Thursday, 25 June 2015

Getting to Balangshan

It was just getting light as we leave on the long drive to Rilong, and this is a different route to the one I normally take. These mountain roads are always a bit interesting and this morning we discover during our field breakfast that our road was blocked by a landslide and wouldn’t be open until midday. No problem, this is China and we were led by a construction crew through a tunnel with a closed sign and still unfinished! We squeezed past all the debris, scaffolding and other stuff and followed a bumpy, broken dirt track for many, many miles alongside a huge river. The upshot is we made good time and by the time we reached our lunch stop at a small town at around 1pm we only had another hour to go to the hotel.

There are no birding stops so we content ourselves with a few species such as Chinese Pond-heron, Blue Rock Thrush, Eurasian Crag-Martin, Oriental Turtle Dove and others all seen from the moving bus. The scenery is truly spectacular and we marvel at the huge river valleys and lofty peaks all around.

The scenery isn't too bad here......!

Arriving at 3pm we quickly drop our bags into the rooms and drive uphill for a few kilometres to a particular spot I always like to check out. As we arrive the rain that had been constant all day suddenly stops and the cloud begins to rise, revealing impressive snow-clad peaks. There isn’t much birdsong or activity to begin with and a little trail into the pine forest only reveals a fine male Himalayan Bluetail and both Buff-barred and Hume’s Warblers to begin with. Our patience, however, is rewarded with Black-browed and more importantly, our first Sichuan Tit and Giant Laughingthrush, and then Derek spots a calling Crested Tit-Warbler – but this bird is fast moving and flies from tree to tree before disappearing. So we walk up to the road and discover many Pink-rumped Rosefinches feeding in the bushes, along with one or two Chinese Beautiful Rosefinches and spend quite some time watching them. 

Wallcreeper is always a joy to see and where else can you get such close views....?

All of a sudden a Wallcreeper flies past and lands on the small cliff beside the road and gives terrific views as it feeds on spiders and others insects. It’s always a good day when you see this bird right? The action is unrelenting, as then a large rosefinch is ‘spotted’ perched and calling from the top of a dead tree. I can’t believe my eyes, as it is a male Streaked Rosefinch – one of the most beautiful birds of the tour. Wow! 

Streaked Rosefinch

He is joined by a female but they both fly away, only for us to find them again a short while later and we get much better views. But before that we are scanning some large cliffs where Hill Pigeons are flying around and a Chinese Goral is scoped, Asian House Martins buzz us at close range, and a Snow Pigeon is scoped on the cliffs. In between all of this we admire a cracking male White-throated Redstart, Common Rosefinch, Rufous-vented Tit and check out all the rosefinches again. 

White-throated Redstart

By now it is 6pm (where has the time gone) and attempt to get back to the bus, but a Chinese Fulvetta appears, a Tibetan Serin flies past and then a pair of henrici Long-tailed Rosefinches are found. We are loving our first taste of birding on the mighty Balangshan.

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