Migration is in full swing in Hanoi, but despite some good bird sightings my overwhelming emotion this week was one of despair. Local people have gradually been turning the wood at the northern end of the Red River Island into an open-cast mine over the last couple of weeks, cutting down trees and transporting the soil out of the wood in carts pulled by buffaloes or motorbikes. Last weekend, the scale of the operation rapidly increased, with about half the forest clearfelled when I returned to the site on Monday morning.
It seems likely that the entire wood – one of the very few remaining areas of natural cover for migrants on the island – will disappear entirely very soon, with the timber and topsoil sold for a quick buck, and the land made available for yet another banana plantation.
This pillage-the-environment-for-fast-cash approach is one of the most depressing aspects of living in Vietnam. The local view seems to be that everything is there for the taking – the birds, the trees, and even the ground itself – with no regard whatsoever for the future.
To top it off, the man with the mist-nets was active in the small area of the wood that still remains. I was still reeling from seeing the trees lying on the ground, and I told him in no uncertain terms to take down his nets and clear off. He may not have understood my words, but the tone of my voice and body language made my position clear, and he beat a hasty retreat with his equipment. A little later, I bumped into a Vietnamese birder in the wood, who was similarly despondent about the situation. He told me that he had spoken to the trapper earlier in the morning, and asked him to release a male Hainan Blue Flycatcher they had in a cage. The trapper had refused, claiming it was an Oriental Magpie Robin and would fetch a good price in the bird market. It seems they just ignorantly trap anything they can, sell it if possible, and if it dies – the likely destiny for this flycatcher – they don’t care at all.
Thoroughly despondent after my experiences of the morning, I decided to explore the island to see if I could find any other wooded areas. About two-thirds of the way back to the Long Bien bridge, close to the eastern shore of the island, I found a small wood. Although part of the area has been very recently cleared, a decent patch of trees still remains, with thick ground cover and no paths inside. This should provide a disturbance-free haven for tired migrants, at least for the time being. Hopefully the wood will survive at least until spring migration is over.
Despite all the bad news, I did see some interesting birds this week. Prior to the disastrous clearfelling, I made two visits to the wood on Saturday 2nd April, the first time in the company of Manoli Strecker and Alex Yates. Drizzly weather had brought in plenty of migrants, with the highlight being a Japanese Robin, and a singing Pale-footed Bush-Warbler which responded well to tape and later in the day came in for some very close views as I sat quietly in the wood. Eurasian Wryneck and a briefly-glimpsed Large-tailed Nightjar were both personal firsts for the site, while other excellent sightings on Saturday included a smart male Mugimaki Flycatcher and one or two Blue-and-White Flycatchers.
On Monday, my “new” wood near the eastern shore produced a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, a Hainan Blue Flycatcher, a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, an Ashy Minivet and a rather odd sighting of a Striated Heron perched in a treetop. However, when I returned there on Wednesday with Joy Ghosh, we saw very little – but I am still hopeful that this new location will continue to reward further visits during the spring.
Up to four Yellow-breasted Buntings – including an adult male – have been present in a dead cornfield along the western edge of the island all week, sometimes joined by a small flock of up to nine Little Buntings. Yellow-breasted Bunting is formerly abundant bird that is now officially classified as Endangered by the IUCN, with a precipitous decline in the last twenty years due to hunting of this species in China. Yet another sad story of the state of bird conservation in East Asia.
After Monday’s depressing incidents in the wood, I haven’t yet had the stomach to return to that area, but will probably have to do so next week to see how the destruction is “progressing”.
In total I observed 78 species on Red River Island during the week, and my total site list after just over a month stands at 128 species.