Birding In Asia - Top Bird Watching Locations

by nickupton

Asia is home to some of the most spectacular birds in the world but seeing them can be difficult unless you visit the right places. Here are some of the best birding sites in Asia.

Since early 2008 I have been lucky enough to work as a full-time bird watching guide. This has taken me to a lot of fantastic places, many of them in the continent of Asia, with some great people. When taking people birding in Asia I not only want to share with them some amazing birds, I hope to give them the best experiences watching those birds. This means places that have an abundance of species, offer great views of birds, allow people to witness amazing bird behaviour as well as offering safety, convenience and some good food/drink. Here I talk about some of the best places for birding in Asia that I am familiar with.

Way Kambas National Park

Sumatra, Indonesia

Oriental Bay OwlWay Kambas, in South East Sumatra, is, mostly simply put, one of the most standout birding locations in the whole of Asia, I have been to few birding sites that can compare with it. Lowland rainforest has been devastated by the palm oil industry throughout Asia and there is very little of it left at all but Way Kambas protects one of the larger fragments that remains. 

Although there is a huge amount of both mature and secondary forest here, access is excellent with an old logging road running for many kilometres through it. Visiting Way Kambas gives birders a real sense of being in a remote area because entry is strictly managed and at any time there are very few people within the national park. Quite simply, a trip to Way Kambas gives the visitor a real sense of being out in a rainforest wilderness and the chance to see a wide range of birds that are rare or absent in many other locations.

Birding Highlights

Malayan Banded Pitta, Oriental Bay Owl, Storm's Stork, White-winged Duck, Large Frogmouth, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Bonaparte's Nightjar, Green Broadbill, Red-naped Trogon, Sunda Frogmouth, Reddish Scops Owl, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Diard's Trogon, Malayan Crested Fireback, Fluffy-backed Tit Babbler, Olive-backed Woodpecker, Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon.

Way Kambas is a place I always enjoy visiting and have a very good relationship with the local guides there. Way Kambas is a location that I always visit on my West Java and Sumatra birding tours. Read the full itinerary of the next one that I will be leading - West Java & Sumatra Birding Tour.

Pak Thale

Thailand

Casting a view across the salt pans at Pak Thale between the months of November and March will reveal huge numbers of shorebirds both feeding and roosting at high tide. The numbers of birds present can be mind-boggling and the variety is superb with over thirty species possible in a morning at the best times. Add to this the rarity of birds such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann's Greenshank and Asian Dowitcher and this is arguably the richest shorebird site in the world.

Birding here is done among salt pans worked by local people, but bird numbers are still high, and mangrove fragments, mudflats and areas of scrub provide some nice variety in the birdlife of the area and a high species count is always guaranteed here. This site, in the Gulf of Thailand, 2 hours drive south west of Bangkok, is a must-visit location for any birder who loves shorebirds.

Birding Highlights

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann's Greenshank, Painted Stork, Malaysian Plover, Chinese Egret, Asian Dowitcher, Great Knot, White-faced Plover, Indian Nightjar, Mangrove Whistler, Terek Sandpiper, Great Crested Tern, Spot-billed Pelican, Far Eastern Curlew, White-shouldered Starling, Grey-headed Lapwing, Oriental Pratincole, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint.

Pak Thale is one of the sites in Thailand I visit the most frequently with large numbers of birders wanting to see the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. It is always a pleasure to visit, to see the large numbers of shorebirds and also to take a boat trip onto the sand spit with Mr Daeng, a local boatman and bird enthusiast. Read more about the site here - Laem Pak Bia/Pak Thale.

Tien Shan Mountains

Kazakhstan

White-browed Tit-WarblerThese snow-capped mountains along the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border with alpine meadows and fringing woodland provide one of the most stunning settings for any birding location in Asia that I have visited. With access from downtown Almaty, by taxi, taking only around 30-40 minutes this is both an easy place to visit and one that provides some superb birds.

Colourful species such as White-browed Tit Warbler (pictured), Blue-capped Redstart, Fire-capped Serin and Eversmann's Redstart are some of the attractions here along with a number of other birds with very restricted global ranges including Brandt's Mountain Finch. A good range of much more widespread Eurasian species make up numbers here too and along with raptors such as Golden Eagle, Lammergeier and Steppe Buzzard this is a superb location for birding and a must-visit area for anyone visiting Kazakhstan on a birding trip.

Birding Highlights

White-browed Tit Warbler, Himalayan Snowcock, Ibisbill, Himalayan Rubythroat, Fire-fronted Serin, Eversmann’s Redstart, Guldenstadt’s Redstart, Azure Tit, Brown Dipper, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Blue-capped Redstart, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, Black-throated Accentor, Wallcreeper, Red-mantled Rosefinch, White-winged Grosbeak.

This is one of those locations I could go back to time and time again. Not only are the birds fantastic but the scale of the landscape is just wonderful. You can read all about my visit there in May 2019 here - Birding & Hiking near Shymbaluk, Kazakhstan.

White Horse Hill

South Korea

Braving the cold, snowy weather in the early morning at White Horse Hill is worth it for the spectacle that follows. Standing on this small hillock overlooking rice fields and the hills in the DMZ between North and South Koreas gives birders the perfect place to watch "The Flight of the Cranes". 

Several hundred Red-crowned Cranes and White-naped Cranes roost in hot springs in the DMZ and as the sun rises they start flying out and into South Korea where spilt grain in rice fields attracts them to feed. To begin with there are small numbers but as the time passes, groups of 20 and 30 come through, many very close to the observation point. This is one of my favourite sights in birding anyway I have been in the world.

It isn't only about cranes here with flocks of Tundra Bean Geese in the area and large numbers of Greater White-fronted Geese also feeding alongside the cranes. Buntings, Tits, Finches and Thrushes feed in the copses and hedgerows here while raptors are well-represented with gangs of Cinereous Vulture and the odd White-tailed Eagle.

Birding Highlights

Red-crowned Crane, Vinous-breasted Parrotbill, Rustic Bunting, Dusky Thrush, White-naped Crane, Cinereous Vulture, Yellow-throated Bunting, Tundra Bean Goose, Naumann's Thrush, Meadow Bunting, Greater White-fronted Goose, Chinese Grey Shrike, White-tailed Eagle, Hawfinch, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker.

White Horse Hill is a great site but South Korea is a surprisingly good birding destination in general. Read some of my blog posts about my birding trips in South Korea.

Tangkoko

Sulawesi, Indonesia

This part of the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia, has some great forest along an undeveloped coastline both of which are great biding habitats. Comfortable accommodation, great local guides and some extremely stunning birds make this one of my favourite birding locations in the region.

Red-backed Thrush is readily seen here and one that is often voted "bird of the trip" on the tours I have led here. However, kingfishers are a real feature here with Green-Backed Kingfisher, Lilac Kingfisher and Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher real gems of the forest while the mangrove channels are home to the impressive Great-billed Kingfisher.

A road through the forest, with little traffic on it, provides some great vistas across the forest allowing birders to see a wide range of forest birds here with perhaps the most memorable being Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbill.

Birding Highlights

Green-backed Kingfisher, Silver-tipped Imperial Pigeon, Lilac Kingfisher, Sulawesi Dwarf Kingfisher, Red-backed Thrush, Great-billed Kingfisher, Sulawesi Scops Owl, Sulawesi Dwarf Hornbill, Great Hanging Parrot, Ochre-rumped Boobook, Tabon Scrubfowl, Purple-winged Roller, White-necked Myna, Ivory-backed Woodswallow, White-faced Cuckoo Dove, Sulawesi Triller.

Tangkoko is the perfect place to build your birding tour to Sulawesi and Halmahera around. While some of the birding on these islands can be tricky and accommodation rather simple, Tangkoko is a very pleasant place to stay with some great birding and some memorable mammals too.

Cat Tien National Park

Vietnam

Bar-bellied PittaCrossing the river and arriving at Cat Tien National Park is exciting for birders as you see the top quality habitat and huge forest trees get closer and closer until you disembark into some of the best habitat in Vietnam. With pleasant accommodation and a good network of tracks this is the perfect location to track down desirable species that include Bar-bellied Pitta, Germain's Peacock Pheasant and Blue-rumped Pitta.

These species are some of the main target birds but Cat Tien is also a great place to see a wide variety of some of Southeast Asia's most exciting birds; Banded Kingfisher, Black-and-red Broadbill, Black-and-buff Woodpecker, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Dusky Broadbill and Pale-headed Woodpecker are just a few of these.

Birding Highlights

Bar-bellied Pitta, Germain's Peacock Pheasant, Grey-faced Tit Babbler, Blue-rumped Pitta, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Green Peafowl, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Siamese Fireback, Black-and-red Broadbill, Laced Woodpecker, Lesser Adjutant, Black-and-buff Woodpecker, Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Orange-necked Partridge, Lesser Yellownape.

Cat Tien National Park is very well set up and always a pleasure to visit. The extensive forest intersected by tracks and trails which can be explored on foot or on a bicycle allow plenty of access to quality habitat and with several top quality birds this is somewhere that all my South Vietnam Birding Tours visit.

Taman Negara National Park

Malaysia

Large FrogmouthLowland rainforest in Southeast Asia is a habitat that has suffered greatly due to logging and conversion to palm oil plantations. However, at Taman Negara large areas of primary lowland rainforest are protected and a pleasant lodge along with a good network of trails allowing birders access to some of the best habitat in the region. 

The mercurial Rail Babbler is almost a legendary species but at Taman Negara there is a really good chance of seeing at least one. Garnet Pitta is another of the gems here while hornbills will excite anyone; Rhinoceros Hornbill and Helmeted Hornbill being two of the highest prizes here. With a dazzling array of bulbuls and babblers there is always something to look at here while searching for rarer birds such as Red-naped Trogon, Malayan Banded Pitta or Rufous-collared Kingfisher.

Birding Highlights

Garnet Pitta, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Long-tailed Parakeet, Rail Babbler, Red-naped Trogon, Malaysian Eared Nightjar, Crested Jay, Helmeted Hornbill, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Malayan Banded Pitta, Malayan Crested Fireback, Large Frogmouth, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Dusky Broadbill, Yellow-crowned Barbet, Jambu Fruit Dove.

Such is the quality of the habitat and the birds within it, Taman Negara is one of those must-visit birding sites. With very comfortable accommodation available on site this is one of those places I never tire of and one that I include in all birding tours in peninsula Malaysia. Take a look at the itinerary and dates of the next planned tour - Peninsula Malaysia Birding Tour.

Birding ToursThese great birdwatching sites in Asia feature frequently in the birding tours I offer through my company, Calidris Birding Tours. 

I am a professional bird tour leader with over 15 years experience of guiding groups and individuals. All the tours are designed to allow sufficient time to find a high proportion of the key bird species and enjoy watching them at a sensible pace.

I lead many of these tours personally while a few others are led by other experienced guides who share my enthusiasm for bird watching in these exciting locations. If you fancy visiting any of these places why not join us?

The full list of itineraries is here - Birding Tours.

Choose an Asian Birding Site

Which of these Asian Birding Sites would you most like to visit?
Updated: 12/15/2022, nickupton
 
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nickupton on 12/15/2022

Believe me, a hot-weather lover would not appreciate South Korea in winter. I am heading there to lead 2 more trips in a few weeks and expect temperatures to be -20C.

Actually the accommodation at Tangkoko is simple but very clean, comfortable and has en-suite bathroom and air con in every room. I really like the place. Taman Negara actually has a fairly high end resort on site, right in the forest. Most of the other locations require staying in a nearby hotel.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/15/2022

The Kazakh-Kyrgyz biogeographical area most interests me of the above-mentioned sites, because of the diverse wildlife and the preserved beauty, and because of my interest in the Asian "cousins" of some North American plants.

But as a hot-weather lover and as a wildlife mapper, I also like the Indonesian, Korean, Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese sites and wildlife.

How "simple" would simple accommodations be at Tangkoko, and would Taman Negara be the only above-mentioned location with "very comfortable accommodation available on site"?

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