Sunday, 16 June 2013

Balang Shan

Balang Shan is undoubtedly my favourite site on this tour, but it can frustrate as well as exhilarate in equal measure and we had both today. A 4.30am departure wasn’t early enough to get us to the Wood Snipe lek in time so we continued down the mountain and checked out a few sites, at one of which we heard a couple of Golden Pheasants. So we drove up to the regular spot for Chinese Monal and began scanning and within minutes Russell had one in his scope which was not in the regular area and we were able to look across the valley and more or less down on it. What a bird and in fact we had two more males above us a little later. Frustratingly to begin with we only heard White Eared-Pheasant but when a few Verreaux’s Monal-partridges began calling we walked along the road and within a very short time had a pair calling back at us from close below the road. 

Verreuax's Monal-partridge

In fact this was my best views ever and they remained in that same spot, some 40 yards away for ages. But then they walked up the hill towards us and paused in a nice open area to get photos without branches or twigs across them for a change before crossing the road in front of us and creeping up the slope behind where the male continued to call. Unbelievable! 

Love the scenery on Balang Shan

After this exceptional sighting we walked back to the monal-viewing spot and walked down the road, finding our first Chinese White-browed Rosefinch along the way, plus White-winged Grosbeak and plenty of Common Rosefinches as well. I just mentioned to Kevin we should check all the white-looking rocks in case they were pheasants when one moved and it was indeed a White Eared Pheasant! Excellent! 

White Eared-Pheasant

Walking down the road with a fantastic view of snow-capped mountains and pine clad ridges as far as the eye could see, we had another Spotted Bush-warbler, Claudia’s, Sichuan Leaf, Buff-barred, and Large-billed Leaf-warblers, Elliott’s Laughingthrush, and met up with some French/Belgian birders who showed us a Musk Deer in the distance in return for the bush-warbler! We particularly enjoyed a couple of low flying Lammergeiers that gave outstanding views. 


Around the next bend is a spot I usually get Blood Pheasant and sure enough it responded quickly and was seen crossing a grassy glade on the slope above but then sneakily crossed the road way off to our left. The same spot also had Grey-headed Bullfinch and a Maroon-backed Accentor singing from the top of a conifer. So from here we drove lower and followed a trail beside a fast-flowing river which was choc-full of various warblers – I’ve never seen so many in one place actually and they were all feeding very low down – I took this Large-billed Leaf-warbler there. 

Large-billed Leaf-warbler

The trail passed through moss-encrusted forest and looked fantastic, but by now it was mid-morning and a little late for any pheasants. But we did find a Fujian Niltava, which is a little higher than I would have expected, along with Slaty-backed Flycatcher and Grey-crested Tit. From here we drove higher on our continuing ‘chicken hunt’ ie our quest for Snow Partridge and Tibetan Snowcock which drew a blank due to low cloud obscuring most of the mountain! But we did hear the former species a little later. 

The other side of Balang Shan Pass

Once we crossed the pass we were met by clear blue skies for a while and managed to scan the scree slopes where plenty of Rosy Pipits, Plain Mountain-finches, a brief Brandt’s Mountain-finch, superb Grandalas, Red-billed and Alpine Choughs were present. 

Driving lower when the cloud descended and we had a lovely Himalayan Rubythroat singing from on top of a small bush, several Rufous-breasted Accentors, and Alpine Leaf-warbler all in the same area. 

Himalayan Rubythroat

We finished up not far from Rilong scanning a cliff where several Hill Pigeons were scoped, and amazingly a couple of Snow Pigeons were also here too. The Wallcreepers weren’t at home this evening but White-throated Redstart was ample compensation before we returned to the hotel a bit earlier than usual!

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