19 July 2013

The Pull of the Far East...(19 July)

OK, so tonight I leave for the Far East once more; so after a month at home in Ecuador (where I managed to pick up a lifer Stygian Owl-see below-despite almost no birding through illness), I am heading back to the Orient, though this time to "new shores": Sulawesi and Halmahera in Indonesia

As I never really finished off my China blogging (because of illness), here are some highlights from my final time in China in June...

We spent the end of the China tour in the vast, under-populated, province of Qinghai. In just a few days there we racked up a total of six different snowfinches (Blanford's, Henri's, White-rumped, Black-winged, Rufous-necked, and Pere David's Snowfinches), including all six in one morning! Along with this stellar cast, we picked up Qinghai's most famous avian resident: Przevalski's Rosefinch, which is in its own family of the same name. The short scrubby slope where it was found also yielded Brown Accentor and Robin Accentors

Up near Rubber Mountains Pass we found a nesting pair of White-winged Redstart, while on the Gobi Desert-like plains of Chaka beyond, we found the striking Mongolian Ground-Jay, which was as interesting in flight as it was on the ground, with its spectacular pied wing pattern. These flats also yielded double figures of Pallas's Sandgrouse one morning, as party after party passed low overhead. A little further afield, on the far side of Chaka, we birded a craggy valley, which was exceptional for partridges, producing three different species: Przevalski's, Tibetan and Daurian Partridges, as well as Wallcreeper, a spanking breeding male Pine Bunting, and a solitary Himalayan Snowcock. Back on the Tibetan Plateau we admired Bar-headed Geese in good numbers, a Tibetan Fox terrorising a pika colony, and a roadside Little Owl that had chosen to nest in a road sign.

We returned to the city of Xining for a final night, afterwhich John, Ken, and I (who were heading out on later flights), birded a mountain overlooking the city (Beishan). This was a superb morning's birding, with nearly half a dozen or so Pale Rosefinches found around the deserted farm buildings, lots of Ring-necked Pheasants "crowed" from the hillsides, and Meadow Buntings seemed to pop up from every bush, (a lifebird no less). We also came upon a couple of pairs of Pere David's Laughingthrushes too. A great time to end my recent tour of China. I am already missing the food of both Sichuan (which is rightly world famous), and Qinghai (which is strangely not famous at all), and, of course, the birds; I hope I am back again next spring!

Reports to come from Asia again, very soon...

14 July 2013

City Life....ECUADOR (13-14 July)

I went into the doctors late last week expecting to pick up a prescription for some pills, and then leave. However, I went in with a gall bladder and came out without one, (plus some pills of course)! This was a little unexpected, and so my weekend of heavy work planned in prep. for my upcoming trip to Indonesia had to be abandoned for "rest" (=boredom). Luckily, some UK birders changed the face of my weekend when they walked into Quito's botanical gardens, and noticed a large brown shape sitting prominently, which turned out to be none other than a STYGIAN OWL! Luckily for me they were not the only ones in the park that day, and noticing a man with a birding t-shirt on, they informed him of the owl. This happened to be resident birder Roger Ahlman, who then put the word out online. Ironically, I heard from Andrew Spencer (who had picked up Roger's post), who was in Colorado at the time! The modern web of information! No matter though, news that there was a Stygian Owl sitting in the open, ten minutes from my "sickbed" was too much to bare; I mean, how can a birder rest knowing of this news! I soon got in contact with fellow Tropical Birder and good friend Jose Illanes and we were soon racing towards the park, with one pair of bins to share between the three of us (Jose, his girlfriend Cathy, and me), as there had been little time to gather things in the ensuing panic. 
As we entered the well-manicured gardens I relayed the directions to Jose, who quickly declared "I've got it!" And there it sat all day long, while birders turned up to pay their respects, locals played football noisily in the park alongside, and children came to get their faces painted in full view of this very unconcerned owl! 

Then I bumped into first the finders of the owl, who had news of an even rarer find: an American Pygmy-Kingfisher in the gardens too (totally bizarre in the highlands of Quito at 2800m, as this is normally an Amazonian species), and I soon found myself watching this handsome little kingfisher with Roger Ahlman. It had been a strange and bizarre day, with one lifer, and one very unexpected vagrant kingfisher.

I returned there today with Iain Campbell, and although he said the kingfisher was around, in my short visit (due to recuperation duties I have right now), I did not see it. However, the owl was sitting pretty and was even more open than yesterday, much to my pleasure and many local people's too, who enjoyed the use of our binoculars and seeing the photos of the bird on our camera screens. A weekend, and week to remember for so many reasons!