Bird watching in Nat Ma Taung (Mount Victoria) National Park, Chin Hills
(text compiled by Paul Bates, Harrison Institute)
Nat Ma Taung (Mount Victoria) National Park
Nat Ma Taung (Natma Taung) in Myanmar language and Khonuamthung in the local Chin language (also known as Mount Victoria in colonial times) is situated in the beautiful but little-visited Nat Ma Taung National Park, which has an area of approximately 460 km2.
At 3,053 metres, Nat Ma Taung is the tallest peak in the Chin Hills and third tallest in Myanmar. The Chin Hills are a range of mountains that comprise a southern extension of the eastern Himalayas and are linked to Manipur in India and beyond.
This formerly remote area was not visited by ornithologists until the early part of the 20th century and remains relatively unexplored today. It is home to a rich variety of rare and beautiful birds, many with eastern Himalayan affinities, including the endemic White-browed Nuthatch and Burmese Tit. The flora is characterised by pine forest, oak forest, evergreen forest, bamboo and grasslands, dependent on altitude. Between November and early March, the area is ablaze with the blooms of rhododendrons.
The area has been awarded ASEAN Heritage Park status and is considered of Outstanding Universal Value by UNESCO (further details)
Today, Nat Ma Taung is a relatively easy place to visit. There is a good road from Bagan by way of Chauk to Saw and then on to Kanpetlet or Mindat. Bagan to Kanpetlet takes approximately 5 hours, a bit more or less depending on how often you stop and how fast you drive.
Most people stay in Kanpetlet, which has a good and expanding range of accommodation. It is a great base for those who wish to visit the national park and especially its summit.
For driving in Nat Ma Taung National Park, it is advisable to have a 4x4 vehicle, since the roads are graded not tarmac (although of good standard) and are steep in places. Booking a 4x4 in advance is essential unless you have reliable local contacts. Private vehicles are not allowed to drive to the summit and the only options are walking or taking a lift on a motorbike. Motorbikes can be hired at the base of the summit, which is about 19 km within the National Park, and are available on a first come, first served basis. It takes about 30 to 45 minutes to the summit on the back of a motorbike, although this depends on how often you stop to admire the fantastic scenery or observe the abundant bird life.
At Kanpetlet, there are apparently two local bird guides but they are often not available. So, to maximise your birding experience, especially in terms of species seen, it is essential to be either an expert, be part of a birding tour, pre-book a guide or bring your own guide from elsewhere in Myanmar. However, it is also possible to have a wonderful few days of self-guided birding, although you may miss 80% of the diversity - in my case, anyway!
Our trip was booked independently through GeoDiscover Travel. We drove from Bagan and stayed for three nights at the Mountain View Hill Resort, Kanpetlet. This resort was simple, clean, comfortable, family run and served excellent food. There are a number of other lodges – most looked quite good. More are currently being built. GeoDiscover pre-booked our 4x4, which we had for one day (for visiting the National Park). We did not have a specialist bird guide but would have needed one, if we had stayed longer. Alternatively, many specialist bird tours include Nat Ma Taung (Mount Victoria) in their itinerary (see below).
Birds en route to Mount Victoria from Bagan
Bird species include*: Falconidae: White-rumped Falcon, Collared Falconet, White-eyed Buzzard. Psittacidae: Alexandrine Parakeet, Red-breasted Parakeet, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Blossom-headed Parakeet. Strigidae: Asian barred Owlet. Apodidae: Crested Treeswift. Trogonidae: Red-headed Trogon. Upupidae: Eurasian Hoopoe. Ramphastidae: Blue-throated Barbet, Lineated Barbet. Picidae: Great Slaty Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Black-headed Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Lesser Yellownape, Common Flameback, Himalayan Flameback, Greater Flameback, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Bamboo Woodpecker. Campephagidae: Large Cuckooshrike. Tephrodornithidae: Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Common Woodshrike, Large Woodshrike. Campephagidae: Jerdon’s Minivet, Ashy Minivet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Small Minivet, Scarlet Minivet, Rosy Minivet. Armatidae: Ashy Woodswallow. Rhipiduridae: White-browed Fantail. Dicruridae: Bronzed Drongo. Monarchidae: Black-naped Monarch, Asian-paradise Flycatcher. Corvidae: Red-billed Blue Magpie, Hooded Treepie, Rufous Treepie. Nectariniidae: Streaked Spiderhunter. Dicaeidae: Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker. Chloropseidae: Blue-winged Leafbird, Golden-fronted Leafbird. Motacillidae: Long-billed Pipit. Sittidae: Neglected Nuthatch (or Burmese Nuthatch, recently split from Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch), Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. Sturnidae: Chestnut-tailed Starling. Muscicapidae: Blue Rock-thrush, Blue-throated Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Verditer Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher. Cettiidae: Yellow-bellied Warbler. Timaliidae: Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Brown-cheeked Fulvetta, Grey-throated Babbler, Pin-striped Tit-babbler.
*list compiled from various sources published online; the list is not complete and is for indicative purposes only.
Birds in Nat Ma Taung National Park
Bird species include*: Phasianidae: Hill Partridge, Mountain Bamboo-partridge, Blyth’s Tragopan, Kalij Pheasant, Mrs Hume’s Pheasant. Falconidae: Besra, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Oriental Hobby, Crested Goshawk, Black Baza, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Common Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard, Changeable Hawk, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, Black Eagle, Columbidae: Ashy Woodpigeon, Mountain Imperial pigeon, Wedge-tailed Green-pigeon, Yellow-footed Green-pigeon, Oriental Turtle Dove, Barred Cuckoo-dove. Cuculidae: Large Hawk-cuckoo, Eurasian Cuckoo, Hodgson’s Hawk-cuckoo. Strigidae: Collared Owlet. Podargidae: Hodgson’s Frogmouth. Camprimulgidae: Grey Nightjar. Apodidae: Himalayan Swiftlet. Ramphastidae: Golden-throated Barbet, Great Barbet, Lineated Barbet, Blue-throated Barbet. Picidae: Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Bay Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape. Vireonidae: Black-eared Babbler, Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Green Shrike-babbler, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler. Campephagidae: Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike, Grey-chinned Minivet, Long-tailed Minivet, Short-billed Minivet, Rosy Minivet, Small Minivet. Oriolidae: Slender-billed Oriole, Maroon Oriole. Rhipiduridae: White-throated Fantail, Yellow-bellied Fantail. Corvidae: Eastern Jungle Crow, Eurasian Jay, Yellow-billed Blue-magpie, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Grey Treepie. Nectariniidae: Crimson Sunbird, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Green-tailed Sunbird. Dicaeidae: Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker. Passeridae: Russet Sparrow. Fringillidae: Common Rosefinch, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Brown Bullfinch, Little Bunting, Chestnut Bunting. Certhiidae: Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Hume’s (Manipur) Treecreeper. Sittidae: White-browed Nuthatch, White-tailed Nuthatch, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch. Turdidae: Chestnut Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, Long-tailed Thrush, Black-breasted Thrush, Scaly Thrush. Muscicapidae: Indian Blue Robin, Himalayan Bluetail, Grey Bushchat, Black Redstart, Blue-fronted Redstart, White-bellied Redstart, Spotted Forktail, White-browed Shortwing, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Blue-whistling Thrush, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Vivid Niltava, Rufous-bellied Niltava. Paridae: Green-backed Tit, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Black-bibbed Tit, Yellow-browed Tit, Grey-crested Tit. Remizidae: Fire-capped Tit. Stenostiridae: Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher. Pycnonotidae: Crested Finchbill, Striated Bulbul, Himalayan Black Bulbul, Flavescent Bulbul. Hirundinidae: Asian House-martin. Aegithalidae: Burmese Tit. Cettiidae: Black-faced Warbler, Broad-billed Warbler, Aberrant Bush-warbler, Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler, Chestnut-headed Tesia. Phylloscopidae: Whistler’s Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Ashy-throated Warbler, Hume’s Warbler, Tickell’s Leaf-warbler, Blyth’s Leaf-warbler, Radde’s Warbler, Buff-barred Warbler, Buff-throated Warbler. Timaliidae: Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Buff-breasted Parrotbill, White-browed Fulvetta, Nepal Fulvetta, Rusty-capped Fulvetta, Striped Laughingthrush, Brown-capped Laughingthrush, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Assam Laughingthrush, Sickle-billed Scimitar-babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, Spot-breasted Scimitar-babbler, Spot-throated Babbler, Golden Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler, Pygmy Wren-babbler, Chin Hills Wren-babbler, Mount Victoria Babax, Crimson-faced Liocichla, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Whiskered Yuhina, Silver-eared Mesia, Himalayan Cutia, Grey Sibia, Streak-throated Barwing, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Blue-winged Minla, Red-tailed Minla, Chestnut-tailed Minla. Elachuridae: Spotted Wren-babbler. Megaluridae: Brown Bush-warbler, Russet Bush-warbler, Grey-crowned Warbler, Grey-hooded Warbler. Cisticolidae: Black-throated Prinia, Striated Prinia.
*list compiled from various sources published online; the list is not complete and is for indicative purposes only.
Currently, there is still relatively good secondary/disturbed deciduous forest en route to the Chin Hills from Bagan. There are few settlements and the population size is low. Within the Nat Ma Taung area, the small town of Kanpetlet is growing rapidly with much new building work but at the moment, it is still picturesque and does not impinge on the national park.
Within the Nat Ma Taung (Mount Victoria) area of the national park most of the habitat still seems to be in good condition with abundant bird life. Currently, we do not know the situation elsewhere in the park.
However, most concerning is the very recent development of new accommodation within the national park, close to the Kanpetlet entrance. The style and size of this development is at odds with the objectives of the national park and appears to contradict a large sign at the entrance to the park, which promotes the concept of ‘ecotourism’. Sadly, such developments, if repeated, will soon start to destroy the natural wilderness, which is currently Nat Ma Taung.
SST Travel Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3, Tour 4
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Birdingpal Tours Tour 1
Golden Allamanda Travel and Tours Co., Ltd Tour 1
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Thagyan Moe Travels and Tours Co Ltd Tour 1
Ideal Travel Land Tour 1
AMB Travels and Tours Tour 1
Shan Yoma Travel and Tours Co. Ltd Tour 1, Tour2, Tour 3
Golden Pagoda Travel Tour 1, Tour2
Green Trail Tours Tour 1
“The journey from Bagan is 28 km south to Chauk, where a bridge crosses the Ayeyarwady and then 100km west / north west, eventually to the border for Chin State and then uphill to Kanpetlet. With the foot down, this drive can be done in about 5-5½ hours but, as the road passes through some dry deciduous dipterocarp forest that, in many places is still in reasonably good nick it is well worth taking some time and making roadside stops. Thorny and degraded mesquite scrub starts to give way to open forest perhaps 20 km beyond the bridge and from here onwards we made many stops. Key species in this habitat are White-rumped Falcon and Finsch’s Parakeet. Parakeets of at least three other species (Rose-ringed, Red-breasted and Alexandrine), are common, and it took us to nearly the 56km mark (big blue sign on right hand side; don’t confuse with the erratic white mile markers) to finally get good views of perched Finsch’s. Subsequently, and on the return journey, we had good looks at several other pairs. We walked from about 53.5km to 56km, finally finding a perched White-rumped Falcon close to the road right at the 56km sign. This peculiar bird gave terrific scope views. As well as the roadside forest here, other good places to stop included a wooded valley starting right after some obvious steep descending hairpins; again we walked here for several km; other places further along are worth a try as time permits. Notable species seen, many of which did not appear elsewhere on the trip, included Shikra, Crested Serpent Eagle, Lineated Barbet, Asian Barred Owlet, Green-billed Malkoha, Greater Raquet-tailed Drongo, Red-billed Blue-Magpie, Rufous Treepie and nesting Large Cuckooshrike (all seen multiple times) along with singles of Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Oriental Pied Hornbill and groups of Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Small Minivet and Hill Myna. Black Baza was something special, seen very well on both legs (nest noted on return journey).
Mount Victoria is the crown jewel of Burmese birding, somewhat like a more civilized, less hardcore version of AP’s EagleNest with incomparably improved food and accommodation, and rather better weather (although, of course, not quite the same long list of monster birds). We had three full days here, based at Pine Wood Villas at 1800m, from which it is 19km to the junction where the final 5km track to the summit of Mt Victoria begins. Three days was sufficient to have a very good crack at the place but, inevitably of course, not enough to mop everything up. In particular, we failed to find any parrotbills and Spotted Wren-Babbler (again) eluded me. However, bird quality was outstanding and, for much of the day, each day, bird activity was very good, especially in the higher elevation forests. A full list for this site is given below, so only some brief additional details are given here:
A. Birding is almost invariably from the main track, which is very quiet in terms of traffic and gives plenty of good vistas. A scope was useful to improve views of a lot of things.
B. Whilst tempting to spend more time higher up, some important species were only found lower down, in the scrub around Pine Wood Villas. Here, a track on the right about 20m uphill from the entrance gate and another on the left, less than 100m further lead to some weedy and scrub-choked fields and forest edge that was good for Chin Hills Wren-Babbler, Striped Laughingthrush and, once, a male White-bellied Redstart. The ‘frogmouth track’ is on the right, c1.5km uphill from Pine Wood Villas. Windy evenings and some rain meant we struggled to connect with this one but on the very last morning got one calling back at about 0515. It didn’t show but even in the late afternoon this track was very birdy and would be well-worth devoting some serious time too. Plenty of bluetails and Pygmy Wren-Babbler and, once Crimson-faced Liocichla, were of major interest here. A track on the left a little below the frogmouth track yielded territorial Grey-crowned Warbler.
C. It is worth getting to the top junction very early at least once – we never quite managed this, getting distracted all too readily on the way up and hence had rather poor views, twice, of Mt Victoria Babax.
D. The track to the summit from the junction was very birdy for the first km or so but the one time we ventured further up, we saw rather little save for numerous Fire-tailed Sunbirds and a nice, noisy pair of Whistler’s Warblers in some mossy forest.”
Oscar Cambell - report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Myanmar that took place in March-April, 2016 (further information).
“We birded the slopes of Mount Victoria, a southern extension of the Himalayas in the south Chin Hills, for five full days at various elevations up to c.2500m. The White-browed Nuthatch is known only from here and a single neighbouring mountain. It proved easy to find at the higher elevations – we saw about 8 on our first day near the top – but the near-endemic Brown-capped Laughingthrush was much more often heard than seen. The weather was mostly dry but rather windy on a few days. We birded several different habitats during our stay, with much time spent in the lush evergreen forests of the upper slopes. Here were Fire-tailed and Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds, Hume’s Treecreeper, Short-billed Minivet, pairs of the endemic Burmese Tit, Buff-barred, Ashy-throated, Whistler’s, Grey-hooded, Tickell’s, Buff-throated and Blyth’s Leaf-Warblers, White-tailed Nuthatch, Green and Blyth’s Shrike-Babblers (the latter part of the recent four-way split of White-browed), Rufous-gorgeted and Little Pied Flycatchers, Yellow-browed, Green-backed, Red-crowned and a single Fire-capped Tit; one Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, with Fire-breasted quite common, Whiskered and Stripe-throated Yuhinas, Streak-throated and Rusty-fronted Barwings, Blue-winged Siva, and Chestnut-tailed and Red-tailed Minlas. Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers were busy ‘sap-sucking’, leaving hundreds of holes on some trees for sunbirds, especially Green-tailed, to drink the sap and species like Grey Sibia to extract insects caught in the sap. We saw a few Grey-sided Thrushes on the road at first light and a single Long-tailed Thrush. Himalayan Bluetails were much commoner and one morning we saw a Hill Partridge. Spotted Wren-Babbler sang but only showed well once. Neil saw a Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, a Kalij Pheasant and a massive Hume’s flying directly over him while noone else saw it! I had a White-browed Shortwing and Jia Sheng spotted Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Vivid Niltava and Russet Bush-Warbler.
In the scrubby edges of the forest and open coniferous forest above the lodge, different birds occurred. Assam and Striped Laughingthrushes were not uncommon, 3 Mount Victoria Babax (a potential split from Chinese Babax), were seen well, along with Black-throated Prinia, Brown Bush-Warbler, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, a few pairs of Black-bibbed Tit, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Long-tailed Minivet and Chestnut-vented Nuthatch. We found one good-sized flock of Little Buntings and another smaller flock containing two Chestnut Buntings and a few Common Rosefinch. Lower down, Striated Bubul, Rufous-bellied Niltava and Crested Finchbill were observed.
Raptors were rarely seen well, except for the almost daily Himalayan Buzzards, Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Shikra and Black Eagle, but single Mountain Hawk-Eagle and Eurasian Sparrowhawk were noteworthy. We quite frequently encountered groups of the friendly local Chin villagers, mainly walking down to sell their wares, though some were hunters with catapults and elderly rifles and on one occasion, a party was transporting plastic pipes to their village for a water project. They were able to get lifts back up the mountain but the few vehicles coming down were invariably full.
We spent two mornings on the heavily degraded lower slopes of the mountain. On the first day activity was slow as we were late starting due to lack of sleep the previous days but below the lodge we did see at least one Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, here of the noticeably different heinrichi race, restricted to the Chin Hills and Indian border states. A little higher up a pair of the endemic Chin Hills Wren-Babbler performed well, and 4 or 5 were singing when I returned on the last afternoon. The few other birds that first day included Nepal Fulvetta, Slaty- backed Flycatcher, a pair of Crimson-faced Liocichla, and Clicking (Chestnut-fronted) Shrike-Babbler for me. When we returned early on our last morning, we hit the jackpot with Oriental Hobby, Blue-throated, White-gorgeted and Ultramarine Flycatchers, Black-faced Warbler, Blue-winged and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, Spot-breasted, Streak-breasted and White-browed Scimitar-Babblers, and Rusty-capped Fulvetta (though not all seen by everybody).
Our four attempts to see Hodgson’s Frogmouth were frustrating as it rarely called. On two occasions, one called briefly very close by but soon disappeared and remained silent. We also failed to find any parrotbills, despite spending a lot of time in bamboo habitat; missing Buff-breasted, another proposed split, was particularly galling.
We set off before dawn for the long drive to Bagan. Many stops were made to check the patches of degraded dry lowland forest dominated by bamboo thickets, looking especially for the little-known Olive Bulbul, Neglected Nuthatch (proposed split off Chestnut-bellied), Pale-headed Woodpecker and Swinhoe’s Minivet – we saw the latter 2, along with Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Grey-faced Woodpecker, Red-throated Pipit and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, but not the first two species. Many parakeets of 4 species were flying about – Alexandrine, Red-breasted, Blossom-headed (we had only seen 1 of this species at Hlawgar), and Finsch’s Parakeets. We eventually reached the dipterocarp forest, just before Kazunma, where White-rumped Falcons are seen but it was very hot by then and we had no luck. This bird was a casualty from us being unable to overnight at Kazunma. We saw high-flying raptors such as Shikra and Changeable Hawk-Eagle, then on the outskirts of Kazunma we finally had good views of Neglected Nuthatch, before continuing to Bagan in Shan State, eastern Myanmar, almost without stopping, so we could reach before dusk the large Sitsana pagoda where Laggar Falcons were reputed to breed and Jerdon’s Minivets to be found. We made it but all we could find were Kestrels! After booking in at the splendid Golden Express Hotel for 2 nights, we had a good dinner at a nearby restaurant.
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 informations).
“Leaving Bagan predawn, we embarked on the relatively long drive to Mount Victoria, in the south Chin Hills. The road was somewhat worse than normal due to the after effects of a recent typhoon that had strayed inland to the region, but our journey was broken by a number of stops in various habitats along the route. The highlight of the day for most people were the superb views that we had of a pair of White-rumped Pygmy-falcons, the male being particularly obliging. We had a good go at getting further looks at Hooded Treepie, but only got rather brief flighty views of three birds. A mixed flock of Greater and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes was a bonus, as was a write-in Rufous-bellied Eagle and a male Collared Falconet. Other good birds during the day were Common Woodshrike, Rufous Treepie, Red-billed Blue Magpie, flyover Long-billed Pipit, Golden-fronted Leafbird, and Blue-throated Flycatcher. We arrived at the Pine Tree Villas above Kanpetlet, on the lower slopes of Mt Victoria, not long after dark. Based at this cosy and well-equipped lodge, and furnished with outstanding service, we enjoyed five full days exploring various elevations and habitats on this remote mountain.
The higher oak and rhododendron forests are the habitat of the regions most famous endemic, the restless and noisy White-browed Nuthatch. Needless to say, on our first morning, we drove straight up to the higher reaches of the mountain to look for it, and succeeded in doing so almost immediately! As soon as the sun hit the tree-tops, its nasal piping could be heard. Several other specialities are only to be found at the higher levels, and it was here that we saw the final endemic, the attractive little Burmese Tit, as well as Darjeeling Woodpecker, an excellent foraging female Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Assam and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, the local woodi race of Chinese Babax (which some say deserves full-species status), and some remarkably obliging Streak-throated Barwings. Openings with fine old pine trees and scattered oaks and rhododendrons were the haunt of Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, the range-isolated Black-bibbed Tit, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, and Blue-fronted Redstart. The margins of the track consistently turned up Himalayan Bluetail, while several co-operative Chin Hills Wren-babblers, another near-endemic, were eventually appreciated. Chestnut-headed Tesia and Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler were harder to get onto in the dense weedy understorey, but some of us had some surprisingly good views of a singing White-browed Shortwing.
Predawn, on every morning that we ascended the mountain, we disturbed a Grey Nightjar with the lead vehicle and, on one morning, we were lucky enough to get views of a Leopard Cat crossing the track. Flowering trees and shrubs, like the red-flowered rhododendrons were attracting numerous Buff-barred Warblers, as well as colourful Mrs Gould’s, Green-tailed and Fire-tailed Sunbirds. Two different Yellow-bellied Flowerpeckers put in brief appearances. Some of the higher-level evergreen forests have an extensive bamboo understorey and this is where we found the hyper-active little Buff-breasted Parrotbill, though we had our work cutout keeping up with a flock of 50 of them, and even had to run! Another bamboo-lover, Sickle-billed Scimitar-babbler, was found once more, but again proved elusive and relatively unresponsive. Birdwaves were often quite hard to come by, perhaps due to the relatively mild weather, but when we did bump into one we found such species as Green Shrike-babbler, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-browed Tit, a single White-tailed Nuthatch, nervous Black-faced Warblers, occasional Ashythroated and Whistler’s Warblers, Whiskered and Stripe-throated Yuhinas, moss-gleaning Rufouswinged Fulvettas, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, boldly-patterned Bar-throated and Red-tailed Minlas, Blue-winged Siva, and numerous Grey Sibias and White-browed Fulvettas. The secondary growth and scrub dominated middle altitudes held the attractive near-endemic Striped Laughingthrush, though we also found this much higher than normal on the mountain, at 2740m. Several were scoped for a long time. Another restricted range species, Spot-breasted Scimitar-babbler, proved more difficult to get onto however, but we did get much better than normal views of Rustycapped Fulvetta. Certain fruiting trees around the lower evergreen forest limit were attracting concentrations of the scarce Grey-sided Thrush, numerous Slaty-backed Flycatchers, and groups of the unusual Crested Finchbill. The lower level pine forests with their weedy, bushy and grassy understorey brought us further good birds like Asian Barred Owlet, Slender-billed Oriole, Buffthroated Warbler, Silver-eared Mesia, and a superb pair of Spot-breasted Parrotbills. Other memorable birds on Mt Victoria included Crimson-breasted and Stripe-breasted Woodpeckers, Great and Golden-throated Barbets, Ashy Woodpigeon, displaying Black Eagle, Large and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, and the recently split Hume’s Treecreeper.
The return journey to Bagan gave us the opportunity to find a completely different set of birds in the lowland broadleaved evergreen and deciduous forests along the road. Even before it had got light, we were lucky enough to encounter at least four Collared Scops-owls along the roadside. From our dawn viewpoint we scoped Grey-headed Parakeets and a male Himalayan Flameback, and quite a few Common Hill-mynas passed over. Walking slowly along the road we scoped-up a perched adult Mountain Hawk-eagle, and a calling male Red-headed Trogon was unexpected. Loud tapping drew our attention, and then we heard the distinctive drum of the impressive White-bellied Woodpecker. The male of a pair proved highly responsive, and we got some really great views of him with his vivid rest crest all puffed-up. Just around the corner in some bamboo, at the other extreme, we enjoyed two tiny White-browed Piculets. The bird-waves in this area (Pholalkyin) were frequent and productive, and we notched-up White-browed Fantail, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Blyth’s Leaf-warbler, and Browncheeked Fulvetta. We also saw our best selection of butterflies during this morning. Closer to the Irrawaddy we spotted a perched White-eyed Buzzard, and jumped out to scope that. We arrived at the river at sundown, so took the opportunity to walk across the bridge, noting some Small Pratincoles flocking south in the process.”
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).
“A long driving day towards Mount Victoria in Chin state took us through patches of degraded but perfectly adequate forest. Starting in the early morning in the dry open dipterocarp forest, so reminiscent of our previous week in Cambodia produced similar birds, including White-rumped Falcon, of which we had 2 pairs buzzing around us for a couple of hours, even from the comforts of our seated outdoor breakfast. This was an important target as the well-marked endemic harmandi race is surprisingly distinct, also important to see was the recent split of Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch here – Neglected Nuthatch – though the vocalisations and appearance of this split appears a little premature based on our field experience of the pair. Over us was the flight path of parakeets heading out from their roosts. All five species possible were passing over us – Alexandrine, Rose-ringed, Red-breasted, Blossom-headed, and most importantly, good numbers of Finsch’s Parakeet, a species with a wide distribution but rarely encountered outside of Myanmar. Moving on we ventured through degraded lowland forest dominated by bamboo thickets which was home to an unusually inquisitive and settled Pale-headed Woodpecker, though our attentions switched when the nasal call of the little-known Olive Bulbul drew us further along the road. Frustratingly, when the bulbuls eventually appeared it was only brief enough for a few of us to enjoy this near-Burmese endemic and a welcome tick for James!
Eventually, after a few birding stops, including White-crowned Forktail, we reached our base for the next five nights, on the lower slopes of Mount Victoria. We spent four full days birding the slopes of the beautiful Mount Victoria. Despite its remoteness and difficult access it is one of the most well-known areas in south-east Asia ornithologically as it is home to the most range-restricted nuthatch on earth, the White-browed Nuthatch, known only from only and a single neighbouring mountain. The nuthatch proved straight forward for us, it took just 30 minutes on our first morning when one flew in, at eye-level for as long as we needed, this was our first of over 20 during our stay. We birded several different habitats during our stay, with much of our time spent in the lush evergreen forests of the upper slopes. Numerous roving feeding flocks here largely composed of Buff-barred Warblers (sometimes numbering 50+ per flock), Fire-tailed and Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds. Also present at some point or another were Striated Bulbul, Hume’s Treecreeper, Short-billed Minivet, pairs of endemic Burmese Tit, Whistler’s, Grey-hooded, Blyth’s Leaf and Black-faced Warblers, White-tailed Nuthatch, Green, Black-eared and Blyth’s Shrike Babblers (the latter part of the recent four-way split of White-browed), Grey Sibia, Yellow-browed, Green-backed, Red-crowned and single Yellow-cheeked Tits, a single Fire-capped Tit, Firebreasted Flowerpecker, Chestnut-flanked White-eye, Whiskered and Stripe-throated Yuhina, Streak-throated and Rusty-fronted Barwings, Blue-winged Siva, Chestnut-tailed and Red-tailed Minlas; the list really could just go on and on! The flocks were often centred on ‘bleeding’ trees where numerous Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers were busy ‘sapsucking’, leaving hundreds of holes on some trees for many species, particularly Grey Sibia to extract the insects caught in the sap. Wintering thrushes were notably thin on the ground though we eventually found an area with several fruiting trees and a good sized flock of Grey-sided Thrushes with a sprinkling of Eye-browed and while James’s brief Black-breasted Thrush never reappeared a male Vivid Niltava popping up in front of us while searching for it was ample compensation! Despite the large number of birds in these flocks most of the real gems were found in isolation in the evergreen – a much-wanted Black-headed Shrike Babbler was eventually located, singing above us, 3 vocal Himalayan Cutia sang around us for an eternity, an excited pair of Broad-billed Warbler, plenty of Himalayan Bluetails, the most prolonged views of the ever-so elusive Spotted Wren Babbler one could ever have, but hats off to the pair of Chin Hills Wren Babblers that crept around us for over 20 minutes just 1-2 metres away most of the time, giving views that wren babbler just aren’t supposed to!
In the scrubby edges of the forest and open coniferous forest the avifauna was noticeably different; Browncapped and Assam Laughingthrushes appeared, Mount Victoria Babax, vocally distinct from Chinese Babax, appeared on a couple of occasions, even feeding on the road at one point, a couple of pairs of Spot-breasted Parrotbill popped-up at the right moment, a flock of Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Black-throated Prinia, a confiding Brown Bush Warbler, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, pairs of Black-bibbed Tit, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Longtailed Minivet, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, though topping all was the flock of some 70 Buff-breasted Parrotbills that we were literally non-stop and provided great fun for all deciding if it was best use binoculars or not, and for the photographers excitement was largely replaced by frustration as they moved through the understorey like a swarm of locusts. Despite it still being February much of the wintering passerines appeared to have left already though we eventually found a good-sized flock of Little Buntings containing two male Chestnut Buntings and, overhead, a pair of Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, here of the noticeably different heinrichi race, restricted to the Chin Hills and the bordering Indian states. Raptors were relatively thin on the ground, except daily Himalayan Buzzards and Black Eagle, perched Oriental Hobby was noteworthy, as was a circling Northern Goshawk.
We spent a morning on the heavily degraded lower slopes of the mountain. This habitat turned up a new set of birds, as we birded from the comforts of our stools with kit-kats and coffee! Not long after the sun hit the scrub pairs of near-endemic Striped Laughingthrushappeared though the calling Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler refused to come any closer and was so insistent we eventually got up and went to look for him! Smart move as he gave fantastic views at close-range. Nearby a vocal Rufous-backed Sibia was a surprise, Nepal Fulvetta, Large Niltava, Crested Finchbill, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon andOriental Hobby also appeared. As we walked down slope a fine feeding flock was full of Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler and Assam Laugingthrush and after diligent waiting a pair of Crimson-faced Liocichla were also located in the flock, even giving scopes views. The major target down here, Rusty-capped Fulvetta, took a bit of time but eventually a pair succumbed. Our brief night-time forays started out in frustration as a couple of Hodgson’s Frogmouth teased us, though one evening produced a fantastic Grey Nightjar circling and calling just above us in the spotlight. After trying a couple of different strategies we found a perfect looking spot to attract a frogmouth, where it took just ten minutes at dusk before he flew straight in and gave point-blank views for a good ten minutes before deciding he had had enough of the limelight. On our return to Bagan from Mount Victoria we birded the evergreen in the early morning, picking up a pair of Grey-faced Woodpecker, a cute group of four Collared Falconet, huddled up together on a single branch, a load more parakeets, a pair of Black-backed Forktail and a feeding flock containing Neglected Nuthatch, Swinhoe’s and 3 Rosy Minivets, making it 9 minivets for the tour! Despite much effort we jumped back into the vehicles without locating Himalayan Flameback so it was a bit of a relief when two flew past the vehicles further along, hanging around long enough for us to get the required views! We still had two birds left to see the following day but, as luck would have it, we found them both before reaching Bagan in the afternoon. Having a walk around suitable looking habitat it didn’t take us long to find a pair of yamthini Long-billed Pipit, a good insurance-tick, and several roosting Indian Nightjars, including one in particular that froze for us despite being just metres from it, relying on its camouflage. Driving a little further on the next hoped-for bird was found perched at the roadside – a White-eyed Buzzard.”
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).
“Early the next morning we embarked on the long drive to Mt Victoria, in the south Chin Hills. Our first stop, just after dawn, was in the Dry Zone “badlands” not far west of the Irrawaddy River, where we tracked down several Long-billed Pipits of the endemic yamethini race. After a roadside breakfast, we briefly explored some small fields with scrubby borders, where some Chestnut-capped Babblers showed nicely, skeins of Grey-headed Parakeets passed by, and a Yellow-footed Green-pigeon showed briefly. More Rain Quail were heard. Our next stop was in the dry dipterocarp woodlands. A concerted search for White-rumped Pygmy falcon proved fruitless, and we decided it would have to wait until the return journey. We had more success with the other typical species of this habitat, such as Crested Treeswift, Large Cuckooshrike, Small Minivet, Common Woodshrike, White-browed Fantail, Red-billed Blue Magpie, and Neglected Nuthatch. Mixed Deciduous forests further along the road produced Changeable Hawk-eagle, Alexandrine Parakeet, Asian Barred Owlet, Greater Yellownape, Blue-winged and Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, and a smart male Crimson Sunbird. We arrived at Pine Wood Villa, on the lower slopes of Mt Victoria, at dusk.
We spent five full days on this seldom visited mountain, birding the varied habitats and elevations along different stretches of the dirt road that ascends the mountain and, by the end of our stay, we had pretty much covered all of it! We also drove to the summit for the first time, along a recently constructed dirt road, and explored the road that continues on to Mindat. The higher oak and rhododendron forests are the habitat of the regions most famous endemic, the restless White-browed Nuthatch (its specific name, victoriae, being a bit of a giveaway). Needless to say, on our first morning we drove straight up to the higher reaches of the mountain to look for it. It wasn’t long before we heard its familiar nasal piping, and we were soon getting great views of our first pair. Later on, we were to see it on many occasions. Several other specialities are only to be found at the higher levels, and it was here that we enjoyed good views of Darjeeling Woodpecker, several different vocal Black-headed Shrike-babblers, Assam and Brown-capped Laughingthrushes, Mount Victoria Babax (a potential split from Chinese), and floppy-crested Streak-throated Barwings. Some of the higher-level evergreen forests have an extensive bamboo understorey and here we found numerous Whitebrowed Fulvettas of the highly distinctive ripponi race, Whistler’s Warbler, and the odd little Broad-billed Warbler, with its super-high-pitched song.
Openings with fine old pine trees and scattered oaks and rhododendrons were the haunt of Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, which was frequently encountered, and the restricted-range Black-bibbed Tit. Bar-tailed Treecreeper and Chestnut-vented Nuthatch also liked this habitat, as did Long-tailed Minivet, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Blue-fronted Redstart, Russet Sparrow, Little Bunting, and a couple of Buff-throated Warblers. We taped in a singing Brown Bush-warbler to very close range, and had great looks at several Aberrant Bush-warblers. Plenty of Dark-sided Flycatchers were already on territory. The margins of the track consistently turned up Himalayan Bluetails (split from Redflanked), as well as the more expected Olive-backed Pipits. In the mid-level broadleaved evergreen forests we found Ashy Woodpigeon, Barred Cuckoo-dove, Bay Woodpecker, Grey-chinned Minivet, Blyth’s Shrikebabbler (split from White-browed), a nice pair of Himalayan Cutias, Hume’s Treecreeper (split from Brownthroated), White-tailed Nuthatch, Bar-throated and Red-tailed Minlas, Blue-winged Siva, moss-gleaning Rufous-winged Fulvettas, and a flock of Chestnut-flanked White-eyes. Our first attempt to coax out the near- endemic Chin Hills Wren-babbler from some roadside weeds resulted in great views, and we also found a very obliging Spotted Wren-babbler.
Certain fruiting trees were attracting large concentrations of the scarce Grey-sided Thrush, with a few Eyebrowed mixed-in, and we flushed a couple of groups of Wedge-tailed Green-pigeons. Needless to say, bird-waves were a common feature on the mountain, and often responded well to imitations of the call of Collared Owlet. Sorting through each flock in turn brought us close encounters with Green and Black-eared Shrike-babblers, the fantastic little Burmese Tit (recently split from Blackbrowed), Yellow-browed Tit, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Fire-tailed, Mrs Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds, abundant Buff-barred Warblers, as well as Ashy-throated, and flocks of nervous Black-faced Warblers, Whiskered and Stripe-throated Yuhinas, and numerous Grey Sibias. The secondary-growth and scrub and grass dominated middle altitudes also hold some important birds, and this year we were able to explore some new trails through this habitat. Here we found Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Pygmy Cupwing (or Wren-babbler), Mountain Tailorbird, Grey-crowned and Hume’s Warblers, superb Spot-breasted Parrotbills, Golden Babbler, Rusty-capped Fulvetta, a brilliant flock of rare Coral-billed Scimitar-babblers, Nepal Fulvetta, the attractive near-endemic Striped Laughingthrush, Silver-eared Mesia, flocks of Rusty-fronted Barwings, Brownish-flanked and Russet Bush-warblers, and Black-throated Prinia. A small stream was proving attractive to a group of Crimson-faced Liocichlas (the western part of the two-way division of Redfaced), and a Spotted Forktail was a nice surprise. Our few nighttime forays centered around Hodgson’s Frogmouth which we had fantastic views of on our second attempt. Other goodies during our stay on Mt Victoria included a number of Oriental Honey-buzzards that appeared to be migrating, Crested Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Black Eagle, Himalayan Buzzard, a migrating Common Hoopoe at 2,200m, Great and Golden-throated Barbets, Large Hawk-cuckoo, Himalayan Cuckoo (split from Oriental), Yellow-bellied Fairy-flycatcher (formerly Fantail), Snowy-browed, Slaty-blue and Slaty-backed Flycatchers, Crested Finchbill, Striated, Flavescent and Mountain Bulbuls, Nepal and Asian House-martins, Large and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, Chestnut-headed Tesia, and Chestnut-crowned and Grey-hooded Warblers. Mammals were in rather short supply but we did see two different Leopard Cats on the road.
Leaving the mountains behind, we headed back to Bagan predawn, ready to make a series of birding stops along the way. As the sun rose, we ate a packed breakfast at a viewpoint at Pholalkyin, in the mixed deciduous forest, and then walked along the road for a bit. There was a lot of activity as dawn broke. A good variety of woodpeckers included a nice White-bellied, two Streak-throated, and we had multiple sightings of at least three Himalayan Flamebacks. Two scrapping male Kalij Pheasants flapped across the road and downslope. Flocks of White-crested and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes showed surprisingly well, as did a group of Brown-cheeked Fulvettas. Other nice birds included Banded Bay Cuckoo, Asian Barred Owlet, Lineated and Coppersmith Barbets, Common Hill-myna, a male Blue-throated Flycatcher, and Yellow-bellied Warbler. A second and more stubborn attempt to see White-rumped Pygmy-falcon in the Dry Dipterocarp woodlands turned-out to be successful, with a superb excited male giving fantastic views.
Craig Robson - report extracted from a field trip to various locations in Myanmar that took place from 10-23 March, 2013.