A BIRDING BLOG -
hong kong AND
hong kong AND
On 29th July, we visited Sunshine Meadows, an alpine area 2159 metres asl a few miles west of Banff. The meadows are accessed by cable-car and at the top there are a number of possible hikes. We walked a seven km circular trail, taking in Rock Isle Lake and Monarch Viewpoint. As in all of the places we’d visited since leaving Red Deer, bird density was relatively low but we did encounter a number of interesting species including Mountain Bluebird, White-crowned Sparrow, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, Clark’s Nutcracker, American Pipit, Hermit Thrush, Mountain Chickadee and Boreal Chickadee. From a rise, I also picked out two Greater Yellowlegs feeding on a distant, inaccessible muddy pool.
The next day, we checked out of our hotel and drove back to Calgary, stopping at the small town of Canmore, 25 km from Banff, en route. This is another town where there are streams, small woods and attractive gardens within a stone’s throw of the centre. Birds I added to the trip list were d Fox Sparrow and Western Tanager.
Back in Calgary later that afternoon, I walked out from our hotel in the environs of the airport to check out a couple of nearby roadside ponds. One pool held a pair of Horned Grebes with a tiny chick, and a juvenile American Coot. Another pond had several Lesser Scaups and a Redhead.
Our onward flight to the UK on 31st July was not until the early evening, so we spent a couple of hours at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in the morning. Situated besides the Bow River near the centre of the city, this reserve boasts 270 species of birds, 21 species of mammals and 347 species of plants. It was a very pleasant place to wonder around. Small pools held Mallards, Wood Ducks and Common Goldeneyes. The river itself produced 40+ Ring-billed Gulls, several Californian Gulls and five Franklin’s Gulls along with a few Double-crested Cormorants and a Common Merganser. Overhead, we saw a Red-tailed Hawk, two Swainson’s Hawks and three Ospreys. Smaller birds included a family party of Eastern Kingbirds and several Northern Rough-winged Swallows perching in dead trees. A female Mule Deer fed in the area along with two fawns.
On 26 July, we drove west into the Rocky Mountains. Before we reached Banff National Park, we spotted a Black Bear walking on the flower-covered verge beside the road. We quickly pulled up but I was unprepared and managed only a few inadequate shots with my camera before the bear walked up an incline into the forest and disappeared from view.
Our base for the next four nights was Banff town, a busy and expensive tourist centre that caters for skiing enthusiasts in winter and for sightseers from all over the world in summer. In spite of the number of visitors, the town makes a great base for exploring the nearby mountains, and there are woods, marshes and lakes of interest to the naturalist a short walk from the bustling town centre.
On 27 July, from our hotel we walked along the Bow River and explored the forested Fenland Trail and the Vermilion Lakes area to the west of the town. The lakes held two Common Loons, a few Canada Geese and Mallards, and a number of Ring-billed Gulls and a juvenile Franklin’s Gull. A pair of Bald Eagles were perched in a distant tree. The best bird along the Fenland Trail was probably an American Three-toed Woodpecker. Red Squirrels and Colombian Ground Squirrels were also present alongside the lake. Back in town along the railway track we came across a couple of Mule Deer.
The following day we drove to Lake Louise a major scenic attraction 55 kilometres north of Banff. The quickest way is along the Trans-Canada Highway which lies just north of the town, but we chose the slower Bow Valley Parkway route. This rural road runs parallel to the highway; the speed limit is restricted to 60km/h (sometimes less) and it is known as a possible area for bears. We were fortunate. We came across a Black Bear feeding on berries at the side of the road. The bear was oblivious to us and the couple of other parked cars and we were able to observe it for about twenty minutes.
Lake Louise itself was very busy. We walked along the lakeside where the crowds were thinner than around the over-grandiose hotel known as Chateau Lake Louise. There were a few birds, including Violet Green Swallows and Cliff Swallows flying over the water; some of the latter were breeding high on the walls of the hotel and several of them kept coming down to an oily puddle in the hotel grounds to collect mud for their nests. Golden-mantled Squirrels were also present at one section of the lakeside trail.
Back at Banff in the afternoon, I walked out to another nature reserve known as the Cave & Basin Marsh Loop. It was difficult to find an adequate viewpoint over the wet pools, but I did manage to see a couple of Hooded Mergansers and an American Coot. In the vegetation around the lake, birds I saw included three Gray Jays, a couple of singing Common Yellowthroats, a Warbling Vireo and an unidentified Empidonax flycatcher. I also saw a Whitetail Deer here.
On 21st July, we drove to Nordegg, 173 kilometres west of Red Deer. En route, we stopped at Rocky Mountain House to pick up a few supplies, including a canister of bear spray –we were entering bear country - which you wear in a holster on your belt.
Nordegg itself is a hamlet with a motel, a golf course, a couple of general stores, a small museum and a small cemetery. About 90 people reside here, but back in the mid-1990s it was home to a population of 3,000. They were there because of the local coal mine which flourished from 1911 onwards, providing coal for the steam trains on the national railway system. However, the mine closed in 1955 as steam trains were replaced by trains powered by diesel and the mine was no longer financially viable. Most people left and Nordegg became something of a ghost town.
We were visiting the area because our youngest son was working at a summer camp a few kilometres out of Nordegg on the shore of Goldeye Lake. We stayed in a cabin there for five nights, hiking to a waterfall, walking around the lake, visiting the old mine.
The small lake itself held a pair of Common Loons that had a single recently-hatched chick, along with Belted Kingfisher and Osprey. Bird density in the surrounding pine plantations seemed low, but around the camp, apart from the ubiquitous American Crows, I did see a pair of Northern Flickers, and a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Dark-eyed Juncos and Yellow-rumped Warblers.
On 22nd we hiked out into a wilderness area to Siffleur Falls. Again, there were few birds but I did see my first Clark’s Nutcracker and the only Spruce Grouse of the trip.
On 25th July the golf course at Nordegg and the adjacent lake turned up families of Ring-necked Ducks and Buffelheads, two Wilson’s Snipes, a Long-billed Dowitcher, an immature Bald Eagle and a family of Californian Gulls (one adult, three juveniles).
There were bears in the area. A sign at the start of the Siffleur Falls trail indicated such, and we were told a Black Bear had been seen near the golf course on the evening of 24th. However, we didn’t come across any during our stay at Goldeye Lake.
Think I'll go out to Alberta... Ian Tyson
My wife and I went to Alberta. We flew from Hong Kong to Calgary via Vancouver on 18th July. On the 19th, we picked up a hire car and drove through flat pasture land to the town of Red Deer, 137 kilometres to the north.
Although it was mid-July, the temperature was around 9 degrees Celsius and there was driving rain. Just outside of Red Deer we stopped in a small muddy car park beside Slack Slough – a well-known wetland area. Unfortunately, because of the awful weather we did not get out of the car. There were no views over the water and what birds there were were difficult to get to grips with. However, three Wilson’s Snipes flew overhead and a Wilson’s Phalarope landed briefly next to the pool of water in the muddy parking area.
The following day dawned more brightly and we spent most of the day around Gaetz Lakes, a bird sanctuary close to the centre of town, and the adjacent McKenzie Park. I also went back to the lakes on the early morning of the 21st before we continued our journey. The bird sanctuary is based around two lakes; there are trails through pine forest and grassland, and bird feeders outside the Kerry Wood Nature Centre allow for good views of a variety of species. The area provided a good introduction to a number of North American birds, although I struggled with some of the sparrows!
There were not too many waterfowl on the lakes, although there were more ducks than at first appeared and I saw Common Goldeneye, Mallard, Common Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal and Ruddy Duck, a number of these with chicks. They were not always easy to identify, however, as drakes at this time of the year are in eclipse plumage. Canada Geese and Red-necked Grebes were also present on the lake, and flyovers included three Great Blue Herons, 24 American White Pelicans and 46 Franklin’s Gulls. A pair of Common Loons was on the small lake at McKenzie Park.
Other birds in the surrounding area included Eastern Phoebe, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Yellow Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and Brown-headed Cowbird. As for the sparrows, which are closely related to Old World buntings, with the aid of the photographs I took and with reference to recent editions of two field guides – The Sibley Guide to Birds and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region – I worked out I saw Chipping, Clay-colored, Savannah, Lincoln’s and White-throated Sparrows in the area, although I have the suspicion that I also saw one or two other species that passed under my radar.
In the late afternoon of 10 June, we headed on to our next destination, arriving at the modern town of Luding at 7.30 pm. We set out at 5.00 am the next day for Erlangshan, a short distance away. However, it was a relatively slow journey as one side of the road was under repair and we were driving against convoys of lorries heading in the opposite direction to us. We turned off onto the old Erlangshan road at 6.40 am and began birding. We had a number of good birds along the road including Rufous-tailed Babbler, Spotted Nutcracker, Chinese Thrush, Sharpe’s Rosefinch, Firethroat, Chinese Cupwing and Chestnut-headed Tesia, as well as several calling Lady Amherst’s Pheasants . We heard Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler but could not entice it out into the open. Unfortunately, at one section before the top, the road became too rough for our two-wheel drive vehicle, so we had to walk up to an area of bamboo that can be productive for parrotbills. We saw two Black-faced Laughingthrushes, a pair of Golden Bush Robins and both Rosy and Olive-backed Pipits, but there was no sign of any parrotbills. We drove back down the mountain at 4.00 pm only to find a long tailback of lorries as the road was now closed until early evening. To pass the time, we drove a little way back up the mountain and managed to find a solitary Barred Laughingthrush, a species that – like the parrotbills – had eluded us earlier.
The morning of the 12th was wet and cloudy, so we decided not to explore the other side of Erlangshan as we had planned but head straight to Longcanggou. We arrived there at 8.30 am and drove up a picturesque steep-sided valley different to the main area usually visited by birders. There were a number of new birds for the trip, including at least 11 White-throated Needletails, a Himalayan Swiftlet, three Black Bazas, a juvenile Crested Honey Buzzard, several Hair-crested Drongos, several Buffy Laughingthrushes, a White-backed Woodpecker, a Chinese Blue Flycatcher and singing Alstrom’s, Kloss’s and Emei Leaf Warblers.
We checked into our hotel just outside the park. Four Ashy-throated Parrotbills were in the bushes near the buildings. Later in the afternoon, we went to the lower level of the main birding valley in search of Sichuan Bush Warbler. We heard it singing readily enough, but it took a while for us to get semi-decent views of the bird itself.
Longcanggou is basically a wide forested valley between 1400 and 2400 metres in elevation. One side of the river is a scenic area open to the public; the other side is off-limits to the general public and the access gates are usually locked. Birding groups can make special arrangements to access this private area. The road, rough in places but passable, goes through dense mixed forest up into more open forest and to an area of bamboo forest (although there is bamboo all along the road). The upper area houses a Panda re-introduction scheme and is inaccessible to everyone.
We spent 13th & 14th June walking up and down the road, largely between the upper and middle sections. Highlights were Golden Parrotbills on both days, and two Brown Parrotbills on 13th. Disappointingly, however, we heard Great Parrotbill on both days, but did not see it, and were unable to link up with Grey-hooded and Three-toed Parrotbills at all. We heard three Emei Shan Liocichlas on 12th but did not see any of them.
Longcanggou is known for its rainfall. The 13th was clear but it rained all day on 14th and on the morning of the 15th. This was insufficient to curtail our birdwatching but it did mean that I didn’t use my camera on those days. On 14th, in the early morning, we explored a rough, dead-end track off to the left eight kilometres before the Panda base. This track (and the adjacent main access road) proved very good for Temminck’s Tragopans. We had a total of six males, four females and six chicks there. Nearer the summit, in the enveloping mist, we eventually had a decent view of an inquisitive Emei Shan Liocichla. The final rare endemic of the day was a Golden-fronted Fulvetta found by Summer in the public section of the scenic area in the late afternoon.
On the morning of 15th, again in the rain, we walked the road down the valley we had visited on 12th. Additional species we found were ten Black-chinned Yuhinas and a Little Forktail. We then drove back to Chengdu airport so I could catch my afternoon flight back to Hong Kong.
With special thanks to Summer.
On the morning of 9 June, we drove east back towards Chengdu, but then diverged south towards the montane sites of Labahe, Erlangshan and Longcanggou.
Labahe is a scenic area that has fairly recently re-opened to the public after being off-limits for several years. There is a fine four-star hotel beside a river and a road up the mountain accessible by park bus. After lunch, we took the bus to the top of the mountain, and then got the cable-car even higher – up to 3500 metres. Unfortunately, the peak was covered in a rain cloud; it was cold and wet and visibility was severely limited. At the upper station we found a female Golden Bush Robin and a singing Spotted Bush Warbler, but there was no sign of Summer's main target species, the Sichuan Treecreeper, a bird which was only described in 1995. The idea was mooted to walk down the steps that ran parallel to the cables, but I was not keen, so we caught the cable car back down to the lower station and walked down the road from there. The habitat here was mainly birch woodland with an understorey of bamboo. Aberrant Bush Warblers were common and there were a number of Phylloscs including Claudia’s, Large-billed Leaf, Sichuan Leaf, Ashy-throated and Bianchi’s Warblers. We had brief views of a Fulvous Parrotbill. Other birds of note were four Stripe-throated Yuhinas, several Fire-capped Tits and four Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds. In the evening, I went for a stroll along the river opposite the hotel and saw Brown Dipper along with White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstarts. A Sambar Deer grazed on hillside not far from the hotel.
On the morning of the 10th, we headed back up the mountain, taking a couple of trails off the main road in the upper-middle section of the mountain. In one area we heard a couple of singing Blue-fronted Robins but I only managed an inadequate glimpse of one of them. Temminck’s Tragopans were more obliging and we had excellent views of at least three of them. Back at the main road, we had good views of a male Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. Along another quiet trail, we found the endemic Pere David’s Tit, as well as a pair of Yellow-bellied Flowerpeckers. Flycatchers in the area consisted of Verditer, Dark-sided, Ferruginous and Slaty-backed.
We hitched a lift up to the cable car station and decided to walk a little way up the steps parallel to the cables. Here, we had good views of a male Golden Bush Robin and c. 200 metres up the steps, Summer found a Sichuan Treecreeper which also provided excellent views as it foraged on tree trunks, presumably collecting food for its young. Walking back downhill, we turned up a Firethroat and four Fulvous Parrotbills.
Just after dawn on 5 June we were above the treeline at Mengbishan. Yaks were feeding on the scrubby slopes where newly-fallen snow covered the tops. Our immediate target bird was Verreaux’s Monal (aka Chestnut-throated Partridge), a large gamebird endemic to the mountains of central China. Birds were calling loudly on the slopes above us and in the forest below, but they refused to show themselves. We spent the day walking up and down the road in search of the partridges and also another endemic – the Sichuan Jay. The latter proved as elusive as the monal, although a small party of birders guided by Steven An that we bumped into (see http://www.chinabirdingtours.com ) managed to connect with a party of three of them but they had long-disappeared before we arrived at the spot. However, we did see two Streaked Rosefinches and a Three-banded Rosefinch, which are both localised species in Sichuan. Other birds included Blood Pheasant, several Giant Laughingthrushes, four White-winged Grosbeaks, two Crimson-browed Finches, Crested Tit Warbler and Buff-barred Warblers singing commonly.
We were back at Mengbishan on the following morning en route to Wolong. We walked the road below the treeline and this time our luck was in. We had brief views of two White-eared Pheasants on a slope just above us and a pair of Verreaux’s Monals flew downhill across the road below us. Three Sichuan Jays flew between pine trees and lingered at a spot where Summer had seen them in the past.
On our way to Wolong, we had a break at a scenic area known as Liang He Kou where we spent some time exploring the attractive deciduous forest along a fast-flowing river. Before it began to rain, we saw 50 Asian House Martins and two Salim Ali’s Swifts. There were a couple of singing Large-billed Leaf Warblers and Claudia’s Leaf Warblers, and Plumbeous Redstarts and White-capped Redstarts were active along the river.
We reached Balangshan, a key mountain site, in the late afternoon and stopped to scan the hills surrounding the tunnel area for gamebirds. We saw a single White Eared Pheasant but had no joy with the Chinese Monal, our main target species. We then continued downhill to our hotel at Wolong (2,000 metres asl), which was to be our base for three nights.
7 June dawned bright and clear and we explored Balangshan in more depth including the tunnel area, the middle section above the tunnel and the area around Balangshan Pass which at nearly 4,500 metres is well above the treeline. On our first, foray, this higher area provided us with Tibetan Snowcock and Snow Partridge, a couple of Snow Pigeons, Alpine Choughs, Rosy Pipit, Plain Mountain Finch and Dark-breasted Rosefinch. Later in the day, we drove to the highest point of the pass where we added the stunning Grandala, several Alpine Accentors and Chinese Rubythroat to the list. In the late afternoon, we stopped at the old road next to the tunnel – an area popular with Chinese bird photographers keen to photograph the Chinese Monal. Summer spent some time taping out a Chestnut-crowned Warbler that she had heard in the vegetation; in the end, it gave us brief but excellent views. Other warblers singing at the old road were Alpine Leaf, Hume’s Leaf and Buff-barred Warblers. Finally, Summer scanned a distant slope through her scope and managed to pick out a solitary Chinese Monal foraging amongst the bushes. I had a twenty second view of the bird before clouds enveloped the hillside and the bird was consumed by the mist.
On the next day, we headed back up to Balangshan but the weather had broken; rain and cloud made birding difficult. In the middle section above the tunnel, we heard Golden Pheasant and tracked down three singing Firethroats, one of which I managed to see well. Other birds included Lammergeir, Giant Laughing Thrush, White-collared Yuhina and four Bianchi's Warblers. A singing Sichuan Forest Thrush failed to show as did its close relative, the Alpine Thrush, which occurs at higher elevations. We heard the latter singing on the scree towards the pass, but it too remained invisible.
The bad weather persuaded us to drive back to Wolong and explore that lower area. On the way we stopped at a place where the river became temporarily shallow (for the most part, Sichuan montane rivers are torrential and deep) and there were shingly islands in the water. Here we saw White-throated Dipper as well as the usual Plumbeous and White-capped Redstarts. Three Grey Wagtails were also present. Across the river, in the waterside bushes, Summer heard two Indian Blue Robins singing. This species is usually very difficult to see, but one of these singing birds provided good views as it occasionally perched out in the open. A Dark-sided Flycatcher was also present in the same area.
At Wolong village later in the afternoon, we explored an area of orchards. At this lower level, the avifauna again became a little more reminiscent of Hong Kong; species included Asian Koel, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Daurian Redstart, Ferruginous Flycatcher and Common Rosefinch. We had at least four Chinese Babax in patches of bamboo. Other birds included 18 Speckled Wood Pigeons, singing Claudia’s and Martens’s Warblers, several Collared Finchbills and two Green-backed Tits.
In the area near Lama Monastery, we found and had good views of two male Slaty Buntings, as well as a pair of colourful Mrs Gould’s Sunbirds. Several Chinese Leaf Warblers were singing. We heard, but did not see, Golden Pheasant, Barred Laughingthrush and Indian Blue Robin.
At 2.00 pm on 3 June we were c. 20 kilometres away from Ruoergai when we came to a road block (the first of three such occasions when this happened during the trip). We were told the road ahead was being resurfaced and would not be opened until 7 pm. Fortunately, this was just after the turn off to Baxi Forest, one of the sites on our itinerary, so we headed down the rough track to the start of the forest. First, we explored two valleys with scrub-covered hillsides; Summer found two Spectacled Parrotbills at the first valley, along with Sichuan Tit and Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch. The second valley offered up two more Sichuan Tits as well as a Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush. After this, we followed a narrow trail into the pine forest proper; birds seen here included the beautiful Crested Tit Warbler and the endemic Przevalski’s Nuthatch, as well as Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Grey-hooded Fulvetta, Hodgson’s Treecreeper, Grey-crested Tit and Grey-headed Woodpecker. In the early evening we returned to the main road and joined the traffic queue until the road reopened. We then headed to Ruoergai.
On 3 June, we left the hotel at dawn and drove c. 30 kilometres southwest of Ruoergai. Mist half-hid the rolling hills that rose up at the edges of the wide grassy plain. Since Chuanzhusi, there had been a very Tibetan feel to the landscape; many of the people in this part of Sichuan are, in fact, of Tibetan origin, and the houses and temples in many of the villages are distinctly Tibetan in character. Out on the plains, farmers eke out a living by herding yaks , as well as sheep and goats.
Again, we walked scrub-covered hillsides in search of the rare, endemic Przevalski’s Finch. The first stop proved unproductive, but the second turned up an adult male and an immature male chasing each other in a territorial dispute for several minutes over the vegetation. We later found a third bird at another similar sight in the area. The hillsides turned up other birds of interest. We had seen several Himalayan Vultures on our journey on the previous day, and we had at least three more over the hillsides today, in addition to an immature Golden Eagle. Oriental Skylarks were singing commonly, as were at least four Common Cuckoos. Other birds of note were two Tibetan Partridges, a Little Owl, a Horned Lark, two Dusky Warblers on territory, several Ground Tits, two Robin Accentors, three Rock Sparrows, two White-browed Tits (another endemic), two Rosy Pipits and three Twites. In addition, we encountered a number of mammals: Siberian Roe, Red Fox, Plateau Pika, Himalayan Marmot and Woolly Hare.
We drove back to Ruoergai and took the road east to Flower Lake. Several Upland Buzzards were perched on wires along the route and Black Kites were also much on evidence. There were also at least three pairs of Black-necked Cranes visible at some distance in the grasslands. Before the lake, we pulled off the main road and had a picnic lunch near a small disused quarry. The grassland here was alive with Plateau Pikas. There were also many White-rumped Snowfinches which use the pikas’ burrows to lay their eggs in; young birds were much in evidence. A few Rufous-necked Snowfinches were also in the area. Two Sakers flew overhead from the quarry and we discovered a nest containing two chicks in a crevice in the rock face.
After lunch, we went to Flower Lake and walked along the boardwalk that has been constructed through the marshes. The lake is extensive and many birds were merely distant mirages in the afternoon heat haze. Greylag Geese and Ruddy Shelducks were common and there were four other species of ducks, including Ferruginous Duck and Red-crested Pochard. Two Brown-cheeked Rails called invisibly from the vegetation. Common Terns of the race tibetana were nesting. A few Brown-headed Gulls flew over the boardwalk and through a telescope we picked out a 2nd-calendar year Pallas’s Gull near to two Eurasian Spoonbills. Two Black-necked Cranes were also present. There were also at least four large Tibetan Larks near the start of the boardwalk.
On the drive back to Ruoergai, we saw a couple more Sakers perched on wires, as well as a Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) out on the meadows.
On 4th June, we were back at Baxi Forest at dawn, but we drove much further than on 2nd. Our target higher up on the mountain side was Blue-eared Pheasant. In Sichuan this large colourful species is only found in the northern mountains and would not be present at any of the sites we would be visiting during the rest of the tour. After a long and bumpy drive, we stopped at a suitable site. Summer immediately saw a pheasant above us on the mountain side but it quickly disappeared into bushes. She set up her scope and focused on the spot but the bird remained invisible in the vegetation. After a while, I looked down the slope below us and saw a Blue-eared Pheasant briefly appear between bushes before it too disappeared. We walked along the road and Summer picked out the same bird with another making their way uphill between a row of trees. We had good views before they were lost to sight.
We drove back and had a brief walk into the forest where we had seen Przevalski’s Nuthatch on 2nd June. Here Summer saw a Chinese Grouse slink away from a thick clump of bushes but it eluded me. We also saw two Blood Pheasants and a Himalayan Bluetail, as well as hearing (and seeing) two Bianchi’s Warblers on territory, as well as having excellent views of a Tufted Deer. Back at the Baxi/Ruoergai road junction, three Cinereous Vultures flew overhead.
We had a quick lunch back in Ruoergai before heading south towards Maerkang, 320 kilometres away, which was to be our base for two nights while we explored Mengbishan (4,000 metres asl). The six-hour journey became an eight-hour journey when we were stopped at Hong Yuan at 4.00 pm. The road was being resurfaced and would not open until 6.00 pm. So we sat in a queue of cars and lorries for two hours as a thunderstorm raged over the nearby hills and meadows. We didn’t arrive at Maerkang until gone 9.30 pm where we were so tired we went to bed without dinner.
In the mountains, there you feel free. T.S.Eliot
Chengdu, the main city in China’s Sichuan province, lies at 499 metres asl at the western end of what is known as the Sichuan Basin. North, west and south of the city, the level plain gives way to high mountain ranges dissected by steep-sided forested valleys with fast-flowing rivers, and around Ruoergai, more gentle pastured hills at the eastern end of the Tibetan plateau. This area supports an avifauna of rich diversity, including a significant number of endemic species. Of particular note are the variety of gamebirds, parrotbills and rosefinches, along with a bewildering array of Phylloscopus warblers.
There is now a well-worn birding circuit taking in the mountains and the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. I spent the first two weeks of June traveling the circuit anti-clockwise, heading from Chengdu north to the Gongganling Pass, then heading basically south through the main sites of Ruoergai, Mengbishan, Balangshan, Labahe, Erlangshan and Longcanggou.
I went with Summer Wong Bird Tours. Originally, I was meant to join three other birders on the trip but in the event, it ended up being just Summer, Uncle Xu the driver, and myself. Summer is in her early thirties, speaks excellent English, and is very knowledgeable; she knows where to find the birds and has an enviable ability to pick up the birds by sight and, more importantly perhaps, by sound. She also proved an excellent companion in the field.
I flew out to Chengdu on the afternoon of 31 May and overnighted at the Chengdu Airport Hotel. Summer met me at the hotel at 6.30 am on the following day and we spent a couple of hours at what are known as the Lotus Ponds in the southeast of the city before driving 330 km north to overnight at Chuanzhusi (2980 metres asl), the base for exploring the Gonggangling Pass (3500 metres asl).
The ponds, as with other areas at the base of the mountains we visited later in the tour, had an avifauna that would be familiar to any Hong Kong birder. Water birds included Yellow and Cinnamon Bitterns and nine Chinese Spot-billed Ducks, and among the passerine species were at least eight Chinese Grosbeaks and several Black-throated Bushtits. Three parrotbills seemed to be hybrid Vinous x Ashy-throated. We also heard a Chinese Bamboo Partridge but failed to see it.
We left the ponds at 8.00 am and drove north out of the basin, slowly climbing along steep-sided river valleys with denuded hillsides for several hours to Chuanzhusi. After checking into our hotel we managed a little birding in the late afternoon. Summer drove a few kilometres towards Gonggangling and we stopped at a couple of hillside sights, birding the scrub below pine-covered slopes. Of note here were 80 Red-billed Choughs, as well as our first encounters with Chinese Fulvetta, Chinese White-browed and Pink-rumped Rosefinches, and Alpine and Hume’s Leaf Warblers.
The next day we drove to the Gongglang pass, arriving just after dawn. The pastures here were rimed with frost; the puddles on the marshy grass were layered with ice. Our target species here was Pere David’s Owl; indeed, the rationale for doing the tour in an anti-clockwise direction was to try to find the owl before it became elusive in the post-breeding season. Unfortunately, it seemed to be already too late; the owl proved elusive both in the pine forest here and also in Baxi Forest near Ruoergai which was our next destination. However, there were compensations. We walked down a clearing in the forest and as the rising sun warmed the pines and the adjacent grassy hillside, birds became very active. Two Blood Pheasants ran quickly across the clearing at the bottom of the slope. Warblers consisted of Buff-barred, Alpine, Sichuan Leaf and Greenish, and we also had decent views of a singing Spotted Bush Warbler. A male Collared Grosbeak fed within a couple of metres of us. We also had two Sichuan Tits, three Himalayan Bluetails, two Slaty-backed Flycatchers and the only Maroon-backed Accentor of the trip. Later we walked up and down a hilly meadow at the edge of the forest. Birds of prey overhead included a Crested Honey Buzzard and two Himalayan Vultures. The scrub yielded up Kessler’s and Chestnut Thrushes, Elliot’s Laughingthrush, White-bellied and Blue-fronted Redstarts, Siberian Rubythroat and White-browed Tit Warbler. All in all, a good introduction to the Alpine avifauna of the province.
At 10.40 a.m., we began the drive to Ruoergai on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau.
My wife and I went to Guilin in northeast Guangxi from 22 to 26 April to do what tourists to Guilin usually do. We visited a couple of parks in the centre of the city, and also did the boat trip down the Li River to Yangshuo. Birdwatching was largely on a casual basis. We stayed at the attractive Guilin Zizhou Panorama Resort on a small island in the Li River close to the city centre and the local tourist sites. The island is called Zizhou Park, which is very green with bamboo groves and woodland including some old camphor trees and a number of ponds. The park is very popular with local tour groups and gets very busy after 8.00 a.m. On three of the mornings, I managed to fit in a couple of hours birding before breakfast and before the tour groups arrived.
For a city park, the area is pleasantly surprising; bird-wise, I saw more than I had expected to see. In part, this is because there is little information available about what birds you can expect to encounter in Guilin, especially when compared to the well-documented avifauna of a number of wildlife reserves elsewhere in the province. For instance, Hill Blue Flycatcher was common in Zizhou Park, but I had no idea that was the case – in fact, the species seems to have spread northeastwards through Guangxi over the past few years, but I have not come across any published information of its occurence in Guilin.
Also of interest was the number of migrants passing through the park in the short period of time I was there. Apart from the species listed below, I had flyovers of a minivet on 23rd, and a finch and a grosbeak on 26th – all too-brief views for me to name them with any certainty.
22 April: afternoon flight Hong Kong to Guilin
23 April: Zizhou Park; Fu Bo area ( a small park beside the Li River close to the centre of the city; it is based around an isolated limestone peak that has a small cave at its base)
24 April: Li River boat trip, Guilin to Yangshuo
25 April: Zizhou Park; Seven Star Park (another park with a few limestone peaks. The highlight is a cave system known as Seven Star Cave with numerous illuminated strangely-shaped stalagmite and stalactites). The park is a few minutes’ walk from Zizhou Park.
26 April: Zizhou Park; afternoon flight (delayed by two hours!) Guilin to Hong Kong.
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Ones and twos at Zizhou Park.
Chinese Pond Heron: Ardeola bacchus
Fairly common in the city along Li River and over Zizhou Park; 15 along Li River opposite Fu Bo on 23rd and 17 together over Zizhou Park on 26th.
Great Egret Ardea alba
One flew northeast over Zizhou Park with Intermediate Egrets on 26th.
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia
A flock of 20 flew northeast over Zizhou Park on 26th.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta:
A total of eleven along Li River between Guilin and Xing Ping Town, and three at Yangshuo on 24th.
Mountain Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus nipalensis
Two together over hills at Mo Pan Shan wharf (the starting point for the Guilin – Yangshuo boat trip) on 24th.
Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis
A total of five (3,1,1) over Seven Star Park on 25th.
Black Kite Milvus migrans lineatus
Two along Li River between Guilin and Xing Ping Town on 24th.
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis
Four in Zizhou Park on 26th.
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis
One in Seven Star Park on 25th; four in Zizhou Park on 26th.
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
One or two regularly singing in Zizhou Park.
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus:
One or two regularly singing in Zizhou Park. Two singing between Guilin and Xing Ping Town on 24th,
Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus
One singing in Zizhou Park on 23rd & 25th. One singing in Seven Star Park on 25th.
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus
Up to 50 regularly seen over Zizhou Park. 25+ at Fu Bo on 23rd. Several between Guilin and Xing Ping Town on 24th. 15 flying low and calling at the entrance to Seven Star Cave on 25th.
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Up to two regularly seen in Zizhou Park.
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Singles in Zizhou Park on 23rd & 25th.
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis
One in Zizhou Park on 26th.
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus
One over Zizhou Park on 23rd, and seven flyovers in total on 26th.
Oriental Magpie Pica serica
One on roadside wires between Yangshuo and Guilin on 24th.
Collared Crow Corus torquatus
A total of 29 along the Li River between Guilin and Xing Ping Town on 24th, plus one more at Yangshuo.
Japanese Tit Parus minor
Ones and twos regularly seen in Zizhou Park.
Chinese Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Common in Zizhou Park. All were of the race hainanus except for one of the nominate race on 26th.
Mountain Bulbul Ixos mcclellandii
One in Zizhou Park on 26th.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Singles at Zizhou Park and Fu Bo on 23rd, several at Seven Star Park on 25th, and three at Zizhou Park on 26th.
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Three over Seven Star Park on 25th, and one flew northeast over Zizhou Park on 26th.
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes
At least five singing in hillside vegetation along the Li River between Guilin and Xing Ping Town on 24th.
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus:
Small parties in Zizhou Park, including one of at least 12 birds on 25th that contained several juveniles.
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus
Commonly calling in Zizhou Park, especially on 23rd when at least 20 noted.
Dusky Warbler Phyloscopus fuscatus
Singles at Zizhou Park and Fu Bo on 23rd, six at Zizhou Park on 25th including one singing.
Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris
One or two regularly singing at Zizhou Park.
Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius
Regular in ones and twos in Zizhou Park.
Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyris ruficeps
One heard singing in Zizhou Park on 25th.
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus
One or two regularly singing in Zizhou Park.
Masked Laughingthrush Garrulax perspicillatus
At least two heard from the boat near Xing Ping Town on 24th
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicas
Common in the Guilin city parks.
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus
One in flight over Zizhou Park on 25th.
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus
Several birds regularly noted in Zizhou Park, including one on a nest in the fork of a tree ten metres above the ground on 25th
Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saulari
Regular in ones and twos in Zizhou Park.
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris
One in Zizhou Park on 25th.
Hill Blue Flycatcher Cyornis banyumas
Up to five males on territory in Zizhou Park, with a pair together on 25th.
Audiofile of Hill Blue Flycatcher singing below:
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina
A male in Zizhou Park on 23rd.
Stejneger’s Stonechat Saxicola Stejnegeri
Singles at Zizhou Park on 23rd & 26th, Fu Bo on 23rd and Yangshuo on 24th
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
A few in Yangshuo on 24th.
Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus
Up to three in Zizhou Park 23rd to 26th.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis
Small numbers in Guilin city parks.
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi:
One in Zizhou Park on 26th.