October 10, 2015: Zoige, China — Before first light this morning, Sid and I were driving through the mountains when we nearly ran into a black yak (a shaggy, domestic bovine) standing in the road. The yak retreated a little ways and Sid tried to maneuver around it, as you might slowly drive past a cow. But instead of stepping to the side, the yak suddenly turned around and charged!
Admittedly, I’ve never been charged by a black yak at o-dark-thirty on a rural Chinese road before. What to do? Sid kicked into reverse gear and we quickly backed up a couple hundred yards with the yak’s horns brushing inches away from the front bumper. We were afraid it might smash a headlight, and we finally retreated far enough that the yak broke off its charge. It stood in the center of the road, unbudging, and we found ourselves in a standoff. In the dark, only the green reflections of the yak’s eyes were visible in our headlights.
After a couple of minutes, our savior appeared in the form of a large truck that came up behind us. The truck swerved around the yak, which ran after the truck, and, in the confusion, Sid managed to get past. Most yaks, I should add, are not aggressive at all—we saw them all day today grazing peacefully on grassy hillsides. This particular one just had some strange chip on its shoulder.
It was a long, productive day of birding, from the snowy and prayer-flag-covered Mengbi Shan Pass this morning to the grasslands on the Tibetan Plateau this afternoon. We spent the whole day at high elevation and are sleeping at about 11,300 feet tonight in the town of Zoige—probably the highest I’ve slept anywhere this year. The plateau is flat, open, dotted with yaks, and host to some interesting birds: Black-necked Cranes, White-rumped and Rufous-necked snowfinches, Upland Buzzards, Little Owls, Ground Tits, and White-cheeked Starlings. There is a sharp chill in the air and winter is coming, but the skies are clear.