Join our zoo community

LaughingDove Goes Travelling - SE Asia and Australia

Discussion in 'Asia - General' started by LaughingDove, 19 May 2018.

  1. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    12 Aug 2008
    Posts:
    4,507
    Location:
    California, USA
    You mentioned that there were elephants in the park. Are they especially difficult to find in Vietnam?
     
  2. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    I think they're pretty near impossible in Vietnam. The Cat Tien ones are not in an accessible area, and I don't know of anyone who has seen or any trip reports that include elephants.
     
  3. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    18 Jun 2011
    Posts:
    2,378
    Location:
    London, UK
    Presumably, you like kebabs.

    Is that a leech in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?
     
    Brum likes this.
  4. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    On to Dalat


    Despite having been assured that the ferry driver to get across the river would be there at 6, he was not. I found someone sweeping the path who was able to call the ferry driver, and we got across the river just making it for 6:30. The bus was late of course, so I had to wait anyway, but it was a bit nerve-wracking because there is only the one bus daily at 6:30.


    I wasn't overly worried about the bus being late because the boat driver pointed out exactly where the bus would come. It seems that in Asia everyone is born with a sixth sense, they can detect the aura of an incoming bus. The locals don't wait at bus stops, there are never any timetables or route numbers, and the name on the front generally correlates to the destination, but never the actual route. However locals just turn up by the side of the road at exactly the right time and just know the bus. I don't think this is just a case of me not knowing the Vietnamese buses but I would know back home. I still check timetables and route descriptions when I get the bus!


    I asked about getting a bus direct the other way from Dalat back to Cat Tien and apparently there is a direct bus (obviously) but it will just say Saigon on the front because it goes to Saigon but the long way around via Cat Tien. However all the buses that go direct to Saigon from Dalat will also just say Saigon and will also claim to drop you at Cat Tien when they actually mean they will drop you at the junction on the main road and expect you to get a motorbike taxi. The locals of course would just use their bus sense.


    The bus was much bigger than I would have expected, one of those classic Asian rickety coach type things, although a good chunk of the seating had been removed to make cargo space and there was a lot of stuff being transported, seemingly mostly fresh produce. We drove around town for a while picking up locals and goods because that's how local buses work here, and then about an hour later started heading towards Dalat. I was charged 150k for the bus, although I'm pretty sure I was overcharged as a tourist. I tried to look to see how much locals were paying, but because they were charging for cargo too so it was complicated.


    The bus driver was a fan of spending extended periods of time on the wrong lane to overtake large rows of traffic. At least when it comes to bus v motorbike, the bus wins, its more bus v lorry or bus v other bus that concerned me. Of course being Vietnam, it all just worked out and we never hit anything. It's worth noting the near-complete lack of small private cars though, there really were next to none. And all of those that there were seemed to be very new, fancy, and expensive. I saw absolutely no old junk cars, they seem to just not exist in Vietnam. As we approached the highlands - Dalat is at altitude on the Dalat Plateau which is an area with high rates of bird endemism as you'd expect from a highland Plateau in the lowlands, hence why I'm visiting - I could already foresee the large amounts of mist, rain, and fog that my future held. It was very pretty and lush with stunning forested mountains as we wound our way up the highway. I imagine the poaching pressure on whatever wildlife is here must be enormous though. Of course most of the land was cleared for settlement and agriculture too, with just mountain tops remaining forested. The area around Dalat itself is surrounded by an interesting mix of broadleaf and pine forest, dramatically different to the lowland rainforest of Cat Tien. It's also colder, of course, being higher up. The daily highs and lows seem to be about 6 degrees different.


    I had booked a moderately cheap room for Dalat for about 200k per night (I saw about because booking.com seems to give very weird prices - the official price for five nights is 1million and 655 dong which is very odd given that the smallest denomination of currency that exists is 1000 dong). You could probably get a room for just under 200k if you really looked and you could probably get a dorm for under 100k. I've somehow ended up with a room that is insanely big, however. 200k per night isn't all that much for a room relative to other places on the internet, it seems towards the lower end. Yet, the room I've got has two quite large beds and a private bathroom. It would easily be big enough for two adults and the beds are that kind of almost a double bed size that could just about fit two people in each bed but it would be a push. I'm not in a fancy hotel or anything, it's rather run down, the bathroom is tiny, but I was totally expecting all that for 200k. No air con but you don't need it in Dalat because it's cool anyway. I wouldn't have booked that room, and it wouldn't have been priced at that I don't think so my guess is that their single rooms are full or being developed because there's some construction going on.


    From my room on the third floor and also on a hill slightly, I can look down over Dalat which is quite an interesting looking town it's a bit fancy and quirky with a big lake in the middle and lots of colourful buildings, surrounded by forested mountains. The bus took about 5 hours to get to Dalat, but because it had left so early I was in my accommodation by midday. Having skipped breakfast, my first priority was getting some lunch, however all the local restaurants, and there were many, seemed closed. So I ended up at a rather fancy but somehow also really cheap Indian restaurant. It felt extremely British. Unlike at Cat Tien, I now feel very self conscious about how absolutely all my things are stained with mud, my backpack is especially bad and it appears uncleanable.


    At Dalat there are two main birding sites: Mount Lang Biang and Tuyen Lam Lake (as well as Ta Nung village but the logistics of that seem complicated without having someone in the know so I'm probably going to skip it) and after today I've got four full days here at Dalat to bid them. Both are a little way away and require full days so I didn't want to do either today. Instead for the afternoon I got a taxi to Datanla Waterfall just outside town. Some reports say this place is great, others say there's no birds at all. Worth a shot for a few hours I thought, and we drove past the entrance on the way in in the bus and it looked very foresty and promising.


    In Dalat there are no GrabCars, only GrabBikes which I'm still a little hesitant to use so to start with at least I picked up a taxi on the street. Luckily, they're metered in Dalat. The taxi wasn't too expensive, probably about three times the cost per minute as a Grab in HCMC but still not too expensive. It took a while for me to explain to the driver where I wanted to go, however. I kept saying 'Datanla' over and over again and he didn't understand until eventually I wrote it on my phone and he said 'oh, Datanla!' exactly the same way I had just said it the last dozen times. I've missed out on all that fun with Grab.


    Datanla is Vietnam's answer to ecotourism. Demolish all that pesky forest and replace it with tourist infrastructure. Datanla is a theme park but one that's set in forest focused on a waterfall with roller coasters through the trees and a canopy rope course and that sort of thing. There's still a good bit of forest though, especially on the edges, and both pine and broadleaf forest. I was deposited at a pine forest area near the rollercoaster and walked around the back of the rollercoaster - where I probably shouldn't have been - because I could hear birds. I really thought I was in Europe. A pure pine forest filled with large numbers of tits and treecrepers. Some greenfinches and a jay showed up too. Am I really in Asia? These were all slightly different from the European ones though, all distinct species from their similar ones in Europe. Oddly, the most distinctive one, the jay, is the only one that some people still lump! (not the greenfinch, that’s completely different looking)


    I then found the actual entrance, paid the 30k ticket (rides are extra of course) and found some broadleaf forest with a gorgeous Orange-headed Thrush behind one of the many shops selling tourist tat. It had been fifteen minutes and I'd found six new birds, five of them lifers. Looks like I've been lucky with Datanla!


    There a few walking trails in the forest at Datanla. A bit too manicured for my liking, but not bad. It was fairly busy though, as a standard spot on the Dalat tourist route. Tour groups in Asia always amuse me though where the leader has a big wavey flag and a whistle and the whole tour group wearing matching hats and badges follows along like lemmings on a school trip, all very drole [minister]. (I'm aware the lemming thing is a myth, I also believe that's my first use of the word drole in this blog. A great word and a Yes Minister classic)


    The waterfall itself was very impressive, if it weren't for the hundreds of muppet tourists taking selfies, the stalls selling carved wood tat, and the poor sod working there who had to dress like a muppet to be an extremely prejudiced and un-PC vague resemblance of a native American chief. Datanla is going with theme of wilderness and nature for the sort of person who's never been outdoors before.


    I think most of the birds seen today will turn out to be quite common and easy, it's mainly that the Dalat Plateau has a largely unique and distinct avifauna. Not nearly the avian biodiversity of tropical rainforests, but quite different stuff.


    I eventually found a nice little trail through the forest along a stream that didn't have many people on it, which was pleasant. The for at is an interesting mix of cool montane broadleaf forest and pine forest. I'm not sure what determines the forest time, presumably either soil or microclimates. There weren't huge numbers of birds, but a Slaty-backed Forktail on the rapids was nice, as was an extremely confiding Blue Whistling Thrush which I sat and watched while it hopped about on the exposed rocks by the rapids until it eventually came so close to me that my camera could no longer focus. As I headed out, I passed a very showy Red-cheeked Squirrel on the path looking for food scraps now that most visitors had left. I don’t think I managed to get any pictures at Cat Tien. And right at the exit, I saw two birds which I can’t for the life of me identify, although it seems like it should be obvious. Very Ashy Drongo -like (as in, the pale grey sort) similar size and shape but slightly darker grey and with a black face, very cuckooshrike like in colouration but otherwise like an ashy drongo.


    Several hours at Datanla was, overall, more productive than I had anticipated given all the tiro reports that say 'we saw absolutely no birds at all'. I'm especially happy with the Orange-headed Thrush as it's a species I missed at Mt Kinabalu. (and is a winter visitor?)


    Datanla closes at five so I left then having spent about three hours there. Several nice species and a nice little introductory bit of birding. There are still lots of more Dalat speciality birds to get though, and four more days to do it. I walked around town a bit in the evening, it is quite a pretty town. I spent ages trying to find a shop that would sell the sort of nuts and cereal bars that I like to take with me to eat for lunch while birding, but failed completely. All I could find was absolute junk food which is annoying. Anyway, I have got a really nice view of Dalat from my bedroom.


    New birds:

    Green-backed Tit

    Chestnut-vented Nuthatch

    Vietnamese Greenfinch

    White-faced Jay

    Long-tailed Shrike

    Orange-headed Thrush

    Langbian Sunbird (distinctive local race of Black-throated. I’m not sure that any lists actually split it, it almost qualified under HBW’s Tobias Criterion. Given it’s a distinctive geographically isolated population of an otherwise widespread species, I don’t think there’s any clinal variation, I think it’s a good split)

    (+ hopefully that unidentified grey bird which I do have a photo of)

    Blue Whistling-thrush
     
    Chlidonias and Brum like this.
  5. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    12 Aug 2008
    Posts:
    4,507
    Location:
    California, USA
    I think you may be the first person I know who has gone to a theme park to go birding.
     
    LaughingDove likes this.
  6. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    It is a theme park in a forest.
    But there is a rollercoaster, and people in slightly racist ethnic costumes, and touristy tat everywhere, so...

    So yeah, I'm now going to officially say I went birding in a theme park. And got a bunch of lifers too!
     
  7. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    13 Jun 2007
    Posts:
    23,958
    Location:
    the world of tomorrow
    If you can upload it, I can have a look and see if I know what it is.
     
  8. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    I've realised what it was now. It was a Verditer Flycatcher in light that made the blue colour look like a slate-grey.
     
    Chlidonias likes this.
  9. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    That Sole Destroying Mountain


    I found it actually slightly too cold at night last night which I hadn't really expected. Dalat is at 1500m above sea level though, so a fairly high altitude. Only about 100m lower than the HQ at Mount Kinabalu although Dalat feels much lower, probably because it's on a Plateau with various peaks, which get above 2000m, dotted around. It was one of those peaks that I wanted to visit today, Mount Lang Biang, which is the main birding site near Dalat and the plan was always two or even three full days here out of the four that I've got.


    I didn't quite manage to get out as early as I would have done, partly because I was distracted by a Brexit debate over messenger for 20 minutes, but mainly because when I got downstairs the front door was locked and I had to find someone to unlock it. Once I was out and also stopped for a quick bahn mi op la (a baguette with fried eggs) it was almost 7. Not super late, but it could have been earlier. There's a bus to the mountain, so I walked over to where I thought the bus stop was. It wasn't quite there, but a quick Google produced 'near Eximbank' which was correct. When I got there, I tried to ascertain what time the bus would next show up, but I just got some vague gestures to wait here and something about 3. I believe this was either 'in 30 minutes' which would have been just before 8 or at 8:30.


    A motorbike taxi then approached me, and if my relatives are reading I said no straight away because motorbikes are dangerous. You can skip the rest of this paragraph now, because it's some really boring stuff about zoos. The driver said 100,000 to Lang Biang and said the bus was 8:30 which was over an hour. I don't believe that, but I tried 50,000. He then agreed on 60,000 which is only about 3x the bus and a third of what I guess a taxi would be. I then agreed and we set off. He had a spare helmet for the passenger. It didn't have a strap, but it was there. He also went far faster than all other traffic in the road and although bloody terrifying at first, I soon got used to it and I didn't die once and got to the mountain by twenty to eight. When we arrived he decided I had misunderstood the price and it was now 80,000 (I hadn't, the negotiations were done by typing in his phone) but I gave him 60,000 and walked off.


    Lang Biang is very touristy, there's a big Hollywood style sign and white horses painted like zebras because why not? Most people get a jeep to drive up the road to look at the view then go home again. There is, however, a trail but it's not exactly obvious. I found someone to describe where it was although I knew roughly where to go. It's down a muddy farming track outside the entrance gate and he said 'turn left at the small river'. This was very helpful because I would have struggled otherwise. It's actually immidiately after the stream and it doesn't look anything like a trakl. It starts as a muddy trail for a farmer to access his coffee plantation, then becomes a rain cut gulley Anne then becomes and obscenely muddy and rather steep trail. You can't avoid the mud either because there's barbed wire on either side to stop you going into the coffee plantations. The view was spectacular though with views across coffee plantations, greenhouses with strawberries, the town of Dalat, and the forested mountains behind. I soon entered the pine forest and started to see pine forest birds. The highlight has to be the White-faced Jays which are so amazing looking. I was seeing more of those grey birds from yesterday too, but I have realised that they were actually Verditer Flycatchers which are blue but looked slate-grey in the light. The pine forest really reminded me of birding back in Poland, woodpeckers and jays – albeit super weird jays – and trying to identify backlit tits at the tops of pine trees. It’s very interesting that there’s so much natural pine forest around that wasn’t planted. The trail was quite hard work though, and really slippery. With another three days at this rate, I’m probably going to end up breaking my coccyx, or, even worse, my camera.


    I was mainly just passing through the pine forest to get to the main birding site which is broadleaf forest around the summit, and there is far higher diversity in the broadleaf forest although there are a few interesting birds in the pine forest too. A surprising bird seen was quite a large brown bird that landed on a tree which turned out to be a cute teeny weeny owl! It was an Asian Barred Owlet which is a species that is common and I’ve kept on missing – a bogey bird to use the terminology – odd for it to be in pine forest though.


    I had restocked on my supply of boiled sweets yesterday which is something that I like to carry around with me while I’m birding as a sort of energy boost for while I’m going along. This was very useful for today! Quite a steep trail! All the tourists go up the road that goes up the mountain in jeeps that you hire at the entrance to an old radar station that is a view point. This isn’t actually at the real summit of Mount Lang Biang though, it’s at just over 1900m. The real summit is several hundred metres higher at 2167m and this was where I was trekking to, primarily because the last 1km (out of 4km total from the entrance) is through broadleaf forest that holds my target species at the Dalat Plateau, the top target being the extremely rare endemic Collared Laughingthrush.


    The track through the pine forest comes out onto the road just by the start of the summit trail with a sign at the bottom with the usual ‘take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints’ but with the addition of ‘kill nothing but your time’ which is an interesting one that I hadn’t heard before. I did eventually get into the broadleaf forest which is pretty cool forest. It’s extremely high altitude and has generally quite low trees with lots of lichen and ferns and rhododendrons in the undergrowth, especially as I approached and passed the 2000m altitiude mark. There were a couple of other groups who passed me on the trail, the first was two guys playing extremely loud music as they walked past and carrying a ridiculous amount of ‘survival’ equipment like emergency heat blankets and clip on first aid kits and a satellite phone. I didn’t see any oxygen tanks, but it would have fitted in with the theme. I hoped it was totally excessive and unnecessary at least… (it was, but it did turn out to be a bit of a tricky climb).


    The track was insanely muddy, as in, ankle deep (and, occasionally wrist deep when it got a bit too steep and slippery to do it just on foot) and the sole of my right shoe is starting to come off a bit (hence the title) which means mud was getting in through the bottom as well as the top. It’s not like unusably fallen off yet, and it should make it through the trip, but there are cracks at the sides that signal the gradual demise of my only four month old boots. The last few hundred metres to the summit were a bit of a challenge with big tall steps, some of them waist height, but it’s not actually all that long of a distance so I did make it to the top, no problems, where there is a little flat area of grass and low bushes and a sign. And, of course, a spectacular view of Dalat – which is bigger than it looks when seen from so high up – with surrounding farms and even more spectacular were the surrounding forest-clad mountains. There was also a view down to the other peak where all the tourists go to in their jeeps to take a selfie, claim to have achieved something other than waste 450,000 on an overpriced jeep, then get the ride right back down.


    Anyway, the birding… it was tough. I mean, really tough. For the first few hours as I walked up to the summit I saw a couple of sunbirds and that was it. The forest was amazingly quiet. And by amazing, I mean depressing. There was nothing around! This area really suffers from poaching for the cage bird trade, so birds are really wary and depleted in numbers. You only see birds when there are very occasional bird waves, and I didn’t get any all morning. I saw a woodlouse. Although it doesn’t talk, so it’s scarcely replacement. I’ll have to go to a similar pet shop in Bolton to replace my… hang on I think I’ve got distracted. Right, birding.


    Just before midday I sat down at the 360m to the summit marker in the middle of prime birding area to eat some coco pops, the closest thing to my ideal snack of a Nature Valley bar that I could buy in Dalat. I was feeling rather dejected at this silent forest devoid of birds, when all of a sudden the trees in front of me filled with birds! My first bird wave of the day, at 11:50, had arrived! In about 5 minutes I saw six new species and then it was gone. I tried to follow it, but with the terrain it had just gone and I couldn’t. I was pouring over the field guide, when all of a sudden I could hear noises behind me and a group of stunning Vietnamese Greenfinches with a similarly awesome Dalat Shrike-babbler was just in the tree above me. I even managed pictures of both! I actually came across another bird wave a hundred metres or so further along, but I struggled to actually get on to any of the birds in this one for some reason, probably because I was in the middle of a section of waist-high steps. I did get on to a Green Cochoa though, which is a cool bird that I think is quite difficult to find. I also saw some laughingthruses on the way up, not THE laughingthrush – these were White-cheeked rather than the much sought-after Collared – but nice nonetheless. There was an Eastern (=Maritime, although that seems like a weird name) Striped Squirrel with the first bird wave too.


    After looking at the view for a little bit at the summit and having lunch, I headed back down. Also at the summit at that point was the only other group of people on the summit trail: an Australian guy who was a fan of hiking and his Vietnamese parter who very obviously was not a fan of hiking in the slightest.


    On the way down, I got a really nice view of some Grey-bellied Tesias which are lovely birds, and I did pick up a bird wave with some more common species and the addition of Yellow-cheeked Tits. Then just after I had crossed a particularly nasty patch of mud, I heard some sounds from behind me. I had been hearing various sounds all along but since there is such a high poaching pressure on most of these species, the recordings of calls are blocked on Xeno Canto and other places to reduce the availability of high quality recordings and to try and reduce harassment. Not that this will stop poachers of course… So as I consequence I didn’t really know the calls of my target species. So I went back across the mud to see what it was, and eventually located a large shape moving in the undergrowth. I got my binoculars onto it, and the bright flashes of orange and red and black were obvious. I had actually found a Collared Laughingthrush! Two, it would seem. On my first day! It’s a good thing I managed to get some pretty poor but clearly identifiable ‘record shots’ because I would scarcely believe it myself! They are just such stunning birds, worth googling. And they’re endemic to the Dalat Plateu too (and highly threatened by poaching. I’m so stoked to have seen them on my first day, and well too!

    I had left it quite late leaving the summit trail, it was about 3:30 when I saw the laughingthruses and it was after 4 when I left the broadleaf forest area at the summit, passing some green pigeons at the edge of the pine forest on the way, so when I got back to the bottom of the summit trail, rather than walking back down the trail through the pine forest and past the fields, I decided instead to go straight down the road because it was getting late and having just rained, that path would have been insanely slippery.


    As I was walking down a woman pulled over and offered me a lift to the bottom on her motorbike. Since I ride on the backs of motorbikes nowadays I accepted. I was quite tired too. When we got to the bottom, despite the lift it was after five and I had just missed the last bus. I walked along a bit and tried to call a GrabBike but couldn't get one to come all the way out. When I walked back to the carpark, a taxi had appeared and I had no other choice. The ride back was actually cheaper than I would have anticipated at 137k. I'm not sure it was any safer than the motorbike however, because the driver was rather distracted by a football match between Vietnam and Korea on his phone on the dashboard. And by a bit distracted I mean, looking at the phone more than the road and yelling at the phone when anything happened in typical football supporter type style. When I went out for dinner, the large number of Vietnamese flags being waved by people yelling about something on their motorbikes and blowing plastic trumpet things suggests that Vietnam won. I had dinner in a slightly more expensive indoor restaurant to get away from traffic rather than sitting on the street. They had a 'most repetitive and irritating songs by Ed Sheeran and his ilk' playlist on. I prefer motorbike noise.



    New birds:

    Wire-tailed Swallow

    Plain-backed Sparrow

    Ashy Bulbul (sensu stricto)

    Asian Barred Owlet

    Black-throated Tit

    Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch

    Flavescent Bulbul

    Mountain Bulbul

    Mrs Gould’s Sunbird

    White-browed Fantail

    Himalayan Shortwinig

    Ashy-throated Warbler

    Indochinese Fulvetta

    Grey-bellied Tesia

    Short-tailed Scimitar-babbler

    Dalat Shrike-babbler

    White-cheeked Laughingthrush

    Green Cochoa

    Grey-cheeked Warbler

    Spot-throated Babbler

    Asian House Martin

    Yellow-cheeked Tit

    Collared Laughingthrush

    Pin-tailed Green-pigeon


    Mammals:

    Eastern Striped Squirrel
     
  10. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    12 Aug 2008
    Posts:
    4,507
    Location:
    California, USA
    You have already demonstrated at length that owls don't exist. What's the deal here?
     
  11. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    Someone's clearly been following me around releasing animatronic owls and things. Or maybe fairies in owl costumes to spread the owl hoax.

    Really though, I don't know how I'm doing so well with owls in Vietnam. In almost six weeks in Malaysia I saw two species, neither of which was self-found while in a week and a half in Vietnam I've totally self-found three species. I did quite well in Australia with five species (+two frogmouths) but in Australia I had books or websites telling me roughly where to look whereas in Vietnam I've just seen them.
     
  12. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    Where Have all the Birds Gone?!


    It's worth noting that yesterday's list of new birds included my 1000th species seen in this calendar year, which I'm very pleased with. At the moment that is the Grey-bellied Tesia, although it will probably move up of down a few when adjusted for taxonomy and errors in the list. It will still be a species seen yesterday, however.


    Although I did very well on Lang Biang yesterday, especially with that Laughingthrush, I wanted to go back today. There are still quite a few more species to get, and of my four days here I was always planning a minimum of two at Lang Biang (although that was mainly because I didn't think I'd find the Laughingthrush).


    After breakfast I decided to do the local method of getting to the mountain. Well, the method for locals who can't be bothered waiting for the bus and then spending 4x as long on the bus - I called a GrabBike. This cost only 48K and is clearly better than a normal motorbike because it's cheaper, comes right to you, is cashless, and above all you get to wear a snazzy green Grab helmet with white go faster stripes. The Grab logo - Green with the word Grab written in white tyre marks - is clearly far better than Uber's. I know Uber's brand image is that of an evil army of robots about to take over humanity and destroy the world. But even so, they don't have to be so blatant about it.


    Upon arrival, I bought a ticket and then left the mountain immidiately to take the trail up the muddy farmers track outside the gate. Had I not bought a ticket, I wouldn't have actually had any questions, but I felt like I ought to buy a ticket anyway. I soon saw some Vinous-breasted Starlings in the fields at the bottom of the mountain which arw a cool species, and tjia was ny first time getting a proper prolonged look at them. The few hundred metres through the coffee plantations actually proved quite successful as I soon added another starling - Collared - as well as a Paddyfield Pipit. Just on the edge of the pine forest, I had a flyby (which also landed and I could look at it properly) of a bird that I instantly identified to genus level and though: I didn't realise there were Zoothera here! It was a Scaly-breasted Thrush (genus Zoothera) which was cool and I also managed my first properly decent pictures of a White-faced Jay. For those who are familiar with jays in Europe I would suggest googling that, it's a really weird sort of same-but-different looking bird.


    I think the walk up the pine forest is the most tiring bit of summiting the whole mountain because it's just a really steep slope to walk away up and then taken really slippery in a lot of places. Not the sort of mud that plasters you - it's too steep - buy the sort that is really tricky to clamber up.


    I had brought my light warm coat thing with me today because it was a couple of degrees colder than yesterday and really rather cold in general. It's ok in the broadleaf forest where the vegetation is too dense for wind, but in the pine forest it feela really a bit too cold in my extra light, thin trousers and shirt which are much better suited to Cat Tien's climate. At least it makes the physical exertion easier. My phone says it's 18 degrees in Dalat which probably means about 16 a few hundred metres up on the summit +wind.


    As I was in the mixed pine/broadleaf area before getting to the proper broadleaf forest I put my binoculars on to what I thought was a nuthatch and it turned out to be a treecreper! A different species to those in Europe, but nonetheless the birds in this pine forest really aren't species that I think of as Asian but it feels much more European. In fact, the main bird target for the pine forest that I haven't seen yet is actually a crossbill. The other main target for the Dalat area is Grey-crowned Crocias which, like the Laughingthrush, is a very localised endemic. I was looking for that today, although I think I might actually be above the altitudinal range at Mount Lang Biang. When I first got into the broadleaf forest I saw a Pygmy Cupwing (=Wren Babbler) on the side of the path which is a really cute little bird. And up ahead I saw a flock of what I thought might have been Crocias from a distance but they were actually Blue-winged Minlas. A nice bird, but not the one I want. I think Tuyen Lam Lake where I'm going to try and go tomorrow might prove better for Crocias as I believe the broadleaf forest is at a lower altitude.


    Most of the time in the broadleaf forest, as usual, was completely dead bird-wise. It really amazes me how a forest can have so little bird action for so long. I did see a Black Giant Squirrel though which is a common animal that I've kept missing. They're really cool, a medium sized dog sized squirrel running through the trees. This one looked a bit different to ones I've seen in Thailand with a coat that becomes pale in certain light. The birding today was pretty terrible though. One of the worst birding days in a very long time. I never really got a proper bird wave just a small group of birds that wasn't nearly as good as any of yesterday's waves. It had some sibias which I was wanting to see and a couple of other birds with them. But not really a wave. I also got a brief view of a partridge which was nice. I always like seeing ground birds. I got a few leech bites today too which I wasn't expecting here at over 2000m above sea level. They were different looking leeches with paler undersides.


    I stopped about 300m before the summit, because that last bit is really killer and now that I've been up once I don't feel the need to do so again since there's not really any additional benefit of going all the way. I doubt many people climb Mt Lang Biang two days in a row anyway.


    Although the species list looks quite impressive, and I saw quite a few desired species, it just really felt like an incredibly slow birding day. Just really rubbish birding. There were just such long periods with absolutely nothing which get depressing. In some places you struggle to find new species but you at least see common ones now and again on a bad birding day. Here, there don't seem to be 'common species' there's nothing for hours and hours and hours and then loads of rare species show up and then nothing again. I was just seeing very, very occasional single individual sunbirds and things. No fulvettas, no fantails, no shrike-babblers. At all, the whole day. It's rather ridiculous.


    I spent absolutely all day in the broadleaf forest walking up and down with the assumption that eventually I'd come across a bird wave, and I actually left later than I had intended because I haven't had a watch since mine broke at Mount Kinabalu and I've been keeping my phone off to preserve battery until I really need it because it's quite difficult to get it to charge. Basically I've managed to break it. At least I buy cheap phones. Well I never found a bird wave and I left the broadleaf forest having seen probably a single digit number of individual birds. Definitely fewer than two individual birds per hour in the broadleaf forest. Probably only about one individual per hour on average (and of course most hours had zero birds since you tend to see at least a few at a time). Unless you tape them in, birding here is just ridiculously luck based.


    I walked back through the pine forest because I knew I was going to miss the bus anyway and at least in the pine forest there are birds about. They're generally the same species - White-faced Jay, Green-backed Got and occasional Nuthatches and flycatchers - but at least there were birds around! There is a sign saying you're not supposed to go that way after 15:00 but signs say a lot of things. The route down through the pines is certainly quick. You don't have a choice, it's so steep and slippery that on the way down there's certainly no way to take it slowly. I'm pleased I did this route though because I found the crossbills I had been looking for. A brief and rather silhouetted look, but good. (I don’t think these have bit split from the ones in Europe at all, it’s just a very isolated population of them)


    At one point along the particular muddy bit of trail through the fields near the end, some idiot had decided that it would be a good idea to rip the tops off all the coffee plants along the trail to so that they could put them over the mud to walk on it. All it takes is for a disgruntled farmer to put barbed wire over the trail entrance and that's it. If you don't want muddy shoes then you take a jeep. Simple. I don't understand what goes through someone's head that they think that's appropriate. Nothing I imagine.


    It was gone 5:30 when I got to the bottom, and I was worried that there wouldn't be any taxis either but there were so no problem. Although all the taxis in Dalat are metered they see. To have different rates. The one I got today had a cheaper per km 'first price' and a more expensive per km 'next price' and no starting fee compared to the one yesterday. The meter also went up in increments of 100 dong which is a bit bizarre given the smallest unit of currency is 1000. (Which is only worth about 3 British pence so seems like an incredibly small amount to make on a note - there are no coins). This taxi ended up costing 147000 which is exactly 10000 more than yesterday.


    I'm not sure why I'm complaining about the birding, you can see the species list is quite good. I think it's that I was unusually lucky yesterday, with the Laughingthrush especially, and unusually unlucky today and the effort of climbing the mountain a second day in a row didn't seem particularly rewarded.


    I'm surprised not to have seen any cutias or silver-eared mesias yet. The former is one I really want to see, and the latter I did see at Bukit Fraser way long ago but it's a really pretty species. I believe the mesias are one species that was formerly common but has been reduced tremendously by trapping for the caged bird trade. I'm pleased today wasn't my first day because yesterday felt way better. If today was my first Dalat birding day that would have been depressing.


    Before going for dinner, I decided to do something that I wouldn't normally: I booked a bus for the journey going back to Saigon. You may have noticed that at no point on this trip, even for long distance buses, have I booked anything. I've just shown up at the station and this has only backfired once when going from Taman Negara back to KL and I ended up stuck in Temerloh (which I shouldn't have ever been at) for hours because all the buses were full. The reason I've booked a bus now is because I've been specifically warned that the day I have to travel - the 2nd - is Vietnam's Independence Day as well as being a Sunday and it's a long weekend. I've booked a 'tourist bus' which presumably is like a normal bus but 50% more expensive and filled with annoying tourists. It has an 'English-speaking associate' too because when it comes to sitting on a bus for eight hours, you need linguistic help. And in addition to the already inflated fare, they have the cheek to add an $8 (that's about 200k) public holiday surcharge. I can't be at all flexible with when I'm travelling though, I have a flight the next day.


    New birds:

    Black-collared Starling

    Scaly Thrush

    Indochinese Cuckooshrike

    Brown-throated Treecreeper

    Kloss' Leaf-warbler

    Rufous-capped Babbler

    Rufous-throated Partridge

    Black-headed Sibia



    Mammal:

    Black Giant Squirrel
     
    Last edited: 30 Aug 2018
    sooty mangabey, Chlidonias and Brum like this.
  13. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    13 Jun 2007
    Posts:
    23,958
    Location:
    the world of tomorrow
    I was going to ask you about Cutia. I saw them at Datanla, on the mountain, and I think at the lake as well. I saw the crossbill and greenfinch at both the mountain and lake as well. I did see the mesia on the mountain but it was a bit of a fluke - they are almost wiped out there by the poachers.
     
    LaughingDove likes this.
  14. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    Which Trail is it Now?!


    Today marks 100 days of this trip. 13 more to go.


    I had to wake up someone at the accommodation to open the door today again. Apparently they open the door at 6:30 which suggests I was a bit late getting out yesterday because the door had just been opened.


    Anyway, after breakfast of an 18,000 dong bahn mi op la (eggs and baguette - that's about 59p) I walked up the road and for a taxi. I don't have to feel guilty about getting a taxi this time because there's no bus, and I needed a taxi rather than a motorbike because I needed a metered vehicle because I wasn't sure that the drop of point would be so obvious and with a pre-negotiated fare you can't get them to drive around if you said the wrong spot. I also needed to arrange for the taxi to come back to pick me up.


    Today I was visiting Ho Tuyen Lam Lake (reservoir) and I got the taxi to take me to Khu Du Lich Da Tien or Da Tien Tourist Area on the shores of the lake. From there I would be walking to the forest. The area is back around near Datanla where I went on my first day. In fact, it's a few Kms beyond Datanla, a similar distance from Dalat to the mountain at 10-15kms. The taxi I got today was the cheapest so far, although only marginally so at 11800/km rather than 11900.


    Although called a 'tourist area' it's rather in the middle of nowhere. The road around the lake to it disintegrates into gravel several times. Th lake is quite pretty, as an artificial reservoir that has flooded a valley it's all oddly shaped and jaggedy and is flanked by pine forest all around. Higher up on the ridges around the lake is broadleaf forest where I was headed. It seemed very birdy from the car with birds on wires - shrikes and bulbuls and such.


    I was dropped off at a totally deserted tourist resort and arranged for the driver to come back at 4:30. The journey cost 150k on the way there. The whole place was empty, apart from a couple of poor sad looking macaques chained up and son rather terrifying loose barky dogs. They never actually attacked but scared me out of my wits which is I suppose the point.


    I had step by step instructions of how to get to the trail and they soon found me to a rubbish tip and construction site. There seemed to be no way around. So I walked back up to the car park and some staff had now appeared. I showed them my map and did the universal birding symbol of holding up binoculars and they pointed me back where I'd just came. So I walked back down there. The construction site was not go-through-able but I suppose the rubbish tip was... The things I do for birding. So I walked through the rubbish tip, avoiding any of the copious amounts of broken glass, then walked through a spiky bush, then some more, then a grove of lantana and a path appeared. Briefly. It soon disappeared again. It did quite a a bit of this, I don't think anyone been down the trail on months. My arms took the brunt. Do bird guides really walk their customers over a rubbish tip?!


    I was walking through some pine forest with dense undergrowth paying attention on not loosing the trail when all of a sudden there was an explosion of sound and bird - rain quails! It was actually quite birdy, all the usual pine birds and some waterbirds like grebes and kingfishers and some grassland birds like prinias.


    My instructions then said, "cross three small streams". I would have phrased this as "ford three massive rivers" but each to their own. 'Cross' makes it sound almost like there's a bridge. By this point, however, something I would actually describe as a trail emerged. Whaaa? I've literally had to cross a rubbish tip and force my way through lantana and there's a trail all of a sudden? That bit wasn't on the instructions! This whole adventure, coupled with being scared half to death by dogs, and all the scratches that the plants had inflicted on my arm meant I was rather tired. I had no choice: break out the emergency snickers bar.


    I kept up a fair clip through the pines, and at a bit of edge of broadleaf forest I found a spot with heaps of Mrs Gould's Sunbirds including some stunning males, a few Bulbuls, and my first Vietnamese Cutias which are supposed to be common but I missed them at Datanla and the mountain. While still at the same spot I also found a pair of the recently split (by proper taxonomists, not just me) Annam Barbet. Then the little forest glade surrounded by pines exploded with birds! There were more birds in view at any one time than I had seen all day yesterday. It lasted for about 20 minutes while I stood there trying to see and ID as much as possible. Then, all of a sudden, "sharp intake of breath* the Crocias! This was probably my second most desired Dalat bird after Collared Laughingthrush and the Grey-crowned Crocias is a really rare super localised endemic that I believe was rediscovered in this area relatively recentlyish. Wow. It wasn't even 8:30 yet! And as I was about to leave the area and continue along, a couple of Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes appeared. Awesome! This was a species I thought I might not be in the right habitat for.


    I was back in pines for a bit and quite soon into the broadleaf forest proper. At the start of this forest was a sign saying 'trek to'. To where...? I had taken a wrong turn at some point, I was no longer on the trail described, but I had reached broadleaf forest now so it didn't really matter. There's a loop described that you can do, but given that it describes several of the sections as 'undefined trails' and the bit that I had done was not one of those undefined sections, I was just going to go until an appropriate time and then turn back the way I'd come.


    The distribution of pine and broadleaf forest is quite interesting. Generally, pine forests occur in the valleys and lower down while broadleaf forest occurs on ridges along the tops of the valleys. You also get fingers of broadleaf forest that go down into the pine area, either along low ridges or in extra low valleys, often along streams. I guess it's rain and moisture dependent? With pines in the dryer areas? But then it's pines all along the lake edge because that's low but there's plenty of moisture. It's most definitely not just altitude or just water though. The trail I was on kept cutting through pine and these fingers of lower altitude broadleaf which actually resulted in really high diversity of species and I was constantly on the ecotones. Amazingly, I saw three species of nuthatch today, making five species on this trip. Given that I had only seen one prior, that's a six-fold increase on my nuthatch lifelist.


    I had some "just like homemade" chocolate chip cookies for the walk, and they were remarkably homemade. That is, of course, assuming your home is a mass-production industrial cookie factory. They also did a remarkable job of individually wrapping each cookie in such a way that it looked three times the size that it actually was.


    The birding was generally very good, quiet at times of course, but plenty of stuff around. It was also much less steep and muddy than Lang Biang by a long way. The trail that I was on ended up looping back around to the lake before fizzling out so I retraced my steps to try a different turning. "Just retrace your steps" sounds simple enough, but at times it was far less obvious than ideal. Along the way back, I went down a little side trail into an isolated but seemingly high quality patch of broadleaf forest and it was teeming with birds! Heaps of fulvettas, fantails, warblers, more cutias, erpornis, and two species of oriole - maroon and slender-billed - flitting about.


    The path continued through this forest and back into pine forest and my intuition told me that this would take me back near the first big bird wave. This was correct. While going down this path, I passed loads of bulbuls, and a massive flock of White-cheeked Laughingthrushes flew past right out in the open. Where at Lang Biang I had seen a few obscured in the undergrowth, here I saw a small army right in great view. A couple of striped squirrels chased each other around a tree too.


    It turned out that I was now back on the path that my instructions described. The issue had been at a major fork, one branch went up into forest and the other went to a rubbish tip at the back of a second restaurant. The actual route, naturally, goes through the rubbish tip. I should have known. It's all good though. The birds don't know which trail is the official one for birding. The trails all seem to eventually rejoin one another or come out along an access road so as long as you note that if the lake is on your right you're going away and if it's on your left you're heading back, you can't really get lost.


    I ended up having to make my own path through the pine forest, but I did reach the two branches of a stream described in the instructions. The water level was high indeed, but that's ok I can get wet. What was more of a concern was the group of four water buffalo. The broadleaf forest was directly across from the streams but also beyond a massive swampy area that I couldn't cross. So I backtracked again to take a different trail a bit further in from the lake shore. It's quite tough to work out the right trail, because the trails are also used by fishermen so th most well-trodden trail was generally not the right one.


    The upshot of all this, apart from getting covered in scratches from the vegetation (I used my hand to cover my binoculars a d given how blooded my hand and wrist were, I doubt the binoculars would have fared well) was that it was rather late by the time I got to the main broadleaf forest. It didn't really matter because I'd been passing through pockets all day, but I think for my final day tomorrow, rather than trying another site on the otherwise of the lake I'll come back here.


    As I was making my way along yet another track that I hoped would finally take me to the right place, I decided to stop for a bit of a rest. I was sat on a fallen log when all of a sudden, I heard something interesting coming towards me. I looked up and there was a flock of six Black-capped Parrotbills! This is a species I had really wanted to see, but didn't expect to because my understanding is they're super random and nomadic. But here they were, a decent sized group very active and out in the open. So showy in fact, that I was able to get some pretty good pictures. The vast majority of my Dalat bird pictures have been way too small and far away and in dense vegetation to be worth anything. Probably only about half a dozen species are anything beyond 'record shots' including the jay and - seemingly on the back of the camera at least - now the parrotbills. Really lovely birds. Similarly lovely to the only other parrotbills I've seen: Bearded Tits in Europe.


    I was actually on the right trail when I saw the parrotbills and reached the main broadleaf forest at about 1. i.e. it took me six hours from taxi drop off to entering forest. It's about an hour walking directly, which is why I'll definitely be coming back to the same spot tomorrow.


    In the forest, I was immidiately greeted by a wave of fantails, fulvettas and warblers. A good start. Of course with a taxi pickup arranged for 4:30, I only had about two hours in the main forest block, but that's ok because I'll have all day again tomorrow and the side patches of forest had most of my bird targets anyway. But from then, the trail was obvious and matched exactly my instructions. Bird waves here seemed incredibly numerous. Especially compared to yesterday but generally I was picking up one or two per hour. It's really good fun walking along with a bird wave and trying to pick out as many species as possible, including the occasional new species.


    At one point the trail opened into a clearing on top of a hill. There were birds all along the forest edge of course (heaps of minivets), and I could see all around that I was no in a vast expanse of broadleaf forest with a view down to the pine forest dotted with broadleaf that I had been in all day. From the clearing I could also see across to another clearing on top of a distant hill. There were three people on top of it, and through my binoculars I could see that they had nets and large boxes. I'm quite sure they were bird trappers, poaching in the broadleaf forest.


    You hear about how there's so much poaching pressure, but there they were. I assume they were not taking their pet nets and boxes for a walk through impenetrable forest. A group of bird poachers is definitely the last thing I want to come face to face with. I'm glad they were on a far off hill. Well I'd rather they weren't there at all of course. There was quite a lot of smoke from a fire coming from over one of the hills too. Quite a large fire it would seem, although it looked to be controlled.


    Despite an inviting flock of Black-headed Sibias just across the clearing, time constraints meant I had to turn back pretty soon, especially as I didn't really know exactly how much time I needed to allow to walk directly back. When I passed back through the clearing, some fires had been set in the clearing opposite where the poachers had just been. It looked like they were clearing the scrub. As I crossed the clearing the fire got bigger and I could really hear the sound of burning vegetation very loudly. I really hope that fire was controlled. I'll find out tomorrow I suppose.


    On the way back through the broadleaf forest, I added a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and also saw a Yellow-throated Marten crash away from me through the trees. The latter is a mammal that I've been in range of throughout my time in Asia but hadn't seen on this trip until now (I'd seen it previously last year at Kaeng Krachan in Thailand). The Marten seemed quite closely followed by a Black Giant Squirrel. I'm not sure who was chasing who!


    It took me only a little under an hour and a half to walk back, and having allowed just over two hours, I had a bit of a wait before the taxi was due to return. I was absolutely exhausted by this point though. I haven't been as tired as this in a very long time. My arms were absolutely covered in scratches too, the lantana especially stings when you get scratched and there was a thorny vine that was quite common. Today doesn't feel like it should have been quit that tiring, but I suppose I did cover a heck of a lot of ground in tough terrain. I had kind of been planning to visit the Crazy House when I got back which is a tourist attraction in Dalat. But yeah right. That was certainly not about to happen.


    So I just sat in the car park for a while. Hence how I had time to write so much. A small number of tourists had appeared, but not all that many. There were a few people working there about too unlike this morning, although I had technically arrived before opening time. My boots are getting bad too. I can put my finger between the sole and the upper on my right boot and touch my socks. I think the left one will be that bad by tomorrow. It will be ok for the rest of the trip though. Tomorrow may be my last really intense hiking day.


    Today's birding was wonderful though.


    Lots of motorbikes came and went while I was waiting for the taxi to show up. I gave him twenty minutes. Then after half an hour, I decided he wouldn't be showing up. So I asked the car park guard to call and he couldn't get through and so I went down to the restaurant area and found someone to call a taxi. I should have just done that from the start. The taxi took a whole three minutes to arrive and I got one of the green ones which I have determines are the cheapest at 11500 per km out of I think five taxi companies in Dalat (green, gold, red, blue and white, just white).


    I don't know why I've found today so tiring. When I got back I could hardly walk up the stairs, and I was perilously close to just skipping dinner because I couldn't be bothered. (I didn't in the end, having of course just had snacks for lunch I needed a proper meal). I'm extremely happy with today though. Great birding. Spending 300k on taxis does concern me slightly given that's roughly the same as my food and accommodation combined for a day, but the fact remains that 300k is less than £10.


    New birds:

    Brown Prinia

    Rain Quail

    Vietnamese Cutia

    Annam Barbet

    Grey Bushchat

    Yellow-browed Tit

    Grey-crowned Crocias

    Yellow-billed Nuthatch

    Orange-breasted Laughingthrush

    Besra

    Maroon Oriole

    Slender-billed Oriole

    Black-chinned Yuhina

    Burmese Shrike (missed off)

    Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker

    Black-capped Parrotbill

    Rufous-winged Fulvetta

    White-bellied Erpornis (should already be on the list from Bukit Fraser but appears missed off)

    Long-tailed Minivet

    Rufous-bellied Woodpecker


    Mammal
    Yellow-throated Marten
     
  15. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    Last Day of Dalat Birding


    I must say I'm starting to really tire of walking up at 5:30 every morning so that I'm up early enough for birding. That's a full hour earlier than I would have had to wake up for school!


    Anyway, today was my last day here at Dalat as my return bus ride is tomorrow. I decided to see if I could save a bit of money today by calling a GrabBike to go to the lake. I wouldn't be able to call one all the way out for the way back of course, but I was going to ask them to call a taxi anyway. The GrabBike cost 53k which is almost exactly a third of the taxi and it would be my last chance to have a fun potentially fatal motorbike ride in Vietnam. The driver didn't know the way and we took the wrong turning several times and drove about back and fourth near the lake. Why he would accept a ride where he didn't know the way I have no idea. The good thing about Grab though is that the fe is fixed and upfront so it doesn't cost any more. I got to Da Tien and, like a pro, headed straight for the rubbish tip. Annoyingly, a massive dog decided it would be good fun to follow me along the track. It was was clearly playing, but I didn't want it. How do you make a dog go away? It wasn't a vicious or mangey stray it was a dalmation with a collar and was clearly a pet, but I didn't want it while birding and with strange dogs I'm always extremely nervous that they may suddenly attack. I probably worry about dogs attacking more than I should but I tend to assume that all dogs want to try and kill me unless proven otherwise.


    It took a bit of shoving it away until the dog realised I didn't want it running up towards me and brushing up against me, and then even more persuading that walking a few metres behind me was also not acceptable. Eventually I had to pretend that I was going to throw rocks at it before it left.


    The pine forest had all the usual pine foresty birds and here at Ho Tuyen Lam quite a bit of the pine forest has some broadleaf trees in the understory which attracts birds like Black-headed Sibias and White-cheeked Laughingthrushes out into the pine forest. There were some ospreys circling over the lake too.


    I soon reached the broadleaf forest where the first stream had the Spotted Forktail that I was still missing. Just on the edge of the broadleaf forest, I got a really good sighting of a Grey-crowned Crocias. That's the super rare and endemic species that was believed extinct and rediscovered in 1994/5 I believe. This one posed really nicely and even let me get some fairly good pictures. The colouration is remeniscent of a shrike and it looks part way between a Sibia and Laughingthrush. Quite an inconspicuous bird too.


    When I reached the clearing and looked across to where the poachers had been, I could see that they were back and through the binoculars I could see that they were doing something along the forest edge, I think mist netting. Then they set some small fires. Is the idea that the fire drives birds into the nets? I would have thought that bird trappers would use glue traps and then play tapes to bring their target species to land on glue covered sticks.


    As with yesterday, the clearing had a lot of birds around the edges and I was pleased to get decent pictures of a Black-headed Sibia as well as a stunning male Mrs Gould's Sunbird. I also saw two Silver-eared Mesias in a bird wave along the edge of the clearing which is a stunning species that is very heavily targeted by bird poachers. All of this so that people can have a pretty bird to look at and sing in a cage.


    However, at the clearing I simply could not find the trail on the other side. I think someone must have come along at night and moved all the trails because this was ridiculous. The clearing isn't just grass, it's mostly shoulder-high bracken and lantana so you can't just walk wherever. After over and hour (!) of walking along the trails that criss-cross the clearing, I eventually found the other end that I had found with relative ease yesterday.


    I walked along for a couple of hours, it didn't seem quite as birdy as yesterday but it wasn't too bad. I was getting bird waves every hour or so, mostly common species but interspersed with rarer ones, as you'd expect. Then I could hear thunder. Then the rain came. Absolutely torrential rain, interspersed with bouts of hail. About the worst I've had on this trip. I was over two hours from shelter and that involves five stream crossings, a swamp, a now soggy rubbish tip, and some muddy slopes that were now perilously slippery. All this way forcing my way through vegetation that's now soaking wet. Although the air temperature today was not too bad, the rain itself was really cold! Hence the hail. I waited in the first for a bit, thinking that rain this hard couldn't last, but it turned out that it could. An hour later, and with no sign of cessation, I headed back. It gets to the point where you get so wet that whatever you do you can't get any wetter. I was at this point. Additionally, with my soles no longer properly attached I may as well have been in socks with sandals, everything was slippery and muddy and forging your own trail through this sort of sodden vegetation is even worse. I went sliding several times and at one point landed a bit badly on my camera bag, although it seems to be fine. Luckily that camera bag has good waterproofing. It's about the only thing though. I got back to the tourist places at about 2:30 having spent just over two hours trecking through sodden vegetation and what had become a swamp. I took shelter in one of the huts for a bit to recover and then in a slight lull went to try and get a taxi. Amazingly there was a taxi in the car park but he was already taken. Someone had hired it and had it wait with the meter running. It was almost up to half a million! But he was able to radio for another taxi to show up for mw and despite being a bedraggled soggy and muddy mess, he even let me sit in his car while I waited for my taxi.


    It's a good thing I wasn't in an Uber or Grab. Had a spread that much mud and water and soggy vegetation in one of those, I'd probably have ended up with a bad rating and possibly a clean up fee.


    I'm extremely happy about how well Dalat's birding went. I saw all my top targets and while there are obviously more species still to see on the Dalat Plateau, you'll never see every bird and I think I've done really well. It could have been much worse given the time of year though, as this afternoon was my only thunderstorm of the magnitude where you just have to stop and go home. I had rain most days, but the sort of rain you can keep birding through. I had also been warned that finding the endemics on Dalat is difficult-impossible on your own and without a guide. Rubbish. It's much trickier (most bird tours do all of Dalat in two days, rather than the four I spent here) and requires more luck - which I mostly had - but I think is far more rewarding.


    The taxi ride back to Dalat was slow and in extremely thick fog all the way. And it was still torrential rain when I got back.


    By 4:30 the rain had eased to a drizzle and not wanting to spend the rest of the day in my room, I headed out. I was not very keen on putting my feet back in those soaking squelchy shoes though. Not that I had a choice. This is why I buy waterproof shoes.


    I walked down the approx 1.5km to Crazy House. This is a normal tourist attraction in Dalat, you know, like the places I usually visit aren't, and it had been suggested to me. I could pretend to be normal for once. I'm very glad I visited. The name says it all really: I knew it would be crazy, but it really is. It's not a theme park or anything, just ridiculous architecture that you walk around. I don't know how to describe it. Imagine walking along sort of raised walkway things around a cross between a medieval castle, a Japanese temple, and a Hobbit house from Lord of the Rings while you're absolutely off your face on very strange chemicals. Oh and there's one big that's under the sea with massive shells and mermaids and mutated marine life. Seemingly because why the hell not. Mostly the Lord of The Rings and off your face aspects. I think that just about sums it up. They charge 50k to visit and there are a few rooms too if you've got more money than sense. Well worth a look though. Great view across the town too and to the forest and mountain beyond where I've been spending most of my time. I could see the summit of Lang Biang from there, I'm quite impressed with myself for having got to the top of that.


    Crazy House also seems to be expanding as they've bought the block next door and are spreading the mental-ness. I wonder if it's contagious, although I reckon I'm already long gone personally. Crazy House is open until 7 which is well after dark here. I recommend visiting at the end of the day and into the night - as I did - so that you can see the lights. The garden of giant mushrooms and weird mutated forest things really takes on a new dimension once they start glowing florescent purple, and the decapitated giraffe head really pops.


    Tomorrow, I return to Saigon. Given the rather large numbers of flags everywhere, I think the fact that tomorrow is National Day may be interesting.


    New birds:

    Barred Buttonquail

    Hill Prinia

    Rufous-backed Sibia

    Spotted Forktail


    White-browed Scimitar-babbler

    Necklaced Barbet
     
    Chlidonias likes this.
  16. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    13 Jun 2007
    Posts:
    23,958
    Location:
    the world of tomorrow
    There's basically two sorts of international birders, the tour-birders and the independent-birders. The first lot only go on tours, I guess because they "need" to see every possible bird in the shortest amount of time. So they get driven everywhere, all the birds are taped in by the guide, the bird is pointed out to them and identified for them. Those are the sort of birders who say (and generally actually believe) that you simply can't go do it on your own. Mammal-watchers are even worse for this. For myself, it isn't about the total I see but the fun in going looking for them. Some days you have good luck and some days bad luck, but if I don't see something it just means I have a reason to go back. And there really is a great amount of satisfaction in finding wild animals by yourself which is entirely lacking when someone is just leading you around.

    That's like me - @FunkyGibbon told me to visit it, I wouldn't have otherwise, but I'm really glad I did. The "under the sea" room was still being constructed when I was there though.
     
    LaughingDove likes this.
  17. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2014
    Posts:
    2,519
    Location:
    Oxford/Warsaw
    Return to Saigon


    Today is Vietnam's independence day and I noticed quite soon because my usual banh mi (personal sized baguette sandwich) shop - which is just around the corner and had been open every day from 6:30 - was closed. This is Vietnam though so I didn't have to go too much further to find an alternative banh mi shop. My dong had become rather soggy after yesterday's rain though. 10k and up is plastic polymer banknotes, but the 1000, 2000, and 5000 are printed on really poor quality cotton notes. Given that they're worth 3.3p, 6.6p and 9.9p respectively that's unsurprising, and they get really mangled and soggy. I believe the government tried to replace those with coins at one point but people wouldn't accept and use coins and Vietnam runs purely on notes. There can't be many countries that don't have any coins at all?


    As mentioned the other day, since today is independence/national day I had booked my bus back to Saigon. I had booked with a company called The Sinh Tourist which is quite a large tour company in Vietnam. The bus left from their office area, not the main city bus stop, and this was about 1.3km away which feels like much further when you're carrying all your stuff up and down Dalat's hills.


    The Sinh Tourist seems primarily to be a sort of tour company, although you can just book a plain bus ticket on one of their buses which is what I had done. The usual ticket was $9 with an additional $8 'public holiday surcharge' which adds up to almost 400k! That's at least double what it should be, I'm sure no locals pay any holiday surcharge. Also, I was charged the amount as US$17 and generally it seems that if something is priced in dollars in Vietnam, there's a good chance you're being overcharged. TheSinhTourist seems to mainly organise tours. Not quite the level of the sort of load tourists on and off a bus like cattle and drive around to all the sites for five minutes each, but more the sort of tour where they organise everything for you and make sure you have as little interaction with the actual place and people as possible and never have to speak to anyone who doesn't speak perfect English. You know, catering to that demographic of traveler who would really secretly much rather be watching a documentary, but have to actually go to a place so that they can put adventurous pictures of themselves on Snapstagram and think that they're all multicultural. On my bus from Cat Tien to Dalat my backpack was put on top of a big pile of grapefruits and then covered in the bus conductor's banh mi crumbs. You don't get that kind of thing with a tourist bus.


    I had a sleeper bus, which is a fairly common thing in Vietnam, not just for tourists. Basically you get two levels of seats, like bunk beds, that are sort of like the lie-flat seats in business class on planes. They go down almost fully flat and can also sit up. (This isn't just a tourist thing, I've seen these buses quite commonly here with the local companies too)


    It's roughly an 8 and a half hour journey from Dalat back to Saigon. You can fly as well from an airport about 30km outside Dalat and it's a 30 minute flight. The flight costs at least 1.5-2 million when I looked and you miss out on the risking life-and-death fun of Vietnam's traffic. I actually quite enjoy long bus rides anyway. You just relax and look out at the countryside.


    The bus set off very empty indeed, I would say only about a fifth of seats were full. This is extremely common on a local bus, often I would be the only person on the bus at the start, because the bus then drives around to pick up passengers who instinctively know where on the roadside the bus will show up and generally ends up absolutely packed. However as a tourist bus, this did not happen and instead we actually did the journey mostly empty. In fact just dropping off people, including at the Cat Tien junction. Those dropped off at the junction for Cat Tien had a car from their accommodation waiting there for them of course. As I said, people who want everything all neat and nicely organised.


    It's worth pointing out that there was an extremely noticeable lack of buses on the highway today. When I came up from Cat Tien there were local public buses near constantly, and I barely saw any at all today. At least a 90% reduction in the number of buses. So I think the accommodation staff were correct when they warned me that I would struggle to get an ordinary bus today due to the holiday, and it's probably a very good thing I did book the tourist bus. Even if it did cost me 150-200k more (about £5).


    I really enjoyed the ride back though. I'm relatively short by European standards but here in Vietnam I'm exactly the correct height and I was able to just barely stretch out to my full height in the seat so it was really comfortable. Unlike all these other freakishly tall tourists. It was nice just looking out at the scenery and not arriving at my destination having no circulation in my feet through them being jammed in with my backpack all day.


    We left the amazing mountains with pine forests and broadleaf forest on the ridges that covers the Dalat Plateau. It really is a spectacular area of endemic birds, so many amazing species. Then back into the lowlands with completely different vegetation and look at of agriculture and development everywhere. There's one section of road that winds through rainforested mountains which is particularly pretty. What was less enjoyable to look at though we're the unfortunately numerous bird shops. I hadn't noticed any on the drive up, but I saw quite a few today. They seemed to especially have bulbuls and laughingthrushes, one shop had dozens and dozens of White-cheeked Laughingthrushes in pathetic little cages that would in the past have been considered suitable for canaries. There was even a massive Greater Coucal in a wire box that would have been too small for a hamster.


    They're the only birds you see though. There are no wild birds on the roadsides. No doves or sparrows or egrets in the paddy fields. Anywhere else in Asia, you'd see mynas constantly along the roadsides. You know how many mynas I've seen on the roadsides in my entire time in Vietnam? None. Exactly zero. Rice paddies and lotus ponds where you'd expect birds are totally empty of wildlife, no birds, apart from occasionally domestic ducks. There's lots of amazing wildlife in Vietnam, it's just that there's less and less of it, and it's hard to find.


    Back in Saigon I'm staying at the same place as last time. I looked for a different place on the internet, but I didn't fancy walking around trying to find a hotel when I arrived and, well, the place I got last time is insanely cheap. It's a private room (single room, shared bathroom) and although it's about the smallest room you could reasonably use, it's in the middle of district 1 and it's 140k per night. I couldn't see anything online priced similarly apart from dorms, which I basically can't be bothered with at this point when I can get a room for about £4. The lock is quite literally a chopstick shoved into a hole (there's a padlock on the outside, but it's if you want to lock on the inside that a chopstick becomes necessary) There is a TV in the room though! It doesn't work, is larger than my backpack, and probably older than me, but never mind.


    The advantage of a tourist bus is that it drops you off in the tourist area, literally 600m from my accommodation. It's weird that you can be tired after sitting on a bus all day. I am a bit sleep deprived after this Vietnam trip though, but slewl deprivation generally means there's been lots of wildlife to see, or at least to look for. I also ruined my no mynas streak as there were two in mini sort of park thing as I walked to my accomodation. I was in my accommodation around 4.


    My flight tomorrow is in the very early afternoon which of course means getting to the airport in the morning and leaving the accommodation in the mid morning. There's no wildlife in Saigon, seemingly apart from two starlings, and I've been to the zoo so I'll just be relaxing a bit. Tomorrow, I fly to Bangkok for just a short relaxed 10 day visit, and the final stop of the trip.
     
    Chlidonias and Brum like this.
  18. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    13 Jun 2007
    Posts:
    23,958
    Location:
    the world of tomorrow
    I hate those Vietnamese sleeper buses! But I would love to see @ThylacineAlive try to travel in one, given that he is about nine feet tall.
     
    ThylacineAlive, FunkyGibbon and Brum like this.
  19. Brum

    Brum Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    27 May 2011
    Posts:
    3,162
    Location:
    Birmingham, UK
    He might be tall but you've got far more muscle on you, well at the start of your trips anyway... :D :p
     
  20. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    13 Jun 2007
    Posts:
    23,958
    Location:
    the world of tomorrow
    That's a good point - ThylacineAlive could just slide himself into the gap between the beds and the wall, and stretch right out.