29 Feb 2012

Yunnan - Jan/Feb 2012 Part Two - Gaoligongshan

Three years ago we visited Tengchong and thought that the nearby historical village of Heshun would be a nifty place to stay.

Jemi booked ahead, but when we got there this time we found that the peace-and-quiet of the village was somewhat affected by a six-lane boulevard being driven across the surrounding fields to the front entrance.  The coach parking areas had multiplied in size, too.  This is known as "progress".

This didn't stop the locals having a sedate game of croquet first thing in the morning, though.

Laifengshan - the pagoda

Large Niltava - Niltava grandis

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Red-tailed Minla - Minla ignotincta

On to Baihualing, probably the best-known site for visiting birders along the Gaoligongshan range. The road from "HQs" to the habitat proper had improved since our 2009 visit, and we also explored the tracks down towards the Hot Springs for the first time.  There were a number of Chinese birders at the site, and we also bumped into Dion Hobcroft and his party from Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours.  Later, because we were covering similar ground, we were able to text each other titbits of bird information.

"HQs" - Baihualin

We saw a decent variety of birds, with Cutia perhaps a highlight for us all, but only Nigel and Verity managed to stumble over Hume's Pheasant.  Same as during the other seasons we have visited Baihualin, birding was pretty hard work, but there were some top quality birds.  

Maroon-backed Accentor - Prunella immaculata

Pale-throated Wren-babbler - Spelaeornis kinneari

Red-headed Trogon - Harpactes erythrocephalus

Beautiful Sibia - Malacias pulchellus

Himalayan Cutia - Cutia nipalensis

Himalayan Cutia - Cutia nipalensis

TWO Cutia shots - because I liked them ! 

After Baihualin we went on to Pianma, near the border with Burma.  In midwinter the woods were VERY quiet but we all enjoyed the views. 

from km 66, Pianma Road - the peaks are in Burma's Kachin State

Later,we visited the "Hump Airlift" museum, dedicated to the memory of the hundreds of allied airmen killed in 1942/43, flying supplies from Assam in India to the Chinese Army in Yunnan.

"Hump Airlift" Museum

A day spent driving north to the border checkpoint at Gongfang enabled us to get sight of a shy Wallcreeper.  

Wallcreeper - Tichodroma muraria

We saw two or three of the local Lisu out hunting with crossbows.  Making crossbows is a traditional Lisu skill.


"Eastern Irrawaddy" tributary - China on left, Burma on the right

Burmese sunset

After Gaoligongshan, we headed further east to Dali, Shibaoshan and Lijiang.

27 Feb 2012

Baer's Pochard at Mai Po

Much of Sunday  (26th Feb) was spent at the Mai Po boardwalk hides after the tide came up at midday.  Despite grey, cold weather a good variety of the usual winter waterbirds were in view.

Baer's Pochard (Athya baeri) - Sadly, NO LONGER a "usual winter bird" at Mai Po

Red-billed Starlings (Sturnus sericeus)

Red Turtle Dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica)

Saunders's Gull (Saundersilarus saundersi)

Black-tailed Gull (Larus crassirostris)

Slaty-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus) 

Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

We had been told that the Baer's Pochard - a female, first noted in mid-February - could be seen on Pond 20, and so it proved.

A recent posting by Taej Mundkur on the "Oriental Birding" email group mentioned that Baer's Pochard s being "uprated" by Birdlife International from "Endangered" to "Critically Endangered".

Sobering news on a grey day.

Baer's Pochard (Athya baeri)

Baer's Pochard (Athya baeri) - female at rear, with Tufted Duck (Athya fuligula)

24 Feb 2012

Yunnan - Jan/Feb 2012 Part One - Dehong Prefecture

This is the first of several blog posts about our recent trip. Most of the text is really just a chatty outline to accompany a few photos; I'll write up the trip properly -with directions and a trip list - elsewhere.  

Jemi and I were traveling with Verity Picken and Nigel Croft, two of our birding friends who used to live in Hong Kong.  As we were concentrating on birding, - rather than photography - I limited my photographic efforts to handholding a 400mm lens.

We flew from Yunnan's capital, Kunming to Luxi on 26th January. It was a gloriously clear day and we could see the snow-capped peaks of Cangshan, Gaoligongshan, and even distant Meilixueshan as we passed to the south of them. Kunming lies at an elevation of about 1,800m but the airport in Luxi is much lower and the high ground seemed to fall away as we approached.  

The road to Ruili, on the border with Burma, is the Burma Road of Second World War (in China, "The Anti-Japanese War") fame. It was quite warm in mid-afternoon as we took the old road past the waterfalls at Moli.

The area is a popular local beauty spot, and the area has become deservedly famous with birders, too.

An Oriental Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhychus) gave good views as it flew over.

The first "lifers" for all of us were this flock of Collared Mynas (Acridotheres albocinctus).

To complete a "Southeast Asian" feel to the afternoon, a Blue-bearded Bee-eater (Nyctyornis athertoni).

We returned to the Moli area early in the morning a couple of days later, and despite the large number of Lunar New Year holiday visitors, the birds showed well, including these Silver-breasted Broadbills (Serilophus lunatus).

Another site visited near Ruili was Nanjingli.  Umpteen years ago I met a Swedish birder in Hong Kong who had seen hornbills at Nanjingli,  and we knew that in recent years hornbills have been seen regularly near Nabang, at the northern end of the same prefecture.

An objective of the trip, then, was to see hornbills, if possible. Once at Nanjingli I thought I heard a hornbill-like "Foo-bah…foo-bah" sound, and dashed into the open to find not hornbills, but someone sawing wood at a nearby farmstead. 

Rufous-backed Sibia (Leioptila annectens).

Blue-throated Barbet (Megalaima asiatica).

Before we left  Ruili, we met up with Chris Campion and Mike Turnbull, who had covered a lot of Dehong Prefecture a few days before us. Useful "gen." was exchanged over dinner.

After Ruili we headed north and crossed the Da Ying river - "Dayingjiang", where a   few riverside birds were added to our trip list.

River view

"White-eared" (formerly Red-wattled) Lapwing (Vanellus atronuchalis).

Crested Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela) near Nabang

On to Nabang, another border town that used to be full of yards piled high with Burmese timber.  With the close-by tracts of Burmese forest largely logged out, we found Nabang to be a quieter town than it had been on our previous visit in 2006. But, unlike 2006, there were a dozen or so Chinese birders and photographers already there.

We were aware that the Xima Trail, which starts in Nabang, was one of China's best sites for seeing hornbills and other birds with very limited distributions in China. We went out to "reccee" the trail in the afternoon.  The Xima Trail winds up through mostly abandoned banana plants and stands of bamboo, but has plenty of native trees to attract birds, plus plenty of openings in the canopy for views of the sky.  In due course it was Jemi who spotted the tail of a Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) dangling from a fruiting tree on the hillside opposite the trail.

Eventually we all got into a position where we had a clear view, before the bird dropped out of sight. Later a second bird was seen, too.

We returned to Nabang on a "high".  Of course, there was only one place to go the following morning.

The view from the noodle shop opposite the Bian Chui Hotel, Nabang.

Returning to the Xima Trail the next morning we covered the same ground, finding some of the birds, including Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrushes, very shy.  We had been told that some of the hornbills were usually seen flying over so I kept glancing upwards.  However my head was well under a bamboo clump when I heard a familiar "Foo-bah, foo-bah…" sound above us.  

Despite my disappointment in Nanjingli, I dashed out into the open to see a line of five hornbills disappearing over a ridge.  I was annoyed with myself for not getting any shots of these when I realized a group of four Wreathed Hornbills (Aceros undulatus) was following behind.  Later, I worked out that the "missed" hornbills, due to white-trailing edges to the wings, must have been Oriental Pied.

Up around the corner the Great Hornbills of the previous day were perched prominently, but a bit backlit for ideal photography. Anyway, it was nice to see that they were a pair.

Mother Nature doesn't often give you a second chance, especially not in China, but luckily a small group of Oriental Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) - probably the ones seen earlier - announced their arrival with some loud cackling.  They passed through the tree tops quickly, but I still got shots of one or two of them.

Three species of hornbill in a single day made a great start to the trip.

But we had a lot of ground to cover and were soon heading towards Tengchong.