We left Chaka early doors and drove along the expressway some 120 kms to the town of Gonghe – most of the way it rained! We had a great breakfast of porridge and dumplings (not together!) in a little restaurant before checking out an area just outside of town. Well, we couldn’t find any whitethroats, but were entertained by a Grey-headed Woodpecker and several Eurasian Hoopoes. Then we walked out into the semi-desert area and found a nice wadi where we eventually scored with Mongolian Finch, a bird that we had been looking for ages for over the past 3 afternoons. We also had a pair of Meadow Buntings here, as well as a Ground-tit, whilst nearby a Crested Lark sang from some telegraph wires. Then we checked out the poplars again for any sign of whitethroats without any luck, and had to content ourselves with a Eurasian Wryneck.
Then we set out on the drive to Er La Pass (4500m), reaching here by mid-afternoon, only to find ourselves in the middle of a blizzard. The whole area was covered in a layer of snow, but we still had a nice walk amidst such spectacular scenery you just have to experience to believe. We did find a pair of Guldenstadt’s Redstarts, Brandt’s Mountain-finch for some, and Rufous-necked, White-rumped and Henri’s Snowfinches.
The undoubted highlight was this Pallas’s Cat watched for a good half an hour as it hunted across the barren hillside above the road. At one stage it crouched right down and stalked a pika, which it duly caught and devoured – all the while being watched by a very appreciative audience. I must admit to getting the old ‘shaky hand’ syndrome as we watched this mega-rare mammal.
Whilst watching this amazing creature a pair of Golden Eagles locked talons and tumbled earthwards, only to pull up at the last moment and just after this, a Lammergeier flew over.
We stayed in a run-down, old hotel tonight - and it has apparently been renovated. Lucky us! But the outside toilet was only for the brave!
Bring on the Sandgrouse tomorrow.