SICHUAN & NORTHERN YUNNAN, CHINA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Sichuan, China: Day 1 Our Sichuan, China birding tour begins this evening at Chengdu, where we will overnight. Airport transfers will be provided.
(If you would prefer us to arrange for any local flights inside China, we will be pleased to do so on request, even if you are arranging your international flights yourself.)
Sichuan, China: Day 2 Chengdu is situated near the western margin of the fertile plains of the Red Basin, not far from the high mountains that form the outer ramparts of the Tibetan Plateau. Today we will drive southwards to the mountainous area south and west of Leshan for a four nights stay.
Our route first takes us across the flat countryside of the Red Basin and through a very Chinese landscape of intensively cultivated patchwork of small fields, little villages of old-style cottages and tall clumps of bamboo. A few things seem little changed, whether it is the Chinese farmers planting the new rice crop or the villagers buying and selling from market stalls, but as we pass through the rapidly modernizing landscape, complete with high-rise buildings and an incredible amount of ongoing construction, we will gain an appreciation of just how much China’s economic boom has spread from the coast deep inland. Even the roads are a surprise to newcomers to China, with long stretches of expressway. After a time we reach the mountains and our pace of travel slows.
Along the way, we should see a few open country species such as Chinese Pond Heron, Little Egret, Barn Swallow and Long-tailed Shrike.
We will break the journey after reaching the foothills. Here amongst a mosaic of woodland patches, bamboo, cultivation and small hamlets, we may well encounter the endemic David’s Fulvetta, the breeding-endemic Swinhoe’s Minivet and such near-endemics as Chinese Bulbul, Collared Finchbill, White-cheeked and Red-billed Starlings, Chinese (or Mandarin) Blackbird, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Chinese Hwamei, Yellow-bellied Tit and the impressive Chinese (or Yellow-billed) Grosbeak.
More widespread species include Spotted Dove, Red-rumped Swallow, Himalayan Wagtail, the arboreal Forest Wagtail, Oriental Magpie-Robin, White-crowned Forktail, the delightful little Rufous-faced Warbler with its high-pitched, teetering song, Rufous-capped Babbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Eurasian Jay, Black-throated Bushtit, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and perhaps the smart Tiger Shrike.
Sichuan, China: Days 3-5 In the mountains of the Leshan region we will explore different habitats from attractive mixed forest all the way up to the high-altitude bamboo zone.
In the upper bamboos, we will seek out one of our prime targets, the little-known Grey-hooded Parrotbill, which is usually not too difficult to find. Emei Liocichla is another localized endemic, and this is also an excellent place to see the recently-described endemic Sichuan Thrush and the endemic Sichuan Bush Warbler. Another major speciality of the area, which we have a good chance of seeing, is the endemic Sichuan Partridge.
Other specialities here include the restricted-range Chinese Bamboo Partridge, the breeding-endemic Emei and Claudias and breeding-near-endemic Kloss’s and Sichuan Leaf Warblers, the breeding-endemic Martens’s and Alstrom’s Warblers, the attractive, near-endemic Red-winged and endemic Buffy Laughingthrushes, the near-endemic Ashy-throated and Golden Parrotbills, near-endemic Golden Parrotbill, the endemic Dusky and Grey-hooded Fulvettas, the sweet-singing, breeding-endemic Chinese Blue Flycatcher, the restricted-range Chestnut-vented Nuthatch and with luck the uncommon, range-restricted Fujian Niltava.
This is a very birdy location, and we will also have our first chances for many other goodies such as the near-endemic Temminck’s Tragopan, the superb near-endemic Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, one of the most beautiful but most secretive of China’s pheasants, the near-endemic White-collared Yuhina, the spectacular Golden-breasted Fulvetta, the endemic Three-toed Parrotbill, Brown Parrotbill, the endemic Sichuan Treecreeper (a species of high-altitude conifers), the pretty Fire-capped Tit and the endemic Pere David’s (or Rusty-breasted) Tit.
More widespread species that we may well encounter include Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, the shy Koklass Pheasant, the vocal Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Hodgson’s Hawk Cuckoo, Himalayan and Lesser Cuckoos, Asian Koel, Grey Nightjar, White-throated Needletail, Grey-headed, Grey-capped, Great Spotted, Darjeeling, White-backed, Crimson-breasted and Bay Woodpeckers and the sneaky Speckled Piculet.
An astonishing array of passerines includes the colourful Long-tailed Minivet, Eurasian Wren, skulking Indian Blue, White-browed and Golden Bush Robins, Plumbeous Water Redstart, White-capped Redstart, the skulking White-bellied Redstart, the secretive White-tailed Robin, Grey Bushchat, Blue Whistling Thrush, Chestnut Thrush, Verditer, Rufous-gorgeted, Ferruginous, Dark-sided and Brown-breasted Flycatchers, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Brown-flanked, Yellow-bellied and Aberrant Bush Warblers, the skulking Spotted and Brown Bush Warblers, Bianchi’s, Grey-crowned, Chestnut-crowned and Ashy-throated Warblers, Greenish, Large-billed Leaf and Hume’s Leaf Warblers, the secretive Pygmy Cupwing, the bold Scaly-breasted Cupwing, Red-billed Leiothrix, Red-tailed Minla, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, White-throated Laughingthrush, the shy Spotted Laughingthrush, White-browed Fulvetta, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Yellow-browed, Coal, Rufous-vented, Grey Crested and Green-backed Tits, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Large-billed Crow, Hair-crested Drongo, the beautiful Gould’s Sunbird, Japanese and Chestnut-flanked White-eyes, Olive-backed Pipit, Grey Wagtail and Vinaceous Rosefinch.
Sichuan China: Day 6 After some final birding in the mountains of the Leshan region we will travel further west to Longcanggou for a two nights stay.
Sichuan China: Day 7 The beautiful Longcanggou area is the best place in Sichuan for the uncommon endemic Gold-fronted Fulvetta and this will of course be our prime target. Another important speciality is the near-endemic Streaked Barwing.
Longcanggou is a great birding area and, as well as these two major specialities, we have good chances here to encounter many of the species already mentioned for earlier in the tour.
Sichuan, China: Day 8 After some final birding at Longcanggou we will make our way northwards to Labahe National Nature Reserve for a two nights stay.
Sichuan, China: Day 9 At higher levels at Labahe the areas of evergreen broadleaf woodland give way to deciduous woodland and ultimately open scrubby, grassy or bamboo-covered areas and stands of mixed coniferous-rhododendron forest (some of the latter will still be in flower at this season). While enjoying Labahe, some superb vistas can be had across a seemingly endless series of mountain ridges.
At Labahe we have a very good chance of encountering the incredible Temminck’s Tragopan. We will also be searching the bamboo for Great and Brown Parrotbills and the uncommon Fulvous Parrotbill, while more widespread birds we may well encounter here include Himalayan Swiftlet, Brown Dipper, White-browed Shortwing, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Black-chinned Yuhina, Spotted Nutcracker, Russet Sparrow and Dark-breasted Rosefinch. We also have a first chance for the shy Slaty Bunting.
Labahe is a superb area and we will also have chances to catch up with many other species, including such specialities as Lady Amherst’s Pheasant and Streaked Barwing. There is even a real chance of encountering the lovely Red Panda.
Sichuan, China: Day 10 After some final birding at Labahe we will continue our journey to Wolong for a three nights stay.
Sichuan, China: Days 11-12 The Wolong Giant Panda Reserve is world-famous as a result of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s research and conservation efforts to save the species from extinction. The pioneering work on pandas by George Schaller was carried out in this beautiful region of forested mountains, bamboo thickets, alpine meadows and jagged, snow-covered peaks. During our stay in this wonderful part of China, we will be able to explore areas from about 2000m right up to the high alpine zone above 4000m. We shall be birding amidst some breathtaking mountain scenery, with the surrounding peaks rising to over 5500m and the even higher peak of Siguniang visible in the distance.
By using a road that climbs over the incredibly spectacular Balang Shan range by way of a high pass at over 4500m we can drive right up to the habitat of Tibetan Snowcock, Snow Partridge and the amazingly beautiful but endangered endemic Chinese Monal! At the highest altitudes, where patches of snow-free rocks project above the snow, we may well find gorgeous, indigo-coloured Grandalas, Alpine Accentors, Red-breasted Rosefinches and restless flocks of Plain and Brandt’s Mountain Finches feeding on insects in this seemingly inhospitable environment.
Here also we will look for the incomparable endemic White Eared Pheasant, for we should find these magnificent creatures feeding out in the open early in the morning. At dawn, the loud, barking calls of Koklass Pheasants ring out across the forest. Areas of high-altitude scrub hold the stunning endemic Chinese Rubythroat.
In the attractive mixed forests and scrub at lower elevations, we will be concentrating on several endemics including the spectacular endemic Golden Pheasant, Black-streaked Laughingthrush, the shy Barred Laughingthrush, Sooty Bushtit and the retiring Slaty Bunting. In the thickets of bamboo in the forest, the strikingly-plumaged endemic Firethroat is particularly easy to see in this area.
We should also come across one or more of the rarer species of the Wolong area, which include the endemic Rufous-tailed Babbler (or Rufous-tailed Moupinia), the near-endemic Black-browed Bushtit, the near-endemic Sharpe’s Rosefinch, Crimson-browed Finch and the near-endemic Tibetan Serin (or Tibetan Siskin). We have observed the very rare Blackthroat occasionally, so we even have a slim chance of seeing this little-known endemic breeder.
Amongst the many other species that we should encounter in this wonderful reserve are Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier), the handsome Snow Pigeon, White-throated Dipper, Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler, Alpine Chough and Streaked Rosefinch. If we are in luck we will also encounter Mountain Hawk-Eagle.
Sichuan, Birding: Day 13 After some final birding at Balang Shan, we will continue to the town of Maerkang for a two nights stay. We will likely encounter Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Crag Martin, Hodgson’s Redstart and Blue Rock Thrush along the way and perhaps the superb Wallcreeper.
Sichuan, China: Day 14 In the early morning we will climb up high into the mountains by road to an area of coniferous forest on Mengbi Shan where we will have another chance to look for some of the specialities of the high-altitude spruce forest. Foremost among these are such endemics as the impressive Giant Laughingthrush, the very localized Sichuan Jay and the attractive Chinese White-browed and Pink-rumped (or Stresemann’s) Rosefinches, as well as the near-endemic Chinese Babax and Three-banded Rosefinch.
We may well add such other new species as the huge Black Woodpecker, the smart White-throated Redstart, Daurian Redstart, Greenish Warbler, Goldcrest, Carrion Crow and both White-winged Grosbeak and the even more impressive Collared Grosbeak. With luck, we will also encounter the handsome Rufous-bellied Woodpecker.
Sichuan, China: Day 15 From Maerkang we head northwards, climbing over a high, spruce- and scrub-clad pass 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, albeit aided by modern vehicles, mobile phones and all the rest!
We shall make a series of birding stops along the way. We will pass through some incredible landscapes, enjoying the unfolding scenic marvels that seem to stretch forever. When we can manage to take our eyes off the snow-covered peaks and rolling grasslands, we will look for our first Tibetan Plateau specialities. There is even a chance for Ibisbill along the rivers, although the species is scarce in this region.
Eventually, we will arrive at the remote town of Ruoergai, our base for the next three nights.
Sichuan, China: Days 16-17 From Ruoergai, we are able to explore a mix of habitats ranging from ancient conifer forests to the rolling grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau.
In the former habitat, we will be searching for some very special birds including such endemics as Severtzov’s (or Chinese) Grouse, the bold Verreaux’s Monal Partridge, the impressive Blue Eared Pheasant, the magnificent Pere David’s Owl, Chinese Thrush, the handsome Snowy-cheeked (or Sukatschev’s) Laughingthrush, the noisy Elliot’s Laughingthrush, Chinese Fulvetta, Spectacled Parrotbill and the endearing little Przevalski’s Nuthatch. Other specialities of this fine area include the breeding-endemic Yellow-streaked Warbler and Chinese Leaf Warbler plus such near-endemics as Salim Ali’s Swift, the superb little Crested Tit-Warbler and Chinese (or White-browed) Nuthatch.
Other new birds may well include the unobtrusive Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker (represented here by the dark and distinctive funebris subspecies), the smart Siberian Rubythroat, the secretive Maroon-backed Accentor, Rufous-breasted Accentor and Hodgson’s Treecreeper.
In the more open grasslands of the Tibetan plateau, crossed by meandering rivers, and dotted with marshes, we will look for another set of special birds. We may awake to a crisp early morning, with mist hanging low over the wide grasslands which will gradually clear to reveal the deep blue sky that is typical of remote, high-altitude regions. The star attraction of this fine area is the rare and endangered near-endemic Black-necked Crane, which still breeds in some of the wetlands. The supporting cast is a good one too! Best of all is the delightful little near-endemic Ground Tit (formerly known as Groundpecker or Hume’s Ground Jay, these strange birds are now thought to be aberrant tits rather than ground jays) that bounds across the steppe-like some kind of bizarre wheatear, stopping every so often to peck furiously at the ground! Other goodies include the impressive Upland Buzzard, the near-endemic Tibetan Lark, the impressive endemic Giant (or Tibetan) Grey Shrike, the smart endemic Kessler’s Thrush and the charismatic, near-endemic Tibetan, White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinches.
We shall also search valleys clothed in high-altitude scrub for the near-endemic Tibetan Partridge, the lilac-tinged White-browed (or Severtzov’s) Tit-Warbler, the endemic White-browed and Sichuan Tits, Dusky Warbler, the breeding-endemic Alpine Leaf Warbler and the endemic Plain (or Pere David’s) Laughingthrush.
A much-wanted bird in this characteristic habitat is the endemic Przevalski’s Finch (also known as Pink-tailed Finch), an interesting species that is now placed in its own family. It is not as easy to find in this region as in Qinghai further to the west, but Birdquest were the first to find this species in this area (back in the 1980s!) and we have a real chance of success.
Other more widespread species in this region of China include Common Pheasant (indigenous here), Black Stork, Greylag Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Common Merganser (or Goosander), Himalayan (Griffon) Vulture, Black Kite, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Himalayan Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Common Kestrel, Saker Falcon, Common Redshank, Common Tern, Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Hoopoe, Horned Lark, Oriental Skylark, Rosy and Blyth’s Pipits, the lovely Citrine Wagtail (here of the attractive black-backed race calcarata which may be split in future as Tibetan Wagtail), Asian House Martin, the attractive Himalayan Bluetail, Black Redstart (complete with red belly here), Blue-fronted Redstart, Siberian Stonechat, Long-tailed Thrush, Buff-barred Warbler, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Eurasian and Asian Azure-winged Magpies, Red-billed Chough, the smart Daurian Jackdaw, the huge Tibetan race of the Northern Raven, Japanese Tit, Grey-backed Shrike, Twite (of the interesting interior Asian form, which may represent a distinct species), Himalayan Beautiful and Common Rosefinches, Grey-headed Bullfinch and Godlewski’s Bunting. We may also see one or two of the more uncommon species such as Bar-headed Goose or Eurasian Eagle-Owl.
We should also encounter good numbers of pikas and perhaps a few larger mammals such as Tibetan Fox or Grey Wolf which are attracted to the sometimes abundant prey
Sichuan, China: Day 18 Today we will travel southwards and then eastwards to the Gonggangling pass area for an overnight stay, making some stops for birding along the way.
The Gonggangling region is a scenic area of high, snow-covered peaks, dense coniferous and mixed forests, large areas of scrub and often cloud-wreathed hillsides covered in flowering rhododendrons and azaleas. This interesting area offers us an extra chance to look for a few tricky endemics, including Chinese Grouse and Pere David’s Owl.
[Note: The prime speciality of this region used to be the lovely Rufous-headed Robin. This little-known and extremely elusive species was only known (as a breeding species) from the neighbouring province of Shaanxi before Birdquest first discovered it in the scenic Jiuzhaigou Valley in 1984 (the first record from China in the modern era). Sadly the population now appears to have either died out or been reduced to a tiny number, perhaps through habitat change. Unless the situation changes we are unlikely to see this jewel of a bird.]
Sichuan, China: Day 19 After some final birding this morning we will return to the city of Chengdu, where our travels through this incomparable part of China end. We will certainly deserve our traditional Chinese banquet this evening!
Sichuan, China: Day 20 Our Sichuan, China birding tour ends this morning at Chengdu airport.
NORTHERN YUNNAN EXTENSION
Yunnan, China Extension: Day 1 Our tour starts in the evening in the town of Lijiang, situated in northern Yunnan province in southwest China, where we will stay for three nights. Airport transfers will be provided.
(If you would prefer us to arrange for any local flights inside China, we will be pleased to do so on request, even if you are arranging your international flights yourself.)
Yunnan, China Extension: Days 2-3 Lijiang is the principal settlement of the Naxi people, a matriarchal society with some fascinating social customs and the old town, dating back to the 12th century, is well worth seeing. At this point the mighty Yangtze River makes a long loop to the north before resuming its flow towards the China Sea, forming a natural boundary to the spectacular, snow-capped peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, rising to over 5500m (18000ft), that tower above the town. This ornithologically little-known area offers a feast of dramatically beautiful scenery, with deep valleys clothed in deciduous and coniferous woodland giving way at higher altitudes to alpine meadows and icy peaks.
Some special birds can be found in the Lijiang area and in particular, we will be wanting to see several endemics including the rare and localized White-speckled (or Biet’s) Laughingthrush (though depressingly this species is becoming increasingly difficult to find due to trapping), Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler, Spectacled Fulvetta (a different-looking subspecies compared to those in northern Sichuan) as well as such near-endemics as the inquisitive Rufous-tailed Babbler (or Rufous-tailed Moupinia), the little-known Brown-winged Parrotbill, Black-bibbed Tit, Black-browed Bushtit, Yunnan Nuthatch and Black-headed Greenfinch. Other good birds include the handsome Black-breasted Thrush, the smart Black-headed Sibia and the secretive Rusty-capped Fulvetta.
More widespread species that we may well encounter include Asian Barred Owlet, Brown-breasted and Himalayan Black Bulbuls, Grey-winged Blackbird, Black-faced, Davison’s Leaf and Buff-throated Warblers, the localized Rosy Minivet, Blyth’s and Green Shrike-babblers, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Buff-bellied Flowerpecker and Black Drongo.
We will also have our first encounters with many species that also occur in Sichuan.
Yunnan, China Extension: Day 4 We will spend much of the day birding around Lijiang. Afterwards, we will take a short flight to Chengdu in Sichuan province where we will join up with those arriving for the main tour.