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.