Friday, 19 June 2015

Longcanggou - Parrotbill Heaven...!

Waking blurry eyed after a poor night’s sleep and it’s onto the coach for 5.30am and we drive up into the hills full of excitement of course. The dirt road is very uneven, with large rocks and potholes carefully hidden by a greasy layer of mud. In fact the road is terrible and the coach ‘grounds’ several times before we make it to our destination. Yet we begin birding in good heart and get a brief look at a singing Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler, a flyover Speckled Woodpigeon, and then a pair of Himalayan Cuckoos perch high above us to get the ball rolling. By taking a side track we avoid any traffic and pick up a string of key birds as we walk through excellent undisturbed habitat with plenty of bamboo and mature, moss-encrusted trees proving ideal for our first major sighting of the day as a pair of soon-to-be-split Spotted Laughingthrushes sing at us. What a bird this is and our admiring audience is suitably impressed. 

Spotted Laughingthrush

And then a female Temminck’s Tragopan bursts out of the hillside above us and flies across to a denser patch of forest and promptly disappears. The track meanders from here along the base of a vast swathe of bamboo which is conducive to our sightings of several Brown and Three-toed Parrotbills feeding at different spots along our route. I was very pleased to get the latter species as it has proved tough these past couple of years. 

Three-toed Parrotbill

As the track peters out we also nail a pair of hulking Great Parrotbills as well, and they crash through the bamboo and fly in front of us to gaze angrily at me and my ipod. What cool birds they are, full of character and attitude! 

Great Parrotbill

At this same spot two Brown Bush-Warblers are singing their weird song from different territories and give us nice views, as does Aberrant Bush-Warbler, which comes in so very close to take a look at us, plus a Buff-throated Warbler puts in an appearance as well. 

Aberrant Bush-Warbler

There are also a few Elliot’s Laughingthrushes and some Emei Shan Liocichlas tease us with brief views, but as we return to the coach a pair fly into a nearby bush and hang around long enough for everyone to have very decent views indeed. 

Golden-breasted Fulvetta

Vinaceous Rosefinch

Other goodies noted on this walk are Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Red-tailed Minla, the cute Grey-hooded Fulvetta, stunning Golden-breasted Fulvettas, Besra, White-throated Needletail, Himalayan Swiftlet, Yellow-browed, Green-backed and Coal Tits, a singing Chinese Leaf-Warbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, numerous White-collared Yuhinas, White-bellied Redstart, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Olive-backed Pipit and some fine male Vinaceous Rosefinches. 

So by now it is past midday and we have a picnic lunch, seeing Slaty-blue Flycatcher and Fire-capped Tit nearby, then decide to walk along the main track in search of Golden Parrotbill
Well it doesn’t take long and I call in a small group of these delightful birds for crippling views as they zip around the bamboo in front of us. A flurry of activity brings us Claudia’s Leaf-Warbler, Large-billed Leaf-Warbler, and several other common birds, with a calling Lesser Cuckoo perched up in the distance as well. Driving higher the road is really muddy and we try walking for a bit but to be frank, it isn’t fun so decide to drive on a bit more (if we can) and we eventually reach the Shangri-La of higher altitude bamboo forest. We decide to try our luck at finding Grey-hooded Parrotbill and it takes us all of two minutes trying before a pair fly down a big slope and start to feed right over the road. 

Grey-hooded Parrotbill
What a result and we follow them for several minutes before they retreat back into the safety of the impenetrable haven. So that is five species of parrotbill today – unbelievable. There is also our second Darjeeling Woodpecker for the day giving much better views than the earlier sighting, and a pair of Grey-crested Tits here as well.

A bumpy drive to a lower elevations is curtailed when we get stuck in the mud, but all is not lost as the recently split Sichuan Bush-Warbler starts to call behind us. Out we jump and are treated to what can only be described as crippling views as first it skulks along the floor at the edge of the track before flying up onto a bare branch at eye level. Wow! The small patch of forest then reverberates to the song of Emei Leaf-Warbler and after a bit of manoeuvring we have the bird right above our heads singing away. 

Emei Leaf-Warbler

It is quite mobile and circles us several times before a different ‘phyllosc’ puts in an appearance, and this one is Kloss’s Leaf-Warbler. Also here are singing Grey-crowned and Martens’s Warblers, but we only manage to glimpse the latter species. So we drive back to the lodge for a well earned early finish, but there’s still time to find Russet Sparrow and Red-billed Starling in the surrounding area despite the constant drizzle.

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