Sichuan Province, Western China   
23rd October to 20th November 2006                                                           John & Jemi Holmes
Maerkang – Zhuokeji - Mengbishan
We had another night at Jiaju Village, and got the 0700 bus from Danba to Maerkang (“Barkham” on the Nelles map) the following morning.  The bus, full at times and with our non-valuable baggage strapped onto the roof, followed the river upstream for about six hours.  We arrived at Maerkang’s western bus terminal and got the RMB 1 shuttle into town.  After lunch Jemi got her hair washed and dried, Nigel got onto the internet and I showed the bird book to the restaurant staff and a passing Tibetan Monk.   “Pheasants…? Any of these near your monastery…? ” -  “In February” he said.
The homestay at Zhuokeji- our room is behind the ladder on the second floor
Although there are several hotels in Maerkang we got a taxi out to Zhuokeji, for a five-night stay with the hospitable LU family.  Their homestay (60RMB per person per night) is the first building on the right as you cross the bridge into the village. It seems there are other homestays in Zhuokeji, but theirs is the only one that is permitted to accept foreigners (phone: 0837 2829162).
On our summer trip in late June we had seen Blood Pheasant, White-eared Pheasant and Black Woodpecker in this area. We were unaware then that other birders had preceded us earlier in the same month.  After our return home we read the internet trip reports by Peter Collaerts and Remco Hofland and noted that both parties had seen Sichuan Jay at Mengbi Shan, which we missed. Birdquest had also had the Jays on their "Easy Sichuan" 2005 tour, so we were keen to revisit this site on this trip.
We had four birding days to explore the area along the road to Mengbi Shan, which is 30km to the south of Zhuokeji.  The road  (S 210) is broad, paved, and not very busy.  We saw the bus from Xiaojin to Maerkang pass in late morning and return in mid-afternoon.  We engaged driver “Sidaja” and his yellow minivan for most of that time (0837 8882928).  Overnight temperatures hovered just above freezing and well-shaded gullies along the road had snow on the ground.  Zhuokeji is at about 2,700m elevation and the pass at km 30 just over 4,000m.
Lammergeyer  (Gypaetus barbatus)
On our first morning we went beyond the pass to where the road traverses a valley (km31).  A group of about 25 White-collared Yuhinas came past.   A wheezy trilling in the dry scrub was a White-browed Tit Warbler.  Eventually we realised there were four our five of them about.  I spent a fruitless hour or so trying to manoeuvre a camera and tripod through the scrub to get a picture.  A confiding Robin Accentor was photographed by Jemi at the roadside.  We saw Golden Eagle and distant Himalayan Griffon Vultures overhead.   Back over the pass and we wandered down the road surrounded by spruce trees.  Some dry-looking bushes with orange berries were on the downhill side.  Nigel spotted a shadow-like movement at the base of the pines to our left, and we both got a glimpse of a medium-sized grey bird before it disappeared into the undergrowth.  Sichuan Jay!  I called Jemi, but would it reappear?  It turned out that there was a whole party of Jays coming to feed on the roadside berries, so I needn’t have worried.  We could only see three or four at a time, but eventually they crossed the road one by one, and we counted nine.
Sichuan Jay  (Perisoreus internigrans)
In late afternoon we went down to km 14.5, where there is a track up to a temple we had visited in the summer (Chake Temple).  We had seen Blood Pheasants on the road in late June and I was quietly optimistic.  However the access track had been messily widened and the Blood Pheasants were not to be seen. Our luck was good, we found a male Koklass Pheasant instead.   At the temple itself, one of the monks called the White-eared Pheasant seen in the summer down from the hillside and fed it peanuts.  It seems that this pheasant has learned to trust people in Lama’s robes.   In the summer, it gave Jemi a nasty peck – she still has the mark on her leg.  This time it behaved aggressively towards me!  I found that the tripod was useful to keep it at a safe distance.
At Chake Temple
Koklass Pheasant  (Pucrasia macrolopha)
Returning to the temple the following morning we again missed Blood Pheasants, but enjoyed Giant and Elliot’s Laughingthrushes plus Chinese Babax around the temple.  At 1030 we got to the track at km16 that leads to Bai Ma (White Horse) mountain.  We were still in the shadow of the surrounding hills and it was almost birdless and cold. We spent our time trying to take artistic photographs of icicles in the stream.  As Sidaja had other commitments, we were back at Zhuokeji by 1315 and took it easy in the afternoon.
Chake Temple (at 14.5km on the Zhuokeji – Mengbishan road)
On our third day, we went towards the pass and worked our way slowly downhill. We found Sichuan Jays again and descended to km 23 stopping here and there.  Chinese Fulvettas seemed more common, and we also had Crested Tit Warblers and Three-barred Rosefinch.
Three-barred Rosefinch  (Carpodacus trifasciatus)
Below the Km 23 road marker “Sidaja” signalled that he had seen something below the road, and we saw Blood Pheasants moving across the partially snow-covered ground.  We estimated that there were over forty of them.
Blood Pheasants (Ithagnis cruentus)