Finally, after a very busy first few weeks in 2005, we (my wife and I) were going to take some time off to go bird watching. We decided to go to Tram Chim, a National Park in the “Plain of Reeds”. The park is located in Dong Thap Province, not far from the Cambodian border, and its main draw are the wintering Sarus Cranes. When I first visited the park a good 10 years ago, as many as 700 Cranes would winter there, but in recent years this number has dwindled to less than 50 birds, with many of the birds now preferring another reserve further to the north.
We set off from Can Tho, where we live, at around 10:00, a big mistake! Apart from the fact that I would be burned to cinders by the time we got to the park 5 hours later, traffic was murderous. This being the end of Tet (the Vietnamese New Year), everybody and their dog was on the road, in varying states of intoxication. It should be mentioned here that the death toll on Vietnamese roads is extremely high, as evidenced by the police markings left from past accidents every 50 meters or so. This probably explains why we saw only few birds on the way, apart from the ever-present Eurasian Tree Sparrows: a single Plaintive Cuckoo during a pit stop, a few Common Kingfishers, and a pair of Green Bee-eaters, busy excavating their nest hole right next to the road.
We arrived in Tram Chim at four in the afternoon, and set about arranging our accommodation. This was very basic, and we quickly had to go to town to find a bed sheet and towels (we would later find those in a wardrobe, that we hadn’t bothered looking into earlier). After that, it was off for a boat trip around the many canals. Whilst waiting for the boat to be made ready, we saw Black Drongos everywhere, and both Stripe-throated and Yellow-vented Bulbuls where quite common. Once we set off, the assigned guide not only proved to be completely drunk, he also knew nothing about birds. He confidently identified the hundreds of Little Egrets as being Chinese Egrets!!!! Herons and Egrets where evident everywhere, within a couple of minutes we had seen Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Yellow and Black Bittern, as well as hundreds of Pond-Herons. The latter were not yet in breeding plumage; in all likelihood they were Chinese Pond-Herons though. Other birds that were common: Spot-billed Duck, Lesser Whistling Duck, Little Grebes, Little Cormorants, and Striated Grassbirds. Finally, just before we returned back to the station, where we were to spend the night, we saw eight Sarus Cranes flying overhead. These, regrettably, were to be the only ones we would see during this trip.
Back at the station, it was a quick dinner, and off too bed, both sun and traffic had taken its toll.
The next day, after a horrible night (try sleeping on a mattress that is only two millimeters thick), with Plaintive Cuckoos calling everywhere, it was up at five o’ clock, only to find.... nobody! The boat “captain” finally showed up at six, not a good start.
This morning, we were going to go deeper into the swamps, to try for birds we hadn’t seen the previous day. Apart from the ever-present Herons and Egrets, the first “new” birds were a pair of Pied Kingfishers, followed closely by both White-breasted and Black-capped Kingfishers. Pheasant-tailed Jacanas were flushed continuously, whilst not yet in their stunning breeding plumage, they still made for nice views. We saw only one White-breasted Waterhen, but a flock of a 150+ Lesser Whistling-Ducks was quite a spectacle. Tram Chim is one of the remaining strongholds of Oriental Darter, and we saw at least three of those. Highlight for me must have been the pair of Cotton Pigmy-Goose, absolutely stunning, and lifers too! Striated Grassbirds where everywhere, whilst only one Oriental Reed-warbler made an appearance.
As we were settling our bill prior to heading back to Can Tho, Ha called me over to show me two birds on a wire. Turns out they were Vinous-breasted Starlings, not a bad end to a good weekend.
P.S.: It was nice to be back in a comfortable bed last night, but I advice you to be smarter then me and bring lots of sun-lotion if you ever come to these parts; a Lobster has nothing on my current state.
Here a list of all birds seen: