Date: February 2023
Guide: Marc Cronje
Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, transfer to Cat Tien National Park
We all arrived at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport and hit the road, heading for Cat Tien National Park, 150 km to the north.
We made our way through the megacity of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and marveled at its eclectic mix of old and new. It is known for its well-preserved French colonial architecture (it has the nickname of “Paris of the Orient”)
Our first destination on the trip is Vietnam’s most famous birding locale, Cat Tien National Park, is home to the largest remaining area of lowland tropical forest in southern Vietnam and an incredible diversity of birds and mammals.
A few highlights while driving included Asian Palm Swift, Chinese Pond Heron, Germain’s Swiftlet, Oriental Darter, Little Egret and Asian Koel.
It was a good catch up on the drive as the group all know one another and have done multiple trips together. It is also our first international trip together since the pandemic, so everyone was very excited. Arriving in the early evening we made the short crossing of the Song Dong Nai River to our accommodation for the next 5 nights. A brief view of Great Eared Nightjar was our welcome to the park.
We enjoyed a lovely Vietnamese meal as we discussed the plans, trip and birds expected over the next 12 days. Everyone was very excited for the birds to come with one couple close to the 2000 mark and another person close to the 3500 mark of birds seen globally.
Day 2,3,4 and 5:
Cat Tien National Park
Our first morning started with exploring the excellent trails starting at the park headquarters at our accommodation. The sound of a troop of near endemic Rufous-cheeked Gibbons calling and moving in the trees with a youngster is a sighting that will remain with us for some time.
A few highlights for the morning included Golden-fronted Leafbird, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Golden-crested Myna, Japanese Leaf Warbler, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Large-billed Crow, White-crested Laughingthrush, Greater and Lesser Racket-tailed Drongos, stunning Black-and-red Broadbill, Black-and-buff Woodpecker, Greater Flameback and a top sighting of a Siamese Fireback displaying.
After some work we had incredible views of a Blue-rumped Pitta- one of the main targets for Cat Tien.
It was an enjoyable and exciting morning of birding, and a milestone was achieved by one couple as they reached 2000th species of bird in the world. We enjoyed lunch overlooking the river and took a slight break in the heat of the day.
Our afternoon session resulted in views of Vinous-breasted Myna, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Great Iora, Black Baza, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Plaintive Cuckoo, Lesser Coucal, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Red Junglefowl and a fantastic sighting of Collared Falconet- an excellent bird for the trip and lifer for the group. Our main target for the afternoon was the stunning Green Peafowl and we were lucky to enjoy exceptional, in the open views of this immense gamebird.
A stint of owling before dinner rewarded us with views of Brown Boobook and an impressive Large-tailed Nightjar.
We had a wonderful local meal and we celebrated our great day of birding and the two milestones in terms of numbers achieved- with another person achieving 3500th bird in the world.
Our second morning saw us heading deeper into the forest to target the birds found in the broad-leaved, bamboo forest that dominates most of the reserve. A few noteworthy species included the Localised Grey-faced Tit-Babbler, Puff-throated Bulbul, Indochinese Blue Flycatcher, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Common Woodshrike, Banded Broadbill, Indochinese Barbet, Besra, Black-capped Kingfisher, Black-crested Bulbul, Oriental Hornbill and Crested Serpent Eagle flying over the forest.
The group enjoyed lunch while overlooking the river as we chatted about our exciting morning and updated our lists.
Our afternoon session in the forest near to our accommodation rewarded us with Siberian Robin, close views of Abbott’s Babbler, Radde’s Warbler, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Blue-rumped Pitta and great views of one of the smallest birds in Asia-the White-browed Piculet. Mammal sightings included Black Giant Squirrel, Northern Smooth-tailed Tree Shrew, Indochinese Ground Squirrel, Long-tailed Macaque and Pallas’s Squirrel.
Our owling season rewarded us with the difficult to find Oriental Bay owl- which posed wonderfully for some photos and a Giant Brown Flying Squirrel was a cool mammal for the trip. We only managed to hear Oriental Scops-Owl and Indochinese Frogmouth. A troop of Pig-tailed Macaques entertained us in the forest too.
We used our third day in Cat Tien to explore some of the areas further afield and enjoy this incredibly diverse park. Highlights for the morning included Brown-rumped Minivet, a stunning Banded Broadbill in the open, White-bellied Woodpecker, the handsome Banded Kingfisher, Scaly-breasted Partridge, Rufous-bellied Eagle, and the sought after Bar-bellied Pitta. Our night-time walk rewarded us with sightings of Great Eared- Nightjar.
Our last full day in Cat Tien was used to target a few of the species we were missing. This saw us focussing on the Bamboo woodland and the broad-leaf forest. Highlights included Ash-headed Pigeon, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, Puff-throated Babbler, Cracking views of Bar-bellied Pitta, Dusky Broadbill posing in the open, Pale-headed Woodpecker, and more open views of Siamese Fireback.
We also managed to add a few mammals to the trip list with Common Palm Civet, Yellow-throated Martin and Black-shanked Douc Lanner being new. The latter a great primate to see as the species is near endemic.
It was time for our final dinner in Cat Tien while updating lists and discussing plans for the next leg of the trip. A Great Eared Nightjar hawking insects around our accommodation was our last bird for the day.
Cat Tien National Park to Di Linh
After early coffee and breakfast, we checked out of our accommodation and enjoyed a final early morning birding in this incredible park. Highlights for the morning included excellent views of a male Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Olive backed Sunbird, Rufous Woodpecker, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo and Orange-breasted Trogon.
Our drive took us up Highway 20 to the cooler climate of the Dalat Plateau. Our afternoon was spent birding at a forested mountain pass known locally as Deo Suoi Lanh, a short drive from the town of Di Linh. The montane evergreen forest at Deo Suoi Lanh is a great place to become acquainted with some of the Dalat Plateau specialities. Some of the great birds seen included Maroon Oriole, Long-tailed Minivet, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Long-tailed Broadbill, Green Cochoa, Streaked Spiderhunter, the localised White-cheeked Laughingthrush- a local endemic and only found within Indochina, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Mountain Bulbul, a stunning Black Eagle flying overhead and a flock up Wedge-tailed Green-pigeons offering great scope views. Our owling season rewarded us with Gray Nightjar and Collared Scops-Owl.
We enjoyed another great meal at our wonderful accommodation overlooking the valley and rice fields as we chatted about some of the great birds we have enjoyed and possible places to visit in other parts of Asia.
Di Linh to Dalat
Our morning started with a hearty breakfast before we headed out. A quick stop near our accommodation got us Annam Prinia, Vinous-breasted Myna, Black-collared Starling, White-throated Kingfisher, Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munia.
We headed back to Deo Suoi Lanh for a full morning of birding and targeted the species we were missing from this endemic rich area. Highlights included Flavescent Bulbul, White-throated Rock-Thrush, a migrant Mugimaki Flycatcher, Mountain Tailorbird, Mountain Fulvetta, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, Chestnut-capped Babbler, a stunning Black-headed Parrotbill offering cracking views, Kloss’s Leaf Warbler, Alstrom’s Warbler, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Bay Woodpecker, Speckled Piculet, Red-headed Trogon and Barred Cuckoo-Dove.
After lunch we continued heading north along Highway 20 to the bustling hill resort of Dalat. Our afternoon was spent exploring this new area and some of the highlights from the afternoon included a stunning Mrs Gould’s (Annam Sunbird),entertaining the photographers, Gray Bushchat, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Mountain Fulvetta, Black-throated Tit, Yellow-browed Warbler, great views of the skulking Dalat Bush Warbler (recently split from Russet) White-throated Fantail and a stunning Slender-billed Oriole.
We enjoyed a great meal in the city of Dalat and enjoyed experiencing the local cuisine. The local food is fantastic!
Day 8,9,10 and 11:
Over the next four days we explored the montane evergreen and coniferous forests around Dalat with visits to Mount Lang Bian, Bi Doup National Park, the shores of Ho Tuyen Lam and the Ta Nung Valley. The Dalat Plateau is one of the five endemic bird areas (EBAs) in Vietnam identified by BirdLife International. Habitats are a mixture of coniferous, montane evergreen and secondary forest. Three bird species, Grey-crowned Crocias, Collared Laughingthrush, and Vietnamese Greenfinch, are only to be found within this EBA. We were lucky and manged to see all three of these species and many more great birds in this wonderful area.
On our first day in Dalat we visited the Da Lat-Ta Nung Valley. We enjoyed an excellent morning of birding as we admired the weird and odd-looking selfie statues and ornaments the park has in place. The birding highlights included the endemic and stunning Vietnamese Greenfinch, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Little Pied Flycatcher, an excellent in the open sighting of a flock of Black-hooded Laughingthrushes, beautiful Silver-eared Mesia, Black-headed Sibia- the endemic robinsoni race and the endemic Gray-crowned Crocias- a main target for the area as the species is confined to the Dalat Plateau.
As the day progressed, we continued to enjoy some great birding with sightings of Mountain Fulvetta, Grey-throated Babbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Gray-bellied Tesia, Gray-cheeked Warbler, the ocularis race of White-spectacled Warbler, Hill Prinia, Gray-headed Canary Flycatcher, Tiger Shrike, White-bellied Erpornis, Clicking Shrike- Babbler and a stunning, Blue-bearded Bee-eater. A great sighting of the langbianensis race of Lesser Shortwing was a highlight too.
A stunning Necklaced Barbet, a recent split from the Indochinese Barbet, was enjoyed by all as this was a target for a few on the trip. The eximia subspecies of Rufous-backed Sibia- without the rufous-backed also added to our ever-growing bird list. A Dalat- Shrike Babbler which is now endemic was also a great bird for our trip and to end things off we had two pairs of Long-tailed Broadbills posing for us in the open.
After such an awesome day of birding we had some down time in the late afternoon. A few of us enjoyed a run around the lake in the middle of the city of Dalat and others enjoyed the down time. Another fantastic, local authentic meal was enjoyed as we chatted about our great trip thus far.
On our second day in the Dalat area we headed for Mount Lang Bian to target some of the specials of the area. The main target was the endemic Collared Laughingthrush. We had to work a bit for this sulker but we eventually got some amazing views on a pair of these Halloween themed laughingthrushes with their black, grey and orange colours. Several endemic Black-crowned Fulvettas was also a treat for the morning. A few other noteworthy species for the day included Hume’s Treecreeper, Blue-winged Minla, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Green-backed Tit and White-throated Fantail. A session of owling yielded great views of Grey Nightjar and Oriental Scops Owl. We had a Hodgson’s Frogmouth calling near to us, but we just could not lure him in for views.
Another tasty Vietnamese meal was enjoyed in Dalat as we socialised and chatted about our day.
The next day saw us heading for Bi Doup National Park- the park encompasses coniferous woodlands, bamboo groves and grasslands at altitudes between 650m and 2288m.
Our morning started off with some exciting birding and we enjoyed sightings of Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Pygmy Flycatcher, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, White-tailed Robin, Large Niltava, Rufous-browed Flycatcher, Orange-headed Thrush, a cracking view of Short-tailed Scimitar Babblers, the endemic Black-crowned Fulvetta, the annamensis subspecies of Chestnut-crowned Warbler and a stunning Slaty Backed Forktail feeding along the river. What an excellent day of birding!
Our last full day in Vietnam and in the Dalat area saw us targeting some of the species we were still missing. Some of the highlights for the day included Vietnamese Greenfinch, Forest Wagtail, Black-browed Fulvetta, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, Black-throated Tit, Pygmy Cupwing, Grey-faced Buzzard and Red Crossbill, in Southern Vietnam it is the endemic meridionalis race we see, and this is probably going to be a potential split in the future. A highlight near Tuyen Lake was a great sighting of Red-vented Barbet- another excellent bird for the trip.
We ended our last night in true tradition with an excellent local meal in town while completing our lists and chatting about our excellent trip.
Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City and Departure.
Our final day was a travel day as we had to head back to the airport for our flights home. We said goodbye to the Southern Highlands and enjoyed the scenery and multiple Pagodas on route. Our leisurely day drive back to Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport was uneventful.
Thanks to you all for being so wonderful, understanding, great guests and for the great time we had together. We all shared a good couple of laughs. A fantastic 12 days of birding in Vietnam came to an end. We all had a blast and had an amazing time in Vietnam and left with a tear in the eye after a lovely trip.
Talk to us at email@example.com for more information about our next Vietnam group tour.