Bird watching in Moeyungyi Wetlands
(text compiled by Paul Bates, Harrison Institute)
Moeyungyi Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary
With an area of 103 km2, Moeyungyi wetlands became a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986 and a Ramsar site in 2004. Situated in Bago Division, about 70 miles north of Yangon, it was originally (1904) constructed as a reservoir (rectangular in shape) to provide water to the Bago-Sittaung canal (linking the Bago and Sittaung rivers) in order to facilitate the transport of timber by boat. It now functions as a source of fresh water for downstream areas where rice cultivation takes place.
Moeyungyi floods in the wet season (May to October). In the winter, dry season, October to March, it hosts over 20,000 migratory waterbirds. This is in addition to its rich resident bird fauna. The site is also important for supporting the vulnerable Burmese eyed turtle, Morenia ocellata. A number of local communities use Moeyungyi for fishing, grazing, duck-rearing and some rice-growing.
Visiting Moeyungyi Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary is easy. If travelling independently, it takes approximately two hours 30 minutes by taxi from downtown Yangon (early in the morning, without traffic – a taxi for the day costs between $35 and $40). The sanctuary opens to visitors at 8.00 am and boats and guides can be hired on a first come, first served basis. The cost of the boat varies depending on the number of individuals in the party. For a single person hiring a boat it is $20 (it is cheaper per person, the more you are). The bird guide is $15. Both can be paid in Kyat at the relevant daily exchange rate. It should be noted that there are only 5 boats to hire, so you could miss out if you arrive late. There are apparently 15 guides. I arrived early, before 8.00 am, on a Tuesday (21 February) and there were no other birders. When I came back there was one other bird watcher waiting. My guide was excellent with a good knowledge of the birds.
There is some simple, attractive and clean accommodation available, which looks out onto the lake. It costs $70/room for two and $60/room for singles. This can be booked online – look for Moe Yun Gyi Resort (alternative spelling). Food is available at the visitor centre.
The rich bird fauna (in excess of 125 species) includes*: Anatidae: Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Ferruginous Pochard. Ciconiidae: Painted Stork, Asian Openbill98, Woolly-necked Stork. Threskiornithidae: Black-headed Ibis, Glossy Ibis. Ardeidae: Yellow Bittern, Cinnamon Bittern. Ardeidae: Black-crowned Night-heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron. Gruidae: Sarus Crane. Pelecanidae: Spot-billed Pelican. Falconidae: Black Kite, Marsh Harrier, Pied Harrier Greater Spotted Eagle. Rallidae: Corn Crake, WaterCock, Grey-headed Swamphen. Pluvialidae: Pacific Golden Plover. Recurvirostridae: Black-winged Stilt. Vanellidae: Grey-headed Lapwing. Jacanidae: Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana. Glareolidae: Oriental Pratincole. Scolopacidae: Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper. Sternidae: Little Tern, Whiskered Tern. Cuculidae: Plaintive Cuckoo. Alcedinidae: White-throated Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher. Meropidae: Blue-tailed Bee-eater. Ploceidae: Asian Golden Weaver. Motacillidae: Richard’s Pipit. Mucsicapidae: Bluethroat. Acrocephalidae: Black-browed Reed-warbler, Oriental Reed-warbler, Thick-billed warbler. Megaluridae: Striated Grassbird.
*list compiled from various sources published online; the list is not complete and is for indicative purposes only.
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Although Moeyungyi Wetlands is still a haven for birds and a wonderful place to visit, there are a number of environmental issues that threaten it long-term. These include: bird trapping, battery /electro-fishing, the trafficking of turtles and snakes to China, and land-use changes (further information). It is a priority that existing laws are enforced and the biodiversity and environment of Moeyungyi are protected for future generations.
“Next day we travelled to Moeyungyi Bird Sanctuary where we saw a wide range of waterbirds in impressive number including over a thousand Purple Swamphens, hundreds of Lesser Whistling Duck, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Oriental Pratincole and Asian Openbill. Eastern Marsh Harriers were numerous but dowdy in comparison to the almost luminous male Pied Harriers. Small numbers of Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were also seen and a flyover Black-headed Ibis was our only sighting for the trip. Common Stonechats were everywhere and Black-browed and Oriental Reed Warblers lurked in the dense clumps of floating vegetation. Our departure from the sanctuary was marked by a Greater Spotted Eagle soaring overhead and a singing but invisible Oriental Skylark.”
Duncan Brooks et al. – report from a field trip to various birding localities in Myanmar, 1-19 March, 2003 (further information).
“I left downtown Yangon at 5.35 a.m. arriving at Moeyungyi just before 8.00 a.m. It was a lovely morning with clear blue skies. Luckily although I had not pre-booked a boat or a guide, both were available and by 8.30 a.m. we were on the water and heading out onto the lake. Things started quite slowly with flights of Oriental Pratincole and Pacific Golden Plover and a distant view of a Marsh Harrier being the most noteworthy. There were many Whiskered Terns and Stonechats were also plentiful. We had fine views of a Blue-tailed Bee-eater and fleeting views of a Wood Sandpiper and a couple of Plaintive Cuckoos. The edge of the lake was home to numerous Intermediate and Little Egrets, Chinese Pond Heron, and Asian Openbill as well as smaller birds such as Zitting Cisticola and Plain Prinia. Passing through the middle of the lake we put a raft of several hundred Lesser Whistling Duck and a smaller, but still sizeable number of Garganey. They looked spectacular as they wheeled round, this way and that, before landing again on the water. On the other side of the lake, we saw many Grey-headed Swamphen, several Pheasant-tailed Jacana, and a quick glimpse of both Watercock and Corncrake. The numerous Cotton Pygmy Geese in amongst the floating lotus flowers were a real highlight for me. Almost invisible until the boat was on them, they would take off, fly round, and return to the water – beautiful. On the way back we saw Yellow and Citrine Wagtail and near to the visitor centre a small group of Grey-headed Lapwing. The trip around the lake had taken 2 hours 10 minutes and we had seen 38 species. The guide, Zaw Zaw, had been excellent (limited English but he knew his birds) and the boatman friendly and obliging. All in all I totally recommend a visit”.
Paul Bates – visited on 21 February, 2017.