Friday, 3 July 2015

Mengbishan Clean-Up

Driving up into the wonderful old pine forest of Mengbishan at 5am I am wondering what the day will bring – well I shouldn’t have worried. At my usual spot for Koklass Pheasant I cannot remember getting better views of this sometimes tricky-to-see-well species and in fact this was probably my best views ever. First of all we saw a male bird fly out from the forest across the road and into the treeline above us. From here he called repeatedly for some time before flying back out and onto the slope below us. Waiting patiently, we watch the road ahead feeling confident that the bird will have to cross it to get back to his original song-post. Sure enough there he is, walking sedately across in front of us, hopping up onto the bank and giving prolonged views right out in the open. Wow! What a way to start the day. And it gets even better when a Long-tailed Thrush flies right past us at close range revealing that typical ‘zoothera’ underwing. From here we drive up above the treeline and check out the Rosefinches, with Common, Chinese Beautiful and Pink-rumped all present and feeding on the ground. After a little walk, during which we are surrounded by inquisitive Yaks, we see several Blood Pheasants feeding out in the open, when all of a sudden Jay spots the bird we want – Verreaux’s Monal-Partridge. In fact there are a pair just feeding between some bushes and there’s plenty of time to scope them. Following this we are all elated and are treated to further crippling views of both pheasant and partridge, with a calling monal-partridge teed up in the scope looking fantastic. This bird really threw his head right back and called vehemently and to watch this through the scope as he called from directly upslope to us was a real treat. There’s also some nice views of Alpine Leaf-Warbler and Chinese Fulvetta here as well. As if this wasn’t enough we came across a pair of White-browed (Severtzov’s) Tit-Warblers bringing food into a small bush that must have had a nest in it. Initially it was the female feeding on the ground in front of us before the incredibly beautiful male appears – surely that combination of suffused pink and blue can’t be right….?

So after pigging out on breakfast we head down into the forest and begin our hunt for Sichuan Jay. After walking a while, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, we had a jay teed up in our scopes perched at the very pinnacle of a pine tree above us. As easy as that, and following horror stories of other groups dipping here we are very happy indeed. High five!! But just then the distinctive call of Collared Grosbeak is heard and we scope a superb male and more demure female as well. We are on a roll and cleaning up our hit-list for this site, but still no sign of the expected tit-warbler. So we walk some more, seeing Himalayan Buzzard, Hume’s Warbler, White-throated Redstart and enjoy some fantastic looks at a group of White Eared Pheasants feeding on the slope above us - but by now it is late morning. A short drive downhill to what I have dubbed ‘Magic Corner’ and as soon as we step out of the bus a Yellow-streaked Warbler is seen, but it’s a shame our attention is diverted momentarily from two other shapes deeper inside the conifer as it’s a pair of Three-banded Rosefinch. They promptly fly such a long way over the forest and out of sight…. Never to be seen again… However, a stunning Przevalski’s Nuthatch gives point-blank views here from about 5 metres away at head height (no camera… Grrrr) for maybe a minute before flying off. And then just around the corner a pair of the much-wanted Crested Tit-Warblers are feeding in the closest conifer beside the road and also give stunning views – the male really is a beauty! Oh and another Long-tailed Thrush puts in an appearance for Ron, there’s a few White-winged Grosbeaks and a Dark-sided Flycatcher is also scoped.

To be honest, that’s our day pretty much done right there and it’s only 1.15pm. We drive lower for lunch, make a walk and mess around in the Tibetan village with only Black-eared Kite, Red Turtle and Oriental Turtle Doves, White-throated Dipper (much to Dexter’s delight), another Chinese Fulvetta and a pair of Daurian Redstarts to show for our efforts.

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