Laos is one of the most exciting and least known birding locations in the world. In recent years as the country has embraced ecotourism, opportunities are expanding rapidly for visitors to see a variety of beautiful and rare species as well as to contribute to the country's growing ornithological knowledge.
The Northern Highlands of the country hold numerous species associated with Northern Thailand and the North Eastern Himalayas. A huge diversity of babblers species such as Blyth's Kingfisher, the Rufous-necked Hornbill, Beautiful Nuthatch, Short-tailed Parrotbill and Yellow-vented Warbler can be found in the forests of the north.
The Mekong Plain supports areas of dry deciduous forest inhabited by Rufous-winged Buzzards, Black-headed Woodpeckers and Small Minivets. Ban Sivilai is a community owned and operated bird conservation zone in this area.
The Mekong itself provides an important flyway for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl as well as localized sandbank species such as Small Pratincole, River Lapwing, Great Thick-knee and River Tern. The southern portion of the Mekong Plain along the Cambodian border is home to the incredibly rare White-shouldered and Giant Ibis as well as small populations of White-rumped and Red-headed Vultures, Lesser Adjutants, Sarus Cranes and White-winged Ducks. The most exciting discovery in the area in recent years has been the description of a new species to science, the Mekong Wagtail. This species was found, within the past decade, to live on sandbanks in the Mekong and a few of its tributaries in southern Laos and Cambodia .
This species was found, within the past decade, to live on sandbanks in the Mekong and a few of its tributaries in southern Laos and Cambodia. These species and more can be found in Xe Pian National Protected Area on the Xe Pian-Xe Kampho Riversand in Kiet Ngong wetland in Champasak Province.
Perhaps the most exciting area for birding in the country is along the Annamite Range that marks the border with Vietnam. In recent years many species once thought to be found only in Vietnam have been discovered in Laos. Species such as the Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler, Yellow-billed Nuthatch and the recently described Black-crowned Barwing are all readily found. Slightly more widespread species include White-winged and Indochinese Green Magpies as well as the shy and difficult to see Crested Argus and the Blue-naped Pitta.
Another area worthy of mention is the impressive strip of limestone karst that divides the Mekong Plain from the Annamite Range in central Laos. This beautiful landscape is home to the enigmatic Sooty Babbler. Despite being locally common this species went unseen for decades until birders returned to the region in the 1990's.
Laos' diverse and poorly known avifauna is ripe for exploration and is sure to provide many more surprises in the years to come.
The Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area is the second largest protected area in Laos and has the greatest wildlife biodiversity in the country. Together 19 carnivore species including six species of wild cats and roughly fifty species of mammals and 299 species of birds inhabit the NEPL NPA. Of these, three bird species are listed as endangered or near threatened (NT), including rufous-necked hornbill Aceros nipalensis (VU), the beautiful nuthatch Sitta formosa (VU) and Blyth’s kingfisher (NT) (IUCN 2009). Phou Louey mountain is identified as especially important as it contains a distinctive montane bird community with ten species that are known from only one or two other localities in Laos.
Ecotourism in NEPL NPA is supported by the NGO Wildlife Conservation Society and has been designed to create positive impacts by encouraging local people to protect endangered wildlife such as tigers and their prey. Read more about ecotourism in NEPL NPA on WWW.NAMET.ORG
Nam Et–Phou Louey National Protected Area is located in the north-east of Lao PDR and is covering three provinces (Luang Prabang, Houaphan and Xieng Khouang provinces).
Muang Hiam (formerly Viengthong) in Houaphan province is the location of the Nam Et-Phou Louey NPA headquarters and Visitor Centre as well as is the meeting point for ecotours.
Please visit the NEPL website to see the area map and transportation options - http://www.namet.org/wp/getting-there/.
Ban Sivilay ("Nong Nok")
Small and entirely community-based (own initiative with little help from outside) conservation and nature tourism project. "Nong Nok" ('bird lake') is a creek that was converted into a small reservoir (60 hectares) through a dam in order to raise fish. This lake was quickly adopted by wetland birds (egrets, more than 800 individuals) and whistling ducks (1200 individuals) and others like Jacana etc. Water level varies with season. The villagers realized that the birds are fertilizing the pond thus stopped hunting and even actively protecting them.
One can walk around the lake. On the back side is a nice little forest. Very simple facilities for camping or over-night stay are available. Very friendly people! Easy to reach from Vientiane. Good for a one-day trip, if vehicle available. The last seven km dirt road may be difficult to pass after heavy rains.
From Vientiane Road No.13 (south). Go straight at km 12 (Rd. No. 10 then), where the main road turns sharp to the right. This is the alternative road leading to the Nam Ngum reservoir via Thangon bridge). At km 56 turn left into a small dirt road (no signs! A "restaurant " and a school at the corner). Follow that road, which turns after 3 km sharp to the right and after another 3 km to the left (watch out for a unique Buddha statue on school grounds) for about 7 km to reach Ban Sivilay. To see "Nong Nok", go another km beyond the village.
Note : Ban Sivilay may be visited in one day from Vientiane , if someone has a car and is in the hurry, since the access to both is via the same road.