Trip Report: Dalat, Vietnam, September 22nd-26th (Collared Laughingthrush, Grey-crowned Crocias, Yellow-billed Nuthatch)

Tuyen Lam Lake - a very picturesque birding location.
Tuyen Lam Lake – a very picturesque birding location.

The endemic-rich Dalat Plateau is a great place for a few days birding, with the three key sites all within 20 minutes drive of the town center. I first visited in 2006, when I was new to south-east Asian birding, and made only a single outing to Lang Bian mountain – predictably seeing only a small selection of the available birds. Nine years later, a bit more time, more skill and experience, and a more targeted approach produced sightings of the majority of the area’s endemics and special birds among a healthy total of 106 species.

The taxonomic status of many of the key local species has changed greatly in recent years, with Vietnamese Cutia, Black-crowned Fulvetta, Dalat Shrike-Babbler, and Grey-crowned Tit among the birds generally elevated to full species status since my previous visit. It seems likely that the distinctive local forms of Black-headed Sibia, Black-throated Sunbird and Blue-winged Minla will shortly join them on the rapidly lengthening list of Dalat endemics.

Online Resources: I found the following two websites to be indispensable for planning my trip:

Google maps directions to key sites

Henk Hendrik’s excellent 2006 report

The Google maps page clearly shows how to reach each of the sites, while Hendrik’s report is very comprehensive. In particular his excellent map of the trails to the south-east of Tuyen Lam lake is essential viewing – it is still completely accurate despite it being nine years since his report.

Transportation: I rented a small scooter from my hotel for 120,000VND per day. Getting involved in Vietnam’s chaotic traffic takes nerves of steel, although the situation in Dalat is nowhere near as intimidating as in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, and a scooter is the most flexible mode of transport for birders. Alternatively, meter taxis are available everywhere and are very reasonably priced.

Timing: Few birders visit the central Highlands in September, as it is reckoned to be one of the wettest months. During my visit, it rained hard most days from lunchtime onwards, but every morning was dry and sunny. It got light very early, around 5.35am, allowing for at least six hours birding time each day before the rains. The trails were predictably quite muddy, and I had several leech bites at Ta Nung valley and Tuyen Lam lake. Overall, the weather didn’t hamper birding in the slightest. Bird activity was quite high at all sites, although many birds weren’t singing which was probably a factor in my failure to find Orange-breasted Laughingthrush.

Trees at Ta Nung valley become alive with bird activity in the early morning as soon as the sun hits.
Trees at Ta Nung valley become alive with bird activity in the early morning as soon as the sun hits.

Birding sites: Although there are undoubtedly discoveries to be made on the Dalat Plateau for those with sufficient time and determination, I played it safe and stuck to the three main sites which between them hold nearly all of the area’s special birds.

  1. Ta Nung Valley: Head west out of Dalat on road 725. After several kilometers of brand new road, the entrance to the site is marked by a wide track on the left, just over 6km from the last roundabout in Dalat town. The track should be easy to find as it seems to be the only one on the left hand side of this road. Follow this dirt road downhill for about one hundred meters to the locked iron gate, which the resident caretaker will open for you (I gave him 20,000VND for his trouble). Even very early in the morning (5.50am) he was up and about, so access shouldn’t be a problem. Follow the trail down to the valley bottom. This is undoubtedly the best birding site in the area in the early morning – as soon as the sun hits the treetops it becomes absolutely alive with birds here, and I found the main speciality Grey-crowned Crocias to be fairly easy to find. Other good birds I saw here included Pin-tailed Pigeon, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Dalat Shrike-Babbler, Black-crowned Parrotbill and Vietnamese Greenfinch. Apart from birding along the wide track, it is possible to follow the river bed upstream through good broadleaved forest for several hundred meters, but the other forest trails along the stream marked in older trip reports were completely overgrown and impossible to find. Halfway down the track into the valley, a short loop trail through a patch of broadleaved forest was quite productive (follow the man-made terraces into the forest). It is worth noting that after 9am it seemed to suddenly become very quiet on both my visits to this site.
  2. Tuyen Lam Lake: From Dalat, follow the eastern shore of the lake, past the dam and several high end resorts including Sacom and Edensee. Park just above the Da Tien resort, step over the logs and follow the concrete road to the end (there is no need to descend to the resort). The trail is somewhat indistinct as far as the second resort (fifteen minutes walk around the lakeshore from Da Tien), but afterwards the trail is clear and Hendrik’s map is most useful. The speciality of this site is Yellow-billed Nuthatch, which I found on my second visit in the “degraded forest” marked on Hendrik’s map. Other good birds I saw in this area included Silver Pheasant, Brown Fish Owl, Grey-crowned Tit and Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler.
  3. Lang Bian mountain: A well-known tourist attraction about 10km north of Dalat. You must leave your vehicle at the base of the mountain, and either walk or take an expensive jeep 2.2km uphill to the start of the summit trail. From the trailhead, follow the path a further 2km to the summit. The trail is steep in places and passes through some excellent broadleaved montane forest. This is the site for Collared Laughingthrush, which can be hard to find as it is apparently becoming less responsive to call playback here. I was lucky, as one spontaneously emerged from the forest to investigate me, about 400m below the summit, not requiring any call playback at all. Other good birds I saw here included Black-crowned Fulvetta (a recent split from Rufous-winged Fulvetta), Clicking Shrike-Babbler of the distinctive local form with reduced chestnut on its breast, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Lesser Shortwing, Scaly Thrush and Grey-bellied Tesia.
  4. Other sites around Dalat: On one non-rainy late afternoon, I ventured south along Mimosa Road, where an opportune stop produced both White-crested and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, as well as a large flock of the rather common local speciality White-cheeked Laughingthrush. I also saw a Rufous-bellied Eagle soaring overhead from our hotel on Khe Sanh Road just south of Dalat.
Record shot of Collared Laughingthrush at Lang Bian mountain,.
Record shot of Collared Laughingthrush at Lang Bian mountain,.

List of birds seen:

1 = Ta Nung Valley, 2 = Tuyen Lam Lake, 3 = Mount Lang Bian, 4 = Elsewhere in Dalat

  1. Chinese Francolin 2
  2. Red Junglefowl 2
  3. Silver Pheasant 2
  4. Little Grebe 2
  5. Little Egret 2
  6. White-bellied Sea Eagle 2
  7. Rufous-bellied Eagle 4
  8. Black-shouldered Kite 4
  9. White-breasted Waterhen 2
  10. Spotted Dove 2
  11. Barred Cuckoo-Dove 1,4
  12. Emerald Dove 2
  13. Thick-billed Pigeon 1
  14. Pin-tailed Pigeon 1
  15. Mountain Imperial Pigeon 1,2,3
  16. Banded Bay Cuckoo 1
  17. Green-billed Malkoha 1
  18. Brown Fish Owl 2
  19. House Swift 1,4
  20. Red-headed Trogon 1,2
  21. Common Kingfisher 2
  22. Blue-bearded Bee-Eater 1
  23. Indochinese Barbet 1,2
  24. Greater Yellownape 2
  25. Greater Flameback 2
  26. Grey-headed Woodpecker 2
  27. Bay Woodpecker 1,2
  28. Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike 1
  29. Grey-chinned Minivet 3
  30. Long-tailed Minivet 2,3
  31. Scarlet Minivet 1
  32. Indochinese Cuckooshrike 1
  33. Burmese Shrike 1,2,3
  34. Dalat Shrike-Babbler 1
  35. Clicking Shrike-Babbler 1,3
  36. White-bellied Erpornis 2
  37. Slender-billed Oriole 2,3
  38. Maroon Oriole 2
  39. Ashy Drongo 1,2,3
  40. Bronzed Drongo 1,2
  41. Hair-crested Drongo 1
  42. Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo 1,2
  43. White-throated Fantail 1,2,3
  44. Eurasian Jay 1,2,3
  45. Barn Swallow 1,3
  46. Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher 1,3
  47. Green-backed Tit 1,2,3
  48. Grey-crowned Tit 2
  49. Chestnut-vented Nuthatch 2,3
  50. Yellow-billed Nuthatch 2
  51. Black-crested Bulbul 1
  52. Sooty-headed Bulbul 2,3
  53. Flavescent Bulbul 1,2,3
  54. Ochraceous Bulbul 1
  55. Black Bulbul 1,2,3
  56. Ashy Bulbul 1,2
  57. Mountain Bulbul 2,3
  58. Ashy-throated Warbler 3
  59. Yellow-browed Warbler 1,3
  60. Arctic Warbler 1
  61. Kloss’s Leaf Warbler 1,2,3
  62. Grey-cheeked Warbler 1,3
  63. Chestnut-crowned Warbler 1,2
  64. Hill Prinia 1,2
  65. Black-crowned Parrotbill 1
  66. Rufous-capped Babbler 1,3
  67. Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler 2
  68. White-browed Scimitar-Babbler 2
  69. Grey-throated Babbler 1,2
  70. Spot-throated Babbler 1,2
  71. Black-crowned Fulvetta 3
  72. Mountain Fulvetta 1,2,3
  73. White-cheeked Laughingthrush 1,2,3,4
  74. Collared Laughingthrush 3
  75. White-crested Laughingthrush 4
  76. Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush 4
  77. Black-headed Sibia 1,2,3
  78. Rufous-backed Sibia 1,2
  79. Silver-eared Mesia 2
  80. Grey-crowned Crocias 1
  81. Blue-winged Minla 1
  82. Asian Fairy Bluebird 1
  83. Asian Brown Flycatcher 2,3
  84. Large Niltava 2,3
  85. Verditer Flycatcher 1,2
  86. Snowy-browed Flycatcher 3
  87. Little Pied Flycatcher 2
  88. Lesser Shortwing 2,3
  89. Siberian Blue Robin 2
  90. White-tailed Robin 2,3
  91. Grey Bushchat 2,3
  92. Scaly Thrush 3
  93. Hill Myna 2
  94. Black-collared Starling 2
  95. Yellow-vented Flowerpecker 1
  96. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker 1
  97. Black-throated Sunbird 1,2
  98. Mrs Gould’s Sunbird 3
  99. Streaked Spiderhunter 1,2,3
  100. Grey Wagtail 1,2,3
  101. Oriental Pipit 3
  102. Vietnamese Greenfinch 1,2
  103. Plain-backed Sparrow 3
  104. Tree Sparrow 3,4
  105. White-rumped Munia 1
  106. Scaly-breasted Munia 3,4

Additional heard-only birds not counted on this list included Collared Owlet and Red-vented and Golden-throated Barbet. Notable misses included Orange-breasted and Black-hooded Laughingthrushes, Indochinese Green Magpie, Red-vented Barbet, Vietnamese Cutia and the potential endemic Vietnamese Crossbill.

Lifers: White-cheeked Laughingthrush, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Grey-crowned Crocias, Black-headed Sibia, Kloss’s Leaf Warbler, Indochinese Barbet, Dalat Shrike-Babbler, Black-crowned Parrotbill, Grey-crowned Tit, Red-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Black-crowned Fulvetta, Collared Laughingthrush, Grey-bellied Tesia, Yellow-billed Nuthatch, Rufous-bellied Eagle (total 2,003).

2015 Year Ticks: Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, White-crested Laughingthrush, Mountain Fulvetta, Spot-throated Babbler, Vietnamese Greenfinch, Chinese Francolin, Brown Fish Owl, Grey-cheeked Warbler (total 922).

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One thought on “Trip Report: Dalat, Vietnam, September 22nd-26th (Collared Laughingthrush, Grey-crowned Crocias, Yellow-billed Nuthatch)

  1. Pingback: Trip Report: South and Central Vietnam, January 17th-February 2nd – Dom the Birder

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