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Birdquest’s Sichuan and northern Yunnan birding tour explores the richest part of this fascinating country in terms of endemic birds and other Chinese special birds. Our Sichuan and northern Yunnan tour offers comprehensive coverage and an unsurpassed number of endemics and other major specialities, not to mention fantastic scenery and wonderful cuisine. Highlights include a fabulous series of pheasants, Severtzov’s Grouse, Black-necked Crane, Père David’s Owl, Firethroat, the rare Blackthroat, Rufous-headed Robin, Biet's (or White-speckled) Laughingthrush, Gold-fronted Fulvetta, Streaked Barwing, an amazing variety of parrotbills including Przevalski’s (or Rusty-throated) Parrotbill, Yunnan Nuthatch and Przevalski’s Finch (a monotypic family).
Friday 19th May —
Wednesday 7th June 2017
Northern Yunnan Extension: Tuesday 16th May — Friday 19th May (4 days)
Leaders: Craig Robson and a local bird guide
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy to fairly demanding walking and mostly comfortable accommodations
China is a vast and enigmatic land that has long fascinated outsiders. For naturalists it has been China’s wealth of endemic birds and mammals, epitomized by the Giant Panda and the rare pheasants and other birds that inhabit the mountains along the eastern rim of the Tibetan Plateau, which have exerted an almost irresistible attraction. As with so many other remote areas, the difficulties associated with getting there, whether natural hazards or man-made obstacles, merely added to the fascination. Even now, with access possible at long last, only relatively few western birdwatchers have had the opportunity to see for themselves the marvellous endemic birds of China.
The diversity of birdlife is somewhat limited in parts of the heavily populated east (although even here there are some superb areas for birding) but, in complete contrast, vast tracts of the north, west and centre of China are sparsely populated and this enormous region offers some of the finest birding in Asia. For those with a particular interest in Asian birds, or indeed for anyone who loves to travel far from the beaten track, a visit to interior China offers something uniquely rewarding.
During this exciting tour we shall visit Sichuan and northern Yunnan, a region in the very heart of China that best reflects the astonishing avian diversity of this huge country (which has an avifauna of over 1300 species). Sichuan and northern Yunnan lie at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and these superb provinces have the richest concentration of Chinese specialities, holding around two-thirds of the country’s endemic birds! Not only do Sichuan and northern Yunnan offer the best opportunities for seeing China’s prime specialities, but due to the great diversity of their habitats, ranging from the subtropical lowlands of the Red Basin and rich evergreen foothill forests to cool temperate zone forests, alpine meadows, dramatic snow-capped mountain peaks and vast grasslands at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, there is a remarkable wealth of birds in general. Without a doubt Sichuan and northern Yunnan is the very best of China!
This ‘Ultimate Chinese Endemics’ tour, producing more of the speciality birds of Sichuan and northern Yunnan than any other, is a fabulous adventure, with incredible scenery as well as wonderful, rarely observed birds. Dramatic improvements in the standard of accommodation and in the condition of the roads in recent years (they are now often good or even very good), combined with the discovery of new areas with easier access for birding, mean that this is no longer such a tough tour as it once was. A bonus is some of the best food we encounter on any Birdquest tour!
We start our journey in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, from where we travel northwards to Tangjiahe, one of China’s Giant Panda reserves that still has plenty of bamboo and is now best known amongst birders for its Przevalski’s (or Rusty-throated) Parrotbills. Here we will have our first exposure to Sichuan’s rich avifauna including Blood Pheasant, the spectacular Golden Pheasant, Baikal Bush Warbler, Emei, Claudia’s, Kloss’s, Sichuan and Chinese Leaf Warblers, Three-toed and Spectacled Parrotbills, Spotted and Elliot’s Laughingthrushes, Golden-breasted and Grey-hooded Fulvettas, White-collared Yuhina, Sooty and Yellow-bellied Tits, Sichuan Treecreeper, and the skulking Slaty Bunting. Some interesting mammals occur here too, and we may well see Takin and Chinese Serow.
Heading further north and west, we eventually drop down from a high pass to Jiuzhaigou, a famous reserve that is situated close to the meeting point of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces. The incomparable alpine valleys of the area, with their rich forests, turquoise lakes and waterfalls, inhabited by ethnic Tibetans, have an extremely rich avifauna. The star attraction here is the little-known Rufous-headed Robin, which we first discovered here in 1984, while other specialities include Chestnut and Chinese Thrushes, Alpine Leaf Warbler, Sukatschev’s (or Snowy-cheeked) Laughingthrush, Père David’s (or Rusty-breasted) Tit, Chinese Nuthatch, Tibetan Siskin, Himalayan Beautiful and Three-banded Rosefinches, and Grey-headed Bullfinch. This is undoubtedly one of the most scenically spectacular places we have ever visited.
From Jiuzhaigou we shall continue our journey westwards, climbing over high, spruce- and scrub-clad passes, until we come to the high grasslands of the edge of the Tibetan Plateau itself, a wild landscape where swarthy Tibetan herders still graze their yaks, ponies and sheep, and where the nomadic lifestyle still continues into the 21st century.
Here, in the Ruoergai region, and further south near Hongyuan, we will explore this mix of habitats for such special birds as Severtzov’s (or Chinese) Grouse, Blue Eared Pheasant, Verreaux’s Monal Partridge, the rare Black-necked Crane, the magnificent Père David’s Owl, Tibetan Lark, Maroon-backed Accentor, Kessler’s Thrush, the superb little Crested Tit-Warbler, Giant Laughingthrush, Chinese Fulvetta, Sichuan Jay, Daurian Jackdaw, the strange Hume’s Groundpecker, White-browed and Sichuan Tits, Hodgson’s Treecreeper, White-rumped and Tibetan Snowfinches, and Chinese White-browed Rosefinch. High on many group members' want list will be the lovely Przevalski's (or Pink-tailed) Finch, which is now treated as a monotypic bird family.
From the grasslands, already sated with China’s avian riches, we return to the alpine valleys around Maerkang, where Przevalski’s Nuthatches can be found, and from there we continue to the famous reserve at Wolong, site of the World Wildlife Fund’s Giant Panda research project. Here we shall search for more exciting specialities, including the superb White Eared Pheasant and Chinese Monal, Snow Partridge, Tibetan Snowcock, the crepuscular Wood Snipe, Salim Ali’s Swift, the stunning Firethroat, the rare and little-known Blackthroat (only recently discovered breeding here), the strange Grandala, Barred Laughingthrush, Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler, Brandt’s Mountain Finch and Pink-rumped and Red-breasted Rosefinches, all amidst truly dramatic mountain scenery.
It will be hard to top this series of amazing areas, yet more is to come as we head south through dry valleys, first to Erlangshan, where we will be looking for Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, Grey-crowned and Emei Spectacled (or Martens’s) Warblers, Black-browed Tit and Sharpe’s Rosefinch. We also have a good chance of encountering the lovely Streaked Barwing.
From here we shall travel still further southwards to Longcanggou, a forest reserve that holds in particular Grey-hooded Parrotbill, the handsome Emei Shan Liocichla and the secretive Gold-fronted Fulvetta, as well as Buffy and Red-winged Laughingthrushes, David’s Fulvetta and Russet Bush Warbler.
Finally, to the west, the forests of Labahe hold some remarkable tame and truly stunning Temminck’s Tragopans.
For some additional marvellous birds we have a pre-tour extension to Lijiang in northern Yunnan, situated not far from the awesome peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Here we will be searching out the little-known Biet’s (or White-speckled) Laughingthrush, Yunnan Nuthatch and Rufous-tailed Babbler (or Moupinia), as well as Black-breasted Thrush, Brown-winged Parrotbill, Black-bibbed Tit and Black-headed Greenfinch.
At the end of our visit to this ornithological Mecca we shall reluctantly head for home, taking back memories of many marvellous birds and an endless panoply of scenic splendour.
Birdquest pioneered birding tours to Sichuan as far back as 1984.
Important: There have been periodic closures of a number of the reserves in Sichuan owing to ‘redevelopment’. Flexibility has been key, and this itinerary represents our preferred route, but may need to be adjusted according to the situation when we visit.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of a good standard, although a few are fairly simple, but all rooms have private bathrooms. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and roads are mostly good.
Walking: The walking effort is often easy or moderate, but occasionally it is strenuous as one has to contend with hiking in the mountains, sometimes on steep trails or off-trail, at moderate to high altitudes (up to 4500m, although the walking is mostly on roads above 3100m).
Climate: Rather variable. At lower altitudes it is generally warm or hot (and often rather humid), whilst at higher altitudes temperatures range from cool to decidedly cold. At this season sunny periods alternate with rainy, overcast weather (and it may even snow at high altitudes).
Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.
Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.
Tour Price: £4690, €5530, $6140 Chengdu/Chengdu. Northern Yunnan Extension: £890, €1050, $1170 (starting in Lijiang).
Price includes all transportation (including Lijiang-Chengdu flight), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.
Single Room Supplement: £589, €695, $772. Northern Yunnan Extension: £105, €124, $138.
Deposit: £500, €650, $750. Extension: £100, €150, $150.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate
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