Well thankfully there wasn’t any wind and we had a cracking morning’s birding – in fact far better than I could have anticipated. We drove to the Xinjiang River at 6.30am arriving shortly after 7.00am and as Steven prepared our field breakfast we stood on the bridge and scanned the surrounding area. Initially we had to content ourselves with a flock of 6 Yellow-browed Buntings feeding below us – outrageous! And then the ‘Boonmeister’ picked up the key target for this morning, a cracking Scaly-sided Merganser feeding far upriver.
|Scaly-sided Merganser by Steven An|
As we kept looking a few more birds were seen, but all females and we wanted a drake! So after a great breakfast we walked up the side of the river and got much closer to the mergansers, including at least 4 drakes. We had great scope views although not close enough for decent photos, but we were all extremely happy to have got THE bird so easily. And there were quite a few Mandarin Ducks along the river, as well as Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Masked Laughingthrush, Eurasian Jay, Grey Treepie, Olive-backed Pipits, Collared Finchbill and Chestnut Bulbul.
After hearing a flock moving in a nearby valley we took a narrow trail to try and get a look but it was very frustrating, apart from brief looks at a Fork-tailed Sunbird we heard quite a few new trip birds including a Collared Owlet. So we returned to the road and had more mergansers (we counted 15 in total), and then some of the group got on a calling Chinese Hwamei. A little further along and a Grey-sided Scimitar-Babbler showed briefly, but a pair of Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babblers showed very well. Walking back to the bridge, Derek spotted a pair of Long-billed Plovers before we had a coffee break.
Then we walked along the other side of the river into a narrow, enclosed valley. A few drops of rain didn’t deter us and in the shelter of some dense bushes and bamboo we had our first looks at the common Huet’s Fulvetta with a large flock feeding right beside to us in the bushes. Then a group of Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes came in close for a look at us, along with a few Grey Treepies. A Dusky Fulvetta sang back at my iPod and perched out in the open, along with a Rufous-capped Babbler, Pallas’s Warbler and a couple of Grey Treepies.
As we watched the fulvettas, one of those magical moments that happen once in a blue moon, well... happened. My most wanted bird suddenly popped up and showed to some of the group - but not me. The almost, near-mythical Moustached Laughingthrush was there in the dense bamboo being seen by, well by all of the group except me. I was off to one side and didn't want to move for fear of spooking this crippler. Oh you just have to look at the pictures in the field guide to see how stunning it is. It's image is seared into my brain from some near misses in the past and by drooling over photos of the beast from other lucky, lucky observers. It's extremely skulking, usually silent at this time of year, very shy and not seen that often by visiting tour groups. Derek was doing a grand job getting everyone on it but my heart was sinking fast. So what would you do huh? I couldn't move and I only hoped the birds would move a little in my direction..... Fortunately they did (it was a pair) and gave crippling views for the next 20 minutes within 5 - 6 metres of us, even circling us and showing (eventually) incredibly well. So well in fact that I managed to fire off a few shots...
|Moustached Laughingthrush - oh yes baby...!|
We were also searching for Short-tailed Parrotbill and kept trying but had no luck (where are they..?) but it was now around 1.30pm so returned to the bus and drove into town for a quick noodle lunch. Then we headed to the Pied Falconet stakeout but the weather had deteriorated and it was a ‘no show’ from them in the poor weather, although a White-crowned Forktail was a little compensation. And that was our day.