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Sichuan Birding

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Old Monday 15th February 2010, 13:19   #176
sichuan jiujiu
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Yeah, I also was surprised to see this bird every day. Just some bushes... and it was sure to show up. However, bushes are not so common in this dry and almost desert-like environment.
Here another pic. But, taken in the shadow, not so good quality.
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Old Monday 15th February 2010, 14:14   #177
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Here is another image of a bird that has a very small habitat range and is regarded as near-threatened species: Tibetan Eared-Pheasent.
These pheasants were very tame: They tried to steal our bread out of our hands while we had picnic! (Maybe "tame" is the wrong word. "aggressive robbers" would fit much more).

I don't think this is only because of the custom of the locals to feed these birds around monasteries. A much more important reason is the remaining of their habitat: You find them all concentrated around monasteries. These are places were trees (in this case juniper forest) traditionally have not been logged (at least partly) and where a tiny spot of natural environment still remains (see image of the hill side). Of course these birds do rely on people's respect and food...
Unfortunately, at this monastery you find about a few hundered goats 'being released' (a Buddhist custom) and living in freedom - freedom to eat the few remaining bushes and seedlings!!! The whole slope is about to change into a clay/sand desert. A pity for the pheasants!!!
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Old Tuesday 16th February 2010, 14:35   #178
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Tame birds like those Tibetan Eared-pheasants are fantastic - but can create special problems. In my youth I spent 2 and a half years on the Falkland Islands - as a shepherd - and sometimes I got to ride on the inter-island aircraft that put down on some of the remoter islands. On some of these Islands they still had a small brown thrush like bird called Tussock Bird - that was so fantastically tame, that on most of the Falklands it was wiped out by cats and pretty much anything else it decided to eyeball at zero range. But at their last, cat free outposts of survival they still displayed incredible acts of tameness - in fact so tame and inquisitive that it wasn't unknown for them to board the aircraft with the other passengers!!!! Before take off we had to do a Tussock Bird Check to make sure we weren't carry any of these rare birds off towards the larger islands and feline danger!!!!! Lets hope the Tibetans keep up their friendly traditions towards the pheasants - and won't be tempted into catching a few of these chickens for the weekend roast!!!!!

On the Topic of abnormal birds - here's a pic of the Brandt's Mountain Finch with a crest we found at Moxi - that bird must have flown too close to some nuclear reactor!!!!!!! Better put up a beauty against that beast - Grey-headed Bullfinch on the snowy east side of the old Erlang Road.
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Old Wednesday 17th February 2010, 00:24   #179
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Jiujiu - I'm really sad that I wasn't watching birds and didn't know about the Tibetan Eared Pheasant when we visited there - certainly an interesting bird! It's funny how we tend to take bushes for granted, but they struggle in some places. There's not a lot of flora for the birds up on the world's rooftop.

China Guy - was this the crested BMF you mentioned before, or have you seen several? The bullfinch does deserve the "beauty" title!

Very funny having to do a "Tussock Bird Check" before take-off. Too bad that we can't enjoy those kinds of friendly birds much anymore (still some like that in New Zealand?)
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Old Wednesday 17th February 2010, 02:12   #180
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That is the "crested" Brandt's I talked about before - inspired by this bizarre bird, some joker send me the flying-dino pic (no names mentioned Mr. Firtree) - but I'm resiting the temptation of adding pterodactyl to my Sichuan tick list!!!!!!

As for any possible evolutionary success with regard to Crested Brandt's becoming a new species - well, assuming these birds are male, I've made made a couple of portraits of our crested friend against a normal 'hunk' Brandt's - now it's up to ladies to choose the most handsome and desirable of the two - and we'll see if there are any Crested genes passed down to future generations!!!!!

On the subject of Dinos and the prehistoric world up at 4000m - well the last pic is of a fossil rock just a couple of kilometers further up the road from where we took the Brandt's pictures - a sight that proves that the now top of the world was once at the bottom of some ocean. Apparently the Himalayas rise by 5mm every year - so the mountains around Minya Konka must also be on the move!!!
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Old Wednesday 17th February 2010, 03:25   #181
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That's what I thought too. This mountain finch must have stolen some genes from Pterodactyl or at least from Hoopoe!
Was this only one single bird or more birds? Could it be possible that it is a kind of tumor?

Regarding Tibetan Eared-Pheasant: Yesterday I read some research on that bird and its environment. It really seems to live around monasteries preferably, due to some adequate vegetation surviving hundreds of years of human interference. These places are frequently visited by locals and thus the birds became used to visitors.

Here two images of two other birds which are quite tame and do not fear the presence of humans at least in the vicinity of monasteries:
Raven and White-winged Redstart
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Old Thursday 18th February 2010, 00:46   #182
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A fine photo of a Guldenstat's Redstart (I prefer the old commemorative names) its a trly magnificent redstart! No-one could ever confuse that moster of a Raven with a Large-billed Crow!

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Old Thursday 18th February 2010, 03:55   #183
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Here's a blurry flight pic showing why Guldenstat's also has it's White-winged title - the amount of white isn't always apparent when the Redstart is on the ground.
These birds really are a high altitude species - and we've only seem them in the winter when they come down to lower altitudes. Our picture is taken in Sichuan - on the plateau just beyond Kangding.
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Old Thursday 18th February 2010, 14:47   #184
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Great to see this facet of this species in all its glory. White-winged it certainly is!

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Old Friday 19th February 2010, 08:16   #185
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I have only seen the male Guldenstat's Redstart in high altitude above 4000m and that was winter/autumn. I wonder how high they stay in summer. Once a saw a female near Hongyuan/Ngawa(Aba) prefecture at about 3800m.
Anyway, the best place for this bird seems to be up there in Qinghai (according to other birding reports).
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Old Friday 19th February 2010, 16:50   #186
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All my sightings have been high - always a terrific bird!:

Behind Heimahe, Qinghai Lake - August 1990 and 1999
Erla Pass, SE Qinghai May 2001
Tiger's Mouth Pass Tian Shan Xinjiang (between Bayanbuluke NNR and Luntai on N edge of Taklamakan Desert) June 2001

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Old Thursday 25th February 2010, 23:29   #187
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We're out gain - this time we've been birding up through Wolong/Balang and are now near the top of the Mengbi Mountain pass - staying in a Tibetan village - - trying to get Sichuan Jay and some of the other goodies up here.
However the most important discoveries for us are that the roads are good - and that it looks like travel won't bee too complicated this spring/summer (touch wood).
But best sign off here - the internet connection connection is very dodgy - and Meggie is chaffing at the bit to get outside!!!!
The pic Is of Blood Pheasant - yesterday morning at the lowest point of Balang - we saw a couple of Monal two days ago - but pheasant watching is made difficult because thay wont let any cars out of Wolong before 8am due to winter road conditions on the pass
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Old Friday 26th February 2010, 23:18   #188
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No pic of the Blood Pheasant - but v envious of the Monals!

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Old Saturday 27th February 2010, 23:09   #189
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here's that pic of Blood Pheasant - internet hasn't been too easy - but now we're in a chilly Hongyuan on the Rou Er gai Grassland and I can pick up a stronger connection.
Those Monal were all too brief - we're hoping for far better sightings latter on in the year.
The other pics include a pretty photo of the Balang pass at the very top, looking over the Rilong side - Snow Partridges were calling up here and responding to play back - but none would show (they sometimes call from the very top of the high ridge - when you can scope them). Snow Pigeons - that were putting on neat displays of formation flying and a bird from yesterday at Rou er Gai - Chinese Grey Shrike
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Old Sunday 28th February 2010, 06:30   #190
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Ooh, nice pic of the pheasant! Some very barren looking territory there - very dramatic. Will it get some green later, or is this the year round appearance? I've not seen either of the other two birds (though should have seen the shrike I suppose) - thanks for the pics.

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Old Sunday 28th February 2010, 13:57   #191
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Hi Gretchen - that photo is taken at around 4400m - its pretty bleak and windswept up there - and during the winter, natural elements and a bit unnatural over grazing by Yak combined with the dry nature of the Sichuan Winter - makes for a brown withered landscape, where vegetation is on survival mode as it waits for warmth and rain to once again start growing - and in the wetter summer the scene gets much greener. Above this level the environment turns into a high altitude desert of rock and scree - only the super tough can survive up there - like the Snow Partridge.
where we were today - Rou Er Gai - is also bleak birding terrain. Vast expanses of windswept grassland where over grazing also leaves the land with the brown bald look. It's also high here - averaging around 3500m - but the wetlands are starting to thaw out - and patches of open water are emerging from the ice of the recent cold spell.
But again we have our super tough birds and animals who seem to thrive in such habitats - and we got a lot of interesting birds today - White-tailed Sea Eagles, Cinereous Vulture, Upland Buzzards, Guldenstat's Redstart, Pallas's Gull, Rock Sparrow, Little Owl and White-rumped Snowfinch were among the highlights.
Today's pics are of some of the other good birds - Black Stork, we saw 4 of them, Eagle Owl, hiding in a round crevice on a rocky slope, Hume's Groundpecker which lived up to its name as it excavated around on a sandy slope in search of a meal,Tibetan Lark, a great bird of this area and finally a pictorial example of Rou Er Gai bleak in the form of a rather weather beaten birder who, at this stage of the day, is thinking more about the warm flask of tea that's waiting in the van rather than any of his feathered friends!!!!!
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Old Monday 1st March 2010, 00:20   #192
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Very nice "picture" of the territory. (I feel like we're in survival mode with winter hanging on tenaciously too.) It's amazing that there are so many hardy birds living up there now. I guess what is really hard to imagine too is how you get to see them - doesn't look to be much cover for you, and I would think they'd be gone before you'd get good looks, to say nothing of pics. Very nice sightings!

The pic of the owl is great, and the groundpecker is completely new to me, just read a bit about it - interesting little bird (which we won't be seeing on this end of the country I see). Interesting all those storks there, are they just stopping now that the water is melting or have they been wintering there? (I can't seem to grasp that birds are actually noting changing weather and moving, though people are reporting it )
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Old Monday 1st March 2010, 13:49   #193
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Birds are indeed moving - one sad sight we got yesterday was a lonely Barn Swallow trying to take a drink - Swallow style on the wing - from the icy surface of the lake. In the milder Chengdu climate the Barn Swallows started passing over a couple of weeks back - so spring is making its way north.
As for those Black Stork - I'm not quiet sure if they're permanent winter visitors at Roe Er Gai - their big wintering grounds include the wetlands of NW Yunnan which can still be a frosty nighttime location - so they're certainly tough enough to stand a fair amount of cold.
As for the Tibetan Lark and Groundpecker - you can get pretty close to these birds - no need for hides or super long lenses to get their pics. And the Eagle Owl - well they're one of the many birds of prey that have a feast bonanza at the expense of the myriad of Pika Rabbits that inhabit the grassland. If it wasn't for the preditors I'm sure those Pika would burrow the grasslands to a total dust-bowl!!!!!!
Today we've moved a few kilometers off the grassland into forest habitat around Baxi - again lots of good birds and few nice pics.
We got the two special Laughingthrushes of this area Pere David's (Plain) and Sukatschev's (Snowy-cheeked) - best use those commemorative names or that Mike guy from HK will be after me!!!! We saw both of them around Tibetan Villages - these are garden birds up there.
But today we spent most of time crawling - sometimes really on hands and knees - after gamebirds.
We literally had a fight over how we were going to get onto that Sewerzow's Grouse - I think Meggie's pic shows who had the best plan. We actually saw many of these birds - you also have to look up into the trees - they perch. And the Blue-eared Pheasants - well that was about half an hour's work of out-flanking manouvers untill we came into close enough contact for a decent pic. There were six birds in the flock - and one sometimes two birds were posted on watch as the others fed. They certainly seemed well organised in the look out game - so chasing a good pic was a little tricky.
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Old Tuesday 2nd March 2010, 08:24   #194
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Congratulations on the photos. Fantastic work.

The Baxi area is really superb.
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Old Wednesday 3rd March 2010, 13:30   #195
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Yes Baxi is a great area - we went about 20km down the road from the village and then took a a turn into valley to a place called Baozuo. Here there is still a lot of good forest left in the valleys - a place where you can still pitch a tent and trek off into the great beyond. These mountains and forests form a green corridor all the way to Jiuzhaigou - and exciting wildlife like Wolves can still be found in this remote habitat.

Here are a few more pics of this site - the first is picture of a Temple village about 5km down the track from the main Baozuo village -Tibetan prayer flags all over the place. The two Laughingthrushes were hanging about in the bushes that made up the village perimeter - we saw Pere David's actually going into buildings - through holes in the walls that were built in wattle and daub.
Crows and Jackdaws were other village birds - the Daurian Jackdaw is posed on the mud walls of a former temple that was destroyed way back in the 40's in a clash between the Red Army and nationalist forces. A quintessential bird of this region is the White-throated Redstart - very common - but annoyingly difficult, because of it hyper-active nature, to photograph. We also saw Black Woodpecker - I haven't had good views of this bird since way back to a bird watching day in Poland!!!!!
And finally a pic of weirdest bird of the trip. We realise that this is a wild bird forum - but how many species of Pheasant have been mixed into that mutated horror? Tibetans don't keep Chicken's - at least we rarely if ever see them in the villages - so we were surprised to see that rooster strutting about. It obviously has some cultural rather than culinary significance - and around Wanglang (another N Sichuan birding site) the traditional female costume features a little hat (a true twin to a Buster Keaton hat) with a white rooster feather stuck into it. Those white feathers look very similar to the hat feathers - but the women around Baxi certainly don't wear them!!!!
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Old Wednesday 3rd March 2010, 15:17   #196
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Wow - some "chicken"! Lovely redstart pic and I enjoy seeing the settings as well.

Thanks for sharing all this.
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Old Wednesday 3rd March 2010, 23:57   #197
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Wonderful write-up yet again. Really captures the mood of this incredible area. Thanks.
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Old Friday 5th March 2010, 10:06   #198
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It seems to me that many of the reports at this site contain a spirit and mood that reflects the excitement of being able to share in a type of wild and plentiful nature that still, despite all the ravages of change, can hang on, here and there, in odd corners of the world. We're all birders, but sometimes the sheer enjoyment of this type of rampant nature transcends our love of the ticklist. With Sichuan I feel particularity privileged in being still able to find a wild west of China - even though I realize that inevitable and, through the accepted norms of modern living,understandable development will eventually also tame this part of the world. My travel hero is a guy called George Burrow - who wrote a wonderful travel account of walking in the soon to be industrialized and changed for ever Wales of the 1860's - called Wild Wales. Traveling in the wilder parts of Sichuan - is my way of walking a little in George's footsteps.

One of places we got to on that last trip was Mengbi Mountain - and here we were lucky to find accommodation in a Tibetan village very close to the summit. The name of the village is Mucheng - and although basic in the western sense of Hotels living here is within 15 minutes drive of a Monal location - and it also enables you to walk straight out into some wonderful habitat that includes White-eared Pheasant (the villagers had seen a flock from their houses the day before we arrived), Verreaux's Monal-Partridge (Chestnut-throated Partridge), Blood Pheasant, Sichuan Jay and of course a host of other stuff.
Our birding was pretty snowy - but not more than a few hundred meters from the village we ran into a double tick - a Northern Goshawk making a kill on a Verreaux's Monal-Partridge. This area is often birded for Sichaun Jay - and when we played Jay calls we had a huge response - but I'm afraid from Giant Laughingthrushes. Even when we heard calls coming back that were Jay like there was always a Giant Laugher in the picture - these guys are pretty good at mimicking and really cause a lot of confusion!!!!!
Pics from the area are - a snowy landscape, the top part of Mengibi is in the distance - Northern Goshawk towing away the Partridge, poor old Partridge is still partly alive here - so it still officially counts as double tick - the Partridge about 3 hours latter, it was hollowed out, RIP - the other Tit Warbler, a few posts back I gave a bad pic of White-browed from Moxi, so here's a bad pic of Crested Tit Warbler from Mengbi - and a female White-winged Grosbeak from high forest found just on the Maerkang side of the Mengbi pass.
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Old Friday 5th March 2010, 11:05   #199
Shi Jin
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Very well put. Couldn't agree more.

I hope to go back to that magical place in June.

(As much as I like Goshawks, I hope there are still a few Verreaux's around then ;-)
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Old Monday 8th March 2010, 11:43   #200
china guy
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We still have plenty of interesting photos from The Ruo Er Gai area - and can start with a pic of the vast flat grasslands that make up this environment. The landscape reminds me of my days on the Falkland Islands - barren grazing.
However on the wildlife side things are very different - certainly no native Falkland species compares with Ruo Er Gai's Pika (I suppose burrowing Jackass Penguins and Prions come closest). Our picture clearly identifies this little burrowing rodent as - Black-lipped or Plateau Pika (Ochotona curzoniae). We can find 9 species of Pika listed for Sichuan - but doubtless that list periodically splits and changes.
As I've already mentioned the Pika have a faithful band of followers - that Upland Buzzard heavily depends on Pika for its Ruo Er Gai survival. You often see these predators just standing over a Pika hole - hoping to pounce on the next 'man' out.
But its not just the hunters who benefit from these rodents, but also a hole nesting species - White-rumped Snowfinch - is very closely associated with Pika colonies. During the breeding season these birds will nest in Pika burrows - but here on the last day of February we can still see the birds present around this Pika site.
And finally we have a picture of a bird we talked about before in the thread - Guldenstat's (White-winged) Redstart - however here's a pic of the female. These are certainly less conspicuous than the male birds - no quite so many pictures of the female at OBC.
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