24 Oct 2011

My Cherie Amur - Part Deux

I posted back in September that we hadn't seen Amur Falcon in Hong Kong.  

Thanks to a tip-off from Martin Hale - who saw a flock of thirteen at dusk on Sunday evening - I went round to Tsim Bei Tsui at first light today and was fortunate to see two individual Amur Falcons. 

Only one hung around long enough to have its' photo taken…..

Amur Falcon - Falco amurensis  

Tsim Bei Tsui, Hong Kong Oct 24, 2011

Great to finally catch up with this one ! 

16 Oct 2011

Kanbula National Forest Park, Qinghai Province

Red Crossbill - Loxia curvirostra

Chinese Nuthatch - Sitta villosa

We covered just over 5,000 km with our friends from Hong Kong in the second half of August.  Thanks to Anthony and Doris for organizing a memorable trip, and everyone else for being good company. After they went back to Hong Kong  we reverted to our usual travel mode - the bus network !

Staying on in Xining, we visited the Provincial Museum and saw a photo of the sandstone formations at Kanbula, about 100km south of the city.

Kanbula is a spectacular area of weathered red sandstone, overlooking a reservoir on the headwaters of the Yellow River.  This form of sandstone is called "Danxia" after an area in Guangdong Province.

Kanbula National  Forest Park - a "Geopark"

The bus ride from Xining takes a leisurely two hours and forty-five minutes, but most vehicles could safely get there in less than two hours.

Alighting from the bus in a town about 2km from the reserve entrance, we hired a local  van driver to take us into the reserve.

We kept asking him whether there was any accommodation inside the reserve, and kept being told "no". 

But Chinese is not a language of absolutes, and for people hoping to ensnare tourists, the truth is very flexible, too. Our van driver would rather we stayed at his relative's guesthouse in the town than in the homestay of strangers inside the reserve.

Eventually, we found a place that was obviously a guesthouse in a village at km 28.  "Yes" there were rooms, said the locals...

(The building with a red roof on the right)  The farmhouses are all in high-walled compounds, which suggests it must be seriously cold in the winter.

There was no running water in the place -like most of the houses in the village. Water was brought up from a stream in tanks on the back of  "Tor Lai Ji" - the ubiquitous small tractors of rural China.

We washed our hands at a tap in a plastic tank and the toilet was an enclosure at the edge of a field, extreme right of photo.

But this was the view outside on our first morning...as the locals reaped the wheat harvest at first light.

And a spectacular sunrise from the window on our second morning.  

The grain was spread on the road to dry 

With some very traditional winnowing going on

We ate with our hosts... dumplings to celebrate the harvest

Common Pheasants were, well, common around the field edges

Red-billed Chough Corvus dauuricus

Large-billedCrow Corvus macrorhynhos

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius

White-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas carnipes

Songar Tit  Poecile songara

Chinese Nuthatch - Sitta villosa

We didn't get shots of everything... Black Woodpeckers and a sprinting Blue-eared Pheasant were too quick for us, but some quality birds in this kind of landscape made it just about our favourite site of the trip.

9 Oct 2011

Around Qinghai Lake (Koko Nor) - August 25th-26th 2011

Some more images from our recent trip to north-central China.  At the end of August we stayed at Heimahe, beside Qinghai Lake.

I'm happy to report that Heimahe now has a guesthouse where going to the toilet does not involve stumbling around in the dark outside.

Anyway, enough of the romantic travelogue, here are some photos to give an impression, I hope, of the area. 

 Himalayan Griffon Vulture - Gyps himalayensis

 Black Kite - Milvus migrans

 Rubber Mountain range

 A BMX bike for the shepherd girl !

Domesticated Yak

 White-browed Tit Warbler - Leptopoecile sophaie

 Robin Accentor - Prunella rubeculoides

 Rufous-necked Snowfinches - Pyrgilauda ruficollis

Brown Accentor - Prunella fulvescens

Two shots of Urocynchramus pylzowi

The bird above used to be known as "Pink-tailed Bunting" and now revels under the appellation of Przewalski's Finch.  Forgive me if I've spelled the great Russian's name wrongly, there seem to be five or six ways to do it.   He discovered this bird - also near Qinghai Lake - on his 1870 expedition.

 Stressemann's (Pink-rumped) Rosefinch - Carpodacus eos

 White-browed Tit  - Periparus superciliosus

Tibetan Snowfinch - Montifringilla adamsi

It was hard work lugging the gear around at an elevation of 4000 metres, but the characteristic birds of this part of the Tibetan Plateau made it all worthwhile.

3 Oct 2011

Podoces hendersoni - Mongolian Ground Jay

Podoces hendersoni

Referring to James A Jobling's "Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names" I find that  Podoces is Greek for "Swift-footed, quick"...

Jobling also reveals hendersoni to be a reference to Lt-Col George Henderson, 1837-1929, a British Army Explorer.

"Whose Bird?" by Bo Beolens and Mike Watkins is a bit more informative about Henderson, and much more revealing about what it meant to be a "British Army Explorer" in the middle of the 19th century.  

Henderson collected the first specimen of this Ground Jay during the 1870 British Mission from India to Yarkand (now in Xinjiang, China). 

It was during the era of "The Great Game" - the struggle between Britain and Russia for supremacy in Central Asia-  and Henderson was disguised as a merchant and calling himself "Ismail Khan"

One can assume, though, that he put his real name on the specimen label.

Podoces hendersoni

As well as Xinjiang, Mongolian Ground Jays are also widespread in northern Qinghai Province.  These photos were taken  in August 2011.

(Edited and added 7th Oct 2011)

Referring belatedly to "The Bird Collectors" by Barbara and Richard Mearns, I find that the 1870 Yarkand Mission is well-covered by them.

There are a couple of photos from Henderson's 1873 book "Lahore to Yarkand", including this one of him (left) and his companions Douglas Forsyth and Robert Shaw in disguise for their journey.

And a photo of one of their campsites in the Karakoram Range....

As it says in The Bird Collectors  - "Most of the journey was above 15,000 feet in an area so inhospitable that even at the height of summer there was little forage for the horses so they had to take extra feed... the three europeans had a retinue of nearly sixty men and 130 horses... ... a supply train of yaks failed to arrive and their food for the horses began to run out. Three ponies died from exhaustion and starvation. At night it was so cold some of the horses tried to get into the tents....

At Kitchik Yalik they made one of their important discoveries... "

Pseudopodoces humilis  

Originally called Hume's Ground Jay, (after Allan Octavian Hume the "Father of Indian Ornithology")it has recently been discovered through DNA analysis to be a kind of tit.  The scientific name is now Pseudopodoces humilis "Tibetan Ground-Tit" 

After descending to the deserts of what was then known as Chinese Turkestan they saw and collected the first specimens of Mongolian Ground Jay, Podoces hendersoni.   Which is where this posting started, I guess.

A busy period of foreign exploration of the Tibetan Plateau was just beginning, with ornithology just a pretext for mapping the landscape and trying to exert political influence.  Captain Nicholas Prjevalsky was to begin the first Russian Expedition to western China the same year.....