Thursday, 20 June 2013

Mengbi Shan

Well we drove up onto the mountain and as it slowly began to get light the clouds seemed to be lifting and the day actually dawned fine. I tried my favourite spot for Koklass Pheasant and immediately got a response from way up on the hill above us, but I persisted for quite some time without the bird moving at all and in fact it seemed to go further away. Another was calling from down the road so we walked downhill but had a negative response so didn’t loiter and walked back up towards the bus. A few bursts from the ipod resulted in silence, but then a Blood Pheasant began calling nearby, with some further calling birds also not too far away. As we settled down to try and get close views of them a flurry of wings right next to us turned out to be a male Koklass Pheasant flying right over us and landing next to us on the slope above the road. I must admit I was stunned and had silently resigned us to dipping this bird...... So yes I was stunned by this miracle and everyone had superb looks at this obviously confused male strutting across the mossy forest floor above us. I wanted to clench my fist and pump the air but remained outwardly calm, with the thought that my camera was still on the bus dampening my ardour a little!

Blood Pheasant

Then we had somewhere in the region of 9 or 10 Blood Pheasants rushing around the forest above us, and crossing the road, standing in the middle of the road looking dumb and we even watched one bird rushing back across the road, up the slope and calling back to me from a tree stump right above us. Wow! There was literally a ‘transfusion of Blood Pheasants’ – a collective noun we made up for the show we had just witnessed. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt in that moment, but there’s always another pressure bird to find on a Sichuan tour. So up we drove to my nuthatch spot and had the best picnic breakfast so far, with everyone more than satisfied with the near-gourmet offerings. Afterwards we hung around waiting to see if any nuthatches would have the good grace to give themselves up easily – well no is the answer. 

Three-banded Rosefinch

Possibly even better was a bird perched right at the top of a conifer giving a call I didn’t recognise, and having worked hard on learning the calls I was most excited! Well, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I raised my bins and it turned out to be a male Three-banded Rosefinch – HOLY COW!!  I usually get a bit animated when its something good and probably made some incoherent and inherently unprofessional shout involving a blasphemous statement but who cares? Then a female appeared and an immature male as well, and they kept flying over the road and then returned moments later to land in the trees right above us. Oh yes baby!! 

Mengbishan Pass - in the rain!

From here we drove up higher and it was at this point that the weather deteriorated a little and we had some light drizzle which didn’t really hamper our birding as we had a covey of 5 Verreaux’s Monal-partridges (isn’t Chestnut-throated partridge a better name?) running along the side of the road, some Pink-rumped and White-browed Rosefinches, Himalayan Bluetail and others. But the weather got worse and we decided to drive up to the summit and wait it out, but all I can say is the coffee was the highlight. So we drove down several kilometres and huddled around a fire and ate noodles in a room that is used by the roadworkers. A very surreal hour was spent, listening to Monty Python and 80’s music (oh yes it was Ernie – the Fastest Milkman in the West) and having the tastiest noodles in the world – whilst the heavens opened outside. 

White-browed Fulvetta

Grey-headed Bullfinch

But the weather abated and we were able to walk a lovely little trail that often turns up some odd birds. At the start we had a male Daurian Redstart and male Slaty-backed Flycatcher around the Tibetan prayer flags, and then found our one and only Slaty-blue Flycatcher. A White-browed Fulvetta came into the owlet-call and was a nice surprise amongst the numerous phylloscs and Rufous-vented and Sichuan Tits – it looks nothing like the usual races I’m more familiar with and its got a dark eye…?!. In fact it was quite productive along here and it would have been nice to get a view on one of the several Chinese Song Thrushes singing away, but it was not to be. 

Tiger Shrike

As we returned to the coach, John spotted a shrike in the meadow which turned out to be a cracking Tiger Shrike in full breeding plumage. A real scorcher of a bird and something to definitely get excited about. Our last session along a quiet valley gave us great looks at White-throated Dipper, lots of Elliotts Laughingthrushes, but not much else so we headed to the hotel in good time for our evening meal.

Prayer Flags at Mengbi Shan

Tibetan Prayer Wheels at Mengbi Shan

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