Day 282: Winter Wonderland

Birding gets tough at 15,000 feet.

October 9, 2015: Lianghexiang, China — At dawn today, it was snowing in the Hengduan Mountains in western Sichuan—a white wonderland of mist and flakes, with new birds popping up in practically every bush. I haven’t seen snow on the ground since Lesotho (inside South Africa) in July, and it was refreshing to suddenly find myself in an icy winterscape, especially after sweating my batooties off yesterday in Myanmar’s humid lowlands.

Sid and I spent the morning birding our way up Balang Shan Pass and eventually topped out at about 14,700 feet before dropping down the other side. I haven’t been that high since South America in April, and had almost forgotten the feeling of airlessness at altitude. When a rosefinch flitted around a nearby knoll, I jogged over to get a better view and almost fell flat—the lungs just ran out of air! Birding is definitely more deliberate around 15,000 feet.

Near the top of the pass, with snow on the roadside and the temperature below freezing, two foreign-looking people suddenly rolled up on bicycles and Sid offered them tea. It turned out that they were a young couple from Oregon, my home state, who have been cycling around the world for the past year through various parts of North America, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and China. They didn’t linger long, but it was interesting to compare our journeys. Mileage comes in many forms; mine happens to be measured in birds.

New birds today: 39

Year list: 4740

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