Thursday, 8 December 2016

China: Yancheng NNR

After a very long night’s sleep we returned to the same area of coastline this morning with the intention of searching through the duck flocks. Those people that know me are aware of my dislike for ducks but still I tried and must admit I enjoyed seeing numerous Falcated Ducks in better light, amongst the flocks of other commoner species. But the bund we were viewing from had grass and trees on the landward side and we pulled out a cracking Meadow Bunting and a couple of Pallas’s Leaf Warblers that showed rather well. Out on the mudflats a pair of Black-faced Spoonbills posed nicely and then we got distracted with some visible migration (vis mig) with numerous passerines flying overhead. These included Bramblings (and we’d see some big flocks later this morning), Oriental Skylarks and some unidentified buntings. Some Chinese Penduline Tits flew over but then I managed to call in a small party from the reedbed below us and these little crackers gave mind-boggling close views.

Chinese Penduline Tits

A flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills also came in to check us out and as I wandered across the marsh a Japanese Reed Bunting hopped up onto the reeds and we spent the next half an hour trying to get decent views, which we did in the end. It was at this point that an immature Amur Falcon flew right over our heads – a very late migrating bird, although I’ve heard of a few sightings at Nanhui near Shanghai this week as well. A few Pale Thrushes were moving through the trees as well, but then a Rustic Bunting showed amazingly well down to about a metre away. 

Rustic Bunting

And I’d almost forgotten about the flock of Tundra Bean Geese here as well. Absolutely stunning! With time slipping away we drove on further along the coastline and stopped to view a group of Pied Avocets that were in company with some gulls. They proved to be Black-headed Gulls, but after further scrutiny we realised there were at least 5 Saunders’s Gulls present as well. When I heard a Brown-cheeked Rail calling we walked further along the road to view a marsh area, but despite playing the call it never showed. However, Derek found a Chestnut-eared Bunting and we enjoyed great views of at least 3 birds, along with our first Pallas’s Reed Buntings and another Japanese Reed Bunting, plus Mongolian and Heuglin’s Gulls and a flock of Eurasian Spoonbills

Chestnut-eared Bunting

A distant Pallas's Reed Bunting

Dragging ourselves away from here we jumped on board the bus and started driving to Yancheng, passing through lots of woodland that would be superb in the spring migration period. And there were quite a few Dusky Thrushes on the muddy track before we reached the main highway. After a two hour drive we reached our hotel and dived straight into the restaurant across the street. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this hotel as it was in such a small town but it turned out to be rather good. 

Anyway, after lunch we drove just 20 minutes away to Yancheng Reserve and started driving along a dirt track. We hadn’t got far when our first cranes were spotted and we all jumped out of the coach rather excitedly. Across the field was a family of 2 adult and 2 immature Red-crowned Cranes – but I prefer their other name of Japanese Crane. What an elegant bird they are. I didn’t realise just how big they are until a short while later when a Grey Heron flew past them and was totally dwarfed. We watched the cranes for a while, practically ignoring a couple families of Common Cranes nearby. In the trees behind us it was hard to ignore a flock of Rustic Buntings, a Daurian Redstart and a Little Bunting

Reed Parrotbills

Walking on we came across a group of Reed Parrotbills – like Bearded Tits on steroids, this Chinese endemic gave excellent close views. Then a few Black-faced Buntings appeared – our 7th bunting species of the day. And just around the corner we came across a flock of 35+ Red-crowned Cranes and this time they were much closer. 

Red-crowned Cranes

There were also a few more Pallas’s Reed Buntings along the ditch next to us, a Hen Harrier flew by and a Trumpeter Swan flew over. So we spent quite a while watching and photographing the cranes, but it was a shame the weather was so dull, grey and overcast. But at least it was dry! We walked on further, seeing a flock of 10 Reed Parrotbills, as well as Black-crowned Night-heron and Eurasian Hoopoe before it got dark at just after 5pm and we returned the short distance to our hotel. What a day!

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