Sunday, 28 June 2015

Wrapping up

13 May 2015, South-eastern China - Day 12

Fuzhou Forest Park

Our last morning's birding was spent around some of the lower trails in the Fuzhou Forest Park. Being nearer the car park they soon became busy with walkers, joggers and others many of whom sang to music played loudly from Walkman style devices. Not ideal for birding but the birds here are clearly used to the eccentricities of the locals, who seemed more interested in us than we were in the birds. Despite the noise and disturbance we managed to see good numbers of Fork-tailed Sunbirds, a smart male Orange-bellied Leafbird, Black, Mountain and Chestnut Bulbul, Blue Whistling Thrush, Slaty-backed Forktail, Amur Wagtail, Rufous Woodpecker, Great Barbet, 2 more Collared Owlet, Grey Treepie, Huet's Fulvetta, Japanese Tit, Japanese White-eye, White-bellied Erpornis and heard White-necklaced Partridge and Chinese Bamboo Partridge.

The end of a superb trip into the South-east of China. Some excellent local and very special birds encountered, some interesting migration, brilliant waders, and a good group. Thanks to Nick Bray of Zoothera Birding who ran a great trip.

Black Bulbul
Chestnut Bulbul 
Chestnut Bulbul
Chinese Bulbul
Collared Owlet
A Dung Beetle rolls its dinner across the path
White-bellied Erpornis
Fork-tailed Sunbird
Female Fork-tailed Sunbird
Displaying male Fork-tailed Sunbird

Great Barbet
Slaty-backed Forktail

Huet's Fulvetta
Huet's Fulvetta
Japanese Tit
Mountain Bulbul
Orange-bellied Leafbird

Red-billed Blue Magpie
Rufous-faced Warbler
Rufous Woodpecker
A huge thank you to Steven An who organised the tour groundworks for Zoothera

When everything rests on one bird....

12 May 2015, South-eastern China - Day 11

Shan Yutan Island 

Many of my trips ultimately have one main target. On this trip it was the incredibly rare and little known Chinese Crested Tern. In 2000 the bird was literally brought back from the dead. Since 21 birds were collected for specimens near Qingdao on the Shandong Peninsula in north east China in 1937 (this appalling act in the name of science doubtless contributed to its demise) it was not seen again until ten birds were found near Libong in Southern Thailand in 1980. All went quiet again until the incredible news filtered through of four breeding pairs, with four young, discovered on a small Taiwanese island off the coast of Fuzhou in China. Since then a few birds have appeared each Spring mixed with the pre-breeding roosts of Crested Terns on a small sandy shoal off the Fuzhou coast.

And that sandy shoal is precisely where I was headed this morning! The great thing about bird tours is they overcome the logistics to get you to these inaccessible places. The bad thing is they have quite hectic schedules trying to show you as many species as possible, can mean you get just one chance at a target species. Much of this Zoothera tour was well paced with several days in the key habitats giving ample opportunities to try several times for difficult or special birds.  Nick had told the story from his previous trip when they found dense fog covering the island and they had to wait all day to finally get a view of the Chinese Crested Terns when the fog momentarily lifted and only after they had walked many miles out across the vast mudflats. Unfortunately our schedule and the tides meant we had just one chance, but we expected a long day and potentially a long wait.

However late last night came the shock news that we would have to be off the island by 07:30 due to the tides. The initial plan was we would get taken by boat out to the island just after dawn and have less than two hours on the island. I politely asked whether we could arrange for the boats to take us earlier, in the dark, so we maximised our limited time and once everyone else agreed arrangements were made for an 03:30 start! 

Like everything else on the tour the logistics worked perfectly. Vehicles carrying more that five people are not allowed on the streets before day break, so three tired 'taxi' drivers arrived at the hotel. They drove us out to the coast and then down a narrow, bumpy, mud trail until it ran out in a redeemed beside a narrow river. 

Driving out to the marsh in the dark
We waited about five minutes before a bicycle light appeared in the still pitch black. The boatman arrived with his punting pole on his shoulder and soon waded out into the river to find a couple of suitable flat bottomed dugouts. After donning life jackets we were loaded up and were slowly and silently punted through the marsh as the first glimmers of light began to appear on the horizon. Several Night Heron flew over in the half light and Oriental Reed and Black-crowned Reed Warblers started to sing. 

The real view as we set off in the boats
The same view massively brightened
And the scene with the flash - Stephen An on the right
We were landed on the shore and stepped off onto the island following a narrow path and some conveniently placed sticks across the deeper mud. Once on the sand we made our way down to the shore and started to scan. A group of about 8 Black-faced Spoonbill were roosting in the salt marsh behind the island. A large roost of Sanderling, Dunlin and Red-necked Stint included a few Red Knot and at least 2 Great Knot. Two distant Caspian Terns were the only terns present but as we scanned small numbers of Greater Crested Tern started to move along the coast. 

Carefully scanning I soon picked up two distant much paler terns - Chinese Crested Terns! They flew past without stopping. 

Chinese Crested Terns - would this be our only encounter?
The Island was also home to numbers of White-faced Plovers and a few Lesser Sand Plover were found roosting. 

White-faced Plover
White-faced Plover
Female White-faced Plover
White-faced Plover
I didn't see any arrive, but suddenly a roost of Great Crested Terns had started to develop at the other end of the spit. We moved closer and scanned the flock - yes, among them were two Chinese Crested Terns! We enjoyed good scope views over the next hour during which another two, perhaps the earlier fly bys joined the flock. Other terns in the roost included 2 Gull-billed, 2 Caspian, a Common, a White-winged, a Black and 2 Little! Three first summer Black-tailed Gulls joined the throng. 

Great Crested, Gull-billed (to top left) and Chinese Crested Terns (to bottom right) take flight
A flock of Black Terns flies over
In the channel a roost of 15 Greenshank, Redshank, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Dunlin and Red-necked Stint was seen, while around the island Little Egret and Night Herons were regularly seen. A flyby Chinese Egret tried to avoid attention. 

Chinese Egret
A female White-faced Plover gives a distraction display 
You really had to look where you were stepping with nests even in old footprints
The boat ride back in the light
The channel separating the sandy shoal from the mainland
The reedbeds along the river - in daylight
On the boat ride back several each of Oriental Reed and Black-crowned Reed Warbler. Yellow bellied prinia were singing from reeds near the landing. 

Yellow-bellied Prinia
We returned to the hotel for breakfast, then returned to the fields inland of the island just for a bit if unplanned birding in a different habitat with a chance of finding something different. We walked a raised bank hoping for migrants, kicking through any scrub or grass. Three Masked Laughingthrush seemed out of place, 2 Brown Shrike, Spotted Dove, 4 Long-tailed Shrike, a Black Drongo, Black-crowned Reed Warbler and Oriental Reed Warbler were all seen. Over the fields and pools were several Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns, Barn Swallows and a few Sand Martins. 

White-winged Black Tern
On the pools a few Common Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Greenshank and 7 wood sandpiper out one rice paddy. As we reached the far end of  the bank a bunting flicked onto the wall ahead of us, a female Yellow-breasted Bunting, that afforded good scope views. Further along a Black-shouldered Kite and a Yellow Bittern that flew into and then out of a small patch of reeds (with a little encouragement). 

Female Yellow-breasted Bunting
Yellow Bittern
Yellow Bittern
As we moved inland we found three women up to their waists in mud crawling around and presumably searching with their hands for shellfish. A tough way to earn a meal.

An Oriental Pratincole flew over the next set of fields where 2 Black-shouldered Kite hunted. A few Oriental Skylark sang and scanning the fields I found 2 moulting Pacific Golden Plover and 2 superb Little Curlew which gave good views. 

Oriental Skylark
Little Curlew

Little Curlew
As we left the area we found pair of White-browed Laughingthrush, several families of Long-tailed Shrike, more Yellow-bellied Prinia and 2 Red-collared Dove.

Juvenile Long-tailed Shrike
After lunch we headed south to the Fuzhou Forest Park, a large park that spreads up into the mountain foothills and consequently provides easy access to some good birding. We took the sightseeing bus to the top of the road then set off further up hill on the well made paths and steps into some good quality forest habitats looping up towards the summit and back down to the car park and cafe. 

Female Fork-tailed Sunbird
We quickly found Fork-tailed Sunbird and one of the stars Orange-bellied Leafbird, Black, Chestnut and Mountain Bulbul. Along the stream a loud flock of Laughingthrush caused confusion until we realised there were indeed both Greater and Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrush. 

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush 
A smart Blue Whistling Thrush hopped around in the stream and a Silver Pheasant showed well beside the path. As we walked through some more elevated cover a surprisingly large Grey-headed Parrotbill appeared along the trail and gave brief but good views. One of the main targets was White-necklaced Partridge, a not uncommon but particularly difficult to see species.We heard a couple from across the valley as well as Chinese Bamboo Partridge but could not call them in with the recording. 

Chestnut Bulbul
As we made our way down the many steps back to the bus stop a scuffling on the forest floor led me to a Chinese Bamboo Partridge and shortly after John and Jenny located two White-necklaced Partridge feeding under cover in the leaf litter. They proved difficult to see as they moved so slowly, but with patience most of the group got views. Other birds included Grey Treepie, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Huet's Fulvetta, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler (h), Scarlet and Grey-throated Minivets, Collared Owlet and a calling Oriental Scops Owl back at the car park.
The stunning Scarlet Minivet
In song flight overhead
Common Tailorbird
Eye's in the back of your head - Collared Owlet
And the real eyes - Collared Owlet

Collared Owlet
The view from the Forest Park back to the city