Trip report: China, Sichuan & the Tibetan Plateau June 2017 by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods and Charley Hesse.This was a custom tour.

Sichuan is often the first region of China birders choose to visit; and it not hard to see why. Many regional endemics are present and some standout families like pheasants, parrotbills, and recently too, a key monotypic family, Przevalski’s Rosefinch. This is complemented by the fascinating Sichuan cuisine, and a starkly different culture to much of the world. We got to experience all of this first hand. Parrotbills virtually opened the tour, with the usual Vinous-throated Parrotbills around the spotless city of Chengdu. Other standouts from this particular family included, both Great and Three-toed Parrotbills at Loncanggou, a place where we also sampled our first pheasant in the form of Temminck´s Tragopan. Other pheasants included Chinese Monal, White Eared-Pheasant, and Tibetan Snowcock amongst the impressive rugged scenery of Balang Shan, and Lady Amherst’s Pheasant at Erlangshan. The bold Blue Eared-Pheasant in the tall spruce forests of the Baxi Valley was also memorable, and following such sterling views, unsurprisingly made it into the hallowed top five birds of the tour. We birded a range of habitats, mostly at elevation, as we worked the dramatic mountain landscapes of the region, with spruce forests, complimented by the mixed subtropical deciduous forests of Longcanggou, and also the starkly different, open, yak-coated grasslands and wetlands of the Tibetan Plateau. Indeed, it was the latter area that provided one of the overall trip highlights, as one of the ultimate pressure birds resides there; Przevalski’s Rosefinch (variously called Pink-tailed Bunting or Przevalski’s Pinktail, while considered neither a bunting or a rosefinch, but a single species family that was new to all). However, in spite of regional endemics sprinkled through the trip list, gorgeous birds like Grandala, and rarities like Golden-fronted Fulvetta featuring, it was surprisingly a more widespread species that got an overwhelming vote for the bird of the tour for the first time: Black Woodpecker. Of course, though, it is a striking species, being one of the largest woodpeckers in Asia and was high on the wish list for many of the group at the tour start. The fact that it was seen so well, aggressively pecking at a local chipmunk that was getting a little too close to the nest hole that we discovered added something a little extra to this sighting too. The final selection for the top five birds of the tour is given below, but the following list of the other species that were also considered for it, illustrates well the quality of birds experienced on this tour: White Eared-Pheasant, Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, Black-necked Crane, Saker, Grandala, Golden Bush-Robin, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Przevalski’s Nuthatch, and Crested Tit-Warbler.

TOP FIVE BIRDS OF THE TOUR
1 Black Woodpecker. Mengbishan
2 Przevalski’s Rosefinch. Tibetan Plateau
3 Pere David’s Owl. Gonggangling
4 Blue Eared-Pheasant. Baxi Valley
5 Chinese Cupwing. Erlangshan

Full 2017 report here in PDF format (3.6MB).