Birding in Xinjiang Day 2 新疆石河子-乌尔禾-福海

This was a long drive from Shihezi (石河子) to Fuhai (福海)! After our breakfast, our driver took us to some deserted pond in search for litte bittern! The pond was just next to some gas station…but reeds were ripped off for some reason, and needless to say, we couldnt see the bird! Moving on, we made stops on the highway…in particular, we saw a few European Bee-eaters (黄喉蜂虎)! Its about time they’ve arrived in this part of Xinjiang, and we’re reassured we’ll see loads more!

On both sides of the highway were semi-desert, and we took a detour! We made a short stop at one area hoping to scan for some raptors, but only managed to see a lizard at the beginning! But as we moved along the sandy, bumpy trail, we saw Isabelline Wheatears, Crested Larks, Desert Wheaters, and highlight was a pair of Saxaul Sparrows (黑顶麻雀)! 😛

saxaul sparrows

saxaul sparrows

The toll station was just a short distance away, but since we’re off the highway, we twirled round the toll fee station and that saved us 10 yuan..! LOL!

After a quick lunch, we headed for a forest in Urho, Karamay (乌尔禾)! We were told this forest is called the “Magic Forest”. As we got off the car, immediately we saw a White-winged woodpecker pecking on a tree next to our car! What a delight to see this beautiful bird at such close distance… 🙂

white-winged woodpecker

white-winged woodpecker

Moving deeper into the forest trail, Azure tits (灰蓝山雀), Turkestan tits (西域山雀), Hume’s warbler (淡眉柳莺) were seen prancing around in mid-noon! We also heard intricate songs from Nightingales but spotting them was a challenge! As we followed the song, we encountered Lesser Whitethroat (白喉林莺), and Sykes’s Warbler (赛氏篱莺) who loved the shrubs but for us to move in closer was more than difficult as the trail was muddy..! Nightingale (新疆歌鸲) finally made a brief show for us, but soon popped back into the bushes!

Azure Tit and Olivaceous Warbler

Azure Tit and Syke’s Warbler

 

Lesser Whitethroat and Turkestan Tit

Yellow Wagtail  and Turkestan Tit

When we headed back to the car, our driver babbled about seeing a pair of raptors and had messaged us…but we only received the message after we caught up with him! Talk about China mobile network…. :-/

Before we head to Fuhai county for the night, our last birding spot was a ranch (国营二牧场)! Here, the Bluethroat (蓝喉歌鸲) was very tame and sang in the open! We tried to search for Short-eared owl here but didnt see any..! Other birds included Demoiselle cranes, 蓑羽鹤 (probably over 200) and flying Pallas Sandgrouse, Great Cormorants, Grey-headed Buntings and a Black-Throated Thrush (黑颈鸫)!

蓝喉歌鸲 bluethroat

蓝喉歌鸲 bluethroat

It was 6pm when we began our journey to our hotel in Fuhai. As we drove along the highway, an Upland Buzzard (大鵟) was spotted! How cool is that!

upland buzzard in Xinjiang

upland buzzard in Xinjiang

We finally checked in to a not so dodgy hotel at 9pm! 😛 The highlight for the day was not the birds to me but a very funny event that happened over dinner, which kept me grinning till this day…I am really tempted to share my story here…but I think birding Guru will *KICK* me if I do! 😛 😛

PS. This was our quickie lunch shared~~”

20140511_134204

 

Birding in Morocco- Mount Atlas Mountains, Ouarzazate to Merzouga

Driving along Mount Atlas Mountains was not easy at all, especially with so many hours of twirls and curls through mountains! But whenever there’s an area to pull over and take a break from the treacherous driving, I savored those opportunities to look into trees and scrubs and one of my best catch was the Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker. 🙂 Other findings include Cirl Bunting, and European Goldfinch!

European Goldfinch and Levaillant's Green Woodpecker

European Goldfinch and Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker

Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

The drive from Ouarzazate to Merzouga Desert along N9 highway was pretty straightforward! Along the way, there were nomads with their herd of sheep, camels and of course there were birds around those large patch of desert scrubs! Woodchat Shrike, Great Grey Shrike, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Spectacled Warbler were some of the birds seen!

Woodchat Shrike and Great Grey Shrike

Woodchat Shrike and Great Grey Shrike

Spectacled Warbler and Streaked Scrub Warbler

Spectacled Warbler and Streaked Scrub Warbler

A small flock of Fulvous Babbler, also known as Fulvous Chatterer  gave away their hiding spot easily by their noisy calls! But at the same patch, another lark, later identified as Bar-tailed Lark (note the black band at tail end) was seen! 🙂  Amongst the Crested Larks seen wandering around, there was one in particular with a longer bill, the Long-billed Crested Lark. Will there be a split soon? 🙂

Fulvous Chatterer or Fulvous Babbler

Fulvous Chatterer or Fulvous Babbler

Bar-tailed Lark

Bar-tailed Lark

long-billed crested lark (right) and crested lark (left) comparison

long-billed crested lark (right) and crested lark (left) comparison

At Ouarzazate, there is a barrage at Mansour Eddahbi known for waders and ducks. But I didn’t see much- just Ruddy Shelducks, Moroccan Wagtail and Collared Pratincole!

Right to left- collared pratincole, ruddy shelduck, Moroccan wagtail

Right to left-collared pratincole, ruddy shelduck, Moroccan wagtail

Birding in Morocco- Tagdilt Track, best known birding site in Marrakech

I was told by friends that Tagdilt Track is the place to go for birding and its probably the best known birding site in Morocco for desert loving birds like larks and wheatears! But what they didn’t tell me is Tagdilt Track is actually a dumpster site…! @__@” When I got out of the vehicle, I was immediately surrounded by flies, and I tried to keep my mouth shut…you know, just in case. :-/ Indeed there were quite a lot of birds seen here, all new to me…but its really not easy to walk on a rubbish valley on a bright sunny day; the smell, the heat and flies really got on my nerves!

Anyway, here are some of the wheatears seen along Tagdilt Track! From left- Black Eared Wheatear, Mourning Wheatear, Red-Rumped Wheatear and the Black Wheatear and there is also the Desert Wheatear! 😛

Black Eared Wheatear, mourning wheatear, Red-Rumped Wheatear, Black Wheatear

Black Eared Wheatear, Mourning Wheatear, Red-Rumped Wheatear, Black Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

Desert Wheatear

At the Tagdilt Track, there is no shortage of Temminck’s Lark! I just love their devilish horns, and I immediately compared the length of their “horns” to those of Horned Lark! Other larks seen include the Thekla Lark , Crested Lark, Hoopoe Lark and Thick Billed Lark! Its a delight to see them, but its also makes me sad to see them rummage through the dumpster site… 😦

Temminck's Lark

Temminck’s Lark

Thekla Lark and Thick Billed Lark

Thekla Lark and Thick Billed Lark

Crested lark and Hoopoe lark

Crested lark and Hoopoe lark

Seeing a flock of Trumpeter Finches was a nice surprise! Note that their calls don’t sound anything like a trumpet! Here’s how they sound like! http://www.xeno-canto.org/browse.php?species_nr=&query=trumpeter+finch

It was pretty hard to get a decent photo of these Trumpeter Finches as they move swiftly from bush to bush! Another highlight was seeing a Black Bellied Sandgrouse!

trumpeter finch

trumpeter finch

black bellied sandgrouse

black bellied sandgrouse

Now, where’s that Cream Colored Courser I was bound to see???  >.<“

West India- Rann of Kutch, where the thrill begins!

Maybe it’s a tomfoolery act to venture into the desert just like that, but being adventurous and all, I really wanted to venture into this little known area in West India, Rann of Kutch! 😛 In the early months of planning, I tried to contact a local tour operator to help cater to my accommodation and transportation needs…but the countless exchange of emails (language barrier) was a painful ordeal! I finally gave up and directly contacted Mr. Muzahid Malik, owner of Rann Riders and he took care of everything.
Just as I thought everything went well as planned, my flight from Kerala to Mumbai delayed (Grr…)! I was totally frenzied at that time! I could miss my connecting flight from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and the thought of it was enough to put me in panic mode! The frantic wait at the domestic airport was a nightmare…my eyes were practically “glued” on to that electronic flight departure board while I clutched my hands, and waited fervently for that magic moment! The torment finally ended when that “magic” electronic board announced that the plane would leave in 2 hours! Very quickly, I tried to do the maths…it seemed I would have to run to catch my connecting flight…if it waits for me!
The flight time from Kerala to Mumbai was about 2 hours. Upon arrival, I dashed to the transit hall to catch my flight…luckily, the plane waited for me… haha! 😛
After a mere 50 minute flight, I landed in Ahmedabad and was soon picked up by the driver arranged by Mr. Muzahid! The lengthy 2 hour ride to Dasada was horrendous as the driver drove with speed without using his brakes! Yikes! Anyway, as the car drove deeper into the vast empty land in sheer darkness, the clear skies let the stars shine gloriously! Those huge clusters of stars looked like fine-cut jewels, and some even like chips of ice that left me overwhelmed with awe and amazement!
It was already past midnight when we arrived at the hotel, and I was immediately greeted by some ducks, a goat and a dog. 😛 The nights were cold at the Rann of Kutch in January, but thankfully I was kept in “mint” condition as duvets were provided at Rann Riders! 😛

As the jeep sped towards the desert in the morning, I saw some birds on wires but the driver had no intention to stop! I had no choice but to call out to him several times to stop so I could take some shots of the birds! Apparently, the driver assumed that those birds on wires are very common and hence not worth for a stop! XD
By mid morning we arrived in the desert. This place is almost a monochromatic visual; no trees, just shrubs, barren landscape and plenty of Wild Ass!
But before I could get any decent shots of Wild Ass, my driver alerted me.

” Look, Indian wolf! It’s rare!” He exclaimed.
” Where, where?” I asked.
” It’s there over the white border…!” He replied.
” You mean that dog?” I asked naively…it looked like one to me, it still does! 😛

Indian wolf

Indian wolf

The Indian Wolf was a nice surprise, but we were actually looking for the Houbara Bustard at that time! We finally found 2, but these bustards were fast runners, we had to chase after them to get some decent shots!

houbara bustard (macqueenii)

houbara bustard (macqueenii)

As we sauntered across the land of sand, a long-legged buzzard caught our attention-it had captured a short-eared owl (sniff)! Despite we were so close, the buzzard refused to leave as he firmly guarded his catch of the day!

long legged buzzard captured short eared owl

long legged buzzard captured short eared owl

By the time we began our journey back to the hotel, it was nearly mid noon and I was a little parched by then….what a morning! 😛
Below were some of the birds and Wild Asses seen on that day!

sand lark and demoiselle cranes

sand lark and demoiselle cranes

Hoopoe, black winged kite, variable wheatear

Hoopoe, black winged kite, variable wheatear

desert wheatear and short toed lark

desert wheatear and short toed lark

Indian roller, crested lark

Indian roller, crested lark

rosy starling

rosy starling

Wild Ass

Wild Ass

 

rann of kutch

rann of kutch