Shooting birds on Indochina’s roof a tall order

By Huynh Phuong    April 24, 2019 | 09:15 pm GMT+7

Famous tourist attraction Fansipan Mountain is a great place for bird watching, but this takes some doing.

Photo by Nguyen Hao Quang 

Photo by Nguyen Hao Quang 

Early this month, photographer Thuan Vo (second left) and two of his colleagues, Nguyen Manh Hiep and Pham Hong Phuong, decided on an ornithologist stint on the Fansipan Mountain, known as the Roof of Indochina.

Fansipan is located in Lao Cai Province of Vietnam's northwestern region, 9 km southwest of Sapa town in the Hoang Lien Son mountain range.

With the help of an expert guide and a Hmong ethnic man who knows the area well, the team got the opportunity to observe and capture photos of some rare birds in the Hoang Lien National Park, which the mountain is a part of.

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This photo, taken by Thuan Vo, shows a yellow-browned tit (Sylviparus modestus) living at an altitude of over 1,800 meters. It is one of more than 300 bird species in the national park.

The forest spreads itself at a height of 1,000 to more than 3,000 meters. Fansipan peaks at 3,143 meters. The diverse flora and fauna of the park includes many rare and precious species like the green cypress, Himalayan hemlock (Tsuga dumosa), rhododendrons, black crested gibbon and chevrotain.

Photo by Thuan Vo

Photo by Thuan Vo

This is a plumbeous water redstart captured near the Bac waterfall in Sa Pa town in Lao Cai Province.

The bird-watching trip on the Fansipan Mount was organized to encourage people to appreciate the beauty of the nature and raise awareness of the need to protect forests, the natural habitat of wild animals and plants, including the birds. 

Photo by Thuan Vo

Photo by Thuan Vo

Photographing birds in Fansipan is not easy. The birds are at an altitude of 2,800 to 3,100 meters and photographers have to tackle rugged terrain and have loads of patience.

The team took a cable car to the top of Fansipan and walked to the forest area at a height of 2,800 meters. They camped overnight and trekked up the mountain to an altitude of 3,100 meters to take photos, and got to the mountain top before returning by the cable car. 

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Nguyen Manh Hiep took this photo of pink azaleas, which bloom in April.

"I had climbed Fansipan in 2015, but now returning to photograph birds, I was excited to take photos of many precious flowers and azaleas at a height of 1,000 meters on the Hoang Lien Son mountain range," said Hiep.

Photo by Thuan Vo

Photo by Thuan Vo

A black-faced laughing thrush on a branch of the azalea shrub. 

Photo by Thuan Vo

Photo by Thuan Vo

A Nepal yellow-backed sunbird, aka green-tailed sunbird. 

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A stripe-throated Yuhina photographed by Thuan Vo. 

"When the night falls, we all slept in a tent made by our Hmong friends at an altitude of about 2,800 meters. Night temperature was about 5 degrees Celsius, so it was very cold even after we wore three layers of clothes," said Vo

"But when we captured photos of precious birds, all the struggles disappeared."

Photo by Thuan Vo

Photo by Thuan Vo

The chestnut-headed tesia is one of the most difficult species to take photos of because it never stands still. It is so agile that the camera lens could not catch up with its speed. After an hour, the photographer could only take 1 or 2 shots of this bird. 

Photo by Thuan Vo

Photo by Thuan Vo

Forktails usually live along the streams in the forest area near Sa Pa town. 

Photo by Pham Hong Phuong

Photo by Pham Hong Phuong

A white-capped water redstart, which can be found mainly in mountainous areas. They rarely fly away from the place.

Those who pursue bird photography need to invest in proper camera equipment and acquire experience in climbing mountains and trekking through forests. Since the terrain is rugged, people need portable, lightweight lenses that are convenient for holding in the hand. 

Photo by Nguyen Manh Hiep

Photo by Nguyen Manh Hiep

The golden parrotbill is small in size and constantly moving. This beautiful bird is rarely seen in Vietnam’s northwestern mountains. Thus, the photographers were so excited and anxious that they could not get proper pictures in the beginning. 

 
 
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