21 June 2013

Tragopanlets...CHINA (29-30 May)

Two further, full, days were spent birding the slopes of Longcanggou, south of Chengdu, in Sichuan province. This site has risen to more prominence in recent years as a stand-in site for the now closed Wawu Shan. So, where birders would search for bush-warblers, parrotbills, and a host of regional specialities (e.g. Emei Leaf-Warbler, Emei Liocichla etc.) on neighbouring Wawu Mountain, now Longcanggou has adopted the mantle.
The first of these days dawned wet, and surprisingly chilly for the southern shans, with the best activity coming from late in the morning onwards into the afternoon. A migrant male Tiger Shrike was found lurking in the forest, and we caught up with the odd Great Parrotbill, in exactly the place it wasn't the day before, but was the year before! In the afternoon, after a male Chinese Blue Flycatcher required some "going in" to extract views of it from within the thick bamboo; I noted a new road that had built through a mix of broadleaf and coniferous trees, ironically, as part of a re-forestation programme. 
This looked promising and so we walked down, flanked by conifer plantations on the one side and the rich and varied greens of a broadleaf woodland in springtime, on the other. The conifers produced the first blood though, with the high-pitched song of a male Slaty Bunting giving its position away to us. Further down the road, we adopted the well-worn tactic of playing the recording of a Collared Owlet to try and stir up the various passerines (songbirds) calling in the area. This worked best on this occasion than at any other time on the trip, (which never yielded the owl though). Long-tailed Minivets and Yellow-browed Tits were typically quick to react, rising to the tops of the trees and calling angrily. However, then the same canopy area was quickly alive with other, less predictable, visitors:  a lone Green Shrike-Babbler appeared just before a pair of Red-tailed Minla (a shock lifer for me) popped up too, closely followed by a Blue-winged Minla too, and then, the biggest surprise of all, an ivory-and-cerulean blue male Ultramarine Flycatcher! Late in the day we did a bit of crosscountry to access a narrow, in-forest river, where we finally all got cracking looks at a Pygmy Cupwing (formerly Pygmy Wren-Babbler), a species which had been toying with us all day long.

For our final, full, day we again decided to hike up to the upper slopes. A short stop lower down though quickly produced a hoped-for, though never guaranteed, pair of Golden Parrotbill, the bird that the term cute was created for. Driving on up the road further, we again came across some Temminck's Tragopan chicks crossing the road, one of which lingered for just enough time to hear the sound of my camera shutter working overtime. Reaching the marsh at nearly 2450m, we quickly realised that the cloud had not yet descended and visibility was atypically good for the place, and therefore quickly pushed on further in the hope of finding a pair of Sichuan Treecreepers which I had found on my scouting trip to the site a year earlier. The treecreeper remained un-found; even after a treecreeper was found in the same area, it turned out to be the more widespread Hodgson's Treecreeper, though still a new trip bird for us. We lunched in the area, in the hope the rarer treecreeper might appear, taking in instant rice, a singing, and scoped, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, and a Black-faced Laughingthrush as we did so. Then we turned about face and began to head down, when the unmistakable trill of a Sichuan Treecreeper reached our ears. A little duel ensued before the bird teed itself on a near dead fir tree. It was a great achievement  as I had missed it on my actual tour there last year, at this very same spot, and made the five-mile round hike worthwhile. We descended, picking up a pair of Brown Parrotbills around the marsh as we did so...

We just had one, final, morning left at Longcanggou, before we would have to head back to Sichuan's capital, and move deep in Tibetan country...

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