This was the first of two days for us in Jiuzhaigou National Park, in northern Sichuan. This park, designated as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a World Biosphere Reserve, consists of a number of dramatic valleys dotted with Tibetan villages, which lend to its name "Valley of Nine Villages". As a birder, traveling to this park presents its own challenges: the park does not open until 07.00am (well after dawn), and your movements within the park are restricted by having to use the large park buses. Although, us birders, do get frustrated by these rules, it is hard not to see why they are necessary, when they can get over a million visitors in a single year. Still, the valley remains poorly known to western tourists, strangely, in spite of its extraordinary beauty, it is rare to see western tourists in the park, which are outnumbered massively by Chinese, Japanese and Korean tourists.
Our regular way of getting around the park rules, is to track down a local driver who will drop us off at places between the official bus stops, or take us up to some of the official areas before the first park buses, and tourists, arrive. This has worked well over the past 5 years for us, but came unraveled on this day, when our man on the ground, Frank, simply could not find anyone willing to do this. (Although, while he was looking we did find a Spectacled Fulvetta beside the large LCD screen at the park entrance!). What this meant for us was, we had to undertake our very own "Long March", and head 4km up the road to a narrow valley where we'd hoped to find the park's rarest bird: Rufous-headed Robin. As we walked up towards the "Robin Valley" we managed to find some interesting birds though: more Daurian Redstarts (one of which was actually hopping along the high-tech ticket barrier as we entered the park); our first angry Sooty Tits (an endemic species); and an aggressive Chinese Nuthatch, which took particular exception to hearing another nuthatch in its territory.
After spending considerable time in the narrow valley searching for the elusive Rufous-headed Robin, only a few of us who were positioned at the front of the line, (Dixie and I, mainly), got a good look (or indeed any look) at the robin, and so we vowed to return the next day. So, we dropped down lower in the valley and walked around one of the myriad scenic lakes in the valley, where we found several parties of the endemic Spectacled Parrotbill hiding in the reeds, and, finally, found a Pere David's Laughingthrush on the dry scrubby hillside above our hotel in the town, to round out the day later on.
While we had endured some frustrations, (the long march, the robin etc.), we had added some key new birds, and I relished another day, and more challenges, in Jiuzhaigou to come the next day...