Monday 20 November 2017

Nonggang, Guangxi - November 2017

Blue-rumped Pitta - our main target species for the trip

Nonggang, Guangxi. A mere 25km from the Vietnamese border and set within Longzhou county. My first visit to this location in 2016 was most memorable, with some species not easy to find anywhere in China plus the endemic and highly sought after Nonggang Babbler that was only described in 2008. News of Blue-rumped Pittas showing well at Nonggang travelled fast (Wechat in China is now extremely popular, it had became the main source of communication between birding guides and clients), therefore when Captain suggested a re-visit I was more then happy to tag along, a group of eight were gathered and we set off once again for Guangxi. Yuen had work, so along with the original crew from 2016, we have the addition of Peter and Michelle Wong, as well as Kwok Jai and his girlfriend Kyomi.

We met at Lok Ma Chau on Friday morning and crossed the border, where we changed to the ever growing metro system of Shenzhen. From there we took the metro to Shenzhen north station where we were to board the high speed railway to Nanning Guangxi. The good thing about using the high speed railway is that there are much less chance of delays then planes, which is notoriously horrid in does take longer to get to our destination, but it was also the cheaper option, return tickets only set us back around 600RMB each.

Typical karst landscape view of Nonggang

We boarded the 12:20pm train and arrived at Nanning around 4:30pm. Our host Xiao Peng met us at the station, after a quick dinner we were off to another long drive towards Nonggang. It wasn’t until 9:45pm that we arrived at the lodge. Xiao Peng went over some details about what our target birds were and we decided to split into two groups, as we had already seen the Nonggang Babbler, the other group will try for the babblers first thing in the morning, our group which had already seen the babbler will look for the Blue-rumped Pitta first.

I had a rough night of sleep but woke up at 6:00am sharp. A quick breakfast of congee and noodles and we were off to the Pitta stakeout. Blue-rumped Pitta had always been an extremely elusive species, and is the only resident Pitta species in South China (excluding Yunnan which is South West China, they have a few more species of Pittas there), so having heard a pair had been coming to a waterhole regularly was exciting news.

Pitta stakeout and waterhole

Light at the waterhole early morning was extremely poor, thick cloud cover did not help. The owner of the waterhole placed some mealworms around various rocks and we waited...a male White-rumped Shama was one of the first bird to arrive, a species we did not see at Nonggang last time. A male Small Niltava also frequented the waterhole, another species that I suspect is a winter visitor here, they turn out to be pretty common here in November. A few Spot-necked Babbler also appeared, a species I’ve only seen at Hainan Island previously.

White-rumped Shama - male

Small Niltava - male

Spot-necked Babbler

Suddenly, a largish bird hopped out from the shadow, a male Blue-rumped Pitta came right into view! I must say that it looked nothing like the sketches and paintings in the field guides that I’ve seen, where they’re often depicted as dull looking birds. They were far more colourful in real life, a greenish back with bright blue rump, as well as a deep rusty orange face and breast, it was a subtle beauty. Light was extremely poor...with the aid of modern day technology I was able to crank the ISO up to 3200, noise is inevitable but it's better then a blurry photo!

Blue-rumped Pitta - absolute stunner!

A sudden change in weather had us hurrying back to the lodge, a cold front heading south usually means rain and windy conditions. When we returned, the other group was still at the lodge waiting it out. They were obviously envious of the Pitta while they haven’t got the Nonggang Babbler yet.

After it cleared up slightly we all headed out once again. We arrived back to the waterhole but this time the Pitta took a lot longer to come out again. a few flocks of Puff-throated Bulbuls and Red-whiskered Bulbuls took turn pecking at the bananas left out for the birds. We also heard the Blue-bearded Bee-eater outside but it never revealed itself. A few Asian Red-cheeked Squirrel were also drawn to the free handout.

Puff-throated Bulbul

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Asian Red-cheeked Squirrel

At lunch we exchanged some news, other then Nonggang Babblers, the other group had Large Scimitar Babblers and Indochinese Green Magpies at another waterhole, we swapped places to try for the other birds. The waterhole started off pretty quietly, with a Common Tailorbird coming out to feed on the mealworms, things improved when a wide range of babblers arrived including Rufous-capped Babblers, David’s Fulvettas and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers. Streaked Wren Babblers as well as Grey-throated Babblers both appeared on numerous occasions. Buff-breasted Babblers were particularly numerous.

Waterhole for Large Scimitar Babbler and Indochinese Green Magpie

Common Tailorbird

Rufous-capped Babbler

David's Fulvetta

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Streaked Wren Babbler

Grey-throated Babblers

Buff-breasted Babbler

A female Small Niltava as well as White-rumped Shama also visited a few times. A single Lesser Shortwing came by briefly. A few Black-throated Laughingthrushes also came along, Guangxi is well within it’s natural range, unlike those in Hong Kong that originated from captive birds. White-throated Fantail came to bath in the waterhole, putting on quite a show. A Northern Tree Shrew came and entertained us while we waited for our target birds...

Small Niltava - female

White-rumped Shama - female

Lesser Shortwing

Black-throated Laughingthrush

White-throated Fantail

Northern Tree Shrew

It was a long wait, but finally a pair of Large Scimitar Babblers came in. This is a species I’ve heard on various occasion but never seen, they are notoriously skulky, so without these waterholes the chances of seeing one is really quite slim.

Large Scimitar Babbler - Our second target species

It took even longer before the Indochinese Green Magpie came in, the lone bird was extremely skittish and was being very careful before coming down to feed. It wasn’t until Captain accidentally clicked the memory card slot too loud while changing his CF card that the bird was spooked. Having seen most of the birds we wanted we decided to call it a day.

Indochinese Green Magpie - a species with the wow factor every time

Having missed the White-winged Magpie, this was our main target the next morning. We set off around 8:00am to the stakeout.  The stakeout looks promising, being in a good patch of forest, we anticipated some good turned out to be one of the worst and most boring morning of birding. For the next three hours we barely saw a single bird. We kept hearing a Red-headed Trogon which responded to our playback but never revealed itself. It was then that the great company really comes into play, where we an laugh it off together in the bird hide. As we had to leave Nonggang before 1:00pm, we didn’t want to leave too late, so we took off at 11:30pm. As our cars were driving away, the car in front came to an abrupt halt. Turns out Peter heard the White-winged Magpies, soon we located a small flock up the steep slope, with some distance flight views.

Walking up to the White-winged Magpie Stakeout

White-winged Magpie - distance views...better then none!

We thought they may actually head to the feeding station so we hurried back to wait in the hide, but the birds never least we all saw the birds in the end. The journey back to Hong Kong was long, but to think that we got some usually extremely difficult birds on a weekend trip, it was all worth it. Nonggang is an extremely special location, interesting karst landscape and great birds still make it one of my favourite short stop for birding, although the lack of trails and closed off reserve means walking around on your own is near impossible, hence our extremely low bird count for this trip. This is a huge shame, as I am sure there are a lot more discoverable if we could explore the area on foot. But before the reserve is open to public again, this will likely be our only mean of effective birding at Nonggang.

1Little GrebeGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
2Grey HeronGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
3Chinese Pond HeronGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
4Cattle EgretGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
5Black-winged KiteGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
6Eurasian KestrelNonggangKwok Jai
7Eurasian HobbyGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
8Spotted DoveGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
9Greater CoucalNonggangOther Group
10Blue-bearded Bee-eaterNonggangHeard
11Blue-rumped PittaNonggangPair seen at waterhole
12Red-headed TrogonNonggangHeard at White-winged Magpie stakeout
13Long-tailed BroadbillNonggangHeard at White-winged Magpie stakeout
14Collared Scops OwlNonggangOther Group
15Barn SwallowNonggangOther Group
16Asian House MartinNanningSeen from car
17White Wagtail (leucopsis)NonggangCommon around village
18Black BulbulNonggangA flock of bulbul early morning most possibly this species
19Red-whiskered BulbulNonggangA few at waterholes
20Chinese BulbulNanningAround train station
21Sooty-headed BulbulNonggangsingle seen from car
22Puff-throated BulbulNonggangCommon at waterholes
23Oriental Magpie RobinNonggangAround Longheng village
24Lesser ShortwingNonggangA few at waterholes
25Turdus sp.Nonggangheard
26Yellow-bellied WarblerNonggangA few heard, one seen following bird wave
27Mountain TailorbirdNonggangheard
28Small NiltavaNonggangCommon at waterholes
29Black-naped MonarchNonggangOne heard with bird wave
30White-throated FantailNonggangCommon at waterholes
31Large Scimitar BabblerNonggangA pair at stakeout and a few heard elsewhere
32Streak-breasted Scimitar BabblerNonggangCommon at waterholes
33Black-throated LaughingthrushNonggangA few at waterholes
34Spot-necked BabblerNonggangA few at waterholes
35Rufous-capped BabblerNonggangA few at waterholes
36David's FulvettaNonggangCommon at waterholes
37Buff-breasted BabblerNonggangCommon at waterholes
38Pin-striped Tit-babblerNonggangA few at waterholes and bird wave
39Streaked Wren BabblerNonggangA few at waterholes
40White-bellied EpornisNonggangA few at waterholes and bird wave
41Cinerous TitNonggangA few near lodge
42Fork-tailed SunbirdNonggangA few heard, one seen
43Japanese White-eyeNanningHeard at Nanning Station
44Long-tailed ShrikeNonggangA few seen from car
45Indochinese Green MagpieNonggangOne at waterhole
46White-winged MagpieNonggangFlock of seven seen near stakeout
47Collared CrowGuangzhou to NanningOne observed from train, Guangxi
48Large-billed CrowNonggangKwok Jai
49Black-collared StarlingNonggangA few seen from car
50Crested MynaGuangzhou to NanningFrom train
51White-rumped MuniaNonggangHeard near village

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