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!

 

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