Saigon’s open secret: a vantage spot for migratory bird watchers

 HCMC’s Can Gio District is a bird watcher’s paradise with its mangrove forests and salt fields a favored winter destination for migratory birds. Several endemic ones add to the diversity.

The collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) perches on a tree branch inside Can Gio Mangrove Forest, which was recognized as a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2000. The bird gets its name from the white collar around its neck. With an abundant population, the collared kingfisher is classified as a “least concern” species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Located 40 kilometers from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the reserve is an important wildlife sanctuary in Vietnam.

Covering over 75,000 hectares, the reserve is currently only connected to the rest of HCMC by ferry, though a major bridge has been approved. It is home to 20,000 hectares of mangrove forests and home to over 130 rare birds.

The Indian white-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus), formerly the Oriental white-eye, is about 8–9 cm long with yellowish olive upper parts, a white eye ring, yellow throat and vent.

The marsh sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) is a small wader with a long fine bill and very long yellowish legs. It is grayish brown in breeding plumage and has a white wedge up its back that is visible while flying. It is a migratory species and always prefers winter in fresh water wetlands or mangrove forests.

The common redshank or simply redshank (Tringa totanus) is a Eurasian wader in the large family Scolopacidae. It is also a migratory species and always roosts in the Can Gio biosphere reserve for winter. It has red legs and a black-tipped red bill.

A black-tailed gull (Larus crassirostris) flies takes off over a flock of Caspian tern (Hydroprogne caspia) at a salt field.

Every year, from the end of September, migratory seabirds begin to flock to the Can Gio coast to prepare for the winter season.

A flock of red knots (Calidris canutus) gather to feed on a salt field. On the wintering and migratory grounds these knots eat a variety of hard-shelled prey such as bivalves, gastropods and small crabs.

Visitors can take a boat trip on the Ganh Rai Bay to admire the peaceful landscape of Can Gio coast and watch many species of sea birds.

In the photo is the majestic dance of Greater crested tern (Thalasseus bergii), which feeds by plunge-diving for fish. This is a large tern with a long 5.4–6.5 cm yellow bill, black legs, and a glossy black crest that is noticeably shaggy at its rear.

A flock of Kentish plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) walk on a sandy beach full of seashells. This bird has pale plumages with a white underside, gray/brown back, dark legs and a dark bill.

Kentish plovers are ground-nesting birds which prefer to low, open, moist nesting sites away from thick vegetation and human activity. They use a number of materials to build their nests, mainly consisting of shells, pebbles, grass and leaves in a small scrape in the ground.

The bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica) is a popular migratory bird in Can Gio. The large wader in the Scolopacidae family feeds on bristle-worms and shellfish on coastal mudflats and estuaries.

The adult has blue-gray legs and a long, tapering, slightly upturned bi-colored bill: pink at the base and black towards the tip. The neck, breast and belly are unbroken brick red in breeding plumage, and dark brown above.

Several migratory birds including the curlew sandpiper, great knot, little ringed plover and little tern feed in the same area. Depending on the tide, when the water recedes, they will flock to the beach to feed and when the water is high, rest on the shore or nearby salt fields.

The red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), also known as the northern phalarope, is a small wader. This bird has crossed a distance of more than 10,000 km from far northeastern Russia to the Can Gio coast where the food is abundant with mollusks and crustaceans.

The breeding female is predominantly dark gray above, with a chestnut neck and upper breast, black face and white throat. They have a white wing stripe.

The Nordmann's greenshank (Tringa guttifer) is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae with a slightly upturned, bi-colored bill, and relatively short yellow legs.

This bird species whose global population is estimated at only 1,200-2,000 individuals, is on the brink of extinction. After the annual breeding season, it migrates a long distance from the Far East, the eastern part of Siberia in Russia, down to the south and chooses Can Gio coast as a landing place to feed.

The above photo collection was taken by Nguyen Anh The, a guide who organizes bird watching tours inside Can Gio biosphere reserve.

"The Can Gio ecosystem is diverse, pristine and needs to be protected in its current state to create an ideal habitat and stopover for migratory birds from the far north," he said.

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