Birding in Wuerqihan Part 2

The visit this time to Wuerqihan, Inner Mongolia in November yielded as much surprise as last winter if not better! At -32c last year, we missed the grouses but apparently this is the best time to see the grouses plus the owl I missed last year- Ural Owl.

The dark was setting in when we had just seen a raccoon dog! Still thrilled with the raccoon or dog lifer, our car stumbled upon a rock that was in the middle of the road. A close look- Ural owl – one i had missed last winter, so it’s a thrill to see it at close distance too!

Ural owl on the road

Ural owl on the road

Of course the usual owls were there too- Great Grey and Hawk Owl. 😛

Hawk owl is very common in Wuerqihan

Hawk owl is very common in Wuerqihan

greatgrey

Great grey owl wasn’t fussed about us

And of course, the grouses and the rare Black-billed capercaillie were seen this time. Hazel grouses were plentiful- male looked especially stunning with red eyelids. When winds picked up, it was a funny sight to see the Black grouse swaying on the thin stems of the trees!

black billed capercaillie is a MUST SEE in Wuerqihan

black billed capercaillie is a MUST SEE in Wuerqihan

Hazel grouse wears furry boots all year round.

Hazel grouses wears furry boots all year round.

Black grouse on a tree!

Black grouse on a tree!

Other birds seen included the Black woodpecker, three-toed woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Siberian Jay, Nuthatch, Willow tit, Azure tit, and also loads of ravens, crows, and long-tailed tits! At -10c, and not too windy, the weather was gd for the 3.5 days birding. But as the snow hasn’t filled the holes on the road, the car ride was slow and bumpy! Nonetheless, I hope to visit this magical forest again in Spring, hopefully see a lynx and some more rare birds. 🙂

willow tit in Inner Mongolia

willow tit in Inner Mongolia

lots of long-tailed tits here!

lots of long-tailed tits here!

And of course I have to post the raccoon dog! 🙂

Raccoon dog seen in the fields at Wuerqihan

Raccoon dog seen in the fields at Wuerqihan

Snowy Owl with “Triple” Dragons

It was already 730pm when we arrived at Hailar (Hulunbuir), a quick transfer to another car and we’re on our 4hr journey to Xiqi (西旗), Northeast of Inner Mongolia! Despite we’re all tired after a long day, we’re thrilled to see big twinkling stars in the sky! Both of my friends were so lucky to see glowing eyes of foxes that sauntered the grasslands, I just couldn’t spot any! It was almost 1130pm when we’re greeted by our guide, Double Dragon (双龙) at the hotel and we’re told his brother would take us the next day! I thought to myself no wonder he’s called double Dragon, he has a twin brother…!

Day 1 at Xiqi (西旗)

I was surprised to find so many bird photographers at the lobby at 630am! Having rounded us all like sheep, we were herded to breakfast place before we split up for our birding activity – we decided to see other birds first instead of searching for the Snowy Owl and we saw quite a few that morning which included Mongolian Larks, Horned Larks, Upland Buzzards and Little Owl!

Little Owl at Xiqi, Inner Mongolia

Little Owl at Xiqi, Inner Mongolia

Flocks of Mongolian Lark at Xiqi

Flocks of Mongolian Lark at Xiqi

We then moved on to join the others for Snowy Owl! To my surprise, this juvenile was so close and took little notice of us! A great lifer for us three! 🙂

This Juvenile Snowy Owl took little notice of us.

This Juvenile Snowy Owl took little notice of us.

Can you see the owl?

Can you see the owl?

We savored the beautiful sunset with a Snow Bunting and wondered if we’d be lucky to have that beautiful backdrop for the Snowy Owl the next day. 😛

snow bunting in sunset

snow bunting in sunset

Day 2 at Xiqi

Today, our guide, Double Dragon decided to show us his guiding skills! I squealed with joy when he found a Red Fox, how cool is that! We later sauntered the snowyland and found 6 more Snowy Owls, one of which was a male!

Snowy Owl at Grassland of Inner Mongolia

Snowy Owl at Grassland of Inner Mongolia

red fox is common in Inner Mongolia

red fox is common in Inner Mongolia

In the afternoon, we saw more quality birds- Père David’s snowfinch, Asian Rosy-finch, Eagle Owl and more Little Owls (we stopped counting!) The highlight continued with hotpot dinner complemented with endless drinking, and singing and for some reason we had to make a speech about our thoughts of Xiqi..! :-/

Père David's snowfinch and eagle owl in hiding

Père David’s snowfinch and eagle owl in hiding

asian rosy-finch at Inner Mongolia

asian rosy-finch at Inner Mongolia

Day 3 at Xiqi

Today, we’re guided by Double Dragon’s 2nd brother! Seriously he shouldn’t be called Double Dragon but Triple Dragon! *Roll eyes* We walked a small forest only to find Brambling and Meadow Bunting, but we had great views of Daurian Partridges!

Daurian partridges are common at Inner Mongolia

Daurian partridges are common at Inner Mongolia

By sunset, we made our way to Manzhouli airport in a shared car and so the 3 of us were cramped at the back seat for 2 long hours! :-/ But what a trip we had! Despite frustrations with communication with the guide, car issues and freezing weather, I had a great adventure! Thank you, SoSo for organizing the trip, Terry, for being the bird spotter and myself for providing free translation service! @_@”

Here’s my ice-cream treat which I bought for myself.. 😛

ice-cream treat at the end of the trip!

ice-cream treat at the end of the trip!

What a trip!

What a trip!

Birding at -32c, Inner Mongolia

“The ground temperature’s -32c” was the *chilling* announcement made by the flight attendant upon arrival at Hailar Airport, Inner Mongolia. When I stepped out of the cockpit, I didn’t feel cold, but that changed very quickly. :-/

Day of arrival

Hailar 海拉- – Wuerqihan 乌尔旗汉 (2hr ride became 4 hrs)

We were picked up by the guide’s apprentice who drove a cab with heater but his windows were wrapped with plastic foil to prevent frosting hence we couldn’t roll down the windows! :-/ We had no choice but to get out of the car whenever we saw some birds along the road en-route to Wuerqihan. There were plenty- Pine Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Arctic Redpolls, Eurasian Jays, Snow Buntings to name a few! Here’s my artsy Common Redpoll photo.

Lots of common Redpolls along the road

Lots of common Redpolls along the road

snow bunting at Wuerqihan

snow bunting at Wuerqihan

When we arrived at Wuerqihan township, it was already 2pm, a quick lunch and we were driven to a nearby area to do some birding before the sunset at 4pm! The highlight was seeing an Ural owl! But no photos as the car window couldn’t be rolled down on my side. *sob* But I was compensated with hotpot dinner! Of course there were many questions asked by my friends about the local conservation and birding community, sadly none of them spoke Chinese, so I had to be the translator.. :-/

Day 2

At early dawn (0730), we were taken to breakfast before going on a bird hunt! Our guide drove a huge jeep- at first sight, we were thrilled- the windows could roll down!!! 🙂 But for some reason, there were hardly any birds on this day! It was freezing and very soon we realised the jeep had no heater! :-/

The only word I could think of to describe this first full day of birding was “GHOSTLY”. We had 3 accidents – 1. Our car rev. and hit a tree. 2. It skidded off road was dugged out in deep snow. 3. The car mirror came off as it hit a tree.. @_@”  Even dinner was horrid- BBQ meat was so chewy that my my teeth nearly fell out. The only photo taken was Siberian Roe Deers. Dinner came with complimentary translation service provided by me.. 😛

Bouncing Siberian roe deers

Bouncing Siberian roe deers

Day 3

Today was a fruitful day! We saw Black Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker along with Hawk Owl at the same site! We later drove into some pine forests and soon spotted the Great-Grey Owl! We then moved on to an area where there were some quality forest birds including Arctic Redpolls, Common Redpolls, Common Bullfinches, Grey-bellied Bullfinches, Eurasian Jays who came for a hearty seed meal. By now, my pinky finger became numb, a sign of frostbite!

hawk owl winters in Wuerqihan

hawk owl winters in Wuerqihan

great grey owl in pine forest

great grey owl in pine forest

Male Bullfinch

Male Bullfinch

 

long tailed rosefinch came close

long tailed rosefinch came close

pallas's rosefinch!

pallas’s rosefinch!

 

grey-bellied bullfinch and northern bullfinch

grey-bellied bullfinch and northern bullfinch

Day 4

We had one and one mission only and that was to find the Siberian Jay! Our guide had private access to a National Park and after driving for 2.5 hours, it was finally spotted by eagle-eyed friend through the frosted car window! It was very well camouflaged and took little notice of us, even though we made so much noise- tumbling and waddling through knee-deep snow!

siberian jay, a highlight in Wuerqihan, Inner Mongolia

siberian jay, a highlight in Wuerqihan, Inner Mongolia

We tried to find Capercaillie but to no avail., but had good sightings of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a lifer for me! By the time we came out of the National Park it was already 2pm. After another quick search for Ural Owl and Red fox, we returned to the hotel to get our luggage.

lesser spotted woodpecker in wuerqihan

lesser spotted woodpecker in wuerqihan

Wuerqihan townshipjpg

We were to travel to Xiqi (西旗), a 6hr drive from Wuerqihan. Our cab driver drove us to Hailar township where we transferred to a much bigger car to Xiqi!  Despite his car was small, it had heater! Our cab driver understood some very basic English after much “training” from us.

Go means drive fast

Go go, means drive very fast

Go go go means drive very very fast!