Mengbishan is about five hours away from Balangshan by car, on a road that is partly excellent, partly horrible. The horrible essentially meaning half-an-hour delays for construction while the road is being upgraded.

As often in China, the choice seems to be between terrible infrastructure and almost no people or great roads accompanied by caravans of tour buses. Unfortunately, Mengbishan may well be headed in the latter direction.

On the other hand, a tunnel is built under the Mengbishan pass, which may mean that eventually a nice high-altitude stretch of the road may be bypassed by through traffic, giving some more peace to the birds (and birders). Currently, the heavy trucks passing by right next to the main birding road occasionally do add a bit of a non-birding-related thrill to birding at Mengbishan.

Under these conditions, it is not surprising that the Himalayan Vultures circling above have high expectations.

Still, birds such as the spectacular Blood Pheasant make it worthwhile. If ever birds will get into the habit of having Halloween parties, this species will not have to spend resources on costumes.

When I first came to China about 17 years ago, I indeed found it somewhat hard to tell Chinese apart, particularly Chinese men (evolution seems to have equipped me with slightly better differentiation capabilities for women). This has changed considerably over time. However, leaf warblers still look all the same to me. Absolutely no evolutionary advantage in being able to tell them apart, I guess.

A Buff-barred Warbler, apparently.

Maybe the most exciting species here at Mengbishan is the Crested Tit-warbler. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult to get decent photos of as it is small, moves very fast and somewhat erratic, and likes to stay behind whatever branch is between it and me. So, trying to get a decent shot of it is mostly an exercise in frustration, something any research chemist is already very familiar with. The predictable result: a decent shot of a female …

… and a substantially less satisfying shot of the back of a male.

Giant Laughingthrushes are present at Mengbishan as well, much nicer to foreign bird photographers, and thus certainly deserve to be featured again.

The Grey Crested Tit looks like it has been taken straight out of “Lord of the Rings”, particularly when posing next to some of the weird moss that covers the older trees at Mengbishan.

There is a hobbit hole somewhere behind this tree.

The Himalayan Bluetail is kind of an upgraded version of the Red-flanked Bluetail migrating through Shanghai. The main improved features are the brighter blue eyebrow and the brighter, deeper blue upperparts (eBird).

I have not really made up my mind about treecreepers, such as the Hodgson’s Treecreeper seen at Mengbishan. On the one hand, a bird just clinging to the bark and climbing up is inherently pretty cool. On the other hand, trying to imitate tree bark in color and structure is hardly a recipe for an exciting appearance.

Large-billed Crows are altogether more conspicuous.

A Rufous-vented Tit sounds like a good idea in theory. The reality is a bit less impressive.

O tit, where is thy rufous vent? 

Finally, there are more rosefinches. One is the Chinese White-browed Rosefinch seen at Balangshan a few days before. For the very similar-looking Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch, eBird states that “male is beautiful” …

… And then continues with “Female is streaky brown above …”, which is as close to mentioning its probably rather beautiful soul as one can get.

I still took a photo of the female so as to avoid hurting her feelings.

The other rosefinch species was a first for the trip, the Three-banded Rosefinch, for which eBird rightly claims that “Male is strikingly unmistakable” …

… while the female predictably gets a less enthusiastic and in my opinion, slightly unfair review (“predominantly brownish”).

Note: This trip was made with Alpinebirding, a Chinese tour company with very knowledgeable, English-speaking, and friendly guides – highly recommended to overseas birders. See my report on Tripadvisor if interested.

Written by Kai Pflug
Kai Pflug has been living in Shanghai for 20 years. He only became interested in birds in China – so he is much more familiar with birds in China than with those in Germany. While he will only ever be an average birder, he aims to be a good bird photographer and has created a website with bird photos as proof. He hopes not too many clients of his consulting company read this blog, as they will doubt his dedication to providing consulting services related to China`s chemical industry. Whenever he wants to shock other birders, he tells them his (indoor) cats can distinguish several warblers by taste.