in the field -
a hong kong
a hong kong
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.