Southeast China: Hidden Treasures of the Song Kingdom

This tour focuses on the eastern provinces of Jiangxi, Fujian, and Shanghai—the heartland of China under the Song Dynasty. The star-studded cast of birds on this tour is second-to-none on the continent. It is hard to fathom why it has taken so long for this incredible region to feature on the world bird tour circuit. We begin at the Minjiang estuary, poring through an incredible selection of shorebirds. First prize is the critically-endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the World’s finest waders, for which this is currently the premier wintering site.




Amongst the broad selection of terns and gulls, we expect the rare, crab-hunting Saunder’s Gull. We then drive inland to Wuyishan, one of the finest tracts of forest remaining in heavily-cultivated southeast China. Here gamebirds will be our prime targets. Some of these are very scarce, and we will need to be exceptionally lucky to see the rare endemic Elliot’s Pheasant or Rickett’s Hill Partridge, although Koklass and Silver pheasants are more regularly encountered. By far the most spectacular of them all, the magical gold-and-cream, polka-dotted Cabot’s Tragopan will be our major target.

Cabot's Tragopan will be at the very top of our shopping list in SE China
Cabot's Tragopan will be at the very top of our shopping list in SE China (Keith Barnes)

Flocks with niltavas, fulvettas, and tits round out some spectacular mountain birding. The Wuyuan area ought to reveal the scarce Scaly-sided Merganser, as well as Mandarin Duck and perhaps Long-billed Plover. The adjacent scrub holds Chestnut Bulbul, Fork-tailed Sunbird, and Gray-sided Scimitar-Babbler. China’s largest wetland, which covers some 1160mi2 (3000km2), is the impressive Poyang Hu. Although the giant white Siberian Crane is the master of ceremonies, other stars include White-naped and Hooded cranes and almost the entire global populations of Swan Goose and Oriental Stork. Our final stop at Yangcheng, near Shanghai, should yield Red-crowned Crane and perhaps even Sandhill Crane, as well as the bullish Reed Parrotbill. Scouring these wetlands may reveal an array of scarce goodies including Relict Gull, Lesser White-fronted and Taiga Bean geese, Falcated Duck, Baikal Teal and the rare Baer’s Pochard. Scrubby patches hold good numbers of wintering passerines, and we will try find a selection of buntings, warblers, and thrushes before we head into the intoxicating lights of Shanghai, China’s most glimmering metropolis.

The very rare Scaly-sided Merganser is most reliably found in SE China
The very rare Scaly-sided Merganser is most reliably found in SE China (Laolin)

Day 1: Arrival in Fuzhou.
Day 2: Fuzhou to Minjiang River.
Day 3: Minjiang River to Wuyishan.
Days 4–6: Wuyishan.
Day 7: Wuyishan to Wuyuan.
Day 8: Wuyuan.
Day 9: Wuyuan to Nanchang.
Day 10: Nanchang to Poyang.
Days 11–12: Poyang.
Day 13: Poyang (Nanjishan) to Nanchang. Fly to Shanghai.
Day 14: Shanghai to Yangcheng.
Day 15: Yangcheng.
Day 16: Yangcheng to Shanghai. Tour ends.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: Winter in coastal eastern China can be very cold (32–45°F), with winds and rain common. At Wuyishan temperatures will be lower.

DIFFICULTY: Easy to Moderate. This trip involves little physical effort, with a bit of walking at Wuyishan.

ACCOMMODATION: Mostly good, with simple accommodation at Poyang Hu and Yangcheng.