SOUTHEAST CHINA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Southeast China: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Shanghai on the east coast of mainland China, from where we will transfer to our hotel at Yangkou in Jiangsu’s Rudong County for a two nights stay. Later we will begin exploring this wonderful area.
Southeast China: Day 2 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 and has recently 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 the rare Nordmann’s Greenshank, Eurasian Oystercatcher (here from the eastern population which may merit specific status) and Chinese Egret.
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, 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, Mongolian and Heuglin’s Gulls with them (the latter most likely of the confused ‘taimyrensis’ form). Nearby, the freshwater pools hold a variety of other species including the spectacular and localized Reed Parrotbill. 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 past the peak migration time for this species. Further possibilities include Falcated Duck and Brown-cheeked Rail (split from Water Rail).
Along the coast there are a number of shelter belts which 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 (split from Siberian), 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 – a recent split from Arctic), 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, Petchora and Olive-backed Pipits, Oriental Skylark, Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow), Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Japanese Tit (split from Great 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.
Southeast China: Day 3 After a final morning birding in the Rudong area we will return to Shanghai for an overnight stay. Late in the afternoon we will visit Dishui Lake, just to the south of the airport. Here, the extensive reedbeds are home to a good population of the scarce Marsh Grassbird, and so we should find this range-restricted species. 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, giving us a chance to add to what we’ve already found at Rudong.
Southeast China: Day 4 Today, providing we have seen the breeding specialities of the area, we will make an early morning excursion to Yangshan Island. Connected to the mainland by a 35km bridge, in the right conditions this island can be a magnet for migrants. This will give us another opportunity for finding similar migrants to those we were looking for at Rudong, and we’re almost certain to add something new such as the rare Yellow Bunting.
Late this afternoon we will take a flight southwards to the city of Fuzhou in China’s Fujian province for a three nights stay.
Southeast China: Days 5-6 Our main reason for visiting Fuzhou is to explore the vast Min Jiang Estuary which has become famous in birding circles in recent years as a regular loafing area for Chinese Crested Terns. Our main focus will be on finding this rare species which at this time is in perfect breeding plumage, and our efforts will to some extent be dictated by the state of the tide. After searching through the assembled Greater Crested Terns, our attention will hopefully be drawn to a ghostly pale tern amongst them sporting a bright yellow, black-tipped bill. With luck we will even see them displaying and perhaps passing fish to one another! Chinese Crested Tern really is one of those species that most birders never dreamt of seeing, but for the moment at least, we now have a great chance! If we have trouble finding it on our first attempt, we will have another chance the following day. Also common at the estuary is the recently discovered White-faced Plover. The jury is still out on whether this is just a pale race of Kentish Plover or a good species, but we will enjoy them anyway. There is a good wader roost here too, and we will have a good look through in case we can add any new species such as the rare Nordmann’s Greenshank. It’s also often a very good area for Chinese Egret, Black-faced Spoonbill, Great Knot and Broad-billed Sandpiper. Other new species likely in this area include Chinese (or Eastern) Spot-billed Duck, Yellow Bittern, Little Ringed Plover, Yellow-bellied Prinia and the localized White-shouldered Starling. Some other migrants may also be present and at this season, anything is possible!
Whilst in Fuzhou, we will also spend some time in an area of lowland forest close to the city. Here we should find the localized and spectacular Fork-tailed Sunbird, whilst other new species may include Rufous Woodpecker, Large Woodshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Hair-crested Drongo, the charismatic Masked Laughingthrush and Common Tailorbird. We also have a good chance of catching up with the lovely White-necklaced Partridge and Spotted Elachura if we have missed them earlier, and we may even come across the scarce and localized Pale-headed Woodpecker and Rufous Woodpecker.
Southeast China: Day 7 After some early morning birding in Fuzhou region we will drive northwestwards into the mountains to Emeifeng for a four nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Southeast China: Days 8-10 As other sites in Fujian have become more difficult to access, Emei Feng has come to the fore, and now may be justifiably regarded as the 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!
Although overall diversity is not high, a number of other interesting species occur in the forest, and species we hope to see include the localized Chestnut Bulbul, Rufous-faced Warbler, Kloss’s Leaf Warbler (split from White-tailed), White-spectacled Warbler (interestingly, the form here, intermedius, has yellow spectacles!), the attractive Small Niltava, Spotted Elachura (with its striking song), Blyth’s Shrike-Babbler (split from White-browed Shrike-Babbler), the excellent Buffy Laughingthrush (a superb vocalist), the skulking endemic Moustached Laughingthrush, Indochinese (split from Striated) and Black-chinned Yuhinas and Huet’s Fulvetta (split from Grey-cheeked), and at the highest parts we can find a few higher altitude species such as, Buff-throated Warbler and Brown Bush-Warbler (with its insect-like song).
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 (though this elusive species is far easier to hear than see!), Great Barbet,Grey-chinned Minivet, Asian House Martin, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, the impressive Yellow-cheeked Tit, Black-throated Bushtit, 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 Wren-Babbler (now placed in the Cupwing family), 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. Other more difficult species that we may encounter include the rare Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher or the striking Grey-headed Parrotbill, whilst plaintive whistles may lead us to the little-known and very furtive White-necklaced (or Rickett’s Hill) Partridge, though they can be frustratingly hard to tease into view.
Southeast China: Day 11 After some final birding at Emei Feng, we will embark on the longish drive to Wuyuan in China’s Jiangxi province for a two nights stay.
Southeast China: Day 12 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 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. A few 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 and Grey-headed (or Grey-faced) 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.
Southeast China: Day 13 After some final birding in the Wuyuan area, we will head northwestwards to the city of Wuhan where our tour ends.