Monday, November 28, 2011

Tick!

One of my most-wanted birds in India finally fell today, when we tracked down a pair of white-naped tits at Nahargarh Biological Reserve (just outside Jaipur). Thanks go to my guide Ansar Khan who made all the necessary arrangements for finding this threatened species at short notice.

鳥北京

After my recent tour in China I was lucky enough to be able to spend two days birding with Terry Townshend in the Beijing area. Terry and his wife Libby looked after me splendidly and our birding netted me a number of new birds.

You can read Terry's account of the two days on his blog (Birding Beijing). We kicked off by visiting Terry's local patch (Wild Duck Lake and Yehayu) in the excellent company of Jesper Hornskov. The drive out to this site is rather long and often the traffic is awful but I know now why Terry bothers. These two sites always seem to throw up something special and our visit was no exception.

Chinese grey shrike was one of the new species for me on the day out to Wild Duck Lake.

In the brutal cold we checked a partially frozen Wild Duck Lake first, highlights here included: Daurian partridge (2), great bittern (3), Baikal teal (<10), Chinese grey shrike (4-5), Asian short-toed lark (13), Chinese hill warbler (4), Pallas’ reed bunting (common) and Japanese reed bunting (1). But also ruddy shelduck, Chinese spot-billed duck, gadwall, ferruginous duck (1 late bird), goosander, merlin (1), sparrowhawk, goshawk (1), hen harrier (4), common crane (120), grey-headed woodpecker and vinous-throated parrotbill.

At Yehayu, after negotiating the fence around the site, highlights included a black bittern (1, a great rarity in this part of China and at this late date too), great egret (1), grey heron (1), upland buzzard (3), great bustard (2 flying past), black-headed gull (2), a common kingfisher dying on the ice, Naumann’s thrush (1), chinese penduline tit (heard only) and pine bunting (2). A tolai hare here was nice too. Towards the end of the day we started losing momentum from fatigue and headed for Jesper’s home for an enjoyable evening meal.

The next day we headed out again, this time to the botanical gardens on the outskirts of Beijing. In the garden proper were berry-laden bushes with plenty of light-vented bulbuls and both dusky and Naumann’s thrushes in good numbers. Azure-winged magpies were common and three introduced crested mynas flew over. At least two Chinese grosbeaks perched up nicely for scope views. We checked an area of conifers briefly for Chinese nuthatch and then moved on to tackle the ridge behind the gardens for a few special birds. The ridge walk produced a small group of curious plain laughingthrushes and we heard the Chinese hill warbler.

When we finally got down (after searching in vain along the busy paths for Siberian accentor) and found a pair of very busy Chinese nuthatches storing pine nuts for the winter. A great bird. A good flock of Pallas’ warblers was present here too, we had seen odd individuals during the day and also a handful of red-flanked bluetails. Mammals seen here were red and Père David’s rock squirrels. Another great day out.

So huge thanks to Terry and Libby, I sat on my flight to Delhi absolutely exhausted after 48 hours non-stop socialising and birding - a great stay in Beijing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Postcard from Yangxian and Xian

Sympetrum infuscatum was still on the wing just south of Foping town. Other Odonates went unidentified sadly, next year I will take a net!

Our China trip ended with a short journey south to see crested ibis, something of a conservation success story this species. It has bounced back from a population of just four adults in 1981 to a still wobbly but infinitely preferable 500 or so.

The drive south took us along a wide river valley south of Foping town, here we caught up with spectacular Daurian redstart.

Another eagerly awaited species at this site was ibisbill, no problems finding one on this trip.

A riverside walk outside Yangxian gave us plenty of new birds, not just showy birds like this crested kingfisher but also a chance to look at rosy and blakistonii water pipit. One of the better birds here was a pair of long-billed plover.

Our main target here of course was the crested ibis, we never got great photographic opportunities sadly. The lack of light, a shortage of time and the wariness of many individuals conspired against us.

The tour ended with a mad dash around the Terracotta Army site just outside Xian. It was good but after an hour some of us slipped away to bird the grounds and came away with this male Hodgson's redstart added to our life-lists. I have been after this one for some time, so it was a nice way to end the tour.

Giant panda!

Giant panda is perhaps the most iconic mammal in the world and this month I got a chance to spend eight, sometimes gruelling, days searching for them in the Foping reserve in the Qinling Mountains of central China. The terrain was appalling, steep valley sides covered in dense bamboo made for some excellent exercise and not a little swearing. We lost four days to rain and low cloud but the other four days netted us two panda sightings.

The first came on our first day in the field and was a rather distant 'birder's' view, binoculars and close observation required. The animal was above us on a bamboo-covered hillside and slowly ate it's way into view before eventually running out of food and moving off out of sight. Nice because it was behaving naturally and the view was long but also frustrating because it was partially obscured and at long-range.

So another sighting was much desired and after a great deal of personal exertion on our third day tracking and huge and expert effort from our local team we had a brief but close encounter with a young, radio-collared male. I made an effort to record this on video (see below). Next year the tour includes an extension to see red panda, it just gets better! Roll on next year!

video

Postcard from Foping

Just completed an enjoyable and successful giant panda tour at Foping (China). China was amazing and I cannot wait to return. We saw two giant pandas, so stay-tuned for a panda video in a later post.

One of the mammal highlights of the start of the tour was a close encounter with a group of golden snub-nosed monkeys at a feeding station near the access gate to the panda reserve.

Despite the late date, a few butterflies were still flying in the Qinling Mountains, including this common beak (Libythea lepita).

The area around our chilly accommodation block at Sanguanmiao research station was great birding in the mornings before we headed out and on rainy days when panda tracking was not possible. We definitely developed a patch mentality about these orchards and clearings and enjoyed finding birds like this Asian barred owlet and a handful of late migrants like olive-backed pipit, Pallas' warbler and little bunting.

The Foping forest is in great shape and white-backed woodpeckers occurred at a density I have never experienced before. We got used to daily sightings of this special woodpecker.

Another mammal highlight was a morning devoted to climbing up a valley to see the enormous red-and-white flying squirrel. Our trackers 'encouraged' them to fly down the valley for us. Awesome.

Rufous-breasted accentor was a common inhabitant of the abandoned and overgrown fields on the edges of the nearby village.

An eagerly awaited tick for me was grey-headed bullfinch, we saw small flocks daily in open areas.

Chinese babax was also a bird I was looking forward to and they proved to be common around the research station.

Monday, November 7, 2011

a walk in the woods

A flock of 60+ waxwing in the Lindab carpark at Förslöv kicked off the day. The men from Glimminge found a pygmy owl at Killeröd yesterday, which prompted a long morning walk around the area. No sign of the owl, but a lot of agitation amongst the local tits and goldcrests when they were played the 'bicycle-pump' call. Highlights included a total of 29 two-barred crossbills and at least five crested tits.

In the afternoon I suddenly found out that there had been a Siberian chiffchaff at Öllövsstrand yesterday, so off I went late in the day for a fruitless search of the coastal scrub. Vasaltheden produced the only good bird of the afternoon, a 1K peregrine flying past south.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mid-morning wanderings

Nipped out for two hours mid-morning after a lazy start to the day. The garden had 14 waxwings and then I was off to Klarningen. Plenty of geese reported here yesterday but no sign today. The teal flock is dwindling (146) and just one wigeon remains. The place has a winter feel about it already, which is not helped by the brooding presence of two rough-legged buzzards and a ringtail hen harrier.

A quick look at Petersberg revealed that the tufted duck flock has swollen to 60 but there was little else to excite.

Last stop of the day was Malen, where predictably the kingfisher zoomed past. The shoreline vegetation had a handful of redpoll and a crested tit called in the background. Out at sea the surf scoter pursued it's solo career but a huge tonnage of sea-duck are drifting south towards it and I fear it may get harder to see. The seaducks north of here included 150 eider and perhaps 170 scaup but they were too far for an accurate count/identification.

Spent the afternoon in the garden but it was peaceful, just a few redpolls over.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

kingfisher - 223

Nipped down early to Båstad this morning. It was sunny and bright on top of the hill, but as I descended into town the fog thickened up really well and visibility was very poor. Despite this I headed for the harbour, but before I got there a kingfisher loomed out of the fog. It tried to land on my head and then, realising it's error, beetled off east. Year-tick, at last! Probably the last one too, unless something great happens this week. So after ten whole minutes in the field I headed home.

In the afternoon we lunched at Dagshög under a blue sky - just 92 golden plover over and a goshawk through on the way back to the car. Mrs B dropped me at the bottom of Sinarpsdalen on the way back to chase Martin Ekenberg's pygmy owl but all I got was a decent walk home. Highlights of the trek were a very vocal great grey shrike and a single hawfinch.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Swedish tick in BK!

Kicked off predictably with a morning walk around Gröthögarna. Gave the Norra Ängalag area a good going over after yesterday and was rewarded with three two-barred crossbills - this species is on the move again here in Sweden and popping up at coastal locations. Also here was yesterday's adult peregrine perched on nearby rocks and offering a much nicer view. The walk round to Ripagården was quiet, but the area around the harbour produced a grey wagtail (over), at least one crested tit and a flock of 15 redpoll. The walk back was uneventful too, but small flocks of waxwing were flycatching from the tops of bushes and bullfinches called from the juniper scrub.

As I drove home a text message came through that Olof Jönsson (of Corvo 2009 fame and Swedish birding royal) had found a 1K Richard's pipit at Torekov! Back at home though the team were far from prepared to hit the field and the next 20 minutes strained matrimonial relations somewhat. But with a BBQ packed and the kids dressed we headed off and arrived to find a small gallery enjoying the bird. Sadly it was not in very good shape, limping heavily with a damaged right leg. Great to see it though and despite it's injury it was feeding strongly on the swarms of flies, brought out by the sun and mild temperature. Nice BK tick and great to be able to watch it for 20 minutes before heading south for a grilled sausage with the team.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Virusheadf@ckgyrdippallas's?" sort of day

Team Benstead has been struck down by a cold virus sadly this week and this is certainly impairing my meagre birding abilities, as the story of today will demonstrate...

Having dropped off Ma B at the train station for her return to Blighty, I ran some errands and then headed for nearby Klarningen. Just as I made the turn off the main road the phone went, an SMS stating that an adult gyr falcon had been seen an hour before on Tjällran. I reversed back onto the road and within twenty minutes was at Norra Ängalag quizzing a falcon sitting facing me on the distant island. No way of knowing if this was the same bird but I doubt it, because it was a peregrine! The poor light and longish range were not ideal for being sure though and I gave this bird a thorough going over just to make sure I had got it right. A quick video through the scope and I was happy. Well, actually pretty unhappy as gyr is one of my most-wanted BK birds.

During this process I had occasionally heard a strange nasal 'tchuee' call from nearby. Checking the bushes produced a departing goldcrest flock but the calls stopped and I went on with my falcon. I got home, checked things through, put on Calls of Eastern Vagrants in the background and my heart sank when the CD got to Pallas's warbler... Pretty inexcusable. You snooze, you lose. I got back in the car and headed back but a good walk around the area in the gathering dusk failed to turn up the goldcrest flock, just a single wheatear.

Thanks go to Thomas Svanberg for translating the gyr falcon BMS alarm onto the local SMS network which at least got me close to some birds today!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Flaming November

Another dawn arrival at Båstad harbour failed to produce a kingfisher yet again. The waxwings all gathered in one tree briefly, allowing a count of 330 to be made, a big flock for round here. The surf scoter made it onto my November list too, how long is it going to stay?

Klarningen was the next stop and rather routine it was until too I heard a sandpiper flying in from the north. WTF! It was a wood sandpiper and dropped in on the main pool, strutted about a bit, had a wash and then headed south. A really late record and my first in BK since early September! The weather is unseasonally mild and there are going to be plenty of late records to be had I think. The two ringtail hen harriers were still on site and other highlights included three shoveler (my first in November) and a little grebe.

Picking up Ma B and the kids we headed out for lengthy tour of BK. First stop was Axelstorps Ravine. No sign of any dippers here in a quick look. Lunched at Kattvik harbour where a solitary red-necked grebe bobbed about and then headed Gröthögarna where we had a great walk. Highlights here included my first November wheatear, 35 waxwing, a showy great grey shrike and a late flying female Aeshna mixta. Last stop of the day under a weak sun was a quick look at Torekov, the rocks south of the harbour had just two shags and then it was time for home.