Female Koklass Pheasant, Tangjiahe Nature Reserve, Sichuan, China, 20 May 2013. Pucrasia macrolopha ranges from the Himalaya to E and N China.

Koklass Pheasant Highlight Tianmu Trip

On Sunday 22 Nov., Elaine and I completed a rainy three-day trip to the Tianmu Mountains, 270 km SW of People’s Square. The highlight was 4 Koklass Pheasant on Saturday. We found the pheasants on a long walk down the mountain road at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. Other finds were of the common southern China variety but were no less delightful: Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Collared Owlet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Grey Treepie, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-faced Warbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, White-crowned Forktail, and Little Forktail. Among the wintering/passage birds were Dusky Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, and Mugimaki Flycatcher.

The author at the Koklass clearing at West Tianmu Nature Reserve, elev. 1020 m, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015.
The author at the Koklass clearing at West Tianmu Nature Reserve, elev. 1020 m, 21 Nov. 2015. (Elaine Du)

After so many weeks watching migrating birds along the coast, Elaine and I noted the more settled character of the bird life in the big, southern-temperate, montane forest at Tianmu. Seeing the many south China residents, several of whose ranges extend not much farther north than Tianmu, was like meeting old friends.

On Saturday we took the bus to the parking lot at Lóngfèngjiān, the famous Japanese Cedar forest. We declined to pay 140 yuan per person to enter the forest. Instead, we walked the road back toward our hotel. The first Koklass took off from cover and flew down slope. A few bends and twists of the road below, we again heard the beating of pheasants’ wings. Finally, at a spectacular clearing about 3 km below Lóngfèngjiān, I got a view of a female Koklass startled into flight. I rushed to the edge of the slope, just in time to see her partner, a stunning green-headed male. I now was convinced that in this high-quality habitat, large and well-protected, pheasants must be numerous. Examining the rim of the slope, I got further confirmation of that idea by the rows of pheasant scat that I found. Koklass Pheasants must stand there often, using the disused parking beam as a perch.

Koklass Pheasant droppings here suggest a substantial presence of these unusual gamebirds.
Koklass Pheasant droppings here suggest a substantial presence of these unusual gamebirds. (Craig Brelsford)

The view the pheasants take in there is superb, especially on a cloudy day, with clouds partly filling the valley below. During a rare moment when the fog lifted, we took in the impressive view. The exercise, fresh air, and good birds put us in a fine mood. I was without my camera, not willing to carry it through the mist, and I reveled in my mobility. When I heard a Koklass calling from bamboo, I jumped in to take a look. I couldn’t find the pheasant, but no matter: The sound of a singing Collared Owlet quickly refocused my attention.

The forest around Lóngfèngjiān is mixed broadleaf-conifer with short, wispy bamboo a component of the moderately thick undergrowth. The broadleaf trees are bare now, and the scene is reminiscent of colder, more northern climes. Farther down, more trees retain their leaves, the undergrowth is in places impenetrable, and bamboo grows in thick stands.

Elaine and I have now had a pair of Tianmu trips–one this past May and now this one six months later. The mirror-image trips have given us a view of Tianmu at opposite ends of the year. We now better understand the southern Chinese flora and avifauna right at our doorstep, and we appreciate more than ever the transitional, north-south character of the Shanghai region.

Elaine Du takes in the view at the Koklass clearing, West Tianmu, Sat. 21 Nov. 2015. Elev. 1020 m. Note the bare vegetation, the presence of bamboo, and the extensiveness of the southern-temperate forest. West Tianmu offers high-quality habitat at the place where north and south China meet.
Elaine Du takes in the view at the Koklass clearing. Note the bare vegetation, the bamboo, and the extensiveness of the southern-temperate forest. West Tianmu offers high-quality habitat at the place where north and south China meet. (Craig Brelsford)

List 1 of 3: Birds noted around West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve (Xī Tiānmùshān Zìrán Bǎohùqū [西天目山自然保护区]), Zhejiang, China. List includes observations from hotel at Hǎisēn Nóngzhuāng (海森农庄, 30.337622, 119.455874, elev. 425 m) to a point on the road called Jiǔzhū Xiàn (九朱线, 30.308047, 119.483266, elev. 200 m). Rainy and foggy; high 12°C. Visibility 0 km. Wind NNE 6 km/h. Sunrise 06:29, sunset 17:01. FRI 20 NOV 2015 13:00-15:35.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis 3
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 7
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 15
Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis 10
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 2
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 30
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis 4
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 70
Indochinese Yuhina Yuhina torqueola 2
Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus 10
White-crowned Forktail Enicurus leschenaulti 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 50
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 5

List 2 of 3: Birds noted around West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve (Xī Tiānmùshān Zìrán Bǎohùqū [西天目山自然保护区]), Zhejiang, China. List includes observations made on walk & drive between hotel at Hǎisēn Nóngzhuāng (海森农庄, 30.337622, 119.455874, elev. 425 m) to Lóngfèngjiān (龙凤尖, 30.344148, 119.440201, elev. 1120 m). The distance by road between the two points is 12.7 km. Lóngfèngjiān serves as the parking area for the Japanese Cedar forest below Xiānrén Dǐng (仙人顶; 1506 m), the highest point on West Tianmu Mountain. Cloudy with periods of rain; high 15°C. Visibility 0-5 km. Wind NNE 11 km/h. Sunrise 06:29, sunset 16:54. SAT 21 NOV 2015 09:40-17:00.

Chinese Bamboo Partridge Bambusicola thoracicus 4
Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha 4
prob. gamebird sp. 2
Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus 1
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 2
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius sinensis 5
Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha 5
Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae 2
Japanese Tit Parus minor 6
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 10
Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis 6
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler Horornis fortipes 2
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 30
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 2
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis 6
Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps 4
Huet’s Fulvetta Alcippe hueti 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 60
Grey-headed Parrotbill Psittiparus gularis 50
Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus 4
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 5
Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri 1
White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti 3
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki 1
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 1
Plumbeous Water Redstart P. fuliginosus 2
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 2
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 2
Tristram’s Bunting Emberiza tristrami 3
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 5

Densely vegetated area near entrance to West Tianmu Nature Reserve. Elev. here 330 m. This was our main birding site on Day 3.
Densely vegetated area near entrance to West Tianmu Nature Reserve. Elev. 330 m. This was our main birding site on Day 3. (Craig Brelsford)

List 3 of 3: Birds noted around West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve (Xī Tiānmùshān Zìrán Bǎohùqū [西天目山自然保护区]), Zhejiang, China. List includes observations from the broad area of mixed habitats around the entrance gate (30.314472, 119.442713, elev. 330 m). Rainy and foggy; high 16°C. Visibility 0 km. Wind NNE 6 km/h. Sunrise 06:31, sunset 17:00. SUN 22 NOV 2015 10:30-12:10.

Chinese Bamboo Partridge Bambusicola thoracicus 4
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 1
Grey-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris 2
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach 1
Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha 1
Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae 9
Japanese Tit Parus minor 6
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques 3
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus 30
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus 2
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus 2
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 2
Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus 2
White-crowned Forktail Enicurus leschenaulti 2
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata 20
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 5
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 18
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 2
Eurasian Siskin Spinus spinus 2
Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides 1
Tristram’s Bunting E. tristrami 3
Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans 8

Featured photo: Female Koklass Pheasant, Tangjiahe Nature Reserve, Sichuan, 20 May 2013. Pucrasia macrolopha ranges from the Himalaya to E and N China. (Craig Brelsford)

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford lives in Shanghai, where he runs shanghaibirding.com and studies Chinese at the Shanghai University of Engineering Sciences. Craig is the top-ranked eBirder in China, having noted more than 930 species, as well as the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai (320+ species). A 1993 graduate of the University of Florida, Craig was an award-winning newspaper editor in the United States for 10 years. In 2002, Craig earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Liege in Belgium. Craig has lived in Shanghai since 2007.

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