Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Nikon D500

Having broken my Nikon D7200 camera in China last month i've been considering the options available and had a good long, hard look into returning to my old digiscoping ways. However, having been given the opportunity to use the Nikon D500 I have to say that this is undoubtedly the best camera i've ever used. What a camera this is and probably far too good for my limited capabilities! I'm not going to do a proper review as there are many out there on YouTube and other forums (and i'm definitely not knowledgeable enough) but with just a couple field excursions over the Christmas holidays I am very impressed. 

The sharpness and clarity of some of the images i've taken is incredible and is all down to the camera and not me. The tilting and adjustable LCD screen is a good little gadget, as well as being touch screen. And for the first time i'm shooting in RAW although the post-editing procedure that has always put me off shooting in this format is still something i'm getting to grips with. I have also been using back-button focussing, shooting in Aperture Priority and generally tinkered with the tried and tested settings I have been using over the past 8 years of using Nikon SLR's.

So here's a few images that i'm quite pleased with. But there's still more practice needed before I venture to India in a couple of weeks.

And i've tried just one video so far of these Purple Sandpipers, but the 4K is stunning.

Monday, 19 December 2016

China - Nanhui

Thanks to Virgin Atlantic cancelling our return flight we had the whole day to go birding around the Nanhui area and this turned out to be a very relaxed and enjoyable time for all. We picked up several new trip birds and Derek even found what is probably the first record of Grey-sided Thrush for this area! The small wooded area around the Holiday Inn also held several Pale Thrushes, Northern Red-flanked Bluetail and some Pallas’s Warblers. We then worked our way along the road that borders the seawall and found Intermediate Egret, Eurasian and Black-faced Spoonbills, Red Knot, Richard’s and Buff-bellied Pipits and a few Dusky Thrushes. There were several flocks of Eastern Spot-billed Ducks on the sea, mingling with some more familiar ducks, some Tundra Swans and Tundra Bean Geese

And whilst we were scoping these a flock of Common Teals flew in and amazingly we spotted a single male Baikal Teal. After missing it a few usually regular sites earlier in the tour it was a huge bonus to finally catch up with this bird. After a while we discovered another drake and two females in the same flock and we thoroughly enjoyed scoping these little crackers. At one point the whole flock took off and flew around in front of us and it was great fun to pick out the Baikals and watch them in flight, with the obvious vertical pale stripe on the rear of the bird making it a relatively simple task. 

We then spent some time trying to locate the reported Long-billed Dowitcher but the area was vast and in hindsight spent too long criss-crossing these huge wide-open plains and fields. But we did see two Oriental Pratincoles hawking for insects over the fields in the process, as well as a Brown Crake, Black Drongo and Eurasian Hoopoe. Returning to the coast after lunch a flock of 12 Swan Geese was a surprise. But by now it was 2pm and we didn’t pick up too much more apart from a Western Osprey, but everyone was pretty relaxed and we just enjoyed watching whatever was around - it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to end the tour. And that was it, the Fat Lady was singing so we headed back to the hotel (playing some cracking tunes....!) for our final evening meal together. And what a tour we had - many thanks to everyone for playing their part and being such good fun. I can't wait to return in 2018...!

Yours truly birding until the end.....

Sunday, 18 December 2016

China: Fuzhou Forest Park

We had a really enjoyable day at Fuzhou Forest Park, adding 14 new species to our trip list in the process. We arrived just after 6am and had a picnic breakfast before walking the trails until lunchtime and this turned out to be quite a productive morning as we began with a fine Rufous-faced Warbler in the first flock of the day, followed by a very surprising and very yellowish Hartert’s Warbler picking its way along a branch in nuthatch-fashion. I didn’t expect this species at all. We came across a few more feeding flocks and saw White-bellied Erpornis very well, Red-billed Leiothrix, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Tristram’s Bunting, and both White’s and Pale Thrushes. A male Silver Pheasant melted away into the undergrowth and as we approached the upper car park a pair of Orange-bellied Leafbirds, a flock of Black-throated Bushtits, and a Fire-breasted Flowerpecker were seen.

During a break over lunch an Oriental Honey Buzzard flew over, and we also saw Red-whiskered Bulbul, Grey-sided Scimitar-Babbler for Derek and a Blue Whistling-Thrush. Then we birded along the hillside trail and despite only having a couple of hours before we needed to leave for the airport and our flight back to Shanghai we notched up a few more goodies. A Slaty-backed Forktail was very pleasing for Trish as well. I was surprised how many Asian Stubtails were along this trail and everyone caught glimpses of at least one of them. Then a flock of Indochinese Yuhinas appeared close by, we had very nice looks at Chestnut Bulbul, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, and a Spotted Elachura was coaxed in for repeated views. With time running out we descended towards the car park but still had time to nail a Grey-backed Thrush before it was time to leave for the airport.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

China: Emei Feng - Fuzhou

We drove back up to look for tragopans early this morning but a near gale force wind hampered our search and all we had to show was another brief sighting of a female along the road. Another Elliot’s Pheasant and a Silver Pheasant were seen, along with a couple of White’s Thrushes but the wind was really strong and birding here was practically pointless. So we decided to cut our losses and set out on the four and a half hour drive to Fuzhou earlier than we had originally planned.

Along the way we stopped at a couple of service stations and the second one provided us with a very unexpected bonus. Derek and I were checking out the bushes and bamboo behind the buildings when a flock of parrotbills appeared close by, but not the vinous-throated I was expecting as they had black chins and all rufous heads - Short-tailed Parrotbills. Holy cow!! Yes a flock of Short-tailed Parrotbills! 

Short-tailed Parrotbill by Steven An

A previously unrecorded flock of these rare birds methinks. Just goes to show you can never stop birding! Many thanks to Steven An for letting me use his photos above. After a few frantic minutes gathering everyone up we watched them for quite a while before following a trail across some fields and into the farmland beyond, seeing Black-faced Bunting, Chinese Pond-Heron, Greater Coucal, both White-browed and Masked Laughingthrushes, and a pair of Chinese Hwamei. There was a really odd-looking phylloscopus warbler here that i couldn't quite get to grips with. With several rather odd sightings of summer breeding species so far on this tour I couldn't rule out Kloss's Warbler, but it just didn't feel right and the views were inconclusive.

So a good end to the day and it was only another hour or so to our great hotel in Fuzhou.

Friday, 16 December 2016

China: Emei Feng

With our re-jigged itinerary we now had a full day on Emei Feng instead of the intended single night stay so we had a good long time to look for ‘chickens’. We started off birding the lower slopes and driving around the area looking for Elliot’s Pheasant but couldn’t have anticipated how successful this would be. We began with a male and female appearing at the roadside before melting into the undergrowth without everyone getting a view. So we quietly got off the bus and made our way to a point where we could scan the bamboo slope below us and unbelievable we watched 4 females and a male walking below us about 30m away. Wow! But even better was to come when Steven spotted a male on a grassy slope above us, this time much closer and from the coach we watched him pick his way across the slope above us and was on view for a good ten minutes. I managed to get this record shot despite the autofocus not working on my camera again...

Elliot's Pheasant

This was unbelievable for such a truly skulking and shy creature and after all of the elation had subsided we continued driving up the mountain. Next up was a female Silver Pheasant, followed a short while later by a male. 

Koklass Pheasant by Steven An

Then a Koklass Pheasant appeared by the roadside before we reached Cabot’s Tragopan habitat higher up and the first of a frustrating 4 brief tragopan sightings of the day. At the top we had an encounter with 7 Chinese Bamboo-Partridges at breakfast before we began walking down the mountain in the hopes of a better tragopan encounter. We never got a classic view, just a few more brief sightings but the weather was perfect with sunshine and clear blue skies all day. 

Emei Feng

Passerines were few and far between in this tragopan habitat but we still saw Northern Goshawk, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Grey-headed and a brief Bay Woodpecker, White-bellied Erpornis, Japanese White-eye, Spotted Forktail, Red-flanked Bluetail, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Dusky & Pale Thrushes

Cabot's Tragopan by Steven An

Driving lower for a short time we found some fruiting trees where the white-headed form of Black Bulbul was seen, along with several Chestnut and Mountain Bulbuls. At the end of the day we had a look along the river where a Slaty-backed Forktail was found.