Birds and animals on Erla Shan 鄂拉山

Following the itinerary given by Paul Holt, we arrived at 730am at the bottom of Erla Shan pass(鄂拉山) after a tedious 3 hour drive from GongHe. I was very much driven by the thought of the birds that I will see at the summit which is at 4800m!

It was good to start early as the mild wind and cluttered clouds made the walk enjoyable; with every step I took, I could hear my heart thumping hard. There is no trail to follow, but I found my way up stepping on stones, gravel and giving myself a little goal ,which big stone to stop and catch my breath.

Along the way, we had breathtaking views of the mountains and saw blue sheep, tibetan wolf and even Kam Dwarf hamsters! These cuties are endemics to Western China and Qinghai and can be found on high altitudes! It never occured to me that I’d see a hamster on a mountain…these little rodents made me smile, how cute is that? 🙂

kam dwarf hamster

Kam Dwarf Hamster found on Mountains- erla shan

It took me 1.5 hrs to get to the summit- though the base of Erla Shan was 4400m and only 400m to climb up the summit, it wasnt easy at all! But I was rewarded with the magnificent views of the mountains surrounding Erla Shan. And as I catch my breath,  very soon one of the star birds came close- Tibetan Rosefinch, 藏雀!

tibetan rosefinch-male

Tibetan Rosefinch on summit of Erla Shan. 藏雀

The weather at the summit changed dramatically- from sunny, it became misty and we were careful not to fall off the mountain as the visibility was very low. I wanted very much to see the Tibetan Sandgrouse but couldnt find them. :-/

Nonetheless, I saw other birds including the Plain Mountain Finch (林岭雀), Tibetan Lark (长嘴百灵), Brandt’s Mountain Finch (高山岭雀) and some sort of Gerbil!

It was a good climb and I’m glad I did it. We’re very lucky with the weather – as soon as we popped back into the car- thunder and lightning rolled in!

tibetian lark

Tibetan Lark at Erla Shan

plain mountain finch-female

Plain mountain finch seen on way up to the Erla Shan summit

brandt's mountain finch- female

Brandt’s mountain finch on summit


unknown colony of gerbil on base of Erla Shan

Pallas’s Cats in Qinghai, China 兔狲

As we drove along Qinghai lake, I was enthralled by the beautiful mountains and gorges, which is all part of the Tibetan Plateau. Adventurous and curious always, we decided to try an off beaten track and walk into the valley. A 2 hr walk into the valley was exhausting for me and my high altitude headache sets in as I’ve already climbed a hill the same morning (not easy over 3500m altitude)! I decided to call it a day despite Terry walked in further and saw a Tibetan Partridge!
We decided to head back to the same valley again the next day- this time we had water and food with us. It was a tranquil valley and i’ve kept my eyes wide open for a sighting of a fox or Tibetan wolf. But little did i know a much much rarer encounter awaited.
Terry: “Pallas’s Cats“!
I paused and thought to myself “pallas’s cats. Wait, its cats with an “S”, not one cat but in plural form”!
My eyes searched desperately towards where the scope was positioned..but i could only see stones! Looking through the scope could I only then see the Pallas’s cats– 2 juveniles!

first view of Pallas's cats

first view of Pallas’s cats

a pair of pallas's cats playing at their den

a pair of pallas’s cats playing at their den

juvenile pallas's cat in Qinghai

juvenile pallas’s cat in Qinghai

Not only did I have great views of the two juvenile Pallas’s cats, but also saw their mum came back to the den with a PIKA and one of the juveniles snatched the breakfast. How rare a sighting is that?? 😛 What’s more, its a new addition to my collection of Pallas’s birds and mammals edition!
We decided to move deeper into the valley for the Tibetan Partridge, leaving the cat family some privacy.

Pallas's cat heading back into den

Pallas’s cat heading back into den

It was an unforgettable moment and I felt so lucky to have such a great encounter. I seem to have some luck with cats- since my first cat encounter was the Amur Leopard Cat, three years ago- my post here! I hope I get to see the Snow Leopard cat soon which is in my bucket list.

And as for the Tibetan Partridge? I managed to see it after another hour of walk into the valley and hike up a hill. 😛

tibetan partridge in the valley with the Pallas's cats

tibetan partridge in the valley with the Pallas’s cats

Birding in Bermuda

Like everyone, when i think of Bermuda, i think of the Bermuda Triangle- with so many missing vessels, I wondered if I would too be missing. A mysterious island cast away in the Atlantic Ocean has a lot to offer. Though the island is not too big itself, there are a good number of conservationists and birders as its a really good place to bird. The island itself is prone to hurricanes…Bermuda embraces on average 4-8 per year, hence a continual effort made to restore habitats destroyed by hurricanes.

I was lucky to be able to land on Nonsuch island and shown how White-tailed Tropicbird and the critically endangered Bermuda’s Petrel nest. along with seeing the different types of spiders, flora and fauna.. I understand that to be a naturalist, you really need to have a good knowledge of everything!

I was also lucky to meet the birdman of Bermuda- Dr David Wingate who rediscovered black-capped petrel and spent lifelong efforts bringing back Bermuda Petrel from extinction. He showed us around Spittal Pond, one of many sites he restored. At 81, he walked faster than me, and I had a hard time catching up. 

David Windgate and Me

Birdman of Bermuda- David Wingate


And of course, besides birdwatching in Bermuda, its a spectacular place to dive! A deep passion of mine and though I admire and am inspired by avid birdwatchers, their knowledge of birds and their habitat.. i think if I put them diving suits, and take them down under, they are probably clueless! 😛

The invasion of Lionfish constantly poses a major threat to Bermuda’s marine ecosystem- with a huge appetite (30 times their stomach volume)  and fast reproduction – 1 year as compared to native fish, 3-5 years. Anyone interested in helping to cull lionfish or support the Bermuda Marine ecosystem can read more info here.

I am glad I have not just one passion but more, for which I can look at myself and say “You’re doing not too bad yourself”.

Below are some birds seen, of course I do find the white-tailed tropicbird very elegant.


The elegant white-tailed tropicbird

semi-pal sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper at Spittal Pond

white rumped sandpiper

white-rumped sandpiper at Spittal Pond

white-eyed vireo

White-eyed Vireo! Common but hard to see them in full view~


Weird name for a bird- Catbird

wilson pharalope2

The largest of all phalaropes- Wilson’s phalarope


European Goldfinch

blue heron

Blue heron!

great kriskade

great kiskadee- very common in Bermuda



Last but not least- Bermuda’s Petrel. Here’s more info about the ongoing recovery project! Click here


Cahow also known as Bermuda Petrel. This one is a juvi.





Birding Hokkaido- Abashiri, Yoroushi, Cape Notsuke

Memanbetsu birding around Lake Abashiri, Cape Notoro and Saroma

A 20min bus ride from Memanbetsu airport took us to the lakeside hotel, Abashirikoso. Located just next to the frozen lake, we had our first views of Steller’s Sea Eagles, White-tailed Sea Eagles and a hungry fox! There is a trail across the hotel where we saw the Varied Tits, Marsh Tits, Black-eared Kites, Eurasian Nuthatch and the rare Mountain Hawk Eagle! The hotel is also famous for Onsen and they serve very nice dinner there! 🙂

dinner at lake abashiri hotel- yummy!

dinner at lake abashiri hotel- yummy!

Our two day stay at Memanbetsu yielded more foxes and quality birds including Smew, Grey-headed woodpecker, Goldeneye, Whooper Swans, Tundra Swans, Falcated ducks, Spot-billed ducks, Red-crowned Cranes, Long-tailed Rosefinches, Treecreeper, etc! Cape Notoro provided very good sea birding opportunities and the view was breathtaking, a place not to be missed!

white tailed sea eagle

white tailed sea eagle


Birding at Lake Tofutsu, Lake Kusharo and Yoroushi Hotel Daiichi

We headed South towards Yoroushi Hotel Daiichi, an Onsen hotel that provides very good birding! We stopped at Lake Tofutsu and Lake Kusharo where we further saw birds including Ural Owl, Winter Wren, Eurasian Bullfinches, and Sea Eagles!

Ural owl at Lake Kusharo.

Ural owl at Lake Kusharo.

By 5pm, we were at Yoroushi hotel and immediately greeted by Japanese Sable! With a running creek outside and warm water pipes surrounding the hot-spring hotel, it provided a comfortable home for these cute mammals in winter! Looking thru the window in the lobby, we also saw lots of Eurasian Jays, Marsh tits, etc.

Hokkaido Sable at Yoroushi Hotel

Dinner starts at 6pm as we’re told the Blakiston fish owl usually appears around 6:45pm! Sure enough, the majestic owl appeared and we dropped our chopsticks and headed to the lobby where we already set up our gears! A couple currently lives along the creek and they came a few times to make sure we had great views of them! I find this style of birding very stressful- I couldn’t concentrate on my dinner and ended up having stomach cramps! :-/

According to Matsuo San, owner of Lode Furen, there are only 130 Blakiston’s fish owls in Hokkaido and their locations are being kept secret and are in the process of tagging as part of conservation strategy. Best views for this rare owl lies in Rausu and Yoroushi.

blakiston fish owl in Yoroushi hotel

lobby in Yoroushi hotel

lobby in Yoroushi hotel

Birding at Notsuke Peninsula and around Lodge Furen

At Notsuke Peninsula, we saw more Steller’s Sea Eagles waiting to head North, White-tailed sea-eagles, Black Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Harlequin duck, Pacific Cormorants, Asian Rosefinches, more foxes and also deers!

deers at Cape Notsuke

deers at Cape Notsuke

male black scoters after one female

male black scoters after one female

seller's sea eagle in flight

seller’s sea eagle in flight

harlequin duck at cape Notsuke

harlequin duck at cape Notsuke

Habomai cruise and more birding around Lodge Furen

It was a windy day and the waters was rough! While hanging on to our dear lives on the  boat, we were rewarded with good views of Spectacled Guillemots, Long-tailed Ducks, Rhinoceros Auklets, Black Scoters, Pigeon Guillemots, Greater Scaup, etc!

Some Long-tailed ducks in choppy waters

Some Long-tailed ducks in choppy waters

spectacled guillemot at Hobamai cruise

spectacled guillemot at Habomai cruise

rhino auklets are common here

rhino auklets are common here

A blurry pic of pigeon guillemot

A blurry pic of pigeon guillemot

wild and windy hobamai cruise

wild and windy habomai cruise

Back on land, we spent sometime looking at Glaucous-winged and Glaucous gulls!

Glaucous-winged gulls seen in most piers in Hokkaido

Glaucous-winged gulls seen in most piers in Hokkaido

glaucous gull in Hokkaido

glaucous gull in Hokkaido

Everyone wrote something for Matsuo san when we stayed at Lodge Furen.

Everyone wrote something for Matsuo san when we stayed at Lodge Furen.

It was a happy few days birding in Hokkaido! Our last bird of this section of the trip was Hazel Grouse. I lost count of how many times we saw foxes but its always exciting to see one and even more thrilled to see a pair!

The next day, we flew out from Kushiro to continue our journey to Miyakejima island!

Hazel grouse in Hokkaido

Hazel grouse in Hokkaido

Love is on the air!

Love is in the air!


Japan pelagic birding- Hokkaido- Miyakejima island Part 1/3

Late March is a good month to bird in Hokkaido- because we saw not only winter birds but also spring arrivals and cost was much lower! I also wanted to do a pelagic trip and also visit Miyakejima island, so I bundled them up and  came up with an itinerary and my friends- Low and Gim joined in. I couldn’t have asked for better company, Low is our chief spotter, Gim- our researcher, Terry, for bird I.D. and spotter; and me? I already came up with an itinerary and arranged everything- so I just chill and relax~ 😛


Nagoya to Tomakomai, Hokkaido (by ship) Click here for ship details!

From Tomakomai, Hokkaido, we flew to Memanbetsu, Hokkaido where we met Matsuo San (our guide and driver)

From Kushiro, Hokkaido, we flew to Tokyo and embarked night ferry to Miyakejima Island. Click here for ship booking.

*We’ve taken 2 domestic flights  and as we hold foreign passports, we could get cheap domestic tickets via ANA, and JAL 

At Nagoya Meitetsu Bus Terminal, we took the one and only bus to Nagoya Port- It leaves everyday at 5:20pm at level 4 (ticket counter at level 3). When we arrived at the Nagoya port, the big ship was awaiting for us and so were choppy waters with white caps! We’re in for a rough ride!

A 3 day ride from Nagoya to Hokkaido and we bagged a lot of pelagic birds- the most fruitful period was actually from Nagoya to Sendai section- after we’ve passed Sendai, things were a lot quieter but the scenery was breathtaking!

Some birds and mammals we saw: streaked shearwaters (tons of them), Ancient murrelets, Japanese murrelets, Short-tailed albatross, Black-legged kittiwakes, Red-throated loons, Black-throated loons, Pomarine Skuas, Rhino auklets, gulls, Dall’s porpoises, Northern fur seals, etc.

black legged kittiwakes are seen in flocks in Pacific Ocean

black legged kittiwakes are seen in flocks in Pacific Ocean

Pomarine Skua flew in and I was able to take a nice photo with my short lens.

Pomarine Skua flew in and I was able to take a nice photo with my short lens.

Small flocks of Ancient Murrelets seen on pelagic birding in Japan

Small flocks of Ancient Murrelets seen on pelagic birding in Japan

Lots of loons seen on Pelagic birding, from Nagoya to Tomakomai

Lots of loons seen on Pelagic birding, from Nagoya to Tomakomai

Lot's of Dall's porpoises in the Pacific Ocean!

Lot’s of Dall’s porpoises in the Pacific Ocean!

Northern fur seals floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Northern fur seals floating in the Pacific Ocean.

An unforgettable moment-

Saw a white wagtail making it way to Hokkaido! It didn’t hopped on the ship for a free ride, but kept on flying low to avoid headwinds..but waters were choppy in the Pacific Ocean.. I hoped it got to Hokkaido safely. To witness a migration like this brings a tear in my eye every time I think of it.

Migration across Pacific Ocean is not easy

Migration across Pacific Ocean is not easy

And here’s some great views as the ship made its way to Tomakomai port!

Snow-capped mountains seen as we got closer to Hokkaido.

Snow-capped mountains seen as we got closer to Hokkaido.

Arriving Tomakomai port

Arriving Tomakomai port

Lots of jellyfish in water, not sure if edible?

Lots of jellyfish in water, not sure if edible?

We arrived on time and headed out of the ferry terminal to catch our shuttle bus at 11:30 to the New Chitose airport for our flight to Memanbetsu! Everything went flawless, thank goodness!

Bus stop outside Tomakomai port

Bus stop outside Tomakomai port

End of part 1- zzz