Bird watching in Bagan
Bagan is also an excellent place to go bird watching and is home to six of Myanmar’s eight endemic species - Burmese Lark, White-throated Babbler, Hooded Treepie, Jerdon’s Minivet, Burmese Collared-dove, and Ayeyarwaddy Bulbul. The last two taxa have only recently been recognised as new, distinct species.
Sheltered from the southwest monsoon by the Rakhine Hills, this area of central Myanmar receives little rainfall and is a true semi-desert. It is characterised by plants such as euphorbia and acacia and is quite similar to parts of northwest India.
Bird watching here is a fantastic experience. The variety is spectacular, both in the dry country of the Bagan Archaeological Zone (the area of the temples) and amongst the sand-bars of the adjacent Ayeyarwady River.
With numerous hotels and great communications, is an easy place to visit (further information).
Bird species include: Perdicinae: Rain quail, Chinese francolin. Anatidae: Ruddy shelduck, Chinese spot-billed duck, Northern shoveler, Northern pintail, Common teal. Ardeidae: Pond-heron, Eastern cattle egret, Grey heron, Great egret, Little egret. Phalacrocoracidae: Great cormorant, Little cormorant. Falconidae: Common kestrel, Laggar falcon, Peregrine falcon, Himalayan buzzard, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Greater spotted eagle, Black kite, Black-shouldered kite, Shikra, Chinese Sparrowhawk, White-eyed Buzzard, Pied harrier. Gruidae: Common crane. Turnicidae: Barred buttonquail, Yellow-legged buttonquail. Burhinidae: Great thick-knee. Pluvialidae: Pacific golden plover, Grey plover. Vanellidae: River lapwing, Red-wattled lapwing. Charodriidae: Little ringed plover, Kentish plover. Scolopacidae: Common sandpiper, Common redshank, Spotted redshank, Common greenshank, Little stint, Temminck’s stint. Glareolidae: Small pratincole. Sternidae: River tern, Black-bellied tern. Columbidae: Rock pigeon, Eurasian collared-dove, Red collared-dove, Spotted dove. Cuculidae: Plaintive cuckoo, Greater coucal. Tytonidae: Common barn-owl. Strigidae: Spotted owlet, Brown boobook. Caprimulgidae: Indian nightjar. Apodiae: Asian palm-swift, House swift. Coraciidae: Indian roller.
Alcedinidae: White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher. Meropidae: Little green bee-eater, Blue-tailed bee-eater. Upupidae: Common hoopoe. Ramphastidae: Coppersmith barbet. Picidae: Eurasian wryneck, Spot-breasted woodpecker. Campephagidae: Scarlet minivet, Ashy minivet, Jerdon’s minivet. Aegithinidae: Common iora. Dicruridae: Ashy drongo, Black drongo. Monarchidae: Black-naped monarch. Corvidae: House crow, Rufous treepie, Hooded treepie. Laniidae: Brown shrike, Burmese shrike, Long-tailed shrike. Nectariniidae: Purple sunbird, Olive-backed sunbird. Dicaeidae: Scarlet-backed flowerpecker. Ploceidae: Baya weaver, Red avadavat. Estrildidae: Scaly-breasted munia. Passeridae: House sparrow, Plain-backed sparrow, Russet sparrow. Motacillidae: Red-throated pipit, Olive-backed pipit, Richard’s pipit, Paddy-field pipit, Long-billed pipit, White wagtail, Eastern yellow wagtail, Citrine wagtail. Sturnidae: Jungle myna, Common myna, Vinous-breasted myna. Muscicapidae: Siberian ruby-throat, Daurian redstart, Blue rock-thrush, Eastern stonechat, White-tailed stonechat, Pied stonechat. Muscicapidae: Taiga flycatcher, Oriental magpie-robin, White-rumped shama. Alaudidae: Burmese bushlark, Sand lark. Pycnonitidae: Streak-eared bulbul, Red-vented bulbul. Hirundinidae: Grey-throated sand-martin, Barn swallow. Phylloscopidae: Tickell’s leaf-warbler, Yellow-streaked warbler, Dusky warbler. Timaliidae: White-throated babbler, Striated babbler, Yellow-eyed babbler. Cisticolidae: Zitting cisticola, Common tailorbird, Grey-breasted prinia, Plain prinia, Brown prinia.
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“We spent the morning of our full day at Bagan exploring Dry Zone habitats in the vicinity of the so-called Sitsana Temple (or Saytanargyi Pagoda) to the south of town. Things went superbly well, and we had already had scope views of all four Dry Zone endemics by 0805. First, Ron noticed a Hooded Treepie perched atop a distant bushy tree and, after pursuing the bird, we bumped into a foraging group of a male and two female Jerdon’s Minivets. Good numbers of Burmese Bushlarks and Whitethroated Babblers also performed. Around the temple itself, we had superb views of a pair of Laggar Falcons and, further on, we flushed a handful of Rain Quail from some grassy field borders. Numerous other goodies during the morning included many yellow eye-ringed xanthocyclus Eurasian Collared-doves, Spotted Owlet, Indian Nightjar, a couple of Wrynecks, a fantastic male Siberian Rubythroat, Plain-backed Sparrows, large numbers of the endemic and very distinct nominate Vinous-breasted Myna, Tickell’s Leaf-, Yellow-streaked and Dusky Warblers. Exploring one of the small shafts in the base of the impressive pagoda, we got in amongst a roosting colony of Large-eared Roundleaf Bats, of both colour morphs. In the afternoon, we cruised down the Irrawaddy River to some areas of sandy shoreline and riverine grassland. In the latter, we found the very large local population of White-tailed Stonechat. These grasslands support relatively few other species, but a very reactive group of Striated Babblers were also much appreciated, as were a couple of nice male Pied Harriers, a Bluethroat and a small number of Red Avadavats and Baya Weavers. Several Rain Quail could clearly be heard giving their territorial calls in the open crop-fields. Along the shore, there were a scattering of Ruddy Shelducks, shorebirds and wagtails, with some male Citrine Wagtails outstanding. On the return journey, at dusk, a few Small Pratincoles were noted flying low over an expansive sand-bank.”
Craig Robson - report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Myanmar that took place between 28 December and 10 January, 2012 (further information).
“Two of Myanmar’s four dry-zone endemics are notoriously difficult to find, so we had to give ourselves a couple of days around the 2200 stupas and pagodas of Bagan in order to find them. However, by 7.30am on our first day we miraculously had excellent views of all four! Jumping out of the vehicle, even before the endemics we admired a pair of hulking Laggar Falcon waking up before circling their stupa and away for breakfast. Our first ace was two groups of Jerdon’s Minivet that suddenly appeared in front of us, the male in particular being well appreciated with talk of a potential bird-of-the-trip, such is the delightfulness of this dainty bird with delicate peachy breast on his pied plumage. Literally the moment they flew away we picked up a pair of Hooded Treepie flying into a distant Cactus, a quick scramble towards the bush drew a blank – they really are the masters of escapes, though fortunately we picked them up further away and they then showed themselves feeding inside a bush for some time before undulating off and away. The other two endemics proved typically straight-forward as family groups of the charismatic White-throated Babbler kept us entertained throughout the day (even in the hotel gardens) and Burmese Bushlarks seemed to sing from every telegraph wire and cacti. The morning continued to be excellent; pairs of Spotted Owlet were enjoyed at both breakfast and in the field, huge numbers of both Plain-backed Sparrow and Little Green Bee-eater swirled around as they left their roosts, the endemic subspecies of Eurasian Collared Dove showed on numerous occasions, as did Oriental Honey Buzzard, Brown Prinia, Yellow-streaked Warbler, burmannicus Vinous-breasted Myna (a likely split), while singles of Yellow-eyed Babbler, Jungle Myna and White-eyed Buzzard appeared. In the afternoon we put in some effort for Rain Quail, eventually flushing up a covey of five birds from the dense acacia thickets, we even found an additional four Jerdon’s Minivets (honestly, they really are difficult usually!), a roosting Indian Nightjar, another Lagger Falcon and a few other bits-and-pieces before we went to the Dhamma Yarzaka Temple to enjoy a wonderful, relaxing sunset overlooking a landscape of endless stupas and temples.
With another full day around Bagan at our disposal (and reminding ourselves how it was better getting the hard birds out the way early rather than sweating on them today!) we took a morning cruise along the Irrawaddy. Perhaps the highlight was the stunning, intense sunrise over the temples, with everyone’s cameras clicking intently. Waders were much in evidence, a big flock of Small Pratincole loafed at the riversedge, Temminck’s Stint, Little Ringed Plover, Spotted Redshank, Kentish Plover and a pair of River Lapwing were all noted. Both Eastern Marsh and Pied Harrier quartered the fields and we watched in awe as a Peregrine toyed with the Greater Cormorants, Indian Spot-bills and wintering Ruddy Shelducks that were all present in small numbers. Eventually we jumped ship, being met by a pair of White-tailed Stonechat feeding on the sand, along with a few Sand Lark. Birding an area of grassland turned up a number of Red Avadavat, Oriental Skylark and White-tailed Stonechat. On our return we sat back and relaxed before enjoying a mass of Small Pratincole flying and yelping around us. After spending a bit of time photographing the resident family of White-throated Babblers feeding around our rooms we headed back to the temples and scrub in the afternoon. It was much the same as our previous visit though a few extra included a big flock of Baya Weaver, scope views of a Barred Buttonquail attempting to hide under a bush, and a flock of 13 Black-headed Bunting, perhaps just the second record in Myanmar! The resident pair of Lagger Falcon returned to their favoured temple to roost – a fitting time to call it quits. After returning to Yangon on our final day we spent an hour enjoying the fabulous golden Shwedagon Temple, and a fly-over Booted Eagle, before bidding farewell to this fabulous country.
James Eaton - report extracted from a field trip that took place from 14 February to 5 March, 2011 to Cambodia and Myanmar (further information).
“We spent the morning of our full day at Bagan exploring Dry Zone habitats in the vicinity of the so-called Sitsana Temple (or Saytanargyi Pagoda) to the south of town. After a fairly slow start, as far as the main target-birds were concerned, things went very well. We had lengthy looks at the beautiful Jerdon’s Minivet in the early morning sunlight, while Hooded Treepie perched up top a few times but was very flighty. Good numbers of Burmese Bushlarks and White-throated Babblers performed as usual, and we flushed a handful of Rain Quail from some grassy field-borders. The numerous other good birds during the morning included many yellow eye-ringed xanthocyclus Eurasian Collared-doves, Spotted Owlet, Wryneck, Burmese Shrike, Plain-backed Sparrow, large numbers of the endemic and very distinct nominate Vinous-breasted Myna, singing Yellow-streaked Warblers, and performing Yellow-eyed Babblers and Brown Prinias. Exploring one of the small shafts in the base of the impressive pagoda, we got in amongst a roosting colony of Large-eared and Ashy Roundleaf Bats. A brief visit to another temple brought us the desired Laggar Falcon, but unfortunately its young had already fledged from the nest there. On the way back to the hotel for lunch, we spotted an excellent White-eyed Buzzard atop a small cultural relic.
In the afternoon, we cruised down the Irrawaddy to some areas of sandy shoreline and riverine grassland. In the latter, we found the very large local population of White-tailed Stonechats. These grasslands support relatively few other species, but a very reactive groups of Striated Babblers were also much appreciated, as were a couple of nice male Pied Harriers, Bluethroat, a small number of Red Avadavats, and loads of Baya Weavers. Several Rain Quail could clearly be heard giving their territorial calls in the open crop-fields, and more Streaked Weavers were also much appreciated. Along the shore, there were large numbers of Ruddy Shelducks, and shorebirds included around 15 Small Pratincoles, several gorgeous River Lapwings, Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, a single Kentish Plover, and Little Ringed Plovers with a tiny chick. Five Black-headed Ibises were unexpected, and another write-in, while a handful of Great Cormorants flapped down-river. There were numerous Pied Kingfishers, both Oriental Skylark and Sand Lark, Grey- throated Sand-martins, quite a few Red-throated Pipits, a selection of wagtails including Grey-headed and Alaskan (i.e. both Western and Eastern Yellow) and several Citrine.
After downing our lunch nearby, we decided to head straight back to Bagan, and get in another afternoons birding there. It was still remarkably hot when we arrived, and we took a slow walk along a waterway that leads off behind Sitsana Temple. We also explored a small hydro-electric project, some small wet ricefields and scrubby woodland. It was very birdy, with Eurasian Sparrowhawk, another Watercock, Common and Pintail Snipe, a nice Richard’s Pipit perched on a utility line, impressive flights of Vinous-breasted Mynas, a single Chestnuttailed Starling, two male Siberian Rubythroats, several wonderful Wire-tailed Swallows, Thick-billed Warbler, and more Brown Prinias.”
Craig Robson - report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Myanmar that took place from 10-23 March, 2013.