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1stDEC 09 - 4thDEC 09

Published By: Low Bing Wen Albert (

Participants: Ashley Banwell, Neil Bostock, Carlton Collier, Albert Low


Scenic View from KM 31.5 Viewpoint along Route 8



    The country of Laos means many things to many people. Some ruefully

remark that it is one of the last socialist republics on Planet Earth, others rightfully

point out that it is the only landlocked country in South East Asia. To scientists, it is a

treasure trove of new discoveries, while others bemoan the lack of infrastructure and

widespread hunting of its biodiversity. To a certain extent, all of the above is true, but

in order to truly experience what this country has to offer, one has to get right into the

heart of the country, and there is certainly more than meets the eye.


    The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (pronounced LAO, emphasis mine) is

indeed a landlocked socialist republic ruled by the communist Pathet Lao since 1975.

In recent years, the lifting of various economic and social restrictions, combined with

a normalisation of economic ties with the USA in 2005, have done much to increase

visitor numbers into the country, most opting to visit the city of Luang Prabang, a

World Heritage listed site. An increasing number of visitors have also attempted to

gain access to the large tracts of natural habitat that have remained largely intact

due to unexploded ordnance from the Civil War, and the closed nature of its

economy that has largely prevented exploitation from foreign companies.


    For birders, Laos has been largely under the radar due to a general lack of

information and perceived “large scale” hunting of biodiversity with images of lifeless

forests and a low species count. All this changed however with the discovery of the

Bare-faced Bulbul (P.hualon), a country endemic & localised resident of wooded

limestone outcrops, near the accessible village of Na Hin on the eastern end of the

country. Within months, blogs and reports detailing the visits of intrepid westerners

graced the Internet, with more groups planned for the future.


    Personally, the trip materialised as a result of an invitation from Ashley

Banwell to join a birding team assembled from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The

Bulbul, ironically, was less of an attraction to me as the thought of trail-blazing a

country with so little information that one would constantly be birding with the thought

of expecting the unexpected around every corner, and so it was this sense of

expectation and intrigue that accompanied me aboard the plane bound for Bangkok.



    A detailed itinerary of the Laos leg of the trip is outlined below.


November 30th:

    Late arrival in Vientiane after an afternoon flight from Singapore to Bangkok to

catch an onward flight from Bangkok to Vientiane. Overnight in the very comfortable

Orchid Hotel Vientiane, tucked away in the maze of streets that characterises the

country’s capital.


December 1st:

    A comparatively early pre-dawn start for the 5 hour drive to the outskirts of Na

Hin, heading north for a bit before turning east along Route 8. Late AM birding along

the stretch of road between the KM 31 & KM 35 signpost along Route 8, before

travelling onwards to the Sainamhai Resort on the outskirts of Na Hin, our home for

the next 3 nights, for lunch. PM spent along the woodcutter’s trail at KM 48 above Na

Hin to about 680m ASL. Thereafter, a brief nocturnal foray along a logging road

about 2km below the forementioned trail. Overnight in Sainamhai Resort.


December 2nd:

    AM spent along the road between KM 31 & KM 35 again, with a foray into the

trail at KM 35. Mid-morning birding along the “National Park” trail behind the temple

at Na Hin. PM very poor birding along the busy Route 8 between KM 48 & KM 52

heading out of Na Hin. Last light spent along the logging road created by a Vietnam

HEP company about 1.5-2km down the road towards Na Hin from the KM 48

woodcutter’s trail. Overnight Sainamhai Resort.


December 3rd:

    AM deep push into the KM 48 woodcutter’s trail, reaching excellent primary

hill forest before going down a steep hillside surrounded by excellent slope forest

and into riverine closed forests interspaced by seasonal riverbeds at lower

elevations. PM the team split up with yours truly revisiting this forest alone. Late PM

owling along the “National Park” trail. Overnight Sainamhai Resort, where a big party

was being thrown to celebrate the Laotian & Italian National Day. It is surprising how

many Italians work around Na Hin!


December 4th:

Full morning in Na Hin, returning to the excellent forest beyond KM 48. PM 5

hr drive back to Vientiane, where preparations were being made for the inaugural

hosting of the South East Asian Games, due to start shortly after our departure.

Overnight in Orchid Hotel Vientiane.


December 5th:

    A non-birding travel day. In order to reach Chiang Mai we had to take a flight

from Vientiane to Luang Prabang in order to board the connecting flight across the

border. We lounged around Luang Prabang for a few hours, a big tourist trap with

tenacious touts, hawkers and beggars and a poor experience overall. Laotian leg



Logistics & Guiding:

    The trip was organized via Stijn De Win of , famous for

his independent discovery of the Bulbuls at Na Hin. Stijn is an easygoing bird guide

who effectively runs a one-man show utilising his own contacts on the ground in

Laos. He speaks basic Lao and had recordings of all of the known specialties of Na

Hin. However, as his prior visits to the area had largely been short trips, our group

managed to add several species to his ever-expanding area list. For more

information on the services he provides, visit the aforementioned website. Later on in

the report, I will be utilising his sketch-map of the Na Hin area to point out notable

birding areas. The tour cost paid was a full-board price which included the flight from

Vientiane to Chiang Mai. As is the norm with my trip reports, I will not be listing the

tour cost. Please direct your queries directly to Stijn.


    With regard to getting into Laos, Bangkok appears to be the most popular

embarkation point, rightfully serving its purpose as a gateway to Indochina. There

are, however, various hubs from Cambodia & Vietnam which connect to Vientiane.

For a full listing, please visit This is also where you can make

online bookings for your plane tickets into the country. Accurate as of this trip report,

Lao Airlines is the only carrier that flies into Vientiane and flights are paid for in USD.

Online bookings were trouble-free and efficient and neither of us experienced any

problems whatsoever while using this service.


Environment & People:

    Large tracts of pristine natural habitat still exist in Laos, a rarity in the rapidly

modernising landscape of South East Asia. This is largely due to the closed nature of

its economy and how the Vietnam War & civil war that followed devastated the

country and left stockpiles of unexploded bombs. A little-known fact is that Laos was,

and likely still is, the most bombed country in the World, with “American Imperialists”

singled out as the main culprits. One of the most poignant impressions I had even

prior to entering Laos was how the in-flight magazine on Lao Airlines, which featured

an article on a museum built in honour of the Lao People’s Army, denounced

America multiple times in a single article for committing genocide. Indeed, there is

historical evidence to indicate that Laos was like a giant bull’s-eye for B-52 Bombers

during the 1960s & 70s that basically razed large areas of the country to the ground.


    Historically, most of Laos’s trade has been conducted with its neighbours-

Thailand, Vietnam & China. In another little known fact, the mountainous terrain and

plentiful watercourses allows the country to be one of the premier HEP exporters in

the region. Even the town of Na Hin itself is built around a comparatively small scale

HEP project that appears to be funded by Vietnamese. On a more serious note, this

same company was observed making inroads into the pristine slope forest in the

mountains surrounding Na Hin.


    Naturalists have often been quick to condemn the Laotian people for their

instinctive desire to pillage the biodiversity from their wilderness areas. Indeed,

evidence of hunting in the forest was omnipresent around Na Hin with balls of

feathers and evidence of campfires a feature of most trails we visited. On one

occasion, young children with catapults followed us briefly into the forest trying to

shoot birds drawn in by our playback and had to be shouted at. Therein lies the

paradox that plagues wildlife conservation in such countries. With almost 50% of the

population living below the poverty line and a reliance on subsistence agriculture,

their only source of protein lies in a forest where mammalian signs are virtually nonexistent.

Birds are therefore logical targets. What little livestock these people own is

better off alive then dead to the locals. Ultimately, it is going to take more than

education to stop the hunting and eco-tourism is still an unknown concept to locals

so there is still a long-way to go. While I personally don’t encourage it, foreigners do

indeed need to see for themselves the sort of conditions most of the rural population

live in to understand why they do what they do.


    Thankfully, a lot of habitat in Laos is largely inaccessible with the limestone

karst formations at Na Hin a perfect example of being one of the few areas with a

road that cuts through the boundaries of these otherwise inaccessible karst habitats.

It is little wonder how this Bulbul escaped science for so long when one stands on

the KM 31.5 viewpoint near Na Hin where inaccessible wooded karsts extend for as

far as the eye can see.


    To add to the background of Na Hin, it is situated in the KhammouanProvince,

one of the sixteen administrative provinces in the country and borders Central

Annam (Vietnam) to the east. The mountains of the Annamite Chain, which extend

into Vietnam, feature prominently throughout the area, resulting in spectacular

natural scenery at various sites.


    From a birding perspective, first light in Laos is at 6am in the morning. In

December, temperatures and humidity rise very quickly and by 9am the birding

slows down to a crawl. As others have pointed out, the birding never picks up in the

afternoon and it was often difficult to motivate one-self to head out into the field again.

For best results, utilise the period between 6am-9am as effectively as possible and

don’t look back. Temperatures are very pleasant, almost chilly at times in Na Hin

after the Sun sets and mist can be observed in the hills around Na Hin early in the

morning. Dusk comes at 6pm and owls can usually be heard by 7pm. December

appears to be a poor time to visit the country as resident birds are generally quiet

and migrants of any sort were thin on the ground. The rainy season is between May

to November and some speculate that March & April may in fact be the prime birding

times. We did not encounter any leeches or other “nasties” in the forests around Na

Hin although mosquitoes were present at dusk. The resort provided mosquito nets

although long sleeves are recommend. Expect leeches at other times of year where

rainfall occurs, as we did not encounter any rain during our time there.



    A word of thanks goes out to Stijn De Win for competently leading the trip and

ensuring it ran smoothly. Thanks also to Ashley, Neil & Carlton for companionship

throughout the length of the tour. Finally, mention must also be made of the

“barefacedbirders” John Gregory & Pete Antrobus (

and Dave Gandy ( for publishing their findings on these

blogs which served as important background information for our trip.


Site Summaries:

    Summaries for each site are outlined below in chronological order as we

visited them. Not all species for each site are documented with attention being given

primarily to perceived target species or noteworthy sightings. For ease of reference,

visit and use this trip report in

tandem with the map on the aforementioned page to get the most out of the data. As

a sort of baseline to gauge the success of any future trips, our foray into Laos

yielded 94 species over 4 days in the area around Na Hin, of which only 4 were new

for me. Admittedly the cost-lifer ratio was abysmal, probably my worst in Asia so far,

but at the end of the day, it was a big twitch for a very dull bird.

N.B.: I am aware of inconsistencies between some of my landmarks, notably marker

posts, and those listed on the above website. I am sticking to my field notes

nevertheless and so any errors that future observers bring up will be mine alone.

Most trails are pretty obvious and easily found while the “famous” viewpoint is the

only one for miles around and cannot be missed if you are on the right road.


Site A: Roadside Limestone Karst Forest (KM 31-KM 35)

-Labelled [8] on Map

The Viewpoint, located shortly after the KM 31 marker post.


    This 4km stretch of road passes through visually spectacular limestone karsts,

and is the main site for avian limestone specialities around Na Hin. The viewpoint at

KM 31.5 provides a window into the vastness of suitable habitat in this region. Based

on personal observations, only one flock of 5-6 Bare-faced Bulbuls seemed to occur

along this stretch of road. Similarly, a flock of 10-15 Sooty Babblers appear to call

this area home. Avian diversity is otherwise decidedly limited with hardly any

significant mixed flocks of note. This stretch of road is also the best area to spot the

globally threatened Lao Langur. Aside from the highlights listed below, the more

common bulbuls and scattered sightings of Streaked Spiderhunter & a tame

Green-backed Tit did their best to keep us entertained.

Roadside karst formation KM 32


    There is a short trail shortly after the KM 35 marker post that allows access

into the evergreen forest at the base of one such limestone escarpment. The trail

can be found on the right side of the road heading towards Na Hin Village. This short

trail passes through several seasonal riverbeds before terminating sharply at the

base of an inaccessible karst. The flora in this area is similar to that found in

Cambodia, with monsoonal evergreen species like Hopea sp. Mixed flocks appeared

to frequent the riverine forest towards the end of the trail. The first part of the trail is

over-run by thick scrub and undergrowth and held little of interest.

Reasonable forest at the end of KM 35 trail


    We only spent one morning and one mid-morning in this area, and hence

could have overlooked some specialities. One notable dip was Limestone Leaf-

Warbler, recently split as a full species from Sulphur-breasted Warbler and observed here on several occasions by Mark Torres in November. During our time there, we failed to locate any in the mixed flocks, and none of us had knowledge of its vocalisations. Other notable species observed are outlined below:


Roadside Karst Forest:


Bare-faced Bulbul: A large, robust bulbul with a distinctive call and flight pattern,

this is currently the biggest avian trump card Laos appears to have. Although the

birds were unresponsive to playback during our time here, they have a distinction of

being the only species in the area that readily perches on the pointed tips of

limestone karsts. In fact, virtually every bird we put the scope on which was perching

on a limestone karst was a Bare-faced Bulbul! Their flight pattern of flaps

interspaced with gliding is also distinctive when birds are observed flying from karst

to karst. We observed a group of 5-6 birds on two separate mornings here, in my

view likely the same flock on both occasions. 3 other bulbul species are found here,

namely the Black-crested, Stripe-throated & Grey-eyed Bulbuls, but the BFB

appears larger and more robust than all of them in flight, as well as having a

tendency to fly much higher between the peaks of the karsts.

Bulbul on the Rocks! The newly described Bare-faced Bulbul


Sooty Babbler: Another local specialty, this globally near-threatened species

appears to be locally common in Laos, judging from past reports and scientific

literature, and Na Hin was no exception. The 4km stretch of roadside limestone

forest enroute to Na Hin appears to support a large flock of 10-15 of these

characters. We observed the same flock twice in one morning first at 630am and

then again at 10am at virtually the same location in the vicinity of the KM 35 marker

post. No playback was required, although as with all Stachyris babblers the flocks

were extremely active and difficult for the camera to get to grips with!

The recently rediscovered Sooty Babbler, a locally common limestone specialist at Na Hin


Lao Langur (Non-Avian): One was seen brilliantly and photographed by Ashley

Banwell at about 9am in the morning along the zigzag hairpins between KM 32 & KM

34. Unfortunately the primate probably heard his excited “cries” to the rest of the

group and scampered off. This was our group’s only encounter with this species,

despite spending another afternoon and morning in the area.

Ashley Banwell promptly became the envy of the group with this series of captures!


KM 35 Forest Trail:


Red-vented Barbet: The first surprise find of the tour and a lifer for Stijn, who had

missed it in Vietnam, this Indochinese specialty was observed loosely associating

with a mixed flock as they passed through a fruiting emergent, where it promptly

paused to devour fruits allowing for excellent scope views. We would encounter this

species again later on in the primary forest beyond KM 48. On both occasions the

birds were silent, with only their robust flight profile giving away their positions.


Other species observed during our mid-morning foray here include a female

Indochinese Cuckooshrike which preceded the Barbet’s arrival, a Buff-breasted

Babbler foraging in one of the seasonal riverbeds, a vocal Streaked Wren-babbler

which performed brilliantly on a fallen dipterocarp at the trail’s end and a trio of

Yellow-vented Green-Pigeons overhead.


Site B: “National Park” Trail


-Labelled [6] on Map

Section of the National Park Trail, Na Hin


    This trail is unmistakable, given that it starts from the only temple in Na Hin

Village. The entrance to the trail is “demarcated” by a pile of granite boulders and a

bare area of soil in front of the temple which serves as an informal parking area of

sorts. The trail crosses a small stream shortly thereafter before entering a

reasonable tract of lowland monsoonal evergreen forest dominated by flora such as

Teak & Hopea with a generally sparse understorey. We did not go very far into this

trail, probably no further than 1km in, and the forest appears to be fragmented to a

certain degree with numerous openings dominated by weeds and bamboo. We only

spent a late morning & one evening here, so further; more through exploration is

likely to reveal much more from this comparatively rare habitat type in Indochina.

This was also the trail where some inquisitive village children did their best to

procure some bush meat. Thankfully the tame Crimson Sunbird they were

determined to shoot down was still on its feet when we scared them off!


Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl: Pride of place must certainly go to this species, apparently

a first record for C Laos. Ashley was very keen to do some night birding in this area,

even though Stijn’s past experience here had been nothing but swarms of

mosquitoes. Yours truly had picked various possibilities with which to carry out some

speculative playback on. For about 1 hour nothing happened. Then at 7pm, after

trekking about 1km into the trail speculative playback of one of Scharringa’s Eagleowl

screeches was greeted by a dark shadow instantly flying into one of the tall

emergents in the area. The lights were put on it and lo and behold one of Asia’s most

difficult forest owls was there for all to see. The bird perched briefly for about 2

minutes before flying off. It would proceed to give us the run-around for the next hour

or so, calling regularly while circling us but always keeping to the dense cover in the

crowns of the emergents.


During our diurnal foray into this trail at about 11am in the morning, a single mixed

flock was observed which contained at least 2 male Hainan Blue-Flycatchers and a

pair of Great Ioras amidst more common species such as Scarlet Minivets &

Velvet-fronted Nuthatches.

Male Hainan Blue Flycatcher


Site C: Logging Road & Viewpoint @ KM 46 Route 8


-Labelled [3] & [4] on Map


    This logging road, presumably created by a Vietnamese owned HEP

company, along with the associated “viewpoint” along Route 8 was one of the poorer

areas we birded during our time here. Admittedly, we spent a very short amount of

time here, just 2 evenings and short intermissions while heading towards the

excellent forest beyond KM 48.


    Around the “viewpoint”, which is nothing more than a cleared area of slope as

a result of a landslide, House-martins were abundant. As with other wooded areas

enroute to Na Hin, Nepal House-Martins were dominant. Careful scanning amongst

the huge feeding groups numbering in excess of 50 birds yielded 2 Asian House-

Martins and an equal number of agile Fork-tailed Swifts higher up in the sky. Along

the roadside between the viewpoint and the KM 48 trail, odds and ends included

multiple Grey Bushchats, 2 smart-looking Grey-backed Shrikes, a handsome male

Black-throated Sunbird and Moustached Barbets. We also observed a flock of

Green-Pigeons briefly over the road which were likely Yellow-vented Green-



    The logging road at KM 46 held little of interest during our diurnal forays. It

ascends gradually for the first 200 metres before levelling out and goes on for

another 2-3km before ending in the base camp for some sort of Vietnamese

consortium where both their equipment and personnel reside. At the very least, you

can’t miss the multitude of Vietnamese national flags billowing in the wind! Aside

from being the only area around Na Hin where we saw White-rumped Shama, we

also heard Mountain-Scops, Collared-Scops & Brown Hawk-owls here after dark.

We also briefly spotlighted an unidentified Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista sp.)



Site D: KM 48 Woodcutter’s/Hunter’s Trail & Forests Beyond


-Labelled [1] on Map


    This is the site of some of the best primary hill forest I have seen in mainland

South East Asia. Getting to the good forest involves quite some work though. As

Stijin’s website rightly puts it, it takes about 30 mins (20 mins at my pace) to reach

the small side trail near the top of the ridge. The trail is mostly uphill with only small

areas where it levels off or descends. Assuming you follow this trail all the way to

the top of the ridge, you will be greeted by a wooden shack with a zinc roof that is

supposedly a weather station. This building is surrounded by bamboo clumps and

wild ginger thickets, which are also features of most of the initial 20 min hike up. For

easy reference, I will separate the two “habitat types” and the associated birds seen.


Part A: “The Road to Pitta Ridge”


    I personally disliked this trek. As was the theme in the Vietnam and

elsewhere, some sort of energy sapping trek was always needed to reach the good

forest. Anyway, the 20-30 min uphill track is done on a fairly broad trail, although the

boundaries either drop off steeply or are otherwise inaccessible, making it very

difficult to observe ground birds. The boring regrowth featuring banana trees,

bamboo clumps and ginger thickets is interspaced with several emergent fruiting figs,

whose sole purpose for not being felled is to attract fruit-eaters in for easy kills, as

demonstrated by the balls of feathers that were probably once Leafbirds, Barbets &

Pigeons next to the ashes of once active campfires. These morbid sights aside, the

trees do indeed attract birds and are worthy of attention.


    Right off the bat, there is already action to be had. Within 50m of the road lies

a small trail that branches off to the right. On two occasions, once in the early

morning and late evening, I flushed and observed very briefly a bird which looked

suspiciously like a male Eared Pitta right at the start of this trail. Stijn himself has

also heard this species before near the start of the trail in April, and the habitat

certainly looks good for it. Be prepared!


    As with most areas of regrowth, there was generally little of note on the

ascent up. There is always a chance of Thrushes; Pittas & Stubtails though as there

are areas of extensive leaf litter en-route to the ridge top. During multiple ascents, I

notched up views of Sultan Tits, abundant Blue-winged Leafbirds, skulking Grey- throated & Buff-breasted Babblers, a restless flock of Japanese White-Eyes,

Puff-throated Bulbuls, a Grey-backed Shrike & a White-eared Barbet. Basically,

nothing that would set the heart racing!


    Things start to get interesting around the weather station proper. Without

entering the primary forest, the area where bamboo thickets meet the start of the hill

forest is the exact spot where Stijin managed to tape in a single Red-collared

Woodpecker in April. He reported that the bird came straight in to a personal

recording and indeed, there are multiple stumps in the area riddled with woodpecker

holes. An afternoon vigil here yielded little of note apart from a single Little Pied

Flycatcher although at least 2 Pale-headed Woodpeckers were heard in the

general area.


Part B: A New Pitta Enemy


    The part of the trip I wish to forget, or more correctly wish would have ended

on a happier note. The excellent primary hill forest in this trail is likely to be Na Hin’s

best kept secret. Undoubtedly, further exploration is bound to yield interesting

species that could well be difficult to see elsewhere in Asia.


    As pointed out in Stijn’s map, the trail makes a sharp left turn about 30

metres before the weather station itself. Right at this junction, a small trail heads off

to the right. During our time there, it was anything but inconspicuous as it was the

only area along the whole track which had bundles of wooden planks demarcating its

entrance. The first 20-30m of the trail runs through very dense bamboo scrub but it

quickly becomes more open where the bamboo meets the start of the primary forest.

It was right at this point where a decisive battle was fought and lost on another dark

day of birding (I am notching up a lot of such days!).

Blue-naped Pitta Country- Excellent ridge top forests with a dense understorey


    Once in the primary forest proper, the trail runs level through some primary hill

forest for another 50-100m or so before it starts to descend, first gradually, but

towards the bottom it starts getting very steep, with a 60 degree slope to overcome

near the bottom itself. Once the slope is cleared, the forest understorey becomes

very open with towering emergents forming a closed canopy above your head and

primary obstacles become navigating through the granite boulder-lined seasonal

riverbeds and rattan clumps. This is likely to be an excellent place for ground birds,

with our group’s intrepid “basher” Ashley sighting an excellent male Silver Pheasant

here. I was pre-occupied with trawling for signs of Grey Peacock-Pheasant, which I

reckon would be vocal at the right time of year. Rufous-tailed Robin has been seen

here and undoubtedly Pittas will be present here.


    The trail ends here, as the open nature of the understorey means it’s easy to

get lost. A GPS is recommended if you are a seasoned basher. Alternatively, if you

speak Lao, you can talk to the gatherers you may meet along the way (as we did)

who expertly make long treks each day along the riverbeds to gather forest produce

such as rattan and edible fruits. Hunters obviously prowl this area too although

feather balls and campfires were surprisingly absent here.

Riverine forests at the base of the slope- note reduction in understorey thickness.


    The highlights below are my own, as our group split up for good portions

along this trail, although for the most part we saw the same species just at different

points along the trail. I became increasingly obsessed with the un-nameable Pitta

and so spent comparatively more time on the top of the ridge itself.


Blue-naped Pitta: A species likely to be at the forefront of any visiting birder’s future

wish list, it is thus the first on the list. The spontaneous vocalisations of a presumed

male near the entrance to the ridge trail must have been one of the most surprising

moments of the trip. The bird burst out in song just out of sight 30 metres into the

ridge trail where the bamboo meets the forest. Specifically, observers will encounter

a circular area of relatively open ground surrounded by bamboo on the left side of

the trail. On the right lies relatively open primary forest with various vine tangles with

an entrance into the thicket further along the trail. The bird burst into full song for 5

minutes in this area at 7am on one morning only and thereafter was heard calling

intermittently, all the time getting more and more distant, by most of us. In addition to

this calling bird at the top of the ridge, at least 1 other was heard in a bamboo gully

as we were making our descent down to the riverine forest at lower elevations.

Forays into the same area that afternoon and the following morning failed to hear or

see any sign of this species. Certainly one for future birders to look out for!


    The ridge-top section of the trail was otherwise generally devoid of birds with

activity primarily centred on the slope forests and the riverine forest at lower

elevations. The descent allows observers a window into the activities of canopy

mixed flocks because the crowns of the tall trees on the lower slopes are at eye level.

In addition, one can also scan neighbouring gullies, most coated in ginger and

bamboo thickets, for understorey birds. In this manner we picked out understorey

mixed flocks consisting of Rufous-throated Fulvettas & Spot-necked Babblers.

Other notables associating with these flocks include at least one pair of White-tailed

Flycatchers and a surreal sight of a lone White-crested Laughingthrush

generating enough vocalisations to sound like a small party was moving through! In

the canopy above Collared Owlets were vocal and responsive. A silent flock of 7

Silver-breasted Broadbills & an even larger covey of 10-15 Long-tailed

Broadbills provided a dash of colour to the various shades of green. A surprise

Red-vented Barbet was also much appreciated. Lower down, hyperactive

White-browed Piculets energetically drilled into vine tangles while a restless flock of

Scaly-crowned Babblers was a new addition to the area list.


In the riverine forest, both Red-headed & Orange-breasted Trogons were

heard with the former seen briefly. The forest floor was alive with good numbers of

Siberian Blue Robins & Emerald Doves, although disappointingly no thrushes or

pittas were observed. Otherwise, there was significant overlap between the avifauna

here and along the slopes, although the habitat in this area was clearly not suitable

for Blue-naped Pittas, with a notable absence of any sort of bamboo. In this area,

Neil Bostock observed what he believed were a flock of Grey-cheeked Fulvettas

which in retrospect could be Black-browed Fulvettas which are also found in

neighbouring Central Vietnam.


Miscellaneous Information:


-Sainamhai Resort


    This resort is located on the outskirts of the “authentic Lao village” on the map.

Its peaceful surroundings overlooking the river make it an ideal base for birdwatchers

that prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle of Route 8. It is important to note

that all the other guesthouses lie along Route 8 which according to Stijn now

supports a lot more traffic than it used to as it is now a fully tarred highway. The

resort style bungalows here should be more than adequate for birders and the

restaurant is centrally located on a longhouse built on the banks of the river which

allows for quite a view of the area while dining.

    Take note however that the food served at the restaurant was decidedly

mediocre. Although all restaurants in the area serve “Western Food”, from the

experience of my companions these choices should generally be avoided unless you

are deeply homesick (not that eating rock-solid steak and chips would cure that!).

There was a general consensus that the restaurant at Mithuna Guesthouse served

much better cuisine more typical of the region such as green and red curries

although their “local cuisine” menu is only written in Lao so ordering is a bit of a



    For the impatient birders out there, another small point to note is that dining in

Laos is a protracted affair. Even simple dishes like Fried Rice seem to take 20-30

mins to prepare on average so it may work to your advantage to make advance

orders before returning to your accommodation to freshen up and do whatever you

need to do. This concept hold true even in “big cities” like Vientiane & Luang



    As an additional aside, we had no problems requesting for breakfast at the

resort at 530am before first light. The fare was simple but adequate and featured

fried eggs with toast and jam.


-Route 8 Birding


    As mentioned in the itinerary, we spent an afternoon birding along Route 8

itself beyond the KM 48 trail up to KM 52. We were informed that reasonable

roadside forest was present but obviously things had changed significantly since

Stijn was last here with the constant blaring of horns from heavy vehicles making it a

miserable experience overall. The forest itself also does not generally reach the

roadside, instead you can certainly see forest on the slopes above but most of the

roadside slopes are now overgrown with bamboo and weeds, presumably the

aftermath of landslides. The only avian sighting of note was a pair of vocal Pale-

headed Woodpeckers at the KM 52 marker post which we somehow played in and

saw briefly. Another notable area was shortly before the KM 52 marker there is a

small woodcutter’s trail that enters some decent bamboo forest on the right side of

the highway that may be worthy of future exploration.


    This road should otherwise be avoided at all costs unless listening to heavy

vehicle horns is your cup of tea. Birds sold separately!




    There is no doubt in my mind that with the recent string of avian limestone

discoveries and reclassifications, the accessible village of Na Hin is more than likely

to become a focal point for visiting birders to the region. First-time visitors to Laos

will likely be surprised, as I was, by the friendliness of its people and the dramatic

natural scenery to be found around Na Hin. With the Laotian government making a

concerted effort to put the country on the global stage, economic & infrastructure

development is bound to follow, not necessarily a bad thing for a country which has

largely been closed to the outside world. Hopefully the Laotians themselves would

see the value in protecting their remaining biodiversity, of which quite a significant

portion still exists, as birders and other eco-tourists contribute to the local economies

of these rural areas.


Disclaimer: The photos in this report are taken by both Albert Low & Ashley Banwell.

Ashley has kindly granted permission for his photos to be used in this report. If

anyone would like to use these photos for their own purposes, a written email would

be much appreciated.



Stijn De Win / published this information page on 20 April 2010.

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