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!

Mud Spa for Chinese Crested Tern

There’s only one reason and only one mission to visit Fuzhou, and that is to see the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern. Joined by Bonnie Chan, Davis Kwan and Victor (Faizai), the “Famous Four” hired a guide in China- “China Wild Tours” who took us to see this rare tern on the summer of May, 2013!

The Minjiang Estuary in Fuzhou, Fujian Province is probably the most reliable site to see the Chinese Crested Tern, but getting to the mudflat area wasn’t easy at all! The walk to the mudflat took over 45 mins just one way! The trail was mostly mud and it was a struggle to walk with mud knee deep! Nonetheless, we managed to stride to our destination!

The beginning of a long long walk! -photo by Bonnie Chan

The beginning of a long long walk! This part was fairly easy! -photo by Bonnie Chan

Not easy to stride in mud

Not easy to stride in mud

It was worth the long muddy walk as Minjiang Estuary produced some quality waders which included the White-faced Plover, Ruddy Turnstones, Red-necked Stints, Grey-tailed Tattler, Kentish Plovers, Sanderlings, etc.

ruddy turnstone in breeding plumage in Fuzhou

ruddy turnstone in breeding plumage in Fuzhou

sanderling on mudland

sanderling on mudland

White-faced plover, quite a few in Minjiang

White-faced plover, quite a few in Minjiang

At the mudflat, we saw many Great Crested Terns, but it takes a queer-eye to find a Chinese Crested Tern! The easiest way to distinguish the Chinese Crested Tern will be by the bill- being yellow with a black tip!

greater crested terns in Minjiang estuary, Fuzhou

greater crested terns in Minjiang estuary, Fuzhou

We scanned high and low but there was no sign of the rare bird! :-/ As we were about to give up, a small flock flew in! Yes, Chinese Crested Terns! They landed pretty far from us! We had no choice but to wade slowly towards them for a better view!

mud spa- photo by Bonnie Chan

mud spa- photo by Bonnie Chan

Chinese crested tern

Chinese crested tern

chinese crested tern in fuzhou

Chinese crested tern in Fuzhou

The sun was about to set and so we had to leave the mudflat, which meant another 45 minutes of muddy walk out! We went back again the next morning, left for lunch, returned for noon session and walked out again! :-/  The mud was really good for my feet- came back with smoother skin! 🙂 🙂

Presumed to have extinct, The Chinese Crested Terns were later discovered at Mazu Islands in 2000. Birdlife and other NGOs involved have placed mega efforts in bid to bring the birds back from near extinction! Click here for more details about their work!

The birds named after Peter Simon Pallas

A bunting recently made a rare appearance at Long Valley, Hong Kong. Its none other than the Pallas’s Reed Bunting. This bird can be found in China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Myanmar, Taiwan, Kazakhstan and indeed I’ve seen this bunting on almost every visit to China, but its certainly rare in Hong Kong and its appearance caused a stir amongst the birders and bird photographers here!

Pallas's bunting in HK

Pallas’s bunting

Having seen the Pallas’s Rosefinch in China 2 weeks ago (not my first but my memory could only date this far back on this bird!) and as I continue to frantically prepare my talk tonight at the HK Bird Watching Society about bird watching in Xinjiang, I realized I have another Pallas’s bird from Xinjiang- The Pallas’s Sandgrouse! And somewhere I thought, I’ve seen a Pallas’s Gull, luckily I didn’t have to dig too far for the photo of this gull taken in India!

Another bird named after Pallas

Another bird named after Pallas

Pallas's gull in West India

Pallas’s gull in West India taken in Jan 2013

As I go through the list of birds named after Pallas, the name Pallas’s Leaf Warbler does ring a bell! Luckily a good friend of mine, Victor (Faizai), reminded me that I have seen this warbler in 2011! :-/ My memory failed on me but certainly not on Victor! Quickly I looked into the database and sure enough I do have a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler! 🙂

Pallas's leaf warbler in Shek Kong, HK, 2011

Pallas’s leaf warbler in Shek Kong, HK, 2011

Peter Simon Pallas (22 September 1741 – 8 September 1811), a zoologist that explored Russia, Siberia, the Ural, Caspian Sea, Altai Mountains, etc., discovered a number of birds that eventually named after him! Now, to complete the “Pallas birds edition”, I’d have to find the remaining ones below! :-/ Has anyone completed the Pallas edition?

-Pallas’s fish eagle

-Pallas’s Cormorant

-Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler