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.


  1. Looks like you guys had a wonderful trip. Great images and write-up. Looking forward to your post.

  2. Looking forward to hearing more..........

    I've never seen a Hornbill, another on the list for later........

  3. I would've thought that you actually went to Thailand, if there was no Collared Myna. Hornbills and Silver-breasted Broadbill are great birds that I haven't seen for quite a long while now. Your post makes me miss birding in the tropics even more.

  4. Thanks for the comments...
    Being on the border with Burma, Ruili really has a southeast asian "feel" to it. It's an essential place to go for birders who care about the length of their "China List".

  5. Nice! Thanks for your sharing!