Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jet lag recovery in Chendu, 10/9-10, 2015

We arrived in Chengdu on a warm rainy night and our bird guide, Sid Francis, was there to pick us up right on time.  I had been contemplating a bird trip to Sichuan for a few years and had come across Sid's website while doing my internet research.  He also has a forum thread on Bird Forum which is very informative about birding in Sichuan.  Looked like he knew his stuff and that his clients were pleased.  As it turned out Sid was the perfect bird guide for Honey and myself.

Sid dropped us off at Holly's Hostel where we spent three nights prior to our week long trip with Sid and two nights afterwards.  Holly's is conveniently located right off Wuhou Ci, close to Chengdu's Tibetan district, the Wuhou temple and the Jinli shopping area, not to mention banks and restaurants.  We found Holly's to be clean, economical and friendly.  The girls at the front desk spoke English and were very helpful.

The next morning we ate a late American breakfast at the upstairs restaurant at Holly's and then went in search of a bank where I could use my ATM card.  The Bank of China proved to be the only one that would take our card.  In the afternoon we visited the nearby Wuhou Temple which is a very old memorial to the emperors and generals of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history.  I wasn't carrying my bird camera so I missed shots of Eurasian Kingfisher, Chinese Bulbul, White-browed Laughingthrush and Chinese Blackbird.  But we got some good tourist shots of the temple complex.

Adjacent to Wuhou Temple is the Jinli shopping area with plenty of foodstalls.  Want some fried rabbit head?

That evening we passed a popular large hot pot restaurant on Wuhou Ci.  I had studied up on the famous Sichuan hot pot prior to the trip.  Luckily the order sheet also included English so we chose our skewers of meat and veggies to be cooked in the boiling hot cauldron laced with red chiles, chile oil and Sichuan peppers.  It was the spiciest thing I've ever eaten but it was really good.

The next morning we left at 7:30 for a morning trip to the Panda Breeding Center on the northeast side of Chengdu.  This was a private tour we arranged at Holly's.  Actually it was a driver and a couple of tickets.

We didn't see to many birds but the wet drippy conditions were just to the pandas' liking.  We only saw one Red Panda.

But we got to see plenty of Giant Pandas.  They love munching on bamboo but don't seem to do much else.

And there were some babies in the nursery.

Birds were numerous though not much diversity.  It was tough to photograph in the dark and wet conditions. This would be a problem throughout the trip.  Here's a Red-billed Leiothrix.

Chinese Bulbuls were abundant but up in the tree tops.  Plenty of White-browed Laughingthrushes on the ground.

On the ride back we got to see plenty of Chengdu.  Mostly it was apartments for Chengdu's twelve million residents.  Many of the buildings were heavily planted on the roof.  I guess it's all part of the "fung shui" harmony with the Earth thing.  I like it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Day 1, Chengdu to Songpan, 9/11/15

Sid Francis, our guide, showed up right on time at 7 AM and loaded our stuff into his SUV on this rainy morning.  Our first stop was an overlook on the Jinjiang River in Chengdu to hopefully find a Long-billed Plover.   Sid said the area used to be away from the city but now a huge shopping mall has been built along with lots of apartments.

Luckily the river was low with plenty of shorebirds including Long-billed Plover.

I've seen quite a few Asian shorebirds in the Philippines but Wood Sandpiper was a new one for me.

Sid called Black-tailed Godwit and continued searching for birds.  As the godwit flew in close to us I saw the pale feather edgings on the back and wings and realized it was a Bar-tailed Godwit, a species Sid had not seen in Sichuan before.

Other shorebirds were Temmink's Stints, Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed-Plover.

Another new bird for me was Chinese Pond-Heron.

A mess of Gray Herons.

A small flock of Red-billed Starling fed in the mud and then a flock of White-cheeked Starlings lighted in the trees above us.

So after scoring a bunch of shorebirds we were on our way.  Next stop was a preserved woodland area near the holy mountain Qingchenshang.  Sid pulled out his digitally recorded bird calls and and proceeded to bring them in.  First birds to respond were Chinese Bulbuls, Collared Finchbills and a Brown Shrike.  Then there was some action behind us.  Eastern Great Tit and what Sid identified as a female Fujian Nitalva. That's certainly not a bird I could have called. 

A man on a mission!  Actually I was still paying for the extremely spicy Sichuan hotpot from a couple of nights earlier.

A walk along a trail into the woods produced calling Red-billed Blue-Magpies and the first of many heard only scimtar-bills.  There was nice flock of Japanese White-eyes followed by Vinous-breasted Parrotbills that refused a photo.  All I managed was this Gray-backed Shrike.

It looked like a great birding area but we still had a long drive ahead of us so we hit the road.  North of Dujianyang is supposed to be an ancient tower similar to the watchtowers of Danba.  However in China, labor is cheap, so fake towers have been built to attract tourists.  We came to learn that with 1.4 billion residents, tourism is becoming big business.

Another stop along the highway produced OK views but bad photos of Brown-breasted Bulbul and Godlewski's Bunting.   Further down the road we stopped to overlook a lake and found Elliot's Laughingthrush and Chinese Babax which Sid told me is now also a laughingthrush. 

We rolled into Songpan at dusk.  Sid's experiences taking birders into the area really paid off as he had hotels and restaurants all arranged.  Although the serendipitous nature of our trip did push that at times. Here's our first hotel.

Inside with sheets up to dry.  A good sign!

Went for a walk down town.  Yak parts for sale.

Standing in front of the ancient city gate.  Most of the original city wall had been destroyed in the name of the cultural revolution or modernization.

Songpan is now a busy tourist destination offering hiking and horseback riding into the nearby mountains.

I've got places to go, people to see!

Day 2, Songpan to Rouergai, 9/12/15

We had a cold start to our morning, as we would for the next few days, and headed north.  Some pigeons along the side of the road at our first stop were Hill Pigeons, looking much classier than their common cousins.  Too bad the whole day was cloudy as that really messed up the photography.

Next was a very productive stop along a stream.  A calling chickadee was identified by Sid as Sichuan Tit, split from Willow Tit.

Then a brief look at Himalayan Bluetail.  We also had Plumbeous and White-capped Water-Redstart at this site and at about every stream but they were hard to get close to.

My first Phylloscopus of the trip was this Sichuan Leaf-Warbler which is split form the Lemon-rumped Leaf-Warbler Group which was split from Pallas's Leaf-Warbler.  Ugh!  We also got Buff-barred Warbler at this site.

Sid called in couple of Giant Laughingthrushes.

Things are starting to look more Tibetan now,

Next stop a bit up the road produced Plain Laughingthrush.

And a bunch of Phylloscopus.  Best I can figure this is Greenish Warbler.  The slightly hooked bill is a feature.

I soon learned the call of the yellow Alpine Warbler which is split from Tickell's Warbler.

Another Sichuan Leaf-Warbler.

Next we pulled off the road into a nice Tibetan village and a dirt track that left took us into the countryside. We got a nice look at Eastern Great Tit.

Another Sichuan Tit.

Other stuff showed; Elliot's and Plain Laughingthrushes, Common Rosefinch, Common Pheasant, fly over Himalayan Griffons and a pair of Hodgson's Redstarts.

Honey spotted an Eurasian Hoopoe fly into the village where we also saw White and Gray Wagtails.  The yellowish face on this young leucopsis White Wagtail confused us at first.

This Taiga Flycatcher was one of the few Ficedula I saw on our trip.

Back on the highway, a group of pipits flew across.  So we stopped for another productive excursion.  The pipits were Water Pipits.

Hume's Leaf-Warbler with it's pale crown stripe.

We heard quite a few Dusky Warblers.  this is the only one that came out in the open.

Another Alpine Warbler.

Then we found one I really wanted, White-Browed Tit-Warbler.  We later saw quite a few of them but I never got quite the photos I wanted.

A lunch stop at a quarry produced a White-capped Water-Redstart.

A high pass south of Rouergai produced Himalayan Griffons, Blue-fronted Redstarts and more White-browed Tit-Warblers.

A poor shot of a Pink-rumped Rosefinch.

And our primary quary for the site, White-browed Tit.

And then it was over the pass and onto the Tibetan Plateau.  Black-eared Kites were common.  This is a spotted youngster.

A Common Raven eating some unidentified object.

South of Rouergai we came across a Tibetan village with a pretty temple.  A large flock of Daurian Jackdaws had commandeered the prayer flags on the hillside.

The temple complex gate.

Checking out some strangers.

And behind the temple with its prayer wheels.

Our first Upland Buzzard.

We moved on into Rouergai and stayed at this Tibetan operated hotel.  Sid registered as a Chinese resident and we were his Chinese guests so there was no need for registering passports.

More hot spicy food.