The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia

EASTERN CHINA – In pursuit of specialites from South China northwards to the Manchurian steppe

Wednesday 26th April – Monday 15th May 2023

Leaders: Julien Mazenauer and a skilled local bird guide

20 Days Group Size Limit 7

EASTERN CHINA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Eastern China birding tours offer a compelling experience. Our Eastern China birding tour concentrates on both the coastal wetlands and the forests of this interesting region. Our Eastern China tour features such marvellous specialities as the endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Asian Dowitcher, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Swan Goose, Baer’s Pochard, Von Schrenck’s Bittern, Oriental Stork, the rare Crested Ibis, the beautiful Cabot’s Tragopan, the superb Elliot’s Pheasant, the extraordinary Reeves’s Pheasant, the magnificent Brown Eared Pheasant, White-necklaced (or Rickett’s) Partridge, Red-crowned and White-naped Cranes (and maybe even Siberian!), the lovely Fairy Pitta, Grey-sided Thrush, Green-backed and Zappey’s Flycatchers, Blue-crowned (or Courtois’s) and Buffy Laughingthrushes, Reed Parrotbill, the monotypic Spotted Elachura, Jankowski’s Bunting and the stunning Silver Oriole.

The huge and varied country that is China boasts an extraordinary bird list of over 1300 species. Since 1984, Birdquest has developed a series of comprehensive China birding tours to find a vast majority of the endemics and specialities, but in a country that is so large, and with so many scattered specialities, there is always more to see. This itinerary, to the southeast of China, targets some rare and poorly known waterbirds on the coast and numerous stunning endemics at forest sites inland. The bird list will not be huge but it will be respectable, and the quality contained within it certainly will be extraordinary!

Our Eastern China birding tour will begin at the city of Guangzhou, from where we head into northern Guangdong province in search of the stunning Silver Oriole at a new site that Birdquest pioneered on our highly successful South China Expedition in 2019. Other good birds here include the wonderful Fairy Pitta, the endemic Grey-sided Scimitar-Babbler and the superb, near-endemic Fork-tailed Sunbird, as well as a variety of other more common lowland species.

From Guangdong province, we will make our way northwestwards to Emei Feng in Fujian province, where we will explore the forested road that leads up through the reserve. Our prime targets will be the pheasants, and it’s quite possible to see four species in a morning! Pick of the bunch is the unbelievable Cabot’s Tragopan, though gorgeous Elliot’s Pheasant gives it a good run for its money! The supporting cast is excellent, with other major targets including White-necklaced (or Rickett’s) Partridge, Chestnut Bulbul, Kloss’s Leaf Warbler, White-spectacled Warbler, Brown Bush Warbler, Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Spotted Elachura (formerly known as Spotted Wren-Babbler, it is now placed in its own monotypic family) and Buffy, Masked and Moustached Laughingthrushes.

Next, we will explore the rural villages and woodland around Wuyuan in China’s eastern Jiangxi province, where our main prize will be the beautiful and critically endangered Blue-crowned (or Courtois’s) Laughingthrush, whilst nearby we should be able to find the scarce Pied Falconet, Mandarin Duck (real wild ones!), Brown Crake, Long-billed Plover, the localized Swinhoe’s Minivet and the smart Short-tailed Parrotbill.

A stopover at Shanghai, China’s largest city, will produce the localized endemic Reed Parrotbill and the rare and localized Marsh Grassbird.

Our next port of call is Yangkou in the Rudong region, situated just to the north of the Yangtze River mouth in Jiangsu province. An exciting but critically endangered species is the very special Spoon-billed Sandpiper which has plummeted in numbers alarmingly in recent years. China’s Yellow Sea is a major staging area for this species. Much of the area is under threat from reclamation, but in the region north of Shanghai there are still extensive mudflats where on a good day one can see double figure numbers of this rare species, many of which will be in splendid summer plumage at this time of year.

Here, as well as looking for the famous Spoon-billed Sandpipers, we will keep a sharp eye out for other rarities amongst a superb array of shorebirds with species such as Great Knot, Asiatic Dowitcher and Nordmann’s Greenshank all being possible. Stunning Saunders’s Gulls are common here. Another attraction of the coast at this season is that it’s sometimes alive with colourful migrants and we’re sure to see a few goodies such as Narcissus Flycatcher or Siberian Thrush!

From Shanghai we travel to the city of Wuhan on the Yangtze River in Hubei province. From there we will head for the Dongzhai National Reserve in He’nan province. One of the two major attractions here is the spectacular Reeves’s Pheasant, and this is surely the best place in China for getting good views of this extraordinary and beautiful creature. It is not too far from here that a relict population of the spectacular Crested Ibis was found by Chinese ornithologists long after the species was thought to have become extinct in the wild (in Japan). Now the population has greatly increased and they have spread back to cover part of their original range. Another great speciality here is the lovely Fairy Pitta, a rare and declining species. Other attractions include Chinese Sparrowhawk, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Collared Finchbill, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Masked Laughingthrush, Silver-throated Bushtit, Red-billed Starling, the fast-declining Collared Crow and the impressive Chinese (or Yellow-billed) Grosbeak.

Next, we will travel onwards to the rugged, partly-forested mountains of Shanxi province, famous for its spectacular Brown Eared Pheasants. Also here we may well see the strange, babbler-like Chinese Hill Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler and Père David’s (or Plain) Laughingthrush

Afterwards, we will visit some mountains around Beijing which hold a few very special birds, including the poorly-known Green-backed (or Elisa’s) Flycatcher, the colourful Zappey’s Flycatcher, the very rare Grey-sided Thrush and the localized Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch. Other specialities include White-bellied Redstart, Chinese Thrush, Chinese and Claudia’s Leaf Warblers, Yellow-bellied Tit and Chinese Nuthatch.

We will also visit a fantastic wetland to the south of Beijing which has recently been discovered to be home to a breeding population of the critically endangered Baer’s Pochard. As well as this ‘mega’ we should also find the rare Von Schrenck’s Bittern and Blunt-winged Warbler.

Finally, we will travel to Inner Mongolia and the adjacent Baicheng region in Jilin Province in southern Manchuria. Here the steppe grasslands still harbour the critically endangered and little-known Jankowski’s Bunting, which has been seen by very few birders, as well as the stately Great Bustard, Asian Short-toed Lark, the spectacular Mongolian Lark and the localized Pallas’s Reed Bunting.

We will also explore some different habitats, including extensive Phragmites reedbeds, large marshes and lagoons, open elm woodland and dry grassy plains. The majestic Red-crowned Crane (undoubtedly the most spectacular member of this impressive family) breeds here, while other specialities include the rare Swan Goose, Amur Falcon, Daurian Partridge, White-naped Crane, Oriental Pratincole, Grey-headed Lapwing, Chinese Penduline Tit and the impressive Chinese Grey Shrike. There is even a chance of lingering migrant Siberian Cranes!

Birdquest has unrivalled experience in China, having operated a long series of China birding tours since 1984.

[Note: Sadly the Chinese Crested Terns that used to appear along the coast near the city of Fuzhou seem to have died out, or changed their migration route. Consequently, there is no longer a good reason to visit Fuzhou, but if the situation changes we will modify the itinerary accordingly.]

Great Wall of China Option: While we will surely see parts of the famous Great Wall in the distance while we are in the mountains near Beijing, if you would like a close-up visit we can easily arrange for you to stay an extra day and visit the Great Wall, with or without a local guide. It is well worth seeing this remarkable, but often unsuccessful, bulwark against the barbarian hordes. Started more than two thousand years ago, and winding back and forth for some 5,000 kilometres across northern China from the coast to the Gobi Desert in distant Gansu, this amazing structure surely epitomizes China’s three millennia of civilization and its long and turbulent history.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels and guesthouses are of a good or medium standard, though the guesthouse at Emei Feng is simple but clean and comfortable. Road transport is by small coach, minibus or cars. Roads are generally of good quality.

Walking: The walking effort during our Eastern China tour is mostly easy, occasionally moderate.

Climate: Generally cool to warm (occasionally hot in the lowlands) with sunny spells interspersed with overcast conditions, especially in the mountains. Some rain is likely.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Eastern China tour are quite good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Exploring some very different, off-the-beaten-track parts of eastern China
  • Tracking down the beautiful Silver Oriole, one of eastern Asia's 'grailbirds'
  • Watching a newly-arrived Fairy Pitta calling away in the forest
  • Suddenly coming across Cabot's Tragopan and then Elliot's Pheasant on the road at Emei Feng!
  • The frustration of hearing White-necklaced Partridge so often, and the feeling of triumph when it eventually comes intio view
  • The beautiful mountain landscapes of South China
  • The noisy flocks of Buffy Laughingthrushes at Emifeng
  • A Spotted Elachura singing away just a couple of metres from us!
  • Watching a raucous gang of Blue-crowned (or Courtois's) Laughingthrushes scuttling through the vegetation near Wuyuan
  • How tame can Pied Falconets get? Find out in the Wuyuan area!
  • Hulking Reed Parrotbills and singing Marsh Grassbirds, plus a bonus 'fall' of migrants at Dishui Lake
  • Finding the so-sought-after Spoon-billed Sandpipers, another 'grailbird', along the Rudong coast
  • As well as smart Asian Dowitchers, rare Nordmann's Greenshanks and handsome Saunders's Gulls
  • Watching the impressive number and variety of passerine migrants heading for Northeast Asia in the coastal woodland and scrub near Yangkou
  • Seeing the remarkable Reeves’s Pheasant in full display… surely one of the world’s most spectacular birds
  • Enjoying the wonderful Crested Ibis, not so long ago one of the world's rarest birds
  • Feasting our eyes on the magnificent Brown Eared Pheasant at one of the very few accessible sites
  • Exploring verdant mountainsides for the rare Grey-sided Thrush, the colourful Zappey’s Flycatcher and the restricted-range Green-backed Flycatcher
  • Enjoying a large wetland that holds a small breeding population of Baer’s Pochard as well as the much-wanted Von Schrenck’s Bittern
  • Travelling through the rolling landscapes of Inner Mongolia to find endangered Jankowski’s Buntings in one of the small areas of remaining natural grassland
  • Seeing stately Great Bustards, Mongolian Larks and Pallas’s Buntings on their breeding grounds
  • Watching Red-crowned and White-naped Cranes in some extensive wetlands
  • Seeing the rare Swan Goose and Oriental Stork as well as the impressive Chinese Grey Shrike
  • Enjoying Chinese culture and hospitality, and their amazing thirst for modern infrastructure

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Guangzhou airport. Drive to northern Guangdong.
  • Day 2: Northern Guangdong.
  • Day 3: Drive to Emeifeng in Fujian.
  • Days 4-5: Emeifeng.
  • Day 6: Emeifeng, then drive to Wuyuan in Jiangxi.
  • Day 7: Wuyuan area.
  • Day 8: Wuyuan area, then drive to Shanghai area.
  • Day 9: Dishui Lake, then drive to Yangkou in Rudong region oif Jiangsu.
  • Day 10: Yangkou area, Rudong region.
  • Day 11: Yangkou area, then drive to Shanghai and fly to Wuhan. Drive to Dongzhai reserve in He'nan.
  • Day 12: Dongzhai National Reserve.
  • Day 13: Travel by high-speed rail to Taiyuan in Shanxi. Drive to Jiaocheng.
  • Day 14: Jiaocheng area, then return to Taiyuan. High-speed train to Beijing. Drive to Jiangshuihe.
  • Day 15: Jiangshuihe area.
  • Day 16: Jiangshuihe area, then drive to Hengshui.
  • Day 17: Hengshui area, then drive to Beijing. Flight to Wulanhaote (Ulanhot) in Inner Mongolia, then drive to Baicheng in Jilin.
  • Day 18: Exploring the Baicheng region.
  • Day 19: Baicheng region, then drive to Wulanhaote for flight to Beijing.
  • Day 20: Morning tour end at Beijing.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: Shanghai-Wuhan and Beijing-Wulanhaote-Beijing.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)



2023: provisional £5170, $7390, €6020, AUD9530. Guangzhou/Beijing.

Single Supplement: 2023: £480, $700, €570, AUD900.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

EASTERN CHINA TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Eastern China: Day 1  The tour begins this morning at Guangzhou airport, from where we head for northern Guangdong province for a two nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Eastern China: Day 2  Northern Guangdong is one of the last reliable places to see the beautiful but fast declining and endangered Silver Oriole. We should see a number of these lovely creatures during our visit, at a site we pioneered on the Birdquest South China Expedition in spring 2019.

The migratory Fairy Pitta should have arrived in the area by the time of our visit and we will make an effort to get good views of this splendid creature. We should also find the endemic Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler and the near-endemic and spectacular Fork-tailed Sunbird, whilst other new species may well include Rufous Woodpecker, Large Woodshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Hair-crested Drongo and Common Tailorbird.

Eastern China: Day 3  Today we will drive northeastward, using China’s amazing modern expressway network, to Emeifeng in Fujian province for a three nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Eastern China: Days 4-5  As other sites in Fujian have become more difficult to access, Emei Feng has come to the fore and is justifiably regarded as the prime site to visit to find the specialities of the region. Here, rushing rivers cut through the bamboo-dominated forests lower down whilst the steep slopes above are still clad in beautiful forest, making for some fantastic vistas.

Fortunately, the whole area is easily explored along roads, and old logging tracks, allowing us to explore much of the forest in our vehicles whilst searching for Galliformes! These special birds will be high on the agenda and it’s not unlikely to find four species of pheasants in a day! Pride of place will go to the superb polka-dotted Cabot’s Tragopan, which we should find relatively easily, as they can often be found on the road early in the morning. Equally exciting, and reasonably reliable here is the rare Elliot’s Pheasant. Silver Pheasant is often relatively numerous, and Koklass Pheasant may well also put in an appearance! We will surely regularly hear the plaintive whistles of the little-known and furtive White-necklaced (or Rickett’s Hill) Partridge, and, with persistence, we should be able to get views.

Although overall diversity is not very high, a number of other interesting species occur in the forest, and species we expect to see include the localized Chestnut Bulbul, Rufous-faced Warbler, Kloss’s Leaf Warbler, White-spectacled Warbler (interestingly, the form here, intermedius, has yellow spectacles!), the attractive Small Niltava, the monotypic Spotted Elachura (with its striking song), Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, the excellent Buffy Laughingthrush (a superb vocalist), the skulking endemic Moustached Laughingthrush, Indochinese and Black-chinned Yuhinas, and Huet’s Fulvetta.

In the highest areas, we can find such species as Buff-throated Warbler and Brown Bush Warbler (with its insect-like song), while at the lowest levels is the near-endemic Masked Laughingthrush.

Other more difficult but notable species that we may encounter include the rare Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher, the striking Grey-headed Parrotbill and pretty little Short-tailed Parrotbill.

Additional, more widespread, species that occur include Black Eagle, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Himalayan and Lesser Cuckoos, Collared Owlet, White-throated Needletail, Bay Woodpecker, Great Barbet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Asian House Martin, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, the impressive Yellow-cheeked Tit, Black-throated Bushtit, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Mountain and Himalayan Black Bulbuls, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, the shy Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, the comical Pygmy Cupwing, Rufous-capped Babbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, Brown Dipper, Plumbeous Redstart, the attractive Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Blue Whistling Thrush, Little, Spotted, Slaty-backed and White-crowned Forktails and Orange-bellied Leafbird.

Eastern China: Day 6  After some final birding at Emei Feng, we will drive to Wuyuan in China’s Jiangxi province for a two nights stay.

Eastern China: Day 7  For many years, Blue-crowned (or Courtois’s) Laughingthrush was known from just a couple of specimens collected in 1919 and it was only in 2000, after seven years of a concerted effort by Chinese ornithologists, that this species was rediscovered close to its type locality. Rather strangely for a laughingthrush, this species is a migrant, appearing at a few rural villages (just five breeding sites are currently known) each summer to breed and then vanishing for the winter! The known world population appears to be stable but very small (estimated at around 250 individuals), but with local help, we will visit a site where we should be able to get some great views of them and we will count ourselves very privileged indeed to see such a rare and beautiful bird.

Some other interesting species occur in this area, including Mandarin Duck, Black Bittern, the superb Black Baza, Chinese Goshawk, the large Crested Kingfisher, Swinhoe’s (or Brown-rumped) Minivets, Tiger Shrike (though this declining species is scarce in the area so some luck will be needed), Chinese Hwamei (a great songster) and, with luck, the scarce White-browed Laughingthrush or Northern Boobook.

Other, more widespread, species that we may well encounter here include Crested Serpent Eagle, Lesser Coucal, Asian Barred Owlet, House Swift, Great Spotted, Grey-capped Pygmy and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Black-naped Oriole, Ashy Drongo, Eurasian Jay, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Oriental Magpie-Robin and White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias.

Whilst in the area we will also make a detour to an area where we have an excellent chance of finding the feisty Pied Falconet as well as a few other species such as Dollarbird and the uncommon Brown-breasted Bulbul. We will also visit a nearby river where we will have our first chance of the range-restricted Long-billed Plover and Brown Crake, and will also visit an area of degraded forest where we hope to find the delightful Short-tailed Parrotbill.

Eastern China: Day 8  After some final birding in the Wuyuan area we will head eastwards to the Shanghai area for an overnight stay.

Eastern China: Day 9  This morning we will visit Dishui Lake. Here, the extensive reedbeds are home to good populations of the endemic Reed Parrotbill and the scarce, restricted-range Marsh Grassbird. The extensive reedbeds are also home to a thriving population of Eurasian Bitterns and these can be quite visible at this season. It is also an excellent area for Reed Parrotbills and in the right conditions, migrants can be plentiful.

Afterwards, we will cross the Yangtze River and transfer to our hotel at Yangkou in Jiangsu’s Rudong County for a two nights stay. Later in the afternoon, we will begin exploring this wonderful area.

Eastern China: Day 10  The main focus of our time in the Shanghai region will be to explore an area of mudflats to the north of Shanghai in Rudong County. This ever-changing landscape, with more and more reclamation every year, is still providing a crucial feeding area for many of the East Asian flyway waders.

Most importantly, it has been found to be an extremely reliable site for the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. These are probably the easiest and most accessible Spoon-billed Sandpipers in the world and in recent springs, more than 100 have regularly been found in the area during coordinated counts! We will attempt to find them at one of the many high tide roosts where, after a few false alerts from hopeful-looking Red-necked Stints, a turn of the head should reveal the spatulate appendage that we’ve been looking for. With luck, we should find several, some of which will be sporting their splendid brick-red breeding plumage. We will also have an opportunity to look for them feeding on the mudflats, feeding with their classic sewing-machine action as they work their way through shallow pools.

Thousands of other waders will be present at this excellent site, and it is possible to see over thirty species in a day here. In the high tide roosts, large numbers of Red-necked Stints are joined by smaller numbers of Red Knot, Sanderling, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper as well as the impressive though sadly declining Great Knot. These will be joined by good numbers of Kentish Plovers, Mongolian Sandplovers and Terek Sandpipers, whilst the congregations of waders are likely to also include Grey (or Black-bellied) and Pacific Golden Plovers, Greater Sandplover, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Grey-tailed Tattler, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew and the impressively long-billed Far Eastern Curlew.

With a little luck, we will also encounter a number of scarcer visitors such as the rare Nordmann’s Greenshank, Eurasian Oystercatcher (here from the eastern population which may merit specific status), Great Knot, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Chinese Egret and Black-faced Spoonbill.

Just inland, a number of fish ponds hold a slightly different selection of shorebirds if the water levels are good, and these may include Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Marsh, Wood and Green Sandpipers and Eastern Black-tailed Godwit, and with a bit of luck, we will find a few Long-toed Stints or even an Asiatic Dowitcher. Pristine Saunders’s Gulls in full summer plumage are a regular feature here, and we are also likely to find a few Black-tailed, Vega and Lesser Black-backed Gulls with them (the latter most likely of the confusing ‘taimyrensis’ form that may be better placed in Vega). Nearby, the freshwater pools hold a variety of other species including the spectacular and localized Reed Parrotbill. Chinese (or Eastern) Spot-billed Duck, Yellow Bittern, Grey-headed Lapwing, Oriental Pratincole and even Pheasant-tailed Jacana can also be found here, and if we are fortunate, we may bump into a small group of Little Curlews, though we will be after the peak migration time for this species. Further possibilities include Falcated Duck and Brown-cheeked Rail.

Along the coast, there are a number of shelter-belts that sometimes attract a host of migrants. Of course, what is present on any given day is unpredictable, but there are generally plenty of birds to keep us interested. Highlights may include such gems as the delightful Forest Wagtail, Pechora Pipit, the superb Siberian Thrush, Eye-browed and Japanese Thrushes, the spectacular Siberian Rubythroat, Rufous-tailed and Siberian Blue Robins, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Dark-sided, Asian Brown, Blue-and-white, Yellow-rumped and Mugimaki Flycatchers, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Yellow-browed, Arctic (and perhaps Japanese), Pale-legged and Eastern Crowned Warblers, Black-naped Oriole, the impressive Chinese (or Yellow-billed) Grosbeak, and Black-faced, Little, Chestnut and the range-restricted Tristram’s Buntings. Less regular migrants include Narcissus Flycatcher and Yellow-breasted Bunting.

At this time of year, in the right conditions, almost any passerines are possible, and rarities could include exciting species such as White-throated Rock-Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, White’s Thrush, Zappey’s Flycatcher, Bull-headed Shrike, Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher, Citrine Wagtail, Yellow-browed Bunting or Daurian Starling.

Other species we may well see in this excellent area include Common Pheasant, Little Grebe, Grey, Purple, Chinese Pond and Black-crowned Night Herons, Eastern Great, Intermediate, Little and Eastern Cattle Egrets, Western Osprey, Peregrine, Common Kestrel (scarce), White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen, Black-headed Gull, Little, Gull-billed, White-winged, Whiskered and Common Terns (the latter of the distinctive form longipennis), Oriental Turtle, Red Turtle and Spotted Doves, Common and Indian Cuckoos, Pacific (or Fork-tailed) Swift, the colourful Black-capped Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Hoopoe, Brown (various subspecies are possible) and Long-tailed Shrikes, Black and Hair-crested Drongos, Eurasian and Azure-winged Magpies, Eastern Yellow Wagtail (three forms are possible including the distinctive taivana ‘Green-headed Wagtail’), Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail (the form here is leucopsis ‘Amur Wagtail’ though ocularis ‘East Siberian Wagtail’ also occurs as a migrant), Richard’s, Pechora and Olive-backed Pipits, Oriental Skylark, Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow), Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Japanese Tit, Chinese Blackbird, Light-vented Bulbul, the bulky Manchurian Bush Warbler (the distinctive form here, canturians is placed by some authors in Japanese Bush-Warbler), Oriental Reed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Plain Prinia, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Japanese White-eye, Crested Myna, Black-collared, Red-billed and White-cheeked Starlings and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

Eastern China: Day 11  After some final birding in the Rudong area, we will return to Shanghai and take a flight to Wuhan, situated on the Yangtze River in the province of Hubei, from where we will travel north to the Dongzhai National Reserve in He’nan province for a two nights stay.

Eastern China: Day 12  One of our main reasons for visiting Dongzhai is to seek out the extraordinary endemic Reeves’s Pheasant – surely one of the world’s most spectacular birds. With subtle, scaled, golden and chestnut hues, a vivid pied head pattern, and a tail that is unfeasibly long, this really is a must-see species! Our birding will concentrate on two areas of forest, as well as the rural areas adjacent to our hotel.

On the first morning, we will visit an area where we have an excellent chance of finding multiple male Reeves’s Pheasants, perhaps beating their wings in display from a log to attract one of the more sombre females that may also be lurking in view.

Another major speciality at Dongzhai is the beautiful Fairy Pitta, a rare and declining species that has become hard to find in most areas. Here at Dongzhai, it is still not difficult to locate.

Once we have sated ourselves with these glorious species, we will set about finding some of the other specialities of the area.

Close to the village, a population of the endangered and spectacular near-endemic Crested Ibis has become established, and we should be able to watch them feeding in the small paddies, or perhaps attending a nest. The Chinese population is currently estimated to be in excess of 1500 individuals and they are recolonizing some of their old haunts. Also here, the rapidly declining near-endemic Collared Crow is still fairly numerous, and we will make sure we get some good views of this charismatic species.

Adjacent to the village we are likely to encounter a number of other interesting species, including Grey-faced Buzzard, Chinese Sparrowhawk (which we may well witness in display flight), the smart Black Baza, the localized Grey-headed Lapwing, the smart Black-capped Kingfisher, the subtle Swinhoe’s Minivet, the noisy, near-endemic Collared Finchbill, the near-endemic Light-vented Bulbul, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Rufous-faced Warbler, the smart, near-endemic Red-billed Starling, the near-endemic Chinese Blackbird, the near-endemic Masked Laughingthrush, the cheeky little, near-endemic Vinous-throated Parrotbill, the stunning Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, the smart Daurian Redstart, Azure-winged Magpie, Russet Sparrow and the much-desired Chinese Grosbeak.

The forests here are mostly of non-native tree species and indeed more specialities occur around the villages than in the forest proper. Nevertheless, whilst looking for the pheasants in and around the remnant native forests, we may well come across species such as Besra, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Oriental Scops Owl (they can sometimes be seen in their nests during the day here), Collared Owlet, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-naped Oriole, Hair-crested Drongo, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Brown-breasted and Mountain Bulbuls, the restricted-range Silver-throated Bushtit, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, the sweet-singing Chinese Hwamei and, with a bit of luck, the scarce and shy Orange-headed Thrush.

Along the adjacent watercourses, we may well come across species such as the impressive Crested Kingfisher, White-crowned Forktail, Blue Whistling Thrush (a black-billed form here) and Plumbeous Water Redstart.

More widespread species that we are likely to encounter during our visit to the area include Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Common Pheasant (the grey-rumped decollatus subspecies here), Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Crested Goshawk, Common Moorhen, Oriental Turtle and Spotted Doves, Asian Koel, Indian Cuckoo, Asian Barred Owlet and Northern Boobook (both easier to hear than see around the villages), Common Kingfisher, Great Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Brown and Long-tailed Shrikes, Black Drongo, Ashy Drongo of the attractive white-faced form leucogenis, Eurasian Jay (the striking form here, pekingensis, is part of the ‘Brandt’s Jay group’), the spectacular Red-billed Blue Magpie, Eurasian Magpie, Japanese Tit, Black Bulbul (smart white-headed birds here), Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, the perky little Black-throated Bushtit, Plain Prinia, Japanese White-Eye, White-cheeked Starling, the declining Crested Myna, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White-rumped Munia, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail (of the form leucopsis, known as Amur Wagtail), Grey-capped (or Oriental) Greenfinch and the smart Meadow Bunting.

There are also likely to be a few migrants around, and these may include Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Dusky and Yellow-browed Warblers, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Asian Brown and Dark-sided Flycatchers, Eastern Yellow Wagtail and even a Blyth’s Pipit or Chestnut Bunting.

Eastern China: Day 13  Today we will travel to the city of Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi. We will travel on China’s fantastic modern ‘bullet trains’, travelling at a speed that is hard to believe for a terrestrial means of transport! From there we drive to nearby Jiaocheng for an overnight stay.

Eastern China: Day 14  During our time around Jiaocheng we will visit a reliable site for the endangered Brown Eared Pheasant. This endemic species was once widespread in northeastern China but is now reduced to a few fragmented pockets. By searching persistently in the juniper-clad rocky hillsides, we have an excellent chance of getting great views of this superb creature. Soon after dawn their rolling, barking calls ring out across the wooded valleys, and we will look out for these huge pheasants as they forage across the adjacent hillsides, digging up roots and tubers with their powerful bills and claws.

Other birds here may well include Common Pheasant, Common Kestrel, Marsh Tit, Yellow-streaked Warbler, the endemic Plain (or Père David’s) Laughingthrush, the endemic Beijing Babbler (formerly known as Chinese Hill Warbler, but now shown to be a babbler), the vocal Spotted Nutcracker, the lovely Long-tailed Rosefinch (the form here, lepidus, is potentially a good species), Grey-capped Greenfinch and Godlewski’s Bunting.

Later in the day, we will take a high-speed train to Beijing from where we will drive out to the west of the thriving metropolis to Jiangshuihe for a two nights stay.

Eastern China: Day 15  The rugged mountains that surround Beijing rise to over 2000m (at the summit of Wuling Shan) and form one of the northernmost outliers of the montane forests that extend across much of China. To the north the connection between the Siberian forest zone and the forests of China proper is broken by the dry, largely treeless Manchurian plain and the Mongolian steppes and deserts, while to the south the broad lowlands of the Yellow River (or Huang He) have served a similarly isolating function, resulting in the evolution of a number of endemic (or at least breeding-endemic) species and subspecies in the wooded uplands of this region. Nowadays the remaining forest cover in the area is decidedly patchy, but we will explore a couple of areas close to our accommodation which should give us a good chance to find most of the sought-after birds of the area.

The first of the major specialities here is the attractive and localized Green-backed Flycatcher, a form now widely recognized as a distinct species from Narcissus Flycatcher. (Indeed, the first-summer male plumage of this interesting form was even erroneously described as a new species to science by Chinese ornithologists in recent years, under the name Beijing Flycatcher, and given the scientific name ‘beijingnica’!) Another star attraction here is the rare and localized Grey-sided Thrush, a species now gravely threatened by habitat loss. This poorly-known bird, which only breeds in a small area of Hebei and adjacent Beijing municipal region, occurs here and we should obtain good views with a bit of effort. The localized Zappey’s Flycatcher also occurs in the lower, taller forests, and hopefully, we will be alerted to its presence by its melodic song, before setting eyes on its lovely azure plumage. The fourth localized endemic is the Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch which, after reclassification of some subspecies, is now restricted to some areas of moist montane scrub in northeast China.

While searching for these species we should find a number of other good species. More widespread Chinese endemics or near-endemics include Chinese Thrush, Yellow-bellied Tit and Chinese Nuthatch, while other specialities include Chinese and Claudia’s Leaf Warblers, the shy White-bellied Redstart and the handsome White-throated Rock Thrush (though this last is quite scarce). Another bird of particular interest is the isolated xanthospila form of the Koklass Pheasant (which occurs far to the north of the main range of the species), which we may be lucky enough to track down by listening at dawn for its harsh, far-carrying calls.

Other species we may well find here include Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Golden Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, Hill Pigeon, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Lesser Cuckoo, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Olive-backed Pipit, Long-tailed Minivet, Eurasian Wren, the lovely Siberian Blue Robin, Eastern Crowned, Hume’s and Pallas’s Leaf Warblers, the elusive Asian Stubtail, Willow Tit (the form here is sometimes split as Songar Tit), Coal Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Jay, Red-billed Chough and Large-billed Crow.

Eastern China: Day 16  After a final morning in the mountains of the Beijing region we will head south, skirting the western side of Beijing, before making our way south on the fast expressway to the thriving industrial town of Hengshui for an overnight stay.

Eastern China: Day 17  Just south of Hengshui is a vast man-made lake that has now become well-vegetated, creating huge reedbeds and marshes. Recent explorations of the area by birders have thrown up a real surprise, as it seems to be home to a significant breeding population of Baer’s Pochards at a site well south of their former known breeding range! We should have little trouble finding this rare duck and should obtain good views of several drakes. (Typically much of the site is now under threat of development for leisure sports and recreation!) Also here is a population of the rare Von Schrenck’s Bittern, which, at this time of year, can be seen making their territorial flights over the reed beds. The fabulous Reed Parrotbill is also present in some numbers, though the elusive Blunt-winged Warbler, which also occurs here, is somewhat more difficult to see. Other new species we may see include Yellow Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Grey Heron, Ferruginous Duck (unusually this species meets Baer’s Pochard here and may even occasionally hybridize with them), the exquisite Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Common Kingfisher, the introduced Collared Dove, Asian Azure-winged Magpie and the sneaky Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler.

Afterwards, we will return to Beijing and take a flight to Wulanhaote (or Ulanhot) in eastern Inner Mongolia. The arid steppe here will certainly come as a complete contrast to everything we have seen before! From Wulanhaote we will drive the short distance to Baicheng, situated just over the border in Jilin province and part of the region once known as Manchuria, for a two nights stay.

Eastern China: Days 18-19  From Baicheng we will drive out across the wide Manchurian plain, real ‘big sky’ country reminiscent of the American prairies. The steppes in this area provide one of the last refuges for the near-endemic Jankowski’s Bunting. This almost mythical species was discovered breeding in this region in the 1990s and has subsequently been found at a scattering of locations where extensive areas of grassland or scrub-grassland survive. These are habitats which have been largely cleared for cultivation elsewhere in Manchuria, so the species is now thought to be highly endangered. We shall enjoy searching for and watching this unusual species, which very few people have ever observed. These grasslands also hold a remnant population of Great Bustards, as well as Japanese Quail, the huge Mongolian Lark with its striking white wing patches, Asian Short-toed Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Blyth’s Pipit, Bluethroat, Lanceolated Warbler and the smart Pallas’s Reed Bunting. With luck, we will also come across the nomadic Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Yellow-legged Buttonquail or Japanese Reed Bunting. If conditions are right, the shelterbelts may also attract a few migrant warblers, flycatchers and buntings or perhaps even something rarer such as a Japanese Waxwing!

We will also explore a mixture of dry, open grasslands, rivers, lakes and marshes surrounded by reedbeds and scattered elm woodlands. The Baicheng region is renowned for its breeding cranes (which have been kept going partly through a re-introduction scheme) and we can expect to see the striking Red-crowned (or Japanese) Crane during our visit. Watching the Red-crowned Cranes calling and dancing in their marshland home is an evocative experience. The threatened Swan Goose, Chinese Spot-billed Duck and the rare White-naped Crane all breed in the reserve, as does the rare Oriental Stork. There is even a chance for a lingering Siberian Crane or two!

Other interesting species we are likely to see include the striking Pied Harrier (now becoming uncommon in the area), the splendid little Amur Falcon which is common in this region, Daurian Partridge, Oriental Pratincole, Grey-headed Lapwing, Eastern Grey-headed Wagtail, Chinese Penduline Tit, the impressive Chinese Grey Shrike, Carrion Crow, Rook, the piebald Daurian Jackdaw and Chestnut-eared Bunting.

Other species we may well encounter at Xianghai include Little, Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, Eurasian (or Great) Bittern, Great Egret, Purple Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greylag Goose, Common Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Common Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Northern Lapwing, Marsh and Common Sandpipers, Eastern Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Common and Little Terns, beautiful Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow), Richard’s Pipit, Brown Shrike, White-cheeked Starling, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and the gorgeous Yellow-throated Bunting. With luck, we’ll also come across one of the rarer species such as Asian Dowitcher or Manchurian Reed Warbler.

On the afternoon of our penultimate day, we will return to Wulanhaote airport and fly back to Beijing for an overnight stay.

Eastern China: Day 20  Our tour ends this morning at Beijing. An airport shuttle is available from our hotel.

EASTERN CHINA TOUR REPORT 2019

by Hannu Jännes

 

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EASTERN CHINA TOUR REPORT 2017

by Hannu Jännes

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EASTERN CHINA TOUR REPORT 2015

by Hannu Jännes

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Other China and region birding tours by Birdquest include: