Red-billed Blue MagpieUrocissa erythroryncha brevivexilla, Tiantan Park, Beijing, October. (Craig Brelsford)
Red-billed Blue MagpieUrocissa erythroryncha is the longest-tailed corvid. Occurs India to Vietnam and China, with alticola in northwestern and northern Yunnan, brevivexilla in western Liaoning southwest across Hebei, Shanxi, and Shaanxi to southern Gansu, and erythroryncha covering the rest of China south of brevivexilla. Favors tropical, subtropical, and temperate broadleaved forests, but can take advantage of habitats that approximate its natural home, including temple grounds and urban parks. Generally shy (less so in urban areas), but conspicuous in small flocks, swooping noisily in single file from tree to tree, their long tails streaming gracefully behind. Spends much time on forest floor, carefully holding tail up to avoid contact with ground. Typically omnivorous corvid diet consists mainly of invertebrates but also includes lizards, birds’ eggs, nestlings, vegetable matter of various kinds, and kitchen waste. Only likely confusion is with Yellow-billed Blue Magpie U. flavirostris, which in China lives only in southeastern Tibet and western Yunnan and has a yellow bill and small, crescent-shaped white nape patch. Nominate has large white “mane” on nape and hindcrown, disintegrating into white spangling on midcrown; rest of head to upper breast black. Upperparts sky-blue, with white tips to tertials. Tail blue with white tips and black subterminal band. Lower breast to vent grey-white. Juvenile duller. Race brevivexilla paler and greyer and has purplish-white nape patch; alticola brighter blue. Bill, feet red; yellow in juvenile. Harsh, screeching contact call often gives away presence; also screams, whistles, and rattles. — Craig Brelsford
Xuanzhong Temple in Shanxi is the best-known place in the world to view Brown Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon mantchuricum. A recent visit by British birder Mark Havenhand (see comment below) stimulated me to update my report about my trip to Xuanzhong. Have you been to Xuanzhong? Help birders by leaving a comment below. — Craig Brelsford
I went to Xuanzhong Temple in December and January to photograph Brown Eared PheasantCrossoptilon mantchuricum.
The temple in central Shanxi, China sits in a gorge at an elevation of 1000 m (3,280 ft.). The hills are covered with trees that the locals call baishu (cypress). The setting is picturesque.
The air was bitterly cold; as low as -20°C (-4°F). Bright sunshine made the days cheerful. The temple flock of Brown Eared Pheasant appeared every day.
Elaine Du and I caught an 8 a.m. flight from Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai to Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi. From Taiyuan Airport, we drove our rental car west about an hour through Jiaocheng to Xuanzhong Temple (37.563877, 112.078460).
We found the Brown Eared Pheasant immediately. They were on a little bridge spanning a frozen stream at the bottom of the gorge. Also around the bridge were north China species Plain LaughingthrushPterorhinus davidi, Long-tailed RosefinchCarpodacus sibiricus ussuriensis, and Red-billed Blue MagpieUrocissa erythroryncha brevivexilla.
In the following days I noted other taxa representative of north-central China: Chinese NuthatchSitta villosa villosa, Eurasian NuthatchS. europaea sinensis, Songar TitPoecile montanus stoetzneri, Coal TitPeriparus ater pekinensis, and Beijing BabblerRhopophilus pekinensis.
Many birders balk at ticking semi-wild birds, but if you want an easy tick of Brown Eared Pheasant, then Xuanzhong Temple is the place to go. Note that both Mark Havenhand and I had wild Brown Eared Pheasant far from the temple on the road between Xuanzhong and Jiaocheng.
MAP AND PHOTOS
BirdLife International 2016. Crossoptilon mantchuricum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22679299A92809690. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22679299A92809690.en. (Accessed: 30 Aug 2020)