The Xuan Thuy National Park in Nam Dinh province, Vietnam, is home to many local and migratory birds who feed and mate in this lush habitat and protected area.
The park is also an invaluable source of food and livelihood for local people, while providing a rich source of food for the many migratory birds who stop to rest and feed here.
For nature buffs and keen bird watchers, it remains one of Vietnam’s major tourist attractions, especially this month, when a myriad of birds from all over Asia congregate in this well-protected and rich coastal wetland before resuming their migratory flights.
Situated about 160 km from Hanoi, Xuan Thuy is without doubt a birdwatcher’s paradise. To learn more about conservation and different bird species, friends and I recently decided to visit the park, the first ever wetland to be designated a Ramsar site in South East Asia.
Although we had set off early on our one day journey in the hope of seeing some birds, we arrived too late. When we arrived in the afternoon, much to our dismay the park ranger informed us that we had missed the birds. He explained that they flew down to feed and court very early in the morning.
Although we had specifically come to learn about our feathered friends, we could still explore the park.
We were warmly welcomed by a local chef who served us the most incredible food, freshly caught crab and fish and many other mouth-watering delicacies.
After an awesome meal we all felt extremely lazy. We decided we would spend the night in the park and try to see the birds the next morning. We were told that we would have to get up very early, at about 6am, if we wanted to see anything.
As we had not planned to stay overnight we had nothing to wash with, no soap, no toothpaste. We were each given a pillow and a blanket and as we had no other clothing, had to sleep fully-clothed. I tried to sleep but because I was probably so excited about seeing the birds, I tossed and turned all night long and hardly slept a wink.
As we set off on our journey the following morning, it was very windy. The park covers an area of 12,000 hectares around the mouth of the Red River. It is set to play an important part in the future preservation of the ecological system of the wetland and the development of eco-tourism in the Red River Delta. It is also a valuable source of natural resources for its inhabitants, human or other, year round.
We were greeted by Mr Dung from Hanoi, who had brought a platform from which we would be able to watch the birds. He had done a lot of research with experts on many of the bird species here and so was able to give us a lot of information on them.
There was certainly no hesitation in whipping the cameras out when the birds swept down for mating or feeding. We didn’t have a clue how to approach them and so scared many away, missing some very good shots.
As we drove further afield on the dusty roads trying to spot more birds, we bumped into local farmers and traders selling their fish and other produce.
The locals heavily rely on agriculture and tourism as a source of income. This is why they play an active part in sustaining eco-tourism and preservation of the park.
The park provides a bird sanctuary that has attracted the interest of researchers worldwide, who come here to study the different species and their life cycle. Every year more than 40 percent of the visitors who come here are foreigners and, of course, keen birdwatchers.
We were informed that Xuan Thuy Park is home to at least 219 different species of birds from 41 generic families and that we had come at the right time to observe migratory birds, the best months being November and December.
We didn’t know how many different species were here now, but after climbing up to the top platform, which is about 20 metres high, we were very impressed to discover such a variety: black-faced spoonbills, water birds, painted storks, Chinese egrets, kingfishers and even more scavenging about in the mangrove trees in an eternal quest for survival.
We spent the entire morning watching the birds eat. Some of my friends were cold and hungry so they left before me. I stayed behind and continued to feast my eyes on the countless number of birds flying down and away.
We felt very privileged when a young female researcher asked us if we would like to accompany her to the coast and help plant mangrove trees. We felt that we were truly contributing to the preservation of the park.
We eventually arrived in a muddy area where I rolled up my shirt sleeves and trousers and proceeded to help plant more than 100 mangrove trees.
The young scientist explained that mangroves play a significa nt role in the sustainability of the park’s wildlife and ecosystems. For example, should a natural disaster occur, the trees would become a haven for aquatic species.
We foun d ourselves blessed by nature, in wonderful surroundings with warm, welcoming hosts.
Our last meal was cooked by a very hospitable man and we talked so much I barely had time to eat. He had bought the ingredients and seafood for our meal this morning, transforming them into a more than affordable meal.
Mr Dung said “Rarely does one have the opportunity to eat such a delectable meal in such beautiful, natural surroundings full of fresh air and beautiful scenery.”
This trip has taught me that we are very blessed by Mother Nature who provides everyone on this planet, small or big, with all that we need to survive.
I would come back some day I told myself, and maybe, just maybe, climb up one of the mangrove trees I had planted!