastern Grey-headed and Alaska (or Beringian) Wagtails, Bluethroat, and Thick-billed, Dusky and Tickell’s Leaf Warblers. In the evening Spotted Owlets emerge from some of the ruins, and there is also a chance of Barn Owl.
Myanmar: Day 4 This morning we will take our leave of this magical place and, after crossing the new bridge over the Irrawaddy, we will first cross undulating semidesert, deeply intersected by streams and dry ‘wadis’, before reaching areas of dry woodland and finally the Chin Hills. Here we will spend four nights at the village of Kanpetlet, a small settlement situated at 1600-1800m on the lower slopes of Mount Victoria and two nights at Mindat.
We will stop several times along the way, looking in particular for the attractive endemic Hooded Treepie, which travels around in pairs and small unobtrusive groups in the more open, scrubby areas with scattered trees. We will also have another opportunity to find Jerdon’s Minivet, should we have missed it at Bagan.
In the dry forest we are likely to encounter White-eyed Buzzard, Crested Treeswift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Lineated Barbet, Grey-capped and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, the huge White-bellied Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Large Cuckooshrike, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Common Woodshrike, Small and Scarlet Minivets, the lovely Golden-fronted Leafbird, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Black-naped Monarch, White-browed Fantail, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Neglected (or Burmese) Nuthatch (split from Chestnut-bellied), Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bronzed Drongo, Ashy Wood-Swallow, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Rufous Treepie. With a bit of luck we will find the diminutive White-rumped Falcon. This part of Burma is one of the few places to have retained a healthy parakeet population and there will be noisy groups along the roadside wherever there is sufficient cover. We have a good chance of seeing four species: Alexandrine, Red-breasted, Blossom-headed and Grey-headed.
Myanmar: Days 5-9 At 3095m (10,155ft), Mount Victoria is the highest peak in the Chin Hills, a range of mountains that constitute a dramatic southward extension of the eastern Himalayas from Manipur in India. This remote area was not visited by ornithologists until the early part of the 20th century and remains largely unexplored even today. The forested slopes of the mountain change in character according to elevation and range from dry deciduous forest at the foot of the mountain to stunted oak/rhododendron forest and short grassland around the four summits.
Much of our time will be spent at the higher levels. The avifauna here is predominantly Himalayan, sprinkled with some enigmatic regional endemics and a whole host of local subspecies. The mornings can be cold and once dawn comes there is a great frenzy of bird activity as the first feeding opportunities of the day arrive. At the higher levels, we will search the gnarled, lichen-covered oaks for White-browed Nuthatch, Burma’s most irresistible endemic and so far only recorded from here and the Mindat area, a few kilometres to the north. Undergrowth in the forest at this elevation harbours the restricted-range Brown-capped Laughingthrush, while the older pines attract Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and Russet Sparrow. Higher elevation oaks and rhododendrons harbour hyperactive parties of endemic Burmese Bushtits (split from Black-browed), Green Shrike-Babbler, furtive Streak-throated Barwings (methodically examining the bark crevices for food), Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush and the superb Fire-tailed Sunbird. Hidden in areas of short bamboo and weeds are skulkers including Aberrant and Brown Bush Warblers, and Black-throated Prinia (split from Hill). We will also have a chance of seeing Hill Partridge.
On moving down to lower elevations with taller trees we will encounter a different set of birds. Emanating from the tree tops are the incessant calls of Great and Golden-throated Barbets and hiding in the dense foliage will be Wedge-tailed Green and Ashy Woodpigeons, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Striated and Black Bulbuls, and Maroon Oriole. A loud ‘chik’ may alert us to the presence of a Stripe-breasted or Crimson-breasted Woodpecker.
As usual in this part of the world, many of the smaller birds will be travelling in fast-moving mixed feeding flocks. Here, these can include Grey-chinned and Long-tailed Minivets, lively Whistler’s, Grey-hooded, Chestnut-crowned, Black-faced, Blyth’s Leaf, Buff-barred and Ashy-throated Warblers, Yellow-bellied and White-throated Fantails, inquisitive Golden and Grey-throated Babblers, the stunning Himalayan Cutia, White-browed and Black-eared Shrike-Babblers, parties of Rusty-fronted Barwings with their floppy crests, colourful Blue-winged, Chestnut-tailed and Red-tailed Minlas, Rufous-winged, White-browed and Nepal Fulvettas, Grey Sibia, Whiskered and Stripe-throated Yuhinas, Green-backed and Yellow-browed Tits, White-tailed and Chestnut-vented Nuthatches, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, the restricted-range Hume’s (or Manipur) Treecreeper (split from Brown-throated), Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and sparkling Mrs Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds. Calling Collared Owlets, which attract the mobbing attentions of these flocks, are often heard but seldom seen. Roving through the middle storey will be larger species such as Lesser Yellownape, Bay Woodpecker, Mountain Bulbul, the beautiful Yellow-billed Blue Magpie and Grey Treepie.
The forest here abounds with flycatchers and Rufous-gorgeted, Slaty-backed, Little Pied, Slaty-blue, Snowy-browed, Pygmy Blue and Grey-headed Flycatchers, as well as Large, Vivid and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, are all present. A rustling sound from the undergrowth, a sudden movement in the shadows or a quick burst of song may signal the presence of one of the more skulking species, which include Chestnut-headed Tesia, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Scaly-breasted and Pygmy Wren-Babblers (or Cupwings), the near-endemic Chin Hills (split from Long-tailed) Wren-Babbler, Spotted Elachura (formerly known as Spotted Wren-Babbler but now placed in a monotypic bird family), Mount Victoria Babax (now split from Chinese), the restricted-range Assam Laughingthrush (split from Chestnut-crowned), Blue-winged Laughingthrush and Rusty-capped Fulvetta.
Swathes of bamboo in the forest are home to some of the more specialized birds and we will particularly be on the look-out for the tiny, near-endemic Buff-breasted Parrotbill (split from Black-throated), the bizarre Sickle-billed (or Slender-billed) Scimitar Babbler, with its rapid piping call, and the little known Broad-billed Warbler. There will also be a sprinkling of migrants such as Himalayan Bluetail (split from Red-flanked), Blue-fronted Redstart, Common Rosefinch and Little Bunting.
Moving lower still, broadleaf forest patches, open pinewoods, clearings and more open areas with scrub and grass harbour the little-known Striped Laughingthrush, a striking restricted range species, as well as Oriental Turtle Dove, Crested Finchbill, Flavescent Bulbul, Grey Bushchat, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, duetting pairs of Spot-breasted Scimitar Babblers (this species, P. mcclellandii, endemic to northeast India and western Myanmar has been split from P. erythrocnemis, which is now restricted to Taiwan and renamed Black-necklaced Scimitar Babbler!), Crimson-faced Liocichla (split from Red-faced), Silver-eared Mesia and the perky Spot-breasted Parrotbill. With luck, we will succeed in seeing some of the skulkers in this habitat, such as Mountain Bamboo-Partridge, Spot-throated Babbler or Brownish-flanked and Russet Bush Warblers. Small flocks of migrant thrushes can be found in the oak forest canopy or in fruiting trees and typically contain the rare Grey-sided Thrush, as well as the more widespread Eyebrowed Thrush.
The list of additional species recorded from the southern Chin Hills is long and during our stay on the mountain we will certainly have a chance of seeing some of the following: Besra, Black Eagle, the elusive Mrs Hume’s Pheasant, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Grey Nightjar, Himalayan Swiftlet, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Asian House Martin, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, White-bellied Redstart, Blue Whistling Thrush, Black-breasted Thrush, Eurasian Jay, Eastern Jungle Crow (split from Large-billed), Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Spot-winged Grosbeak and Brown Bullfinch.
Myanmar: Day 10 After a last morning in the Chin Hills we will return to Bagan for an overnight stay.
Myanmar: Day 11 This morning we take a short flight eastwards to Heho, located in Shan State. From there we will drive to Inle (or Inlay) Lake for an overnight stay, keeping a lookout for Grey-headed Lapwing, Wire-tailed Swallow and flocks of White-vented or even Collared Mynas. Our hotel is located on the lakeshore, with a beautiful view over the lake, which is set in a basin-like depression at 900m above sea-level, surrounded by low hills. Inle Lake is famous for its unusual ‘leg-rowers’, and here we shall be exploring by boat in order to find some of the speciality birds. The two big targets here are the scarce Jerdon’s Bushchat, which we have an excellent chance of finding as the shiny-plumaged males perch up on the long grass stems along the margins of the lake, and a newly-discovered population of the critically endangered Chinese Grassbird (or Chinese Grass Babbler). The latter is known from just a handful of sites in its entire range.
We should also see large numbers of migrant waterfowl, which can include Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Red-crested Pochard and Ferruginous Duck, and we even have a slim chance of finding the declining and now endangered Baer’s Pochard. We are also likely to come across Intermediate Egret, Chinese Pond Heron, Purple Heron, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Grey-headed Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Brown-headed Gull, Citrine Wagtail, Siberian Rubythroat, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Black-browed, Indian and Oriental Reed Warblers. There will be further opportunities here to look for Collared Myna, and if we are lucky we will encounter one or two rarities, such as the endangered sharpii form of the Sarus Crane, Rosy Pipit, Spotted Bush Warbler or Blunt-winged Warbler.
Myanmar: Day 12 After some more birding at Inle Lake we will drive up onto the red-soil plateau and travel the short distance to Kalaw, set amidst an attractive area of hills at an elevation of 1335m, where we will spend two nights. Along the way we will have further opportunities to find the uncommon and localized Collared Myna around the scrubby margins of the arable fields. Kalaw was an administrative town during the colonial years, one can still find late 19th century British cottages, pine trees, and beautiful lanes. Around the town itself we are likely to come across the restricted range Black-headed Greenfinch as well as Brown-breasted Bulbul, Black-breasted Thrush, Hill Prinia, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Long-tailed Shrike and Japanese White-eye.
Myanmar: Day 13 Today we shall explore the environs of the Yay Ayekan Reservoir, which was built by the British for water supply to Kalaw. The water there is so pure that it was even shipped to Yangon for the governor of Burma and other high-ranking British officers. The reservoir is surrounded by some secondary but good quality evergreen forest and here we shall look in particular for the near-endemic but sometimes elusive Burmese Yuhina, Spectacled Barwing and Dark-backed Sibia (split from Black-headed).
Other species we may well find in this area include Crested Serpent Eagle, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Himalayan Buzzard (split from Common), Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Himalayan Swiftlet, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, Greater Flameback, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Ashy Bulbul, Black-backed and White-crowned Forktails, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Daurian Redstart, Common Tailorbird, Grey-crowned and Bianchi’s Warblers, the recently-described Martens’s Warbler, Davison’s Leaf (split from White-tailed Leaf) and Yellow-streaked Warblers, White-gorgeted and Hill Blue Flycatchers, Puff-throated Babbler, Silver-eared Laughingthrush (split from Chestnut-crowned), Rufous-backed Sibia, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Black-throated Bushtit, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Eurasian Jay (here of the bizarre-looking white-faced form leucotis) and Black-throated Sunbird. With luck, we will entice out a Black-tailed Crake, a Slaty-bellied Tesia or a Streaked Wren-Babbler.
Myanmar: Day 14 We will return to Heho and catch a morning flight back to Yangon, where our Myanmar birding tour ends.