Guided by Sam Woods
Each and every year the Sichuan tour produces a few challenges-from the massive earthquake that rocked the region in 2008 (and the subsequent prolonged, and ongoing, period of recovery), to the incredibly rapid pace of development in the country, we always expect some “curveballs” to come our way. Having said that, aided by the sharp negotiating skills of our experienced local guide, Frank, now a veteran of this tour-having been successfully working with Tropical Birding now for the past seven years-we have always managed to overcome these, and so worry little for these minor inconveniences. However, this year saw some bigger challenges than expected when it was announced in spring that one of the sites on the tour, Wawu Shan, was to be closed for development, for a period of years, prior to the spring birding season! This was our most serious challenge to running the tour this year, and so Sam cut short his planned vacation in Taiwan before the tour, and set out for Sichuan to use this newly available time to scout some areas immediately before the group arrived.
This worked out well, with two new sites visited successfully, which slotted in well as for Wawu Shan, and were more than adequate substitutes for that site. In addition to these obstacles to the tour, there were also regular uprisings of protest in some Tibetan areas of Sichuan prior to the tour, and so, fearing sudden closures of such areas on the tour (as has happened in years past), we chose to relocate the Tibetan section of the tour to the neighboring province of Qinghai instead. This proved to be a roaring success with the group, which voted this leg as their favorite section of the tour, and most definitely gained us some species, not least a certain family enigma, the Przevalski’s Rosefinch (Pink-tailed Bunting), a haul of six snowfinch species, and the much sought-after Mongolian Ground-Jay, to name but a few.
Indeed, the tour as a whole proved very successful indeed, in spite of the hurdles that were thrown in our way shortly before departure, and miraculously we not only amassed a personal best species total for this tour yet-312 species, but also enjoyed a healthy list of mammals-over ten species, including the enigmatic Red Panda, the humungous Takin, and a shocking, and most unexpected Asiatic Black Bear that brought our bus to a sudden halt in the hills near Maerkang.