Magic 7

Perhaps its a bit too much for anyone to hear me say that I’ve seen 12 Snow Leopards this year in Yushu and in my latest trip to the Valley of the Cats- 7 Snow Leopards in 4 hours.

The Magic 7 overwhelmed the entire group and i had to pinch myself for this magic encounter. The magic appeared on Day 2 after visiting a yak herder’s home for some yak-butter tea and received a tip-off that a snow leopard is on a kill and we wasted no time! Walking up the hill is no easy task at 4200m! While locals made to the top in 20min, we “urbaners” struggled. Nonetheless we survived the climb!

Spotting a snow leopard was a tall order as it was so camouflaged. Brian was the first to spot it thru his scope and soon everyone’s eyes were on their scope watching the snow leopard feast on the blue sheep. Below is Mark’s video footage of the snow leopard on the kill!

Snow Leopard in Yushu

It was dusk and cat had no intention to leave his kill but we decided to head back. When we got to the bottom of the hill, we were then informed of 3 Snow Leopards just down the valley and what great views we had!

3 Snow Leopards

3 Snow Leopards in Valley of the cats- can you spot them?

We reminisced with joy having seen 4 snow leopards but little did we know the excitement is not over. As we nimble our way back, our jeep came to a halt when an adult Snow Leopard crossed the road with 2 cubs! It was no more than 15m away from our car and the cats looked at us calmly as they continued their way slowly, giving us ample time to see their glowing eyes in close proximity!

So there! Thats our encounter of the Magic 7. 🙂

The valley of the cats is definitely THE PLACE to see the Snow Leopards. The local community and government work hand in hand to protect these rare animals in the valley. The Tibetan culture, religion and their firm beliefs in protecting the animals give chance for these rare cats to thrive in this area.

Things to be aware of when visiting the Valley of the Cats

  • Expect the Unexpected. No adventure is an adventure if everything goes as planned. Like any adventure, there are always things that could happen unexpectedly. Nonetheless, China is one of the safest country in the world to travel and Tibetans are the friendliest group of people I’ve ever met.
  • Permits. This is the first National Park in China that requires permit to enter. I saw foreigners got thrown out of the valley as they do  not have the necessary permits, so please apply in advance.
  • Embrace the people and culture! What a rare experience to stay with Tibetan yak herders! 🙂 The people here are Tibetans with a unique culture and religion and they lead a herder’s life. They can be sometimes over friendly but they open their homes to us. As much as it is a culture shock to you, its also a culture shock to the local Tibetans! My tip is to visit this amazing place with an open mind and leave behind our urban standards and this will undoubtedly be an adventure of a lifetime with endless memories to share and talk about. 🙂

Terry’s video on the Snow Leopards and the Tibetan Plateau sums up this wonderful trip.

Birds and wildlife in Exmouth, Australia

Where is a better place to see a Whale shark than Exmouth, Australia? Being the largest fish and an endangered species, Whale Shark made it into my bucket list and its this summer in Exmouth, I was very fortunate to swim and monitor this massive filter-feeding shark. Words cannot describe the overwhelming feelings of seeing one swim up close. Below is a photo taken by my Gopro!

whaleshark

Whale shark in Exmouth

Apart from Whale sharks, Sting rays, leopard sharks, Humpback whales and Dugongs are regular visitors in the waters of Exmouth.

dugong

Dugong at Monkey Mia!

echidna

Echidna rolled up into a spiky ball near the Dolphin resort in Monkey Mia

Our main stops and along the way to Monkey Mia, Exmouth, Karijini National Park yielded many birds and many are region-specific. 🙂 Its a wonder the desert areas produce quality birds and wildlife! These include the Australian Bustard, Spinifex pigeon, Chiming Wedgebill, Grassbird, scrubwren, Painted finch,Red-backed Kingfisher etc.!

Despite the long drive, each stop was unique, each stay was memorable. When in rural areas without light pollution.. one can clearly see the glittering stars! Exmouth and Beyond, a magical place to be with wonders above, on land and underwater. 🙂

spinifex pigeon

A regal looking Spinifex pigeon from Karijini National Park

Australian bustard

Australian Bustards are common in Exmouth region

ecolodge

Accommodation in Karijini National Park

Snow Leopards in June

Its my 3rd trip to the Valley of the Cats in Yushu, Qinghai and its still so exciting! In June, Tibetan yak herders are busy harvesting the caterpillar fungus, their main source of income that will bring them income to last for whole year. I thought the chance of seeing the snow leopards would be slim since people walked everywhere on the mountains, but I was wrong. We had 2 separate sightings of SNOW LEOPARDS in different sites within 2 hours.

After 2 days of sunshine, the weather took a dramatic change and snowed heavily on the evening of day 2. We woke up to snow-capped mountains! Perhaps the Snow Leopards like the snow? After spotting one on a mountain strolling leisurely where we camped, a second snow leopard was seen hunting a blue sheep at another site! 2 sightings in 2 hours, how cool is that?!

snow leopard in June

2 separate sightings of snow leopards in 2 hours

Apart from snow leopards, mammals such as Glover’s Pika, White-lipped deers will not be missed in the valley of the Cats. Tibetan Buntings, Monal Partridge, White-eared pheasants and many other bird rarities can be seen here at 4500m!

As I have recently bought a drone, I took the opportunity to fly it in the Tibetan Plateau! The landscape is amazing as always, and its always nice to visit the yak herders who always welcome us to their homes! Once again, Yak butter tea, Yak yogurt and yak meat served! To read more about my previous sightings of Snow leopard, click here. 🙂

white-lipped deer

v

Snow Leopards in China

After seeing Amur Leopard Cat and Pallas’s  Cat, Snow Leopard is certainly next in line! Together with Terry, Tormod and Wills, we hurtled into the Valley of the Cats in the region of Yushu!

Our guide and host is a Tibetan yak herder- Sen (森), who is part of the Snow leopard monitoring group and Warden of the National Park. With his limited Chinese and us not speaking Tibetan language, body language and facial gestures came in handy. 🙂 Sen’s house is surrounded by mountains and streams;  bears and wolves are regular visitors to his house when he moves his herd of yaks to higher grounds in summer! No wonder every yak herder rears a pack of Tibetan Mastiffs.

With only 4 days to spare, we’re constantly reassured by almost every yak herder we met who showed us their videos/ photos in their phones and enchanted us with their stories of their yaks being eaten by Snow Leopards and how often they see them! Definitely in this region, if your mobile phone doesn’t have a photo of snow leopard, you’re don’t belong to the club! :-/

We held on to our hopes and we scanned the likely areas tipped by local yak herders and soon enough, Tormod spotted his first Snow Leopard on Day 2! The pressure is on for me and then on the morning of day 3, I spotted a moving rock with a long tail! It took me 10 seconds to convince myself its a Snow Leopard before I shouted to others who were scanning on the mountain top. I reminisced with joy, a cat ticked off my cat list!

Almost every noon, we’re invited to some yak herder’s home for yak meat and tea! On the noon of day 3, yak herder Chairen-nima pin-pointed us to another mountain to look for snow leopard! We were overwhelmed with tips from various yak herders, but for some reason we took his advice and went to the mountain he mentioned.

While the three men positioned themselves on a hill top, Sen and I sat in the car counting blue sheep.

Sen: 4 Blue sheep

Me: 6 blue sheep

Sen: Snow leopard.

I thought to myself” showhand?” Sen and I jumped out of the car for a better view and sure enough I saw the Snow leopard’s head bobbed up on the ridge of the cliff! I shouted towards the group on hill and Sen ran up the hill to tell them- not easy at 4700m! It took me ages to get to where the others were but we all had great views, videos and photos of the Snow Leopard for a whole 1 hour! How cool is that??!! 😛

Snow leopard

Snow leopard walked along the ridge and displayed various behaviours captured on video!

Called the valley of the cats, this region is also home to Leopards, Lynx, Bears, Mountain Weasels, Glover’s Pikas, Himalayan Marmots, Musk Deers, White-lipped Deers, etc.!

white-lipped deer.jpg

White-lipped deer

glover's pika.jpg

Fancy challenging this level of Pokemon Go? 🙂 Glover’s pika only seen at high altitudes.

At 4500m above, alpine birding was fruitful- Robin Accentors, Brown Accentors, White-browed Rosefinches, Tibetan Partridges, Vultures, Golden eagles, Lamagaias, White-browed Tits, Blue-fronted Redstarts, White-eared Pheasants, Ibisbills, etc. just to name a few!

Brown Accentors are garden birds

White browed Rosefinch is a delight to see!

Tibetan partridges roam freely everywhere

solitary snipe

Solitary snipe stays solitary.

This trip is not for the faint-hearted! Weather can be extreme from snowstorm and gustly winds with temperature varying from -10 to 10 degrees in one day plus some hiking involved!  If you don’t mind the basic accommodation, you’ll be highly rewarded with rare mammals, birds and the breathtaking landscape this area has to offer! It has been an incredible adventure for me, one to talk about for a lifetime. I will be heading back often to explore this exciting place. If you’re interested in having a pioneering experience and an unforgettable adventure, drop me a line! 🙂

 

warming up whilst scanning the mountains

The mountain where I saw my first snow leopard!

On the last night, each of us gave Sen a small gift.

And here’s a video of the road conditions!

Now that I also have a  snow leopard photo in my mobile phone, I can join the yak herders’ “club”. 🙂 I definitely look forward to going back there again!

IBISBILL- the place to see it.

The Ibisbill has eluded me for 3 years after spending much fruitless time searching for this highly sought after wader. An elegant bird with a reddish down-curved bill and black face that resides in stony, shingle bed rivers and streams is hard to find! Whenever we passed through these habitats, we always stopped to scan, hoping to find an ibisbill after all its a new bird for me and I have yet to see it!
My luck came when Brian had high-altitude sickness and we retreated to a lower altitude area in Yushu, Qinghai. We arrived in Yushu town which was around 3200m and checked in to a hotel called YuShu Sun Lake Holiday Inn, 玉树太阳湖假日酒店.
After a much needed shower, we walked out of the hotel in search for food, and almost immediately, Terry heard and saw Ibisbill in the canal right in front of the hotel! Not one but two as we moved close to see them and they weren’t skittish at all!

Found in the canal in front of the Yushu hotel

Found in the canal in front of the Yushu hotel

Along with the ibisbills also resided a white-throated dipper!

white-throated-dipper in canal in Yushu

white-throated-dipper in canal in Yushu

The canal itself is extremely birdy with also robin accentors just roosting around in trees nearby! Hopefully, when i return in search of snow leopards, the ibisbills will still be there…in the canal. 🙂