Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Quest for Beck's Rosefinch!

At the beginning of the trip, we had birded the arid valleys high above Xingang, looking for an isolated race of the Sinai Rosefinch, known as Beck's Rosefinch. This population is so far east of the known range of Sinai Rosefinch, that it beggars belief that it is in fact a race, & not  a separate species. It was the one big dip of the trip & we had half a day before we flew out of Xingang. A bit of a no-brainer really!

The very modern city of Xingang

We very slowly walked higher & higher.

So it is just dawn & yes we are climbing another hill! This one is a long one, as the authorities won't let us drive up the road, as we are too early for the security man to be present & on duty!

When we got to the top, 
they opened the road to vehicles!

It was a hard footslog up the hill & quite chilly! Birds were thin on the ground before the sun came up, but a confiding Yellow-streaked Warbler kicked started us all into action.

Yellow-streaked Warbler

 A distant Przevalski’s Partridge called, but remained unseen. A pair of Daurian Partridge were much more obliging. 

Daurian Partridge

As we gained height, the arid vistas unfolded before us, in one sweeping ridge after another. Blue Hill Pigeon’s were quite common often in small flocks. Pairs of Red-billed Choughs seemed to be everywhere, their calls being a constant companion.

Red-billed Choughs - common here.

As the sun came up, the Oriental Skylarks took to the air & the sky was suddenly filled with song. 5 Pere David’s Laughing Thrush were huddled together in one small bush, before flying away across the valley into a distant patch of cover.

Pere David's Laughing Thrush

 A beautiful male Siberian Rubythroat burst into song & a little bit of playback gave us stunning views.

Siberian Rubythroat

 Several Daurian Redstarts were also dotted around the more vegetated hillsides. Godlewskii’s Rock Buntings sang from prominant rock perches. However, it was the isolated population of Meadow Bunting which stole the show. This species has recently colonized this area & we recorded at least 25 birds.

The star of the show!

Suddenly, a rosefinch was spotted! It was quick & flew down a narrow, arid gulley, but we managed to get our scopes on it & there it was: Beck’s Rosefinch! Brilliant! This species had led us a merry dance a few weeks earlier at the start of the trip, but here was a male, perched perfectly. The cameras came out! Further searching revealed at least seven birds in this area. This is an isolated population of the Sinai Rosefinch & a distinct race. But surely, a distinct species as well?
After the excitement of this find subsided, Jesper & I decided to hike further along a ridge & down into the next valley. By now, it was quite warm, even hot when the wind died down. 

Wonderful carpets of flowers adorned all the hillsides ( a response to the recent rains) and although species were limited, we recorded a few Pied Wheatears; 6 Oriental Greenfinch, Mongolian Finch & a lone White-cheeked Starling, in some planted trees in a nearby garden.

 One of the many Pied Wheatears breeding here.

Oriental Greenfinch

White-cheeked Starling

Eventually we made our way back to the vehicles & we returned to town for our final meal together. A great trip: stunning scenery, great birding, some wonderful mammals & we really had birded across the Roof of the World!

The local airport was a bit chaotic, with many delays & cancellations but eventually I boarded my flight to Chengdu. The others were flying directly to Beijing & then on wards to Europe. I arrived late, much later than planned & found a pretty grotty hotel for the night, but I was tired & slept soundly.

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