Ecotourism (Nature Tourism) in Myanmar

Bird watching in Inle (Inlay) Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary, Inle Lake

(text compiled by Paul Bates, Harrison Institute)

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Inle (Inlay) Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary

Inle Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1985 and is located in the Shan Plateau at an altitude of about 880 metres. It comprises a large lake, with an open area of water of about 47 km2, and surrounding marshland and agricultural land, including floating beds planted with various fruits and vegetables. The lake is shallow, with an average depth of 2.1 metres (this increases in the rainy season), and lies in a north-south valley surrounded on both sides by small mountain ranges. It is home to a number of endemic fish and invertebrates and some 254 bird species, many of which are winter migrants, visiting the wetland from November to March. In June, 2015, the area was designated a World Network and Biosphere Reserve. It is also an ASEAN Heritage Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

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Visiting

It is easy to visit Inle Lake. Most tourists fly to Heho airport and take a taxi or prearranged transfer to the town of Nyaungshwe. Within Nyaungshwe there are numerous hotels and restaurants. Hiring a boat to visit the lake is also easy and there is no need to pre-book. Local tour guides are quite competent to take birders to areas of interest, including the ‘Bird Watching Centre’, which is built on stilts and looks out over some of the wetland areas. However, it is not possible to hire in Nyaungshwe an experienced bird guide with good identification skills. He/she must be pre-booked through a tour company that specialises in bird watching or by making an arrangement in advance with an independent guide.

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Birds

Bird species include*: Anatidae: Lesser Whistling-duck, Gadwall, Eurasian Widgeon, Spot-billed Duck, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Baer’s Pochard, Ferrugineous Pochard. Threskiornithidae: Glossy Ibis. Ardeidae: Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern, Black-crowned Night-heron, Indian Pond-heron, Chinese Pond-heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Purple Heron, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret. Phalacrocoracidae: Little Cormorant. Falconidae: Western Marsh-harrier, Eastern Marsh-harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle, Steppe Eagle. Rallidae: Ruddy-breasted Crake, Grey-headed Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Common Coot. Gruidae: Sarus Crane. Recurvirostridae: Black-winged Stilt. Vanellidae: Grey-headed Lapwing. Jacanidae: Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana. Scolopacidae: Pintail Snipe, Common Snipe. Scolopacidae: Marsh Sandpiper. Glareolidae: Oriental Pratincole. Laridae: Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull. Cuculidae: Plaintive Cuckoo. Alcedinidae: Blue-eared Kingfisher. Estrildidae: Java Sparrow, Scaly-breasted Munia. Motacillidae: Rosy Pipit, White Wagtail, Western Yellow Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail. Sturnidae: White-vented Myna, Jungle Myna, Collared Myna, Common Myna, Vinuous-breasted Myna, Black-collared Myna, Asian Pied Starling, Chestnut-tailed Starling. Turdidae: Siberian Rubythroat, Bluethroat, Eastern Stonechat, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Jerdon’s Bushchat. Hirundinidae: White-tailed Swallow.Timaliidae: Rufous-rumped Grass-babbler, Striated Laughingthrush, Scarlet-faced Liocichla. Acrocephalidae: Black-browed Reed-warbler, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Blunt-winged Warbler, Oriental Reed-warbler, Spotted Bush-warbler, Striated Grassbird, Yellow-bellied Prinia, and Plain Prinia.

*list compiled from various sources published online; the list is not complete and is for indicative purposes only.

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Tours (that include Inle Lake)

SST Travel Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4
Shan Yoma Travel and Tours Co. Ltd Tour 1
Travel Expert Tour 1, Tour 2
Wings Birding Tours Worldwide Tour 1
Authentic Myanmar Tour 1
Tours in Myanmar Tour 1, Tour 2
Bird Quest Tour 1
Birdingpal Tours Tour 1
Golden Allamanda Travel and Tours Co., Ltd Tour 1
Vacation to Myanmar Tour 1
Wild Birds Eco South East Asia Tour 1, Tour 2
Ideal Travel Land Tour 1
Yangon Tours Tour 1
Golden Pagoda Travel Tour 1
Green Trail Tours Tour 1
Diethelm Travel Tour 1
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Environmental Threats

Although always popular with visitors, since 2011 tourism, both national and international, has expanded exponentially at Inle Lake. This has led to a much greater number of fast moving and noisy boats on the lake and the rapid expansion of hotel construction. Although still a very beautiful area, if the integrity of the Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary is to be maintained, there needs to be a proper management plan for the lake and its environs. Current threats include destruction of the vegetation on the surrounding hills leading to greatly increased sedimentation; eutrophication from an increased use of fertilisers by local agriculture; pollution from surrounding towns and villages; and the introduction of alien plants, especially water hyacinth, and alien fish species. It is reported that winter migrant bird populations are declining.

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Visitor Reports

“We spent our time based at a nice hotel in the village of Nyaungshwe on the north edge of the lake. This is the main tourist area and boat trips are easy to arrange from here. There is also good birding a short walk or drive along the road west of town (see below).

A. Boat trips: MTE had booked two trips on the lake for us; one the first afternoon and the second, full day trip the next. On the latter we went all the way to Inthein, stopping at various other tourist sites en-route. These were very nice and a good way to get around and see the area, but not especially prolific birdwise. The most interesting areas are the channels and flooded reedbed and lake edge at the north edge, ie very close to Nyaungshwe. The problem is that there appears to be no obvious way from the main north-south channel into this area; all the side channels were low and narrow and trying to approach the bird sanctuary area from the actual lake was also fruitless as, again, water levels were too low. This meant no Chinese Grassbird nor Jerdon’s Bushchat the easy way. There must be some way of getting into the right spots via boat; lots of other people manage it but you clearly need better gen than I had. However, our boatman was as clueless as I. The one special we did see, however, was Collared Myna, seemingly nesting on the temples at Inthein and a good reward for being a tourist for the day. Several pairs were in the area of Shwe Inn Thein Paya, a short walk from the jetty and could be watched for prolonged periods; one pair appeared to be entering a nest hole in an old, falling down stupa. The good news is that there are only 1054 stupas at this site to check… Vinousbreasted Myna were also present, and the rather smart White-vented Myna common in other areas close to the main lake.

B . Other species on the lake included large numbers of Lesser Whistling-Duck with fewer Cotton Pygmy Goose, plenty of Garganey and a single Ferruginous Duck. Indian Pond Heron were as common as Chinese Pond Herons here (unlike on the surrounding paddies) and other quality birds included lots of spectacular Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Brown-headed Gulls, Asian Openbills, hundreds of Glossy Ibis and Eastern Marsh Harrier.

Fields west of Nyaungshwe: these were actually much more enjoyable birding than from the boat and I spent two nice late afternoons and one early morning out here. The best spot was around 20.655777, 96.907873, easily reached by walking down the track from the east-west road about 2km east of Nyaungshwe river bridge. Here long, rank grass was easily reachable and Jerdon’s Bushchat seemed very common; I saw at least 12 including a pair behaving as if they had a nest nearby. Other species included Bluethroats, loads of pond herons and other egrets, Ruddy-breasted Crake in the wide drain and a scattering of Oriental Pratincoles in the wetter paddies. Some of the latter positively dripped in wagtails, mainly Citrine (including, after some effort, a superb calcarata) and on the last morning I bumped into a Chestnut-eared Bunting and taped a good candidate for Baikal Bush Warbler, takking and seen fairly well in the long grass. By walking south it may be possible to get into much wetter, lusher habitat here, but I never managed that.”

Oscar Cambell - report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Myanmar that took place in March-April, 2016 (further information).

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“After an early breakfast, we took a short flight east (long by road) with Asian Wings Airways to Heho in Shan state, then drove to Inle Lake, passing the narrow gauge railway and a large sugar cane factory. After checking in at the luxurious Huh Pin Hotel, the rest of day was spent birding on or by the lake, with a lengthy lunch break at a restaurant at the far end of the lake. Inle is renowned for its leg-rowing boatmen who attend their floating gardens and fishing-nets aboard simple canoes propelled by one leg around the oar. After checking the flocks of ducks for a rare Baer’s Pochard, but only seeing Ferruginous and Lesser Whistling Ducks, we slowly cruised through channels in the reedbeds holding several pairs of Jerdon’s Bushchat, reed warblers and Siberian Stonechats. Brown-headed Gulls were numerous in the wide channel by the popular restaurant where we had lunch. We spent the afternoon on the lake. Floating vegetation held many egrets and pond-herons, with Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Purple Swamphen, White, Yellow and Citrine Wagtails, Black-browed, Clamorous and Oriental Reed Warblers. On the open water there were flocks of Garganey and Coot while Glossy Ibis, Little Cormorant and hirundines flew overhead. We landed at a small settlement to view a breeding colony of egrets and ibis – the egrets sported long breeding plumes and Intermediates had black bills, rarely illustrated in field-guides. Mynas were numerous nearby, mainly White-vented but there were a few of the scarce Collared, also seen along the reedy-edges of the lake as we cruised back to the hotel. On a separate boat, Danny and Jia Sheng found a wintering Bluethroat, a Blue Rock Thrush and a couple of the range-restricted Brown-breasted Bulbuls.”

Jon Hornbuckle et al. - report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Myanmar that took place between 23 February and 6 March, 2012 (further information).

“Early the following morning we took a very short flight from Bagan to Heho, which is situated in south-west Shan State. From the airport we drove the relatively short distance to Inle Lake. Along the way, we noticed a large fig tree full of birds in the grounds of a monastery. We quickly jumped out with our scopes, and were soon admiring some Collared Mynas, that were mixed-in with the much commoner White-vented and Vinous-breasted Mynas and Red-whiskered Bulbuls. We also had our only obvious Striated Swallow of the tour overhead. Continuing on, the magnificent lake soon came into view, and we were welcomed to our beautiful hotel by some loud gong-banging! Inle Lake is set in a basin-like depression at 900m, surrounded by low hills, and is famous for its leg-rowers. Local people who make their living from the lake stand on the back of their canoes with one leg firmly planted on the deck, the other foot is wrapped around the oar which is then paddled using the whole leg in a weird rowing action. Come late morning, we boarded two long-tail boats and sped off south for a very nice lunch at a lakeside restaurant. From there we headed up to the north end of the lake, slowing along the way to scan, first through hundreds of Lesser Whistling-ducks, and then through large rafts of Common Coots. To our great surprise, one of the first species that we latched-onto was a couple of Black-necked Grebes, a real rarity in South-East Asia, and the first record from the lake and East Myanmar. Small numbers of other ducks were spotted, the best being a nice male Red-crested Pochard. On reaching the northern marshlands, we positioned ourselves on the second floor of a stilted reserve building, and scanned the surroundings until the sun began to drop and the temperatures eased off. A nice flock of Ferruginous Pochards were resting at surprisingly close range, and a distant flock of Common Coots held six Tufted Ducks - another tour write-in. Both species of marsh harrier were watched together and we also found Grey-headed Swamphen, flighty groups of Black-winged Stilt and Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Striated Grassbird, and many Dusk and Black-browed Reed-warblers. As the air cooled, we got back in our boats and headed off to a different area of marshland. Here, we soon located what was perhaps our main target at the lake, the glossy Jerdon’s Bushchat. Three different males and a female were watched feeding for a long time, and gave a good show. A couple of lively Chestnut-capped Babblers also came right out. Back at the hotel, we still had a little while to check the marshes next to some of the accommodations, but only succeeded in hearing a number of Ruddy-breasted Crakes. Birding resumed early the next morning at the hotel marshes. Ron and Roger were lucky enough to see a Ruddy-breasted Crake, and an Indian Reedwarbler was a surprise when it responded strongly to a recording. We also managed a large mixedrace flock of Chestnut-tailed Starlings, two Bluethroats, several Oriental Reed-warblers, and a couple of Yellow-bellied Prinias. There was also time for another boat trip in search of the rare and elusive Baer’s Pochard. We drew a blank again, but did manage to see another local rarity in the form of three Common Shelducks.”

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).

“Dawn along the shores of Lake Inle is a special experience, as the mist rises from the lake and the sun begins to penetrate over the distant hills and mist, the air is filled with the song of Indian Reed Warblers that perch conspicuously aloft the extensive stands of phragmites and the leg-rowing boatman aboard their simple canoes surround us as they go to attend their floating gardens and putting out their fish-nets. For us it gains a special significance as the channels we slowly ride through are home to several pairs of Jerdon’s Bushchat, busy either feeding in close pairs or males sat-out in full view singing their sweet, simple song. Riding through the channels and lakes-edge birds were everywhere; the floating vegetation holding Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Indian Swamphens, Citrine Wagtails and Siberian Stonechats; Black-browed Reed Warblers, Dusky Warblers and Bluethroats were at the reedy-edges, on the open water big numbers of Lesser Whistling Duck, Eurasian Coot and a 100 Garganey dabbled while overhead Western Marsh Harrier and Black-shouldered Kite hunted and a couple of flocks of Glossy Ibis passed-by. After returning to shore for lunch we found out our flight had been delayed by a couple of hours so some roadside birding produced 10 more Collared Myna and a Greater Spotted Eagle that, though found circling distantly must have noticed the intrigued bunch of birders and proceeded to come right over us.”

James Eaton- report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Cambodia and Myanmar that took place between 14 February and 3 January, 2011 (further information).

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“Although we wanted an early start Ko Pan convinced us into leaving the jetty at Nyaung Shwe not earlier than 07.15, he said heavy fog would be on the lake preventing any earlier excursions. We had breakfast 06.30 and then walked through the town until we reached the jetty (GPS1), seeing and hearing Olive-backed Pipit, Yellow-browed and Dusky Warblers, Coppersmith Barbet and Paddyfield Pipit along the way. At the jetty a lot of traffic was already going on, with a lot of tourists being shipped back and forth. And there was no sign of any fog(!). We traveled south along the main canal to the lake (it took approximately 30 minutes to reach the northeastern end of Lake Inle), halfway there Ko Pan spotted a male Jerdon's Bush Chat. When we turned around the longboat we actually found a pair, a good start! Flocks of Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls were abundant. At the northern end of the lake there is a “birdwatching center” (GPS2), which in fact is a few buildings and decks out in the lake from where there is a good viewpoint. A lot of ducks and waterbirds were present, including a few flocks of Ferruginous Ducks flying by. In the reed-beds we soon found Black-browed Reed Warblers, Siberian Stonechats and Plain Prinias. Two immature Eastern Marsh Harriers made an appearance. This was a great place and we were a bit unhappy that we hadn't pushed hard enough for an early start. Being at this platform at dawn would have been a bliss. Large gatherings of Coots and Spot-billed Ducks with singles of other waterfowl species. We soon jumped in the boat again to search for a closer look on the famous Bush Chat. In a more narrow canal running north-north-west (GPS3) we soon found another pair of Jerdon's and had great views. Also two different Striated Grassbirds were found as well as a few Shrikes and Swallows. We were a bit confused with the smallish-looking grey-backed Sand Martins present. Are these bird really ordinary Sand Martins or are they Pale Martins? After visiting a little market we started going back north to Nyaung Shwe being back at the jetty at 10.30. By now activity of passerines had dropped.”

Mans Grundsten et al. – report from a field trip to various birding localities in Myanmar, 9-21 December, 2012 (further information).

After a pleasant night at Bagan, we flew to Heho airport in south-west Shan State, and then drove the relatively short distance to Inle Lake, and our superbly situated hotel. Inle Lake is set in a basin-like depression at 900m, surrounded by low hills, and is famous for its leg-rowers. Local people who make their living from the lake stand on the back of their boats, one leg firmly planted on the deck, the other foot wrapped around the oar which is then paddled using the whole leg in an action worthy of a Yogic master! Our very nice hotel overlooked the lake, and indeed our rooms were actually on stilts over the water. Marshy habitat next to our accommodation produced our first Indian Reed-warblers and Yellow-bellied Prinias of the tour.

In the late morning we boarded two long-tail boats and sped off south for a very nice lunch at a lakeside restaurant. Then we headed up to the north end of the lake with its extensive marshes, systematically checking the rafts of Common Coot and other waterfowl, before spending an hour or so at a stilted reserve building (birdwatching centre?), where we scanned the surroundings until the sun began to drop and the temperatures eased off. The bulk of the waterfowl comprised Lesser Whistling-duck, Garganey, Indian Spotbilled Duck and Little Grebe, punctuated by single Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Common Pochard, 30 Ferruginous Pochard, and 11 Tufted Ducks. Both Indian and Chinese Pond- herons were seen changing to their breeding plumage, there were 100s of Little Cormorants, about 20 Glossy Ibises, both Eastern Marsh- and Pied Harriers, over 1,000 Common Coot, loads of colourful Grey-headed Swamphens (including a pair with two chicks), scores of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, and several Black-headed and numerous Brown-headed Gulls.

As the air cooled, we got back in our boats and headed off to a different area of marshland, in search of what has perhaps always been our main target at the lake, the glossy Jerdon’s Bushchat. They were easily found as usual, with both sexes seen at length and at close range. We checked a further area for the Chinese Grass-babblers (part of the reformation of the former Rufous-rumped Grassbird) that have recently been discovered here, but ran out of time. We did get very good views of Spotted Bush-warbler (another recent discovery here) as well as small numbers of Pintail Snipe, Rosy Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, and Bluethroat. Most surprising were the familiar sounds of a pair of Sarus Cranes, emanating from way across the marsh somewhere; the species had not been reported from here for many years. During the ride back along the main channel to the lake and our hotel, we were treated to a large pre-roost gathering of Collared and White-vented Mynas.

We returned to a nearby location early the following morning, and soon succeeded in getting great views of the grass-babbler, with several others being heard. Spotted Bush-warblers were abundant and many showed well, as did Chestnut-capped Babbler. A single Blunt-winged Warbler was seen by a couple of us, there were a handful of Red Avadavats, yet more Jerdon’s Bushchats, including a female with nest material, plenty of Black-browed and Indian Reed-warblers, and Striated Grassbird. The cranes called again distantly but our attempts to track them down failed this time; though we did establish (from a local duck farmer) that a family of three live in the area. We returned to the hotel, packed-up and said goodbye to Inle.

Craig Robson - report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Myanmar that took place from 10-23 March, 2013 (further information).