Spotted NutcrackerNucifraga caryocatactes is a distinctive corvid of mainly coniferous forests. It ranges from Western Europe to the Kamchatka Peninsula and Japan. In China, macrorhynchos is in Khingan ranges of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang as well as Changbai Mountains; rothschildi in Tianshan in western Xinjiang; macella from Qin Mountains of southern Shaanxi and northwestern Hubei south through Sichuan to southeastern Tibet and Yunnan; interdicta southwestern Liaoning to Shanxi and Henan; and owstoni in Taiwan. Inhabits coniferous and mixed coniferous-birch forests, in lowlands and mountains in north, at higher altitudes in south. Eats pine nuts, which it hoards for winter; also takes invertebrates in spring and summer. Mid-sized (about as large as a Eurasian Jay), mainly chocolate-brown, broad-winged, short-tailed. Unlikely to be confused with any other bird. Head, mantle, and underparts chocolate-brown with white spotting or streaking (except on cap and nape, which are darker brown). Wings and tail black, with white corners on tail. White vent easily distinguished during undulating flight. Ssp. macrorhynchos and rothschildi heavily spotted, macella, interdicta, and owstoni less so; owstoni has fewer streaks than any other subspecies. Bill slender, black; feet black. Quiet, especially in winter; in breeding season, distinctive, dry, powerful “kraak” from atop conifer. — 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)