Sunday, January 20, 2019

Chasing Lifers: The Baihualing Gold Mine - Day 1

Two things really give me a high when birding - the first is seeing a lifer and the second (and equally important), is getting a good photo.  With the nature of our subjects (wild birds) and environment where they are found, both are not always possible.  All bird photographers have tales of coming home empty handed after hours of waiting and walking.  So when one hears of a place where "one can shoot all day as if in a gallery", it is be a place worth going to, or at least worth considering. I cannot recall anymore where or how I came to know of Baihualing.  But I recall googling it (a lot!) and began to dream about visiting this place which one blogger described as a Birding Paradise.  So when WBPP's Raymond Dan organized a trip to Baihualing, I signed up.

Baihualing is a town located on the slopes of the Gaoligong Mountains, in the province of Yunnan, China, near the border of Myanmar (formerly Burma).  It is part of the Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve (GNNR) which is a protected area.  The GNNR includes "...the Gaoligong Mountains and the nearby Nu Jiang Reserve in the western Yunnan Province of China, near the international boundary of Burma. It covers a vast stretch of the junction of Baoshan City, Tengchong and Lushui County, towards the west side of Nu (Salween) River.

It is a nature reserve of China, under the authority of the Chinese Ministry of Forestry. International organizations have also recognized it. It is a class Protected Area of World Wildlife Fund, and World Biosphere Reserve and a part of World Heritage Site of UNESCO." (source: wikipedia).

Our journey to Baihualing began at dawn of January 13, 2018 with an early morning flight to Hongkong, followed by a flight to Kunming, a seven-hour lay-over, then a flight to Baoshan, and capped by a two-hour road trip over twisting mountainous roads (at 10:30pm-12:30am), in a car driven by a guy who spoke very little english.  An error by our travel agent, caused our party of seven to be separated (they spent their 7-hour lay-over at HK airport!). As a result we only saw each other on the Kunming-Baoshan flight at 9pm,  (but that is another story).  After an almost 18-hour journey, we arrived at our "homestay" exhausted and shivering, but very excited for the coming days. I placed homestay in quotation marks because while it is called a homestay, it is a facility with four buildings and 48 rooms, and each room has two large beds, a bathroom, desk, and other amenities. 

At the Baoshan Airport, cold, exhausted, but full of excitement for the coming days 

Our drivers stopped by a local eatery on the last village before going up the Gaoligong Mountains.  We had our first taste of local Chinese food.  Simple but hot and tasty.  

We had breakfast before sunrise the following morning so that we could be at Hide # 8 early.  The dining hall is located on a separate building downhill.  Breakfast was a choice of unli-noodles or unli-rice with unli-DIY toppings.  There was also unli-siopao like bread (with or without palaman). For this first morning, I opted for noodles.  

Early morning downhill walk (in the cold) to the dining hall (and an uphill trudge back to the homestay).  The dawn and the cold air made it feel like a Simbang Gabi walk.


Baihualing sunrise...

Before long we left for our birding destination for the day, Hide # 8. And as soon as we have set up our cameras and tripods, it was non-stop shooting - from 7:00am until 5:30pm. The birds came in waves upon waves. Lunch and tea were consumed while we were seated in front of our cameras. Bathroom breaks were hurried because we did not want to miss any lifers.  Baihualing, at least on this day, lived up to its promise of a gold mine. Here are some of the images I was able to create on day 1 - January 14, 2018.

Red-tailed Laughingthrush

Whiskered Yuhina

Male Himalayan Bluetail, also known as Himalayan Red-flanked Bush Robin or the Orange-flanked Robin

Red-faced Liochichla

Either a Pygmy Wren Babbler or a Scaly-breasted Wren Babbler, very difficult to tell these two species apart (similar in look and size)

Large Niltava, male

Rufous-gorgeted Fly-catcher

Black-breasted Thrush, male

At the time we shot this, somebody said it was an Assam Laughingthrush.  But the guidebook says it is a Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush.  A quick google search reveals that the Assam used to be a sub-species of the Chestnut-crowned but it has been split.  I am not sure if this is an Assam or Chestnut-crowned. 

Chestnut-vented Nuthatch

Grey-backed Thrush, female

Himalayan Bluetail, female

White-browed Shortwing, male

Black-headed Sibia

Buff-browed Warbler

Chestnut-headed Tessia

Large Niltava, female

Rufous-bellied Niltava, female

Chestnut-crowned Warbler

Flavescent Bulbul

Rufous-throated Hill Partridge

Black-breasted Thrush, female

Scaly Laughingthrush

Chestnut-spectacled Barwing

Silver-eared Mesia

Golden Bush Robin

Grey-cheeked Fulveta

Orange-bellied Leafbird, female

Crested Finchbill

Beautiful Sibia

Orange-bellied Leafbird, male

And that was our first morning - thirty-one (31) lifers by my count.  Our lunch arrived but as I said, we all ate hurriedly and in front of our tripods for fear that new birds might suddenly arrive.

Packed lunch, delivered hot...

Most of the birds that came in the morning also appeared in the afternoon, giving us a chance to get better shots.  These following photos are of those birds that arrived only after lunch.

Oriental White-eyes

Golden-throated Barbet

Red-tailed Minla

Blue-winged Minla

Chestnut-tailed Minla

Rusty-capped Fulveta

Blue-throated Barbet

Rufous-Hill Partridge pair

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

My tally for the day was thirty-seven (37) species, all but one (the White-browed Shortwing), are lifers.  If only all birding sites were as abundant as Hide #8...

After downloading my shots that night, I was somewhat surprised that I took more than 6000 shots that day.  It was a good thing that I brought along a new 2GB portable hard drive.  Otherwise, I would have run out of memory cards and hard disk space in my laptop.  

And if you are wondering how this magical birding place looked, this is the "shooting area" of Hide #8: 

I took these with my phone camera just before we left. 

Looks very doable in Coron...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Bird's Eyeview

Sometime last September, a new kind of tour opened in Coron.  Helicopter Tours offered a bird's eyeview of some of Coron's most popular destinations. But it was not until November 20th that I was able to try it.  The regular price of the tour is P5,000/person for a 12-15 minute flight. Three people can fit in the four-seater chopper (the pilot being the fourth person). However, last November, the company offered a two plus one promo so we grabbed this chance to try the ride.  We had to be at the terminal in Capayas at around 8am for our 8:30am flight.  After a briefing by the staff, we boarded and we were off.  Here is Coron town and parts of Coron Bay as seen from the air.

Coron Soleil Garden Resort

Coron town

CYC Island 

Balinsasayaw Resort

Twin Lagoon area

Kayangan Lake (center), and Luluyuan (Barracuda) Lake (upper left)

Not really sure of this shot but this is nearing Kalachuchi Beach area already.

Siete Pecados

Siete Pecados

Public Market and tour boats

Public Market and tour boats

And after about twelve short minutes, we were already touching down.  I was hoping for a shot of Darayonan on the way back but I was sitting on the left side of the chopper hence my view was of the bay.  Do I ride again, or get a drone? Hmmm...