With Scoot flying direct to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, it was an easy decision to go and check out some of the flora and fauna of this landlocked country. This completed my birding visits to all the nine Asean countries, which includes working visits to Brunei.
As it was a sight seeing holiday with my wife, we went to only two sites to bird. The first was Phou Phanang National Biodiversity Conservation Area, about 45 minutes drive north of Vientiane and the other was Beung Khiet Ngong Wetlands, a Ramsar site, at Southern Laos.
Most grateful to Ding Li for introducing Santi St to us. He is lecturing at the Environmental Science at the University of Laos and former consultant with IUCN. He drove us to Phou Phanang, an easy flat open forest fringed grassland habitat dotted with rice fields and lotus ponds. It was quite birdy with the expected open country and forest species competing for our attention. We end the morning with 41 species thanks to Santi’s local knowledge and experience.
While I did not get any lifers, I was happy to get re-acquainted with the Indonchinese Rollers, Burmese Shrike, Streak-eared Bulbul, Black-collared Starling and native Red Avadavats. You can get a nice breakfast at the Wealth Coffee Cafe at the carpark to start your day. How nice!
Ding Li recommended that I visit the Beung Khiet Ngong Wetlands since I am going to Pakse, southern Laos. We were glad to be able to spend an overnight at the Kingfisher Ecolodge overlooking the wetlands and bird there.
We were not expecting such a luxury lodge but soon realized that this lodge was owned by an Italian who sold it to an Vietnamese American. The individual bungalows we stayed in were huge and well designed. The balcony, viewing pavilions and restaurants all have a full view of the wetlands. But I loved the one of its kind swimming pool built right up to the edge of the marshes, best. You can bird watch with a BeerLao in your swimming trunks. How cool is this?
Birdlife around the lodge was good. First bird we saw was a Shikra perched outside of bungalow. Most of the trees were left intact and it was easy birding walking along the boardwalks around the lodge. Got some great photos of the Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher just outside of my bungalow.
The main birding is done from the viewing pavilions that acts as open hides with panoramic views of the wetlands. The setting sun behind us was perfect for catching the egrets, herons, swamphens, martins, swallows, drongos, ducks, lapwings and jacanas going about their pre-roost routine. Best bird and lifer for me were the Common House Martins, which was only identified after processing the photos. These are the eastern race, with some authorities listing it as the Siberian House Martin, Delichon lagopodum. It has a deeper fork tail and an extended white rump down the tail when compared to the Asian House Martin.
The tour agency Biig Travel arranged a resident bird guide to take us around the village and farms surrounding the wetlands. Lae, a suntanned resident bird guide in his 50s is familiar with the birdlife here, but I can see that he finds it hard to identify the more difficult species. But the two hours morning walk before breakfast was very productive. I get to walk through the village and see the villagers going about the morning activities.
I added a breeding male Bluethroat to the list for this site when I photographed one at the edge of a cassava farm.
The disappointment was not seeing a single bird at the Mekong River despite crisscrossing and cruising on it for most of our time there. The consolation was picking up a stray bird here and there while visiting the waterfalls and temples. My wife saw two forktails while we were having lunch next to a small waterfall. I missed it! But not the Chinese Blue Flycatcher and the Yellow-bellied Warbler at the Tad Yuang Waterfalls and a Hill Prinia that allowed us to get close at the UNESCO Wat Phou.
The bird to see in Laos is of course the endemic Bare-faced Bulbul. But the site was not on our itinerary which means that we will have to come back to Laos to bird again. All in it was good to have a feel of the birdlife in Laos which shares borders with five countries and their similiar fauna.
Santi St for guiding us at Phouphanang and where to bird in Laos.
Yong Ding Li for his help to identify the birds.
Lae for guiding us at Beung Khiet Ngong.