Monday, 29 May 2017

Gonganggling Forest - Tangjiahe

A misty and drizzly start to the day so us arrive at our prearranged spot just before daybreak and you really cannot complain with a Pere David’s Owl staring balefully down at you as your first bird of the day. What an incredible bird and we were treated to prolonged views of it calling from the treetops before we walked on in search of other birds. As if to escort us off its premises this majestic bird followed us for several hundred metres before we were sufficiently far enough away from its territory. 

Pere David's Owl

I’m sure those deep hoots resonating around the forest will live long in our memories from this fantastic trip. We tried a few other spots around the forest and it was very pleasing that Viv managed to secure decent looks at Chinese Grouse. And there were also Blue Eared-Peasants, Blood Pheasants, Rufous-breasted Accentors and other previously seen species here. We then returned to the hotel to collect our luggage and set off on the 7 hour drive to Tangjiahe, seeing Black-capped Kingfisher and a pair of Collared Crows along the way.

Collared Crow
Our drive into Tangjiahe was truly spectacular with immense tall mountains, deep-sided river valley and freshly green broadleaf forests leading us into the narrow road that took us to a great hotel. Such a surprise to reach a really good hotel at the end of a long journey. We’d nailed Brown Dipper, Golden Takin and Reeve’s Muntjac on the way in, and it was a shame the singing Alstrom’s Warbler didn’t show itself. After another delicious dinner a couple of us went spotlighting and we had a Masked Palm Civet cross the road in front of us.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Baxi Forest - Chuanzhusi

With just a few key species to find we headed down to Baxi Forest at 6am and quickly picked up the robustus race of Dusky Warbler feeding quietly in some roadside bushes, plus an Eurasian Wryneck was calling from the top of a small conifer. Further down a pair of Blue Eared-Pheasants were seen briefly walking inside the forest before we had our picnic breakfast.  Once on the trails we were able to track down a pair of Crested Tit-Warblers amidst much rejoicing having missed it at Mengbishan. 

Crested Tit-Warbler

Shortly after a pair of Maroon-backed Accentors showed well and began calling from the top of a conifer and then after we’d almost given up hope Jeff spotted a bird sat on a distant conifer that turned out to be the elusive Sichuan Jay. We’d actually settled for a rest in a clearing when the bird was seen and over the next half an hour a group of 9 jays flew across the slope above and we enjoyed pretty decent views of a few of them quietly feeding in some much closer trees. 

Sichuan Jay

It’s interesting to note that this species is nowhere near as responsive to tape playback as, say, 3 years ago and is getting harder every year to find. A great deal of luck is needed with this one. And that was us done. There were some common species seen such as Hume’s and Sichuan Leaf Warblers, Large-billed Leaf-Warbler, Chinese White-browed Rosefinch and last but not least a pair of Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrushes appeared close by.

Chinese White-browed Rosefinch

Hume's Warbler

Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush

We took an early lunch in the village and then set off on a 3 hour drive to our next hotel at Chuanzhusi and an early finish to the day. 

Siberian Rubythroat

Along the way we had a couple close encounters with singing Siberian Rubythroats and despite a roadblock we still made it to our hotel by 5.15pm.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Flower Lake and Baxi Forest

So the day started very wet and miserable as we staked out our site for Blue Eared-Pheasant and unsurprisingly we only heard it. We drove lower but the weather continued in the same vain and despite hanging around for a while there was no sign in letting up and all we had to show for our efforts was a Przevalski’s Nuthatch

Dawn looked promising this morning

We made the bold decision to drive to Flower Lake at 10am and upon arrival it was still raining so we ate our second breakfast like good little Hobbits when all of a sudden the weather began to clear. A White-rumped Snowfinch appeared nearby, a Horned Lark flew in and landed right in front of our coach in the car park and a Tiger Shrike was spotted. Amazingly the rain stopped and whilst waiting for the park bus to leave a trio of Rufous-necked Snowfinches flew towards us and landed giving perfect views. Our luck was definitely changing. The short drive to the end of the road was productive with 3 Sakers perched on roadside posts and at least 4 Tibetan Larks flying past. Down at the lake we enjoyed some nice birding with some notable finds and really scarce birds – Purple Heron, 6 Oriental Pratincoles, redhead Smew, and 4 Black-necked and 2 Slavonian Grebes. Other birds seen included Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Northern Pintail, Great Crested Grebe on a nest, Little Grebe, Ferruginous Duck, Red-crested Pochard, White-winged and Whiskered Terns, Tibetan Wagtails, Wood Sandpiper and others.

These Black-necked Cranes flew over

Chinese Pond Heron in breeding plumage

Common Tern

Great Crested Grebe on a nest

Slavonian Grebe

Whiskered Tern

White-winged Tern

It took a while but eventually we had decent scope vies of a Tibetan Lark as well before driving back along the plateau where we had amazing close-ups of a Saker mobbing an Upland Buzzard

Great views of Saker this afternoon

Back at Baxi Forest where shortly after our arrival Jules did the business again and spotted a Blue Eared-Pheasant feeding quietly in a small meadow and we also found a pair of Spectacled Parrotbills and a Serow

Spectacled Parrotbill

Also seen this evening were Yellow-streaked and Alpine Leaf Warblers, Plain Laughingthrush, Chinese Grouse, and 15 Oriental Honey Buzzards migrating north. So quite a day.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Up on the Tibetan Plateau

Well, the weather was very kind to us and we had clear blue skies and sunshine all the way to Ruoergai on the Tibetan Plateau, some 300+ kms from Maerkang. The first notable bird of the day was a White-throated Dipper along a fast-flowing river, followed shortly after by our first Plain Laughingthrush and Common Pheasant. There were also some White Eared-Pheasants feeding on a hillside, as well as some Central Asiatic Red Deer. We drove up to the very edge of the plateau and had our picnic breakfast overlooking a river where we saw Siberian Roe Deer and several Tibetan Citrine Wagtails. A little higher we found a Godlewski’s Bunting, Chinese Fulvetta, Streak-throated Warbler and White-browed Tit-Warbler along the roadside bushes. Finally we hit the plateau and drove across an increasingly wide-open landscape dotted with bushes, rivers and soft rolling hills all around. There were many Asian Azure-winged Magpies, Eurasian Hoopoe, Oriental Skylark, Ruddy Shelducks, and some really low-flying Upland Buzzards, Himalayan Griffons and Black-eared Kites. A few pools held some common ducks including Ferruginous Ducks, whilst a Lesser Sandplover in breeding plumage was scoped and 2 Black Storks circled overhead. There were also some Red-billed Choughs, Oriental Crows, Northern Ravens and Daurian Jackdaws.

Tibetan Plateau
Birding on the plateau
We made very good time and arrived for a very early dumpling lunch in Hongyuan before carrying on seeing a soaring Saker, Rock Sparrows, many Twites, a flock of Plain Martins, and eventually after a bit of a search a group of 4 Tibetan Grey Shrikes, with a 5th individual on the opposite side of the road. We then pressed on over the pass and prepared for our search for Przevalski’s Pinktail, a bird that has caused me some problems during the last couple of tours. Well, within 2 minutes of arriving we were scoping a calling bird from the hillside above thanks to some great spotting by Jules. And what a performance it gave with a parachuting display flight right past us. Wow! With this under our belt we then nailed a pair of Tibetan Snowfinches bringing food to their young in a hidden nest. And it was only 4.50pm! So we birded along the last 25 kilometres to Ruoergai, making some random stops at some good looking areas. This gave us a White-browed Tit in some near bushes after making several attempts earlier in the day. Oh and I should mention the 43 Black-necked Cranes we’d counted throughout the day, with some very close roadside birds feeding in the wetlands – a class bird and one everyone wants to see. We finally arrived at the hotel in Ruoergai at 6.10pm. On a personal note a problem with my memory card meant I’d lost all the photos from today, including crippling ones of the pinktail…

Wednesday, 24 May 2017


Well today was definitely a day of two halves with the morning bringing us many of the key target species for the area. I already knew that Sichuan Jay had proven elusive to some other groups prior to our arrival, so I wasn’t confident with that species at all – and yes we failed to see it here. 

However, our day got off to a cracking start with a Koklass Pheasant crossing the road and then walking across a clearing not too far away from us. Oh and we also saw a couple of Blood Pheasants at the same spot, before scoping a singing Long-tailed Thrush. We tried to drive up above the treeline but the top of the mountain was covered in low cloud so we headed lower and what a good move this was as we found a close singing Three-banded Rosefinch that posed nicely at the top of the roadside conifers. 

Three-banded Rosefinch

It’s a bird I always worry about finding so this was a great relief. And shortly after a Przevalski’s Nuthatch did the same thing and called back at us from some close trees. Excellent.

Przevalski's Nuthatch

So by now the weather had cleared and we enjoyed clear blue skies, so drove up above the treeline and found plenty of Chinese Beautiful and some Pink-rumped Rosefinches, but its interesting to note there weren’t any Streaked Rosefinches present like yesterday. We again saw Verreaux’s Monal-Partridge, but this time there was a pair of Sichuan Tits, a pair of cracking White-browed Tit-Warblers and Ivan found us a female Crimson-browed Finch.

White-browed Tit-Warbler
Once were were finished here we walked down along the road into the forest but it was exceedingly quiet, as it proved to be all afternoon. A singing Long-tailed Thrush flew past us but the remainder of the day until 5pm when we left was a washout. There were just a lack of birds, either calling or on view. It was devoid of birdlife in the forest. So it was with much relief that we headed back to the hotel..! Must admit I was disappointed we couldn't find the jay or even a Crested Tit-Warbler today, but we still have chances later in the trip....

Balangshan to Mengbishan

For a travelling day we did quite well with a bunch of good birds found along the way. 

The spectacular scenery of Balangshan this morning

Our route took us above the mist and low cloud

We even had breakfast in the hotel at 6am before setting off up into the mist enshrouded slopes of Balangshan, travelling through the new tunnel that saved us a lot of time and making our first stop above Rilong. 

We birded this road....

Here, we walked down the road and in the lovely morning sunshine found lots of Pink-rumped Rosefinches, as well as our first Sichuan Tit and Tibetan Serin

Sichuan Tit

Other roadside birds here included Black-browed Tit, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Sichuan Leaf Warbler and others. Our route took us through spectacular deep-sided river valleys and gorges and birds seen en-route included Black-capped Kingfisher, Grey-backed Shrikes, Eurasian Crag Martins, and near a small town a flock of Salim Ali’s Swifts flew around.

Black-browed Tit

Our next stop overlooking a fast-flowing river and tall crags all around was noteworthy as we enjoyed scope views of the usually tricky Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler, a pair of which were calling back at my iPod for several minutes. We also located a Wallcreeper, Hodgson’s Redstart and had a pair of Hill Pigeons whizzed past us.

Our driver was obviously on a mission today and we reached our usual lunch stop at a small restaurant pretty much on time despite having to travel a lot further than in previous years. And we made Mengbishan Pass around 3.30pm only to find dark grey skies converging and the distant sound of thunder rapidly approaching. However, not to be perturbed we made the best of things and almost immediately found a flock that contained our first Streaked Rosefinches in company with Chinese Beautiful and Chinese White-browed Rosefinches. They flew away all too quickly but we managed to relocate the Streaked Rosefinches again a short while later. Unbelievably we also found several Verreaux’s Monal-Partridges quite easily and saw at least 3 Blood Pheasants quietly feeding out in the open. We drove lower after this but unfortunately the bad weather closed in around us and we had heavy snow and sleet, which curtailed any further birding and we could only hope the situation improves tomorrow.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Balangshan Does it Again

We woke to clear skies and after our 5am departure we reached the tunnel area by 6.15am where we had a fantastic view of the alpine meadows, and snow capped peaks all around. Setting up the scope I quickly found a group of White Eared-Pheasants feeding on the hillside above, followed by a Koklass Pheasant calling from a large rock above the road. Not a bad start. Then a magnificent male Chinese Monal appeared on the skyline and everyone lapped up the scope views, but the best was yet to come. All of a sudden it flew across the hillside towards us, landing directly above us. Wow! It called repeatedly before flying straight down towards us and beyond into the meadow below. It was out of sight but I quietly crawled down and waited and amazingly it walked out into the open. Holy cow! 

Chinese Monal
This stunning vision strutted his stuff and paraded right in front of me as I remained motionless before climbing up into a conifer where it called again and again before flying off down into the valley. This was undoubtedly the best views I’ve experienced over the past 6 tours here. I can tell you breakfast tasted fantastic after this!

Then we walked along the road and what a good move this was as, first of all a pair of rare Sharpe’s Rosefinches appeared on the bank next to us (good call Daniel) and then a Golden Bush-Robin flew up into the top of a conifer and began to sing. 

Golden Bush-Robin

The rare Sharpe's Rosefinch

Moving around the tunnel area there were several Common and Dark-breasted Rosefinches present, but I was particularly pleased to finally get Dark-rumped Rosefinch on my Sichuan list and a flyby Lammergeier is always a crowd pleaser. 

Dark-breasted Rosefinch

Dark-rumped Rosefinch
We even got some views of a calling Verreaux’s Monal-Partridge way below us, but it disappeared before everyone could get onto it. Before jumping into the coach we saw a pair of Snow Pigeons flying across the hillside and a pair of Chinese White-browed Rosefinches. Moving lower down the mountain and things were slow with really not much in the way of birdsong, which is surprising for this time of year. We spent several hours getting very little, apart from a pair of White-throated Redstarts and a pair of Collared Grosbeaks, until eventually I called in a Chestnut-crowned Bush-Warbler and it proved to be very responsive and was too close to get a decent photo. Shortly after this I spotted a Blood Pheasant crossing a clearing and with a bit of manoeuvring everyone managed to get a view of a pair feeding quietly in the forest.

Chestnut-crowned Bush-Warbler - uncropped image

Collared Grosbeaks

White-throated Redstart

We took lunch up at the tunnel, where there were a lot more Snow Pigeons feeding on the hillside before we drove higher up the mountain. There were flocks of Grandalas flying around, Red-billed Chough and our first Alpine Marmots were particularly pleasing to Steve. 

Grandala again...
We’d done particularly well here and had almost cleaned up but the one blot was Sichuan Forest Thrush that had managed to elude us so far. So we tried an area we’d heard one yesterday and after a while we were treated to stunning views in a bare tree – not only a classy bird but it’s a Zoothera thrush…… 

Sichuan Forest Thrush
Oh and our first Greenish Warbler was here as well.  And that was our most excellent day over and we returned to the hotel early and enjoyed a bit of r&r.