Beidaihe: Far Eastern Migration

This trip combines birding at some historically important sites around Beijing, with visits to the Great Wall and the migration hotspots of Beidaihe and Happy Island. Beidaihe is difficult to describe to those who haven’t been there, and it is by no means a typical birding destination. This resort east of Beijing, set up for wealthy jet-set Beijingren and communist party officials, comprises a series of hotels with private gardens along the Gulf of Bohai at the northern edge of the Yellow Sea. It was also the site for sea-based Olympics activities, which resulted in new infrastructure.


At first glance, it doesn’t look particularly special, but the birding during migration can be just fantastic. A typical migration site, it is fascinating how variable things can be from year to year, which means even your guide is uncertain what might lurk under the next bush. The limited habitat forces tired migrants into low scrub where you can enjoy them at close quarters. Birds that are normally very shy skulkers on their breeding and wintering grounds can be remarkably tame. Birders who have struggled for a glimpse of Siberian Blue Robin or Siberian Thrush on the top of Doi Inthanon in Thailand won’t believe their eyes when this prize is too close to focus on.

A little further south, Happy Island is another of Eastern China’s top migration spots. Birding here waxes and wanes, but any fall or major landing of birds is greeted with frenzy as birders rush around madly looking for grosbeaks, waxwings, flycatchers, or shrikes.

The following is a suggested itinerary, but custom tours can be modified based on what you want and how much time you have available.

Day 1: Beijing. You arrive in Beijing, where you will be transferred to our hotel. An optional culture and birding day is offered for those arriving early.

Day 2: Beijing to Beidaihe. This morning we will travel to Beidaihe. After checking into the hotel near the seashore, we will bird the nearby gardens, then hit Lighthouse Point to see if any interesting migrants are around. Right before dusk we will shoot up to the Friendship Hotel to search for some skulkers like Siberian Blue Robin or maybe some thrushes if they have arrived.

Days 3-4: Beidaihe. Flexibility is the key to birding here, and we’ll change plans at the drop of a hat depending on what birds are in town. We’ll check out a number of well-known migrant traps searching for the latest windfalls. We’ll divide our time between the beach, forest fragments, irrigation projects, mudflats, and stunted coastal scrub. Birding here can be intense, and while there are not that many species, the sheer number of birds can be impressive.

Day 5: The Great Wall. Not only is the Great Wall perfect for an unforgettable dab of far-eastern culture, it’s also the longest canopy walkway in the world! Our time here will be spent birding and admiring the impressive structure. The woodlands here hold some of the best resident birds of the trip, including the Chinese endemic Yellow-bellied Tit, Pere David’s Laughingthrush, and Chinese Hill Warbler. Flocks can also hold the strange local race of Long-tailed Tit as well as Marsh and Great Tits. Raptors use the mountains here and we may see migrating sparrowhawks or even Gray-faced Buzzard.

Day 6: Magic Wood to Happy Island. We start the morning with a quick visit to a patch of scrub a half hour south of Beidaihe. Continuing south for a couple of hours we’ll arrive at a bit of woodland so full of sexy birds that it has been renamed the “magic wood”. It can be hard to comprehend how so many birds can be packed into such a tiny area. Here we’ll share the memorable experience of scoping up striking Mugimaki and Korean Flycatchers while White-throated Rock-Thrushes are teed up right beside our heads. In the early afternoon we will catch the ferry over to Happy Island, check in, and immediately hit another famous migrant trap, Temple Wood, just a few minutes from the hostel.

Days 7-8: Happy Island. Our objective here will be to cover each habitat a number of times, mopping up the migrants as we go. The more intrepid birder might opt for of a lot of walking, but hanging around the woods near the hotel can be just as rewarding. With a little luck, we could have a large fallout, one of those rare times when you can’t go anywhere without feeling like you’re wading through Siberian Rubythroats, Siberian Blue Robins, and others. Even on an average day, we should still see at least a few individuals of most target species, including stunners like Chinese Grosbeak and the loud Large Hawk-Cuckoo. The mudflats on the margins of the island can be excellent for shorebirds, terns and gulls, including some of East Asia’s rarest birds such as Asiatic Dowitcher, Saunder’s and Relict Gulls, but we will need luck to find these incredible birds.

Day 9: Magic Wood and return to Beijing. We will leave Happy Island early, in order to spend most of our final full morning in the Magic Wood across the bay. Before lunch we begin our drive back to Beijing. After arrival we may have a bit of time for sightseeing around nearby Tiananmen Square. We finish the tour with a fantastic farewell dinner in one of Beijing’s many, many great noodle houses or with some delicious Peking Duck!

Day 10: Beijing. You depart on morning flights or continue on to our Sichuan and Tibet tour for an even greater China experience.

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EXTENSION

One-day pre-tour culture and birding extension. We highly recommend arriving a day early in case of flight delays, so we offer this superb day trip to keep you busy. In the morning we’ll visit the world-famous Summer Palace, which at first seems a bit too chaotic and over-hyped for the sensible birder. However, only 100 yards away from the crowds, we’ll find fascinating small buildings and good birding that contrast starkly with the circus on the lake. It’s amazing how quickly we will escape the crowds and begin enjoying some of the local avian treasures, like Chinese Blackbird, and adorable Vinous-throated Parrotbills. We’ll spend the afternoon in the Forbidden City. As we wander through the maze of superb Chinese architecture, there are a few birds to be seen, such as the amazing Azure-winged Magpie, and maybe even some migrants.

This trip links up with the Sichuan tour.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Easy-Moderate. This is a migration tour, and daily activities will be largely determined by what falls out of the sky the night before we go birding. Having said that we spend the early morning out after breakfast (6:30 a.m.), looking for birds, and chatting to fellow birders about what else is around. Almost all lunches will be sit-down affairs, and there is normally and 90-minute to 2-hr rest in the middle of the day. We will head out again in mid-afternoon and spend till dusk (6 p.m.) out. There is little or no night birding. There are no long drives other than the 3-hr drive it takes to get to and from Beidaihe. There will be short drives to different birding localities.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy-Moderate. Provided you can walk up to 3 km (around 2 miles) a day you should be fine. We spend a lot of time doing light walking and scanning for shorebirds/waders.

CLIMATE: The climate is eastern China at this time of year is pleasant and mild (mostly 50°-75°F, 10°-24°C). A little rain is to be expected, but it is not the wet season, so there should only be occasional showers.

ACCOMMODATION: In Beijing and Beidaihe we are in a very nice hotel with private, en-suite bathrooms, hot water 24 hours/day and internet. At Happy Island the only accommodation available has shared bathroom facilities.

WHEN TO GO: This tour is only run in May (spring) or October (fall). This is when migration passage is in full swing.

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. A visa is required. You must obtain your visa from a Chinese embassy or consulate well in advance of the tour. Our office staff will provide needed support documents for you to get your visa.