October 13, 2015: Baoguocun, China — Visitors to Mount Emei, a 10,000-foot sacred Buddhist mountain in southern China, usually take a bus and cable car to reach the summit area. That sounds fun, but, this morning, Sid and I didn’t want to go to the top—we just aimed to watch birds in a patch of good bamboo forest about halfway up. At an entrance gate at the mountain’s base, Sid asked permission to drive up the mountain and was unexpectedly denied: Take the bus to the summit or take nothing, said a squadron of guards. The bus made no stops on the way, which wouldn’t work with our birding plans.
We chose the second option. After paying the entry fee, Sid and I skipped the bus line and started walking uphill. Nobody said we couldn’t use our own feet as transportation and it was nice to get some fresh air. Our goal was a side track several kilometers up Emei’s access road where Sid had seen some good birds on past trips. As we walked, busload after busload of Chinese tourists whizzed past en route to the summit.
A few minutes later, an SUV pulled up next to us and a couple of guys jumped out. One, a friendly and self-assured sort, asked in broken English where we’d like to go. Sid explained our birding mission on Mount Emei. The man, who turned out to be the manager of the park (quite a big cheese), offered us a lift. He drove us to our spot and negotiated that the car would pick us up three hours later to head back down. Nice!
Unbeknownst to us, some VIP was visiting the park today, which was why no personal vehicles were allowed past the gate and why police officers seemed to be loitering everywhere. Two foreign-looking gentleman (Sid and me) blundering up the road on foot with high-powered optics had apparently caused enough of a disturbance that the big cheese was called to deal with us. It worked out great: We spent three productive hours birding the bamboo forest, then watched a convoy of tinted vehicles go past before we were picked up and ferried back to our car. I never learned who the VIP was; all we were told was “something is happening today.”
New birds today: 14
Year list: 4811