Dec 8, 2010

Pere David's Owl and Chinese Grouse - Sichuan Birding

A large Owl gulp that was found just before a sighting of Pere David's Owl in the Baxi area of NW Sichuan. This was our first clue to the presence of a big Owl. looks like there are a set of false teeth mixed up in that mess.

We've just come back from a 10 day trip that took us to Tangjiahe, Wanglang and the Baxi/Ruoergai area. By far the best bird sighted during this trip was the rare Pere David's Owl.
We got our Owl during a late afternoon search for Chinese Grouse. We were birding in the Baxi area, at a site that had given us Grouse last February. However, during this visit, the meadow/forest location turned out to be deadly silent - no Grouse, none of the usual Hares - and then we noticed the mother of all Owl gulps - a ball of hair and bones that obvious came from something big - Eagle or Pere David's Owl. On Cue a couple of Kessler's Thrush started to kick up a racket and Meggie went to take a look. As she investigated a large shape came hurtling between the trees and landed half way up one of the big pines - simply stunning - it was Pere David's!!!!!!!
We managed to follow the bird to three different locations - and although the setting sun didn't make for easy photographic conditions - Meggie was able to get a decent shot of this monster owl.
That wasn't the first contact with this species during the trip - we also got to hear it at Wanglang - but couldn't find the bird. This day we lucked in.

Our best shot of Pere David's Owl - there is debate over whether it's a separate species or an isolated subspecies of Ural Owl. The status of full species would make it China's only endemic Owl.

Another great Owl we managed to find on this last trip - Chinese Tawny Owl. We got this bird at Wanglang Panda Reserve - which is also in N Sichuan. We had been after this bird since our last trip to Wawu - where we twice ran into it, but were unable to get photos. This time we had a new high powered Torch and were able to get the Owl during our first night at Wanglang.

The morning after getting the Pere David's owl we got to the task of looking for Chinese Grouse. These birds inhabit Alpine Forest around the 3000m level - and as can be expected, in Grouse country, winter mornings are often pretty chilly. We found the birds most active when the sun - at around 10am - started to reach into their feeding areas. These birds eat the buds of willow scrub that grows in the forest valleys - its easy to see where they've been at work - and you can actually hear them nipping away at the twigs.
Chinese Grouse is an endangered species - much of its habitat has been destroyed by forestry and farming - but in Sichaun they can still be found in areas such as Baxi and Mengbishan

These nipped-off buds are tell tale signs of Grouse at work. Can't be much fun being a willow tree in this place!!!!

A Grouse photographer dying of hypothermia. Luckily she was able to see a bird or two through those misted specs.

We saw many more interesting species during our trip - but were especially pleased to get a decent shot of one of those that has been rather camera shy in the past - Sooty Tit - seen at one of best sites to find this elusive bird - Wanglang.

Nov 22, 2010

Streaked Barwing and White-browed Bush Robin on the Old Erlang Road - Sichuan birds

One of our Barwings - a truly handsome bird

Just back from a quick trip to the Old Erlang Road, where we got 'his and hers' Streaked Barwing. The Barwing day started with a little discussion on where to bird - which resulted in a split up where me and Meggie did different sections. On my part of the trail I ran into a group of three, very showy, Streaked Barwing - and cursed our luck that Meggie wasn't present with her camera. But when I later met up with her she was beaming over having found another pair of Barwing lower down. The birds were feeding off what I presume were insects or grubs in the moss that covers tree trunks and branches. Meggie followed her birds for about 5 minutes.

One my Streaked Barwings - showing how ridiculously easy they were. The picture was taken using 17-85mm zoom - hardly a mainstream birder's lens!!!!!!!!!!

During this trip we also ran into another good bird - a male White-browed Bush Robin but in some very misty conditions. The bird made a show when we called in a Tit/Goldcrest flock. This was close to the very top of the pass - from where we could hear Koklass Pheasant calling in the distance.

On the way home we got an unexpected bird - a Juv. White-tailed Eagle sitting in a riverside tree that could be seen on the busy Chengdu to Kangding G318 road.

And that cloud and mist, that you often find in these mountains, it make birding a bit difficult - but boy can you find some great photo opportunities when this stuff is rolling in while the sun is breaking through the clouds. This is magical Sichuan at its best.

Whose eaten my porridge - is this Mummy or Daddy bear???? Certainly wouldn't like to be Goldilocks when this guy gets back home for dinner - those claws look a little sharp.

Erlang mountain used belong to the bottom of the sea. There are lots of Fossils to be found on this track - here's a huge chunk of coral. At this point point, that's close to the top of the track, you can also find sea shells.

Nov 16, 2010

Red Pandas at Wawu - Sichuan birds

A nice study of the first Red Panda we saw on day two - up on a tree sunning itself in the early morning sun.

We're just back from the second part of our trip with Duncan and Pieter from Wildsounds - this time together with Nigel Goodgame (this guy goes into a gyrating dance every time he gets a lifer),
Anyways they had just come back from a Giant Panda trip - where after crawling and clamoring up the steep sided bamboo mountains of Foping, Shaanxi, they'd all seen their Bear - so now we were after the main target in Sichuan - Red Panda.

Wawu Mountain is about the easiest site for Red Pandas around here - its already shown for us with three earlier groups. – but the weather, namely the infamous Wawu mists, can make this a difficult location.
Our project got under way with a clear morning and on day one a Red Panda was spotted – but frustratingly only by Meggie!!!!!!!
We now had an area where we knew where a Panda was present – but there was a touch of nervous tension in the air – since staking out the area after the initial sighting gave nothing and by mid-afternoon a mist had fallen making further watching impossible.
Next morning – we woke, after a night that had seen some very heavy rain, highly relieved by the sight of clear skies. We watched the area of Meggie’s sighting, and around 9 am the Panda politely came into view to give, for around 10 minutes, an uninterrupted look at this stunning animal. It was seen in a small tree, into which it had probably climbed with the intention of warming up. When first viewed the Panda had ice on one of its ears - but that soon melted away as it thawed out in the rising morning sun.

Soon after Nigel found two more Pandas – which seemed to include a juv. Needless to say this brought on yet another dance!!!!!!

The Red Panda pair - this is the first time we've seen two Pandas together.

Other good stuff for our visitors were the Lady A’s and the Temminck’s Tragopan seen during “chicken-run” on the park access road. But here we also had a few nervous tinges – since Lady A, surprisingly almost all male, were numerous, while after about 6 runs there wasn’t a Tragopan in sight. Luckily this changed on the very last run. Done in a light mist and drizzly rain - weather conditions that often induce chickens to abandon the wet forest floor for the firmer feel of a road and roadside blocks – we suddenly bumped into 6 Tragopan, including one fine male which gave us some prolonged views. 10 minutes later the mist closed in – we were very lucky!!!!!

Lady A scuttles into the safety of scrub - the usual view of this stunning bird

The male Temminck's Tragopan who decided to pose - falling mist, rain and shooting through the windscreen didn't help this shot taken by Pieter.

Parrotbills also showed nicely on this trip - and Grey-hooded, sometimes a hard to find bird, was very easy at the correct locations.

Grey-hooded Parrotbill - people watching from the top of a bamboo stem.

Golden Parrotbill were also not that difficult in the bamboo at the middle sections of the access road. These hyperactive creatures are a great looking bird.

And one of the Parrotbills the wildsounds guys needed for their list - Brown. They already had the very similar Three-toed from Foping - and after a toe count of were happy that 3 front toes + 1 back toe meant a 101% positive ID for this lifer.

Oct 30, 2010

Autumn trips to Wolong and Balang - Sichuan birds

With all the road problems caused by the combination of residual earthquake damage and the heavy rains of the summer - it's good to report that our drier autumn weather has once again made Wolong and Balang Pass fairly easy destinations to reach via the quick route from Chengdu - the road that passes through Dujiangyan. In fact, if you're lucky, then its possible to get to Wolong Town with a 3 hour drive. Give 5 hours and you could be looking down on the clouds, while basking in the alpine sun on top of the 4,600m Balang pass.

Of course under that cloud cover things can be a little less bright. This was the situation just a couple of day's ago when we were guiding Duncan Macdonald and Pieter Wessels of Wildsounds. But after an initial morning of being frustrated by mist, on the second, we were lucky enough to get a couple of male roadside Chinese Monal. The chill of the snow was certainly effectively countered by the thrill of getting so close to these stunning birds. That pic was taken by Pieter.
Other gamebirds encountered included The usual Koklass Pheasant, Rufous-throated Partridge, Snow Partridge and Tibetan Snowcock (I'm afraid mostly heard rather than seen). However this autumn there were no signs of White-eared Pheasant up at Balang or Golden Pheasant or Temminck's Tragopan at Wolong - these birds were much easier to find during the summer.

Lots of other birds about - here's a great shot of White-browed Tit Warbler. Meggie managed to capture that red eye - which gives this bird a bit of a sinister look!!!!

As ever lots of Alpine Accentor up on high rocky areas of the pass.

Down in the valleys closer to Wolong we got close to this Black-faced Laughingthrush.

Late October also saw a few passage migrants still hanging about in the warmer valley bottoms - here's a female Golden Bush Robin.

And it wasn't only birds - here's a Chinese Goral that was found close to the entrance of Denghsheng Valley. Other mammals included Blue Sheep, Short-tailed Macaques and Mountain Weasel.

And here's Meggie - while the clouds roll past at over 4,500m - displaying an alarming new fashion trend. High altitude Wellington boots!!!!!!!

Sep 3, 2010

Litang Grasslands - Sichuan birds

Juvenile Lammergeier - this awesome species was seen on several occasions during our last trip to Litang. The other common species of Vulture in the area, Himalayan Griffon, can be seen in great numbers during occasions when the Locals practice Tibetan style funerals - Known as sky-burial - where the birds are allowed to feed on the corpses of the dead.

If you take the highway west from Chengdu, which eventually leads to Lhasa, a drive of around 10 hours should bring you close to an area of plateau grassland that's situated close to the Tibetan town of Litang. This flat plain that nestles between the mountains, is high - the town being over 4000m in altitude. A combination of pasture, river, mountain and marsh provides the type of habitat where it's possible to see many of the interesting species that are associated with the eastern side of the Tibetan Plateau. With good road Connections - the town is a major junction on the overland route to both Yunnan and Tibet - making it a logical stop-off for anybody exploring this part of Sichuan.

Streaked Rosefinch - the common Rosefinch species on this grassland. You often see this bird around habitation.

Tibetan Snowfinch - another species that 'digs' around those dumps, ditches and manure heaps that are part of the smaller Tibetan villages and homesteads. This bird is far easier to find at Litang than the Ruo Er Gai grassland of NW Sichuan. Plain and Brandt's Mountain Finch were also seen.

Bar-headed Goose - the road that leads towards the Tibetan border at Batang follows the course of a river. Although duck and other wetland species are not found in the same type of numbers as Ruo Er Gai (no Black Necked Crane left at Litang) - we found Common Tern, Redshank, Bar-headed Geese, Common Merganser and Ruddy Shelduck.

Ibisbill - is also present on the river. The best place to find this species are on stony river banks - sometimes where gravel extraction has taken place.

Himalayan Marmot - an ever present sight, and sound, on the drier parts of the grassland.

During June, July and August the grassland pasture becomes a good habitat for flower hunters.

This small Gentian, in the Swertia family (Felworts), is part of the Litang flora.

And of course there are all the usual 'grasland suspects' - here's Hume's Groundpecker (or Ground Tit - depending on what you're calling it today). This little extrovert of a bird - with its cocky mannerisms - always gives excellent entertainment value.

Chinese Grey Shrike - another good location for this sought after tick. Tibetan lark were also seen.

Little Owl - as a kid, in South Wales, we had a birding site, a bracken covered valley, where we would often find this Owl. Strange to think I'd be finding the same bird - so many tears latter - up on the Tibetan Plateau.

Aug 25, 2010

Birding Sichuan 2010 - Sichuan birds

Lots of these Chickens seen this year - Blue-eared Pheasant. Pictured during late winter in the Baxi area of NW Sichuan.

It’s still difficult in the PRC to get onto blogspot – but this time we think we’ve finally weaved our way around the problem , and can once again resume giving regular updates on Sichuan birding.
2010 has seen us making a lot of trips through Sichuan and a couple of sorties into neighboring Yunnan. Birding has been very good - even though during the last couple of months things have been made difficult with heavy rains, resultant landslides and other road blocking developments. However where there’s a will there’s a way – and our birding has gone on non-stop despite the annoying combined interventions of weather gods and road-building clowns. Luckily Sichuan holds a lot of wild country – so when things, with construction and heavy traffic, look bad from the roads–it often helps to be mobile, energetic and imaginative. Getting off the usual beaten birding- track can often pay good dividends!!!!!
A good example of this was this year’s quest after two of our more wanted Sichuan species - Sichuan Jay and Tibetan Snowcock. When on trips we were not able to find these birds at their usual haunts of Mengbi (Jay) and Balang (Snowcock) – due to weather and road factors - we were able to make them up, just past Rou Er Gai, on the Baxi to Jiuzhaigou road.

Sichuan Jay - pictured in Baxi. Just a 100 meters or so up the road and you hit the cloud line with near zero visibility. luckily our birds seemingly were avoiding that fog!!!!

One of our highest birds of the year was Red-faced Rosefinch - this guy is around 4,600m - on the very top of the Balang Pass.

This year we got Rufous-headed Robin on our two trips to the tourist ghetto of Jiuzhaigou – at two different park locations. Song-wise – if in the right area – and the bird is calling, then you can pick it up very close to the main walking track. However converting heard calls into good visual observations can be a wee bit tricky – with this prime skulker being the master of not being seen while merrily singing in front of your nose.
An annoying change at JZ has been the rise in admission ticket price. Formerly deemed very expensive, that 2 day ticket has now- during the period from April onto December – been changed to a one day ticket with only a very small price reduction!!!!! This of course near doubles admission price – so save your pennies to afford the JZ experience and make sure you don’t have to spend too many days chasing that darned Robin.

Not as pretty or melodic as the Rufous-headed Robin - but just as difficult to find - Solitary Snipe. seen at about 3,200m, during early spring, on the high pass between Moxi and Kangding.

During August – often considered a bad birding, wet and difficult to travel month (although we never expected how wet it would be this year) – we took off on an alternative Sichuan birding route that enabled us to combine Sichuan with Yunnan. A route that took us onto the high Tibetan grasslands at Litang – carrying on over the plateau to Yunnan and the Zhongdian area – through the tourist fleshpots of Lijiang and Dali – and to the useful birding location of Zixi Mountain before heading back on the motorway to Sichuan via Kunming.
The route home took us very close to the Sichuan Hill partridge area on the Sichuan/Yunnan Border – and with the motorway Yunnan is now just a day’s drive away from Chengdu.
Lots of good birds were had on this tour – it was nice to blend exciting high grassland species such as Ibisbill and Chinese Grey shrike with the likes of Yunnan goodies such as Giant Nuthatch and Black Eagle.

Giant Nuthatch - certainly a whopper - especially when seen in company of other Nuthatch species.

Seen in Both Sichuan and Yunnan - Lady A. This fine male was pictured on the stone road that leads up Tangsang Mountain, Dali, Yunnan.

Mar 9, 2010

Some pictures from a recent trip tp Ruo Er Gai - Sichuan birds

During a chilly trip made to this area a week back we saw many interesting birds on the grasslands and marshes.
The first picture is Chinese Grey Shrike - these were quite common birds - several were seen perched up on telegraph wires.

Hume's Groundpecker - this bird was photographed in one of the quarries - excavating for food in a sandy cliff-face.

The weather might not have been exactly heralding spring - but Black Storks on passage indicated that migrants were on the move back north. Four of the these great birds were seen.

Tibetan Lark - one of the special birds of Ruo Er Gai - this bird was photographed close to the Flower lake site.

Eagle Owl - looking very magisterial, this epic predator was found holed up in a small quarry.