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.