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Trip reports


Stijn De Win



Bali Myna '10


Poyang Hu China '10


Wuyishan China '09


NE-India '09


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Jomsom Nepal '07


India '07


Southern Thailand '06


Langtang Nepal '06


Sri Lanka 2000










Up close with the Bare-faced Bulbuls (Lao PDR for the time –pressured birder)


John Gregory and Pete Antrobus (Pod)

4th to 7th September 2009




Having had to cancel a couple of birding trips due to work commitments and looking for somewhere to go in September I read, with great interest, the breaking news of the discovery of a new species of Bulbul in the Karst areas of central Lao PDR.


On further investigation it looks like the birds were found in parallel by a team of researchers working near Pha Lom in Savannakhet Province (Woxwold, Duckworth and Timmins – OBC Forktail 25 2009) and by Stijn De Win in the Northern Khammouane Mountains at Na Hin.


Stijn’s website


is excellent and a must for anyone thinking of planning a trip here. The report persuaded me to visit Na Hin due to the added bonus of Sooty Babbler , Red-collared Woodpecker (possibly the most difficult Asian Woodpecker) and an outside chance of seeing the endangered Lao Langur. The appeal of being one of only a handful of birders on the planet to have seen the bulbul helped my decision.


September is purportedly the rainy season so flights were still relatively cheap when we booked in mid- August.


For birders wishing to travel independently this report should be used as an addendum to Stijn’s website. Alternatively Birding2asia is offering guided tours - take your pick!


Na Hin is a great and under-explored area with large tracts of untouched broad-leaved evergreen forest. However, construction of a hydro-electric scheme does seem to have put some pressure on the area – hopefully only temporary.


This was our first taste of birding in Lao PDR ; it certainly won’t be the last. We can only echo Stijn’s comments re Lao still being relatively under-explored. Apparent large tracts of forest remain further south for those intrepid birders who enjoy exploring new areas.



Flights, Ground Transport and Accommodation


We investigated routings from Manchester to Vientiane but could not find anything cheaper than Ł850. However Etihad had a flight (Manchester to Bangkok) for Ł380. On arriving in Bangkok we took a Thai Airways flight to Udon Thani (Ł35) and then took a taxi to Nong Khai and the FriendshipBridge on the Thai/Lao border (200 Bhts per person). You will need a passport photo for your Lao Visa; if you forget (as we did) you can get them on the Thai side of the border. The Visa is available at the border ($35). We then got a bus over the FriendshipBridge (15Bhts) and found ourselves in the Lao PDR.


For Ground Transport we took advice from the Lonely Planet guide and took the easiest and probably the most expensive option of hiring a car and driver. The options quoted in the guide are:


Asia Vehicle Rental and Lao Wheels . Asia vehicle rental had no availability so we just had one quote of $110 per day from Lao Wheels. This price included fuel, toll fees and the driver’s food and accommodation. The job was sub-contracted to a chap named ‘Tong’ who spoke reasonable English:



Mobile: +856 205 088151


We probably paid over the odds; we managed to negotiate Tong down to $90/day with little effort.


Tong now knows the sites for the Bulbul, Babbler, Woodpecker and Langur plus he can direct you to a reasonable hotel.


Roads were pretty good with a few potholes here and there; in hindsight it would probably be very easy to hire a vehicle and make your own way to Na Hin or get dropped off and hire a motor cycle for your stay at Na Hin. It’s easy to find by following route 13 out of Vientiane for about 4 hours before turning left onto route 8 at Ban Vieng Kham. From this junction it is about 60-90 minutes to Na Hin.


A disturbing sight on this road are trucks containing cages of half dead dogs. Tong informed us that these are raised in Thailand before being transported through Lao to Vietnam for food!!


To exit Lao we took a Thai taxi from the Lao side of the border direct to a hotel in Udon Thani (450Bht each).


An update to Stijn’s report is that the village of Na Hin is developing into a small town driven by the hydro-electric construction work taking place above km 44. Many new restaurants and hotels/guesthouses appear to have been built over the last couple of years. Mi Thuna guesthouse was fully booked; we stayed at the newly built Phamaanview Guesthouse with clean and spacious rooms (1 twin-350Bht per night).



Phone: +85620 2403950/2806235


We ate in most of the local restaurants – fried rice or noodle soup is always a safe bet. We did find the local food (Laap) very tasty (if at times a little undercooked) and the fried fish was delicious!


Should you wish to contact us:



Phone: +44 7768 235999



Day by day….


During our time at Na Hin we saw no rain but it was extremely hot and humid. Birding was normally finished by 1.30 and didn’t really pick up in the afternoon.


3rd Sept 2009


Arrive in Vientiane at 1pm. Leave at 3pm and arrive at Na Hin at 9.30pm.


4th Sept 2009


Late start and straight up to the viewpoint at km 32.8 - marked by a wooden shelter. Stijn’s map shows another viewpoint at km 34 – birding along this road to km 36 should get you Sooty Babbler and more Bare-faced Bulbuls.


Our first Bulbuls responded to tape (downloaded from Xeno-Canto) at around 7.30am. By 11 it was too hot for birding outside the forest. Between 3.30pm and dusk we walked the weather station trail (Trail 1) but saw very little due to the heat. The weather station and the primary forest beyond are at around 765m asl.


5th Sept 2009


Up at 3.30 for some pre-dawn night birding on trail 3 (see Stijn’s Map) where we had great views of a Mountain Scops Owl.


At dawn we headed up Trail 1 again for good views Speckled and White-browed Piculets in the cutover forest before reaching the weather station. By the time we made the primary forest where Stijn saw Red-collared Woodpecker it was pretty birdless and the Cicadas deafening.


We spent the afternoon on the temple and waterfall trails but extreme heat again precluded much activity. The only birds of note were a single Drongo Cuckoo and a few Nepal House Martins. We went back to km 35 at dusk where we had seen birds mobbing something in a hole in the cliff earlier in the day. We had hopes of a Forest Eagle Owl appearing – unfortunately a no show!




6th Sept 2009


Up at the Woodpecker site by 6.30am. This time we found a different woodcutter’s trail to the one marked on Stijn’s map. It runs parallel and to the left of Stijn’s trail – we picked it up about 50m in from the weather station trail and followed it for around 300m over a small coll and down a ridge where it ended at a sawing area – a deep ravine ran parallel to the path.. We had a better day despite dipping on the woodpecker again. A pair of Chestnut – bellied Nuthatchs were below their normal altitudinal range, small parties of Spot-necked babblers and Rufous - throated Fulvettas gave tantalising views and a pair of White-tailed Robin skulked in the ravine.


We spent from 5 to 7pm in the cultivated areas south of Na Hin where we saw our only herons of the trip, a Chinese Goshawk, Black – shouldered Kite and Large –tailed Nightjar. The Long-tailed Shrikes caused some confusion due to their short tails – on further research these may turn out to be Lanius scach scach?


7th Sept 2009


Back to 32.8 at dawn for our last fill of the Bulbul and Sooty Babbler. We then experienced probably the best part of our trip. A male Lao Langur casually strolled along the spiky crags about 500m away and then sat on the top of a rock taking in the early morning sun for at least a half hour shifting position occasionally and giving great scope views. We got some (very!) record shots and on the stroll down the road and took some shaky video of Sooty Babbler. We left our hotel at 10 and arrived in Udon Thani at 4pm.


List of Species Recorded (taxonomy followed is Clements but we have added some comments based on new information on potential splits based on the latest addition (2008) of Craig Robson’s ‘The Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South – East Asia.’ 


  1. Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus
    Heard from the km32.8 viewpoint.
  2. Chinese Pond Heron  Ardeola bacchus
    A few in the cultivated area
  3. Black – shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
    2 in the cultivated area
  4. Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis
    1 female in the cultivated area
  5. Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
    2 seen in Karst areas
  6. Mountain Hawk – Eagle Nisaetus nipalensis
    1 from viewpoint near km48
  7. White – breasted Waterhen  Amaurornis phoenicurus
    1 in the cultivated area
  8. Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
    Cultivated area
  9. Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica
    A few on Trail 1
  10. Vernal Hanging – Parrot Loriculus vernalis
    A few in flight over forested areas
  11. Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus
    2 heard between km 32 and 36
  12. Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis -  sonneratii
    1 at km32.8
  13. Asian Drongo - Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris
    1 on the temple trail
  14. Green - billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus tristis
    Mainly seen in the Karst area
  15. Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
    Recorded in the cultivated area
  16. Mountain Scops - Owl Otus spilocephalus
    One spotlighted and another heard on Trail 3.
  17. Collared Scops – Owl Otus lettia
    1 heard in the Karst area.
  18. Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei
    Heard most days
  19. Large – tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus
    1 in the cultivated area
  20. Swiftlet sp Aerodramus sp
    A number of swiftlets were present over the lowland forest but were not specifically identified.
  21. Fork - tailed Swift Apus pacificus
    Recorded daily flying high over forested areas.
  22. Red - headed Trogon Harpactes erythrocephalus
    Heard only
  23. Orange - breasted Trogon Harpactes oreskios
    Heard only
  24. Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
    1 in cultivated area
  25. Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
    4 in the cultivated area.
  26. Lineated Barbet Megalaima lineata
    Frequently heard and a few seen
  27. Moustached Barbet Meglaima incognita
    Frequently heard and a few seen
  28. Coppersmith Barbet Megalaima haemacephala
    1 in the cultivated area
  29. Blue – eared Barbet Megalaima australis
    A few heard and one seen
  30. Speckled Piculet Picumnis innominatus
    Seen on two days in the cutover forest just below the weather station
  31. White – browed Piculet Sasia ochracea
    A family party in the same area that the Speckled Piculet was observed. The young birds showing no white supercilium and therefore resembled Rufous.
  32. Grey – capped Woodpecker Dendrocopus canicapillus
    Seen and heard daily in the forested areas.
  33. Rufous Woodpecker Micropternus brachyrus
    Heard only
  34. Flameback sp Dinopium sp
    Heard only
  35. Long – tailed Broadbill Psarisomus dalhousiae
    4 seen around km 35
  36. White – bellied Erpornis Erpornis zantholeuca
    Small parties seen daily.
  37. Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus speciosus
    A few seen.
  38. Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis gularis
    A small group seen around km 32.
  39. Black – naped Monarch Hypothymis azurea
    A few seen.
  40. Asian Paradise – Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradise
    2 seen.
  41. Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus
    Seen along roadside on the way into Na Hin
  42. Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
    Present in forested areas
  43. Greater Racket – tailed Drongo Dicrurus pardiseus
    Present in forested areas.
  44. (Eastern/Southern) Jungle Crow Corvus levaillanti/machrorynchus
    2 indeterminate birds in the cultivated area
  45. Great Iora Aegithina viridissima
    Two in roadside forest at around km32
  46. Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
    2 on the golf course near the waterfall trail
  47. Long – tailed Shrike Lanius scach
    Up to 4 birds recorded in the cultivated areas. Initially these birds confused us because of their short tails. They may turn out to be the subspecies Lanius scach scach found in Vietnam?
  48. Black – throated Sunbird Aethopyga saturata
    A few seen in forested areas.
  49. Little Spiderhunter Aracnothera longirostra
    One up the weather station trail
  50. Streaked Spiderhunter  Aracnothera magna
    Frequently seen especially on the weather station trail
  51. Thick – billed Flowerpecker Dicauem agile
    2 birds seen
  52. Yellow – vented Flowerpecker Dicaeum chrysorrheum
    2 birds seen.
  53. Plain Flowerpecker Dicaeum minullum
    1 in roadside forest
  54. Blue – winged Leafbird Chloropsis cochinchinensis
    Commonly seen in forested areas
  55. Orange – bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii
    A small group visited a fruiting tree at the weather station on two days
  56. Asian Fairy – Bluebird Irena Puella
    Present in the forested areas.
  57. Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
    Present around habitation
  58. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
    3 birds at the km32.8 viewpoint
  59. Velvet – fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis
    Recorded on the weather station trail
  60. Chestnut – bellied Nuthatch Sitta cinnamoventris
    Two in the primary forest at the top of the weather station trail may have been below their normal altitudinal range
  61. Common Myna Acridotheres tistis
    In cultivated areas  around villages
  62. Blue – whistling Thrush Myophonus caeruleus
    One hopping along the limestone crags at km32.8
  63. White – tailed Robin Myiomela leucura
    A pair in a ravine in primary forest above the weather station gave surprisingly good views.
  64. White – rumped Shama Copsychus malarbaricus
    Recorded in the forested areas.
  65.  Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa daurica
    3 around the weather station in early morning mist on the 6th were presumably freshly arrived migrants.
  66. Green – backed Tit Parus monticolus
    A bird calling and eating insects from the side of a limestone crag was an odd sighting.
  67. Red – whiskered Bulbul Pycononotus jocosus
    A bird flying around the open stairwell of the hotel pre-dawn on the 6th!
  68. Black – crested Bulbul Pycnonotus flavirentris
    The commonest bulbul in the forest and often seen associating with Bare – faced Bulbuls.
  69. Stripe – throated Bulbul Pycnonotus eutilotus
    Reasonably common
  70. Bare – faced Bulbul Pycnonotus hualon
    Reasonably common but restricted to the Karst areas and appears most concentrated in the typical craggy scenery between KM 34-36 and as seen from the viewpoint at km32.8. We did not record the bird elsewhere. In this range we probably saw over 20 different birds.
  71. Grey – eyed Bulbul Iole propinqua
    Reasonably common
  72. Puff – throated Bulbul Alophoixus pallidus
    Seen mainly on the weather station trail
  73. Nepal Martin Delichon nipalense
    About 30 birds hunting low over the forested waterfall trail.
  74. Yellow – bellied Warbler Abroscopus superciliaris
    A few seen in the cutover forest on the weather station trail
  75. Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus
    3 sightings were probably early migrants. We visited Nam Nao in Thailand a few days later and saw a handful of birds there also.
  76. Rufous – throated Fulvetta Schoeniparus rufogularis
    2 small parties – one in the primary forest at the top of the weather station trail and one in the cutover scrub between the weather station and the start of the primary forest.
  77. Spot-necked Babbler Stachyris strialata
    One party of this pretty stunning babbler in the cutover area between the weather station and the primary forest
  78. Grey – throated babbler Stachyris nigriceps
    A single bird on the weather station trail
  79. Rufous - capped/fronted Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps/rufifrons
    A couple of indeterminate sightings in cutover forest although possibly too low for Rufous – capped.
  80. Pin-striped Tit – Babbler Macronus gularis
    Common in forested areas.
  81. White – crested Laughingthrush Garrulax leucolophus
    Commonly seen and heard on the weather station trail.
  82. Dark – necked Tailorbird Orthotomus atrogularis
    A few seen in roadside forest
  83. Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius
    A few seen/heard
  84. Grey – breasted Prinia Prinia Hodgsonii
    2 birds in the cultivated area. 



1 stunning male Lao Langur giving protracted if distant views in the same high rocky habitat occupied by Bare – faced Bulbul. Take a scope!



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