Sunday, 6 May 2018

North-west China (Xinjiang) - 6th May (Day 16)

Today was on a knife edge, and stress levels in the group were high, we had two endemic birds to see and only around three hours in which to see them - it could go well or horribly wrong. If the latter then the only bird I would have gained from the Luntain part of the Xingjiang leg of the trip would have been White-winged Woodpecker, which while an interesting and localised species is basically a variation on the Great-spotted Woodpecker theme.

We headed off at 06:00 back along the Desert Road with Mr. Lee driving, it was dark and slowly the sun rose over the desert scenery, the beauty of which had largely been obliterated by agriculture, oil wells, litter and associated human interventions. This was not an attractive place and we all sat baited breath as we drove through police checkpoints expecting at any moment to be stopped but we were not and as we crossed the Tarim River bridge and neared the Ground-jay area at around 08:00 we started to focus on searching for the birds which perch up high on bushes and trees in the early morning. I began to notice that Mr. Lee was very tired and as I watched him in his rear view mirror I could see him momentarily going to sleep while driving, I nudged him and then scanned for Ground-jays and glanced back at Mr. Lee, his eyes were closing and his head nodded. This made me very nervous even though only travelling at 20km/hr so my attention was distracted from the Ground-jay to Mr. Lee, now, I had not come on this journey to stair at our driver in the rear view mirror – I was immensely concerned about the situation especially as within a couple of hours we need to head off on a five hour journey back to Korlor. We decided to head for the track at KM 90 before Mr. Lee drove us into the next ditch. On arrival we told Mr. Lee to get some sleep and for Tang-Jun to help us look for the Ground-jay and so, Mr. Lee started to mend the window of the car while Tang-Jun checked his phone and had a cigeratte while we went off to find the birds ourselves. We had come to realise that Tang-Jun was not much of a bird guide but knew the sites and was useful for logistical operations and so we didn't expect much more from him.

I wandered off into the dunes glad to be away from staring at Mr. Lee in the mirror and the others wandered off in different directions. It was not long before I heard a shout, Martin, within 10 minutes or so of leaving the vehicle and walking down the track at KM90 had located a Ground-jay. I was maybe 200m away and so I sprinted/jogged to get to him. Ian was further away, maybe 400m and he did the same. One by one we got to Martin and placed our eyes to his scope to see our target, a superb Xinjiang Ground-jay perched atop a dead tree. There were hugs all round and the mist that had descended on the group lifted. The bird was distant and so over the next 45 minutes or so we edged closer eventually obtaining great views of a pair of these fantastic birds, arguably the best of the Ground-jays. We retreated to the bus and as we left the birds in peace we encountered a pair of Desert Wheatear feeding young. A short drive and we were back in the mosquito ridden scrub at the Tarim Bridge looking for Tarim Hill-warbler, the last bird we needed to see here. First we went to the west of the road where Tang-Jun had previously seen the bird but after much trawling we had not seen it - but the mosquitos were now satiated. It then emerged that Tang-Jun had heard the bird to the east of the road yesterday – why he didn’t tell us this and head to this spot escapes me and escaped all of us. So, with 10 minutes to spare before we had to leave we went to this location. Tang-jun played a recording of Beijing Hill-babbler and within a short while a response and we were watching a Tarim Hill-warbler. I obtained a crappy recording but playback elicited a very excited response and we obtained good views of this range restricted species. We had to go, we had a five hour drive, numerous Police checkpoints and only one hour to spare with a sleepy Mr. Lee at the wheel. Fortunately, we were not stopped as we passed the checkpoints, we had learnt to keep a low profile so that our white faces were not spotted and targeted for inspection. At the final checkpoint 50km outside of Korlor we were pulled aside but fortunately the various photographs and passport inspections did not take too long but we still arrived at the airport with no time to spare.

Xinjiang Ground-jay - Luntain, Xinjiang

Xinjiang Ground-jay - Luntain, Xinjiang

Xinjiang Ground-jay - Luntain, Xinjiang

Xinjiang Ground-jay - Luntain, Xinjiang

Xinjiang Ground-jay - Luntain, Xinjiang

Xinjiang Ground-jay - Luntain, Xinjiang

Watching the Xinjiang Ground-jay which can be seen top left of the tree in front of us - Luntain, Xinjiang

Desert Wheatear - Luntain, Xinjiang

Brown Shrike - Luntain, Xinjiang

Lesser Whitethroat of subspecies minula - Luntain, Xinjiang

Tarim Hill-warbler- Luntain, Xinjiang

Tarim Hill-warbler- Luntain, Xinjiang

Tarim Hill-warbler, a rather noisy recording of the bird singing near to the road - Luntain, Xinjiang

Dark-phase Booted Eagle - Luntain, Xinjiang

We sat and ate noodles before being called for our flight and 40 minutes later we landed in Urumqi at around 19:45 gathered our bags and headed out of the airport. There was just enough time to pop to a large lake which has become a nature reserve on the western outskirts of the city where, as the sun sank, we enjoyed views of many waterfowl and waterside birds which included Black-winged Stilt, Red-crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, Whiskered Tern, Common Tern and the highlight a pair of White-headed Duck a lifer for me. In the grassy and reed edged margins to the lake we recorded Bearded Tit, Red-tailed Shrike and Richard’s Pipit, it was a very pleasant end to the day. Heading to our hotel we arrived at around 22:00 and headed to the restaurant for kebabs (the local dish) and beer for my last night of the trip.

Lake to the west of Urumqi, Xinjiang

Links to Other Days of the Trip (Click to View)
Day 1 and 2 – International flight and Dongtai.
Day 3 - Dongtai.
Day 4 – Dongtai and Magic Wood.
Day 5 - Nanhui then fly to Fuzhou.
Day 6 - Shanutan Island and Fuzhou Forest Park.
Day 7 - Fuzhou Forest Park then Emeifeng Mountain.
Day 8 - Emeifeng Mountain.
Day 9 - Emeifeng Mountain.
Day 10 - Emeifeng Mountain then Wuyuan.
Day 11 - Wuyuan.
Day 12 – Drive Wuyuan to Dongzhai.
Day 13 - Dongzhai.
Day 14 – Dongzhai then fly Wuhan to Korlor.

Day 17 and 18 – Nanshan in the Tien Shan Mountains then fly Beijing. International flight.