Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Tibetan Plateau

Leaving at 5.30am we drive across the plateau and drop down into Baxi Forest, staking out our usual spot for Blue Eared-Pheasant. We wait at an overlook in the cold morning air but there’s no sign of the pheasants, but luckily Jay spots a very distant bird feeding on a hillside way in the distance. All of a sudden Derek spots a Chinese Grouse that has been calling for a while below us and everyone enjoys the most incredible scope views of a male bird for at least 10 minutes before it walks off. Wow! As if that isn’t enough a pair of Snowy-cheeked (Sukatschev’s) Laughingthrushes come in very close to check us out and are also on view for maybe 10 minutes, with one bird in particular coming to about 5 metres away and calling from a bare bush……. Mmmmm… Oh and a pair of Chinese Serow are scoped on the hillside opposite us to kick start a particularly good day for mammals.

After yet another picnic breakfast we drive lower and walk along the forest edge ( I must admit I picked the wrong spot to start walking and was about a kilometre uphill from where I usually begin walking) and this turns out to be a little bit of divine inspiration as a pair of the extremely rare Sika Deer are scoped on the hillside above. Then a flock of Red Crossbills fly into the treetops including some lovely bright males and as we scope them a Sichuan Jay appears on the top of the conifer immediately behind them. Further inside the forest and a Chinese Song Thrush puts in an appearance, and we watch a Przewalski’s Nuthatch taking food into its very large nest hole. We also enjoy fine views of both Chestnut and Kessler’s Thrushes, Plain and Elliot’s Laughingthrushes, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Sichuan Tit, and others before driving back up towards the plateau. On the way we get real lucky with a cracking Blue Eared-Pheasant spotted feeding in an open area below the road. Higher up there’s yet another White-browed Tit, Hodgson’s Redstart and a Eurasian Hoopoe.

Possibly the worst photo i've ever posted on the blog - but its a phone scoped Chinese Grouse

Following lunch at a restaurant in Ruoergai we drive towards Flower Lake, and Ron spots a snowfinch which prompts a hasty exit and we find many White-rumped Snowfinches. After watching them running around the Plateau Pika colony, our first Rufous-necked Snowfinch is found nearby. Despite a light drizzle we thoroughly enjoy watching them, and then things get even better as we scope a distant Saker feeding on some recently caught prey.

Once at Flower Lake we take the shuttle bus down to the lake and follow the boardwalk which takes us to a series of viewing platforms. I am very pleasantly surprised to see many superb White-winged Terns and a few Whiskered Terns flying over the marshes. Other goodies are at least 3 Great Bitterns seen flying over the tall grasses at the water’s edge and even walking out in the open, a lone Eurasian Spoonbill, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Red-crested Pochard and many Ferruginous Ducks

Excellent habitat at Flower Lake

For me, the star bird is Salim Ali’s Swift, with maybe 100+ flying low over our heads, across the water and literally flying all around us giving us crippling looks at their scaly undersides. Other birds present include Greylag Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Northern Shoveller, Northern Pintail, Eastern Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Himalayan Griffon Vultures, Lesser Sandplover, Tibetana Common Tern, Horned Larks, Tibetan Larks, and a few Tibetan Citrine Wagtails.

The drive back to the hotel is enlivened by 2 Tibetan Foxes and our second Eurasian Hobby of the tour perched on telegraph wires.

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