Wu Ling Shan: The Return

When US birder, Gina Sheridan, asked if I wanted to visit Wu Ling Shan again, I jumped at the chance.  On my previous flying visit, although I had seen most of the special birds at this site, I had missed one that I was very keen to see – Elisa’s Flycatcher.  So accompanying Gina on a 2-day visit was a great opportunity to try again.

We arrived late afternoon and, with the windows down on the way up the road to the hotel, we could hear lots of birds..  Yellow-bellied Tits, Hume’s and Claudia’s Warblers, Siberian Blue Robin, Songar Tit etc..  At the first parking spot, we stopped and listened.  Immediately I could hear a flycatcher singing and, with a little patience, we managed to see it was a stunning Elisa’s Flycatcher – result!  We had been in the reserve just a few minutes and already had seen my target bird…  We watched this endemic breeder for 10-15 minutes as it sang and fed in an area of open mature trees before continuing up the road.  A little further along we encountered a nice flock of Yellow-bellied Tits feeding next to the road and a couple of squirrels (Pere David’s?) foraged along the forest edge.  Suddenly a cracking male Siberian Blue Robin appeared and gradually came closer and closer as it made its way along the edge of the road before being flushed by one of the squirrels.  This was a good start.

Elisa's Flycatcher, Wu Ling Shan
Elisa's Flycatcher (first summer male?), Wu Ling Shan

When we reached the hotel, we dumped our bags and went out straight away to look for one of Gina’s target birds – Grey-sided Thrush.  We took the circular path up to the viewpoint near the hotel where we enjoyed good views of Hume’s Leaf Warbler and heard both Lesser and Large Hawk Cuckoos.  Then, as the light was beginning to fade, I caught sight of a thrush as it sat on a low branch.  In the gloom, we could just make out the pale eye-stripe and the dark flanks – a Grey-sided Thrush!  We had brief views of another Grey-sided Thrush on the way down but we both agreed that better views were still desired!

And so, at dawn the next day, we began to walk down the road to the waterfall car park, a 6km downhill walk that runs through some fantastic habitat.  We were soon hearing lots of birdsong – White-bellied Redstart, Chinese Song Thrush, Siberian Blue Robin, Chinese Leaf Warbler, Claudia’s Warbler, Hume’s Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Winter Wren and Daurian Redstart.  It was a pretty good show but noticeably quieter than my first visit just a couple of weeks before.  We only heard one Grey-sided Thrush singing – a real difference from mid-June when I heard probably 20+.

After enjoying good views of most of the phylloscopus warblers – including watching the very distinctive Claudia’s Leaf Warbler’s alternate wing-flapping – and brief views of the ultra-skulky White-bellied Redstart, we continued down.  Suddenly I heard a high-pitched song that I recognised from Xeno-Canto Asia.  My suspicions were confirmed when I listened to a recording I had downloaded onto my phone.  It was a Large-billed Leaf Warbler…  Brilliant!  I had not heard this bird on my previous visit and it is a scarce and very local breeder, only discovered in Wu Ling Shan a few years ago.  We listened to this bird for several minutes and enjoyed brief views as it made its way along the edge of the road.  A real bonus.

Large-billed Leaf Warbler

We didn’t hear any Koklass Pheasants – maybe they, like the Grey-sided Thrush – stop singing at this time of year.

A little further down we heard the very cool call of the Blue Whistling Thrush, a precursor to spectacular views of one of these stunning birds on the way out of the reserve.

As we were close to the waterfall car park, I decided to walk back up to pick up the car, leaving Gina to bird the area.  At this point, hordes of schoolchildren were (very loudly!) walking down from the hotel to the waterfall, meaning that hearing birds was much more difficult.  I didn’t stop too much on the walk back up.  After picking up the car, I drove down to the car park where I met a smiling Gina – she had just seen a stunning male Long-tailed Minivet and another Elisa’s Flycatcher.  Nice!  Luckily for me, the minivet returned and I enjoyed excellent views.  A male Godlewski’s Bunting sang from a nearby tree and a couple of Large-billed Crows flopped over the valley.

We had already seen most of the birds Gina wanted to see but there were still a few to go. Namely Rosy Pipit, Bull-headed Shrike and we had yet to secure views of Yellow-streaked Warbler.  The road up from the hotel to the peak was where I had seen Rosy Pipit previously, so we drove up to try for this species.  As we made our way up, the cloud began to descend, covering the top of the mountain and reducing visibility considerably.  Luckily it didn’t last too long and we were able to work the area around the peak.  Unfortunately there were no pipits singing and, after about 20 minutes, I was beginning to think we might dip.  We took the decision to drive slowly down, checking any good-looking areas…  almost immediately we picked up a pipit displaying above a stand of trees.  We stopped the car and enjoyed this bird displaying and sitting on wires for several minutes.  Phew!

After collecting our bags and checking out of the hotel (which had told us that they were fully booked that night), we had an hour and a half before our pre-arranged lunch.  So we decided to try for the Bull-headed Shrike (seen during my first visit) and also Yellow-streaked Warbler, both of which were seen within a few hundred metres of the hotel on my first visit.  We began the walk to the entrance track and, after only a few metres, we saw a thrush feeding on an area of newly-disturbed earth right out in the open.  It was a Grey-sided Thrush!  Wow…  excellent views as it collected food, clearly feeding young.  After a couple of minuted it flew into the forest.   Very nice indeed.  We then continued the walk down the entrance track to check the wires for the shrike.  No sign.  So we walked a little further and almost immediately heard a Yellow-streaked Warbler singing alongside the road.  We enjoyed very good views of a pair of these birds carrying nest material – the nest site appeared to be on the ground in a tangle of grass.  Nice.  We still had about half an hour before lunch, so we slowly ambled back to the shrike site and, sure enough, there it sat on the very same wire where I saw it two weeks previously…   We had pretty much cleaned up before lunch!

Yellow-streaked Warbler, Wu Ling Shan

We decided to head back to Beijing that afternoon but would take our time birding the road on the way down to see if we could catch up on a few more birds.  A Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker was a nice addition to the trip list and we encountered more of the phylloscopus warblers all the way down.

Gina wanted to see Plumbeous Redstart – not a bird I had seen on any trip lists for this place, so I wasn’t confident.  But we stopped to check every stretch of water on the way down.  A stream ran alongside the road and there were several spots where views could be had both up- and down-stream.  It didn’t ‘feel’ great for Plumbeous Redstart but we persevered and, after leaving the reserve and finding ourselves almost back into the outskirts of Xinglong, we saw an open-ish area of water where the stream widened and was littered with large rocks.  Potential.  Then we spotted some fresh-looking droppings on some of the rocks and, sure enough, we could hear a loud penetrating call that revealed itself to be a male Plumbeous Redstart singing from a very prominent rock.  Cool!

Plumbeous Redstart (male), Wu Ling Shan
Plumbeous Redstart (female), Wu Ling Shan

The female was close by and we watched these birds as they fed, catching flies with intermittent forays into the air.  It’s always great to be rewarded after working hard to find a specific species.. and just as we thought we had missed our chance, there they were…  a very good note on which to end the visit before the 3-hour journey back to Beijing.

2 thoughts on “Wu Ling Shan: The Return”

  1. Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, eh ? I never succeeded in connecting with this bird, not on Tom’s list either, is it known from Wulingshan ? This is a great area, do you think Bull-headed Shrike is breeding there ?

    I just love these Phylloscs, such a fantastic place for them too !!

    Look forward to hearing more Spike

  2. Hi Spike. Yes, a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker! When we first saw it, we assumed it was a Grey-capped but it didn’t look quite right, so we took a few notes and then identified it subsequently. It was seen very well in a mixed tit/nuthatch flock for around 30 seconds or more before it melted deeper into the forest. It had a large greyish patch on the ear coverts that expanded above and below from the eye with a white surround. Very pale and streaked underparts (lacking noticeable buff tones) with a very neat white-striped back. I have seen it previously on Hokkaido. I wasn’t sure of the status of JPW at Wu Ling Shan but I have since found out that it has been recorded before but only rarely. It was fairly low down the track to the south entrance gate. The Bull-headed Shrike is breeding – it was seen to carry food into a thick shrubby area on several occasions. Yes, the phylloscs are fantastic and so plentiful. A joy to see (and hear). Terry

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