Thursday, 16 May 2013

CHINA - Day 9 - Balang & Wolong

The day started early after staying in some very 'rustic' accommodation at 3,800m which basically meant is was absolutely freezing cold! We had heated blankets and still needed all our clothes laid out our beds for extra layers. The host also gave us a rather snazzy flask of hot water to keep us warm in the night!!!

Nat making the most of our spare clothes!

Snazzy Flask - with the customary Pandas!
With the taste of rice whiskey still lingering despite three lots of brushing the teeth we headed once again into the higher mountains. Aim of the day was to get to the Chinese Monal site for first light so we left shortly before 4.30am. As we were nearing the site in half light I saw a bird on the side of the road and shouted at Zeng to stop...he did so in expert fashion and none of us could believe our eyes as a stonking and I mean stonking male Temminck's Tragopan proceeded to walk down the verge walk across the road pausing to look at us and then continue down the mountain face! An absolutely mind-blowing experience which probably lasted less than 30 seconds but WOW what a bird they are. Sadly in my panic I didn't even think to pick up the camera which I had on my lap!

Finally we got to the Monal site and as soon as we got out the car we could hear a male calling. It was a wonderful call which rolled around the valley and seemed to last forever. After about fifteen minutes we could not locate the bird but Zeng had found 9 White-eared Pheasant up on the higher slopes of the valley. I then decided to have a wander and as I turned round to walk away from Zeng and my brother a Monal flew right over my head from behind me and landed up on the valley. I had good scope views for about 5 mins before it slunk into the undergrowth and was not seen again. It was heard calling to the other bird which was higher up the slope. Also from this viewpoint we had nice scope views of a pair of Tibetan Snowcock as they displayed on the craggy rocks on top of the mountain.

Grey-crested Tit
On the surrounding scrub we found lots of birds making the most of the early morning sunshine. There was a couple of inches of overnight snow which I assume meant that the birds needed to feed as soon as it was light. Whatever the reasoning it made the birding a lot easier. We saw some fantastic species such as Grey-crested Tit, Chestnut Thrush, White-browed Rosefinch, Giant Laughingthrush, Songar Tit, Rufous-vented Tit to name but a few.

White-browed Rosefinch

Chestnut Thrush
There was also a good showing of raptors in the early morning sunshine with 4 Lammegeiers, 1 Himalayan Griffon Vulture and an eagle sp. which was probably Golden but the views were too brief. We carried on along one of the very hazardous tracks and added Snow Pigeon to the list which was a really pretty bird and I was pleased to see it. I also world ticked my most ridiculous bird...Red-billed Chough!

Red-billed Chough
From the higher slopes we headed downwards to give Wolong a few hours before we had to make the journey back towards Chengdu for our final day at Qingcheng. Wolong is at about 2,800m so it makes walking and birding a lot easier than at 4000+m. There is also a very different feel to the habitat with many more tree's and bushes surviving at the lower altitude.

At Wolong we chose to head along the path of the reserve that ran east to west rather than doing the circular route as this took you down into the valley which would have meant an awkward climb back up. Soon enough we found a number of birds with lots of Green-backed Tits and a probable Red-flanked Bluetail but it vanished before we could get our bins on it.
Little Bunting
A showy Little Bunting was feeding down near the river feeding at all times which suggested it may well have been a migrant which was confirmed by our guide Zeng. We wandered around for a bit looking for Red Panda but we failed to find any. I did however find a White-winged Grosbeak which was another new bird for me.
White-winged Grosbeak
Finally we headed to a small copse behind some houses which Zeng knew held Golden Pheasant. Here we also added a few stunning birds including an endemic in the form of 6 Slaty Bunting. We also saw a pair of Short-billed Minivet, a single male Daurian Redstart and two Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher. And Zeng managed to bag us a Golden Pheasant too!
Short-billed Minivet - Female

Short-billed Minivet - Male

Slaty Bunting
After this fantastic de-tour we started to head back for Chengdu and the Qingcheng Mountains. Not once whilst in the area could you forget the absolute devastation that was caused by the huge  earthquake that hit this area in 2008. There were constant reminders as we passed the epicentre and it was astonishing how far the devastation spread. Below are just a couple of the many photo's which really made the enormity of the quake hit home.

After a bumpy 3-hour ride we eventually arrived at Qingcheng and settled down for dinner. We also arranged to meet Sid, Meggy and Saker here and go out for a bit of owling after dinner. Whilst eating we could heard Collared Owlet the entire time!
Once out of the lit area we quickly heard a Grey Nightjar which called and flew around above us but at all times remained very very difficult to catch in the torchlight. We heard several more Collared Owlet and another Grey Nightjar but best of all was the Himalayan Owl that I heard and then we got responding to tape. A fantastic end to a truly unforgettable day.

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