Monday, 7 March 2016

The Epic Walk - Luo Fu Shan

Captain invited me and Yuen to head up to Luo Fu Shan (羅浮山) for a weekend of birding, the invitation was surely enticing as we all know this is the closest site to Hong Kong that holds a stable Silver Pheasant population. So, we all gathered after work on Friday night across the border and met with Brother Kei (friend of Captain's) whom will drive us up to Luo Fu Shan to stay over night at the foot of the mountain. Being my second trip there with Captain I thought I knew what to expect, only to hear plans from him that he wishes to walk all the way to the northern slope of the mountain, only then do I realised this was a lot more serious then I expected. The climb itself should be tough with the amount of gear and the heavy backpack we were carrying, adding to the fact that we have no idea what to expect up near the summit, most importantly we didn't even know if there will be anywhere we could stay for the night! Captain read online that some hikers have stayed at Buo Yun Si (撥雲寺) ; a buddhist monastery high up the mountain, that they are willing to help out any hikers in need of a place to stay. That was our only hope!

Day 1:

We headed out early the next day, got the first tickets into the park at 7am. 60RMB is still a little pricey for our liking...First birds we heard were Barbets, and we saw a pair of Great Barbets at a distance calling from a tree top. They never allow good views...Quite a few Swallows at the park's entrance. We also heard a Chinese Bamboo Partridge calling briefly.

Great Barbet - not so easy to see, even harder to photograph...

Barn Swallow

The lodge we spent our first night - last of the civilised comfort

Small lake near the entrance of Luo Fu Shan south gate

We soon found a tree that attracted tons of birds. Chinese Barbets were very active feeding, at least 3 were constantly going back and forth the trees. Mountain and Black Bulbuls were also busy foraging. Finally, a flock of Indochinese Yuhinas joined the party.

Fruiting tree below the maple

Chinese Barbet - a very common species at Luo Fu Shan

Mountain Bulbul

Black Bulbul - another common resident here but not easy to photograph

Indochinese Yuhina - commonly seen in large flocks

We started our ascend and things were pretty easy going to begin with as we just followed the main road up. On the way up we encountered two Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, a species we surprisingly have not encountered in other sites south of Luo Fu Shan. The pair provided some good views and soon we moved on. A pair of Orange-bellied Leafbirds were seen briefly. We also encountered a flock of Huet's Fulvettas, but they didn't give good views.

Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler

Striped Squirrels were very common here, very different to the Pallas's Squirrel we have in Hong Kong, no doubt a native here. We stopped for a rest at a toilet and right outside Yuen spotted a few Black-throated Tits, a good find and a new species added to our survey list. Chestnut Bulbuls were also commonly seen. We stopped and rested at one of the many stores going uphill, we took the chance and asked the owner lady whether she had seen Silver Pheasants before (big white wild chickens to be precise), and she stated that she sees them every so often while going back down hill at around 4pm to 5pm. Her descriptions of the bird was pretty spot on, an interesting local encounter which we will keep in mind!

Striped Squirrel - quite common at Luo Fu Shan

Black-throated Tit - very distant shot

Chestnut Bulbul

We got up to the upper cable car station where we had some brunch at the store. From there we found a road heading north east that looked promising (mainly because it stated it was closed off to public), the woodlands were indeed quite good and no tourists were venturing into this trail. A Crested Goshawk circled above shortly. We encountered a small bird wave and saw a pair of Yellow-cheeked Tits amongst the flock! Another quite exciting find, Captain have only recorded them further north at Liu Xi He, so this is likely the closest site to Hong Kong which you can find this species.

The promising looking trail that leads to a dead end...

Over looking the southern slopes

Crested Goshawk

Yellow-cheeked Tit - good looking as usual

We walked further into the trail, as our map indicated that it could go all the way around the other side of the mountain, but soon we got to the end of the trail at a small temple. There certainly looks like there are plans to expand the park's trails and roads but this no doubt will be sometime in the future. There was a pond at the temple, where I found a Chinese Flying Frog strangely resting in the water. This amphibian is said to be quite common in Guangdong but is missing from Hong Kong. Yuen spotted a rock thrush which he thought was a Blue Rock Thrush, but after closer inspection we found it to be a Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush! Another very exciting find, likely a new addition to the site's list! It was quite far however, so I only managed a distant record shot.

Chinese Flying Frog - what was it doing in the water?

Chestnut-bellied Thrush - a great find by Yuen!

From there on, it was ALL walking, over 600m vertically up the summit. It was gruelling and our heavy back packs did not help. The walk seems pretty popular with local hikers, and birds were very scarce during this stretch. We practically saw nothing in the next few hours, only a few Huet's Fulvettas which didn't even give good views.

Yuen and Captain hiking up the gruelling trail

We struggled all the way up to Fen Shui Au (分水坳) , the habitat opens up to low trees and short bamboos, we started hearing more Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers and soon Russet Bush Warblers. A lot of trees were evidently frostbitten from the big freeze at the end of January, no doubt they experienced some pretty harsh weather up here.

Evident frost damage on higher grounds

Looking up towards Fei Yun Ding (飛雲頂) summit at near 1300m

Streams of hikers going up to the summit

Our route towards Buo Yun Si (撥雲寺) took us onto another trail just before we reached the summit, you turn right into that trail and it leads you through some pretty thick bamboo forest. We heard an unfamiliar call from the valley, I recognised the call but simply could not figure out what it was until I suddenly remember the call of the White-tailed Robin I heard in my recent Taiwan trip! I played the song from my music library and it was indeed what I suspected! A huge surprise for us as this species is not known to be common in Guangdong, and we have only got a handful of records in Hong Kong. On our way to the monastery we heard even more, at least 5 individuals along the trail.

Spectacular view over looking the northern side

Walking through dense bamboo forests

We walked passed two separate streams, Captain told us to keep a look out for Forktails, which we did. And to confirm his suspicion, I spotted a pair soon after. They were gone swiftly as if they were never there, they really are very shy birds. Managed a record shot before they melted away though.

Forktail territory - wooded streams

Slaty-backed Forktail

We reached Buo Yun Si (撥雲寺) around 4:30pm, by then we felt exhausted and we were dragging our feet along. A monk saw us and welcomed us into the monastery, we asked whether we could spend a night taking refuge in the temple and he agreed without hesitation; it was like music to our ears! As we sat and had a kit-kat to celebrate the end of the gruelling hike, one of the bhiksuni came and invited us to dinner which we gratefully accepted the offer. A hot meal was more then what we expected! The monastery was a simple and humble dwelling, there are no phone signals and no electricity. They cooked using firewood and their only source of lighting is from a few relatively new solar powered street lamp placed in the courtyard. They had a solar water heating system at their bathroom but with no showers, so you could only wash yourself with a bucket. Beds were very basic bunkbeds, nothing fancy, but we were simply glad there we got a roof on to of our heads for the night. We saw a Dusky Thrush which was too quick for our cameras, Chinese Bamboo Partridges called a few times before the sun went down.

Exhausted birders at the door of Buo Yun Si (撥雲寺)

Courtyard of the monastery

The huge monastery bell

The building we took refuge for the night

Five-star accommodation (Glad there didn't seem to be any bed bugs!) - photo credit by Captain

Day 2:

We woke up at 6am in the sound of the monastery bell. Sky was quite clear and we took that as a good sign. Quick breakfast of canned sweet congee we bought the day before and we were ready. We said goodbye to the monk and off we went. We were hearing quite a lot of unfamiliar calls, a two note "Di-Doo" which we later recognised as Grey-sided Scimitar-babbler (formerly Spot-breasted Scimitar-babbler). Collared Owlets were also calling from a distant, we heard quite a lot of them on the way down hill. Another call which we did not recognise was a single note whistle that we thought sounded like some type of Partridge, but did not fit the Chinese Bamboo Partridge that is known in the area, so we recorded the call to be inspected later on.

Over looking the monastery at first light

Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers were calling everywhere, one of them was calling close-by so we thought to try a burst of playback and see if it respond. It did and for the next few minutes it gave some of the best views I have ever had of this species. We managed some pretty decent photographs of this individual. From then on it was a trail going down hill in rough terrain, the trail follows a steep ridge that cuts through some half decent forest. Although the north side is less disturbed, we found that the trail cuts through mostly young forests. We didn't encounter much except for a few bird waves with species we have seen on previous day. I finally managed a record photo of a Huet's Fulvetta which we encountered a couple of times on the trail.

Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler - best view I've had!

On the top of a waterfall en route.

Some promising habitat but we didn't encounter much

Huet's Fulvetta

We reached the end of the trail at around 10:30am. The trail exits onto a main road next to the local police station at She Xia Cun (社下村), we rested by the road for a short while, not much birds were seen in the area.

Police station at the end of the trail

There are maps, and then there are Chinese maps...don't talk to me about precision

After calling Brother Kei to inform him we have arrived safely, we waited for him to pick us up at a local restaurant over a can of coke each! The restaurant proofed to be quite birdy and we added a couple of species onto our trip list, including Grey Treepie, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Crested Serpent Eagle. The flock of domesticated geese walks proudly around the premises.

Stream below the restaurant

Geese on the loose!

Good birds were to be found in the least expected of habitats, including a gully below the restaurant where we found four Tristram's Buntings foraging around the garbage. A few Red-flanked Bluetails were around the area including a male, but they were all quite shy. Striped Squirrels foraged along with the Chestnut Bulbuls and Minivets.

Tristram's Bunting

Red-flanked Bluetail

Striped Squirrel

We ordered lunch as we waited for Brother Kei, whom came much later due to traffic. As he ate, I tried my luck at the river below one last time and sure enough came upon two Slaty-backed Forktails! One of them flew off as it saw me but the other fluttered away only to stop at a short distance away, I took my chance and snapped away with my camera, getting some pretty decent shots that I was happy with! (no doubt shots that Captain was quite jealous of) And so, that marked the end of our epic walk at from the south side of Luo Fu Shan all the way to the north side. We arrived back at the Hong Kong border by 5:00pm. We total 68 species on our weekend trip, which is not bad considering this is only from one site of similar habitats.

Slaty-backed Forktail - some good shots of this species finally!

Later that evening while going through our recordings, I confirmed our suspicion that our mystery call was most likely a White-necklaced Partridge! We heard quite a few of them on our way down all the way to around 800m. If confirmed this will be an exciting find and a new record for this site. The closest known site for this elusive Partridge is Nan Kun Shan (南昆山) to the north, so further examination of the northern slopes is required, but an interesting record none the less. I will like to thank Captain Wong for organising this unforgettable weekend, Yuen for keeping records of the species we encountered and Brother Kei for driving us all the way up late in the evening!

I will likely have a fear for staircases in the coming week, but I am looking forward to head back up this mysterious mountain that have much to offer. We might even get to see the Silver Pheasant next time, I hope...


  1. Looks like fun! White-tailed Robin is a great record...

    1. Thanks John, it was an interesting trip. Hopefully Luofushan will get more attention from birders then it currently is, it deserves more visits!