The recent construction of a small hydroelectric plant at Chebaling in Guangdong province destroyed the habitat of the only known site for White-eared Night Heron and we thought our chances of connecting with it had gone. However in 2005, a new site was discovered at Jiulianshan National Nature Reserve, which is located in the same mountain range across the border in Jiangxi province. Fearing that this site could also succumb to the same fate, we were very keen to try and see the bird. This was made much easier when Bjorn Anderson carried out a successful visit to the reserve in March 2006. We decided to follow in his footsteps and hopefully his success. As usual I was joined by Chris and this time Mike, a fellow Hong Kong birder, managed to make the trip.
During the last ten years there has been a massive road-building programme in China and as a result, a lot of the more remote places are now relatively easily accessible. We therefore decided to drive from Shenzhen, just across the Hong Kong border, as a new expressway taking us to within 100km of the reserve had just been opened. After leaving the expressway, it was about an hour’s drive on a fairly good road to the reserve headquarters and then another hour’s drive on a single-track road to the core area, the last ten kms being a dirt track.
The journey took just over six hours there and a lot longer coming back as the driver took an alternative road which he thought would be quicker but wasn’t.
There is a large accommodation block at the core area of the reserve. The reserve welcomes visitors and can be contacted at 0797 3591426.
We stayed at the reserve accommodation, a large well-appointed building about a 45-minute walk from the site for the herons. Food was provided by the staff, consisting of the usual Chinese mixture of vegetables, soup, rice and noodles. Although there was electricity when we first arrived, it had gone off when we returned from the field in the evening and didn’t return by the time we left. Not an unusual occurrence in China.
Being the summer it was very hot and humid during the day, though due to clear skies it cooled down a little at night.
As usual our thanks go to Bjorn for trail blazing the site, providing a very detailed report and providing the contacts. We would also like to thank Gan Li Qing for making all the arrangements, Jerry Liu a Shenzhen birder for coming with us and helping with translation and Mr Liao for his expert guiding.
The Field Guide to the Birds China - MacKinnon
Trip Report Jiulianshan Jianxi, China (With notes on White-eared Night Heron), 17th - 19th March 2006 - Bjorn Anderson
Saturday 24th June 2006
Met up with Mike at the Hong Kong-China border at 8am and made our way quickly across the border where we met Chris, who had crossed the night before, at the Shangri La hotel. Jerry and the driver where there as arranged at 8.30am and we set off on the long drive to the reserve, eventually arriving at the reserve headquarters at about 3pm where we were met Mr Liao. We had a late lunch and then headed along the single-track road, which started as sealed but ended up as a dirt rack, to the accommodation block in the core area. By now it was nearly 5pm and we wanted to make sure we were in the correct area well before dusk to stake it out. We set off from the accommodation on a small track following the river heading down river, passed a deserted compound and then followed the river along for a further 20 mins, having to cross a few creeks bridged only by one or two small tree trunks. Much to the amusement of Mr Liao, Chris and Mike did not have the bottle to walk across and in the end crawled across on all fours. We arrived at the stretch of river where Bjorn had seen the herons in March, however the water level was now much higher and there were no exposed areas. Mr Liao suggested we retrace our steps and after about 100m we found a stony spit protruding into the river, which appeared a good area for the herons to feed. We positioned ourselves on the edge of the river and waited. Just as the light started to fail a White-eared Night Heron flew silently past us and landed no more than five metres in front of us. Unfortunately it was too close and was spooked within a few seconds and we watched it fly off low down stream. Only Mike has had unimpeded views of it. Almost immediately another three birds flew along the river but they made no attempt to land. We waited hoping the birds might return but the light faded very quickly and we had no further sightings. Elated that we had seen the birds but somewhat disappointed that we did not get better, prolonged views, we headed back towards the accommodation, hearing a Mountain Scops Owl calling on route. Of course we didn’t see it. How many more times will I hear this bird before I get to see it.
Arrived back to find that the electricity had gone off, so had dinner by candlelight and retired early as we wanted to try again the following morning.
Sunday 25th June 2006
Up at just before 4am and headed out to the same site as the previous evening, arriving well before first light. Positioned ourselves in the same area and waited. Just as it was getting light, a White-eared Night Heron flew low along the river but it still quite dark and very little could be seen on it. We continued looking and despite the fact that I could see at least 100m up the river, I didn’t see the second bird until it was almost level with me as it again flew low along the river. A few minutes later two birds flew up stream at treetop level calling. We waited but had no more sightings. We then walked along the riverbank a little way and found some fresh heron-type footprints on the muddy bank which we assume were made by one of the birds.
Made our way slowly back to the accommodation birding en route and then spent an hour birding the open area around the accommodation whilst breakfast was prepared. Although it was still very early it was getting very hot, so we decided to call it a day and at 9.30am we headed out of the reserve to the headquarters in Jiulian Shi (town) where we called in at the museum and examined the various stuffed birds on display, including two White-eared Night Herons.
We said our goodbyes to Mr Liao and commenced the long drive back to the Hong Kong border. This time we took a different route, which although looking more direct on the map, actually took much longer. We eventually arrived back in Shenzhen at 6pm, quickly crossed the border and headed home. After a couple of hours sleep, headed to the bar to watch England play Ecuador…….. well it was the World Cup.
Although we saw the heron, we would have all liked to have had better views, which I am sure is possible if you have more time and can work out the best feeding sites and the best place to view them from. Going at this time of year was probably an advantage as the river level was high and so the number of available feeding areas was limited. This is truly a nocturnal bird and maybe a moonlit night would help. We did try spotlighting areas of the river on the way back but access was not that easy and it is likely the birds would have heard us well before we made it to the riverbank.
All the birds were seen around the core area unless otherwise stated.
Chinese Bamboo PartridgeBambusicola thoracica
Four flushed from beside the river and up to four heard calling 25th June
Rufous WoodpeckerCeleus brachyurus
One 24th and two 25th June
Bay WoodpeckerBlythipicus pyrrhotis
One heard 25th June
Great Spotted WoodpeckerDendrocopos major
One 25th June
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus
One 24th June
Great BarbetMegalaima virens
Heard 24th and 25th June one seen 25th June
Blyth’s KingfisherAleco Hercules
Two sightings of probably the same bird 25th June
Common KingfisherAlcedo atthis
One 25th June
Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis
Two en route to the reserve 24th June one on 25th June
Greater CoucalCentropus sinensis
One heard 25th June
Mountain Scops OwlOtus spilocephalus
One heard 24th June
Asian Barred OwletGlaucidium cuculoides
One seen 24th June and one heard 25th June
Black BazaAviceda leuphotes
Two 25th June
Black-shouldered KiteElanus caeruleus
A total of 6 seen on route to the reserve 24th June
Chinese SparrowhawkAccipiter soloensis
One 25th June
White-eared Night HeronGorsachius magnificus
A total of four birds seen on 24th and 25th June
Long-tailed ShrikeLanius schach
Two on route 24th June one on route 25th June
Red-billed Blue MagpieUrocissa erythrorhyncha
Up to ten heard daily 24/25th June
Grey TreepieDendrocitta formosae
Up to 6 heard daily 24/25th June. One seen 25th June
Scarlet MinivetPericrocotus flammeus
A total of 5 seen 25th June
Swinhoe’s MinivetPericrocotus cantonensis
A distant flock of around ten birds seen briefly on 25th June were considered to be this species
Blue Whistling ThrushMyophonus caeruleus
One 24th June
Hainan Blue FlycatcherCyornis hainanus
One heard singing 25th June
Slaty-backed ForktailEnicurus schistaceus
Two 24th and 25th June
White-crowned ForktailEnicurus leschenaulti
Two along the entrance road 25th June
Great TitParus major
Three 24th June
Black-throated TitAegithalos concinnus
About ten 24th June.
Red-rumped SwallowHirundo daurica
A total of ten seen en route 24th and 25th June
Hill PriniaPrinia atrogularis