Sunday, 18 June 2017

Alaska - New tour for 2018

Alaska's wild and beautiful spaces have long captivated birders and naturalists alike. With miles of unspoiled wilderness, unending layers of snow-covered peaks, rugged hillsides and tundra landscapes aside the Bering Sea, magnificent fjords of the craggy Kenai Peninsula, islands draped with seabirds of all shapes and sizes, glaciers calving into dark blue waters, impenetrable boreal forests and rolling tundra under the mammoth backdrop of North America's tallest mountain peak, it's easy to see why! 

Our 'Birding the Outposts' tour of Alaska offers a complete sampling of Alaska's birdlife as we visit Nome for breeding Arctic waders including Bristle-thighed Curlew, Barrow for Spectacled and Steller's Eiders, take a boat ride out into the Kenai Fjords and visit Denali National Park. 

A post tour extension to the spectacular Pribiloff Islands will be offered for those interested in visiting St. Paul Island's impressive seabird cliffs teeming with puffins, auklets and kittiwakes and we will have a 3-night stay here so we can fully appreciate the extraordinary birding opportunities that this island provides. 

Just a few of the other key target species: Emperor Goose, Harlequin Duck, Barrow's Goldeneye, Spruce Grouse, White-billed Diver, Rock Sandpiper, Aleutian Tern, Great Grey Owl, Boreal Owl, Snowy Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Gyrfalcon, Boreal Chickadee, Pine Grosbeak, Sooty Fox Sparrow, Smith's Longspur and more!

But it's the nesting seabirds that really make a trip to Alaska so special: Red-faced Cormorant, Brunnich's Guillemot, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Kittlitz's Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Parakeet Auklet, Least Auklet, Crested Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Red-legged Kittiwake....

Take a look at our tour itinerary here: Alaska 2018

Spectacled Eider 

Spectacular Scenery

And more great scenery

Bristle-thighed Curlew

King Eider

Red Phalarope

Rock Ptarmigan

Sabine's Gull

Willow Ptarmigan

Aleutian Tern

American Three-toed Woodpecker

Boreal Owl

Great Grey Owl
All photos courtesy of Kim Risen, our co-leader for this tour.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Tangjiahe - Chengdu

With all major targets done and dusted we had no specific species to search for on our penultimate day so before breakfast a few of us walked up the hill across the river and just went birding! Great huh? We managed to find White-backed Woodpecker and Mountain Bulbul – both new trip ticks. After breakfast we met up with those of us who had enjoyed a lie in and walked along the river, where we added Crested Goshawk and White-crowned Forktail to our ever growing list that is now up to 320 species. 

White-crowned Forktail

We also saw another Spectacled Fulvetta that was in company with some Pere David’s Fulvettas, plus there was also Brown Dipper, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, Indian Blue Robin, Golden Eagle, Mountain Hawk-Eagle etc. After an 8km walk alongside the river we sure were ready for lunch…!

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

After lunch and a siesta we drove down the narrow road that runs parallel to the river and found some showy Alstrom’s and Sulphur-breasted Warblers, with the latter species being particularly obliging. But it was probably the Crested Kingfisher that was most appreciated by some as it was a lifer. We drove back at 5pm to shower, pack and get ready for an early dinner.

Yellow-bellied Tit

Alstrom's Warbler - note the relatively short tail, long bill and subdued crown pattern

On our final day we left the hotel early and drove outside of the park and tried for Chinese Hwamei, which only appeared briefly. We did add Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker to the list and also Dan and I had a very brief view of what must have been a Rufous Woodpecker as well. There was also Pere David’s Fulvetta, Yellow-bellied Tit, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Asian Koel, some showy Alstrom’s Warblers, Brown-breasted Bulbul, several Brown Dippers, Grey-headed Woodpecker and plenty more common birds.

Once done here, we set out on the 7 hour drive back to Chengdu where we had our final dinner together and a chance to reminisce about a great tour over a few beers. Oh we had a quick walk in the park to get House Swift on our list as well, and our trip list ended on 325 species seen. Not too shabby huh?

Tuesday, 30 May 2017


Spent the whole day hiking up into the hills of Tangjiahe and although it was a long, tough slog we had decent weather and the habitat and scenery were outstanding. And the birds weren’t too shabby either. A male Golden Pheasant approached so close across a meadow that it was a little too close for photos at one stage. 

A stunning Golden Pheasant....

There was also a Sichuan Bush Warbler calling and seen quite well here. Our path is made up of concrete steps all the way up the mountain and it’s slow going with frequent stops to search for birds, but what happened next left us all stunned. I mean, there’s two male Temminck’s Tragopans on the path in front of us, no more than 5 metres away and they just don’t care. They are feeding and totally ignoring us, so we watch them for half an hour with cameras clicking away. It’s an unbelievable privilege to see these stunning birds so close. Eventually they walk into the bamboo and head away up the hillside. Wow!

Temminck's Tragopan - what more can you say....?

We followed this with a close Spectacled Fulvetta, Baikal Bush Warbler and higher up a pair of Fulvous Parrotbills showed well. 

Baikal Bush Warbler

We reached the top around 12:15 and there to greet us were a pair of Sooty Tits taking food to their hidden nest, so we stayed up here for quite a while to eat our picnic lunch and rest up. 

Sooty Bushtit

The downward journey was enlivened by several Slaty Buntings along the path to round off a great walk.

The endemic Slaty Bunting

Upon arrival back at the hotel, a Tibetan Macaque was seen, plus we also had Brown Dipper, Golden-breasted Fulvetta and a bunch of commoner species. So a successful day with most of our target species seen for this site – time for some beer!

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.