Birding Asia

Ever since the late nineties, when during the first three months of the year I began flying to the west out of LAX across the Pacific instead of to the south out of Miami and across the Caribbean to South America, I’ve grown to appreciate more and more the complex and stunning avifauna of southern Asia. Most of those flights across the Pacific were to lovely Thailand, but they were soon followed by regular visits to nearby Vietnam and Malaysia/Borneo, and then to the diverse archipelago of the Philippines.

Asia has a huge variety of birds to offer, so how do you choose where to go? Will it be Green-tailed Sunbird (Bhutan, India, Thailand, and Vietnam) or Banded Kingfisher (Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam)? Photos by guide Dave Stejskal.

For me, antbirds at that season were replaced by babblers, toucans by hornbills, motmots by bee-eaters.  It was quite a change, but one that I’ve thoroughly embraced and grown to love. I still get to show off those Neotropical lovelies to clients at other times of the year when I guide tours to Ecuador, Argentina, and other Neotropical destinations–I’ll never be able to give up my antbirds, toucans, and motmots entirely!

Elephant-back birding in Southern India. Photo by participant Margaret Hartman.

Since my first visit to Asia, Field Guides has offered more and more tours there, many of which I’ve been lucky enough to guide, and I’ve predictably started hearing an obvious question from clients: Where the heck do you start? A tough question indeed. The right answer really depends on what you want to get out of birding in Asia. If you want just to sample it once and never return, I’d have to recommend Thailand. A fun, comfortable tour with a particularly outstanding ground crew, a co-leader second to none, fantastic food, and loads of birds just about everywhere with representatives of nearly every Southeast Asian bird family that you could think of make this one, in my view, the obvious choice for the one-time Asia birding holiday.

But, if you take that one Thailand trip, you’re guaranteed to come back for more! Want the quintessential Himalayan experience? Jump on board for Bhutan. Got a hankering for Bengal Tiger, the incomparable Taj Mahal, a rich culture, and a boatload of birds and mammals, try Northern India. Are you looking for a trip that’s a bit more demanding physically but full of riveting endemics? Try the Philippines or our Borneo tour. And don’t forget Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Japan, Southern India, Cambodia–they’ve all got great birds, are a heck of a lot of fun, and are all culturally fascinating. Odds are that you’ll never be able to take just one and that you, like me, will fall in love with this incredible region of our diverse planet!

More choices. Ceylon Magpie (Sri Lanka) or Chestnut-tailed Minla (Bhutan, India, Thailand, and Vietnam). Photos by guides Mike Crewe and Richard Webster.

Our Field Guides Asia tours include:
Northern India: Tiger, Birds & the Taj Mahal
Southern India: Western Ghats Endemics
Winter Japan: Dancing Cranes & Spectacular Sea-Eagles
Sri Lanka

You can also see guide Dave Stejskal‘s upcoming schedule on his guide page.