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!

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