Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Into the cold!

It is dark and very cold, again! We are all in the vehicles travelling to a high pass, in the hope of seeing one of the very special birds of this region- Roborovski's Rosefinch. It is rare, highly localised, difficult to find and lives very high, in inhospitable mountains. It sounds like just my kind of bird then!

The beginning - it got worse than this later!

Reluctantly, we start our hike. It is very cold, the slanting wind, dotted with sleet and snow. There is quite a bit of newly fallen snow around, but as the sun hasn't yet come up, everywhere looks dark and forboding. Not nice at all! I pull my hat further down over my ears, my eyes become slits against the sleet and snow and I start walking. It seems to me that all walks here, begin with uphill & then continue with more uphill! How come we never seem to walk downhill? I plod on, my breathing getting harder with every step. Then a shout and a rosefinch is spotted. It is a stunning adult male! The only problem is, it is down in the valley bottom. We will loose all the height we have gained and then have to come back up again! I walk down hill, closer to the bird. It is shuffling around among the rocks, a bit of bright colour, among the greys.

The great prize!
Roborovski's Rosefinch.

I take off my gloves to handle my camera. I really wish I hadn't done that! My fingers are numb and the camera body & lens make matters worse. I click away, consious that at any moment my finger might stick to the metal shutter. This happened to me a long time ago in wintery Sweden - very painful when your blood starts circulating again! I shuffle closer and closer, keeping low to the ground. I am starting to mimic a rosefinch! We all get our fill of the bird and I stand up, or rather try and stand up! I am thirsty at this altitude and I reach for my water bottle. One little problem is that it has frozen! I move it inside my rucksack, I just have to wait.
Birding the heights!

Sometimes, it all gets too much for some!

We climb up out of the valley- again! We gain more height and walk along a ridge. The sun is now up, playing its rays across the landscape. I begin to warm up. I clamber up on a pile of rocks, time for a bit of breakfast. Eagerly, I reach for my piece of chocolate. I can't eat it yet, it is frozen! I place it inside one of my gloves. As I wait, I look around. The landscape is one of brutal beauty, it is a cruel land up here. A land right on the edge, where humans can exist, but not much more. I remind myself that this is the middle of summer!
Both Blue Sheep and Tibetan Gazelle are seen distantly, but no sign of course, of their major predator- the almost mythical, Snow Leopard! I pick up a Tibetan Gazelle horn from the ridge.
Tibetan Gazelle - keeping their distance!
This species has a very strange way of running!

Himalayan Marmot - common in the highlands.
Plateau Pikka.
A Himalayan Marmot pokes its head out of its burrow, it must be time to get up! Plateau Pikkas scamper around their holes, sometimes squeaking in alarm. I remember my piece of chocholate, it is still like a brick but I begin to suck! A Common Cuckoo calls across the valley, they are even up here! A brown rock flies and transforms itself into a young Little Owl. It blinks and bobs its head at me.
A young Little Owl

Flashes of colour among the boulders, turn out to be Black & Guldenstadt's Redstarts.
Guldenstadt's Redstart.

 A couple of Robin Accentors start to sing.

Robin Accentor

I commence my walk again and as I get warmer, I start to notice the life going on all around me. Three species of snowfinch dot the landscape, each one in a slightly different ecological role. Henri's (White-winged) on boulders in small areas of wet ground:
Henri's, (White-winged) Snowfinch.
White-rumped Snowfinch, closely associated
with Pikka colonies.
White-rumped is among the Pikka colonies, often using their holes and disappearing underground at the slightest sign of danger and the Rufous necked seems to be a generalist and is found everywhere.

Rufous-necked Snowfinch

 We scan the rocks on the highest ridges for Tibetan Snowcock, but without success. Brandt's and Plain Mountain Finches grovel among the patches of snow. After a hike of around five or six hours, we circle around and return to base at the pass. The sun is shining and everything looks so different to the early morning.
Plain Mountain Finch
Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang).

We drive slightly lower, to a plateau area, dotted with small marshes. I see my first Kiangs (Tibetan Wild Ass) in the distance. Whow! An animal I have always wanted to see - how do they survive the winters up here? Amazing!

A male Spotted Great Rosefinch is seen, together with it drabber mate. We all get good, prolonged views.
Spotted Great Rosefinch

It is now time to head back to Wenquien. Has it improved? I am afraid not. But in the yard is a Spotted Great Rosefinch! After all that effort finding them, there is one in the village!

A posse of semi-wild dogs great our arrival with vigorous barking, which goes on into the night. Are these boards on the bed getting softer? No I don't think so! I awake, because of a call of nature. It is very dark and very cold. I have to brave the yard, to get to the toilets. My torch beam confirms that not everyone walks that far!

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