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Birding Laos - River Lapwing

(Not) Birding Laos

This is a trip report from a largely non-birding trip to Laos starting with a two day "cruise" on a slow boat down the Mekong with an overnight stop at Pak Beng. This was followed by a day in Luang Prabang, onwards to Vang Vieng where we spent three nights before driving to Vientiane from where we returned to Bangkok. Our itinery was based on a typical "Lonely Planet" back-packers holiday - although we stayed in some vary nice hotels indeed.

Laos is a beautiful country and our experiences here only made us want to come back and experience more. Some birding reports / information about Laos suggest not bothering with this country from the birding point of view. This was not my experience as, for the most part, there were as many birds to see here as there were in Northern Thailand. Compared to Pak Thale outside Bangkok both Laos and Northern Thailand were bird-deficient.

I would definitely like to get back to Laos and do some more serious birding....

For more about (Not) Birding Thailand see this link.
For an annotated species list see this link.

Itinery in Laos
15 November 2014: Mekong Cruise from Huoay Xay to Pak Beng
16 November 2014: Mekong Cruise from Pak Beng to Luang Prabang
17 November 2014: A day spent almost exclusively in bars and restaurants in Lunag Prabang
18 November 2014: Bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
19 November 2014: Vang Vieng
20 November 2014: Vang Vieng

Mekong Cruise
Mekong River view

Little Heron over the Mekong
Little Heron flying up the Mekong

Mekong River Cruise
The two day trip down the Mekong was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the entire trip. A wonderfully relaxed way to travel and to take in the scenery along the majestic Mekong river. Good food, a bar and space to kick back meant this was a trip to remember. Birds were relatively thin on the ground but very far from absent - a number of species were only seen during this part of the trip. One cannot stop and have absolutely no control over how far away the birds are - but on the plus side I soon had some extra "spotters" who helped me keep an eye out on the river banks.

Mekong children
Children playing and fishing activity were the most common sight along the riverbanks. We also saw elephants and stopped at some tourist attractions

Pak Beng Quayside
Pak Beng quayside - our cruise boat is among those in the picture

Wire-tailed Swallow, Mekong, November 2014
Wire-tailed Swallow, Mekong, November 2014

The following field guide was the one I had with me - worked well

Highlights on this part of the trip were River Lapwings, Grey-headed Plovers, Wire-tailed Swallow and Long-tailed Shrike. The commonest species by far along the river were White wagtail, Common Sandpiper and Blue Rock Thrush. A variety of egrets and herons, Pied Kingfisher and White-throated Kingfisher were among the other species seen along the river.

River Lapwing, Mekong, November 2014
River Lapwing, Mekong, November 2014

Blue Rock Thrush, Mekong, November 2014
Blue Rock Thrush, Mekong, November 2014

The cruise we took was the Shampoo cruise - highly recommended based on our experience. There were stops at various attractions along the way. At Pak Beng (overnight stop on the cruise) we stayed at the Mekong Riverside Lodge.

Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is a wonderful town with some birding oporunities in the park in the middle of town. We took a walk up the hill and ran into the usual birding problem - obviously lots about but difficult to get onto in the thick foliage. The original plan was to have more of a look around here but my relatively innocent "beer o' clock" answer to the question about what time it was led to an extremely enjoyable all day pub crawl. I did, however, manage to photograph a number of species from bar stools and restuarant tables - including the only Asian Brown Flycatcher I saw along with Brown Shrikes, Yellow-browed Warblers etc

Luang Prabang, Laos

Above and below: Views in Luang Prabang, pictures taken with a mobile phone

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos
Sunset over the Mekong, Lunag Prabang, picture taken with a 400mm telephoto lens from a bar stool

The only negative experience here was the sale-for-release of Munias which were held in pitifully small cages.

We stayed at the Muong Lao Riverside Villa whilst in Luang Prabang.

Asian Brown Flycatcher, Luang Prabang, Laos, November 2014
Asian Brown Flycatcher, Luang Prabang, Laos, November 2014
Picture taken during what can only be called a pub-crawl around Luang Prabang

Brown Shrike, Luang Prabang, Laos
Brown Shrike, Luang Prabang, November 2014
Another good bird from the pub crawl

Yellow-browed Warbler, Luang Prabang, Laos, November 2014
Yellow-browed Warbler, Luang Prabang, November 2014
One of the commonest species in both Thailand and Laos and another result from the pub-crawl

Vang Vieng:
The trip from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng was by bus. This trip was overbooked and people had to sit in the aisles - based on reports from others this is something that is not unusual. The roads were very twisty and in a state of disrepair after the rainy season - I would certainly think twice before taking this route if one is prone to travel sickness and / or have small infants as part of the group. The scenery we drove through was nothing short of incredible. I glimpsed a number of birds, inlcuding a nice raptor but never managed to get anywhere with identification during this trip.

Dusky Warbler, Vang Vieng, Laos
Dusky Warbler, Vang Vieng, Laos, November 2014
Another relatively common species in both Thailand and Laos

Asian race of Red-rumped Swallow, Vang Vieng, Laos, November 2014
Red-rumped Swallow, Vang Vieng, Laos, November 2014
Good numbers of Red-rumped Swallows were seen from the hotel teraace each afternoon - seemed like these may have been migrant birds follwoing the river / valley southwards.

Sooty-headed Bulbul, Vang VIeng, Laos, November 2014
Sooty-headed Bulbul, Vang Vieng, Laoe, November 2014
Another of the most widespread species in both Thailand and Laos

Vang Vieng is a lovely town/village surrounded by spectacular countryside. One of the things we did here was "tubing" down the river. This was enjoyable in its own right but was frustrating in one way for me - I could hear and sometimes see birds virtually all the time but without binoculars or camera had to make do with identifying only a  limited number of "safe" species such as Kingfisher and Taiga Flycatcher. Thankfully it was also possible to drink cold beers whilst drifting down the river....

One of the many caves near Vang VIeng, Laos
The many caves in the area are popular with tourists

Paddyfields on the outskrits of Vang Vieng, Laos
Paddyfields on the outskirts of Vang Vieng - these fields were full of birds such as Stonechats, Paddyfield Pipit and Zitting Cisticola

Vang Vieng hotel
Part of the hotel grounds, Vang VIeng, Laos

The countryside around Vang Vieng seemed to be quite productive (at least away from the most touristy of the attractions). Species seen here included Paddyfield Pipit, Stonechats, Scaly-breated Munia, Dusky Warbler and Zitting Cisticola alongside the more common Chinese Pond Heron, Sooy-headed Bulbul, Red-rumped Swallow etc.

Our base at Vang Vieng was the superb Riverside Boutique Resort. Definitely recommended for those wanting something a bit more special!

Sunset from the hotel room, Vang Vieng
Sunset from our hotel balcony, Vang Vieng, Laos, November 2014

Two essential books for Laos:

Birding the Mekong - just how birding should be
Birding the Mekong - birding as it should be!

Other Wildlife:
Some small bats, plenty of geckos, lots of wonderful butterflies (just like Thailand) and some amazingly large spiders.

Massive spider, Pak Beng, Laos
This enormous spider had made its web outside our hotel door in Pak Beng

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