Southwest Yunnan birding inc Gaoligongshan and Hornbill Valley: Page 6 of 6

Nabang and Hornbill Valley

Then, to an area on the Burma border with Yingjiang, where we stayed at two villages: Nabang and Xima. The prime habitat here is forest; though the villages are a few hours [couple of hours or so?] drive apart, without passing through continuous forest en route, it seems this forest area is a unit, on low hills. To my eyes, it wasn't impressive sub-tropical forest - maybe at least some was secondary growth, following past logging [??], nor any impression of great forest as I remember from Xishuangbanna in the south of Yunnan some years ago. But, with less trapping and hunting than when I went to Xishuangbanna, birding easier.

It was hot and sunny as we arrived at Nabang early afternoon. Though we checked an area by river here, birds were sparse; Hofai reckoned it was worth returning later, towards sunset. Proved correct, and had a good session there.

This lowland area at Nabang is deforested, but with some marshy patches grazed by buffalo, plus rank fields, fishponds, and a scattering of trees, it holds a very good diversity of birds.

There were a few Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters. This is a site for Wire-tailed Swallow, a rarity in China with a restricted distribution; saw one, but too far away for photos.

A couple of Crested Kingfishers were perched by one fishpond. Not surprisingly, no sign of an Ibisbill [!!] that had been seen along the river during the winter.

This Siberian Rubythroat hopped into view around sunset, and gave remarkably good views. Hofai saw another, so maybe they occur here as migrants.

In the morning, we went to a huge fig tree in the forest - and near the road - above Nabang. From close by, watched birds coming in to feed on its remaining fruit, or tried watching them anyway. This is almost like a "one tree forest" [as a park near Ruili is named after huge tree with several trunks; we later tried this - but you shouldn't go, just touristy n terrible!]; has vast dense canopy, making it very hard to see birds once they'd gone inside.

Proved fair for green pigeons, which are tough to find in China: at least 15 Mountain Imperial and 10 Pin=tailed Pigeons. It was good that Hofai had brought a telescope, as birds high in the tree were hard to see otherwise; included a Maroon Oriole.

As we were about to leave, walked under the tree; only then heard a hornbill fly off from the depths - not even seeing it.

Then, we moved again, to Hornbill Valley.

The Yinjiang County government is promiting birding and bird photography tourism - a county bird race was about to take part in the next few days; and this is one of the key places. But it seems two Great Hornbill statues atop the remnants of huge trees welcome visitors have received most of the funding put into Hornbill Valley, as it's now known. Certainly, the village down below - where we stayed - has seen better days, with logging trucks no longer passing through and halting; a one horse town of the sort seen in Wild West movies, I thought. [Hotel so basic that Hofai told of a birding group arriving at night, and promptly returning to Nabang, only to come back to Hornbill Valley the next morning! But, we found not so bad, just toilet could use some cleaning at times, and our ceiling produced bit of a waterfall during a rainstorm...]

To me, seemed Hornbill Valley is more akin to Hornbill half-a-valley - as on Chinese side protected, maybe at least partly due to hydropower project at bottom of valley; while the other side is in Burma, and forest looked patchier there, with a marble quarry too.

Horbill Valley farmers have learned from Baihualing about building hides by bird feeding and watering stations; Hofai booked places in this hide. But with thunderstorm pre-dawn, I opted to wait a little, have breakfast w my wife and son; then went once the rain had stopped. Oh dear, led to impressive dipping - for rain stopped after dawn, and Hofai plus this HK couple saw Blue-naped Pitta, Peacock Pheasant and Red-headed Trogon ...

Ah well.... I did make it to the hide before mid-morning, too late for these three star birds - which tend to arrive at dawn or towards dusk. Did see and photograph some species, though; wasn't as busy as the hide at Baihualing.

Also this White-rumped Shama; note I've waited till it ate a mealworm before taking shot, but it's on, err, same post as the babbler above...

A White-throated Bulbul also posed obligingly on a post. Unusually for bulbuls, didn't notice this species away from the hide.

This Blue Whistling Thrush also came by for food; bright yellow bill unlike Hong Kong Violet Whistling Thrushes with their black bills; also different call [more rasping than high pitched whistling in this case]. Surely a different species.

This golden-spectaled type warbler [maybe Bianchi's] also came close, but holding territory here rather than coming for the food.

Birding the forest otherwise mostly involved walking along the winding road along the steep valley side. Challenging, as you might expect. Though there are a few "stakeouts" - including a place to wait for woodpeckers including Great Slaty to come to nest holes at dusk; waited here, and a Greater Yellow-nape came, but left before Great Slaty showed.

Far easier is a spot for Collared Falconet, at tiny cluster of buildings above the main village. You get out of the car, walk maybe 30 metres along a road - and there's a viewing point, with trees on slope below; we saw pair at eye level, inc mating. Also two Great Hornbills were perched close by, but flew off before I realised and could reach for camera. Also saw a Wreathed Hornbill in distance. There was a new road being built from here to Nabang, through forest: likely to have bad impact on forest I'd think, such as for poaching; but seemed to me it could be good to walk along, or maybe drive and stop at times once it's drivable [as we were there, surface like a skiddy mudbath!]

But we were out of time. Driving out of Hornbill Valley, saw Oriental Honey Buzzard [Crested Honey Buzzard] low over trees.

Also a Crested Serpent Eagle.

And that was pretty much the end for our birding in Yunnan; headed to Ruili, and next morning to Mangshi for flight - where Puti Temple proved wonderful to visit.

Birding Ecotourism Models? - and Questions, Questions

No more birding here, but a few reflections on the trip, some questions arising. Some of questions more for Yunnan based birders; maybe some know answers already.

Forest Birding Tourism Model?

At Baihualing, especially, also Hornbill Valley [maybe increasingly], local people setting up feeding and watering stations with hides for bird photographers are clearly making fair money by rural standards, some even doing well compared to many city folk. Also making bird photographers, and some birders, happy.

Might be some downsides to this. We saw a trapped squirrel at Baihualing; maybe bird photographers don't like them competing for food, so could lead to squirrels being seen as pests, and killed. I was surprised not to see, say, Crested Goshawk: if one of these was to start frequenting the stations might it soon be targeted for trapping or simply killing?
Can wonder, too, about impacts on ecoloogy of forests; Hofai reckons birds now sparser in forests above the feeding stations at Baihualing: so have birds indeed moved? If so, maybe less of their "services" in higher forest. Can also get lop-sided benefits to species that favour the stations, while others might lose out.

But, interestingly, Hofai says few birds use the stations during breeding season; so perhaps not so dependent on artificial feeding, and diets not too unbalanced.

AND whatever the drawbacks might be, surely a way better option than - as all too often - trapping and hunting being key sources of revenue, with local people finding no value in having free flying wild birds. An issue in parts of China; far more severely in, say, much of Java.

So maybe this model of bird tourism could be beneficial elsewhere, too.

Making birds that can be tricky to see, let alone photograph, into subjects for photographers; and with word soon spreading through social media.

Where do Altitudinal Migrants Go?

As we travelled, I wondered about where migrants go, especially those from higher altitudes that mainly move to lower elevations for winter.  Struck me as especially important if they move short distances, mostly.

For Gaoligongshan, say, it appears most protected land is at higher elevations; lower down may be cleared areas including fields, even places with severe erosion following deforestation. So for birds moving down for winter, or just moving when there are spells of severe cold weather (with snow), do they move only to find very few places that are even somewhat suitable for them?
- wonder if this has been considered for Gaoligongshan, say.

What About Timing of Altitudinal Migration?

Another question occurring to me; mainly as fascinated by "regular" migration. Also based on this and a few other trips, such as one to Sichuan in May when many species were clearly bound for higher altitudes as winter eased.

For instance, in spring, when do altitudinal migrants move up to their breeding grounds? We saw, for instance, Lemon-rumped Warblers and more at lower elevations, perhaps ready to move up at almost any day.

Might wonder, too, what influences timing from year to year: this was a greyer, wetter spring than normal; would this make altitudinal migrants delay returns to higher elevations? Or more influenced by temperatures?

Farmland/Wetland Reserves Worthwhile?

While we went to protected forest areas, and learned of more, seemed there was a dearth of protection of other habitats.

Non-intensive farmland, for instance; is there scope for this, to benefit birds like mynas and more that prefer open areas and scrubland? Again, might attract photographers; and maybe could manage in tandem with organic farming... A little like Hong Kong's Long Valley.

And with all the river valleys, rice fields and former rice fields, seemed to me this sw corner of Yunnan could host a very fine wetland reserve: yet there are none, said Hofail. Maybe could include organic/non intensive rice farming, some marshes etc. I mentioned to Hofai, who was sceptical about this idea, tho thought Bronze-winged Jacana was among potential species. Perhaps Asian Openbills, now they are moving towards/into China. Sarus Cranes perhaps can't return to Yunnan; but who knows...

Martin Williams