Monday, 30 January 2012

Rockjumper’s debut Myanmar Birding tour by Glen Valentine

Hi all! A recent trip to the seldom-visited birding hotspot of Burma (or Myanmar as it is known these days) proved to be an immense success. We managed to score all 7 Burmese endemics: namely, the four dry country specialties (Hooded Treepie, Burmese Bushlark, Jerdon’s Minivet and White-throated Babbler), as well as the 3 species restricted to the remote Mt. Victoria area in the Chin Hills bordering Bangladesh and north-east India (Mount Victoria Babax, Burmese Bushtit and the legendary White-browed Nuthatch!).

We were also thrilled to return with excellent sightings of several localized near-endemics that included Black-bibbed Tit, Chin Hills Wren-Babbler, Striped, Brown-capped and Assam Laughingthrush, the rare and elusive Burmese Yuhina and Collared Myna. Other noteworthy species that were encountered on this ground-breaking and extremely exciting birding adventure were the seldom-seen Pale-capped Pigeon, highly sought-after Pale-headed Woodpecker, localized White-rumped Falcon, Himalayan Cutia, Broad-billed Warbler, Streak-throated and Spectacled Barwing, elegant Pied Harrier, Laggar Falcon, Grey-headed and Blossom-headed Parakeet, scarce Oriental Hobby, striking Himalayan Flameback, Slender-billed Oriole, Spotted Wren-Babbler, Rusty-capped and Yunnan Fulvetta, Grey-sided and Black-breasted Thrush, Black-backed Forktail, White-tailed Stonechat, Mrs. Gould’s and Fire-tailed Sunbird, Jerdon’s Bush Chat – and many more besides!

I also finally bumped into the evasive Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, which I have searched long and hard for in Bhutan and north-west Thailand without any success until now! We were strolling down the southern side of Mt. Victoria on our initial afternoon on the mountain and had just located our first of many White-browed Nuthatches when I spotted a small bird perched up on a tall, dead snag in the open, mixed pine and oak forest. Almost instantaneously I knew it was a male Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker – a very handsome bird – and we were treated to phenomenal views of this extremely confiding individual!

Another one of our extremely memorable moments came when we decided to search for another rarely seen forest denizen, Hodgson’s Frogmouth. We arrived at our site and within only a few minutes of being in the area we were ogling a gorgeous female at point blank range that we eventually walked away from! Absolutely amazing!

Another species of significant local interest that we saw in a small flock in the Bagan area was Black-headed Bunting. This species is currently only known in south-east Asia from a handful of records and has never (from the best of my knowledge) been recorded from Myanmar (Burma)!

We recorded a total of 345 species on this short yet very rewarding 13-day tour, of which 331 were seen! This beautiful country has so much to offer and apart from the hordes of fantastic birds, Burma also boasts some very impressive scenery, a remarkable diversity of habitats, amazing culture and history, and a nation that is extremely friendly and welcoming to tourism. All in all, this was an immensely successful debut trip to what is surely one of Asia’s prime birding destinations!

Below is a selection of some of the photos I managed to capture whilst leading this tour...

 Endemic White-browed Nuthatch

Endemic White-throated Babbler

Localized Streak-throated Barwing

The scarce and localized White-rumped Falcon (female)

The elusive and extremely sought-after Hodgson's Frogmouth

Bat Emergence at dusk at the spectacular Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Sunset over Temples at Bagan