Trip Report: Vietnam, November 10 - December 4, 1998

Phil Benstead and Charlotte Petersson, United Kingdom;


Vietnam is an excellent, friendly South-east Asian country, with a great selection of endemic and must-see birds. If you have travelled a little in South-east Asia already, it will not be long before your attention turns to Vietnam. We used 'gen' by Brian Gee (available from the Oriental Bird Club, c/o The Lodge, Sandy, Beds, UK) and Jon Hornbuckle (available on the web at

We flew with Aeroflot, sadly remaining ignorant of the possibility of identically priced open-jaw return, which would have meant we could have flown into Ho Chi Min and out of Hanoi, saving one day and an expensive internal flight. We hired a car and driver through NTN Travel (contact Nguyen Van Viet email for the days when we needed to travel anywhere which cost $575 after haggling. This could be reduced further I think (standard rate is $20-30 per day for a car) but it is worth using NTN as they are used to birders and know their way to all the key sites (especially important for Xuan Thuy). Nguyen also booked all our internal flights.

The timing of our trip left a little to be desired, and we did not enjoy the best of weather; better to go in April if you have the chance.

Site information

Cat Tien National Park (10-15 November 1998)

Great site but birds a little thin on the ground during our visit. We were hit by two tropical storms during our stay, and this meant we lost a lot of time in the field. On one day fish were actually jumping in front of us along the path! The leeches were pretty bad, too. Make sure you take wellies and leech socks if you go here during 'the wet'. The pheasants were very hard, we saw just one Germain's Peacock-pheasant, and pittas were likewise almost impossible. Other highlights included: Pale-headed Woodpecker, Red-vented Barbet, bad views of a female Bar-bellied Pitta, Black-and-red Broadbill, and Grey-faced Tit-babbler.

Ho Tuyen Lam (16 and 18 November 1998)

Superb if somewhat confusing site. Available maps of this site are rather woeful, and the issue is confused by variable heights in the reservoir. It is however a really good site and worth perseverance. We got lost on the first day and got dropped off by the tourist development on the left bank at the far end of the reservoir. In pockets of forest here we saw plenty of good birds, and nearby pines on the ridge held Vietnamese Greenfinch. Despite my best attempts I failed to see both Yellow-billed Nuthatch and Grey-crowned Crocias. We actually never found the Crocias trail, but I know where it is now and will return one day. Highlights included: Chinese Francolin, Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, Grey-faced Buzzard, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Burmese Shrike, Black-hooded Laughingthrush, White-cheeked Laughingthrush, Collared Laughingthrush and Grey-headed Parrotbill.

Mount Lang Bian (17 November 1998)

Great site. Best to get permission from the Tourist Office in town to save your driver hassle if you are caught sneaking in, costs money though for permit and guide (the guide just drives up to the gate and then returns later with the driver!). The trail into the forest was seriously muddy during our visit, again wellies were essential. We could have done with another day here I think but still managed to see: Black-browed Barbet, Lesser Shortwing, Siberian Blue Robin, Ashy-throated Warbler, Collared Laughingthrush, Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Black-headed Sibia.

Xuan Thuy (21 November 1998)

One of my main reasons for visiting Vietnam was to see Spoon-billed Sandpiper, and we were not disappointed. We stayed at the reserve, basic accommodation available and were charged $20 each for a bed, three meals and the guided boat trip out onto the sandflats. Again we were unlucky with the weather and only had 2 hours before rain stopped play. This was fortunately long enough to allow us to find: Nordmann's Greenshank, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Saunder's Gull and Black-faced Spoonbill.

Cuc Phuong National Park (21-27 November 1998)

This was our favourite site, the weather was great the whole time we were here, and the birds were fantastic. Fairly expensive but well worth it. We stayed in a room in the pillar house and ate all our meals in the main canteen. Could be noisy during school visits but quiet the rest of the time. Visit the primate centre by the National Park Headquarters if you want to see some of the endangered primates of Vietnam, it will be your only chance. Pittas were seemingly everywhere here, we saw 4-5 a day without any problems, with excellent views of Bar-bellied and Blue-rumped Pitta at close range. Don't ignore the road it was really good during our stay. Other highlights included: Silver Pheasant (abundant), Red-collared Woodpecker, White-bellied Green Pigeon, Pied Falconet, a large flock of White-winged Magpie, Indochinese Green Magpie, Ratchet-tailed Treepie, thrushes, White-tailed Flycatcher, Fujian Niltava, Rufous-tailed Robin, bush-warblers, wren-babblers and Rufous-throated Fulvetta.

Tam Dao (28-30 November 1998)

We were a little tired by this stage and did not do this site justice. The weather conditions did not help however, lots of low cloud and mist and drizzle making birding unpleasant and difficult. Plenty of cheap hotels but the eateries all have the same menu and prices, which are quite expensive. We did however manage to see some good birds: Eurasian Woodcock, Siberian Thrush, thrushes, Fujian Niltava, Grey Laughingthrush, Spot-necked Babbler, the stunning Short-tailed Parrotbill and Tristram's Bunting.

Cat Ba Island (2-4 December 1998)

We did a cheap three day trip from Hanoi to wind down before we flew home. Great scenery but produced few birds of interest, best of all being Light-vented Bulbuls in the limestone scrub.

Species List (follows nomenclature and order in Inskipp et al 1996)

Site codes as follows - CT = Cat Tien, DL = Da Lat, HTL = Ho Tuyen Lam, LB = Mount Lang Bian, XT = Xuan Thuy, CP = Cuc Phuong, TD = Tam Dao and CB = Cat Ba island. [ ]indicates that the bird was heard only.
Chinese FrancolinFrancolinus pintadeanusHTL
Red JunglefowlGallus gallusCT, CP
Silver PheasantLophura nycthemeraCP
Germains Peacock PheasantPolyplectron germainiCT
Single female on track on 15/11.
[Grey Peacock PheasantPolyplectrum bicalcaratumCP, TD]
[Green PeafowlPavo muticusCT]
Heard at dusk from the ranger station at Crocodile Lake on 12/11.
Greylag GooseAnser anserXT
Cotton Pygmy-gooseNettapus coromandelianusCT
Spot-billed DuckAnas poecilorhynchaXT
Northern ShovelerAnas clypeataXT
Common TealAnas creccaXT
White-browed PiculetSasia ochraceaTD
Grey-capped Pygmy WoodpeckerDendrocopos canicapillusCP
White-bellied WoodpeckerDryocopus javensisCT
Lesser YellownapePicus chlorolophusCT, CP
Greater YellownapePicus flavinuchaCP
Red-collared WoodpeckerPicus rabieriCP
Two territories found, birds unresponsive to tape. One bird flushed from ground and seen poorly.
Grey-headed WoodpeckerPicus canusCT
Common FlamebackDinopium javenseCT
Pale-headed WoodpeckerGecinulus grantiaCT Single bird along the track at Cat Tien on 12/11.
Bay WoodpeckerBlythipicus pyrrhotisCP
Red-vented BarbetMegalaima lagrandieriCT
A single seen well at Cat Tien on 15/11 was the only one seen during the trip!
Lineated BarbetMegalaima lineataCT
Green-eared BarbetMegalaima faiostrictaCP, TD
Golden-throated BarbetMegalaima frankliniiTD
Black-browed BarbetMegalaima oorti[HTL], LB
[Moustached BarbetMegalaima incognitaHTL]
[Coppersmith BarbetMegalaima haemacephalaCT]
Oriental Pied HornbillAnthracoceros albirostrisCT
Daily at Cat Tien in small flocks.
Orange-breasted TrogonHarpactes oreskiosCT
Red-headed TrogonHarpactes erythocephalusHTL, CP, TD
Common KingfisherAlcedo atthisCT, XT
[Banded KingfisherLacedo pulchellaCT]
Stork-billed KingfisherHalcyon amauropteraCT
White-throated KingfisherHalcyon smyrnensiswidespread
Black-capped KingfisherHalcyon pileataXT
Chestnut-headed Bee-eaterMerops leschnaultiCT
Asian Emerald CuckooChrysococcyx xanthorhynchusCT
Drongo CuckooSurniculus lugubrisCT
Green-billed MalkohaPhaenicophaeus tristisCT, CP
Greater CoucalCentropus sinensisCT
Lesser CoucalCentropus bengalensisCT, XT
Vernal Hanging ParrotLoriculus vernalisCT
Grey-headed ParakeetPsittacula finschiiHTL
Red-breasted ParakeetPsittacula alexanderiCT
Germain's SwiftletCollocalia germaniCT
Brown-backed NeedletailHirundapus giganteusCT
Asian Palm SwiftCypsirius balasiensisCT
Fork-tailed SwiftApus pacificusCT, CB
House SwiftApus affinisSaigon, DL
[Mountain Scops OwlOtus spilocephalusCT]
[Collared Scops OwlOtus bakkamoenaCT]
[Spot-bellied Eagle OwlBubo nipalensisCP]
[Collared OwletGlaucidium brodeiCP]
[Asian Barred OwletGlaucidium cuculoidesCT]
Great Eared nightjarEurostopodus macrotisCT
Large-tailed nightjarCaprimulgus macrurusCT
Small numbers seen, not very vocal.
Rock PigeonColumba liviaUbiquitous in urban areas
Oriental Turtle DoveStreptopelia orientalisHTL
Spotted DoveStreptopelia chinensisCT
Red Collared DoveStreptopelia tranquebaricaCT
Emerald DoveChalcophaps indicaHTL
Thick-billed Green PigeonTreron curvirostraCT, CP
Yellow-vented Green PigeonTreron seimundiHTL, CP
[Wedge-tailed Green PigeonTreron sphenuraLB]
White-bellied Green PigeonTreron sieboldiCP
Green Imperial PigeonDucula aeneaCT
Mountain Imperial PigeonDucula badiaHTL, LB
White-breasted WaterhenAmaurornis phoenicurusCT, XT
WatercockGallicrex cinereaCT
Purple SwamphenPorphyrio porphyrioCT
Common MoorhenGallinula chloropusCT
Eurasian WoodcockScolopax rusticolaTD
Black-tailed GodwitLimosa limosaXT
Bar-tailed GodwitLimosa lapponicaXT
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopusXT
Eurasian CurlewNumenius arquataXT
Common RedshankTringa totanusXT
Marsh SandpiperTringa stagnatilisXT
Common GreenshankTringa nebulariaXT
Nordmann's GreenshankTringa guttiferXT
6+ birds at Xuan Thuy, 21/11.
Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucosHTL
Great KnotCalidris tenuirostrisXT
Red KnotCalidris canutusXT
SanderlingCalidris albaXT
Spoon-billed SandpiperCalidris pygmaeusXT
Two or three feeding alone on the sand bars at the mouth of the estuary at Xuan Thuy, 21/11.
Red-necked StintCalidris ruficollisXT
DunlinCalidris alpinaXT
Curlew SandpiperCalidris ferrugineaXT
Broad-billed SandpiperLimicola falcinellusXT
Bronze-winged JacanaMetopidius indicusCT
Grey PloverPluvialis squatarolaXT
Little Ringed PloverCharadrius dubiusXT
Kentish PloverCharadrius alexandrinusXT
Lesser Sand PloverCharadrius mongolusXT
Greater Sand PloverCharadrius leschenaultiiXT, Halong Bay
Red-wattled LapwingVanellus indicusCT
Heuglin's GullLarus heugliniXT
Brown-headed GullLarus brunnicephalusXT
Black-headed GullLarus ridibundusXT
Saunder's GullLarus saundersiXT
At least ten birds at Xuan Thuy on 21/11.
Gull-billed TernGelochelidon niloticaXT
Caspian TernSterna caspiaXT
Two birds at Xuan Thuy, 21/11, constitute an extension of range.
Whiskered TernChlidonias hybridusXT
OspreyPandion haliaetusCT, HTL
Oriental Honey BuzzardPernis ptilorhynchusCP
Black bazaAviceda leuphotesCT
Black-shouldered KiteElanus caeruleusnear CT
Black KiteMilvus migransXT, CB
White-bellied Sea EagleHaliaeetus leucogasterCB
Short-toed Snake EagleCircaetus gallicusCT
A single bird seen well flying across the river was identified as this species, but no description was taken. This record would have constituted the second record for Vietnam if it could be substantiated.
Crested Serpent EagleSpilornis cheelaCT
Eurasian Marsh HarrierCircus aeruginosusXT
Crested GoshawkAccipiter trivirgatusCT, CP
ShikraAccipiter badiusHTL
Grey-faced BuzzardButastur indicusHTL
Black EagleIctinaetus malayensisLB, CP
Rufous-bellied EagleHieraaetus kieneriHTL
Pied FalconetMicrohierax melanoleucosCP
Common KestrelFalco tinnunculuswidespread
Little GrebeTachybaptus ruficollisHTL
Little EgretEgretta garzettaXT
Pacific Reef EgretEgretta sacraCB
Grey HeronArdea cinereaXT
Purple HeronArdea purpureaCT
Great EgretCasmerodius albaCT, XT
Chinese Pond HeronArdeola bacchusCT, XT
Black-crowned night HeronNycticorax nycticoraxCT
Cinnamon BitternIxobrychus cinnamomeusHTL
Black-faced SpoonbillPlatalea minorXT
Two located on sand bars at mouth of estuary on 21/11.
Wooly-necked StorkCiconia episcopusCT
Blue-rumped PittaPitta sororCT, CP
Single heard on several dates at Cat Tien. 1-3 daily at Cuc Phuong.
Bar-bellied PittaPitta elliotiiCT, CP
Single female flushed at Cat Tien, others heard occasionally but generally not very vocal. Recorded daily at Cuc Phuong, mostly females seen.
Black-and-red BroadbillCymbirhynchus macrorhynchosCT
Silver-breasted BroadbillSerilophus lunatusCP
Asian Fairy BluebirdIrena puellaCT, HTL, CP
Blue-winged LeafbirdChloropsis cochinchensisCT, CP
Golden-fronted LeafbirdChloropsis aurifronsCT
Orange-bellied LeafbirdChloropsis hardwickiiCP
Burmese ShrikeLanius colluroidesHTL
Grey-backed ShrikeLanius tephronotusCP
Eurasian JayGarrulus glandariusHTL, LB
White-winged MagpieUrocissa whiteheadiCP
Large (10+), noisy rambling flock seen on 22/11 along the road.
Common Green MagpieCissa chinensisCP, TD
Indochinese Green MagpieCissa hypoleucaCP
Ratchet-tailed TreepieTemnurus temnurusCP, TD
Large-billed CrowCorvus macrorynchusCB
Ashy WoodswallowArtamus fuscusCT, HTL
Black-naped OrioleOriolus chinensisCT
Black-hooded OrioleOriolus xanthornusCT
Small numbers daily at Cat Tien.
Maroon OrioleOriolus trailliiCP
Large CuckooshrikeCoracina maceiTD
Indochinese CuckooshrikeCoracina poliopteraHTL, LB
Ashy MinivetPericrocotus divaricatusCT
Long-tailed MinivetPericrocotos ethologusLB
Scarlet MinivetPericrocotus flammeusCT, CP
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikeHemipus picatusCT, LB
White-throated FantailRhipidura albicollisHTL, CP, TD
Ashy DrongoDicrurus leucophaeus
Bronzed DrongoDicrurus aeneusCT
Spangled DrongoDicrurus hottentottusCT
Greater Racket-tailed DrongoDicrurus paradiseusCP
Black-naped MonarchHypothymis azureaCT, CP
Asian Paradise FlycatcherTerpsiphone paradisiCT
Common IoraAegithina tiphiaCT
Great IoraAegithina lafresnayeiCT, CP
Large WoodshrikeTephrodornis gularisCT
Blue Rock ThrushMonticola solitariusCT, LB, HTL, CB
Blue Whistling ThrushMyophonus caeruleusCP, TD, CB
Siberian ThrushZoothera sibiricaTD
Scaly ThrushZoothera daumaCP, TD
Grey-backed ThrushTurdus hortulorumCP, TD
Black-breasted ThrushTurdus dissimilisTD
Single male dead amongst hunters haul at Tam Dao on foggy morning, along with Japanese Thrush, Blue Whistling Thrush, two Fujian Niltavas and a Grey Bushchat.
Japanese ThrushTurdus cardisCP, [TD]
Eye-browed ThrushTurdus obscurusTD
Eurasian BlackbirdTurdus merulaCP, CB
Lesser ShortwingBrachypteryx leucophrysLB
Asian Brown FlycatcherMuscicapa dauricaCT, Datanla falls
Rufous-gorgeted FlycatcherFicedula strophiataLB
Red-throated FlycatcherFicedula parvaCT, HTL
Snowy-browed FlycatcherFicedula hyperythraCP
Little Pied FlycatcherFicedula westermanniHTL
Verditer FlycatcherEumyias thalassinaCT
Fujian niltavaNiltava davidiCP, TD
White-tailed FlycatcherCyornis concretusCP
Blue-throated FlycatcherCyornis rubeculoidesCT
Tickell's Blue FlycatcherCyornis tickellieaeCT
Grey-headed Canary FlycatcherCulicicapa ceylonensisHTL, LB, Datanla falls
Rufous-tailed RobinLuscinia sibilansCP
Siberian Blue RobinLuscinia cyaneLB
Orange-flanked Bush RobinTarsiger cyanurusCP, TD
Oriental Magpie RobinCopsychus saularisCP, CB
White-rumped ShamaCopsychus malabaricusCT, CP
Slaty-backed ForktailEnicurus schistaceusDatanla Falls nr DL
[Green CochoaCochoa viridisTD]
Common StonechatSaxicola torquataCT
Grey BushchatSaxicola ferreaTD
Black-collared StarlingSturnus nigricollisHTL, LB
Vinous-breasted StarlingSturnus burmannicusCT, HTL
Crested MynaAcridotheres cristatelisXT
Hill MynaGracula religiosaCT, HTL
Chestnut-vented nuthatchSitta nagaensisHTL, LB
Velvet-fronted nuthatchSitta frontalisCT, CP
Yellow-cheeked TitParus spilonotusLB, HTL
Sultan TitMelanochlora sultaneaCP, TD
Sand MartinRiparia ripariareservoir outside HCM
Barn SwallowHirundo rustica widespread
Striated SwallowHirundo striolataXT
Black-crested BulbulPycnonotus melanicterusLB
Red-whiskered BulbulPycnonotus jocosusHTL, CP
Light-vented BulbulPycnonotus sinensisCB
Sooty-headed BulbulPycnonotus aurigasterLB
Stripe-throated BulbulPycnonotus finlaysonCT, CB
Streak-eared BulbulPycnonotus blanfordiCT
Puff-throated BulbulAlophoxius pallidusCT, CP, TD
Grey-eyed BulbulIole propinquaCT, CP
Ashy BulbulHemixos flavalaHTL, LB, Datanla falls
Mountain BulbulHypsipetes mcclellandiiLB, HTL
Black BulbulHypsipetes leucocephalusHTL, LB, CP, TD
Zitting CisticolaCisticola juncidisXT
Rufescent PriniaPrinia rufescensCT
Yellow-bellied PriniaPrinia flaviventrisCB
Plain PriniaPrinia inornataHTL, LB
Oriental White-eyeZosterops palpebrosaXT
Asian StubtailUrosphena squamicepsCP
Japanese Bush WarblerCettia diphoneCP
Brownish-flanked Bush WarblerCettia fortipesCP, TD
Russet Bush WarblerBradypterus seebohmiCP, TD
Mountain TailorbirdOrthotomus cucullatusHTL, LB, CP, TD
Common TailorbirdOrthotomus sutoriusHCM city
Dark-necked TailorbirdOrthotomus atrogularisCT
Radde's WarblerPhylloscopus schwarzi
Ashy-throated WarblerPhylloscopus maculipennisLB
Yellow-browed WarblerPhylloscopus inornataCT, HTL, CP
Arctic WarblerPhylloscopus borealisCT
Greenish WarblerPhylloscopus trochiloidesCT, CP
Pale-legged Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus tenellipesCT, CP
Eastern Crowned WarblerPhylloscopus coronatusCP
White-tailed Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus davisoniHTL, TD
Sulphur-breasted WarblerPhylloscopus rickettiCP
Golden-spectacled WarblerSeicercus burkiiCP, TD
White-spectacled WarblerSeicercus affinisHTL, LB
Chestnut-crowned WarblerSeicercus castanicepsHTL, TD
White-crested LaughingthrushGarrulax leucolophusCT, CP
Black-hooded LaughingthrushGarrulax milletiHTL
Grey LaughingthrushGarrulax maesiTD
Black-throated LaughingthrushGarrulax chinensisTD
White-cheeked LaughingthrushGarrulax vassaliHTL
Collared LaughingthrushGarrulax yersiniLB, HTL
Abbott's BabblerMalacocincla abbottiCT
Buff-breasted BabblerPellorneum tickelliCP
Puff-throated BabblerPellorneum ruficepsCT, CP
Scaly-crowned BabblerMalocopteron cinereumCT
Small flocks frequently encountered along the trails at Cat Tien.
Large Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus hypoleucosCP, TD
[Streak-breasted Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus erythrocnemisTD]
Red-billed Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus ochracicepsHTL, TD
Two in a mixed feeding flock at HTL on 16/11.
Limestone Wren BabblerNapothera crispifronsCP
Streaked Wren BabblerNapothera brevicaudataCP, TD
Eyebrowed Wren BabblerNapothera epilepidotaCP
[Pygmy Wren BabblerPnoepyga pusillaLB, HTL]
Rufous-capped BabblerStachyris ruficepsHTL, LB, CP
Golden BabblerStachyris chrysaeaTD
Grey-throated BabblerStachyris poliocephalaCP, TD
Spot-necked BabblerStachyris striolataTD
Striped Tit BabblerMacronous gularisCT, CP, CB
Grey-faced Tit BabblerMacronous kelleyiCT
Small flock often encountered along track.
Silver-eared MesiaLeiothrix argentaurisLB
Chestnut-fronted Shrike BabblerPteruthius aenobarbusHTL, LB
Blue-winged MinlaMinla cyanouropteraHTL, LB
Rufous-winged FulvettaAlcippe castenacepsLB
Rufous-throated FulvettaAlcippe rufogularisCP
Black-browed FulvettaAlcippe groteiCP
Mountain FulvettaAlcippe peracensisHTL, LB, Datanla falls
Grey-cheeked FulvettaAlcippe morrisoniaTD
Rufous-backed SibiaHeterophasia annectans
Black-headed SibiaHeterophasia melanoleucaLB
White-bellied YuhinaYuhina zantholeucaHTL, CP
Grey-headed ParrotbillParadoxornis gularisHTL
Single bird of the distinctive Annamese race in a mixed feeding flock at HTL on 16/11.
Short-tailed ParrotbillParadoxornis davidianusTD
Yellow-vented FlowerpeckerDicaeum chrysorrheumCT
Ruby-cheeked SunbirdAnthreptes singalensisCT
Olive-backed SunbirdNectarina jugularisCT
Common at Cat Tien. Nest found, with sitting female, incubating clutch?
Fork-tailed SunbirdAethopyga christinaeHTL, CP, TD
[Little SunbirdArachnothera longirostraCT]
Streaked SpiderhunterArachnothera magnaCP, TD
Eurasian Tree SparrowPasser montanusubiquitous
White WagtailMotacilla albaXT
Yellow WagtailMotacilla flavaXT
Grey WagtailMotacilla cinereaCT
Olive-backed PipitAnthus hodgsoniHTL, CP
White-rumped MuniaLonchura striataCT
Scaly-breasted MuniaLonchura punctulataCT, HTL
Vietnamese GreenfinchCarduelis monguillotiHTL, LB
Tristram's Bunting Emberiza tristramiTD


Muntjac sppheard at Cat Tien NP.
Greater Mouse Deerseveral at Cat Tien NP
Rhesus Macaqueseveral at Cat Tien
Douc LangurOne seen poorly at Cat Tien NP.
Gibbon spLone male gibbon heard at Cuc Phoung NP on one date.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; December 24, 1999