The following is nearly a full report on the bird sightings around the village of Mang Den, Vietnam during two visits to the area in 2015, plus special notes on two species: Grey-crowned Crocias (GCCR) and Narcissus Flycatcher (NAFC).
Details on 60 of the approximately 200 species I saw during my two visits are outlined below. Sightings of all bird species have been entered into ebird.org, so if you are interested in a particular species, you can look for it using ebird.org's EXPLORE DATA options.
Update: link to maps
Most visitor's need a visa or visa letter in advance and each nationality has different requirements. Length of stay ranges from 15-90 day visas.
If arriving by air: I was able to get a Pre-Approved Visa Letter online (3 day service, US$10-20) from one of the many online tourists agency's. I flew into Danang from KL on Airasia, and when I arrived at Danang Airport, I presented a print out of the Approval Letter then I paid the normal US$45 visa fee for a 30 day visa, the process was very quick and efficient. Pre-Approved Letters are NOT valid for land border crossings.
Land Borders: You will need to go to a Vietnamese embassy / consulate for a visa or have a travel agency go for you. Cambodia is the easiest and quickest.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND / MONEY
Danang has the nearest international airport to Mang Den which is serviced by a few Low Cost airlines; namely Airasia and HK Express. A few ATM's and money changers are at the airport, but taking the time of going into the city to a reliable bank may be a better option for getting money. Most banks charge 3.3 percent on your withdrawal whether it be ATM or counter service (ie. 99,000 fee for 3 million). Citibank (unfortunately NOT in Danang but in Saigon and Hanoi) has the cheapest withdrawal fee and highest allowable onetime withdrawal (60,000 fee for 8 million).
***Kontum has decent banks and ATM services, and some hotels change money***
The buses to Kontum leave from the main Danang bus terminal located 5km from the airport.. Getting to the bus terminal costs about 50,000 by motorcycle taxi or 200,000 for car taxi. (Bargain hard)
There are a variety of services and routes to Kontum, and it's worth asking around and inquiring about the route and costs with the driver. Most drivers won't speak English but they will know city and village names if you write them down. Hopefully you can find the the one that passes through the twin villages of Mang Den/Konplong, saving you a transfer in Kontum city. The fares (150,000-200,000) are written on the buses, but as a foreigner expect slight overcharging (typically 10-20% percent here, as opposed to 500% in other towns). The 250-300 km trip lasts from 6-8 hours.
If you get stuck in Kontum, don't panic, it is a decent city for spending the night and a morning for banking, stocking up on your favorite snacks,etc.
Kontum city's bus terminal is at the north end of the city, and the closest hotel (Hotel Hung Yen, the sister hotel of Mang Den's Hotel Hung Yen, US$10 and up) is about 300 meters south of the bus station along the main road. They can arrange for one of the regular silver minibus's to pick you up and drive you to Mang Den (40,000-50,000) one hour, 50km. Alternatively, but at no cost savings, these same regular silver minibus's and the new Yellow buses (50,000) from Kontum to Mang Den do NOT leave from the bus terminal, but rather at the major roundabout 500 meters south of the main bus terminal.
Kontum city is situated near both the Laos and Cambodian borders. When in Kontum I saw a Savannaket (city in Laos) bus, which is probably a regular through bus. I believe the crossing to Cambodia requires both buses and taxi's, but it's worth checking on this.
ACCOMODATION AND FOOD
The village of Mang Den has at least 6 hotels priced from US$5-10. Unfortunately most hotels are set upon the noisy main road, and are within earshot of Karaoke. The one exception is the Hotel Hung Yen, set back 100 meters from the road and Karaoke bars. A nice setting with pleasant staff, large rooms with hot shower, free WiFi and poor TV and priced at US$10 represents good value. The birder can simple walk out of the hotel and go birding without having to sort out transportation to the forest, unless he/she wants to go for the Chestnut-eared Laughinghtrush (CELT) located 17km north of the hotel.
Most hotels seem to be on the verge of going out of business due to lack of tourists (Mang Den /Konplong are not on the tourist trail), so the more birders coming here the better.
A few local restaurants are within walking distance of the hotel consisting of mostly simple meals of rice or noodles.
I am an amateur birdwatcher who has birded extensively in South East Asia and this document should be treated as such. This is was not a professional survey, I did not band or handle any birds. I relied on my binoculars, camera, my ear and Craig Robson's field guide.
I hiked in the general area of Mang Den village, primarily in the forests west of the village. I followed well used tractor and motorcycle trails through closed canopy forest, or walked the empty streets and local paths in the village. Communication was difficult here, few people spoke English. I therefore just assumed Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) from the Vietnam/American War may have been present here, so I stuck to the trails. Local people wandered off trial, so perhaps the threat of UXO is low here. American Army Topographical maps from the Vietnamese War show the twin villages of Konplong/ Mang Den as an American landing zone at an altitude of 1170 meters a.s.l.
All of my sightings, including my daily checklists, have been entered on ebird.org. To view my sightings (and the lists of other ebirders) go to ebird.org, then click on EXPLORE DATA, then click on SPECIES MAPS. Enter the species you wish to view, and zoom into the Mang Den area which I explored. It is roughly 250 km southwest of Danang, or 50km ENE of Kontum.
All species sightings can be placed in the region of CENTRAL ANNAM in Craig Robson's “Birds of South east Asia.”
Location 1. Mang Den village and the surrounding forests are located in Kontum Province, Central Annam, Vietnam at an altitude of about 1050 – 1200 meters, 50 km east of Kontum City.
Location 2. Chestnut-eared (CELT) Location lies another 17 km north of Mang Den Village at an altitude of 1250 - 1400 meters on the TL676 road. I visited this location 3 times in late March and early April and did not record GCCR. I did not visit here in January.
The Mang Den area is known as the only accessible place in Vietnam to see the Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush (CELT), and it is on the itinerary of most international Birding Tours, most of whom seem to pass through Mang Den for just two nights between March 10-20. A recent sighting in March 2012 of Grey-crowned Crocias (GCCR) added even more excitement to this relatively under-birded region. The forest west of the Mang Den village may be at an altitude too low for CELT, but it is ideal for many other species, namely the GCCR.
In the past the surrounding area was either closed to foreigners or a special permit was needed to visit here. This probably accounts for a general lack of ornithological study, and for the relatively recent discoveries of new species (ie. Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush, and Golden-winged Laughingthrush)
Today the area is being developed for tourism, and I was able to walk unescorted virtually anywhere I wanted.
All the trails that I hiked I found and named. Hopefully I will get around to attaching a map to this report or you could try looking on ebird.org when searching the EXPLORE DATA option for Grey-crowned Crocias. If you arrive without my map you'll have to find everything on your own. A good way to start looking is by walking west along the main road out of Mang Den and then searching for well-used dirt tracks leading into the forest. Watch out for possible UXO.
THREATS TO THE ENVIRONMENT
As in most tropical regions of the world, the greatest threat to the environment is someone like myself; the consumer of products grown in a tropical environment: Coffee, Sugar, Palm Oil, etc.
The forest seems to have some protection, as there are many signs (in Vietnamese) prohibiting the extraction of wood and other forest products. Who is responsible for the protection of these forests remained a mystery to me. Distant chainsaw music and selective logging was happening throughout. The government had just completed a new road directly through this forest from Kontum to Mang Den, along with multiple clearings for hydro lines. The altitude here is ideal for growing coffee and plantations have begun to spring to life. At least one foreign investment company has cleared 100 hectares of forest to start an organic vegetable farm. Extensive clear cut logging is happening to the north, the most recent Googlemaps satellite picture does not show the true extent of the clearing yet. Major plans to develop the entire area into a major tourist destination , a sort of new “Dalat”, seem to have stalled, but most of the forest clearing for these projects appear to have happened already.
HUNTING AND TRAPPING
Silver Pheasant and Giant Squirrel were common here and I saw very few instances of hunting or evidence of hunting but it probably occurs. I did not encounter any bird trappers while in Mang Den, although Red-whiskered Bulbuls and Black-throated Laughingthrushes were the most commonly kept caged birds in the village. Black-hooded Laughingthrushes are common in the forest here but not seen in cages.
WEATHER AND BIRD ACTIVITY
In January the weather was characterized by a cool and constant misty wind from the east. The birdwaves were very impressive at this time, birds densities seemed high here perhaps due to the rampant deforestation in the surrounding area which may have forced the surviving birds into the remaining forest. My highest one day species total in January was 73, but 60-65 was more typical.
On a return visit in late March and early April, the weather was a bit more stable and the temperature was quite warm at mid-day, slowing birding activity. The birds were still around but not in birdwaves, many resident species were beginning to pair up and begin nesting, while winter visitors and passage migrants were going north. My highest one day species total in March/April was 86, but 60 was more typical and most species were heard only and /or I had poor views.
The Vietnamese celebration of TET should probably be avoided if planning a birding visit to Vietnam.
The GCCR has an interesting history. Collected in 1939 by Bertil Bjorkgren, an assistant of Count Gyldenstople, it's origin of was not documented and therefore was left unseen by ornithologists and birdwatchers for some 50 years. In 1994 Jonathon Eames, Le Trong Traai and Nguyen Cu shocked the birding world when they rediscovered this species on the Dalat Plateau in southern Vietnam. In March of 2012 a birding tour saw a (GCCR) near Mang Den, well to the north of it's only known location on the Dalat Plateau, rocking the ornithological world to it's core. Birdlife lists the species as Endangered, with a total population estimate as low as 1500.
In January I found the GCCR to be quite vocal and usually in multi-species birdwaves. GCCR was encountered in these birdwaves 1-2 times per day (8-10 field hours per day) in it's preferred habitat; closed canopy forest, middle to upper story. All birds seen were in adult plumage and typical group size was 3-4, maximum 5. These may have been family groups; perhaps adult parents with adult offspring. I counted a total of 48 birds in about 8 visits to the forest, and as this species seemed quite loyal to it's own small territory of the forest, 8 birds were probably recounts, resulting in an adjusted number of 40 total birds. This number exceeds the the total combined counts on all previously known sites on the Dalat Plateau, suggesting that the Mang Den forest area is a key site for this species.
On a return visit in late March a few birds were seen, but they were no longer in birdwaves nor groups. Usually seen as just one or two birds (pairing?) and they had become less vocal. One exception was a vocal group of 4 birds in early April. I mostly left this species to it's (assumed) nesting time during this period, and the species seemed almost rare, quite the opposite of January.
Due to the recent splitting of this species, I will add a brief species description so as to separate it from the Green-backed Flycatcher and the Yellow-rumped (now named Korean?)Flycatcher. Photographs were taken and they can be viewed on ebird.org's EXPLORE DATE option.
Male has a variable bright orange to yellow supercilium, with similarly colored chin and breast fading to white belly. Small white wing patch (not elongated) and yellow rump. Remainder of body black.
Female is overall rather plain looking, light brown above and light below. Lack's white wing patch, upper tail slightly rufous.
The multiple sightings of this species from 25 March to 3 April was quite unexpected and thus deserves some mention. Listed as a vagrant to Vietnam in Craig Robson's “A Field Guide to South-East Asia” dated 2005 , my sightings of this species suggest it's status as a passage migrant. During this time period typically one or two birds were seen daily, although 7 birds on a four kilometer walk on 31st March was exceptional, in part because I dedicated this day to searching for the species.
Sightings of this species coincided with the passage of the Blue-and-White Flycatcher, seen from 22nd March to 3rd April. I had a single day high count of 9 Blue-and-White Flycatcher's also on 31st March.
Both species were mostly seen around the village streets, the Blue-and-White Flycatcher's were high in the pines with the Narcissus Flycatcher's skulking in the bushes below. On a few days both these species could also been found in forest. Many Birding Tours passing through the area from March 10-20 would probably just miss these species.
After my initial 36 hours birding in Mang Den I thought I had stumbled across one of the best birding sites in South-East Asia. After a combined 36 days of birding in Mang Den in early 2015 I feel the same way. It's probable one of the best kept secrets in Vietnam. The diversity and quality of species is only paralleled by the numbers; the 200-plus species at an altitude above 1100 meters that I encountered is more more typical of the number seen at lower altitudes closer to the equator.
A part of me would like to keep the secret to myself, but knowing that the forest here has little protection, it's urgent that more birders come and document the bird life and persuade the local people to save the what remains.
The Grey-crowned Crocias appears to be a fairly common yet local resident in the forest to the west of Mang Den village. It's habitat is under threat despite some protection. Upon reviewing recent available information on the GCCR, I would suggest that the forests west of Mang Den may hold the largest group of GCCR in Vietnam, but more fieldwork and a professional survey would clarify this amateur assumption. Once the Ta Nung Valley on the Dalat Plateau becomes completely deforested in the next 10 years, Mang Den may be “The Place” to see this species in Vietnam.
Mang Den lies on the southern limits of the Troung Soun Mountain Range. These mountains stretch northwest into Laos, and perhaps contain more “localized pockets” of GCCR where altitude and remaining forest are ideal.
The status of the Narcissus Flycatcher requires future fieldwork to determine whether this is a regular passage migrant through Kontum Province, or if my recent sightings were just a group of wayward migrants that were blown off course on their northward migration from Borneo to Northeast East Asia.
Robson, Craig - A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia
Eames, Jonathon et al. - Rediscovery of Grey-crowned Crocias
New location for Grey-crowned Crocias
60 NOTABLE SPECIES
(in approximate taxonomic order)
Rufous-throated Partridge: Uncommon
Bar-backed Partridge: Uncommon
Silver Pheasant: Fairly common
Lesser Whistling-duck: local
Mountain Scops Owl: heard from hotel
Large Tailed Night jar: around hotel
Gray Night jar: on hotel
Red-headed Trogon: Seen/heard daily
Blue-bearded Bee-Eater: Common
Brown Hornbill: once, probably Rare
Hodgson's Cuckoo: Arrived early April
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo: One in early April
Large Hawk Cuckoo: uncommon
Indochinese Barbet: Common
Red-vented Barbet: uncommon
Speckled Piculet: Fairly common
White-browed Piculet: Uncommon
Stripe-breasted Woodpecker: Locally common
Rusty-naped Pitta: Calling in April
Blue Pitta: Calling in April
Silver Broadbill: Uncommon
Long-tailed Broadbill: Fairly Common
Pintailed Green Pigeon: fairly common
Jerdon's Baza: Pair once in March
Oriental Hobby: Two birds once in April
Clicking Shrike-babbler: Uncommon
Collared Babbler: Scarce
White-winged Magpie: Once in January
Eurasian Jay: Uncommon
Ratchet-tailed Treepie: Uncommon
Black-throated Tit (Gray-crowned): Common
Velvet Nuthatch: Common
Yellow-billed Nuthatch: Uncommon
9 Bulbul Species
Gray-bellied Tesia: Uncommon
Rufous-faced Warbler: Common in birdwaves
Gray-headed Parrotbill: Uncommon. Large groups in January, singles in March/April
Black-chinned Yuhina: Scarce
Red-billed Scimitar Babbler: Fairly Common
Black-hooded Laughingthrush: Common
Red-tailed Laughinghrush: Uncommon
White-cheeked Laughingthrush: Uncommon
Chestnut-eared Laughingthrush: Local
Silver-eared Mesia: Common
Rufous-backed Sibia: Uncommon
Gray-crowned Crocias: Fairly Common
Asian Paradise Flycatcher: March/April, including White morph male
White-gorgeted Flycatcher: Fairly Common
Pale-blue Flycatcher: Uncommon
Blue-throated Flycatcher: Uncommon
White-tailed Flycatcher: Uncommon
Blue-and-White Flycatcher: Fairly common passage migrant . Late March/ Early April
Narcissus Flycatcher: Fairly common passage migrant? Late March/ Early April
Red-flanked Bluetail: Male. Once in January
Siberian Blue Robin; Uncommon WV or Passage Migrant
White-crowned Forktail: local
Plumbeous Water Redstart: local
Yellow-vented Flowerpecker: Once at 1100 meters
Goulds Sunbird: Common
Fork-tailed Sunbird: Uncommon
Crimson Sunbird: Once at 1100 meters
Pin-tailed Parrotfinch: Male once in April