GROUP MEMBERS : DUNCAN BROOKS, IAN BURROWS, ROGER BURROWS, PHIL HEATH, ROD MARTINS and JOHN RICHARDSON.
Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been a closed country to birdwatchers and other travellers since 1962 when a military junta took control of the government. The harsh policies of the military regime and particularly the detention since 1990 of the democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi have attracted strong criticism from the international community. The junta are now trying to attract tourism against this backdrop and the country is very slowly opening up to show what has been hidden from the outside world for so long. Many parts of the country are still off limits to outsiders and birdwatchers have to be on an escorted package tour with a pre-arranged itinerary and visas. After much wrestling of conscience we undertook this private tour, justifying it in our minds that we might make a small positive contibution to change just by meeting the local people and using local facilities. We had a wonderful time and were warmly welcomed everywhere we went.
Myanmar is remarkably diverse ornithologically and may be regarded as something of a last frontier. During our visit we made a number of significant observations that will also be published elsewhere. Unlike most tour reports this one gives the location, number of birds seen seen of each species and descriptions of significant observations that were made. This is good baseline data for future visits.
We arrived in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and based ourselves at the excellent Seasons of Yangon Hotel near the airport. Birding near the hotel was a gentle introduction for some of us to an unfamiliar avifauna. Green Bee-eaters gave close views from the hotel windows, as did Streak-eared Bulbuls and White-rumped Munias while Asian Palm Swifts cruised overhead. Scrub nearby held Great Coucals, Dusky Warblers and Brown Shrikes and attracted large roosting flocks of Jungle Mynas and Black Drongos each evening.
Next morning a visit to Hlawgar Wildlife Park gave us our first taste of forest birding. Red Junglefowl were seen from the roadside, Green-billed Malkoha, Racket-tailed Treepie and Greater Racket-tailed Drongo lurked in the shrubbery, Black-naped and Black-hooded Orioles and Black-headed and Black-crested Bulbuls all disported themselves in the treetops while Green, Blue-tailed and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters chased butterflies over the lake.
Next day we travelled to Moeyungyi Bird Sanctuary where we saw a wide range of waterbirds in impressive number including over a thousand Purple Swamphens, hundreds of Lesser Whistling Duck, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Oriental Pratincole and Asian Openbill. Eastern Marsh Harriers were numerous but dowdy in comparison to the almost luminous male Pied Harriers. Small numbers of Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were also seen and a flyover Black-headed Ibis was our only sighting for the trip. Common Stonechats were everywhere and Black-browed and Oriental Reed Warblers lurked in the dense clumps of floating vegetation. Our departure from the sanctuary was marked by a Greater Spotted Eagle soaring overhead and a singing but invisible Oriental Skylark.
We drove onward to Ngalaik Reservoir which we explored the folowing day. The reservoir held a large flock of Indian Cormorant and several Grey-headed Lapwing. An Asian Barred Owlet gave great views in the teak plantation and our first Oriental Pied Hornbill was seen here. Yellow-footed Green Pigeons fed in the treetops and the small cultivated fields bordered by scrub provided us with our only Pintail Snipe, White-browed Scimitar Babblers and Yellow-breasted Bunting. A noisy but elusive group of Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes raked through the plantation undergrowth and here we also saw our only Rufous-capped and Abbott's Babblers.
Next day we drove further west stopping at an area of mixed deciduous forest along the Pyinmana road. Here we saw more Oriental Pied Hornbills, Coppersmith Barbet, Grey-headed and Red-breasted Parakeets, Green Imperial Pigeons, Thick-billed Green Pigeon and a very obliging Collared Owlet. Our first Golden-fronted Leafbird appeared here, as did a Red-billed Blue Magpie. The next stopoff near Gooegyo village enabled us to walk along a shaded dry stream bed. Birds were still active despite the heat and we had excellent views of Greater Yellonape, Lineated Barbet, Dollarbird, Indian Roller, Scarlet Minivet and Chestnut-bellied and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches. Our last stop was at Toneyay Reserve Forest which was mostly cultivated fields and young tree plantations; however we saw the only Short-toed Snake Eagle of the trip here as well as Burmese Bushlark, White-throated and Yellow-eyed Babblers and Yellow-legged Button Quail.
Next day we passed through more mixed deciduous forest along the West Bank Highway near Gyobin village. Here we had great views of many Asian birds including Streak-throated Woodpecker, nesting Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers, Common, Greater and Himalayan Flamebacks, Alexandrine Parakeet, Small Minivet and the dapper endemic Hooded Treepie among many others. Further along the road near Kanthit village we stopped to identify a perched raptor. After a trek across the fields we had seen both White-eyed and Rufous-winged Buzzard and attracted the attention of most of the village. We were then led to an excellent pond where we saw Comb Duck, Northern Shoveler, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Black Stork and Citrine Wagtail. Kapaing village pond a little further along the road held yet more Asian Openbills, Purple Heron and Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas and we were treated to a lovely overhead display by a male Pied Harrier.
We overnighted at Shwesettaw Wildlife Sanctury which we explored the following day. Here we saw Barred Buttonquail, River Lapwing, White-browed Fantail, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Bluethroat, Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Blue Robin, Wire-tailed Swallow, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes and Paddyfield Pipit among many other species. In the afternoon we drove to Bagan. A stop by the side of the Ayeyarwady River produced our only sightings of Black-bellied Tern.
Next day we explored Old Bagan, an unforgettable experience as we wandered around one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in the world. Thousands of Buddhist religious monuments and temples stand in a 40 sq km area stretching back from the Ayeyarwady River. This once was a vast, populous and thriving royal capital, built between 1057 and 1287. It then mysteriously declined at the end of the 13th century and all that remains are the religious buildings that are made of permanent materials. All other buildings, including the kings' palaces and monasteries were made of wood and have disappeared. Old Bagan is also an excellent place to go birding and here we saw some great birds including Rain Quail, Eurasian Wryneck, Hoopoe, Spotted Owlet, Long-tailed Shrike, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler and Scaly-breasted Munia. Arguably the best birds here were a nesting pair of White-bellied Minivets which gave terrific views although the roosting Oriental Scops Owl seen down to six feet took some beating. The afternoon was spent on the Ayeyarwady River, the "Road to Mandalay", where we had great views of Small Pratincole, Ruddy Shelduck, Temminck's Stint, Kentish Plover, Sand Lark and Plain Martin but the birds of the afternoon were a pair of Laggar Falcons which inhabited the riverside cliffs. We had great views of one of them hurtling off the cliff to effortlessly catch a hapless Plain Martin.
Next day we explored the bank of the river and saw a good range of waders, while Pallid and Hen Harriers, Booted Eagle, Brown Prinia and Red-throated Pipit were the highlights.
We left Bagan early in the morning to drive westwards. We travelled through semi-desert country where we saw Long-billed Pipit and Red-rumped Swallow and eventually reached hills with areas of dry deciduous forest at Nagapwet and Pyone.
Here we saw a male and three female Kalij Pheasants, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Black-hooded Oriole, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Large Woodshrike and Black Bulbul among many others. In the late afternoon we arrived at the Chin Village Resort, Mt Victoria, for a six night stay.
Mt Victoria was the major focal point of the tour. We expected to see a wide range of southern Himalayan species we had not encountered before and we were not disappointed. We had great views of Grey Nightjar and Long-tailed Thrush in the vehicle headlights as we drove up to near the summit. Our first full day was spent there and in the stunted oak and rhododendron forest. White-browed Nuthatch, the charismatic emblem of Namataung National Park, was nesting nearby and great views of this parochial endemic were had by all. Phil scored a near jackpot with fleeting glimpses of a Blyth's Tragopan in a gully near the topmost picnic area but unfortunately this was as close as anyone got to this rare and elusive pheasant. Highlights here over several visits included Brown-capped Laughingthrush, Green Shrike-Babbler, Streak-throated Barwing, Fire-tailed Sunbird, White-browed Shortwing, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler and Broad-billed Warbler. Ashy-throated and Buff-barred Warblers were common here and singing Buff-throated Warbler was also found on our last visit.
Further down we were treated to an amazing display by a pair of Black Eagles which swooped and plunge dived overhead, coming down to treetop height; behaviour which indicated breeding activity not too far away. In the higher reaches of the pine forest we saw Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Orange-flanked Bush Robin (aka Red-flanked Bluetail), Blue-fronted Redstart, Grey Bushchat, Black-bibbed Tit, Little Bunting and Olive-backed Pipit. Further down we encountered flocks of Yellow-breasted Greenfinch on two occasions and had great views of a female Spot-winged Grosbeak. Green-tailed and Mrs Gould's Sunbirds showed well and a group of Spot-breasted Parrotbills was lured from the shrubbery. The evergreen forest held a large number of species and highlights included four separate sightings of Mrs Hume's Pheasant, White-tailed Nuthatch, a flock of Wedge-tailed Green Pigeons, Grey-chinned and Long-tailed Minivets, daily sightings of Long-tailed Wren Babbler, Black-headed and White-browed Shrike-Babblers, Cutia and a superb array of flycatchers including Snowy-browed, Little Pied, Slaty-blue, Pygmy Blue and Verditer. A group of fruiting trees attracted up to 45 Grey-sided Thrush (surely Mt Victoria is the best place in the world to see this rarity) with smaller numbers of Eyebrowed and Black-breasted Thrush also present.
Further down towards the deciduous forest we saw many other species including very vocal Bay Woodpeckers, Grey Treepie, Streak-breasted and Spot-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Red-faced Liocichla, Blue-winged Laughingthrush and Crested Finchbill. We concentrated our efforts at nocturnal birding in this area and succeeded in recording and tape-luring at least one Hodgson's Frogmouth in to view on two consecutive nights. We also heard several Grey Nightjars and a Collared Scops Owl.
In the more open area of forest patches scrub and rough grassland we found other species, notably Siberian Rubythroat, Silver-eared Mesia, Brownish-flanked and Russet Bush-Warblers and Chestnut Buntings.. Just above the Chin Village Resort we had great views of Mountain Bamboo Partridge which came out to feed with Striped Laughingthrushes in an area of threshed rice straw and stubble. Raptors seen during our stay included Crested Serpent Eagle, Mountain and Changeable Hawk Eagles, Common Buzzard, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Besra, Shikra, Eurasian Sparrowhawk Eurasian Kestrel and Oriental Hobby.
We left Mt Victoria after a short morning birding the lower slopes; the drive back to Bagan was fairly uneventful but Asian Emerald Cuckoo was added to the trip list. We flew back to Yangon the following day. Next day the group had split up with Rod and John travelling to Thailand and Taiwan respectively, so the rest visited Hlawgar Wildlife Park which was very successful with excellent views of Rosy and Ashy Minivets and male Ruby-cheeked Sunbird.
Next day we flew back to London via Bangkok, the final trip total was 378 wild species.
Note : If you are interested in doing a birding tour to Myanmar (Burma) please refer to my contact details at the end of this report.
The trip was excellent and we achieved a very high success rate with the species we hoped to see. However, some negative aspects were the unexpected habitat destruction, trapping and hunting that we saw on Mt Victoria. Forest fires burned continuously and palls of smoke hung in the valleys. Huge blackened areas scarred the mountain slopes from top to bottom. The pines and oaks in the higher areas of the mountain have suffered severe damage and this clearly affects the population of White-browed Nuthatches and other sensitive species that live there. Dry season burning is not a new phenomenon as much of the grassland on the mountain is clearly anthropogenic, however the trees are not fireproof and many of the old, slow growing oaks and pines were either reduced to blackened logs or remained burning from within as they stood. Alarmingly, we also encountered illegal trapping using bird lime and many hunters were seen carrying guns. Several gunshots were heard daily. These are clearly direct threats to birds and other wildlife in the "protected" area and this parlous state of affairs in a designated National Park needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Birdwatchers may also be adversely affecting the White-browed Nuthatches by unintentionally disturbing them during the breeding season. This is a small factor compared to the above but any negative effect on such a restricted range species must be regarded as undesirable.
This tour could not have happened without good organisers and facilitators and huge thanks are due to Tony and Ohmar for organising everything in Myanmar for us. The itinerary was well planned and there were no hitches. Our accommodation was first class in every respect and the food was great. Special thanks must go to the people of the Chin Village Resort who made us so welcome and looked after us so well during our stay on Mt Victoria. Our transport was remarkably comfortable considering the state of some of the roads and the chaps on the bus did a great job in driving us from Yangon to Bagan safe and sound. Both Tony and Kopan were excellent guides and many thanks are due for finding so many great birds for us. Of course the trip would have been nothing without the guys who made up the group and thanks are due particularly to John and Rod for getting us all together. Thanks to all for making our first trip to Myanmar such an enjoyable one.
28 February : Depart London Heathrow.
01 March : Arrive Yangon, visit Honeymoon Park, o/n at Seasons of Yangon Hotel.
02 March : Hlawgar Wildlife Park (20 miles north of Yangon), o/n at Seasons of
03 March : Moeyungyi Bird Sanctuary (70 miles north of Yangon), o/n at Ngalaik
04 March : Ngalaik Reservoir and environs, o/n as previous.
05 March : Mixed deciduous forest 30 miles west of Pyinmana on the
Taungdwingwi - Pyinmana road then a dry stream bed and deciduous
forest near Gooegyo village and Toneyay Reserve Forest which is
mostly fields and recent plantation 12 miles north of Pyay. o/n Pyay.
06 March : Forest near Gyobin village on the Bassein - Monywa road (West Bank
Highway), ponds at Kanthit and Kapaing villages, o/n Shwesettaw
07 March : Morning at Shwesettaw Wildlife Sanctuary, roadside scan of
Ayeyarwady River on the way to Bagan, o/n Hotel Thande, Bagan.
08 March : Morning around Old Bagan, afternoon on river, o/n as previous.
09 March : Morning along river bank, afternoon touring Bagan, o/n as previous.
10 March : Bagan to Mt Victoria, stops at Nagapwet (1830') and Pyone (1771') o/n
Kanpetlet Township, Chin Village Resort (5700') for six nights.
11 March : Namataung National Park, birding near summit of Mt Victoria (9400').
12 March : Mt Victoria, drive to Ranger's camp (8500') and birding down to 7800'.
13 March : Mt Victoria, drive up to 7700' and birding down to 6500'.
14 March : Mt Victoria, drive up to 8500'and birding through pine and evergreen
15 March : Mt Victoria, drive to near summit and birding down through pine and
evergreen forest zones.
16 March : Mt Victoria, evergreen and deciduous forest zones from dawn to 0915,
then drive to Bagan, o/n Hotel Thande, Bagan.
17 March : Fly to Yangon, birding around hotel in evening, o/n Seasons of Yangon
18 March : Morning at Hlawgar National Park, afternoon free, o/n as previous.
19 March : Depart Yangon and arrive London Heathrow.