The dark green, wide-beak birds with unique "cap"
Deeply attached to mountains and forests
Familiar with the flowery scent of mountains and forests, the call of wild birds and animals in the buffer zone of Bach Ma (White Horse) National Park since childhood, Quy Minh has decided to live in his native land. He worked as a ranger, guiding tourists to Bach Ma National Park.
“It was a meaningful time for me. The basic knowledge about nature and ecology was strengthened,’’ Minh shared. “I was fortunate to be in contact with many tour guides everywhere, from the veteran to young tour guides. They truly had a precious fund of life experience.”
The birders “in uniform”
In 1999, Le Quy Minh met and joined the birding group of Richard Craik (an English birder living in Vietnam). One day was short, but Richard Craik's passion ignited the long journey of a man in Truoi region, intensified the burning passion...
10 years later, Quy Minh decides to say goodbye to Bach Ma. Becoming a tour guide for Vietnam Birding, he specializes in the birding tours in three countries Vietnam - Laos - Cambodia. In peak season, he works as a tour guide; in low season, he conducts a migration and location survey. This is also the time when he spends a lot of time for himself, walking through forests, wading across streams so as to be immersed in the habitat, character and beauty of a huge variety of birds.
The circle of birders’ sign language
The circle of birders is often divided into two groups: professional and amateur. Although different in goal, each birder must comply with the plans, principles, and schedules.
Always dressed in dark colors, avoiding bright colors, they blend into the trees with green-gray clothes. Dangling at their side are binoculars, recorders, cameras and insect sprayers.
Each birding trip covers a maximum of about 10 people. Aside from ensuring the criterion of "walking lightly, speaking quietly", 8 tourists and 2 tour guides make it easier to walk in a row on the trail. This approach also limits the impact on the natural environment, improves the quality of the tour and avoids panicking wild birds.
Le Quy Minh on a trek through the forest
Sometimes, walking lightly and speaking quietly still panic wild birds. Therefore, the avid birders created a sign language that only the birders can understand.
Minh shared, “Although the sign language is not too diverse, we all understand what the other wants to express. It comes from the planned list of birds that can be encountered on the trek.”
Cupping hands, knocking steadily into the air with the eyes glowing and the mouth making no sound but creating a shape, Le Quy Minh is expressing the conversational language when encountering woodpeckers.
For a stripy-bellied penguin, he quickly lifts the arm and slashes down; he depicts the image of the cut-off tail of this typical bird.
Despite hardship, the compliance with the rules does not ensure a successful birding trip. “The adventures for wild birds depend a lot on luck. Simon, an English birder, especially left a deep impression on me,” shared Mr. Minh.
During the trip from Laos to Vietnam, Simon had only one wish - to admire the red-collared woodpecker. However, after 7 days of bushwalking in Laos, that wish was not fulfilled. On the second trip, upon arrival at Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, due to the limited visibility, the foreign birder could only see the bird's shadow sweep past. However, his wife and other members of the group could see clearly.
Undeterred, Simon pinned his hopes on the third birding trip. He sought to fulfill his wish at Cuc Phuong National Park. However, after 3 consecutive days of using the sound of seduction, woodpeckers did not come into view.
Disappointed and exhausted, just in ten minutes, Simon and the rest of the group had to leave. At that very moment, when Le Quy Minh stepped onto the stone steps, he swiftly heard a cheerful song.
All of a sudden, right above his head, just at some arm’s lengths, three red-necked woodpeckers were intently looking for prey. They speedily pecked at the tree trunk, unaware of the tears and smiles of the real birders under their wings.
The 17 days on end through the many forests paid off. Simon and his members hugged the young birder from Truoi. They burst with happiness. For his part, Le Quy Minh also had a greater passion for wild birds, bubbled with the job fire burning in him.
Also because of the chance of job and many lucky factors, the veteran tour guide twice accidentally encountered a wide-beak mosquito owl (extremely rare species) in Bach Ma National Park. Notably, he detected a big Le, a new species of Vietnam in Ba Be National Park.
That could be a gift from the forests to him after the days of hard search. It was also his connection with the forests, when the photo of a wide-beak mosquito owl cherishing her young was printed by him and presented to Bach Ma restaurant, the place where he accidentally saw this species.
From birder to writer
In late 2018, Birds of Vietnam was published by Lynx Edicions. This was the brainchild and effort of Richard Craik and Le Quy Minh. As the first comprehensive field guide exclusively for birds, Birds of Vietnam carefully delineates the bird distribution map in Vietnam (excluding migratory species).
Le Quy Minh said, “The field knowledge conveyed by Richard Craik and me includes the status, habitat, behavior, gender, voice with a total of over 1,900 illustrations.”
More usefully, the book also has QR codes for each species. The links to the photo, video and audio library on the Internet Bird Collection and more than 870 maps make the book a valuable means for birders to have a chance to contemplate the beauty of the birds. Moreover, this is also a useful document for reference, in service of the monitoring and conservation of birds in Vietnam.
Incessantly telling the stories, we caught the thoughtful gaze of the veteran tour guide.
“With each passing day, the precious birds come under the increasing pressure from humans; the habitat of birds is getting more and more difficult. I believe that everyone, birders included, will be hurt when one day the chirp of birds is no longer heard.
Therefore, in his work, Le Quy Minh always avoids the impact of birding trips on species of birds. He strictly adheres to the regulations, avoiding disturbance to the life and biological behavior.
Professional birder guides like Le Quy Minh are in single figures. However, his voice, enthusiasm and contributions have helped many people to learn more about the beauty, value of birds and detected, introduced new species of birds in Vietnam.
Story: Mai Hue – Photos: Le Quy Minh