The Upper Lao Mekong Important Bird Area (IBA)

The Upper Lao Mekong Important Bird Area (IBA) is 10,980 hectare in size. It spans the provinces of Oudomxai, Bokeo, and Sainyabuli. The altitude is 300–400 metres (980–1,310 ft) above sea level. Noted topography includes river channel, exposed beds, sandbars, sand and gravel bars, islands, rock outcrops, bushland, and braided streams. Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda, Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Grey-headed Lapwing V. cinereus, Jerdon’s Bushchat Saxicola jerdoni, Plain Martin Riparia paludicola, River Lapwing Vanellus duvaucelii, Small Pratincole Glareola lactea, and Swan Goose Anser cygnoides are some of the recorded avifauna.

Vegetation in Oudomxay is rich by virtue of the monsoon climate. Several kinds of bamboo and a broad range of plants (for example orchids) are found in the region. Also hardwoods like teak and mahogany trees grow in Oudomxay and are important sources of income for the population.

The IBA is located along the Mekong River in northern Lao P.D.R., and comprises a 377 km section of the Mekong channel, from Ban Xiangkhok on the Lao-Myanmar border to Ban Bo on the boundary between Oudomxai and Xaignabouli provinces. This section supports three basic habitat types: featureless stretches with a well defined channel but no, or negligible, exposed bed; stretches with many sandbars; and stretches of channel mosaic habitat, comprising sand and gravel bars and islands, rock outcrops, bushland and braided streams. The stretches of channel mosaic habitat support a relatively rich riverine bird community, including River Lapwing Vanellus duvaucelii and Jerdon’s Bushchat Saxicola jerdoni. The stretches with many sandbars are important for Small Pratincole Glareola lactea; the IBA supports 5% of the estimated world population of this species, although the IBA is probably not as important as Mekong Channel from Phou Xiang Thong to Siphandon IBA (LA007) for this species. The IBA also supports large numbers of Plain Martin Riparia paludicola and significant numbers of Grey-headed Lapwing V. cinereus, and is the site of the only recent Lao records of Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo (Duckworth et al. 2002). Finally, there are single records of both Swan Goose Anser cygnoides and Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda from the IBA, although it is unlikely that it regularly supports significant numbers of either species.

Key biodiversity
The international bird conservation importance of the Upper Lao Mekong does not match that of the Cambodian Mekong. Even so, it is of different community composition (presence of Jerdon’s Bushchat, abundance of Plain Martin, but absence of Mekong Wagtail). This highly distinctive and vulnerable bird community is not represented in BNCAs (Duckworth et al. 2002). The IBA, therefore, is particularly important for conservation of this distinctive bird community.