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SICHUAN AND SHAANXI,Birdwatching report(part2)

 

 

Day Nineteen, JuizhaigouNational Park, Tuesday April 24: This day we got up early in order to be on the first bus into the park to avoid the legendary crowds to the extent possible. I went out extra early to listen in the dark, although with the blinking lights at the entrance and the bright lights from the nearby hotels and other buildings, it was hardly dark. In spite of this and the noise from the adjacent stream, I heard a Tawny Owl calling from the hillside on the other side of the stream, as others have reported. Kevin had purchased some snacks for us to eat, which substituted for breakfast, on the way into the park, which was a series of magnificent streams and waterfalls as we ascended again to the Primeval Forest at the top of the right hand fork. A lone Common Goldeneye on one pond was a highlight. At the top we were almost the first to walk the boardwalk into the forest. When no one was looking, we dodged up a path off the boardwalk. Birds were scarce and hard to see. The weather was cold, above freezing, but not by much, and overcast. There lots of Goldcrests and other common species and another Maroon-backed Accentor. Eventually, we started walking down hill on the board walk, but the noisy crowds were already with us. The best birds observed were a two Wallcreepers and several Brown Dippers. A side trail yielded European and Bar-tailed Treecreepers. Later we hopped back on the shuttle bus to have lunch at the crowded tourist center at the junction of the two main roads in the park, followed by another walk. Nothing new, except for single, separate Carrion and Collared Crows from the shuttle bus. Then back to the hotel. At the base it was clearly warmer and well into spring weather with flowers blooming and the trees well on their way to leafing out, in contrast to the winter-like conditions at the Primeval Forest.

Day Twenty, JuizhaigouNational Park, Wednesday April 25: Another day in the park and we decided to try the other road up to the Long Lake area. Rising early, we again went out to listen for the owl just outside the hotel entrance, but it was raining lightly and we heard nothing. We again caught the first 7 AM shuttle bus up to the Long Lake area, arriving under a frozen drizzle with some slush on the ground. We walked around the top area for a bit and then hiked down on the boardwalk, trying to stay ahead of the noisy tourists. We had good looks at a Blyth's and a Rosy Pipit near the top area, many Red-flanked Bush-Robins, likely migrants, as well as nearly 50 Blue-fronted Redstarts, Chinese Fulvettas, and a couple more Maroon-backed Accentors. It was cold, with some wind and few birds, so we hopped back on the shuttle bus to a lower elevation. Our guide got the bus to stop and let us off at an overlook for a dry lake, where it was warmer and the vegetation showed a few signs of spring. We then walked down an old board walk in the forest parallel to the road, which was technically closed and then up a side trail. But bird life was pretty quiet. We hiked the last couple of kilometers down to the main junction, ate some lunch, and decided to catch the shuttle bus back up to the Primeval Forest again to try for one last time. The crowds were large and noisy but we managed to find a few birds in the dark shadows—more Maroon-backed Accentors and I glimpsed a Snowy- throated (Sukatschev's) Laughingthrush feeding in the shadows, with several Elliott's. We birded until nearly the last bus down and returned to the hotel, had a meal in a local restaurant, and then prepared for the following days departure.

Day Twenty-One, Juizhaigou NP through Gansu province to Yangxian in ShaanxiProvince, Thursday April 26: This was the longest day's drive of the trip. Neither our guide nor the driver had done this particular leg before, so it was new territory for all of us. We did go out and managed to hear the Tawny Owl calling again before light. We had been assured that the drive was do-able. We left early and continued driving down along the river, eventually crossing over into Gansu Province since this was the shortest way. Along the drive we made a few short stops and saw Oriental Pratincole, Crested Kingfisher, several hundred swallows, a number of Blue Rock Thrushes, and a Russet Sparrow. Otherwise, it was just a long drive. The road was pretty muddy in places in Gansu, but later we joined the main double barrel highway heading northeast through Shaanxi. We arrived at the Yangxian Hotel at about 8 PM. It seemed to be a quiet city with older buildings than we had seen for most of our travels. We found a restaurant for a late dinner.

Day Twenty-Two, Yangxian Reserve and then drive to Foping, Friday April 27: Our guide Kevin has arranged for an early morning trip with a local guide to a heron roost just outside of town. It was clear that we were at lower elevation, since the trees were all leafed out and temperatures were warmer. It would be a sunny day. In the early light, near some rice paddies and other fields, we walked towards a large clump of trees, which we were told the locals had taken to protecting, since it was an important roost and nesting area for herons. Sure enough, it was noisy and we estimated that most of the herons were Cattle Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons, with about 2000 individuals of each species. Little Egrets were also numerous but the key species was the Crested Ibis, of which we saw about 8 here. The Ibis formerly nested here but now it is just used as a roosting area for a few individuals. As the light increased, a Golden Eagle was a surprise as the egrets flew in alarm when it approached the roosting and nesting area. We saw our first Oriental Turtle Doves and Grey-faced Woodpeckers. Elated our seeing the Ibis, we went back to the hotel for breakfast (about 15 minutes away). While packing up at the hotel room, I spotted a surprising Brown-rumped Minivet on the wire outside, along with a number of Greenfinches. We had arranged a meeting with another guide and for a tour of a part of the Reserve where the Ibis were nesting, leaving the hotel about 8:30. We again drove a short distance to a site not far from the main highway, where we turned off a small unpaved road into an agricultural area with small hills. The hills mostly had forest on them while the lower flat areas were cultivated, mostly as rice paddies (where we saw a Brown Crake). We followed the road up through the mostly flat valley and noticed scattered houses where the farmers lived with their families. Our guide explained that amazingly enough the Crested Ibis was nesting in the hills and actively fed in the rice paddies and that the local people had become very protective of the nests and carefully tracked nest success. The day had become warmer, above 20 degrees. We noted a Chinese Pond Heron and a White-breasted Waterhen in the wet valley. Overall, we saw an additional 17 Ibis, including several nests. The local people filled us in (translated by our guide) on the status of the nests: # eggs, incubation status, # of young, etc. One farmer had agreed to provide us lunch (we paid for it) and while his wife cooked, we watched several Ibis in the trees directly over his house.  We hiked around a bit through the hills and forest and saw Blackbirds, Pale-legged leaf-Warblers actively singing, two Korean (Yellow-rumped) Flycatchers, many Daurian Redstarts, and a White-crowned Forktail in a rather fetid stream bottom, several Eurasian Jays, Red-billed Starling, and our first Vinous-throated Parrotbills since Chengdu. By early afternoon, it was time to move and we had another lengthy drive of six hours to Foping, The hotel in Foping was just about empty, but we walked into town for a good meal and, on our back to the hotel, heard and spotted a Scops-Owl barely visibly in the street lights roosting on a downspout on the corner of a large apartment building.

Day Twenty-Three Foping Biosphere Reserve and drive to Xian, Saturday April 28: The next morning we drove almost pre-dawn to the Foping Reserve, which was one of the only turn offs up into the hills (mountains) above the narrow valley that we were driving up. After about an hour total of driving, we arrived at a grand entrance at the top of the hill for what appeared to be a new reserve, designated as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve to protect pandas and other wildlife. There were a couple of guys managing a small building, including several who apparently were panda trackers. The hills and forest stretched to the west as far as we could see. While Kevin heated some water for our instant noodles, we went for a quick walk to try and see what seemed like a deafening chorus of birds. The area proved to be very birdy, perhaps the most birdy that we had visited, and after walking up a cement stair trail near the simple house, we ate breakfast and walked up one of the dirt roads leading into the reserve. We were the only ones there and it seemed as if we were the only recent visitors in quite some time. We were only able to stay until 10 AM since it was a long drive to Xian, but it was worthwhile. We saw several Temminck's Tragopans and heard more calling, definitely a good sign for a protected area. We also heard Golden Pheasants and an Oriental Cuckoo. Bush-Warblers were common and we identified, at least, Yellowish-bellied and Brownish-flankedPhylloscopus warblers were singing everywhere and we managed to identify Chinese Leaf Warblers, Arctic Warblers, Large-billed and Blyth's Leaf-Warblers, Eastern Crowned Warblers, and at least one Bianchi's Warbler. Other birds include Slaty-backed and Slaty Blue Flycatchers, and Spectacled Fulvettas, and Three-toed, Great, and Spectacled Parrotbills in the extensive low bamboo.  Interestingly, we found a Slaty Bunting along side the road. We regretted leaving so early (as well as our inability to be better at identifying things by song). Then it was back down to the main road and on to Xian, where we arrived in the early evening, where we stayed at a hotel right near the central square and the bell tower. After weeks in low populated areas, it was a shock to see the crowds in a city. We had an interesting evening meal in a Muslim restaurant and did a little shopping.

Day Twenty-Four Xian and the Terracotta Warriors and drive back to Hanzhong, Sunday April 29: This day was intended to be our day visiting the incredible archaeological site of the Terra Cotta Army which was only rediscovered after many centuries in 1972. The Chinese have done an excellent job of creating an attractive and informative tourist site. We were smart to get there early at 8 AM when it opened, since it eventually became packed, with nearly all Chinese tourists. We had an English speaking guide for the site. By late morning we had visited the main sites and it was time for the long drive back. There were few birds, but we did spot a Crested Myna around the park. Then we left on the 8 to 9 hour drive to Hanzhong, stopping for lunch along the road. Hanzhong was just a hour west of Yangxian, which we passed in the dark. Hanzhong is a large but otherwise not very noteworthy city, as far as I could see.

Day Twenty-Five Hanzhong to Chengdu, Monday April 30: Another day of mostly driving on good highway back to Chengdu. We arrived back in mid-afternoon and noticed how much further out the vegetation was than on our arrival 25 days earlier. We stayed in the Lhasa Grand Hotel again and saw many more western tourists than we had seen before. Together with our guide, Kevin, and our driver, Mr. Lee, we went out to a fancy restaurant for our last dinner. Kevin tried to order regional specialties that he thought we would like and that we hadn't seen yet. It was a very nice meal, and, as usual, more than we could easily eat. Then it was back to the hotel to back and get ready for an early departure.

Day Twenty-Six Depart Chengdu: Kevin and Mr. Lee took us to the airport at 6 AM for our 8:30 AM flights. We gave them what we hoped was a generous tip, since Kevin especially had made it a great trip. I flew via Shanghai and Chicago back to Boston, with no incident, while Chris went on to Hong Kong for a few extra days of birding. 

        

Summary Itinerary April 6 to May 1, 2007

April 6     Arrive in Chengdu in the evening, Smith via Shanghai, Lester via Hong Kong, night in Chengdu

April 7     AM birding near and in Dufu's Cottage in Chengdu, followed by drive to Emeishan at noon, PM birding around base of Emeishan (Bao Guo), night at Bao Guo

April 8     AM birding around monastery on Emeishan, PM up to the Golden Summit, night at Golden Summit

April 9     AM birding on the Golden Summit, descend and PM drive to Wawushan, night at Wawushan

April 10    Early AM birding along road near hotel and then to summit on Wawushan, PM birding down the road and around hotel, night at Wawushan

April 11    Early AM birding around hotel and later birding down the road, PM drive to Dujiang Yan, night at Dujiang Yan

April 12    AM drive from Dujiang Yan to Wolong, birding along the road, PM birding behind Wolong Hotel, night in Wolong

April 13     AM birding near hotel, late morning hike up Wuyipeng, PM birding along trails at Wuyipeng, night at Wuyipeng

April 14    AM birding on trails at Wuyipeng, PM descent to Wolong, late PM birding behind hotel, night in Wolong

April 15    Early AM drive to Balangshan and birding back down road to Bemuping and Dengsheng, return to Wolong, late PM birding near hotel, night in Wolong

April 16    AM birding and hike up trail near Wild Panda Center, PM birding near hotel, night in Wolong

April 17    Early AM birding at Balangshan, with onwards drive over Balangshan to Rilong, PM birding along road in Rilong, night in Rilong

April 18    Early AM birding near Rilong, depart late morning for Mengbishan. PM birding on Mengbishan, night in Maerkang

April 19    All day birding on Mengbishan, night in Maerkang

April 20    All day drive from Maerkang to Hongyuan, frequent birding stops, night in Hongyuan

April 21    All day drive from Hongyuan to Rouergai, frequent birding stops, night in Rouergai

April 22    All day drive from Rouergai to Juizhaigou, frequent birding stops, night at Juizhaigou

April 23    Birding in Juizhaigou along main road, night in Juizhaigou

April 24    Birding all day in Juizhaigou NP, night in Juizhaigou

April 25    Birding all day in Juizhaigou NP, night in Juizhaigou

April 26    Long day drive from Juizhaigou to Yangxian (Shaanxi Province) with some birding stops, night in Yangxian

April 27    AM birding in Yangxian, late morning drive to Foping, night in Foping

April 28    AM birding in Foping Reserve, PM drive to Xian

April 29    AM visit to see Terracotta Soldiers, long PM drive to Hanzhong, night in Hanzhong

April 30    All day drive from Hanzhong to Chengdu, some birding stops, night in Chengdu

May 1       Depart Chengdu, Smith to USA via Shanghai, and Lester to Australia via three days in Hong Kong