Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Erlang Shan

Leaving the hotel at 5.15 am and there’s not much traffic as we wind our way for 45 minutes along the mountain road, reaching Erlang Shan just after daybreak. This is one of my favourite birding sites in Sichuan as there are some quality birds present on this mountain, maybe not a huge number but what is here is worth the effort to find. Our first target is Lady Amherst’s Pheasant and with the news from some other visiting birders we met last night that they couldn’t find any pheasants, I was a little worried. After some slow careful driving by our excellent driver we round a bend and BANG there’s an immature male walking along the roadside some 70 metres away. Unfortunately he skulks in some bushes at the roadside, disappears for a while before we decide to drive closer. And he’s gone. So we continue upwards for several kilometres but there’s a distinct lack of pheasants up here, so turn the bus around and drive slowly downhill. Some calling Spotted Nutcrackers are just too close to drive away from and we jump out and scope a couple of birds perched right on top of the pine trees, and there’s also our first Yellow-streaked Warbler showing well at the same spot. But no time to dally and we’re back in the bus and after several bends in the road we come across the same young male with a harem of 3 females walking along in front of us and now the entire group get tickable views. What a relief!

One of the top birds of any Sichuan tour - Firethroat.

Having heard a Firethroat call whilst we are doing our ‘chicken run’, it’s time to focus on more pressing matters and this is certainly one of the top birds of the trip. So we hop out of the bus and within maybe less than a minute all of our binoculars are trained on this stunning vision of dark blue, white and bright crimson singing back at us from the roadside bushes. What a cracker! Once this stunner has retreated to the denser bushes we drive lower and search for more goodies, with Chinese Babax and Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler giving various degrees of views to different people with neither species gives prolonged views, but our first Chestnut Thrush is more obliging. And a pair of superb Barred Laughingthrushes tantalise us initially with just glimpses of their intricate plumage as they sing from the dense carpet of bushes below, until finally coming quite close and decide to remain in a more sparsely leaved bush for us all to see. Wow! 

Barred Laughingthrush

There’s a singing Yellow-throated Bunting looking sexy on some wires, Daurian Redstarts are singing away nearby, Brown-breasted Bulbuls, and a very close and cooperative Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler.  But unfortunately it is only Derek and I that see a pair of Long-tailed Rosefinches feeding in some bushes above the road and when we draw the group’s attention to this the birds have already flown way up the hillside never to be seen again.

Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler

So we retrace our steps back up the hill a little and tackle the often tricky-to-see Indian Blue Robin that’s been singing the entire morning whilst we have been doing other things. Well this bird is typically elusive and moves around us constantly, only offering brief perched views but good enough anyway. A pair of Black-browed Bushtits show well here and are a welcome addition to our growing list and a skulking White-browed Fulvetta is seen by some of us.

Black-browed Bushtits

Breakfast is much appreciated and then we’re off back up the winding road in search of more goodies. Another stunning show from a Firethroat is even better than before and now the sun is shining and the light is much better. The next session is interspersed with some driving and then walking various sections and different altitudes and we see species such as Grey-crested Tit, yet another Firethroat, a flyover Tibetan Serin, more Daurian Redstarts and some Chestnut-flanked White-eyes before having our picnic lunch. During this time there’s more White-browed Fulvettas (at least 3 different sightings today), a large party of Black-browed Bushtits, and a family of White-winged Grosbeaks.

White-winged Grosbeak

After lunch we walk a short distance higher, enjoying some nice flocks with all of the usual suspects but get very close views of Sichuan Leaf and Buff-barred Warblers, another Yellow-throated Bunting and cracking looks at a group of Grey-headed Bullfinches

Grey-headed Bullfinch

Moving lower there’s a Greenish Warbler to test our i.d skills, and more singing Firethroats. We continue with Grey-headed Woodpecker and some brief Chinese Babax but with rain threatening there’s not much activity. 

Another Firethroat...

Just then I hear the call I’ve been hoping for – Rufous-tailed Babbler. This is another ‘mega’ Sichuan bird and one I was particularly keen to get this year having only seen it once before. A quick drive around the bend gets us to the spot and I fire up the ipod but nothing. I keep trying intermittently but no response. We decide to wait and give it some time and eventually the distinctive call of a Rufous-tailed babbler is heard from the slope above. Raymond is the first to spot it skulking in a roadside bush right in front of us but it quickly disappears. 

Poor shot of a Rufous-tailed Babbler

The next half an hour is very frustrating as we get only brief glimpses until some time later and another longish wait when we think it is all over - and the babbler flies across a clearing in front of us. After a few circuits it sits on top of a bush singing away and there are smiles all round. What a battle but we eventually nailed it! And what good timing as the very light rain we had encountered for the past hour gives way to something much heavier as we drive back to our hotel. What a good day!

Great views from Erlang Shan 

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