Nov 26, 2008

Sichuan Birdwatching - Birding at the Top Of the World

Giant Laughingthrush - one of those wonderful species that can be observed in upland Sichuan

Sichuan is a gateway to Tibet – and, heading out from Chengdu, the westward bound birder will soon be entering areas of great elevation - where Western Sichuan meets the Tibetan Plateau. Here the scene is soaring mountain ranges, Yak grazed grasslands, nomadic herders, Tibetan temples and villages – a land of Eagles and Vultures – a unique experience in terms of birding and culture

This rolling grassland scenery was taken on the road to Ganzi

The Grasslands
If you travel from Chengdu on the famous 318 Lhasa route – within around 6 hours you’ll get to Kangding. Within this small city you’ll suddenly notice that Tibetans, often dressed in traditional clothing, have become a common part of the street-scene. Kangding is also the gateway to the grassland areas that lie close by – but if you’re traveling in this direction it can be a good idea to stay in Kangding for a day to start your acclimatization for altitude. The next part of your journey west will then take you over the 4,300m Zhedou Mountain pass – with its Accentors, Blood Pheasant, White-eared Pheasant, Himalayan Rubythroat, Grandala, Himalayan Griffons, Lammergeier and a host of other species – where going over “onto the other side” finally brings you onto the Grassland . From here you can get to destinations like Tagong, Yajiang, Litang, Dao Cheng, Ganzi and Dege. This area is spectacular to say the least – rolling grasslands – alpine forest, the best of which we’ve found around around Yajiang (where Derbyan Parakeet is still hanging on). On the Grassland you get up into a whole new world – the clock goes backwards when looking at some of the nomadic folk who come in from the mountains with their Yak herds. The birds are also exciting, and apart from those named above include– Snow pigeon, Hume’s Groundpecker, Snowfinch species, Rosefinch species, Kessler’s Thrush, Giant Laughingthrush, Golden Eagle Upland Buzzard and Ibisbill.

Ibisbill - I'm afraid this is my best shot of this bird, which is amazingly well camouflaged in around the stones within its favoured habitat.

Plain Mountain Finch - up on the top of Zhedou Mountain

Maerkang and Rou Er Gai
These again are fantastic areas – Maerkang being situated in more rural valley type situations with fantastic stone villages that are built up onto the mountain sides. You can also find the ancient “watch tower” constructions in this area – but nobody really knows what exact functions these buildings played (theories jump between - defense, storage, village status-symbol). Much of the area is more arid than the grasslands further south but we still meet forest - especially on Mengbi Mountain (Mengbishan) – a location which gains its birding fame as a location for spotting Sichuan Jay.
Ruo Er Gai is a wet land – but there are other habitat types close by. The species that draw birders here is the Black-necked Crane. But we also have two highly interesting Laughing thrushes located here – Plain and Snowy-cheeked.

Hume's Groundpecker - in the field this bird, when seen flying, resembles a Wheatear.

Grandala - the Jewel of the high passes

Juizhaigou and Songpan
As a famed tourist destination – certain places in this area suffers a bit from over development, noisy tourist crowds and high prices. But if you keep out of the way of the charter traffic there are still peaceful areas and of course a lot of interesting birds.
Once again a scenic stunner – here we have a lot of good forest habitat.
One of the great bird in this area is – Blue-eared Pheasant. A good way to get around is by horse trekking - even though you need a steady hand to use your binoculars on the back of a horse.

Tibetan Snowfich - this one was see close to Litang

Blue-eared Pheasant - this picture isn't too steady, but it was taken from a Horse!!!!