Indawgyi Lake, located in northern Myanmar is one of the biggest inland lakes in Southeast Asia and the largest in Myanmar. Every year migratory birds from as far as Siberia follow the East Asian-Australasian flyway and flock to Indawgyi Lake to rest and feed during the winter season.
They start arriving in November and stay until the end of March. Bird surveys over recent years regularly record more than 20,000 wintering water birds.
More than 97 bird species, including several species of global conservation concern such as the slender-billed vulture, Pallas’s fish-eagle, greater spotted eagle, sarus crane, spot-billed pelican, oriental darter, and black-necked stork, can be found here.
No wonder that the Indawgyi Lake has been recognised as an important bird area and nominated for designation as a globally important wetland under the international Ramsar convention.
At the Indawgyi wetland, birds can be observed in a large variety of habitats: the open lake, floating vegetation mats along the lakes edge, seasonally flooded grasslands and the surrounding paddy fields.
At the lake, large aggregations of ducks can be seen including lesser whistling duck, ruddy shelduck, cotton pygmy goose, mallard, gadwall, falcated duck, Eurasian wigeon, northern shoveler, northern pintail, red-crested pochard, common pochard, ferruginous pochard, tufted duck, feeding or resting either on the open middle of the lake or at the shallow edges dominated by floating mats of water plants.
The ornate Shwemyintzu Pagoda perched over the lake is an ideal platform for watching black and brown-headed gulls following the pilgrim boats while hundreds of tufted ducks are skimming the lake surface for food.
Towards the shore floating vegetation mats provide the ideal habitat for large numbers of purple swamp hens, pheasant-tailed and bronzed-winged jacanas.
At the lake’s shore, tall swamp trees feature perched greater and little cormorants, oriental darters and Asian openbill storks.The southern lake edge features not only large aggregations of ducks but also of grey-lagged and bar-headed geese.
The western (between the Pagoda and Nyaungbin village) and the north-western lake edge (between Nyaungbin and the Indaw Chaung outlet river) is very rewarding featuring large floating vegetation mats with the greatest variety of water birds, which can be explored by kayak or motorised long boat.
The Indaw Chaung (the only outlet river of the lake), featuring seasonally flooded grasslands, is the best site for watching black-winged stilts, red-wattled and grey-headed lapwings, purple and grey herons, oriental darters, glossy ibis, storks, cranes and vultures.
Two crane species can be seen – the sarus crane which is resident, and the common crane, a winter visitor – and can be watched as they feed in the grasslands or paddy fields, and fly to their roosting sites.
Five species of storks, Asian openbill, black stork, woolly-necked stork, black-necked stork and lesser adjutant are commonly seen feeding in the grasslands, roosting on the few trees in the river plain or soaring above.
During the winter, white-rumped vulture and slender-billed vulture soar above the grassland looking for cattle carcasses. If you are lucky enough, you can encounter vultures feeding on a cow or water buffalo. Even Himalayan griffins might join the feeding frenzy.
Besides storks, cranes, ducks and geese, you can also look out for birds of prey (such as osprey, eastern marsh harrier, pied harrier, Brahminy kite, Pallas’s fish-eagle, greater spotted eagle) along the Indaw chaung as they soar above the water and grasslands.
Moreover, the watershed forests of the Indawgyi Lake are home to 350 forest bird species including five species of hornbill: northern brown hornbill, oriental pied hornbill, great hornbill, rufous-necked hornbill and wreathed hornbill.
Head off to the surrounding forested hills to explore them.
How to get there
Option 1: Yangon to Myitkyina by flight; Myitkyina to Hopin by train; Hopin to Lonton village(Indawgyi lake) by car/ public bus.
Option 2: Yangon to Mandalay by flight/car/train; Mandaly to Hopin by train; Hopin to Lonton village (Indawgyi lake) by car or by public bus.
Where to stay
Indawgyi Mahar Guesthouse in Lonton Village: Basic accommodation (Bed, blanket and shared bathroom).
Where to eat
There are several local restaurants in Lonton village. Noodle soup and coffee/tea for breakfast, and rice and Burmese / Shan curries for lunch and dinner.
Time to visit
For the migratory water bird season the best time is December to March, but bird watching is good all year round with plenty of resident birds. Spott-billed Pelicans appear on the lake between March and May, and many birds can be seen breeding.
Best to avoid the heavy monsoon rains from July to August.
Bird watching is best done by kayak which can be rented from the community-based eco-tourism group in Lonton village.
You can reach Shwemyintzu Pagoda and Nyaungbin village by rented motorbike or bicycle.
To head for Indaw Chaung you need to rent a motorized long boat, also available in Lonton village.
Ngwe Lwin is Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Myanmar Programme’s Terrestrial Conservation Coordinator. Before this role, he worked as a nature guide and conservation field coordinator until he was promoted to Programme Manager for FFI’s Myanmar Conservation and Development Programme. Ngwe Lwin’s interest in birdwatching began in 2004 and has conducted several bird surveys in Kachin state, Rakhine state and Chin state.