The first day on Balang Shan is always memorable and today was no exception as we found many of the must-see birds of this incredible mountain. As always, the 4am departure hurt and arriving before daybreak resulted in what seems the usual heard-only Wood Snipe in the inevitable mist. Must admit I hate this bird! Anyway, we drove just a few kilometres lower and began scanning for monals and pheasants. Well, we had numerous White Eared-Pheasants feeding on the hillside above, quickly followed by a superb Koklass Pheasant found by Hadyn, calling from a ridge and we had very nice scope views as it called away for a minute or two before disappearing. There was also Kessler’s Thrush and Northern Goshawk as well. Simon spotted our first Dark-breasted Rosefinch perched on top of a nearby pine tree and then, thanks to a tip off from my friend Sid Francis (Sichuanbirding.com), we jumped on the coach and drove up the road. Setting scopes up on a pair of Chinese Monals feeding in the top of a pine tree below us has to be one of the major trip highlights. Thanks Sid. A male Golden Bush Robin was also spotted below us and a real bonus.
We then drove lower in search of tragopans without any luck and it was quite gloomy in the mist which was rising from the valley below. So up the mountain we drove and back to the tunnel area where a Chestnut-crowned Bush-warbler was singing and showed very nicely. Then a Wallcreeper appeared and we followed it for a while, getting such great views. As if that wasn’t enough, a Snow Pigeon flew in and landed above us – way below where it should have been.
Driving up to the higher elevations in search of more ‘chickens’ and we stopped in an area where i’ve seen snowcocks before. Sure enough one was calling and after a lengthy search it was Zu who picked it up feeding on the hillside above us. What a bird this is and another top trip tick – and when you consider the outstanding scenery we were surrounded by then this was a very memorable encounter. We also saw our first Grandalas and Alpine Choughs as well here. After watching the snowcock for maybe half an hour we continued up to the pass at 4347m and searched for Snow Partridges which, judging by other birders comments were just not around. We walked a fair way but didn’t see any, however did get nice looks at Brandt’s and Plain Mountain-finches, as well as several Alpine Accentors.
|The stunning scenery of Balangshan|
Driving lower birds were thin on the ground but one particular hillside was alive with singing White-tailed Rubythroats, recently arrived from wintering grounds. At a random stop for coffee we picked up a pair of Pink-rumped Rosefinches feeding quietly in some flowering bushes, and another surprising find was a calling Two-barred Warbler! This latter species is way off course I think and is on its way to breeding grounds in Siberia.
|White-tailed (Himalayan) Rubythroat|
Our last birding session of the day was just above Rilong where a nice walk along the road resulted in close views of Black-browed Tit, and there was also Grey-headed Bullfinch, Rufous-vented Tit, Hume’s Warbler, and another pair of Przewalski’s Nuthatch.
What a day!