Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Crested Ibis

A four hour drive took us to Yangxian where we checked into a nice hotel and then had a delicious dumpling lunch in a restaurant along the high street. At 2pm we met up with a chap who works for the Crested Ibis Reserve and we drove out into a narrow valley surrounded by pine trees and scrub, and followed a narrow lane alongside the rice fields in search of one of the rarest birds in the world.

Crested Ibis

Crested Ibis

Crested Ibis

Crested Ibis

Classified as Endangered by BirdLife International the tiny population of Crested Ibis numbered maybe just 7 individuals in the 1980’s has now risen to almost 1,000 individuals (500 individuals according to BirdLife International) and this is the only place in the world you can see wild birds. It is certainly a long way off the regular birding circuit following yesterdays drive and another morning travelling but we were finally here. Our first sighting was of a couple of birds below us in a rice field, an adult and juvenile, and was a huge relief to get to grips with! Amazingly, when they were feeding these huge pale birds could almost disappear when their heads were down but then the adult stood up and walked onto a raised bank revealing his blood red tipped bill and shaggy crest. We worked the rest of the valley and saw up to 21 birds including many fine adults, and on several occasions birds flew past us at close range and some landed in the trees opposite us. One pair even flew down through the valley towards us and the adult landed on the rice paddies immediately below us giving superb views. Definitely one of the major highlights of a tour brimming with quality birds and a fine way to round off proceedings. 

Other birds here included Grey-capped Woodpecker, Collared Finchbill, Red-billed Starling, Russet Sparrow and a very nice Chinese Sparrowhawk watched hunting over the rice fields on numerous occasions. So that was it and all that remained was to have a huge banquet in the evening and prepare for the long drive to Chengdu and the end of a spectacular tour.

Nearing the End

Another morning and another pine forest, this one just south of Jiuzhaigou. Again, we had brief views of Chinese Grouse for some of the group despite several more hours waiting and searching in great habitat. 

A Spotted Bush-warbler showed very well down to a metre or two, and a Prwzevalski’s Nuthatch was also seen, along with Chinese Fulvetta, White-bellied Redstart, Long-tailed Thrush and other more regular birds. 

Chinese Fulvetta

But by 10am we had to leave and set out on the long drive north-east towards Shanxi Province arriving at our hotel later in the evening. 

Scenery on way to the Shaanxi

View through the Coach Window

All we saw on the drive were lots of Blue Rock-thrushes, Russet Sparrow, Brown Shrike, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Vinous-throated Parrotbill and White-browed Laughingthrush during our brief rest stops. However, the scenery was truly spectacular as we drove for several hours through a scenic river valley surrounded by tall peaks and we were aware of how far off the regular tourist/birding circuit we had ventured. How exciting!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Tibetan Plateau - Baxi Forest

We returned to Baxi Forest this morning having loaded the luggage aboard the coach and began with a walk in the forest where we followed a narrow trail. After a couple of circuits of the same area we were rather dumbfounded to come across a party of 7 Sichuan Jays in a rather unexpected fashion. After all of our searching previously we were understandably elated with this sighting and celebrated in exuberant fashion! So following breakfast we drove lower, seeing another pair of Blue Eared-pheasants walking across a grassy slope before walking alongside a small stream through pine forest which was very pleasant as the sun was shining and Chinese Leaf-warblers sang all around. Roger managed to catch up with White-bellied Redstart and there was also Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Elliot’s, Pere David’s and Giant Laughingthrushes, Sichuan Tit and a few other things seen before we reached an open area. 

Sichuan Willow Tit

Here we scoped an Olive-backed Pipit perched on top of a tree and then an unfamiliar warbler song caught our attention. Like a bolt of lightning out of the blue the bird in question turned out to be a totally unexpected Gansu Leaf-warbler and a quick burst from the ipod confirmed this. 

Gansu Leaf-warbler

Gansu Leaf-warbler

Gansu Leaf-warbler

In fact there were another two birds singing in the same small area and we spent quite some time watching them, noting the spotting on the carpal area and single obvious wingbar bordered by black above. Wow! Leaving here we headed back up the valley and some of the group managed flight views of Chinese Grouse when Tang and Nick walked though an area of low bushes and pine trees. 

White-browed Tit-warbler (female)

White-browed Tit-warbler

White-browed Tit-warbler (male)

Then we checked an area of low bushes where a pair of fabulous White-browed Tit-warblers performed exceedingly well for us at close quarters, along with weigoldi Dusky Warblers and Hodgson’s Redstart and another White-browed Tit

White-browed Tit

So that was it and time to say goodbye to the Tibetan Plateau and we enjoyed our last looks at Black-necked Crane amidst the spectacular scenery, also noting a male Amur Falcon on the telegraph wires before dropping lower through the hills. 

Siberian Rubythroat

Siberian Rubythroat

Siberian Rubythroat

A superb singing male Siberian Rubythroat sang from the top of a bush was our last good bird of the day and we continued our journey to the next hotel in our Sichuan adventure.

Goodbye to the Tibetan Plateau

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Tibetan Plateau

 It was a cold start to the day as we waited patiently on the road that borders Baxi Forest, an area of mature pine forest at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The sun didn’t really peak through the blanket of cloud so we really enjoyed our hot coffee this morning as we waited for the Blue Eared-Pheasant to show. And show it did, but not before a couple of hours of nervous waiting during which time we scanned the openings in the forest and the hillside above the trees. Some Black-eared Kites kept us entertained, as did a pair of Godlewski’s Buntings and White-throated Redstarts, but we only half-heartedly glanced at them. Eventually Graham spotted a pair of pheasants slowly walking through the forest below our vantage point and they crossed several open areas on their route and which prompted some frantic directions and some anxious moments until everyone finally got onto them. It was such a relief to finally get this bird and we could then enjoy our birding as Pete picked up a Three-banded Rosefinch which Frank had seen earlier, and then a Eurasian Wryneck was scoped as well.

Sukatschev's Laughingthrush

But when a Sukatschev’s Laughingthrush began calling we couldn’t believe it when it repeatedly showed in some bushes in the narrow valley below us, and even came up to within ten metres of us briefly. Then we drove lower down and walked into the forest where Chinese Leaf-warblers were common, and we also saw several Grey-headed Bullfinches and a Golden Eagle flew over. Returning to Roergai for lunch we checked out a site for Chinese Grey Shrike but sadly found a dead adult beside the road.

Tibetan Plateau

Our coach

So after lunch we drove to Flower Lake, checking out every White-rumped Snowfinch colony along the way for something rarer but only succeeded in finding numerous Hume’s Ground-tits, and a rather amazing sighting of an adult Rosy Starling which is way off course and a vagrant here.

Hume's Ground-tit

Hume's Ground-tit

Rosy Starling - a long way from home!

Ruddy Shelducks

Tibetan Lark

White-rumped Snowfinch
At the lake we were soon watching a huge Tibetan Lark in the short grass and when it took flight and chased a Common Redshank it wasn’t that much smaller! A monster indeed! Several new birds for our list were waiting for us on the lake as we scanned from a viewing platform, such as Common Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Red-crested and Common Pochards, Tufted Duck and Wood Sandpiper – just like being back in the UK!

Black-necked Cranes in 'dancing' display - awesome!

Some Black-necked Cranes were patrolling the edge of the marsh accompanied by some small chicks, whilst Greylag Goose and lots of Ruddy Shelducks were also present. Leaving here we continued our snowfinch hunt but just got more cranes, this time ‘dancing’ quite close to the road and was marvellous to watch. A last-minute decision to recheck the shrike site resulted in Pete again spotting the bird, when a Chinese Grey Shrike was scoped on the hillside above us. What a way to finish a day full of quality sightings.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

On the way to the Tibetan Plateau

The drive from Maerkang up to the Tibetan Plateau and our eventual arrival at Roergai always produces a wonderful variety of birds and passes through some of the most amazing scenery of any birding tour. Today was no exception and provided an appreciative group with a mouth-watering selection of very good birds, with everybody contributing and continuing what had become a very jovial tour. So after driving through a spectacular gorge for many kilometres with a fast-flowing mountain stream tumbling alongside us we had breakfast at a roadside restaurant, and finally gave up counting White-capped Water-redstarts when the total exceeded 30 by 7.30am! 




How can you get any better than an Ibisbill  being the first goodie of the day? Peter spotted something along the river that warranted a quick 8-point turn and sure enough there it was, on a rocky island mid-stream and is a bird not normally seen on this route through Sichuan. How lucky were we? Our next stop saw us scanning some bushes where Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch was present, although the sight of a Pere David’s Laughingthrush scuttling between the bushes was a little more to our taste. A little further along and we were watching our first Azure-winged Magpies flying back and forth across the road, as well as several Daurian Jackdaws and some Oriental Skylarks in the fields as well. Roadside birding from a moving vehicle is never easy but a nice male Hodgson’s Redstart prompted a hasty exit from the coach and after a bit of a search we relocated it perched on the telegraph wires, and we also has a White-throated Dipper here as well. 

The start of the plateau

As the road wound its way ever higher we reached the Tibetan Plateau and the scenery became spectacular with wide open vistas and beautifully shaped hills all the way across the horizon. One of the major birds up here is Black-necked Crane and it didn’t take long for us to find the first of exactly fifty to be seen today, with one group of fifteen very close to the road. 

Black-necked Crane

The other key bird is Hume’s Ground-tit which proved to be quite common the further into the plateau we ventured. 

Hume's Ground-tit

Every time we stopped to look at something we found more new birds, so when a Common Tern was spotted we also picked up Citrine Wagtail, Brown-headed Gull, a soaring Black Stork found by Graham, and several lovely Twite. Black-eared Kite was becoming increasingly common, and we continued the raptor theme with a female Amur Falcon perched on telegraph wires being something of a surprise, and several huge Upland Buzzards as well. However, pride of place went to a stunning Saker Falcon and as we scoped it on a telegraph pole we noticed a nest nearby in a small cliff with 3 young. 

Saker Falcon at nest

What an unbelievable sighting. But we were definitely on a roll today and when we finally nailed the endemic White-browed Tit, as luck would have it a huge Eurasian Eagle-owl flew up from the bank above us and into a small quarry where we watched it fly around several times before perching on the top where it was mobbed by a Kessler’s Thrush! Wow! 

Eurasian Eagle-owl mobbed by Kessler's Thrush

We also counted 11 Little Owls as we drove along, as well as Black Redstart, Siberian Stonechat, plenty of Ruddy Shelducks, and finished the day with a small group of White-rumped Snowfinches. In the evening we drove to a restaurant in Roergai and celebrated our success with a fine meal and some local fire water!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Mengbi Shan - the 2nd day

We returned to Mengbishan just after first light and again targeted Koklass Pheasant at the same site as yesterday, this time resulting in a pair crossing the road in front of us and scurrying up the slope above the road. And this despite the fact that there were none calling and spending 10 minutes in light drizzle with no prospect of success whatsoever – well that’s birding! Then we headed higher in search of the elusive jay, which again proved elusive to us despite spending most of the day in the last known spot. Upon arrival we were greeted by a heavy snowstorm which abated after a while and then in total contrast found ourselves in strong sunshine, which was very welcome indeed. 

Bar-tailed Treecreeper

We did find a Bar-tailed Treecreeper which was new for the trip and had decent and much closer views of Verreaux’s Monal-partridge that was calling raucously from the hillside above us. 

Blood Pheasant

Blood Pheasant

A Maroon-backed Accentor also showed to some of the group and we also had further views of a beautiful Crested Tit-warbler that was quietly feeding amongst the pine trees and a very close Blood Pheasant. There was also Rufous-vented Tit, Rufous-breasted Accentor, White-winged Grosbeak and several Himalayan Bluetails amongst others to keep us occupied before we headed down to a small local ‘restaurant’ for a late lunch. 

White-winged Grosbeak

White-winged Grosbeak

Yellow-streaked Warbler

We then spent the afternoon walking along the road but this turned out to be pretty quiet, although we did have nice views of Yellow-streaked Warbler and other previously seen species. A quick photo stop at a traditional Tibetan village was made en-route to our hotel later in the afternoon as well, resulting in Oriental Turtle-dove, Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch and a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker.