Flowers, rocks and birds in Loei

It was 8th March 2020. I travelled from Hanoi, Vietnam, to Bangkok, Thailand for a last two weeks of work on a project. A year later, I’m still there. A few days after I arrived in Bangkok, Vietnam closed its borders to keep COVID-19 out. Unfortunately, it kept me out as well.

Bangkok has its positive sides, and, for a bird lover, there is actually quite some good areas in and around the city to go to. It has some beautifal parks. Yet, daily life remains in the big city. And while the many restaurants—occasionally closed whenever a flare-up of COVID-19 infections made it necessary to curb large gatherings—have much to offer, they are invariably to be found in the setting of the metropolis that Bangkok is.

I had the good fortune to be able to visit Robert up in Chiang Khan, Loei, a couple of times. He and his family live along the Mekong river, and one can see on that small patch quite some wildlife. But Loei is a big province, mountainous, with forest remnants and quite a few protected areas. In this year of forced stay in Thailand, Loei was a welcome change from Bangkok. After initial COVID-19 lock-downs it became sufficiently safe to travel wihtin Thailand—if with all the proper precautions—and so we could also visit a few protected areas. I also could cycle to some forest remnants around Chiang Khan and make some walks. Even in those very disturbed forest patches, one can encounter Crested Treeswifts, Violet Cuckoo, and Plain Flowerpecker. If one visits Phu Ruea National Park it’s not only wildlife that strikes the eye. It’s full of rocks and rock formations, that reminds us of the intimate relation between biodiversity and geomorphology, Wind, rain, temperature changes, microbial life, lichens, plant roots: all form, shape and create rocks and soils, that allow worms, insects and other invertabrates to live, in their turn allowing birds and mammals to find a home, who at the same time become part of that process of forming and shaping the many habitats and niches that that biodiversity needs.

This post gives some impressions of that wildlife, rock formations and the landscape. In some images the light was very challenging, like for the White-rumped Shama or the far-away-raptor in a tree. Despite that, I included those, as they do add to the impressions of Loei.

An oasis of trees at the Mekong

Robert and his family live in Chiang Khan, Loei, Thailand, along the Mekong. With mists in the mornings or golden-red sunrises, their land is an oasis of trees. Right and left of their land investors build hotels, or people tend orchards. Going down to the grassy banks of the river, tall grasses form an insect-rich vegetation, where left and right of it people burn the vegetation and grow crops. After twenty-five years trees have grown tall and there is a fair bit of unbroken canopy, formed by a great variety of tree species. Robert even has an endangered tree species growing on their land. The eastern neighbour just razed his land in January of this year, cutting all the trees on his property, where first there was a mixed vegetation of grasses and some spread-out trees. Scaly-breasted Munias fed there, but no longer. Still, Robert’s land holds firm and has an impressive diversity of life for a small patch of trees, with birds, butterflies, beetles, spiders and squirrels easily seen, and where even snakes grace the area with their presence. At night one can hear nightjars, and an owl hootted away. This post shows some of that life, in particular the birds. Twenty different bird species were seen or heard in a short span of time (clicking on the scientific name will bring you to an Wikipedia entry):

FamilyScientific nameEnglish name
AegithinidaeAegithina tiphiaCommon Iora
ArdeidaeArdeola sp.Pond-Heron
CampephagidaePericrocotus divaricatusAshy Minivet
CaprimulgidaeCaprimulgus sp.Nightjar (heard only)
CisticolidaeOrthotomus sutoriusCommon Tailorbird
CuculidaeCentropus sinensisGreater Coucal
DicaeidaeDicaeum cruentatumScarlet-backed Flowerpecker
EstrildidaeLonchura punctulataScaly-breasted Munia
MonarchidaeHypothymis azureaBlack-naped Monarch
MuscicapidaeFicedula albicilla
Muscicapa dauurica
Taiga Flycatcher
Asian Brown Flycatcher
NectariniidaeCinnyris jugularisOlive-backed Sunbird
PhylloscopidaePhylloscopus sp.Warbler
PycnonotidaeIole olivacea
Pycnonotus aurigaster
P. conradi
P. goiavier
Buff-vented Bulbul
Sooty-headed Bulbul
Streak-eared Bulbu
Yellow-vented Bulbul
RhipiduridaeRhiphidura javanicaPied Fantail
StenorostridaeCulicicapa ceylonensisGrey-headed Canary-Flycatcher
SturnidaeAcridotheres grandisGreat Myna
The twenty species that have been seen or heard. Photos of Greater Coucal and Great Myna were not taken on this location. All other photos were. There is no photo of the Nightjar. Taxonomic names follow Birds of the World.

I wanted to have photos taken at Robert’s place, which therefore includes images that are not the best quality. Some have quite some noise in it, and some are not razor-sharp. But they all (except the photos of the Great Myna and Greater Coucal that were taken in Vachirabenjatas Park in Bangkok) represent the biodiversity value that is present at Robert’s.

Bau Tro Lake

At the edge of Dong Hoi lies a quiet area, a fresh water lake surrounded by protection forest. The lake, called Bau Tro, is a natural lake that contains fresh water even though it’s less than 300 meter from the sea, and that is an important source of fresh water for the city. For that reason, the area is well guarded, and it’s forbidden to cut any tree in it, or otherwise use the forest or the lake. The forest is managed by the Bau Tro Protection Forest Management Board. The lake itself is managed by another city government department. One of the reasons for that is the area is also culturally important. It’s a site where artefacts have been found of at least 5,000 years old. People lived in this area already at that time.

The forest—or perhaps woodland is a better term—consists mainly of the Ironwood tree, Casuarina equisetifolia, and Acacia species. The government uses these species often, and Casuarina in particular, because they stabilise the sand, and grow well in poor sandy soil. The area is, after all, part of the extensive dune formations that line the coast of Quang Binh. These species, however, do not belong to the original species formations that made up coastal forests in Vietnam. On a few places in Quang Binh, remnants of such coastal forest still exist, but almost everywhere, Casuarina and Acacia dominate. On a recent visit to Bau Tro, though, young Melaleuca cajuputi trees were found. This offers one possibility for forest restoration.

The woodland doesn’t seem very rich. It can be assumed that the original forest has a richer biodiversity. Nevertheless, there are birds and insects around. This page shows some of the species that were encountered. An interesting bird is the Blue-throated Bee-eater, Merops viridis. Usually I see the Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Merops philippinus. But it was, the Blue-throated, munching away on an insect of undetermined identification. The distance was a bit too large to get a good view on what the Bee-eater is devouring, but it looks like a dragonfly.

Photo impressions of biodiversity of UP campus, Los Baños, the Philippines

My work led me to the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB) in Los Baños, the Philippines. It is located on the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). The campus lies just below Mount Makiling Forest Reserve, an ASEAN Heritage Park. While the campus clearly is a used and inhabited area, it has forest and park landscape elements, and at least two creeks run through the area. Via the main gate of the university one enters the campus and can walk up a winding road that passes by the Makiling Botanical Gardens and brings you to the entrance of the forest reserve. The road continues and passes by the Mud Spring and onwards to the summit. The photos in this post are shot in the campus area or in the botanical garden.

Biodiversity in a city – Abidjan

Cities can hold a surprising amount of biodiversity. Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire, may not instantly come to mind as one where one can see much nature. And indeed, if you walk the streets of the center, it’s mostly buildings and cars that attract the eye. However, I had the good fortune to spend some time in hotel Sol Beni, in M’Pouto, that lies at the shore of an arm of the lagoon in which Abidjan is located. Walks in the morning were enjoyable and showed that this city of millions still holds a wide variety of life.

Biodiversity in a ricefield area

One does not have to go far to find an amazing array of biodiversity, even in a big city. This post however, contains some images of animals just about ten minutes cycling from where I live. These animals are not always big. Egrets can be fairly large, but spiders and dragonflies are not. This particular ricefield area, aside from having this large array of species, also provides rest and food to bird species that makes yearly migrations from north to south and vice versa. It mainly concerns waders such as the Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), the Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) or the Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago). They are included in the images below.