Chinese endemics in Sichuan's 'Heavenly' mountains
22nd May - 5 June 2007
Leader: Keith Barnes
The spectacular and rare Black-necked Cranes were a major highlight
on the Tibetean Plateau.
We watched pairs dancing and bugleing, performing their spectacular courtship rituals.
This was an abbreviated version of our regular central
ARRIVAL. Birding around Chengdu: Du Fu's Cottage.
am Chengdu-Wolong village. pm Birding around Sawan.
am Sawan-Wuyipeng. pm Birding around Wuyipeng, Wolong.
am Wuyipeng-Sawan. pm Birding around Sawan, Wolong.
Bei Mu Ping & Balang Shan Pass, Wolong.
am Balang Shan. pm Balang Shan-Maerkang.
Full day Maerkeng.
am Maerkang-Hongyuan. pm Tibetan Plateau – Rouergai.
am Rouergai - Hongyuan, Tibetan Plateau. pm Hongyuan-Chengdu.
am Chengdu-Wawu Shan. pm Wawu Shan.
am Wawu Shan. pm Wawu Shan-Chengdu.
22 May: Chengdu.
Shortly after arriving from Bangkok at about 3 p.m., we piled our bags in the car and raced straight through to Du Fu’s Cottage. A small patch of forest in the concrete jungle that is Chengdu. Du Fu's Cottage is the former home of a famous Tang Dynasty poet. Although we did not have a lot of time at this site we were quick to rack up the key specialties here in the form of Vinous-throated Parrotbills (the first of 7 species of this charismatic family recorded on the tour), a very vocal pair of White-browed Laughingthrush as well as a surprise Asian Paradise-Flycatcher. We also encountered our first Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbul, and Eurasian Blackbird that many split as a separate species, Mandarin or Chinese Blackbird. We then had our first taste of Sichuan's famed food, with a bewildering array of dishes coming our way at a well-known Chengdu restaurant.
23 May: Chengdu – Wolong (Sawan)
We departed early for the town of Sawan in the famous
Panda reserve of Wolong. The first half of the drive, as you exit the Red Basin, is relatively
uneventful. But as soon you hit the rim of mountains that define Sichuan province,
and after a series of hair-raising hairpin bends, you quickly start ascending
into the cooler climes of this central province. We were delayed by an accident.
The Chinese have an odd custom (more then one if fact, but we’ll just discuss
this one for the time being). When there is a road collision, even a minor
one, no vehicle can be moved until the police arrive to inspect the scene
and apportion blame to the guilty party. On this occasion, we were lucky to
be only detained by 20 minutes as the collision had happened conveniently
close to a police station. But if this happens over an hour from a Chinese
cop-shop, expect lengthy delays. Another factor that slowed our progress was
the rebuilding of the road between the main highway and Balang
Shan. This was to make travel somewhat slow for the next few days, but would
also provide much amazement as a case study of just how industrious the Chinese
can be! After a lunch-time arrival we ascended some slopes behind our hotel
to look for some of the specialties of the area - not least the Golden
Pheasant that frustrated us that afternoon by remaining hidden, but calling
frequently, in the forest undergrowth. The Chinese endemic Slaty Buntings
were equally frustrating and gave only Keith fleeting glimpses as it shot
up off a trail only to practically vanish into what appeared to be open understory!
We heard plenty of Large Hawk Cuckoos and White-throated Needletails
sailed overhead. The forest held several flocks with quite a few Long-tailed
Minivets, Collared Finchbills, Green-backed Tits, and Japanese White-eyes.
We also got our first taste of that most confusing group of Chinese birds
- the Phylloscopus warblers - with Sichuan, Arctic, Greenish and Blyth’s Leaf-Warblers
identified. Between parties we located a few Dark-sided and
Ferruginous Flycatchers and a cooperative cracking White-collared Yuhina.
A stunning male Indian Blue Robin, with its melancholic and fluty calls,
was found skulking in the forest undergrowth, and we also managed to find
our first two Chinese-endemic tit species, with a nesting Sooty Tit and
a Yellow-bellied Tit in the same area. On our way down the hill after
an unsuccessful pheasant chase we bumped into a Tiger Shrike, a somewhat
unexpected, yet pleasant surprise for the trip. The feast at the restaurant
was first-class with about 12 dishes for a handful of people. We’d slowly
get used to the concept of never finishing a meal in
24 May: Wolong (Sawan - Wuyipeng)
The original plan for the day had been to leave early for the fairly tough hike up to the Wuyipeng panda research station in Wolong reserve. Although having missed the pheasant on the day before we felt compelled to try again for this spectacular Asian beauty. This time, we tried a different tack, in a different patch, where we’d had some success on our tour last year. Birds were calling, but none was particularly close! Initially I went into the undergrowth to try and push some of the birds down slope towards the group in a last ditch effort to see this famously shy species. Luck wasn’t on our side though, and although I was able to push the bird to within a few feet of the group, at the crucial moment, it shot through a well-vegetated gully when the only other option was for it to walk into the open and past the group. Not long after this near miss though, the bird that I had chased around the bushes was back and calling from his original position. This time, with the group in tow, we scrambled up the hillside towards the calling bird. On hands and knees we performed and intrepid military-style leopard-crawl up the hill until the bird was spotted off the ground and calling in some low scrub - a gaudy male Golden Pheasant - glowing resplendently golden and crimson in the forest interior, perched up and boldly asking to be appreciated. After everyone had a first view we approached closer and the bird dropped down and walked right in the open for almost everyone to get a perfect look! We followed him for some time, until most were satisfied. BK still wanted a better look, but we thought it best to move on to the long hike to Wuyipeng. As luck would have it, as we were walking back down the hill, we bumped into another spectacular male Golden Pheasant. He was to be the second of five we’d see over the next two days!! This time BK got the look she was after and it was smiles all round. There is nothing quite as satisfying as getting a soaking look at this creature. One of the birds of the trip was already safely under the belt!
A major surprise as we were leaving town to head up the trail was a pair of singing Chinese Babax. This bizarre and boisterous babbler, looking decidedly thrasher-like, sat up and sang for some time.
We then headed up to Wuyipeng research station. On the way up we
soon got some good looks at another colourful species, the Golden-breasted
Fulvetta, as well as calling Yellowish-bellied & Brownish-flanked
Bush-Warblers (perhaps more interesting for their song than their appearance).
We had another absorbing look at the spectacular Indian Blue Robin.
A surprise find on the way up was a scarce Bay Woodpecker following
a small flock near the escarpment edge. Lunch at George Schaller’s famous
Panda research centre was well received and we soon headed out for an afternoon
sortie back along the trail we’d walked up on. No sooner had we started and
we found a small party of decidedly skittish Elliot’s Laughingthrushes.
No matter how hard I tried to convince the group that this endemic is much
easier to see in the open areas on Balangshan, everyone
wanted to see them. So we persisted till all had had satisfactory views. Our
afternoon yielded a few parties and we picked out the more interesting species
including the vociferous and quirky Red-billed Blue Magpie, Oriental
Cuckoo, Darjeeling Woodpecker, the regular gamut of
warblers with the addition of White-tailed Leaf Warbler and Bianchi’s
Warbler. Spishing and squeaking brought in White-browed Bush-Robin,
Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler, Eurasian Nutcracker (a hungry youngster
of which screeched for the next three days!!) , a stunning male Mrs Gould’s
Sunbird, and a bunch of flycatchers including Verditer, Grey-headed
Canary, Rufous-gorgeted and Slaty-Blue Flycatchers and several
Rufous-bellied Niltavas. The flocks that we had added a few new canopy
species including the aemodicus race of the Coal Tit (almost
certainly a good species) and the somewhat less flashy Yellow-browed Tit!
Late in the afternoon however, we scored the coup de grace as we encountered
our second major pheasant of the day - a spectacular male Temminck’s Tragopan
- right next to the path. He walked away from us slowly and calmly, pausing
occasionally to peck at something on the ground, as if we were not even there.
This bird absorbs you with it’s crimson feathers speckled with pearly white
spots and a face adorned with opal and black! Amazingly we’d had two major
candidates for bird of the trip in a single day! Quite exhilarated we moved
on. A small trail yielded our first Barred Laughingthrushes, normally
a really difficult bird to see, they showed surprisingly well and repeatedly
during our time at Wuyipeng. A little later a Chestnut-headed Tesia
called, but as all members of the group had seen this bird in
25 May: Wolong (Wuyipeng)
Amazingly chef was up to make a good breakfast, but his rosier than normal cheeks and bloodshot eyes suggested that he’d lost the rice wine vs beer contest! The day was spent birding along the trails that surround the Wuyipeng panda research station. This field station was originally set up for George Schaller’s pioneering studies on Giant Pandas. Although, unfortunately, sightings of these creatures today are now extremely rare as they are famously secretive. Every year we visit this place and meet panda researchers that have never seen a panda, emphasising what a true privilege it would be to see one of these near-mythical creatures. We spent the day in this primeval forest, festooned with moss and ferns. Huge trunks of conifers rose everywhere and when you could see the horizon, and the cloud cleared, massive peaks with jagged rock surrounded us. At one point we could see up Balangshan, and the excitement and anticipation of exploring the giant mountain over the next few days was palpable. However, first things first, the forest around Wuyipeng is great for so many birds and we scored our first Lesser Cuckoo, Eurasian Treeceeper, Collared Owlet, Fire-capped Tit, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, and both Gray-crested and Pere David’s Tits in a few mixed flocks. Other birds seen around the station on this day included an impressive pair of Great Parrotbills (a more appropriate name might be Giant Parrotbill as it dwarfs all its congeners) and superb luck with, the undoubted bird of the day, the very unpredictable Three-toed Parrotbill that we were able to watch in seeding bamboo for some time. Another festival of hot food awaited us that evening back at the camp where the local rangers decided to have a get together!
26 May: Wolong (Wuyipeng – Sawan)
On this morning we birded our way from Wuyipeng back to Sawan, but first we took the trail further into the forest, where we encountered and had brief but spectacular views of the incredible occelated Spotted Laughingthrush. This was followed up with more prolonged views of the apparently skittish Barred Laughingthrush and Elliot’s Laughingthrush. Another highlight for the morning was yet another full breeding male Temminck’s Tragopan. This was our fourth individual so far, and one never grows tired of them. This one climbed into a tree and gave a bizarre growl call that we assumed to be an alarm-call. The past couple of days had proved to be frustrating for one of the most beautiful of the Luscinia robins, the spectacular Firethroat. They had been so quite that in the past two days we hadn’t heard one. On our way down the hill though we did manage to get a bird calling, and although it initially did not respond, we clambered into the vegetation to get a better chance of seeing it. We played and something shot in, but frustrating perched out of view for everybody. Then it went silent and disappeared. Not all was lost though as we got great looks at our first Streak-throated Fulvettas of the trip, which came through in a small party. Also, climbing down into a gully, we made a wonderful spectacle for the passing-by Chinese weekend hikers who all stopped to gawk at the spectacle of a bunch of westerners crouched down in the bamboo with binoculars poised like a small group of delusional mountain gorillas! The looks on their faces were probably almost as amusing to us as we were to them. Anyway, somewhat despondent, we moved on, figuring that the Firethroat was a gonner. However, a little further down the trail Paul recorded a vocalisation that I was not familiar with, and upon playback a magnificent male Firethroat emerged from the bamboo, and with further playback gave several stunning views, crimson throat pumping as he sang in response to playback, much to the delight of everyone! Lower down we encountered yet another male Golden Pheasant feeding next to the trail, and all had more prolonged views. Irrespective of how well and how many times you see these birds each encounter has an amazing “wow!” factor. As we emerged from the forest we noticed a few raptors soaring over the hills nearby. On closer inspection they turned up to be none other than a pair of Himalayan Griffons and a lone Mountain Hawk Eagle. Lunch back at Sawan was a real treat, with cashewnuts and Szechuan peppercorns to spice proceedings up! Due to the work on the Balangshan road we decided to leave our first assault on the pass until tomorrow, so we spent the afternoon concentrating on the forest trails behind the hotel, a decision we were well pleased with in the end. As we started our walk we spotted our first Fork-tailed Swifts of the trip. No sooner had we entered the forest and we had picked up our first Chestnut Thrushes, and another endemic, our only Chinese Song Thrushes of the trip. The latter comprised a pair that continuously chased each other through the forest for the afternoon. Other new birds included Orange-flanked Bluetail, Chestnut-flanked White-eye and a magnificent blood-red Vinaceous Rosefinch male. We were very lucky to have several encounters with both female and male Slaty Buntings, until everyone had had satisfactory views of this bizarre Chinese endemic, which is in its own monotypic genus. Emerging from the forest at close to dark the group wanted to pack it in, but I felt that the evening still had something in it, so I encouraged everybody to make one final little push around the hotel grounds. It proved to be an inspired move with our first Gray-headed Bullfinch and Black-capped Kingfishers for the tour and our only Daurian Redstart! Just when we thought all was done and dusted a cacophony of chicken noise erupted on the hillside above us and a large brownish gamebird erupted from the forest. This was chased by an amazing male Golden Pheasant. It was obviously a male chasing a female. What we hadn’t expected was for the male to chase her over the roof of our hotel and for them then to bank sharply and land high up in a treetop on the forest edge. What a superb and completely unexpected spectacle! Although based on our last three days at this spot one can mistakenly believe that these pheasants are easy in Sichuan, I was quick to point out to participants that we had been more than just a little lucky, we’d thus far had a blessed pheasant trip, which was fortunately a trend that was set to continue for the rest of the tour!
27 May: Balangshan.
One always gets excited at the prospect of birding the incomparable Balanshan. One of Asia’s great birding mountains, you always know that although the mountain holds some amazing high quality birds, there is also the chance that bad weather or bad luck may strike. Because of the considerable roadworks we decided to make this morning an early one, leaving at 03h30. Amazingly roadworks were ongoing regardless. The first stretch near the hotel was particularly bad and it was no great surprise when we got bogged down on the road. We managed to wake some roadworkers up and they helped us get ourselves out of a slightly nasty predicament. Amazingly we encountered a trip-first Chinese Pond Heron in the road…in fact we almost knocked it over! Our first stop not far above Bei Mu Ping monument (altitude around 3,339m) yielded White-browed Rosefinch, a surprise female Koklass Pheasant shooting into the undergrowth, and some slightly tame Giant Laughingthrushes. However, we were quick to move onto higher altitudes where more sought-after prizes awaited. A major disappointment was that the main Chinese Monal site had been turned into a roadworkers camp, and the continuing blasts of dynamite almost certainly affected these already shy birds. We put in some time at this stop, scoring the regular party of White-eared Pheasants on the distant hillside, but despite much searching, the monals did not appear. This area also revealed White-capped and Blue-fronted Redstart. As the day heated up raptors soon started to soar and we had added Himalayan Griffon, Eurasian Buzzard, and Eurasian Kestrel before long. Open areas soon revealed Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits. A little higher we started seeing many Chestnut and several White-backed (Kessler’s) Thrushes and the call of a Buff-barred Warbler quickly alerted us to its presence. A surprise Dark-breasted Rosefinch also made an appearance. As we gained altitude however, we soon became enveloped in thick cloud, which was threatening to remain there for the rest of the day. Right near the top of the pass we did manage to find quite a few Plain Mountain-Finches, Red-billed Chough, Large-billed Crow and both Alpine and Rufous-breasted Accentors, and a lone male Grandala made a fleeting appearance, but not all of the group could get onto it. We decided that the phasianids we so desperately sought would have to wait until tomorrow, when hopefully the clouds would clear, and so we chose to head down the hill, and search for denizens of the lower altitudes. Fortuitously, we stopped briefly near a roadworkers camp, and after a bit of banter with the locals, miraculously, the cloud cleared. This window of clarity brought an amazing burst of luck and within a few minutes of scanning we had located two Himalayan Snowcock, a small party of Snow Partridge and a flock of 3 male Grandalas with a handful of females. It seems the cloud had left the birds on naked ridges rather exposed. We were delighted however that our luck had changed, and we returned to Sawan for the by now regular Chinese feast!
28 May: Balangshan – Maerkeng.
Today we headed back up to my favorite area in Sichuan - the heady heights of Balangshan pass, where there are simply stunning birds coupled with breathtaking mountain scenery. This for me is the very best of Sichuan birding.
Balang Shan - surely one of the most dramatic backdrops for birding anywhere in the World
With only a morning to spare around Balang Shan before we had to depart for Maerkang, we decided to make the most of it and have a really early start. The area around Bei mu ping was where we were due to start and saw a few more Giant along with the more common Elliot’s Laughingthrushes while we were having our breakfast. We saw many of the same birds as yesterday, and I will only mention additions to the list. One of our first successes was taping in a party of Chestnut-throated Partidges that had been calling near our breakfast stop. Shortly after that we scored when a Blood Pheasant walked into a small gap and stopped to give us all great views. While waiting here, a huge white bird flew off a ridge top and arced around banking as it vanished into the forest. It had almost disappeared when we realised it was a White-eared Pheasant on the wing! The day was spectacular with virtually no cloud in sight, and we maximised our time here with a series of spectacular soaring Lammergeiers and added Yellow-billed Chough. A Tickell’s Leaf Warbler proved to be a new find. Right near the top of the pass we had a huge flock of Brandt’s Mountain Finch as well as spectacular views of a pair of very showy Snow Pigeons. We met up with another group of birders and discussion on the road conditions meant that we decided we should push on, which we did, but not before we stopped for fabulous views of some spectacular White-tailed Rubythroats, several males of which were up on top of the gorse-type vegetation singing. Our lunch stop yielded our only Red-collared Dove of the trip and then a series of cliffs soon afterwards gave us a spectacular Wallcreeper, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Crag Martin and Blue Rock-thrush. On our way into Maerkang we made a last stop on a high pass and scored with the much hoped for Common and Beautiful Rosefinches.
29 May: Maerkeng.
Maerkang is a strongly Buddhist town, with several different forms being practiced there. The Tibetan influence is clearly evident in the distinctive and attractive architecture and style of houses in the town, where the different forms of Tibetan Buddhism are also easy to discern in the vastly different styles of buildings found in various sections of Maerkang. It is a really attractive town with a great feel to it, and on top of that there is some great birding very close to the town itself. Departing from our strategy in previous tours, we had a full day on the mountain pass above this town, a decision that was to pay off handsomely! Our first stop yielded the much hoped for male Koklass Pheasant that stood for several minutes in a clearing sunning itself, and soon thereafter a Blood Pheasant doing the same thing!
We had a full day birding here, and the day was filled with birds, many of them top class specialties. My favorite Sichuan bird was also seen near to Maerkang - the attractive endemic Crested Tit-Warbler, a stunning, cute white-topped pink-and-blue warbler that was easy to see as it fed in the open conifer forest and then dropped down into some low scrub, approaching us from below! The spectacular open conifer forests at this locality are home to several birds that are at home in Europe and we added both Goldcrest and Winter Wren to our list. However, there are also several Asian specialties here and new trip species in the flocks included Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler, Chinese Leaf-Warbler, Hume’s Warbler, Songar Tit, and Rufous-vented Tit. A bevy of good woodpeckers was found up here including Darjeeling, Grey-faced and the massive and impressive Black Woodpecker.
A distinctive Tibetan settlement on the edge of Maerkang
Other good birds encountered included White-throated Redstarts, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pink-rumped Rosefinch, Chinese Babaxes in the same spot we had found them on our last tour and White-winged Grosbeak. The afternoon was much slower, but we did score some very high quality birds, including decent views of the globally vulnerable Sichuan Jay, a bird missed by many groups, and the difficult to detect Maroon-backed Accentor. The day also yielded the only Eurasian Sparrowhawk of the trip.
30 May. Maerkeng – Hongyuan – Roergai.
The day was spent travelling up to the Tibetan Plateau rounding off in the spectacular little town of Roergai. However, before reaching there we soon got a taste of Tibetan birding with some good birds right near the plateau edge. On checking an area of stunted scrub just before the wide open plains of the plateau opened up before us we spotted a pink movement in the undergrowth which proved to be our second Tit-Warbler of the trip, completing our haul of this cool set of birds for the trip, with a fine male White-browed Tit-Warbler. Other birds seen en-route were much more typical of the Tibetan Plateau, like some spectacular lemon-and-black male Citrine Wagtails in bright breeding plumage, a hulking Upland Buzzard, plenty of Ruddy Shelduck, a handful of the smart Daurian Jackdaws, and best of all were three regal Black-necked Cranes, one of the top target birds in the area. This brought much relief to Paul, who had started to panic prematurely about seeing this mega special species. Also, although there were no trees, we were not to go pheasantless, finding a beautiful male Common Pheasant next to the vehicle as we were doing top speed. We also nailed the tibeteanus race of the Common Tern, which seems so out of place so far from the coast!
After lunch we spent considerable time on the wide open plains of the Tibetan Plateau. The birding up here is just spectacular, completely different from what we had experienced previously on the tour. The area also has a very different feel to other parts of Sichuan, with curious Tibetan Yak herders roaming around on horses and motorbikes, their simply patterned, temporary tented homes scattered around the open plains. Throughout that day we met a number of interesting characters, including man who was keen to share his Yak-yogurt (delicious with a sprinkling of sugar) and Yak-butter tea with us (should be called Yuk butter tea!). The afternoon started with us looking for one of the more inconspicuous endemics in the area - Pere David's Laughingthrush (also referred to more aptly as Plain Laughingthrush), that we soon found in an area close to where we’d had lunch. It was good to get another Chinese endemic straight after a meal. We then headed off to explore the grasslands of the plateau. For one of the most charismatic residents up there we went straight to where we had found them nesting recently (in a convenient roadside bank), and a short time after arriving there sure enough a Hume's Groundpecker (that has now been renamed Ground Tit after its taxonomic affinities were found to be tied with the tit family, something that is hard to fathom when you look at this oddball bird), came bouncing along towards the hole. It was obligatory to watch this bird with its clumsy looking bill and awkward gait for a while, as it quite simply a fascinating beast with bundles of character, all the better for its strange taxonomic position.
Hume's Groundpecker bringing food to the nest, Tibetan Plateau (Sam Woods)
The stake outs were working well at this time, and it continued in that fashion for the rest of the day, with the brutish Tibetan Larks found in the same marsh they had been on the previous tour. We also had great views of Oriental Skylark and Horned Larks in this area. It was a red-letter day for new redstarts and we found both Black and Hodgson’s Redstarts. As we approached the town of Roergai we scored our first Tibetean Snowfinch, Twite, Hoopoe, Great Tit and Little Owls of the trip, along with many Common Cuckoo perched on the telephone wires straddling the grasslands. Black-billed Magpie and Common Raven were new corvids for the trip, but perhaps most surprising was a seemingly very lost Ashy Drongo, high up on the plateau, that displayed the cinereous plumage and spectacle like shades around the eye that are so characteristic of this species. We had a little time to do some dude stuff and so we checked into our hotel and went out to the markets, where amongst other things we were able to mingle with the amazing Tibetean people, who simply love the interaction, and buy scarves, cloaks and prayer-wheels in what must be one of the least visited parts of the plateau!
31 May: Roergai – Chengdu.
This morning we only had a few remaining targets, and we tried to make quick work of these. It was nice to see the pair of White-browed Tits (for me the best of the Chinese endemic tits of which there are a few), still actively coming in and out of their nest hole carrying food for their demanding offspring. Similarly the Black-winged (Tibetan) Snowfinch was also still in residence close by. Other new birds included Godlewski's Buntings, Common Redshanks, Rock Sparrow, Brown-headed Gulls, Azure-winged Magpie, Siberian Stonechat, and Common Rosefinch. After lunch we embarked on a long (and unforeseen with many closed roadworks) drive back to Sichuan's capital Chengdu with little time for birding. We arrived after dark and were well happy with our decision to leave this area slightly earlier than planned. Given that we had virtually cleaned up on the regional endemics there, it was a wise choice after all.
Godlewski’s Bunting was a great addition to the list this morning (Nick Athanas)…
….as was the White-browed Tit bringing food to the nest, Tibetan Plateau.
1 June: Chengdu – Wawushan.
On this day we headed for the subtropical forests on the flanks of Wawu Shan or 'Roof Tile' Mountain. Leaving Chengdu we saw our only Crested Myna of the tour. The birding on Wawu Shan is superb with many of the special species that are found on its more popular neighbour Emei Shan, also being found there. Getting there (with more roadworks playing their part in further delays) took a little longer than anticipated, but we were awfully glad to arrive and start birding the excellent forest flanking the quiet road that leads up the mountain. The road covers a range of altitude from around 1128m at the bottom to 1950m at the top end giving a good chance at a number of different groups of birds, ranging from subtropical species at the lower end to temperate forest species at the summit. At the lower end of the road several of these subtropical species were located including Asian Koel, Yellow Wagtail, Besra and Oriental Honey Buzzard which passed overhead, while Collared Finchbills were a regular feature around the restaurant where we lunched, down near the base. A bamboo patch brought a Rufous-faced Warbler as well as a surprise Korean (Yellow-rumped) Warbler. While the afternoon was relatively quiet, as we were returning to the hotel a bizarre squealing and rustling brought to our attention a game bird that shot up into the canopy of the forest. Lo and behold, it was another male Temminck’s Tragopan that perched just long enough for me NOT to get a cracking photo of it. Just how much luck were we going to have with these birds? Other super new birds included several Red-billed Leiothrix and a cooperative Pygmy Wren Babbler as well as Golden-breasted and Streak-throated Fulvettas. As things cooled down we did score two species that most of the participants were dying to see. First of all we spent some time taping in the spectacular endemic, Omei Shan Liocichla (endemic to just two mountains in southern Sichuan), which at first insisted on flying rapidly between the bushes, but eventually succumbed and showed itself on a perch for all to admire the wax-like orange and red patterning on the wings. A little later a small flock of the effervescent and tweetie-like Golden Parrotbills came in to feed at some bamboo. We watched to our heart’s content as these amazing little birds foraged away at arm’s length. Peary even got a great picture using his compact camera and just stretching his arms out for an opportunistic photo!
Fujian Niltavas sang high up in the canopy, Wawu Shan.
2 – 5 June. Wawushan.
We were to spend the next four days exploring the many different altitudes of this magical mountain, including some rarely visited and not easily accessed low-altitude areas. The relatively recently described Emei Leaf-Warbler has a restricted altitudinal range, although within that narrow range it can be fairly common. On our first full morning, upon reaching the prime area for the bird on Wawu, we soon heard one of these great little warblers giving it's highly distinctive call, that helps to separate this species from the otherwise very similar Blyth's Leaf-Warblers also found on the mountain, and soon we all had some good looks at the bird. This species was initially only known from nearby Emei Shan, although has been found at a number of other sites since its discovery, with Wawu Shan holding a sizable breeding population of its own. Other birds noted along the road included a pair of calling Fujian Niltavas. Other new birds included the Wedge-tailed Pigeon a good looking bird that has an even more memorable call, resembling the ramblings of a maniac who’s voice is breaking with whoops and crescendos alternating with clicks and grates.
One of the morning’s will be remembered for the scarce and skittish
Lady Amherst's Pheasants. We had five individuals, including an immature
male, wandering casually into the road. Everybody got great and truly satisfying
look looks at this dazzling pheasant. There was a real buzz amongst the group
as we had expected to struggled a little more for this much-wanted species.
Although this species has been introduced into some countries (notable in
Other birds seen along the road were electric-blue Verditer Flycatchers;
a male Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher of the race that many now split
off as a separate species - Chinese Blue Flycatcher; superb views of
Rusty Laughingthrushes, a normally shy and retiring near-endemic species
that showed unusually well for us; and a pair of skittish but hard-to-see
Red-winged Laughingthrushes that we watched singing away in the roadside
bamboo and a few Himalayan Swiftlets feeding as the clouds pushed the
insects lower and lower. We also spent a fair bit of time at the 2,657m high
summit, getting there by using their self-proclaimed 'most modern cable car
An investigation of some lower areas brought bewildering success and I was really excited by what we discovered lower down in the form of several Black Baza that seemed to be part of a late raptor-flurry moving through on migration. They were joined by many Chinese Goshawks that were displaying as they moved through, a single Crested Goshawk and a lone Grey-faced Buzzard! To add to this, a superb collection of passerines included Plain-tailed Warbler, Black Bulbul, Brown Dipper, Ashy-throated Parrotbill and a quite stunning singing Yellow-throated Bunting that competed with the more vociferous Hwamei’s that, at times, seemed abundant. The vocal Chinese Bamboo-partridges were also flushed as they ran off up a road adding to the bevy of lowland bounties for the day.
Birding Wawu Shan's atmospheric fir forests
at the summit - the haunt of
some really special birds like Grey-hooded & Fulvous Parrotbills and Sichuan Treecreepers.
For our last morning’s birding before our afternoon return to Chengdu, the group decided to return to the lowlands as it seemed to offer us most. While we did not record all that much new, we had more looks at most of the things we had encountered on previous days and then at the 11th hour saw a couple of Brown-breasted Bulbuls that guaranteed that we did not have a liferless day in Sichuan. Also, as we were heading into Chengdu we scored the common but as yet unseen Oriental Magpie Robin which constituted the final new bird of the tour. We then all left for Sichuan's steamy capital, where we had a final and possibly best meal of the trip visiting an internationally famous Sichuan restaurant, where we were treated to a spectacular hot-pot. With sizzling chilli oil on one half and a tasty broth in the other, you have to cook your own goodies and then add cooling (or heating!!) sauces to add flavour. I think it would be fair to say that the bevy of top quality birds combined with the dynamic (if somewhat unique) Chinese hospitality, absolutely gob-smacking scenery, culturally fascinating Tibetan experience, and amazing food made this tour one of the world-favourites amongst the well-travelled participants! If you have not been birding in Sichuan, book now…you just have to go!
Taxonomy and nomenclature follow:
Clements, James F. 2000. Birds of the World: A Checklist. Fifth Edition. Vista, CA: Ibis Publishing Co. Includes recent updates.
All the birds on this list were seen by at least one person in the group other than the leader, except those marked with an 'H' which were only heard. 260 bird species were recorded on the tour.
HERONS, EGRETS AND BITTERNS (Ciconiiformes Ardeidae)
Great Egret (Casmerodius alba)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
DUCKS, GEESE AND SWANS (Anseriformes Anatidae)
Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)
HAWKS, EAGLES AND KITES (Falconiformes Accipitridae)
Black Baza (Aviceda leuphotes)
Black (Black-eared) Kite (Milvus migrans)
Grey-faced Buzzard (Batastur indicus)
Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus)
Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis)
Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus)
Crested Goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus)
Chinese (Sparrowhawk) Goshawk (Accipiter soloensis)
Besra (Accipiter virgatus)
Eurasian (Sparrowhawk) Goshawk (Accipiter nisus)
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilus)
Eurasian Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Upland Buzzard (Buteo hemilasius)
Mountain Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus nipalensis)
FALCONS AND CARACARAS (Falconiformes Falconidae)
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug)
PHEASANTS AND PARTRIDGES (Galliformes Phasianidae)
Snow Partridge (Lerwa lerwa)
Verreaux's (Monal) Partridge (Tetraophasis obscurus)
Tibetan Snowcock (Tetraogallus tibetanus)
Chinese Bamboo-Partridge (Bambusicola thoracica)
Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus)
Temminck's Tragopan (Tragopan temminckii)
Koklass Pheasant (Pucrasia macrolopha)
White Eared-Pheasant (Crossoptilon crossptilon)
Ring-necked (Common) Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)
Golden Pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus)
Lady Amherst's Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae)
CRANES (Gruiformes Gruidae)
Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis)
RAILS, GALLINULES AND COOTS (Gruiformes Rallidae)
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
SANDPIPERS (Charadriiformes Scolopacidae)
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
GULLS (Charadriiformes Laridae)
Brown-headed Gull (Larus brunnicephalus)
Black-headed Gull (Larus rudibundus)
TERNS (Charadriiformes Sternidae)
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus)
PIGEONS AND DOVES (Columbiformes Columbidae)
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
Hill Pigeon (Columba rupestris)
Snow Pigeon (Columba leuconota)
Speckled Wood-Pigeon (Columba hodgsonii)
Oriental Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)
Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
Red Collared Dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica)
Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
Wedge-tailed Pigeon (Treron sphenura)
CUCKOOS (Cuculiformes Cuculidae)
Large Hawk-Cuckoo (Cuculus sparverioides)
Northern (Hodgson's) Hawk-Cuckoo (Cuculus fugax hypertherus)
Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus saturatus)
Lesser Cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus)
Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea)
OWLS (Strigiformes Strigidae)
Oriental Scops-Owl (Otus sunia) H
Collared Owlet (Glaucidium brodei)
Little Owl (Athene noctua)
SWIFTS (Apodiformes Apodidae)
Himalayan Swiftlet (Aerodramus brevirostris)
White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus)
Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift (Apus pacificus)
House Swift (Apus nipalensis)
KINGFISHERS (Coraciiformes Alcedinidae)
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) H
Black-capped Kingfisher (Halcyon pileata)
HOOPOES (Coraciiformes Upupidae)
Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
BARBETS (Piciformes Capitonidae)
Great Barbet (Megalaima virens) H
WOODPECKERS (Piciformes Picidae)
Speckled Piculet (Picumnus innominiatus) H
Darjeeling Woodpecker (Dendrocopos darjellensis)
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos cathpharius)
White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos)
Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)
Gray-faced Woodpecker (Picus canus)
Bay Woodpecker (Blythipicus pyrrhotis)
LARKS (Passeriformes Alaudidae)
Tibetan Lark (Melanocorypha maxima)
Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula)
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
SWALLOWS (Passeriformes Hirundinidae)
Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia)
Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)
Asian Martin (Delichon dasypus)
WAGTAILS AND PIPITS (Passeriformes Motacillidae)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)
Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)
Gray Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Oriental (Paddyfield) Pipit (Anthus rufulus)
Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni)
Rosy Pipit (Anthus roseatus)
CUCKOO-SHRIKES AND MINIVETS (Passeriformes Campephagidae)
Brown-rumped (Swinhoe's) Minivet (Pericrocotus cantonensis)
Long-tailed Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus)
BULBULS (Passeriformes Pycnonotidae)
Collared Finchbill (Spizixos semitorques)
Brown-breasted Bulbul (Pyconotus xanthorrhous)
Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis)
Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus)
KINGLETS (Passeriformes Regulidae)
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
DIPPERS (Passeriformes Cinclidae)
Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasii)
WRENS (Passeriformes Troglodytidae)
Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
ACCENTORS (Passeriformes Prunellidae)
Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris)
Rufous-breasted Accentor (Prunella strophiata)
Maroon-backed Accentor (Prunella immaculata)
THRUSHES (Passeriformes Turdidae)
Blue Rock-Thrush (Monticola solitarius)
Blue Whistling-Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus)
Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Chestnut Thrush (Turdus rubrocanus)
White-backed Thrush (Turdus kessleri)
Chinese (Song) Thrush (Turdus mupinensis)
White-browed Shortwing (Brachypteryx montana)
CITICOLAS AND PRINIAS (Passeriformes Cisticolidae)
Plain Prinia (Prinia inornata)
OLD WORLD WARBLERS (Passeriformes Sylviidae)
Chesnut-headed Tesia (Tesia castaneocoronata)
Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler (Cettia fortipes)
Chestnut-crowned Bush-Warbler (Cettia major)
Aberrant Bush-Warbler (Cettia flavolivacea)
Yellowish-bellied Bush-Warbler (Cettia acanthizoides)
Spotted Bush-Warbler (Bradypterus thoracicus)
Russet Bush-Warbler (Bradypterus seebohmi)
Brown Bush-Warbler (Bradypterus luteoventris)
White-browed Tit-Warbler (Leptopoecile sophiae)
Crested Tit-Warbler (Leptopoecile elegans)
Tickell's Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus affinis)
Buff-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus subaffinis)
Yellow-streaked Warbler (Phylloscopus armandii)
Buff-barred Warbler (Phylloscopus pulcher)
Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis)
Sichuan Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus forresti)
Chinese Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus sichuanensis)
Hume's Warbler (Phylloscopus humei)
Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis)
Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides)
Large-billed Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus magnirostris)
Blyth's Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus reguloides)
Emei Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus emeiensis)
White-tailed Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus davisoni)
Gray-crowned Warbler (Seicercus tephrocephalus)
Bianchi's Warbler (Seicercus valentini)
Plain-tailed Warbler (Seicercus soror)
Chestnut-crowned Warbler (Seicercus castaniceps)
Rufous-faced Warbler (Abroscopus albogularis)
OLD WORLD FLYCATCHERS (Passeriformes Muscicapidae)
Siberian (Dark-sided) Flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica)
Ferruginous Flycatcher (Muscicapa ferruginea)
Korean (Yellow-rumped) Flycatcher (Ficedula zanthopygia)
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher (Ficedula strophiata)
Snowy-browed Flycatcher (Ficedula hyperythra)
Slaty-blue Flycatcher (Ficedula tricolor)
Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassina)
Fujian Niltava (Niltava davidi)
Rufous-bellied Niltava (Niltava sundara)
Blue-throated (Chinese Blue) Flycatcher (Cyornis rubeculoides)
Gray-headed Canary-flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis)
White-tailed (Himalayan) Rubythroat (Luscinia pectoralis)
Firethroat (Luscinia pectardens)
Indian Blue Robin (Luscinia brunnea)
Red-flanked Bluetail (Orange-flanked Bush-Robin) (Tarsiger cyanurus)
Golden Bush-Robin (Tarsiger chrysaeus)
White-browed Bush-Robin (Tarsiger indicus)
Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Hodgson's Redstart (Phoenicurus hodgsoni)
White-throated Redstart (Phoenicurus schisticeps)
Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus)
Blue-fronted Redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis)
White-capped Redstart (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus)
Plumbeous Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosus)
White-tailed Robin (Cinclidium leucurum)
Grandala (Grandala coelicolor)
Slaty-backed Forktail (Enicurus schistaceus)
White-crowned Forktail (Enicurus leschenaulti)
Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maura)
Gray Bushchat (Saxicola ferrea)
MONARCHS (Passeriformes Monarchidae)
Asian Paradise-Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi)
Black-naped Monarch (Hypothymis azurea)
BABBLERS (Passeriformes Timaliidae)
Pere David's (Plain) Laughingthrush (Garrulax davidi)
Spotted Laughingthrush (Garrulax ocellatus)
Barred Laughingthrush (Garrulax lunulatus)
Giant Laughingthrush (Garrulax maximus)
Rusty Laughingthrush (Garrulax poecilorhynchus)
Hwamei (Garrulax canorus)
White-browed Laughingthrush (Garrulax sannio)
Elliot's Laughingthrush (Garrulax elliotii)
Black-faced Laughingthrush (Garrulax affinis)
Red-winged Laughingthrush (Garrulax formosus)
Gray-faced (Emei Shan) Liocichla (Liocichla omeiensis)
Spot-breasted Scimitar-Babbler (Pomatorhinus erythrocnemis)
Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler (Pomatorhinus ruficollis)
Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler (Pnoepyga albiventer)
Pygmy Wren-Babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla)
Rufous-capped Babbler (Stachyris ruficeps)
Chinese Babax (Babax lanceolatus)
Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea)
Golden-breasted Fulvetta (Alcippe chrysotis)
Streak-throated Fulvetta (Alcippe cinereiceps)
Gray-cheeked Fulvetta (Alcippe morrisonia)
Stripe-throated Yuhina (Yuhina gularis)
White-collared Yuhina (Yuhina diademata)
PARROTBILLS (Passeriformes Paradoxornithidae)
Great Parrotbill (Conostoma oemodium)
Three-toed Parrotbill (Paradoxornis paradoxus)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill (Paradoxornis webbianus)
Ashy-throated Parrotbill (Paradoxornis alphonsianus)
Gray-hooded Parrotbill (Paradoxornis zappeyi)
Fulvous Parrotbill (Paradoxornis fulvifrons)
Golden Parrotbill (Paradoxornis verreauxi)
LONG-TAILED TITS (Passeriformes Aegithalidae)
Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus)
Sooty Tit (Aegithalos fuliginosus)
CHICKADEES AND TITS (Passeriformes Paridae)
Songar Tit (Poecile songara)
White-browed Tit (Poecile superciliosa)
Pere David's Tit (Poecile davidi)
Coal Tit (Periparus ater)
Rufous-vented Tit (Periparus rubidiventris)
Yellow-bellied Tit (Pardaliparus venustulus)
Gray-crested Tit (Lophophanes dichrous)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus)
Yellow-browed Tit (Sylviparus modestus)
Ground Tit/Hume's Groundpecker (Pseudopodoces humilis)
NB. Traditionally thought to be allied with the crow family, this has recently been found to be genetically closely related to tits (hard to believe looking at this quirky bird), and is now accordingly grouped with them.
NUTHATCHES (Passeriformes Sittidae)
Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
Chestnut-vented Nuthatch (Sitta nagaensis)
CREEPERS (Passeriformes Certhiidae)
Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
Sichuan Treecreeper (Certhia tianquanensis)
PENDULINE TITS (Passeriformes Remizidae)
Fire-capped Tit (Cephalopyrus flammiceps)
SUNBIRDS AND SPIDERHUNTERS (Passeriformes Nectariniidae)
Gould's Sunbird (Aethopyga gouldiae)
WHITE-EYES (Passeriformes Zosteropidae)
Chestnut-flanked White-eye (Zosterops erythropleurus)
Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus)
SHRIKES (Passeriformes Laniidae)
Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus)
Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus)
Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)
Gray-backed Shrike (Lanius tephronotus)
DRONGOS (Passeriformes Dicruridae)
Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)
Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus)
Hair-crested Drongo (Dicrurus hottentottus)
CROWS AND JAYS (Passeriformes Corvidae)
Sichuan Jay (Perisoreus intermigrans)
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyana)
Blue Magpie (Urocissa erythrorhyncha)
Eurasian (Black-billed) Magpie (Pica pica)
Eurasian Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Yellow-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)
Daurian Jackdaw (Corvus dauuricus)
Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
STARLINGS (Passeriformes Sturnidae)
Crested Myna (Acridotheres cristatellus)
OLD WORLD SPARROWS (Passeriformes Passeridae)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
Rock Petronia (Petronia petronia)
Black-winged (Tibetan) Snowfinch (Montifringilla adamsi)
WAXBILLS AND ALLIES (Passeriformes Estrildidae)
White-rumped Munia (Lonchura striata)
FINCHES, SISKINS, CROSSBILLS (Passeriformes Fringillidae)
Plain Mountain-Finch (Leucosticte nemoricola)
Black-headed Mountain-Finch (Leucosticte brandti)
Dark-breasted Rosefinch (Carpodacus nipalensis)
Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus)
Beautiful Rosefinch (Carpodacus pulcherrimus)
Pink-rumped Rosefinch (Carpodacus eos)
Vinaceous Rosefinch (Carpodacus vinaceus)
White-browed Rosefinch (Carpodacus thura)
Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
Twite (Carduelis flavirostris)
Tibetean Siskin (Serinus tibeteanus)
Gray-headed Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythaca)
White-winged Grosbeak (Mycerobas carnipes)
BUNTINGS, SEEDEATERS, ALLIES (Passeriformes Emberizidae)
Slaty Bunting (Latoucheornis siemsseni)
Godlewski's Bunting (Emberiza godlewskii)
Yellow-throated Bunting (Emberiza xanthophloeus)