Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Limestone Karsts and Strange Bulbuls of Laos

Bare-faced Bulbul

Following our 11-day visit to Cambodia (see following posts) we headed north to Laos for a week-long stay. We divided our time between the capital, Vientiane, and the limestone karsts of the Annamite Mountains in north-east Laos, home to some interesting birds and the backdrop to some of south-east Asia's loveliest scenery.

Buddhist monks in Vientiane
 Vientiane was pretty much laid back; we wandered the city streets, taking in the odd scenic attraction such as the Patouxay Monument and the huge golden stupa at Pua That Luang. Dining on crispy fried duck and the like in the delightful outdoor markets by the Mekong River, with Thailand just across the water, was a highlight of our stay in this impoverished communist country's capital.

Patouxay Monument
Pua That Luang Monument
Red-breasted Parakeet was among the species common about the city.

Red-breasted Parakeet
Our birding tour, booked through Green Discovery, began with a drive west to Ban Nasang on the Mekong River, where we failed to connect with Jerdon's Bushchat at a known breeding site. 

Mekong River bushchat site
Perhaps it was too early in the nesting season, and the high level of the river made searching difficult, but it wasn't a good start. River Lapwing and Small Pratincole were present.

River Lapwings
We continued eastwards towards the Vietnam border through the towering limestone karsts of Nam Kading National Park in the Na Hin area to our accommodation for 3 nights – Spring River Resort. This place is set by a river at the foot of a huge karst; with great service and food combined with extraordinary beauty, it is highly recommended.

Spring River Resort

View from Spring River Resort 
Our guide, Mr Noi, was affable and although not a birder, his English was quite good and he knew the birding spots.

Dinner by the Mekong, Vientiane
 We had to leave very early to be at the km 34 viewpoint on Highway 8 at dawn, where we looked unsuccessfully - on this and other occasions - for the karst-loving Lao Langur.

Annamite Mountains from Highway 8
We had better luck just down the road, encountering one of the specialties of the area, a single Sooty Babbler.  Soon after I found a pair of Streaked Wren-Babblers.

Limestone Wren-Babbler
Then we came across a party of 3 Bare-faced Bulbuls, a recently described species endemic to these limestone karsts, in the company of a few Grey-eyed Bulbuls. We concentrated our morning birding along the busy road between kms 30 and 33. A late morning walk along the path to the waterfall at Na Hin was fruitless.

Bare-faced Bulbuls
The next morning was another very early drive, looking unsuccessfully for Mountain Scops-Owl at a known site at km 44, then spending the rest of the morning on an overgrown trail at km 48. The latter is a site for Red-collared Woodpecker, but we had no luck; the large trees it favours have been illegally cut down in recent years for firewood.

Crow-billed Drongo
We did however find a party of 6 obliging Spot-necked Babblers, a group of Indochinese Yuhinas, and a single Crow-billed Drongo – all three of which were on my wishlist.

Kong Lor Cave entrance 
In the afternoon we took the 7km boat ride through Kong Lor Cave, not far from our resort. This is another highly recommended experience.

Kong Lor Cave

Kong Lor Cave
On our last morning we again checked roadside karsts on the way back to Vientiane. We looked unsuccessfully for Limestone Leaf-Warbler – seeing only Blyth's Leaf-Warbler and Grey-crowned Warbler. We found a group of men with rifles and traps who showed us two forest rats they had just caught in the national park. Small wonder that birds are so difficult to find in Laos. It was a feature of the country that birds which are numerous elsewhere in south-east Asia (such as Cattle Egret and Chinese Pond-Heron) are all but absent in Laos.

Trapper with forest rats

1 comment:

  1. Although I have not been to Laos, I have birded along the Mekong River on the Thailand side of the border. Same scenery, wonderful food and atmosphere, (excluding pervasive smoky skies.)