Monday, 30 June 2014

Nearing the End

We returned to Baxi forest early this morning, but hopes weren’t high as there was a steady drizzle with some mist that kept on rising from the valley below. So upon arrival we had a coffee and the rain eased so we staked out the usual spot for about 20 minutes before Simon spotted a Blue Eared-Pheasant feeding further down the valley and upon further investigation thee was a pair present. They were feeding totally unconcerned in an open area and everyone had great views of this beautiful bird. Can’t tell you what a relief this was!

Blue Eared-Pheasants

So after breakfast we drove lower and walked along the road and into the forest, seeing a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers before a Chinese Nuthatch was found. This little beauty came quite low to check us out and we were able to watch it for a good 20 minutes. 

Chinese Nuthatch


We meandered around the forest for a while, seeing several White-browed Rosefinches, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Godlewski’s Bunting and other previously seen species. So we drove back up the road and some of us walked around the hillside and scrub covered valleys for any sign of a partridge, but without much luck. But there was a pair of Eurasian Wrynecks, Streaked and Pink-rumped Rosefinches and White-browed Tit present. 

Grey-headed Bullfinches

So leaving here we drove towards our next hotel, stopping for a picnic lunch on the plateau. Here we had a small flock of Twite, Ground-Tit, and White-rumped Snowfinch before heading off. 

Our last stop before reaching Chuanzhusi was to locate Siberian Rubythroat, which we did in spectacular fashion and had much closer views than usual.


The Tibetan Plateau

Just as the sun began to peek over the distant hills we were in place for our Blue Eared-Pheasant vigil at Baxi Forest. It really was rather cool and as we sipped coffee, watched numerous Black-eared Kites flying around. There was also a Twite perched on telegraph wires behind us, our first Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Sichuan Tit, a few Daurian Jackdaws flying over, both Chestnut & Kessler’s Thrushes, and a very obliging male Severtzov’s Tit-warbler continuously bringing food to its nest nearby. However, no pheasants were forthcoming so we drove down the valley and walked into the forest at a particular spot I like. We hadn’t walked very far when I heard the distinctive call of Sukatschev’s (Snowy-cheeked) Laughingthrush and in no time at all it appeared on the slope in front of us and showed quite well. There was also quite a few Grey-headed Bullfinches posing nicely, and later on a Gansu Leaf-warbler called and came in very close to inspect us. Driving back to Ruoergai and we saw a pair of Tibetan (Chinese) Grey Shrikes along the road and were treated to superb views. Wow!


A distant photo of the shrike..

Leaving here we drove back up the hill, this time hearing a Blue Eared-Pheasant – so we will be back tomorrow! Then we set off towards Flower Lake. We drove across the plateau, and made our first stop when several displaying Oriental Skylarks were seen and as we searched the area saw a pair of close Ground-tits. The next stop was when several Himalayan Griffons were seen beside a carcass, and amazingly there were 4 Cinereous (Black) Vultures present. As we scanned the area, we came across both White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinches as well amongst a colony of Black-lipped Pika.


Black Vulture with a Himalayan Griffon

We eventually reached Flower Lake and hopped aboard the bus that takes you down to the boardwalk and lake – and I was hoping for a few more unusual birds here as it is migration time. Well, we were not to be disappointed as we made several great finds, scarce Sichuan birds and new birds for the Zoothera tour list. A Common/Eurasian Teal was a new list addition but not that spectacular, an Eastern Marsh Harrier was spotted by Alan, then Simon spotted the first of two Whooper Swans present, a Temminck’s Stint was also a first for this tour, followed by a Grey-headed Lapwing and a couple of Northern Lapwings. Wow again!


Plenty of more expected birds were around such as Ferruginous Duck and Red-crested Pochards amongst commoner wildfowl, White-winged Tern, Brown-headed Gull, but at least five different Eurasian Bitterns were seen, some Black-necked Cranes are always noteworthy. But we had to wait for quite a while before securing decent views of Tibetan Lark, a pair of which were present from the boardwalk.



Thursday, 5 June 2014

Tibetan Plateau

This is the day everyone truly looks forward to as we travel up onto the Tibetan Plateau, not only for the fantastic scenery but some great birds of course! We left Maerkang at 5.30am and drove for around an hour and a half through wooded river valleys until we reached a small ‘restaurant’ for some omelette and noodle breakfast. Some of the guys birded outside and found a pair of Hodgson’s Redstart feeding around a log pile.

Hodgson's Redstart

Continuing on we checked out a nice looking river where Alan had a pair of Mandarin Ducks fly past. As the road wound ever upwards we saw our first Common Pheasants, plenty of Kessler’s Thrushes and some Eurasian Cuckoos on the telegraph wires. 

White-browed Tit

Chinese Fulvetta

A nice scrub covered hillside above the treeline gave us Godlewski’s Bunting, Pere David’s (Plain) Laughingthrush, Chinese Fulvetta, a pair of cracking White-browed Tits, whilst nearby a pair of Severtzov’s Tit-warblers showed very close to us. A Lammergeier, Golden Eagle, and several Himalayan Griffons flew over. A Dusky Warbler showed well, but a Greenish Warbler was something of a surprise in the low scuba.


White-browed (Severtzov's) Tit-warbler

And then we were on the plateau and a wide open vista of broad grassland and rolling hills where we saw many new birds. There were Black-necked Cranes, Upland Buzzards, 3 Sakers,  2 Black Storks, Ruddy Shelduck, Little Owl, Eurasian Cuckoo, Eurasian Hoopoe, Azure-winged Magpie, Horned Lark, Oriental Skylark, Tibetan Wagtail, Brown Shrike, White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinches and some distant Ground-tits.

Black-necked Crane

With storm clouds getting closer a flock of Asian House and Pale Martins flew low over the road and we ended the journey in driving rain. Lovely!


Mengbishan

Spent the day amidst the fine pine-clad mountain slopes of Mengbishan. Having already nailed Koklass Pheasant we didn’t need an early start and instead enjoyed the luxury of a 6am departure from the hotel. Upon arrival the sun was just creeping over the horizon but it took quite a while for the birds to get active. In fact for the next couple of hours we didn’t really see much at all, so when a couple of birders said they had seen ‘the jay’ higher up the road we drove straight there. Well, there was nothing at all here and no sign of any jays, which are usually tape responsive.

So we decided to drive above the treeline and see if any Rosefinches were around. A good move as it turned out as we had Chinese Beautiful, Chinese White-browed, Pink-rumped and 3 female and a cracking male Streaked Rosefinch

Streaked Rosefinch

Back down in the forest we began walking along the road from a point about a kilometre below the treeline and it was still quiet. However, Peter B then found us a pair of Crested Tit-warblers feeding quietly in some roadside trees and we were able to watch them for a good quarter of an hour. What a bird!


Crested Tit-warbler

Continuing on for another 2 kilometres and seeing Hodgson’s Treecreeper and all of a sudden Peter B again picked up a large bird flying through the trees and a quick burst from the ipod resulted in 3 Sichuan Jays flying right towards us and perching right in front of us. A huge relief for all of us as things weren’t looking too promising.

Poor shot of Sichuan Jay

Our picnic lunch was taken up above the treeline and a great move as it turned out, because we had 3 Severtzov’s (Chinese) Grouse flying past us and into the forest below – a great result! A pair of Verreaux’s Monal-partridges were also called in as well.

Verreaux's Monal-Partridge

We spent the rest of the afternoon following a trail which was very quiet before driving back to the hotel for an early finish.


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Rilong - Mengbishan

A spot of pre-breakfast birding above Rilong began at 6.30am but it was quite strange how quiet the hillsides and small forest patches were. With our first Grey-crested Tit and Grey-faced Woodpecker being seen we returned to the hotel for breakfast (luxury!) before setting out on the 5 hour drive to Mengbi Shan, passing through scenically spectacular river valleys and quaint Tibetan-style villages along the way and at one of which we enjoyed a delicious lunch.

The view from Mengbishan Pass

Tibetan Prayer Flags

It was mid afternoon by the time we made it to the mountain and in bright sunshine there wasn’t much singing at all, but around the pass we had Beautiful and Pink-rumped Rosefinches, Kessler’s Thrush, and Peter B spotted a Hog Badger feeding on the hillside above us. Down in the forest we walked along the road, seeing Northern Goshawk, male Himalayan Bluetail, Chinese White-browed Rosefinch, Goldcrest, Grey-crested and Rufous-vented Tits, and a White-winged Grosbeak. Rather worryingly, there were no jays….


The Chicken Run...

Started the day with a ‘chicken run’ on Balang Shan which resulted in a male Temminck’s Tragopan perched up in a pine tree, followed by a couple Koklass Pheasants and an obliging pair of Blood Pheasants. We then had breakfast close to some mature conifers and found a pair of awesome Collared Grosbeaks, as well as Chinese White-browed Rosefinch, male Himalayan Bluetail, Giant Laughingthrush and a Chinese Fulvetta.

Himalayan Bluetail

Moving up to the tunnel area we had another Snow Pigeon, along with Grey-sided Bush-warbler, Sichuan Tit, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Alpine Leaf-warbler and eventually managed to get a look at a pair of Verreaux’s Monal Partridges.

Dropping downhill again a Barred Laughingthrush was a nice find but the area was getting quiet so decided to head to higher levels in search of Snow Partridge. Over the next 4 hours we had further views of yesterday’s goodies such as both mountain-finches, Grandala, Tibetan Snowcock, Alpine Accentor and others during our search. It was pretty frustrating as we heard 4 different partridges at different areas but none were responding to the ipod, and just when we had run out of new areas to check and were thinking about calling it quits -  we found one perched high on a ridge calling back at us. In fact there were at least 3 birds and through the scope we could get all the plumage details. Excellent!


So driving down we had a singing Yellow-streaked Warbler and a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, and a quick check behind the hotel resulted in Daurian Redstart, several Common Rosefinches and a Godlewski’s Bunting.



Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Balangshan Magic!

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.

Chinese Monals

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.

Wallcreeper

Wallcreeper

Snow Pigeon

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

Pink-rumped Rosefinch

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

Black-browed Tit

What a day!



Moving on, Rarities and Rice

A long drive today, but the scenery was outstanding as we passed through huge steep-sided river valleys and up to Jiajin Shan at 4155m at the pass. We saw a few birds such as Brown Dipper, Crested Myna and a migrating Arctic Warbler that shouldn’t have been here, before reaching the mountain. Once the road began to rise and lunch beckoned we hit paydirt with a small group of totally unexpected Spectacled Parrotbills – try saying that really quickly! I was amazed that they were here but there was a reasonable stand of bamboo and the birds responded quickly to the ipod and came to check us out. An Alpine Leaf-warbler showed here as well before we drove on up into the pine forest.

We had several Himalayan Griffons, as well as more migrating Oriental Honey-buzzards, Eurasian Kestrel, Himalayan Buzzard and a Lammergeier as well to boost our raptor list. A huge flock of White-collared Yuhinas and Buff-barred Warblers came down to check out the owlet tape and a Rufous-vented Tit was also with them. But then Peter C spotted a pair of Przewalski’s Nuthatch on the other side of the road and we could watch these delightful birds for several minutes below us.



Pallas's Reed Bunting - an extremely rare bird in Sichuan

Further up above the tree line a couple odd-looking birds crossed the road in front of the coach and we pulled over to check them out. Unbelievably they were Pallas’s Reed Buntings, on their way north to Siberia or further east no doubt, and I was blown away as we were at around 3400m….!!!! There was also a few Rosy Pipits and our first Blue-fronted Redstarts. Frustratingly the pass at 4155m was shrouded in low cloud and when a Tibetan Snowcock began calling things got even more frustrating as we just could not see it in the poor visibility. Oh well, will have to leave that one for tomorrow…. Continuing on we had a few Eurasian Crag-martins as well.


We eventually arrived at our comfortable hotel in Rilong at 6.45pm and that left just enough daylight for a few of the group to see Hill Pigeon and White-throated Redstart behind the hotel.

Oh the rice in the post title.... Just sick of it really!