The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia

BEST OF VIETNAM

Sunday 14th February – Saturday 27th February 2021

Leaders: Alex Berryman and a local bird guide

14 Days Group Size Limit 7

Birdquest’s Best of Vietnam tours explore the entire length of the most endemic-rich country in mainland Southeast Asia. Our Best of Vietnam tour is the best two-week itinerary available in this fascinating and beautiful country and turns up a fantastic array of specialities. Apart from the very rich avifauna, we usually see some rare primates and Vietnam also offers an amazing scenery, fantastic culture and an overall great travel experience!

Vietnam has 13 currently-recognized endemics and of these our tour targets Orange-breasted, Collared, Golden-winged and Chestnut-eared Laughingthrushes, Black-crowned Fulvetta, Vietnamese Cutia, Grey-crowned Crocias, Dalat Shrike-Babbler, Dalat Bush Warbler and Vietnamese Greenfinch. The list of regional endemics or near-endemics is also very impressive and on this amazing tour we have a chance to such sought-after birds as Germain’s Peacock Pheasant, Siamese Fireback, Red-vented, Necklaced and Indochinese Barbets, Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, Blue-rumped and Bar-bellied Pittas, White-winged and Indochinese Green Magpies, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, Masked, Grey, Rufous-cheeked, White-cheeked and Black-hooded Laughingthrushes, Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler, Sooty Babbler, Indochinese Fulvetta, Grey-faced Tit Babbler, the newly-described Black-crowned Barwing and with a modicum of luck even the shy Orange-necked Partridge or the hyper elusive Red-collared Woodpecker.

Indochina, where the avifaunas of China, Malaysia and the Himalayas all meet, remains in ornithological terms amongst the least known and unexplored of all the regions of South-East Asia.

During the days when it was under French colonial administration, Vietnam was considered to be very much a land of remote forested mountains inhabited by wild tribespeople. Ravaged by thirty years of struggle, first in the independence war against the French and later during the civil war, Vietnam and its fantastic birdlife remained firmly off-limits. Now the country has once more opened its doors to outsiders and for birdwatchers the old images of a war-torn country that came to exert such a powerful fascination for westerners are gradually being replaced by thoughts of the brilliant green paddyfields, forested hills with jutting limestone peaks and cool pine forests that had remained inaccessible for so long.

Vietnam has the most diverse avifauna in Indochina and amongst its birds are many of the most sought-after species of the Oriental region, including 13 endemic species (significantly more than any other country in South-East Asia), 11 additional species endemic to Indochina as a whole and a long series of endemic subspecies, some of which surely merit elevation to species status. Vietnam is still a rarely visited birding destination in spite of its very rich avifauna (rivalling Thailand in what it can produce in three weeks).

Our Best of Vietnam birding tour starts at the city of Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City as it is nowadays officially known), but we immediately head for Cat Tien National Park in northern Cochinchina, which protects one of the largest remaining areas of lowland forest and wetlands in the country. Here we will be hoping to see the near-endemic Orange-necked Partridge, Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Red-vented Barbet, Bar-bellied and Blue-rumped Pittas, and Grey-faced Tit-Babbler, as well as a long list of more widespread species including specialities such as Green-legged Partridge, Siamese Fireback, Green Peafowl, Pale-headed, Black-and-buff and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Vinous-breasted Starling and Golden-crested Myna.

Next we head northwards to the unique Da Lat (or Lang Bian) plateau in south-central Vietnam where forested peaks rise to over 2000 metres. The forests here harbour such Vietnamese or Indochinese endemics as Black-headed Parrotbill, Black-hooded, White-cheeked, Orange-breasted and Collared Laughingthrushes, Vietnamese Cutia, Black-crowned Fulvetta, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, Indochinese Green Magpie, Vietnamese Greenfinch and the strange Grey-crowned Crocias. Other specialities include Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, Hodgson’s Frogmouth, Blue Pitta, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Green Cochoa, White-spectacled and Grey-cheeked Warblers, and Black-headed Sibia.

Continuing northwards into the northern part of Vietnam, we will first explore Cuc Phuong, the oldest of Vietnam’s national parks. Here in the moist evergreen forest, we will look for a series of exciting birds, including Pied Falconet, Eared Pitta, Red-collared Woodpecker, Japanese and Black-breasted Thrushes, Rufous-throated Fulvetta, Limestone Wren-Babbler, White-tailed Flycatcher and Fork-tailed Sunbird.

Our final port of call will be the old French hill station at Tam Dao, haunt of the Chestnut Bulbul, Fujian Niltava, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Spot-necked Babbler, Grey Laughingthrush, Indochinese Yuhina, Green Cochoa, Short-tailed Parrotbill and the very shy Blue-naped Pitta.

(If it becomes ‘seeable’ again, we will also make a visit to Ba Be National Park for the superb and very rare and endangered White-eared Night Heron.

When the time comes to take our leave of this fascinating country we will surely agree with the comment made by Jean Delacour, a pioneer of South-East Asian ornithology, that “no other part of Asia is of greater interest to the ornithologist”.

Birdquest pioneered Vietnam tours as far back as 1991.

What makes the Birdquest Best of Vietnam tour special? Firstly we use good quality accommodations wherever we can, and in addition we use and pay for hide/blind access in various spots to give our group members high chances for fantastic, close encounters with special bird species. This is not the case with some bird tour companies.

Finally, the Birdquest group size limit is lower than for most other Vietnam birding tours (significantly so in some instances). There is a lot of forest birding in Vietnam and so a smaller group size limit is a major benefit to participants.

‘You get what you pay for’ is a very true adage.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/guesthouses are comfortable and of good or medium standard throughout. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and roads are now generally good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Best of  Vietnam tour is mostly easy, but there are some longer walks.

Climate: Most days at lower altitudes in the south will be warm or hot, dry and sunny. In the north and at higher altitudes in the south conditions range from warm to rather cool. Overcast weather is not infrequent and it may well rain.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Best of Vietnam tour are worthwhile.


PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include this flight: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)-Hanoi.

Deposit: £580, $760, €660.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2021: provisional £3260, $4290, €3790. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)/Hanoi.

Single Supplement: 2021: £320, $430, €380.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

BEST OF VIETNAM TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Best of Vietnam: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Ho Chi Minh City (the official name for Saigon), from where we will drive to Cat Tien for a four nights stay. The city was dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’ during the French colonial period and some of the old flavour remains. We will arrive at Cat Tien in time for some initial exploration.

Best of Vietnam: Days 2-4  Cat Tien was the first national park to be established in southern Vietnam and is situated only 100 kilometres to the northeast of Saigon. The park lies at the base of foothills which eventually lead to the Da Lat highlands. The beautiful lowland forest in the eastern half of the park is probably one of the last remaining areas that supports almost the full spectrum of the rich Cochinchinese avifauna and was very fortunate to escape the spraying with defoliants during the civil war that destroyed vast tracts of forest elsewhere in southern Vietnam.

The park is a mosaic of different habitats, dominated by a series of seasonal wetlands at its centre. Small flocks of waterbirds including Eastern Cattle, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, and Chinese Pond-Heron, gather to sun themselves in the trees. Overhead larger birds such as Woolly-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant and Grey-headed Fish-Eagle flap past in search of a quiet place to feed. In the early mornings, Green Peafowl can be heard calling from the larger trees surrounding the wetlands, where they have a good preen before flying down to commence feeding. Along the edges of pools and marshes, we may find Cinnamon Bittern, White-breasted Waterhen, Stork-billed Kingfisher and Palearctic migrants from northern Asia such as Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers, Lanceolated Warbler and Dusky Warbler.

In the evening groups of Great Eared Nightjars emerge to hunt over open areas while Large-tailed Nightjars fly low over forest clearings. After nightfall, we will have a good chance of seeing Asian Barred Owlet and Brown Hawk Owl.

Other birds we should see in the open grassy habitat include Striated (or Little) Heron, Collared Falconet, Red-wattled Lapwing, Lesser Coucal, Indochinese Bushlark, Black-hooded Oriole, Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinias, Chestnut-capped Babbler, Baya Weaver and White-rumped Munia. If we are very lucky even the rare Asian Golden Weaver can show up.

A driveable track, leading from the park headquarters in the south to Dac Lua substation in the north, bisects the reserve. The first part of the track runs close to the banks of the Dong Nai River. In the mornings many birds are active along the riverbanks and we should encounter White-throated and Pied Kingfishers, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Black-and-red Broadbill, Racket-tailed Treepie, Rufescent Prinia and perhaps winter visitors such as Thick-billed and Radde’s Warblers. As we move further into the heart of the park the partly deciduous forest becomes taller, although still open, and is interspersed with dense patches of evergreen forest and thorny clumps of bamboo.

Much of the bird activity will be concentrated around fruiting trees where we will find birds such as Thick-billed, Ashy-headed (split from Pompadour) and Orange-breasted Green Pigeons, Green Imperial Pigeon, Red-breasted Parakeet, Vernal Hanging Parrot, Green-eared and Lineated Barbets, the little known near-endemic Red-vented Barbet, Ochraceous and Black-headed Bulbuls, Great and Common Ioras, Golden-fronted and Blue-winged Leafbirds, and Asian Fairy-Bluebird. In roving flocks we should find Green-billed Malkoha, Laced Woodpecker, Banded and Dusky Broadbills, Large Woodshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Abbott’s and Scaly-crowned Babblers, and Pin-striped Tit-Babbler.

Clearings in the forest are always a good place to linger, attracting such species as Black Baza, Crested Goshawk, Shikra, Crested Serpent Eagle, Red Junglefowl, Red Collared and Spotted Doves, Plaintive and Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoos, Greater Coucal, Asian Palm Swift, Germain’s Swiftlet, Great and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Indian (Black-billed) Roller, Dollarbird, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Blue-eared and Coppersmith Barbets, the huge Great Slaty and White-bellied Woodpeckers, Striated Swallow, Stripe-throated and Streak-eared Bulbuls, Black and Hair-crested Drongos, Brown Shrike, Chestnut-tailed and Vinous-breasted Starlings, Golden-crested and Hill Mynas, Black-naped Oriole, Ashy Woodswallow, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird (split from Purple-throated), Olive-backed Sunbird, Yellow-vented and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, and Paddyfield Pipit.

Venturing along the smaller side trails into patches of evergreen forest, we will be looking in particular for such secretive specialities as Siamese Fireback, the near-endemic Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Green-legged Partridge, Black-and-buff Woodpecker and the near-endemic Bar-bellied Pitta. With persistence, we have a good chance of seeing all of them during our stay.

In this habitat we should also be able to locate Emerald Dove, Orange-breasted Trogon, Banded Kingfisher, Greater Flameback, White-browed Piculet, White-rumped Shama, the endemic Grey-faced Tit-Babbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Ruby-cheeked and Purple-naped Sunbirds and Little Spiderhunter.

Other species we may well encounter at Cat Tien include Crested (or Oriental) Honey-Buzzard, Common Flameback, Heart-spotted Woodpecker and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, as well as such wintering species as Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Blue Robin, Pale-legged Leaf and Two-barred Warblers, and Red-throated (or Taiga) and Asian Brown Flycatchers.

We also have a reasonable chance of finding Blyth’s Frogmouth, Violet Cuckoo, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Blue-rumped Pitta, Thick-billed Flowerpecker and Asian Golden Weaver. If we are very lucky we will come across the little-known, near-endemic Orange-necked Partridge (once thought endemic, this species has now been found in Cambodia).

In addition to birds, Cat Tien’s forests are an important refuge for Black-shanked Douc Langur, one of the most colourful and least known primates in Asia, and Buff-cheeked Gibbon. If we are very lucky we could even come across the rare Annamese Langur (split from Indochinese).

Best of Vietnam: Day 5  After some final birding at Cat Tien we will drive north to Di Linh for an overnight stay. In the afternoon we shall start the exploration of the Deo Nui San area.

Best of Vietnam: Day 6  Today we will have all day at Deo Nui San, a pass surrounded by impressive forested hills. We will look for a number of species which are easier to find here than on the Da Lat Plateau including Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoo, Speckled Piculet, Long-tailed Broadbill, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Bronzed and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, the near-endemic Black-headed Parrotbill (split from Grey-headed), Black-hooded and White-cheeked Laughingthrushes, the endemic Orange-breasted Laughingthrush, Streaked Spiderhunter and the distinctive local races of Black-headed and Rufous-backed Sibias, Blue-throated Flycatcher and Black-throated Sunbird (here of the beautiful, red-breasted johnsi race). If we are lucky we will find one or two of the more secretive birds of the area such as Bar-backed Partridge, Blue Pitta, Alström’s (or Plain-tailed) Warbler, Spot-throated Babbler, Rufous-browed Flycatcher and Indochinese Green Magpie. In the late afternoon we will drive to Da Lat for a three nights stay.

Best of Vietnam: Days 7-8  The Da Lat (or Lang Bian) Plateau is home to a remarkable avifauna dominated by Indochinese endemic species and also Indochinese subspecies of birds with Himalayan affinities. The town of Da Lat itself is a traditional hill resort for the inhabitants of Saigon and was a major destination for bird collecting expeditions during French colonial times: many of the unique birds discovered on the plateau were taken close to the town limits or on the nearby peaks. The resort was founded in 1893 by the famous French doctor Yersin, who recognized the site’s health-giving qualities and the surrounding area now produces large quantities of fruit, vegetables and flowers.

The Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park which also includes Mount Lang Bian (c2200m), the third-highest peak of the plateau, is only a short distance from the town. We will also visit the mixed forest surrounding Tuyen Lam Lake and some other localities. Native pine forests abound with such species as Large and Indochinese Cuckooshrikes, Long-tailed Minivet, Burmese Shrike, Ashy Drongo, Slender-billed Oriole, Grey Bushchat, Yellow-browed and Kloss’s Leaf Warblers, Green-backed Tit, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch and the endemic Vietnamese Greenfinch. Interesting local subspecies of Eurasian Jay and Common (or Red) Crossbill can also be found here.

In the open areas, we should see Black-collared Starling and winter visitors including Grey-faced Buzzard, Blue and White-throated Rock Thrushes, and Olive-backed Pipit. In evergreen scrub running through the pine forest and along the evergreen forest edge we should see Banded Bay Cuckoo, Necklaced Barbet, Black-crested, Red-whiskered, Flavescent and Sooty-headed Bulbuls, Hill Prinia, Verditer Flycatcher and Scaly-breasted Munia. Regular scanning of the skyline may produce Black-shouldered Kite, Black and Rufous-bellied Eagles, and House Swift.

Bird flocks will be encountered almost constantly once we enter the evergreen forest and will consist of species such as Bay Woodpecker, Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Grey-chinned Minivet, Ashy Bulbul, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Blue-winged Minla, Mountain (Annam) Fulvetta, Blyth’s Leaf, Grey-cheeked and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Mountain Tailorbird, Little Pied and Mugimaki Flycatchers, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, White-throated Fantail, Black-throated Bushtit, Hume’s Treecreeper (split from Brown-throated), Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird.

In the best evergreen forest we should find Wedge-tailed Green and Mountain Imperial Pigeons, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Indochinese Barbet (split from Black-browed), Mountain and Himalayan Black Bulbuls, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Maroon Oriole, Lesser Shortwing, Pygmy Wren-Babbler, the beautiful endemic Collared Laughingthrush, the endemic Grey-crowned Crocias, the endemic Vietnamese Cutia (split from Himalayan Cutia), Dalat Shrike-Babbler (split from White-browed), Clicking Shrike-Babbler (split from Chestnut-fronted), the endemic Black-crowned Fulvetta (split from Rufous-winged), White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-bellied Tesia, Ashy-throated Warbler, White-spectacled Warbler, Large Niltava and Yellow-cheeked Tit.

If we are lucky we will find one or two of the more elusive inhabitants of the area such as Chinese Francolin, Rufous-throated Partridges, Silver Pheasant, Green Cochoa, Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler, Dalat Bush Warbler, Brown Prinia or a wintering Siberian Thrush.

Best of Vietnam: Day 9  Today we return to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and take a flight north to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. From there we drive south to Cuc Phuong, Vietnam’s first national Park, where we will stay for two nights.

Best of Vietnam: Day 10  Based at the headquarters amid superb forest in the heart of Cuc Phuong National Park we will be ideally situated to explore this fascinating area with its limestone formations and forested central valley that provide a refuge for many exciting birds.

The forest, which starts only 50 metres from the guesthouse, contains such specialities as White-bellied Green Pigeon, Limestone Wren-Babbler, the localized Rufous-throated Fulvetta and White-tailed Flycatcher. Along the various trails leading to ancient trees and caves, we may well find Silver Pheasant, Rufous Woodpecker, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Common Green Magpie, the strange Ratchet-tailed Treepie, White-tailed Robin, Large Scimitar Babbler, Buff-breasted Babbler and the striking Sultan Tit. Wet areas and streams in the forest are good places to look for White-crowned Forktail. Blue-rumped Pittas are quite common in this area, although often difficult to get views of, and this is one of the best spots in Vietnam for seeing the often-difficult Eared Pitta. We have another chance to look for the rare and elusive Red-collared Woodpecker which we have seen here several times.

Along the edges of the many small forest clearings are birds such as Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, wintering Grey-crowned and Bianchi’s Warblers (split from Golden-spectacled), Japanese Tit (split from Great) and Plain Flowerpecker. Raptors include Black Eagle and may be joined overhead by Brown-backed Needletails. There is even a good chance of finding Pied Falconet resting on an exposed branch. Collared Scops Owls can be heard during the night, and we will have a chance of finding a Brown Wood Owl.

At this season, the resident bird population is still augmented by visitors from the north, which often include Rufous-tailed Robin, Northern Red-flanked Bluetail, White’s, Black-breasted, Japanese and Grey-backed Thrushes, Asian Stubtail, Manchurian Bush Warbler and Fujian Niltava. In some years Malayan Night Heron also wintering in the park but we need luck to come across one.

Best of Vietnam: Day 11  After some morning birding at Cuc Phuong, we will drive northwards to Tam Dao for a three nights stay.

Best of Vietnam: Days 12-13  Tam Dao, the old French hill station that served the inhabitants of Hanoi, is about three hours drive to the northwest of Hanoi. Although most of the old buildings were destroyed during the war, Tam Dao retains something of the atmosphere of an old hill station in miniature. Sheltered by a semi-circle of forested heights reaching 1350m, Tam Dao became a popular haunt of ornithologists early in the 20th century. Its rich and colourful forests, now a national park, have a very distinctive character, with a blending of birds that one otherwise encounters in the Himalayas, northwestern Thailand and southern China. A number of trails meander through the forest at various altitudes, offering quiet observers the chance to see a wide variety of species.

In the treetops, we should see Black-winged Cuckooshrike and Chestnut Bulbul. The enigmatic Grey Laughingthrush joins parties of Streak-breasted and Red-billed Scimitar Babblers, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes and Collared Babblers (split from White-hooded). A whistled imitation of the call of Collared Owlet can attract excited small birds, including David’s Fulvetta (split from Grey-cheeked), Black-chinned Yuhina and Golden Babbler. Streaked and Eyebrowed Wren-Babblers can be found foraging close to the ground alongside leafy trails, while the gorgeous Red-headed Trogon and the retiring White-gorgeted Flycatcher favour the shadier areas of the forest. In scrub and secondary growth and along the forest edge we may find Pale-footed, Brownish-flanked and Russet Bush Warblers, and Grey-backed Shrike. Other birds we may well come across during our visit are Ashy Bulbul, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Blyth’s Shrike-Babbler (split from White-browed) and the spectacular Red-billed Blue Magpie.

Uncommon specialities that we will be on the lookout for at Tam Dao include Green Cochoa, Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, the very localized Short-tailed and the noisy Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbills. If we are really in luck we will come across the shy Blue-naped Pitta or the rare Purple Cochoa.

(If the endangered White-eared Night Heron is showing again at Ba Be National Park at the time of the tour we will have the time to make a visit to the area and try our luck.)

Best of Vietnam: Day 14  After some final birding at Tam Dao we will return to Hanoi, where the main section of our tour ends this afternoon.

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