10 January 2019

Southwest Yunnan 2018/9 - Part 3, “Gaoligongshan”

Black-headed Shrike-Babbler - Pteruthius rufiventer

It was tangerine harvest time as we drove from the main road up towards Baihualing village on Dec 29th.

We had given ourselves two full days to bird this part of Gaoligongshan in the “traditional” manner, and two full days at some of the many “Bird Ponds” that have been set up the past few years.

Dec 30th

View from "Old Street", Baihualin, Gaoligongshan

Like every other day of the trip, it was clear and cool as we stood at the site of the “Old Street”, with some birdsong in the air. This area is also quite busy early on as the assembly point for hikers crossing the mountain range on the “Ancient Trail”

On the eastern side of the same spur of the Gaoligong range, a drivable track runs for about six kilometres. This is maintained to service a new water pipeline for all the new buildings in the village.  

First, though, one of the locals had a nearby pitch in the woods to see Grey-bellied Wren-Babbler - we went and saw this first.

Grey-bellied Wren-Babbler - Spelaeornis reptatus (Corrected 13-Jan-19)

The “bottle-brush” trees (Melaleuca sp.) were only just starting to blossom, but still attracted some fast-moving sunbirds, fulvettas and sibias.

A small party of Vinaceous Rosefinches appeared on the path, and a persimmon tree was proving popular, especially with barbets.

(m) Vinaceous Rosefinch - Carpodacus vinaceus

Golden-throated Barbet - Megalaima franklinii
We enjoyed our walk and a picnic lunch, but found the birds to be very shy.  Red-headed Trogons appeared briefly and we encountered two species of partridge dashing across the road.

Dec 31st

We drove about 3km up the pipeline track to a ruined house (Daluchang) and then took a shortcut (that we’d used in 2012) uphill to the Ancient Trail at Ertaipo ("Two Platform slope").

There were quite a lot of birds around, and we got there before the first hikers of the day passed through. For about an hour, there was a steady passage of hikers but then it was quiet again.  Cutia was one of our target birds, and we got one at this spot.

Himalayan Cutia - Cutia nipalensis

Chestnut-vented Nuthatch - Sitta nagaensis

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Darjeeling Woodpecker - Dendrocopus darjellensis

In the late afternoon we descended to the banks of the Salween, where Carrie’s determined efforts added Chinese Francolin to the trip list.

Salween Ferry
The “Bird Pond” phenomenon

The Gaoligongshan Nature Reserve officials and the neighbouring villagers reached an agreement several years ago about use of the fringe areas of the Nature Reserve.

In about 2012, a Mr Hou -ex-GLGS staff- started a homestay business with a “Bird Pond” that has flourished into the success there is today, with several places to stay in Baihualing and dozens of similar ponds dotted around the Nature Reserve boundary.  

The majority of the guests are mainland photographers, many of whom drive from eastern and northern China to get to Yunnan with their tripods and long camera lenses.

Online, the photographers split from China's birders several years ago.  It is the number of digital photographers and their willingness to spend money to get the best photos that has driven the success of the Bird Pond business so far. Would-be entrepreneurs from other parts of China have visited Baihualing to learn how it’s done.

Our guesthouse is at the top left (white 3-storey building)

The place we stayed was completed in 2016. We had a western toilet and clean shower. The in-room kettle worked. There were plenty of battery charging points.  Downhill from Mr Hou’s guesthouse his family operated a restaurant from before dawn to late evening.  Guests could help themselves from boxes of seasonal tangerines.


Bird photos to decorate the restaurant wall 

In the dining area there was plenty of news (in Chinese) about what birds are turning up at which ponds, and Chinese "social media" spread the news, too.


Guesthouse in the evening

So, with a fee of 60 RMB for whole-day use of the hides, a visitor can move around and try two or three in a single day.  The disadvantage is that hides may become fully-booked at peak holiday periods.

For each 60 RMB received, the operator gets 50 RMB and the rest goes into a village community fund. This scale of income is significant for people in rural China.

Purists may frown at birds viewed or photographed when lured with water and food, but many bird lodges elsewhere in Asia and in South America have bird tables as part of the birding experience. 

It is the responsibility of photographers themselves to be honest about how and where their photos were taken. (Including me !)


Baihualin Village
Jan 1st

Hide 11 was new. A long, steep trot up the hillside (after the car got stuck) to get there was well worth the  effort.

Grey-sided Laughingthrush - Dryonastes caerulatus

Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler - Pomatorhinus ruficollis

Assam Laughingthush - Trochalopteron chrysopterum (woodi)

Scarlet-faced Liochichla - Liochichla ripponi

Barred Cuckoo-Dove - Macropygia unchall

Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler - Xiphirhynchus superciliaris

Hill Partridges - Arborophila torqueola

(m) Hill Partridge - Arborophila torqueola

Here we are, on the way down.




Then we moved to Pond 8, which is a long-established place with some other bird species....

Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler - Pomatorhinus gravivox

Large Niltava - Niltava grandis

Pond 4 in the afternoon was cold and damp, conditions that suited the Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler, among others..

Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler - Pnoepyga albiventer

Red-tailed Laughingthrush - Trochalopteron milnei

Chestnut-headed Tesia - Tesia castaneocoronata
Jan 2nd

Pond 35 was another well-established pond with an open aspect and its own suite of birds.

Flavescent Bulbul - Pycnonotus flavescens


Mountain Bamboo Partridge - Bambusicola fytchii

Great Barbet - Megalaima virens

Chinese Thrush - Turdus mupinensis
Pond 77 was another popular place with a well-tended garden in front of the camera positions. The small mammals liked it, to the irritation of some of the photographers.




Northern Tree-Shrew - Tupaia belangeri

Pallas's Squirrel - Callosciurus erythraeus

Long-tailed Thrush - Zoothera dixoni


Rufous-throated Partridge - Arborophila rufogularis

Our last Bird Pond was No.27.  The lady in attendance expected a Black-headed Shrike-Babbler to arrive at about 16:00hrs, in fact it was twenty minutes early !

Black-headed Shrike-Babbler - Pteruthius rufiventer

After this we headed back to Baoshan, a drive of about two hours.

Jan 3rd

We said our Goodbyes to "Xiao DU", and flew from Baoshan to Kunming, then to Guangzhou. An electric taxi, hailed by Uber-equivalent Didi Chuxing got us to GZ South Railway Station. A local train to Luohu (Shenzhen) saw us home in mid-evening.

Remarks

Chinese Immigration record the fingerprints of visitors, and facial recognition software is used at border control points, as well as at airport and railway security checks. It's all very "hi-tech".

Plane and train tickets must be booked with identity documents presented.  

Payment by “WeChat Pay” via mobile is preferred for payment in many places including some restaurants and fast-food joints. It seems like old-fashioned cash is becoming obsolete.

Thanks

As stated in Part 1, many thanks to Carrie MA for putting the trip together - all we had to do was turn up.

Our guide for the 12 days was “Xiao DU” of Yingjiang City, he is young, hardworking and keen.  I heartily recommend him. 

WeChat: yilovejiaju

Although he does not speak English he told us he had recently guided a foreigner and done the basic translations on his mobile phone. 

8 January 2019

Southwest Yunnan 2018/2019 - Part 2, "Around Yingjiang City"

Mandarin Duck - Aix galericulata
27th Dec

After splendid bowls of noodles in Mengyun town, we packed the bags into the car and headed north towards Nabang on a minor road that joined Route S 318 a few kilometres east of Tongbiguan.



A large, clear river runs under a bridge and we recalled that we had seen River Lapwings there on our 2012 Yunnan Trip.  There was a pair there this time, too,  but they flew off before I could get close enough for a photo.  

Growing mushrooms and fungus is a big activity in the area and we checked the fields nearby for Siberian Stonechat and Little Buntings.  There was another police checkpoint in Tongbiguan, but my HKID card was acceptable to the officers on duty, and we got through.

Little Bunting - Emberiza pusilla

Rufous-bellied Eagle - Lophotriorchis kienerii

Down Route S318 towards the border town of Nabang, some of the best woodland habitat is between km 213 to 216 (where the elevation goes from 1200m to about 1000m).  We had a couple of good mixed flocks there and a Rufous-bellied Eagle soared overhead.

At km 223.5 we turned uphill to Rongshuwang - “King of the Banyans”.  This has been a popular spot for birding parties over the past few years, but it was sad to note that it seems to have failed as a tourist attraction, with only one elderly watchman on site, and all the incense and souvenir sellers gone.

Back on the main road S 318, after crossing a bridge, we visited another Bird Pond.  A path behind a farmhouse led through a banana grove to a hide overlooking a couple of shallow water ponds, where Citrine Wagtail was a first for the trip.

A party of sought-after Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes came to the feeding area.

Rufous-necked Laughingthrush - Dryonastes ruficollis
In the distance we had seen Collared Mynas  from the hide, so after paying for our use of the hide (the usual 60 RMB each) we drove on briefly towards Nabang and turned left towards the river along a dirt track.

There we had a party of about 25 collared Mynahs in the late afternoon sun.

Collared Myna - Acridotheres albocinctus

Collared Myna - Acridotheres albocinctus
Long-billed Plover, Painted Snipe and Striated Grassbirds were all seen well near the river’s edge.

Striated Grassbird - Megalurus palustris
At the border

We had dinner in Nabang and a large and noisy roost of Barn Swallows occupied the wires over the street outside the restaurant.

Overnight in Yingjiang City



28th Dec

We drove north of Yingjiang on “Xiao DU”’s recommendation to the "Su Dian Lisu Minority Area"  which the local government is promoting as “The Eden of the Orient”. It was a pleasant area of cultivated fields, meadows and wooded hillsides approaching 2,000m in elevation.

White-browed Laughingthrush - Pterorhinus sannio

It was first area we had been to on this trip with frost on the vegetation. In the misty corner of a damp field, a Black-tailed Crake pottered around before the sun rose over the distant hills.

Black-tailed Crake - Porzana bicolor

So we birders were thrilled enough, but it seemed to me that there might not be enough in the way of natural features to keep the interest of general visitors.

Su Dian Lisu Minority area, Yingjiang County

Eyebrowed Thrush - Turdus obscurus
Birding from the car

Eventually the road rose to a 2,200m ridge which marked the border with Myanmar.  

Spot-bellied Parrotbill - Paradoxornis guttaticollis

Green-tailed Sunbird - Aethopyga nipalensis
We saw a big flock of Speckled Wood Pigeons in flight, but they were gone before I could stumble out of the car with the camera.




On the way back Jemi and Carrie scanned a not-very-promising watercourse we had just crossed.  In the distance were what appeared to be three Mandarin Ducks. We piled back into the car and had the cameras ready, - but the Mandarins  took flight at our appearance, even though we thought we were far enough away not to disturb them.

Mandarin Duck - Aix galericulata

Mandarin Duck - Aix galericulata
Fortunately, after a nervous circling they returned to where they had been.  "Xiao DU" - our guide - was very pleased - Mandarin was a new bird for Yingjiang County, and he got some shots for his forthcoming book.

Overnight at Yingjiang City.

29th Dec

In the western suburbs of Yingjiang we birded an area of intensively cultivated fields.

Outskirts of Yingjiang City

Distant parrots were noted in a bare tree, and on closer observation, these were flying to a small stand of sweetcorn. Although there were only about a dozen birds, we realised there was more than one species involved.  And eventually it was Xiao DU who pointed out that we had three parrot species. 

(f) Blossom-headed Parakeet - Psittacula roseata

(m) Grey-headed Parakeet - Psittacula finschii

(m) Red-breasted Parakeet - Psittacula alexandri
Having “cleaned up” with the parakeets, we headed to the more open fields between the S 318 road and the Daying River.  Big raptors were seen almost immediately, but driving closer showed all the big Aquilas to be Steppe Eagles.  There were about 15 of them, they were unafraid of us, and we got some very good views.

Steppe Eagle - Aquila rapax

Steppe Eagle - Aquila rapax

Among the fields

On the river, Great Cormorants and Spotbills

Main Street

After lunch in a nearby town we drove east, past Tengchong, over the Mekong on a grand bridge and reached the Salween Valley through a long tunnel. At sunset we arrived in Baihualing, the village at the edge of Gaoligongshan. 


END OF PART TWO