Sunday, 23 June 2013

A Day on the Plateau

It was rather chilly as we stood in the cold early morning air waiting for Blue Eared-Pheasant to appear at Baxi Forest. I think we got there a little bit too early but as it got lighter birds started to appear, with Kessler’s and Chestnut Thrushes, Godlewski’s Bunting, Black-eared Kites, Daurian Jackdaw, Eurasian Cuckoo and others to keep us occupied during the stake-out. The sound of birds singing from the valley below us was phenomenal and it is wonderful to listen to the forest waking up, even if you can’t feel your fingers! 

Blue Eared-Pheasant

Anyway, scopes were trained on the opposite hillside for the big blue one to appear when all of a sudden there’s a flurry of wings and the pheasant flies in and lands on the slope below us. It’s the closest and far and away the best view I’ve ever had of this stunning bird. It remains for a good twenty minutes, feeding quietly on the slope below us before walking sedately away into the forest. Wow! 

Chinese Nuthatch

Przewalski's Nuthatch

We leave here and drive to a favourite part of this lovely forest and within just a few minutes a Chinese Nuthatch flies in and lands right above us and we get excellent views. Then I’m sure I’ve got a response from Przewalski’s Nuthatch and sure enough just a few conifers away there it is! A huge double-whammy and smiles all around – the only shame is I’ve got the settings on my camera wrong and these pics are taken on 1000 iso! Just then some movement in a near bush leads us to a pair of Siskins which I assumed were Eurasians, but then two adult Tibetan Siskins materialise in the same bush! So not sure about these dark, streaky siskins now…? 

Tibetan Siskin

So we are on a roll and walk into the forest where a high pitched noise has us freezing. Surely it can't be Chinese Grouse? I leg it around in a large loop to try and flush it towards my group, but as I hit a trail going in the right direction something scuttles off up ahead and there’s the grouse (in fact 3 of them). So here’s the dilemma – do I take the photo before getting the group? Well I didn’t and backed off slowly before running down to the group, passing a Sichuan Jay on the way (what?!) and we go on a grouse hunt, but to no avail, although a Black Woodpecker is some compensation. So I’m thinking we should return early doors tomorrow.

Well, we are positively buoyed by our success and head off to a nice little valley where I want to get Gansu Leaf-warbler but the weather is having other ideas. We are now experiencing cold weather and drizzle. This isn’t good for singing warblers but within 100m of our walk along the track there’s one calling, but it doesn’t play ball at all. Further along another sings but unlike last year when they went mad at my ipod this time they don’t respond. But after a while one comes in and calls a little and we get decent looks at it. Further along the track we get a surprise in a Pallas’s Leaf-warbler, plus a few other things like Godlewski’s Bunting, Common Rosefinch etc. But there’s not a lot else and as we walk back the heavens open and it pours down, getting us soaking wet.

So after lunch at a local restaurant, a quick few minutes back at the hotel to change into drier clothes and we’re off to Flower Lake with blue skies all of a sudden. I’m feeling the pressure to find snowfinches along the road and wondering just how this will pan out. Lucky for me then that something flies up from the roadside and we screech to a halt and reverse and wow, there’s a Rufous-necked Snowfinch

Rufous-necked Snowfinch

A mad minute of giving directions to a bird 30 yards away ensues before calm returns and then I spot a White-rumped Snowfinch further away. Amazingly both species prove to be common along the road this year, with the latter species especially so. 

White-rumped Snowfinch

We watch our first ones for a while and really enjoy watching the snowfinches chasing the Pikas from their burrows.


Marmot - "Eric, Eric Eric..."

 Up at the lake we take the parks bus 3kms down to the boardwalk and spend an enjoyable time scanning the water and marshes, surrounded by fantastic wide open grasslands complimented by huge snow-capped mountains on the horizon. 

Out on the lake we get Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Greylag Goose and other common things. A Great Bittern flying over the marsh is a bit bizarre, and another heard booming surely means they breed here. A Purple Heron and a few White-winged Terns are new for the tour, whilst lots of egrets, Black-necked Cranes, Lesser Sandplovers, Tibetan Wagtails, Tibetan Larks, Common Terns and others make for a rewarding time here. A late migrant Arctic Warbler sheltering under the boardwalk was truly bizarre and just goes to show you never know what to expect here. As we drive back to the hotel a few Upland Buzzards are noted and we arrive back tired but very happy with the day.

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