Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Zoothera Global Birding’

The Chinese Crested Tern, a close relative of the Sandwich Tern, was our goal for the final segment of the Zoothera Global Birding trip to China in May 2012.  This Critically Endangered tern with a total population of less than 50 birds is much rarer than the Giant Panda.  It is declining rapidly for various reasons, including egg collection (for food) and the aggressive development of China’s coast with its resulting habitat loss.

Little Tern.  Lovely, but not our target.

After a short early afternoon flight from Nanchang to Fuzhou, we started out towards the MinJiang Estuary.  The roads were so narrow that we had to switch to two smaller vehicles for this part of the trip.  After we drove as close as possible, a boatman took us a few kilometres along the channel to the edge of the estuary.  We then waded across a coastal tidal creek and were finally able to start searching for the tern.  We saw Great Crested Tern, Little Tern, and shorebirds, but the Chinese Crested Tern eluded us except for a fleeting fly-over observed by the others.  But I did not see them well enough to count.  The dense mist made viewing conditions awful and I missed many of the shorebirds, too.  We returned to the boat and were ferried to our vehicles in the fading light.

Kentish Plover

The next morning we left the hotel at 4:40 AM to try again for the tern.  The weather was even worse than the first day with rain in addition to the mist.  Luckily, the rain stopped by the time we reached the channel to the estuary.  Our boatman ferried us across, but the mist was still very dense and we could not see more than 50 yards.  We decided to wade across the channel to the other side of the estuary.  Walking out there was like plodding through four inches of mud the consistency of glue with several inches of water on top of it.  My wellingtons were a size too big and I couldn’t get my balance.  With each step, as I pulled one foot out of the muck, the other foot sunk deeper.  Finally, I lost my equilibrium and the mud won, sucking me down until my clothes and binoculars were covered with the thick gooey stuff.  Menxiu, our Chinese guide, saw what happened and came back to pull me out of the muck.  I laughed and trudged on.

Shelley at MinJiang Estuary.  Photo by Raymond Shewan.

The mist continued to present such a challenge that I asked if anyone was interested in splitting the group so that some of us could leave.  Two others were also ready to go, so we left with Menxiu, while Nick and the remaining two birders stayed to continue their search for the tern.

Chinese Crested Tern. My big miss for the trip.

I was so happy to be off of the mud flats that I didn’t care if I missed the tern.  Our little group immediately started seeing new birds as soon as we were back on solid ground.  I finally had a great look at a Eurasian Hoopoe, which I had missed earlier in the trip.  And we saw two Black-winged Cuckooshrikes mating!  The others soon caught up with us, their luck having changed shortly after we left.  They were elated with their views of the Chinese Crested Terns.  So, everyone was satisfied with their morning as we set off for lunch and then Fuzhou National Forest Park.

The park was just what its name implied – a park in a forest – and it was one of the most beautiful places that we visited.  We saw some nice birds that afternoon, including a Blue Magpie.

Blue Magpie (also called Red-billed Blue Magpie)

One of the group’s favorites was this Collared Owlet.

Collared Owlet

The next morning we went to Fuzhou National Forest Park again.  I loved the park, but I was getting tired by the last few days of the trip.  While I was tired with a general lack of energy, some of the others were tired of Chinese food.  We actually broke down and ate at KFC a couple of times.  The food was similar to any other KFC, but the drinks were different.  There were no diet drinks and no water; just Coke and fruit juice.  One frustration we had during the entire trip was the unavailability of cold water to drink.  Early on, we had given up asking for water and just started drinking beer with every lunch and dinner.  Beer was served refreshingly icy cold and it seemed to be cheaper than water.

At Fuzhou National Forest Park, the paths were pretty much constant up and down.  After an hour or so, I announced that I wanted to go back to the car to wait for the group.  But, I learned that the trail that we were on was a loop and we were in the middle.  There was no easy way back to the car.  So, I continued on with the group and was glad that I stuck it out.  The last new bird of the trip was a stunning Slaty-backed Forktail, which I would have missed if I had gone back.  Another fun sighting was this family of Great Tits bathing.

Great Tit family bathing at Fuzhou National Forest Park.

Fuzhou National Forest Park also had quite a few butterflies.  My favorite was this Papilio paris.  Those metallic greenish blue spots on the hindwing are rather large and shimmer when this gorgeous butterfly is in flight.

Papilio paris, my favorite butterfly of the trip.

After a lovely but tiring morning, we headed to the airport for our flight to Shanghai.  It was the end of the Zoothera birding trip.  I said “goodbye” to Nick and the other guys in our group.  They had all been kind, patient, and helpful and we had shared many laughs together in addition to seeing rare and wonderful birds.  I had not just survived; I had enjoyed the trip.  The next morning, I took a flight to Beijing to meet my son, Dave.

Thanks once more to Tony Mills for the use of his photos. For more of Tony’s work, see Photo Art by Tony Mills and Not Just Birds.  For Nick’s official trip report, see SE China 2012.  The dates for this part of the trip were May 13-15, 2012.

Crested Myna, a bird frequently seen on the trip.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The morning after our arrival in Nanchang, we made the long drive to Wuyishan National Key Nature Reserve.  But first we had to have breakfast.  In China, breakfast food is frequently the same as dinner, but noodle shops are also popular.  They all looked pretty much the same, so the photo below may or may not be where we ate breakfast on our first morning.  One of the regional specialties of this area is green dumplings, which were one of my favorite foods in China.  I have no idea what was in them, but they were delicious.  On some days, we started out for birding before the noodle shops opened at 6 AM, but when we did indulge in breakfast, it was usually a bowl of noodles with a fried egg and green dumplings.

Wuyishan National Key Nature Reserve is the largest and the most comprehensive surviving semi-subtropical forest in southeast China.  While we saw devastating habitat loss in much of China, especially along the coast, the Chinese seem to be continuing twelve centuries of tradition in protecting areas in the Wuyi Mountains.  The Wuyishan Reserve became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1987 and a UNESCO World Heritage  site in 1999 .  (Wuyishan Biosphere Reserve info and Wuyishan World Heritage info.)

The reserve’s winding road to Huanggang Mountain, the highest peak in the Wuyi range at 7080 feet, provided spectacular views of the mountains, their gentle waterfalls, and changing vegetation as we ascended the mountain, progressing from tea and bamboo to evergreen broad-leaved forest to the treeless summit.  We were told that the number of visitors is limited and that the fees to enter the park are quite high.  These restrictions gave us our own private escort and we saw no other tourists during our two days in the park.  I finally found this news article which describes the restricted access to the reserve which began in 2009 to protect the environment.

Wuyishan

Wuyishan

Wuyishan National Key Nature Reserve is reputedly the easiest place in the world to see Cabot’s Tragopan, a vulnerable species which is endemic to southeast China.  We were fortunate to find this splendid male on our first afternoon in the reserve.

Cabot's Tragopan

Cabot’s Tragopan

We observed him from our minibus for 20 minutes, only a few feet from the road feeding in small trees.  No words are adequate to describe that head, but the rest of the bird was equally fascinating.  The pattern on his back looked like it was created with intricate bead work which seemed to fade to lace on the ends of the wings and tail.  That tragopan was the most gorgeous bird I’ve ever seen.

Cabot's Tragopan

Cabot’s Tragopan

The next morning we headed for the summit at 4:30 AM, but dense mist and high wind made for poor visibility and not much fun.  We had rain in the afternoon which became heavier during the night.  In between the showers, though, we did see some nice birds including the following.

Pygmy Wren-babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla, now called Pygmy Cupwing)

Pygmy Wren-babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla, now called Pygmy Cupwing)

Fujian Fulvetta

Fujian Fulvetta

White-browed Shrike-babbler

White-browed Shrike-babbler

Hartert's Warbler

Hartert’s Warbler

On our last morning in the Wuyishan Reserve, we drove to the summit again and were much luckier with the weather than we had been the previous morning.

Wuyishan summit

Wuyishan summit

We missed the Upland Pipits that we’d hoped for, but all had nice views of Rosy Pipits and a few other birds including this Brown Bush Warbler.

Brown Bush Warbler

Brown Bush Warbler

A monument proudly proclaimed that we were at the highest peak of the Wuyi Mountains.

Wuyishan was my favorite part of the trip, so I was sad to leave, but we had more wonderful birds to see in other places, so it was back in our minibus for the long afternoon drive to Wuyuan.  Our target there was Courtois’s Laughingthrush, one of the world’s rarest birds with a wild population estimated at 200 – 250 individuals.  Much has been written about its rediscovery in 2000; previously it was known only from two museum specimens collected in 1919.  For a thorough accounting of the story see Little-known Oriental Bird: Courtois’s Laughingthrush.  Since that report, the Courtois’s Laughingthrush has been awarded full species status.

To say that I was not disappointed would be a huge understatement.  Here was a bird that was not only rare, but it was big, beautiful, colorful and gregarious.  Unlike most other Laughingthrushes, Courtois’s Laughingthrush nests in loose colonies.  We were fortunate to observe nest-building, mutual preening, and much interaction between the 50 or so birds in the area that we visited.

Courtois's Laughingthrush

Courtois’s Laughingthrush

The little island in the middle of a river running by a small rural village where we saw the Courtois’s Laughingthrush was quite interesting.  The large trees on the island where the birds nest have been protected by the villagers for centuries and are probably the reason that the birds still survive.  The island was shared with many other bird species, dozens of chickens running around, and a water buffalo grazing.  In addition to our group, there were about about a dozen Chinese photographers admiring the Laughingthrushes.

In the river surrounding the island with the Courtois’s Laughingthrushes, we saw these gorgeous drake Mandarin Ducks.

Mandarin Ducks

Mandarin Ducks

Other great birds in Wuyuan included White-browed Laughingthrushes.

White-browed Laughingthrushes

White-browed Laughingthrushes

Also found nearby was a Long-billed Plover.  This species is not rare or endangered, but it was a target bird for the trip as its range is limited to East Asia.

Long-billed Plover

Long-billed Plover

On our second morning at Wuyuan, we had a surprising view of two Chinese Bamboo-partridges fighting on the side of the road.  This is a species rarely seen in the open.

Chinese Bamboo-partridge

Chinese Bamboo-partridge

Chinese Pond Heron is a common bird in China and I enjoyed seeing them in their finest breeding plumage.  In non-breeding plumage, they are just plain brown birds.

Chinese Pond Heron

Chinese Pond Heron

After three full days in Wuyuan, it was time to head to the airport once again for our flight to Fuzhou and the last part of our birding trip.

Thanks again to Tony Mills for the generous use of his photos in this post. For more of Tony’s work, see Photo Art by Tony Mills and Not Just Birds.

Read Full Post »

I was the only woman, the only American, the least experienced birder, and the least physically fit participant in the Zoothera Global Birding trip to Southeast China in May. Fortunately for me, the leaders and other birders were very patient and helpful and we all had a good sense of humor. That help was needed as I had more difficulty that I expected keeping up and getting quality views of the birds. My birding at home was much better after my cataract surgery last year. And, I had just successfully climbed the Pinnacle Trail at Big Bend a couple of weeks earlier. But birding on mud flats and in bamboo forests in hot weather with inadequate sleep proved to be a challenge for me. The guys, however, considered this to be an “easy” trip.

The trip started at the Shanghai airport where I met Zoothera’s owner, Nick Bray, local China guide, Menxiu Tong, and the five other birders on the morning of May 4, 2012. One of the birders, Tony Mills, is a semi-professional photographer and he generously provided all of the photos in this post. For more of Tony’s work, see his website, Photo Art by Tony Mills.

We headed out right away towards the coast. A great little spot right by the road gave us close views of several species including several Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

We also saw a Swinhoe’s Snipe at the same spot. Everyone was very excited about the snipe as it is less common than Pintal Snipe, but it is very difficult to see the difference between the two species. Our leaders agreed on the identification after watching the bird for 15 minutes or so and examining multiple photos of the bird. Tony and both of our leaders were skillful photographers which facilitated “instant replay” and allowed detailed study of the snipe in flight moments after we had watched it.

Swinhoe's Snipe

Swinhoe’s Snipe

A small wooded area further on provided a change of pace and new birds including this gorgeous Narcissus Flycatcher. In China, it’s the warblers that are dull and flycatchers that are bright and colorful.

Narcissus Flycatcher

After this exciting start to the trip, we settled in for the 4-hour drive to Rudong where we would spend the night and the next day and a half.  The photo below is our hotel in Rudong; the other places that we stayed were similar. Our accommodations for the trip were typical Chinese hotels – clean enough, safe, and air-conditioned, but very basic. The beds were hard, the rooms were small, and the bathrooms were one big room with a drain in the middle of the floor and no separate shower enclosure. Another odd bathroom feature in most rooms was a full-length window between the shower and the bedroom. Our hotels usually had western style toilets, a luxury as restaurants and other public places normally had squat toilets.

Rudong, China

Rudong, China

We started our first morning in Rudong at the “Magic Forest”, a small wooded area that attracts migrants. The star of the forest that day was this spectacular male Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher.

Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher

Our target in Rudong was Spoon-billed Sandpiper. This critically endangered sandpiper had captured my heart a couple of years ago and was the most important bird of the trip for me. I had expected to break down sobbing when I actually saw the bird, either from joy, or sadness that this charismatic little sandpiper is on the verge of extinction. Surprisingly, the actual sighting of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper was a non-emotional, somewhat disappointing event for me. First, we were not able to get close and had only distant scope views. Second, the sandpiper was difficult to identify. It looks unmistakable in the field guides, but the actual bird looks very much like a Red-necked Stint unless it holds it head just right so that you can see its spoon-shaped bill. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to add Spoon-billed Sandpiper to my life list. In Tony’s photo below, the Spoonie is in front, just right of the Dunlin.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other shorebirds

Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other shorebirds

Here is a sampling of other birds we saw along the coast on our first day there.

Gray-headed Lapwing

Gray-headed Lapwing

Black-winged Stilts

Black-winged Stilts

Saunder’s Gull

Our last stop for the day was the ‘new’ Magic Forest, a small area of isolated trees and scrub, where migrants had arrived during the afternoon. This Northern Boobook (Ninox japonica) appeared to be as excited as we were and flew around several times to escape us, but we all got great views of this gorgeous owl.

Northern Boobook (Ninox japonica)

Northern Boobook (Ninox japonica)

The next morning we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Boobook was in the same area along with many new migrants that had arrived overnight. One of the birds that I enjoyed seeing wasn’t rare at all, but this sweet Oriental Turtle Dove on her nest.

Oriental Turtle Dove

Oriental Turtle Dove

After enjoying the Magic Forest for a couple of hours, we hurried out to the tidal flats for shorebirds. In addition to the expected birds, we found a nice group of Black-faced Spoonbills. This is another endangered bird with a global population of less than 3,000. I had seen them in Hong Kong in 2009 and found it interesting that their feeding style is completely different from our Roseate Spoonbill. Instead of using their bills to strain food from the water as their pink cousins do, Black-faced Spoonbills sweep their bills from side to side searching for small fish and shrimp.

Black-faced Spoonbills

Black-faced Spoonbills

Some of my favorite new shorebirds were the Sand-plovers. We saw Greater and Lesser Sand-plovers on both days.

Lesser Sand-plover

Lesser Sand-plover

The photo below is our group on the tidal flats at Rudong. I was as overwhelmed as it looks. There were birds everywhere, but not 20 feet away as I enjoyed in Florida, and most were new to me. But, of course, I was thrilled with this shorebird bonanza. After enjoying this spectacle, we returned to the hotel for lunch and headed to the airport for our flight to Nanchang and the next phase of our birding adventure in Southeast China.

On the beach at Rudong

On the beach at Rudong

Read Full Post »