The ancient buildings at Bagan rise out of the jungle that has reclaimed them, providing great birdwatching and fascinating sightseeing. Photo: Thiri Htin Hla
The wonders of Myanmar have been largely hidden from foreigners for a generation. However, it cannot have escaped many people’s notice that things have been changing in this previously remote and intriguing land. Still known to the majority of westerners as Burma, this tour, now in its fourth year, is designed to show you not only some of its wonderful birds, including all six of the nation’s endemics, but to also sample some of its fascinating culture and history.
On the tour we’ll visit a number of Myanmar’s diverse and distinctive regions. We’ll begin our exploration among the glittering pagodas and tree-lined avenues of the charming old-world capital Yangon (formerly Rangoon). We’ll spend time here adjacent to the huge rice-producing delta of the Irrawaddy River before flying north to the spectacular ancient capital of Bagan. Bagan is situated in the lee of the lofty Chin Hills and besides being a truly amazing historical site, it also harbours a number of special birds including four of the country’s endemics - Jerdon’s Minivet, Hooded Treepie, Burmese Bushlark and White-throated Babbler.
From Bagan we visit the extensive mixed-deciduous forests that cloak Mt Victoria, Myanmar’s premier National Park where we’ll spend four full days. Moving on, we’ll visit scenic Inle Lake and the rich mosaic of marshland and agriculture that surrounds it, before ending the tour in the cooler, old colonial hill station of Kalaw. Along the way we’ll encounter numerous interesting birds and some remarkable ancient buildings while also having time to soak up much of typical Myanmar life at this crucial turning point in its long history.
Day 1: The tour starts with an overnight flight from London to Yangon.
Day 2: Arriving in Yangon we’ll check into our hotel and then spend the remainder of the day exploring parts of this ancient city, including paying a visit to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda topped by a gleaming gold stupa. Night in Yangon.
Day 3: Early in the morning we’ll drive to Hlawgar Wildlife Park on the outskirts of Yangon to look out for Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Racket-tailed Treepie, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Black-naped Oriole, the distinctive ‘white-eyed’ form of Stripe-throated Bulbul (which is only found in South Myanmar), Olive-backed Sunbird and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker among many other species. Nearby wetlands might well provide our first Oriental Darter or an Asian Openbill. We’ll return to Yangon before flying to Bagan, one of the richest archaeological sites in the whole of southeast Asia. Night in Bagan.
Days 4-5: Lying on the east bank of the famous Irrawaddy River, Bagan is a wondrous treasure trove comprising of over 4000 pagodas. Nature has done a fine job of reclaiming this historical site with the end result that we’ll find ourselves birding in a magical setting surrounded by ancient buildings and monuments, some more than a thousand years old. While we will spend time exploring this magnificent archaeological site we are in Myanmar’s ‘dry zone’ and at a great site to find four of the nation’s endemics birds – Jerdon’s Minivet, Hooded Treepie, Burmese Bushlark and White-throated Babbler while other species here will include Rain Quail, Laggar Falcon and Brown Prinia.
We’ll also search the vast sandbanks of the mighty Irrawaddy river – searching for some of the region’s specialities such as White-tailed Stonechat, Sand Lark, Vinous-breasted Starling, and Plain-backed Sparrow. Other ornithological highlights in farmland near to Bagan include Barred Buttonquail, River Lapwing, Small Pratincole, the distinctive xanthocyclus form of Eurasian Collared Dove, Spotted Owlet, Indian Nightjar, Streak-eared Bulbul, Yellow-eyed Babbler, Long-billed Pipit, to name a few. Nights in Bagan.
Day 6: Early morning we’ll drive a short distance to Chauk where we’ll cross the Irrawaddy River before beginning our journey up in to the Chin Hills. In lowland forest along the way we’ll have another opportunity, should we need it, to search for the endemic Hooded Treepie and Jerdon’s Minivet as well as other specialities such as Grey-headed and Blossom-headed Parakeets, White-rumped Falcon, White-eyed Buzzard, Green-billed Malkoha, White-bellied Woodpecker, Red Junglefowl and a variety of woodpeckers, babblers, laughingthrushes, minivets and orioles.
Our destination will be a simple but comfortable lodge above Kanpetlet, a small town in Chin State, the district closest to central Myanmar. Mt. Victoria is known locally by its alternative monikers of Khaw-nu-thone and Nat-ma-taung in Chin and Burmese languages respectively – both translating as ‘Mother of Spirits’. We’ll spend five nights on Mt. Victoria - all at our lodge above Kanpetlet where, at just over 6000 feet elevation on the south-eastern slopes of the mountain, the temperature is cool and pleasant.
Days 7-10: We’ll spend four full days birding in the Natmataung (Mt. Victoria) National Park – an impressive park that covers an area of 179 square miles and is home to a huge variety of birds, including the endemic White-browed Nuthatch and Burmese Bushtit. There is a rich mosaic of habitats here, ranging from mixed oak and rhododendron forest, montane bamboo, pine forest, thick secondary growth with tall grass and scrub, semi-cultivated fields and grasslands and we’ll have plenty to look for - Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Grey Sibia, Brown-capped, Blue-winged, Assam and Striped Laughingthrushes, Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Spot-breasted Parrotbill and Broad-billed Warbler are just some of species we may see…
As with any montane habitat, different elevations harbour different species. On Mount Victoria, species such as Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Grey sided Thrush, Himalayan Bluetail, and even occasionally Kalij Pheasant and Mountain Bamboo Partridge may be seen on our daily morning drives up the mountain. Exceptional birds such as Blyth’s Tragopan and Hume’s Pheasant are also possibilities – but only remote ones. Rare and colourful species such as Fire-tailed and Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds, Himalayan Cutia, Chestnut-tailed and Blue-winged Minlas and Spot-winged Grosbeaks will keep us permanently excited.
Day 11: Most of the day will be taken up with the drive back to Bagan but there will be numerous stops for any lowland specialties we may have previously missed. Night back in Bagan.
Day 12: Today we fly from Bagan to Heho and then drive to Inle. Situated at close to 3000 feet on the Shan Plateau, Inle is the second largest lake in Myanmar and, after checking in to our hotel, we’ll take a boat ride on the lake. Although famed for its ‘leg rowers’ we’ll be searching primarily for the rare and local Jerdon’s Bush Chat. This striking small chat is relatively easy to see here and we have a good chance of encountering several birds. There is also an increasingly slim chance of finding that most elusive of Asian ducks, Baer’s Pochard. In addition there will be the opportunity to catch up once more with a variety of waterbirds, including Ferruginous Duck and Pheasant-tailed Jacana, while islands of emergent vegetation can hold Citrine Wagtail and Rosy Pipit. Groups of Brown-headed Gulls may follow the boat while around the lake edge Greater Spotted Eagles and Western and Eastern Marsh Harriers regularly hunt over the reed-beds where Striated Grassbirds perform their conspicuous, bubbling song flight. Other key species will include Chinese Grassbird and Collared Myna. Night in Inle.
Day 13: In the morning, we’ll drive to Kalaw, an attractive hill station located just over 1300 metres above sea level that still bears many reminders of its 19th century colonial roots. We’ll spend the afternoon searching for a variety of species including Spectacled Barwing and White-browed Laughingthrush. Night at Kalaw.
Day 14: We’ll spend the whole day on a trail out to Yay Aye Kan lake. Here among the surrounding forest we’ll look for Burmese Yuhina, Davison’s Leaf Warbler, Black tailed Crake, Silver-eared Laughingthrush, Dark-backed Sibia, Common Green Magpie and Pin-tailed Green Pigeon. Night again in Kalaw.
Day 15: We may have time for some more birding around Kalaw before flying back to Yangon in order to connect with our flight back to London where the tour ends on Day 16.
Updated: 31 August 2016