Being rather partial to pheasants, in the field and not on the plate that is, we decided that it was time to increase our pheasant list. As Mike and I had seen both White-eared and Elwe's on our recent Tibet trip, we thought it would be great to add Brown-eared to the list. Also Reeve's Pheasant, although not the gaudiest of pheasants, is still a stunning looking bird and we were really keen to see it. Our quest was helped by the fact that Bjorn Anderson had staked out sites for both pheasants last year. As it was winter and the number of supporting species at each site was very limited, we decided to be very ambitious and try to combine the two sites in one weekend, because if we concentrated on one site for a whole weekend and scored on our first morning, we would have been kicking our heels for the rest of the weekend. Having read Bjorn's reports, we felt that we had a good chance, even though our time was somewhat limited at both sites. Our prospects were further enhanced when we checked the flights and found that the schedules suited our attempt.
In the end we saw neither pheasant, but I think even if we had spent a whole weekend at either site, we would probably still have dipped. The reason why is open to conjecture. Personally I believe that because of the large amount of snow at Xiaolongmen, the Brown-eared Pheasants were feeding in a different location. As for the Reeve's Pheasant, it had had been a particularly snowy winter and the forest had been subjected to substantial snow damage. On the other hand, maybe we are just crap pheasant finders.
Considering the distances covered and the fact that it was China where things do not always go to plan, everything with regards travel and accommodation went like clockwork. We had to visit two separate sites, Dongzhai in Henan Province which is about a two hour expressway drive north of Wuhan and Xiaolongmen about 2 hours west of Beijing. For our visit to Dongzhai we used the services of Liu Yang who organized transport to and from the airport and accommodation at the reserve. He is currently studying Reeve's Pheasants at the reserve. He was an excellent guide, spoke good English and understood our requirements to be in the field before first light and spend as long as possible birding without returning for food as is the usual Chinese practice. On top of that, the price we agreed was the price we paid, an unusual occurrence in China. Our visit to Xiaolongmen was organized by Bjorn. Jesper Hornskov, who we had traveled with in Tibet, happened to be in Beijing that weekend so joined us on the Xiaolongmen leg of our twitch.
At Dongzhai we stayed at the newly constructed visitors' block at the reserve research station. The quality was excellent, however in line with most rural buildings in China, there was no heating and at night it was 3 degrees outside and 2 degrees inside! Mike and I took sleeping bags to supplement the quilts that were provided. Chris didn't and slept in his hat, scarf, gloves and coat to keep warm.
In Beijing Bjorn was very kind to put us up for the night.
At Dongzhai lunch on Saturday was provided by the reserve staff. It was typical rural Chinese fair. We could have had breakfast but we declined, wanting to maximize our time in the field.
Although it was very cold at night, we had sunshine on both days, which raised temperatures into single digits above freezing during daylight hours.
At Xiaolongmen there was still a considerable amount of snow on the ground with only a few clear patches on south facing slopes.
Our thanks go to Bjorn for firstly providing the information on the sites, secondly for organizing our visit to Xiaolongmen and thirdly for letting us stay at his house. We would also like to thank Liu Yang for organizing the Dongzhai part of our trip where the arrangements went like clockwork.
The Field Guide to the Birds China - MacKinnon
Trip Report Xiaolongmen Beijing China, 11th and 26th January 2004 - Bjorn Anderson
Trip Report Dongzhai Nature Reserve Henan China, February 28th - 29th 2004 - Bjorn Anderson.
Friday 25th February 2005
Met up with Mike and Chris at the Lok Ma Chau border crossing at 3pm. Crossed into China and took a taxi to Shenzhen Airport where we caught the 5:35pm flight to Wuhan arriving just after 7pm. We were met at the airport by Liu Yang who had arranged a four-wheel drive to take us to the reserve as the final few kilometers were very muddy and steep and it was possible a normal car would not make it. Following a two-hour drive mainly along expressways we arrived at the reserve research station and were shown our rooms. We had a couple of beers outside as it was warmer than inside and excitedly discussed our strategy.
Saturday 26th February 2005
Up at 5:30am and walked from the research station to an area of pines close to a derelict building about 20 minutes away. Liu Yang believed this area to be a roosting site. Just as it was getting light we heard a clatter of wings of what we presumed to be a Reeve's Pheasant flying down from the trees. We didn't, however, see it. This raised our expectations as we had only been birding for half an hour and we had already heard one. How wrong could we be? We headed further up the trail onto a ridge area hoping to see some pheasants out in the open, but with no luck. Descended back into the valley and proceeded to work the ridges on the opposite side. Due the recent heavy snow the trails were in bad condition and blocked with fallen branches. Apart from making our progress slow, it made us very noisy. We spent the next four hours exploring these ridges and valleys but the closest we got to a pheasant was some recent droppings on the trail. By now we were tiring and so we returned to the research station where we had a drink before giving it a final go. We decided to return to the first ridge area as it was more open, but finally we had to admit defeat. Returned to the research station and had a quick look at the captive Reeve's Pheasant, dreaming of what might have been.
We said our goodbyes to Liu Yang and left the Reserve at 2:30pm arriving at Wuhan airport in time for our 5:30pm departure to Beijing, where we arrived about an hour and a half later. Took a taxi the short journey to Bjorn's house where we were welcomed with a beer.
Sunday 27th February 2005.
Up at 4:30am, had breakfast curtisy of Bjorn's wife, and left in the pre-arranged car at 5am to Xiaolongmen, picking Jesper up en route. Arrived just after light and spent the first half hour birding along the road looking into the surrounding hills. We then headed up a wooded valley where Bjorn had seen the pheasants last year, climbing up the side and eventually reaching a pine-covered ridge. There was still a lot of snow on the ground and snow-free areas were scarce. Spent a number of hours on the ridge but to no avail, so descended and walked down the road a short distance and headed up another valley. Again no luck. By now time was pressing so decided to spend the last hour in a valley on the opposite side of the road eventually resorting to walking along the road and looking into the surrounding hills. This proved non-productive and by now it was 3pm and time to leave. It seemed a long way back. Dropped Jesper off en route and returned to Bjorn's house where we picked up our bags and headed to the airport. Caught the 7:25pm flight to Shenzhen, arriving two and a half hours later. From the airport took a taxi to the border where we crossed into Hong Kong. We had traveled nearly 3,000km in just over 60 hours to no avail. But as they say he who dares wins, or not in this case.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis One en route between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February.
Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata Four flushed from small reservoir near Dongzhai research station 26th February.
Goosander Mergus merganser Ten on a slow flowing river en route from Xialongmen to Beijing 27th February.
Eurasian Black Vulture Aegypius monachus Two Xialongmen 27th February.
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos One Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus One en route Xiaolongmen to Beijing 27th February.
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Fifteen on roadside pool en route between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February.
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Two flying over the road en route between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February.
Yellow-legged Herring Gull Larus (cachinnans) mongolicus Thirty en route between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February.
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto One seen outskirts of Beijing 27th February.
Spotted Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica A total of 20 between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February.
Large Hawk Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides A bird thought to be this species was heard calling at Xiaolongmen 27th February however due to the extraordinary early date and the fact that the bird was not seen mimicry could not be ruled out.
Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides One heard Dongzhai 26th February.
Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei One heard Dongzhai 26th February.
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major Two Dongzhai 26th February, 2 heard and one seen Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus One Xiaolongmen 27th February.
White Wagtail Motacilla alba One at Wuhan Airport 26th February.
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques A total of 17 at Dongzhai 26th February.
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach A total of 20 seen between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February.
Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes One exploring nest holes Dongzhai 26th February.
Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella A total of 8 Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus One Dongzhai 26th February.
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus Two Dongzhai 26th February.
Naumann's Thrush Turdus (naumanni) naumanni At least two identified as this race at Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Dusky Thrush Turdus (naumanni) eunomus One identified as this race Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Dusky/Naumann's Thrush A total of about 10 birds not assigned to specific race Dongzhai 26th February.
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis A total of 10 Dongzhai 26th February.
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis webbianus Two Dongzhai 26th February.
Chinese Hill Warbler Rhopophilus pekinensis One Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Long Tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus A total of 30 Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Black-throated Tit Aegithalos concinnus Up to 30 Dongzhai 26th February.
Marsh Tit Parus palustris Three Xiaolongmen 27th February - the race in Northeast China is hellmayri which is geographically isolated from the Western Palearctic forms.
Songar Tit Parus songarus A total of 20 Xiaolongmen 27th February - race (presumably) stoetzneri.
Coal Tit Parus ater One in mixed Tit flock Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Yellow-bellied Tit Parus venustulus A flock of 20 Dongzhai 26th February.
Great Tit Parus major A total of 30 Dongzhai 26th February, 4 Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea Up to 8 Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa A total of 15 Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Godlewski's Bunting Emberiza godlewskii A total of 8 Dongzhai 26th February.
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides Two pairs Dongzhai 26th February.
Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans Up to 4 Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla Six Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus Three Dongzhai 26th February and 2 Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Four at Wuhan Airport 26th February and 2 Beijing 27th February.
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus A total of 20 seen on route between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February.
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius A total of 8 seen or heard Dongzhai 26th February and 2 seen Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Blue Magpie Urocissa erythrorhyncha Up to 20 heard with a few seen Dongzhai 26th February and 2 Xiaolongmen 27th February.
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus One in tree en route between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February and two Beijing 27th February.
Common Magpie Pica pica A total of 10 recorded along the road between Dongzhai and Wuhan 26th February and a total of 30 recorded along the road between Xiaolongmen and Beijing 27th February.
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus A flock of 20 flying to roost over Beijing 27th February.
Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchus Two Xiaolongmen and two en route back to Beijing 27th February.
Carrion Crow Corvus (corone) orientalis A total of six along the Xiaolongmen to Beijing road.
Graham Talbot, Hong Kong (gtalbot AT netvigator.com)