Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Sukatschev's, Slogging and a Partridge..!

This was the morning of the great grouse hunt as we scoured Baxi Forest for Severtzov’s (Chinese) Grouse and is one of those sessions that either produces the goods or absolutely nothing. Well, it started off slowly as we crept quietly up a promising forest ride, and with only a quick view of Blood Pheasant and Black Woodpecker to show for it. After an hour of walking up and down the forested hillside it was only natural that we would split into smaller groups, however nothing much happened for a while. A couple of us walked up a relatively steep ride into the hill and as I was tinkering with a White-bellied Redstart Lynne spotted a bird feeding quietly on the grassy floor behind me. As I turned around I couldn’t believe my eyes as it was the endemic Sukatschev’s Laughingthrush – not your average endemic, but the rarest of the lot here in Sichuan. 

Sukatschev's Laughingthrush

It was just hopping around in the open about 15 feet in front of us and it didn’t care we were there. Of course I’d left the camera in the coach. So I ran back down the hillside to find the rest of the group, seeing nobody until I made it back to the coach and rounded up a few people. Some time later we had made it back up the hill and after an anxious wait the bird reappeared to our relief. But with a couple of the guys still M.I.A I ran back down to the bottom of the hill and found Trevor and Kevin and I crawled back up the hill for a 3rd time and this made me feel really ill at this altitude. The bird had disappeared but we relocated it a little later and had crippling views of it calling from a small bushy tree. As we celebrated a movement off to our left in the shadows caught my eye and I turned and saw the elusive pimpernel (I mean grouse!) run across a clearing. Shouting to the guys to follow it I ran up the hill and cut across the hillside, through dense thorn and birch-type scrub to try and head it off and completely knackered myself in the process and as I headed down Trevor & Kevin said they’d seen it. What a relief. But only the 3 of us had, so the rest were a little disgruntled to say the least. As we headed down the hill the others were coming up and wanted a crack at the grouse, so up I went for a 4th time and it was now that I felt very, very sick. Needless to say the grouse weren’t around so we finally got to the coach for a breakfast at 10am!

We then decided to return to ‘Gansu Valley’ but that proved to be quiet again (despite near perfect sunny conditions) so went to a nearby restaurant. Afterwards we drove slowly back up towards the plateau and I decided to stop at a favourite little spot of mine, and what an excellent decision it was. Just as we were trying to suss out a potential new Rosefinch for us Keith shouted the immortal word “PARTRIDGE” which took a few seconds to register with me. 

Tibetan Partridges

But then we ran up to his position and after frantic directions a pair of Tibetan Partridges were in my bins – omg! I’ve always wanted to see this bird but never really knew where to look for it in Sichuan – its like a needle in a haystack being so scarce here. But here we were, about 40 yards from two absolutely stunning beauties. The magnitude of our sighting took a little while to sink in and we enjoyed 10 minutes on the birds as they picked their way up a small bank and disappeared into the bushes. YES!! 

White-browed Tit-warbler

There was also an obliging pair of White-browed Tit-warblers here, another White-browed Tit and several Alpine Leaf-warblers. We were on a high for a while and with the rare laughingthrush and partridge  in the bag it had been a very good day, although the grouse dip soured it a little for some!

All that was left was to drive to  our next hotel for the night, via a singing Siberian Rubythroat that eventually showed quite well.

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