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North Burma Expedition and China Exploration
by Ben King
From Kingbird Tours Newsletter No. 38, January 2000
1999 NORTH BURMA (MYANMAR) EXPEDITION
We kept our eyes skyward in hope--waiting and waiting. It was late afternoon and the fellow who had set up and been staying at this camp along the river had regularly seen one or two White-bellied Herons flying by in the late afternoon. Impatiently we watched the sky until nearly dark before giving up. Earlier that afternoon, two White-bellied Herons had flown over the camp while we were en route through the forest and only one of our group had the good fortune to see them. We'll try again tomorrow.
The next morning we got up and ate before sunrise as usual, but hurried through our preparations for the day so that we'd be ready early to wait and watch for the heron again. Before we could complete preparations, however, Tony, our operator, called out "White-bellied Heron." We rushed to get an open view and there it was, flying majestically fairly close overhead, showing off his white belly and wing lining. Tally ho! A couple of days later, at a different site, another heron was seen making a total of three sightings of four birds. We were greatly pleased as this is one of Asia's least known and most difficult birds to find.
Of the many great sightings, the prize for the most enjoyable goes to the four Beautiful Nuthatches on a branch at one time with a Long-tailed Broadbill just behind them. A grand total of 31 of the exquisite Beautiful Nuthatches were seen on this trip, an extraordinary number of this little known species. The seemingly rare Collared Treepie actually outnumbered the Grey Treepie. Rufous-headed and Blue-spectacled Parrotbills were common as were Coral-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Streak-throated Barwings, and Beautiful Sibias. We found three new birds for Burma and SE Asia, the Rusty-bellied Shortwing (5 seen), Brown-headed Fulvetta (2 flocks seen), and the Rufous-tailed Thrush, Turdus naummani naummani (6 or 7 seen). Another new species for Burma was the Eurasian Blackbird. Two flocks of the rarely seen Rufous-vented Laughingthrush were seen. A total of 12 species of laughingthrushes were found, including Blue-winged, Spot-breasted, Chestnut-backed, Rufous-chinned, Rufous-necked, and Black-faced. We saw 5 of the exquisite Fire-tailed Myzornis. A small flock of Snowy-throated Babblers were seen near the site where we first found them for Burma and SE Asia two years previously. A single Wedge-billed Wren-Babbler was observed by Christian Goblet. Good views were had of White-cheeked, Rufous-throated and Hill Partridges. Pale-capped Pigeons were seen again at the site near Yangon.
Other interesting species were: Common Crane, Ibisbill, Speckled Wood-Pigeon, lots of Pin-tailed and Wedge-tailed Pigeons, several Blyth's Kingfishers, Rufous-necked Hornbills, Speckled and Rufous Piculets, Rufous-bellied, Crimson-breasted and Darjeeling Woodpeckers, several Pale-headed Woodpeckers, White-throated Bulbul, Hodgson's Redstart, Little and Spotted Forktails, Black-breasted, Chestnut, Dusky and Black-throated Thrushes, Spot-throated Babbler, Red-billed and Slender-billed Scimitar-Babblers, several Spotted Wren-Babblers, Red-faced Liocichla, Silver-eared Mesia, Red-billed Leiothrix, Cutia, Black-headed and Green Shrike-Babblers, lots of Yellow-throated Fulvettas, Rufous-throated and Streak-throated Fulvettas, Grey-headed and Black-throated Parrotbills, Broad-billed, Black-faced and Grey-cheeked Warblers, Sultan Tit, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Dark-rumped Rosefinch, etc. Unfortunately only one person got to see the Sclater's Monal and the sole tragopan was a female seen briefly which could not be identified.
This was quite a rugged trip, but the opportunity to be in a truly wild and beautiful area in its pristine state far outweighed the physical difficulties involved. Fortunately the weather was mostly fine. The day we arrived in northern Burma was the first sunny day in months, the weeks preceding our arrival filled with daily downpours. We reached 10,500 ft. (3,500 m.) in the Himalayas just 3 km. from the India border of Arunachal Pradesh, with the high mountains of SE Tibet visible to the north and the mountains of NW Yunnan (China) visible to the east. It was a full-blown expedition with 58 porters and several excellent Burmese folks who supervised the necessary camp construction, bridge building, etc. It is likely we are the only bird folks who have ever been in this area. The tribal people who acted as porters and helpers were a very fine group of people who made our visit quite pleasant. It was a grand and wonderful adventure in every way and I look forward to the day we can do it again.
Following the Burma Expedition, I made a trip into SE China in hopes of seeing the White-winged Crake. I had searched for this species a number of times before without success. It is closely related to the Yellow Rail of North America and is quite difficult to see. The place I sought the crake was Poyang, a great lake complex in Jiangxi Province, which is a magnet for waterfowl. In recent years, the crake has been seen regularly there. I had been there ten years earlier and failed to see it. However, this time it proved quite easy as we saw three in the first two hours of searching, two flushing at about one meter distance for excellent views. I stayed on a few days to get to grips with the 2 species of the now split Bean Goose. I got to see both quite well--they are indeed different. I also found my first Snow Goose for Eurasia, a nice rare find. The Siberian, White-naped and Hooded Cranes were a pleasure to watch, as always.
After Poyang, I spent several days in northeastern Jiangxi Province trying to find the Yellow-throated Laughingthrush. This was my third try for this species, having previously sought the bird here once and southern Yunnan once. I missed it again. However, there were some other birds to compensate: Brown Grosbeak, Pied Falconet, Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Spot-breasted and Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babblers, Grey-headed Parrotbills, Yellow-browed and Rustic Buntings, etc.
KINGBIRD TOURS, INC.
[JW comment: Ben King has seen more species of Asian birds than anyone else ever has. His Field Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia (Collins 1975) is an under-appreciated book that greatly simplified learning about Asian birds and motivated many of us to extend our bird twitching across the Pacific.]