China 13: Tangjiahe Nature Reserve

Sunday 22nd May 2016

In summary, dawn till dusk rain and then some:T1 text

 Yesterday evening we had arrived in the pouring rain at the rather sumptuous hotel in the Tangjihae Nature reserve. We awoke in the dark the following morning with the rain still pouring down. It continued raining all day and into the following night.

We stood on the steps of our accommodation block, looked at the rain and the low cloud clinging to the forested hills above us and made the easy decision that ascending the steep and muddy trails to higher altitude would not happen today. As we were here for two nights, this was not a major problem, we could always go up for the best birds tomorrow. Today we would limit ourselves to seeing what we could in the valley around the hotel. As we stepped from our hotel large flash of blue and white leapt from a nearby roof – a Crested Kingfisher, a large white and blue ‘fisher that had been eyeing up the small artificial lakes in the hotel grounds.

The drive down to the bridge on the nearby river produced a female Golden Pheasant that scuttled up the bank away from the car and the perhaps the wettest Hoopoe that I have ever seen:TomBedford.20160522.3760-1

The highlight (if you can call it that when there was no light, poor visibility and the subject was pretty distant) was a remarkable mammal, a Takin:TomBedford.20160523.4236-1

Takin are huge. Nearly the size of Muskox, they share the equally grumpy personality of their arctic cousins. Being British, I wondered if the weather may have played a part in this.

We disembark at the bridge, a known site for a huge fish-eating owl, the Tawny Fish Owl. Roland tells us that a bird usually roosts in the trees overhanging the river. As the trees are large, but very open, it does not at first appear a difficult task to find one of the world’s largest owls. However, after 15 minutes of searching we are beginning to wonder if the rain has forced the owl to roost elsewhere. Ian and I wander down a track down the far side of the river, scanning the branches above us for the shape of an owl. We pause at a view point and read an information sign telling us of the battle that occurred here. We chat about history being written by the winners. Our pleasantries are interrupted by Roland appearing, gesturing urgently at a tree right in front of us. We move slightly to our left and there, right out in the open, is a huge owl:TomBedford.20160522.3764-1

It is enormous, the size of a large dog. How on earth did we walk past that? The owl, having being totally focused on the river, suddenly becomes aware of our presence and flies to the other side of the river, perching up slightly higher in the canopy:TomBedford.20160522.3786-1

Having admired this magnificent, though rather damp beast, we then spend the reminder of the morning working our way along the tarmacked road that leads up to the trailhead to the higher paths. Despite the weather, the birding is quite good. We encounter a couple of large tit flocks containing Yellow-bellied, Black-throated and Green-backed Tits, with Black-chinned Yuhina and the usual wing flicking Claudia’s Leaf Warblers. A new phylloscopus warbler is the bright Sulphur-breasted Warbler:TomBedford.20160522.3817-1

There are Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers, Brown Dippers on the river and singing  Alström’s Warblers, another Golden-spectacled Warbler split, named after Per Alström. Asian Koels call and we get a brief glimpse of a probable Jungle Flycatcher and Grey-winged Thrush. Rufous-faced Warblers, their call a perfect mobile phone ringtone, sing from roadside trees, ignoring the steady downpour. We also come across a spectacular Red-billed Blue Magpie devouring a large insect:TomBedford.20160522.3835-1

Dutch Birding

We head back to the hotel for lunch. Here we encounter a Dutch tour group, who have tales of incessant rain and mud both from their stay here and in Longcanngou, our next destination. Their pessimism inspires us slightly and after lunch we set out along the river valley, walking upstream from the hotel. Before we leave the hotel grounds I explore the small artificial lakes within the hotel grounds. Plumbeous Water Redstart are ubiquitous across this region of China and sure enough there is a pair on the water feature:TomBedford.20160522.3998-1


As well as a White Wagtail, a presumed leucopsisTomBedford.20160522.3901-1

I then flush two buntings that had been hidden away feeding beneath the willows next to the pools. They are elusive. It takes about 20 minutes to get clear views of the two birds, by which time we have been joined by the Dutch tour group. The larger bird is a female Black-faced Bunting:TomBedford.20160522.3984-1

The smaller one, a Little Bunting:TomBedford.20160522.3988-1

A phylloscopus warbler joins them in the willows, a Dusky Warbler:TomBedford.20160522.3951-1

Black-faced Bunting, Little Bunting and Dusky Warbler. Combined with the low light levels, cool temperatures and incessant rain, this afternoon had the feel and species selection of a late October day on Lundy. The autumnal feel continued with a saturated Brown Shrike:TomBedford.20160522.4005-1

And a damp Blyth’s Pipit:TomBedford.20160522.4030-1

The Lundy illusion was broken when an accipitor flashed down the river,  landing at the base of a post to consume it’s prey. It was a smart male Chinese Sparrowhawk:

Mature trees held displaying Asian Koel…TomBedford.20160522.4104-1

… a Ferruginous Flycatcher and Crimson-breasted Woodpecker. 4 White-throated Needletail flashed overhead, reminding us of yesterday’s Needletail-fest. As the afternoon drew on we came across a large rock overhang on the far side of the river. Sheltering under the overhang was a troupe of Tibetan Macaque:TomBedford.20160522.4134-1


I found it impossible not to get anthropomorphic when viewing creatures so similar to ourselves. The larger adults appeared cold, damp and fed up. The Macaque troupe looked the same. Even our jokes were feeling the strain. Below, the adult at the rear, far right, holds out a hand to help a young Tibetan Macaque up:TomBedford.20160522.4129-1

Snub-faced Golden Monkey also occur here in the winter, but at this time of year most are much higher up. We head back to the hotel, get another glimpse of a Crested Kingfisher on the way back and end up back at the hotel, feeling as damp as the Blyth’s Pipits and Chinese Pond Herons feeding on the lawns:TomBedford.20160522.4157-1

Next: Access issues, landslides and the return of the glowing cushion…


    1. Thanks John. We got the owl, but missed out on the higher altitude stuff, as you’ll discover in the next post…

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