21 Dec 2009

Po Yang 1989 - Part II

We engaged a ferryman to take us to the island of Ling Gong Zhou. Earlier in the month we knew that the HK birders had there seen Swinhoe's Crake - the sight of a bird with a scientific name like "Coturnix exquisitus" was a compelling reason to have a look. Sadly, most of the grass had been harvested, and we missed the crake.

Once, a Chinese Water Deer broke cover from reeds at the waters' edge, and raced greyhound-like out of sight.

We settled instead for Great Bustards in the distance, beyond another host of Whitefronts.

Nigel and I were admiring a pair of Common Mergansers in a creek when we became aware that MT was having conniptions. He pointed out a drake Merganser further back:- "Scaly-sided Merganser !" This was a bird the previous visitors had missed, and seeing it was a surprise in the days before it was more generally known that S-SM breed in the east of Jiangxi. It was great to get our "Bird of the Trip" on Christmas day.

In Po Yang's wide-open landscape the birds were often quite distant, but there were LOTS of them: hundreds of Cranes and literally thousands of swans and geese.

On Boxing Day we wandered over the hillsides to the west of Wucheng. A variety of buntings, Daurian Redstart and Grey-backed Thrushes could be found at the edges of fields and woods.

We paused to count the cranes on the mudflats of Da Hu Chi below. (In fact NJC was delegated to do it, I was "scanning for raptors".. ZZZZZZZ).) We estimated that there were 800 Siberian Cranes in view from this one viewpoint.

Later in the day we were pleasantly surprised to find another lone birder at Reserve HQs. Over dinner Krys Kazmierczak recounted his adventures of the winter, including getting turned away from then "closed" Caohai (a site for Black-necked Crane) in Guizhou Province.

Dec 27th
A longish walk out to Mei Xi Hu. Views of Eastern Marsh Harrier, including a nice male and a variety of geese and cranes dropping in to the lake, set among grassy sand dunes to the northeast of Wucheng.

Raptors, as had been remarked upon by others before us, were surprisingly rare at Po Yang. We came across a dead Harrier and a mess of entrails by the riverside. In those days, villagers poisoned the ducks using rice laced with strychnine. The plan was to catch the duck after it had keeled over, and rip the guts out before the poison spread to the duck's flesh. It was apparent that birds of prey eating the discarded duck entrails were perishing as well. There were also examples of human duck-meat consumers dying of strychnine poisoning, but the practice continued.

But the thoughts of this didn't dampen our overall enthusiasm for Po Yang, though. It really did seem like as fine an avian spectacle as one might hope to see anywhere in asia.

Dec 28th
Our ferry return to Nanchang proved even more sporting, as we were now going upstream, and the river had had another week to fall even lower. We were getting used to the cold by then, and the hotel in Nanchang didn't seem quite as bad as it had a few days earlier. Also, it must be said, we weren't on the illegal rooftop extension.

We arrived back in Hong Kong, having missed the excesses of Christmas partying, but knowing that New Year would give us a chance to catch up !

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