Saturday, 27 June 2015

Balangshan Begins.....

Up and out at 3.30am (what..??!!) and driving up and over Balangshan, arriving at the Wood Snipe spot by 5.00am – a little early I thought. However the snipes are calling for a few minutes but suddenly go silent and that’s it. Great! But the clear, starlit skies bodes well for the day and sure enough we are treated to the best weather I’ve ever experienced here. 

Balangshan Sunrise....

Scanning the slope above and we find at least 4 White Eared-Pheasants feeding out in the open – our first ‘chicken’ of the day and a good one, plus we see our first Kessler’s Thrush. It’s just a short drive down to the tunnel and once on the other side we start scanning for Chinese Monals and I’m pleased to report we quickly find a male on the slope above us, followed a little later by 2 males and a female feeding on the grassy slope just below the skyline and the views in the scope are superb. What a bird – I feel like I keep saying that frequently on this tour! Anyway, there are calling Koklass Pheasants and Verreaux’s Monal-Partridges that just won’t show, although there are plenty of other birds around us and another close Wallcreeper is much appreciated. 

Dark-breasted Rosefinch

A male Dark-breasted Rosefinch flies in and lands close by as well, and more Rosy Pipits and Blue-fronted Redstarts appear. With a long horizon dominated by craggy, snow-covered peaks this must rank as one of the most scenic breakfast spots of any tour, and we follow our picnic with a short walk along the road where a male Crimson-browed Finch is seen by all, to add to the brief views of a female earlier – a new trip bird for me in Sichuan.

Not a bad spot for breakfast....

Male Crimson-browed Finch

With clear blue skies it seems like a good decision to drive to higher areas and try for Tibetan Snowcock & Snow Partridge and a short drive later sees us scanning huge open valleys and scree slopes. A cracking Tibetan Snowcock is scoped as it calls back at us from far above and also looks pretty good in the scope. But we just cannot find any partridges, and have to content ourselves with several stunning Grandalas, Brandt’s Mountain-Finches, and flyover Lammergeier, Golden Eagles and Himalayan Griffons. There are also some groups of Alpine and Red-billed Choughs around as well. 

Brandt's Mountain-Finch

Golden Eagle

Lammergeier

A few of us walk up a steep slope to try to get an angle on a calling Snow Partridge without success, but more incredible views and a few Rufous-breasted Accentors are some compensation. 


Great scenery...

Heading back down to Beimuping, it is hot and sunny and almost birdless although our first Chinese White-browed Rosefinch is appreciated. So its good to get under the shade of some trees and a nice quiet little area sees Ron catch a glimpse of a Golden Pheasant, there’s a shy Blood Pheasant scuttling across the trail and a Plain-backed Thrush is feeding a large fledgling. 

Ray's Alpine Accentor

So following lunch we head back up to the dizzy heights of 4000m and over in another vain search for Snow Partridge, but Ray is particularly delighted with an Alpine Accentor is found feeding beside our parked bus. To celebrate he finds us a Hog-nosed Badger feeding on a slope above the road and nearby we also find a couple of confiding male Red-fronted Rosefinches and they are totally oblivious to our presence. 

Alpine Accentor again

Plain Mountain-Finch

Red-fronted Rosefinch

The same area has closer Grandala, Plain Mountain-Finches and flyover Pacific Swifts. We check out the area over the pass but find nothing new so drop even lower and scope a singing Himalayan Rubythroat to end the day in fine style. Unfortunately it was at this point that my new camera strap came unscrewed, dumping my new Nikon camera onto the road and breaking the auto-focus mechanism – so no more bird photos from me. Great!


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