Friday 25 May 2012

Chinese Crested Tern

Chinese Crested Tern copyright Tony Mills

Here's one final photo from my south-east China tour - this one of Chinese Crested Tern on the Min Jiang Estuary is by tour participant Tony Mills. Considering the misty conditions it's a great shot. You should check out his own website at and see some really great photo libraries.

Monday 21 May 2012

SE China - the last day

A last early start saw us following the paved path that meanders along the side of the mountains here and despite the humid conditions we enjoyed some great sightings. A flock of Indochinese Yuhinas gave an outstanding show as they came in to inspect our owlet imitation, which also attracted a Chestnut Bulbul as well. 

Indochinese Yuhinas

Both Grey-sided and Streak-breasted Scimitar-babblers and Great Barbet also showed well, as did Orange-bellied Leafbird, whilst Scarlet Minivet was a little distant. A White-necklaced Partridge called repeatedly from the hill above us and was seen briefly by the leaders, but couldn’t be lured closer. Returning to the car park we followed the path beside a fast-flowing mountain stream where a Blue Whistling-thrush flew by, and our final new bird of the tour was a splendid Slaty-backed Forktail to finish our birding in this seldom visited corner of China. In the afternoon we flew back to Shanghai and said our goodbyes to Menxiu who had proven to be a superb guide and a good friend.

Collared Finchbill

David's Fulvetta

Slaty-backed Forktail

Saturday 19 May 2012

Chinese Crested Tern

Another attempt at the elusive Chinese Crested Tern necessitated a 4.40am departure from the hotel, however with driving rain and dense mist it did seem like rather a foolish thing to do! Yet upon arrival at the narrow channel where our boatman was waiting to ferry us across to the estuary, the rain eased enough for us to seriously consider going for it. Once everyone was across and with the day brightening the thick mist was the next obstacle we had to overcome. The tide was receding rapidly but we just couldn’t see more than 50 yards in any direction, but we decided to wade across the channel onto the opposite side of the estuary and try our luck there. The mist did recede a little and we began to see some waders moving around but it was hard going. A small group of around 15 Great Crested Terns could just be made out in the poor conditions some distance away, but there wasn’t anything paler readily apparent amongst them. When they flew away some of the group decided to go with Menxiu and look for White-shouldered Starling so leaving a few foolish souls to continue the apparently futile tern search. Well, after a little while we could see blue sky and the mist lifted just enough to raise our optimism and then we started to hear terns somewhere in the distance and walked towards the commotion. Sure enough we could just about make out a group of Great Crested Terns, which promptly flew off and we wondered if it was just not to be our day. All of a sudden we picked up a couple of terns at the water’s edge which flew up and close past us showing very pale upperparts and a long, dark tipped bill – Chinese Crested Terns!! They disappeared into the mist and celebrations began. But we were not done as the distinctive sound of more terns carried to us through the dense bank of mist further along the coast. So we walked towards it and spotted a line of Great Cresteds on a sand bar, as well as the two Chinese Crested Terns again. The mist lifted sufficiently and we edged closer and closer until we daren’t go any more and lapped up the views of these incredibly rare birds. 

Chinese Crested Tern

Apologies for very rubbish photo (it's the 2 birds on the left!) but hopefully I can post some much better pics later from one of the tour participants.

So feeling rather elated we caught up with the rest of the group and enjoyed nice views of several White-shouldered Starlings on the telegraph wires, along with a flyby Lesser Coucal as well before heading up to Fuzhou Forest Park. We had lunch here before setting out on the trails and despite a heavy shower managed some nice views of Great Barbet, Chestnut Bulbul and Fork-tailed Sunbird. Another trail  gave brief views of a distant Bay Woodpecker, whilst a Collared Owlet flew in and perched overhead and a trio of Rufous Woodpeckers perched up in a big tree. Best of all was a couple Grey-headed Parrotbills called in and they gave nice protracted views as they fed close by. With Menxiu seeing a Pale-headed Woodpecker beside the trail the omens looked promising for our final bash at birding in south-east China tomorrow.

Collared Owlet

Mi Jiang Estuary

Another short internal flight took us to Fuzhou where we arrived early afternoon and drove the short distance to the coast, where we donned wellington boots once again upon reaching a coastal tidal creek. Here a boatman took us a few kilometres along the channel to the edge of the Minjiang Estuary, where we set about searching for the exceedingly rare Chinese Crested Tern. This is undoubtedly one of the best places to find this bird, as a few individuals regularly roost and feed here before returning to their nesting islands some 30kms away. With viewing conditions hampered by the sea mist that is often present here, this wasn’t an easy search but at least 40 Great Crested Terns patrolling the coast and landing at the water’s edge on several occasions kept our hopes high. The incoming tide necessitated a hasty walk up the coast before we had to return across a deeper channel in the middle of the estuary, but on at least two occasions we had views of flyby Chinese Crested Terns to get our pulses racing. They were easy to pick out, being much paler and almost white on the upperparts compared to the Great Crested Terns, with long bills and a quick view in the scope revealed the all-important dark tip to the bill. Plenty of other waders were here and most giving close views including Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot and Grey-tailed Tattler, along with over 70 Terek Sandpipers and large gatherings of Red-necked Stints. Unfortunately, with high tide at 4.00pm it didn’t give us long to scan the tideline as the water retreated before the light began to fade and we had to return to our waiting vehicles. As we left both Arctic and Dusky Warbler were found amidst some driftwood on the beach. 

Arctic Warbler

Friday 18 May 2012


Not far out of the city as we were driving through the rural countryside around Wuyuan we stopped to watch a flock of noisy Masked Laughingthrushes and as we retuned to the minibus a Chinese Bamboo-partridge began calling from above us on the steep slope. As we pulled alongside the area a pair of bamboo-partridges were seen fighting and rolling down the earth bank towards us, when suddenly they realised they were being watched and ran for cover. A short wait then resulted in further views of a slightly ashamed looking individual walking up the slope and away from us. Having just said this species hardly ever shows out in the open, how wrong can you be! 

Masked Laughingthrush

We then returned to the secluded valley again this morning and split up in search of the tough skulkers we wanted to see, which turned up several brief Elliot’s Pheasants and a Tiger Shrike for one group and a juvenile Silver Pheasant for the other. Several Dusky Fulvettas were present this morning and showed very well for everyone, whilst plenty of other common birds were seen. Leaving here we paid a visit to another site for Short-tailed Parrotbill but only succeeded in adding Cinnamon Bittern and Yellow-bellied Prinia to our list. 

Chinese Pond-heron

Red-billed Starling

In the afternoon we headed back to the laughingthrush wood and had Black-collared Starling on some telegraph wires along the way. Once at the wood we walked to the far side where Menxiu found a couple of drake Mandarin Ducks roosting in a tree on the opposite bank, and in the end we counted five males. Also here was a Black-winged Cuckooshrike, as well as several fine Black-naped Orioles and a Grey-faced Woodpecker

Thursday 17 May 2012


We drove through the rural Wuyuan countryside to a quiet little village alongside a river and walked across some fields where both White-browed and Masked Laughingthrushes were present. Moving on to a secluded little valley we birded beside a patch a Bamboo for a few hours, and almost immediately a Grey-sided Scimitar-babbler began calling from the densely vegetated slope above us. It took quite a while but eventually we had decent and tickable views of a pair as they repeatedly circled us, crossing the path nearby on numerous occasions and alighting briefly on one or two favoured perches. Then a cracking male Fork-tailed Sunbird flew in and perched nearby, whilst several flocks of David’s Fulvettas passed by, and amidst one such flock a Grey-headed Parrotbill made the first of two appearances here this morning. 

Fork-tailed Sunbird

Other birds seen included Chinese Pond-heron, Grey-headed Lapwing, Crested Serpent-eagle, Dollarbird and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush. By mid-morning it was really quite hot so we retraced our route to the river and after a bit of a search found a Long-billed Plover on a shingle bank. 

Long-billed Plover

Our next stop was beside another river to view some distant Blue-throated Bee-eaters before arriving at a patch of tall woodland beside another village where in no time at all we were watching numerous Courtois’s Laughingthrushes in the canopy above us. There were maybe 50 or so birds present, many of which seemed to be nest-building high overhead or moving around the wood in roving flocks. At one stage several birds came quite low and began feeding on a bare trunk allowing incredibly great views. Hardly any western birders have made the pilgrimage to see this very rare species since it’s rediscovery in 2000, really quite a shame as it is a stunningly beautiful bird. 

Courtois's Laughingthrush

Courtois's Laughingthrush

The same patch of woodland also held Great Spotted and Grey-capped Woodpeckers, Chinese Blackbird, Ashy Drongo and Grey Treepie as well. Leaving here we headed to a restaurant for a fine lunch, stopping to see a Brown Crake catch a mouse in some roadside ricefields (!) and whilst it was being prepared we walked up to the roof and had very close views of a pair of Pied Falconets which were nesting in a hole in a large tree nearby. 

Pied Falconet

We watched the birds catching dragonflies and butterflies and bringing their catch to the hole. It really was quite a show and so great to be able to watch these birds more or less at eye-level as they perched in the surrounding treetops. The afternoon session commenced alongside a river where a Brown-breasted Bulbul was perched on a telegraph wire. As we watched this a Chinese Hwamei began singing and was lured onto the same wires giving superb views in the scope, and a Crested Kingfisher also flew by and landed. Then amidst an area of rice fields where a couple of Russet Sparrows and several Red-billed Starlings were present, and at the next site just along the road a short distance an Asian Barred Owlet gave brief views. We ended the day back at the Courtois’s Laughingthrush wood where we enjoyed seconds of these great birds, along with a Grey-headed Woodpecker, Japanese Grosbeak and some flyover White-throated Needletails.