Trip report: Central China: Qinghai, Shanxi & Sichuan (June 2012) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Keith Barnes. This was a custom tour that included part of the Qinghai & Tibet itinerary as well as other areas of China.

Central China is spectacular. Both visually stunning and spiritually rich, and it is home to many scarce, seldom-seen and spectacular looking birds. With our new base in Taiwan, little junkets like this one to some of the more seldom reached and remote parts of this vast land are becoming more popular, and this custom trip was planned with the following main objectives in mind: (1) see the Pink-tailed Bunting, (2) see the Crested Ibis which was once in the mid 70’s nearly extinct and (3) see as many pheasants as possible without subjecting the clients to trail walking, which they do not enjoy. We achieved all three of these aims, including 10 species of phasianids, and added for good measure the very first bird tour sightings of the enigmatic Blackthroat (a bird that’s breeding range was unknown until last year), a great selection of phasianids, including the endemic Rusty-necklaced Partridge and a series of great road-side chickens including magical views of Temminck’s Tragopan. But there were a lot of other star attractions, including the immaculate Henderson’s Ground-Jay, and a party of four Tibetan Snowcocks that stood on a high ridge. Robin and Brown Accentors were surprisingly common on the trip. That strange lineage in the warbler family, the pastel-painted White-browed Tit-warbler was seen well. Amongst the several species of leaf-warbler we scored the highly localised Gansu Leaf-warbler, it’s wintering quarters still yet to be discovered. Another sought-after Tibetan specialty is the rare Black-necked Crane, and we had several of these on the shores of the aqua-colored Koko Nor and a migrant Demoiselle Crane in attendance for good measure. A sweep of all six Snowfinches that the plateau is famous for, and six Rosefinches including Chinese White-browed and Streaked, ensured that we scored almost all of the seed-eaters in the region. In addition, we had a wonderful collection of waterfowl, waders and shorebirds at the stunningly beautiful Koko Nor (aka Qinghai Hu). For the Alaudidae-lovers (i.e. me), there was a fascinating collection of larks including the strikingly-patterned Mongolian, immense Tibetan, and local Hume’s Short-toed and Asian Short-toed Larks, a host of redstarts, and the always delectable Wallcreeper. Although a big trip list was never a goal, and we deliberately did not look for several common species that the clients had seen before, we still managed over 250 species in a little over 2 weeks. In addition to this selection of highly-desirable birds, we scored a decent collection of Tibetan and other central Chinese mammals. Finding a fresh Giant Panda scat was thrilling, but this was never a likely target given that some of the group had limited mobility and we had to satisfy ourselves just knowing that they were nearby. However, an incredible encounter with Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys was the clear mammalian highlight, but we had a collection of 16 mammals including Wild Boar, Mainland Serow, cute Tibetan Fox, and doubly-cute Mountain Weasel.

Tibet and Shangxi is of interest not just from the standpoint of the wildlife, which is impressive in its own right. Tibet encompasses a spiritual journey, one through immense ice-clad mountain, rolling golden-green plains, vast water-worlds of aqua-marine lakes, and scattered monastaries where monks chant, wave prayer-wheels, and still conduct sky-burials. This essential essence of the place is something that is hard to describe, and can only really be experienced for ones-self. But it is an important character of this tour, and participants often enjoy the magical atmosphere that is distinctly and uniquely Tibetan, as much as they do the birds and the mammals.

Click this link to view the full report in PDF format (4 MB file).