Burma, now officially called Myanmar, is the second largest country in south-east Asia, covering over 670,000 square kilometres and stretching some 2,000 kilometres from the cold, lofty heights of the Himalaya in the north to the humid tropical lowland forests that fringe the Bay of Bengal in the south. With a current list of over 1,060 bird species, Burma is also a wonderfully rewarding country for anyone keen to enjoy its birdlife, not least because there is so much excitement to be experienced in exploring a country whose avifauna is still relatively little-known, access to visiting naturalists having been impractical for a generation or more during the decades of military government. Fortunately, due to recent political reforms, life for Burma’s 45 million people is changing and visitors are welcome, the country’s thousands of beautiful pagodas and extensive tracts of wildlife-rich forest providing attractions of great potential.
On this tour, although we will be visiting a couple of cultural highlights, we will focus particularly on Burma’s birds. We will start in Yangon (Rangoon), visiting on our first afternoon the Shwedagon Pagoda which, with its magnificent golden stupa, is the city’s stunning centre-piece. The following morning we’ll explore Hlawgaw Park, an area of wetland and dry secondary woodland on the outskirts of the city, which will provide an introduction to Burma’s birds, amongst them such possibilities as Davison’s Bulbul, Racket-tailed Treepie and Blue-tailed Bee-eater.
We will then fly northwards to the ancient capital of Bagan. Here, along the banks of the Irrawaddy River, we will look for the birds of Burma’s unique dry zone amidst the 4,000 or so pagodas and temples, dating back to the 9th century, which span the plains. On the sand-bars of this great river birdlife is abundant. Ruddy Shelduck, Indian Spot-billed Duck, River Lapwing, Small Pratincole, Sand Lark, White-tailed Stonechat, Striated Babbler and numerous cormorants, herons, egrets and kingfishers provide the staple fare while, in the dry open country, we will look for such Burmese endemics as Burmese Bush-lark, White-throated Babbler and Jerdon’s Minivet. Birds of prey, including Spotted Owlet and Laggar Falcon, may also be seen amongst the ruins.
Next, we will head for the hills. Driving first through a rolling semi-desert and then through dry woodlands, we finally ascend to the village of Kanpetlet, a small settlement situated between 1,600 and 1,800 metres on the lower slopes of Mount Victoria which will be our base for the next five nights. At 3,095 metres Mount Victoria is the highest peak in the Chin Hills, a range of mountains that constitutes a dramatic southward extension of the eastern Himalaya from Manipur in India. This remote area was not visited by ornithologists until the early part of the 20th century and remains largely unexplored even today. The forested slopes of this mountain alter in character according to elevation, with dry deciduous forest found at the lowest levels while stunted oak and rhododendron forest and short grassland is to be found around the four summits. The avifauna here is predominantly Himalayan, sprinkled with some enigmatic regional endemics and several local subspecies. The mornings can be cold and, as soon as dawn breaks, a great frenzy of bird activity commences as the first feeding opportunities of the day arrive, especially when the sun hits the forests. At the higher levels, we will search the gnarled, lichen-covered oaks for Whitebrowed Nuthatch, Burma’s best-known endemic and so far only recorded here and in the Mindat area, a few kilometres to the north. Amongst a host of other irresistible species that we will look for during our exploration of these forests — one of south-east Asia’s great ornithological hotspots — will be the endemic Burmese Tit, Broad-billed Warbler, the near-endemic Buff-breasted Parrotbill, Sickle-billed Scimitar-babbler, Spot-breasted Scimitar-babbler, the nearendemic Chin Hills Wren-babbler, Striped, Brown-capped and Assam Laughingthrushes, Streak-throated Barwing, Grey Sibia and Hume’s Treecreeper.
Following our extensive exploration of Mount Victoria, we will return to Bagan for a night’s stay, stopping along the way to look for birds in the semi-evergreen and dry dipterocarp forests. We will have an additional night back in Yangon prior to our flight home, though some of you may wish to extend your holiday with a flight to Myeik, in southern Burma, in order to look for the endangered Gurney’s Pitta and other avian specialities in Nga Won Forest.