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Old Saturday 24th April 2004, 07:33   #1
alibenn
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Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: China
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Yunnan - text only version!!

Hi folks,

As the attached file is over 600Kb, here is the text only, you just miss the pics!!

hope you enjoy, Alister

TRAINS, PLANES AND SUICIDAL BUS DRIVERS

A SHORT BIRDING TRIP TO YUNNAN – By Alister Benn and Sun Juan Li
5th-15th April 2004


Sun Juan Li – Victoria Peak, Hong Kong (Alister Benn)

Following on from our trip to Hubei Province in March 2004, we had another window of opportunity and decided to explore Kunming and Lijiang in Yunnan Province. Rather than winging it, inspiration was drawn from the brief entry in Where to Watch Birds in Asia (Nigel Wheatley), and from the excellent and mouth-watering reports by China’s resident Dane, Jesper Hornskov.

Considering the popularity of Yunnan with foreign tourists, and the fact that half of China’s mind-boggling 1300 species can be found in this southern province, the amount of information available on the net in the form of trip reports is scant to say the least. Many tour operators head for Sichuan and Tibet and reports of wonderful birds in breath-taking scenery make for some excellent reading, but once again, we found ourselves heading into unknown turf armed only with a field guide (MacKinnon and Phillips), my trusted Swarovski 8.5EL’s and my Canon camera’s; EOS10D and a new addition, an EOS1N.

Having spent quite a bit of time in China, I wasn’t expecting too many ticks, but was more interested in capturing on film species not found in the NE provinces, and laying some ground-work for future and longer photographic expeditions to Yunnan.

This is a brief report and not intended to be a formal representation of the trip, but more as an insight as to what can be expected when one heads for the region.

Itinerary:

5th April: Singapore Airlines – Penang/Singapore – Singapore/Hong Kong
6th April: Admin morning getting new visa for China, pm birding Victoria Peak.
7th April: Ferry from Kowloon to Shenzhen (China), China Southern Airlines to Kunming.
8th April: Wet morning birding Da Guang Park in Kunming, afternoon flight to Lijiang.
9th April: Morning walk up Lion Hill in town, afternoon birding Black Dragon Pool Park.
10th April: Early morning birding fields north of town and again BDP Park
11th April: A sightseeing day to Shiguo, the first bend of the Yangtze River.
12th April: Relaxed morning, afternoon birding the Park.
13th April: Misty morning birding the Pine Forests at 3500m on the slopes of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, afternoon flight back to Kunming.
14th April: Morning birding Da Guang Park, afternoon up to Western Hills.
15th April: Morning Silk Air to Singapore, overnight in transit Hotel.
16th April: Early Singapore Airlines flight back up to Penang, home by lunchtime.


Male Daurian Redstart – Lijiang (Alister Benn)


THE FACTS…

Travelling in China can be daunting, and without my wonderful Mandarin-speaking wife and her ability to get anywhere she wants, at a price foreigners just can’t get, I for sure wouldn’t get to see so many great places. Simple things like getting air ticket dates changed, eating in small family restaurants with all Chinese menus or sometimes no menu at all, organising a driver, staying at non-tourist hotels, and on and on. China numbs all the senses at once, crowded, smelly in a good way, stinky in a bad way, beautiful and brutal; forget your personal space for the duration of your stay and when you get back home, sit in perfect peace with a cool drink to wash your brain for a couple of hours!!

Having said that, despite the actual hardship of these trips, the country just calls me back for more, even when, with relief, I’m boarding the flight out, I sit back in the seat and look out the window as we climb high over the dazzling patchwork of chaotic agriculture; I’m actually planning my next trip!! It does that to you.


Dawn over Lijiang (Alister Benn)


THE SITES AND THE BIRDS – the good bit.

I’ve said it before and I’m proud of it, I love birding in China; so many families familiar to the Western Palaearctic birder, yet sprinkled with exotic and illusive beauties.

Victoria Peak – Hong Kong Island.

There are networks of roads and paths that transect the hill overlooking the vertical city of Hong Kong, and on a good day the views of the city and Bay can be spectacular. Habitat is mixed woodland with some scrubby hillsides, and any of the roads can be productive. This time was quiet and coincided with a school holiday, so we actually did pretty badly. On previous trips without the added burden of half a ton of camera gear and no porters, we had done better. On this occasion a couple of Black-throated Laughingthrushes, a Blue Whistling Thrush and the ubiquitous Black-eared Kites, were our only rewards.

Da Guang Park – Kunming

Kunming, on the north side of a large lake, sits at 1600m on a broad flood plane, spotted with low hills, is not untypical in appearance for a Chinese city, (let’s face it, the all look the same!!).

Wheatley suggests “birding can be good in the vicinity of the Golden Peacock Hotel at the northeast corner of Dian Chi Lake”. The Hotel has gone, but there is an ornamental park in the general area, so we headed for there. We evening we arrived in Kunming it tipped it down with rain, and the next morning was also wet so I decided to leave my big lens in the hotel – doh!!

Soon after arriving in the unusually quiet park, flocks of Phylloscopus Warblers were found in tall bamboo and in the willows surrounding the small ponds. It soon became apparent there had been a fall overnight, and the park was alive with birds. Yet again, China had thrown us one of these, “let’s go to this crappy park and we’ll find shed-loads of great birds” days.

Lemon-rumped, Yellow-browed, Eastern-crowned, White-tailed Leaf and Golden Spectacled Warblers, Olive-backed Pipits fed busily in the grass, a very tame Hoopoe wandered on the path before being scared off by a shouting, clapping pink anorak-wearing woman, Red-throated and Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers and a bunch of Black-headed Gulls and Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

A great little park, of course when we re-visited a week or so later, with the camera gear and in glorious sunshine, there were far fewer birds, but a very tame and approachable Gould’s Sunbird.
. Mrs Gould’s Sunbird (Alister Benn)

Western Hills – Kunming

This area has received considerable interest in the past, not only from Jesper, but visiting Hong Kong birders, and I have seen a few reports on the net. One such report mentioned a path that leads downhill about 400m below the Dragon Gate. We spent about 4 hours winding down through the tall trees, but on our last afternoon heavy showers made for less than perfect birding conditions, and the camera had to stay in the bag.

Our brief walk did produce some great birds though; White-collared Yuhina, Red-billed Lieothrix, Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush, Sport-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Great-spotted Woodpecker, lower down in some monastery gardens, a small flock of Olive-backed Pipits. The stars though were in thick bamboo, well away from the road, a female White-tailed Robin showed well, and then a Wren like call attracted me to a female Golden Bush-Robin, a real surprise and our last bird of the trip.

Clearly, a longer stay in Kunming would allow for a more thorough exploration of this area, as it is excellent, and once a way from the hoards of tourists can be pretty peaceful.

Black Dragon Pool Park – Lijiang

Lijiang is at latitude 26N, the same line that passed through Baja California, Miami, the Sahara Desert, Persian Gulf, India and northern Bangladesh and Myanmar. The town is at 2400m on a broad plain shadowed by the snow-covered slopes of the 5500m Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (yulong xueshan). There is a different feel about the town, and for the first time in ages I felt I was seeing a different side of China. As you drive into town, there is a similarity to it, but the old town is what the masses come to see, and there were thousands of mainly Chinese tourists, but also many foreigners wandering the narrow, cobbled streets as we headed for our hotel.

The actual park is famous for the view one gets on clear days, of the mountain reflected in the dark waters of the Dragon Pool, and to line up for their photo’s taken with some poor monkey dressed up in a little Chinese suit with Peacock feathers sewn into it’s cap, I was fuming, they can be such thoughtless bast**ds.


“Entertainment” (Alister Benn)

Anyway, back to birds; again, Chinese Parks can be very productive, as in many cases they are an oasis amid the building sites. Plumbeous Water-redstarts were busy feeding young and very tame, an Ashy Woodswallow overhead, Green-backed and Black-throated Tits, Verditer Flycatcher and Rufous-winged Fulvetta. In the nearby field Black-faced, Meadow and Little Buntings, Russet Sparrow, Water Pipit, and in a ditch, a skulking Ruddy-breasted Crake. The whole area around the town, Park and hillside of Elephant Hill are worthy of prolonged exploration, as is the hill that rises out of the old town itself.

Russet Sparrow (Alister Benn)

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain – Lijiang

As I had received a call dragging me back to Penang a week early, we only had one morning birding and it was misty, but wonderful birds were found during to short walks up the wooded hillsides at around 3500m. Tall Pines with good areas of open deciduous produced many Tit’s, Yunnan Nuthatch and a Nutcracker, as well as singing Tickell’s Leaf Warbler. We were sorry to have to cut short our birding to head for the airport, but vowed next time to spend much longer in the mountains rather than the parks.

General logistics

We (ie my wife), arranged all flights, hotel reservations, and transport. We hired a driver for 1 whole day and 1 half day (200RMB for the whole day), and he was great, stopping when we asked and driving relatively safely. Chinese drivers are in general, awful, overtaking round blind corners, horn blasting, roundabouts get negotiated in both directions depending on which way the exit is closest!!

Buses are worse, overcrowded; smoking, spitting, noisy and the drivers are the guys who are too bad to be taxi drivers….

I can speak enough Mandarin to get by, without my wife or being with a tour/translator I am not sure if logistically the more isolated areas of Yunnan would be easy going for the visiting birder, it would certainly be heavy going.

Having said that, it is wonderful and we’ll be back in September for the fall colours and more excellent Siberian migrants. Oh yes, and a few more bus journeys!!


Yunnan Bus (Alister Benn)

For more detailed information, please contact me on [email protected]

Alister Benn
Penang, Malaysia
24th April 2004.

TRIP LIST

1. Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
2. Eurasian Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
3. Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
4. Ruddy-breasted Crake (Porzana fusca)
5. Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
6. Common Sandpiper (Actitis (hypoleucos) Hypoleucos)
7. Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)
8. Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
9. Pacific Swift (Apus pacificus)
10. House Swift (Apus (affinis) nipalensis)
11. Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
12. Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
13. Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
14. Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula)
15. Eurasian Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
16. White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
17. Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
18. Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni)
19. Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta)
20. Rosy Minivet (Pericrocotus roseus)
21. Brown-breasted Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthorrhous)
22. Light-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis)
23. Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
24. Red-throated Thrush (Turdus ruficollis)
25. Dusky Thrush (Turdus naumanni)
26. Chinese Thrush (Turdus mupinensis)
27. Golden-headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)
28. Rufescent Prinia (Prinia rufescens)
29. Grey-breasted Prinia (Prinia hodgsonii)
30. Tickell's Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus affinis)
31. Buff-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus (affinis) subaffinis)
32. Yellow-streaked Warbler (Phylloscopus armandii)
33. Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis)
34. Pale-rumped Warbler (Phylloscopus chloronotus)
35. Lemon-rumped Warbler [proregulus] (Phylloscopus proregulus)
36. Brook's Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus subviridis)
37. Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus)
38. Hume's Warbler (Phylloscopus (inornatus) humei)
39. Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis)
40. Eastern Crowned-warbler (Phylloscopus coronatus)
41. Blyth's Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus reguloides)
42. White-tailed Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus davisoni)
43. Sulphur-breasted Warbler (Phylloscopus ricketti)
44. Golden-spectacled Warbler (Seicercus burkii)
45. Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica)
46. Red-throated Flycatcher (Ficedula parva albicilla)
47. Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassina)
48. Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)
49. Golden Bush-robin (Tarsiger chrysaeus)
50. Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis)
51. Hodgson's Redstart (Phoenicurus hodgsoni)
52. Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus)
53. Blue-fronted Redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis)
54. Plumbeous Water-redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosus)
55. White-tailed Robin (Cinclidium leucurum)
56. Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola torquata maura)
57. Grey Bushchat (Saxicola ferrea)
58. Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush (Garrulax pectoralis)
59. Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler (Pomatorhinus erythrocnemis)
60. Rufous-capped Babbler (Stachyris ruficeps)
61. Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea)
62. Chestnut-tailed Minla (Minla strigula)
63. Golden-breasted Fulvetta (Alcippe chrysotis)
64. Rufous-winged Fulvetta (Alcippe castaneceps)
65. Spectacled Fulvetta (Alcippe ruficapilla)
66. Streak-throated Fulvetta (Alcippe cinereiceps)
67. White-collared Yuhina (Yuhina diademata)
68. Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus)
69. Black-browed Tit (Aegithalos iouschistos bonvaloti)
70. Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris brevirostris)
71. Rufous-vented Tit (Periparus rubidiventris)
72. Grey-crested Tit (Lophophanes dichrous)
73. Cinereous Tit (Parus major cinereus)
74. Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus)
75. Yellow-browed Tit (Sylviparus modestus)
76. Chestnut-vented Nuthatch (Sitta (europaea) nagaensis)
77. Yunnan Nuthatch (Sitta yunnanensis)
78. Gould's Sunbird (Aethopyga gouldiae)
79. Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus)
80. Burmese Shrike (Lanius collurioides)
81. Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)
82. Grey-backed Shrike (Lanius tephronotus)
83. Crow-billed Drongo (Dicrurus annectans)
84. Ashy Woodswallow (Artamus fuscus)
85. Blue Magpie (Urocissa erythrorhyncha)
86. Eurasian Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)
87. Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)
88. Russet Sparrow (Passer rutilans)
89. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
90. Nutmeg Mannikin (Lonchura punctulata)
91. Black-headed Greenfinch (Carduelis ambigua)
92. Godlewski's Bunting (Emberiza (cia) godlewskii)
93. Meadow Bunting (Emberiza cioides)
94. Chestnut-eared Bunting (Emberiza fucata)
95. Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla)
96. Yellow-throated Bunting (Emberiza elegans)
97. Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala)
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