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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
A winter birding trip to China, 1-18 January 2005,
(Beijing area; Poyang Hu (Jianxi) and Wawu Shan (Sichuan): Parrotbills, Forktails and Ibisbills
Visited sites: Zhongshan and Jingshan Park, Songshan mtn, Long Qing Xia, Badaling and Mutianyu Great Wall sites, Xialongmen, Pearl Lake, Huairou reservoir, Bei He river (all in or within easy reach of Beijing); Yiyang, Da Hu, Sha Hu, Heng Hu, Nan Ji Shan, Yun Shan (Cloud Mtn) (Poyang Hu area, Jianxi); Wawu Shan, Qingyi Jiang river south of Hongya, Cao Yu Tan reservoir, Renmin Park in Chengdu (Sichuan).
Participants: Remco Hofland (reporter), Chris Quispel (both The Netherlands) and Nan Zang (China, living in The Netherlands; only birding at Beijing (Jan 3rd) and Poyang Hu area)
Highlights: Swan Goose, Taiga Bean Goose ssp. ‘middendorffii’, Mandarin Duck, Scaly-sided Merganser, Three-toed Woodpecker ssp. ‘funebris’, Crested Kingfisher, Siberian White Crane, Ibisbill, Oriental White Stork, Long-tailed Shrike ‘fuscatus’ (dark morph), Dusky and Naumann’s Thrush; Little, Slaty-backed, White-crowned and Spotted Forktail; White-browed Hill Warbler, Japanese Swamp-Warbler, Red-winged Laughingthrush, Golden-breasted Fulvetta; Brown, Grey-headed, Vinous-throated, Ashy-throated, Fulvous and Grey-hooded Parrotbill; Siberian Accentor, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Yellow-browed Bunting.
Top-3: Red-winged Laughingthrush, Scaly-sided Merganser, White-browed Hill Warbler (RH).
Birds not seen: Brown Eared-Pheasant (HO), Hooded and White-naped Crane (apparently easier in November), Sichuan Treecreeper (apparently not present at Wawu Shan in winter).
Introduction: The main reason for a trip to China was visiting my girlfriend Nan, originally from Beijing and doing her internship there. However, as she could not accompany me on a two-week trip, I invited a long-time birding trip companion, Chris Quispel, to come along. Together we decided to visit the following sites:
For anyone with a special interest in wildfowl, the huge Poyang Hu area is, in winter, a must. The huge numbers of wildfowl are quite impressing, even when one’s from The Netherlands where 100,000s of ducks and geese are found each winter. An additional reason for visiting Poyang Hu are the large number of endangered birds one can see, of which Siberian White, Hooded and White-naped Cranes, Oriental White Stork, Swan Goose, Japanese Swamp Warbler and Scaly-sided Merganser (the latter only at nearby Yiyang) are the most noteworthy. There’s also a (small) chance of seeing Swinhoe’s (Asian Yellow) Crake.
NOTE that Great Bustard and Lesser White-fronted Goose are also mentioned for the site in the only book on Chinese birds, MacKinnon & Phillips’ Birds of China, however, the former is almost extinct in China and has not been seen in the Poyang area for the last 20 years, while Lesser White-fronted Goose apparently now winters further west, at Dongting lakes.
Sichuan province, the centre for endemic birds in SW China, is usually visited in summer. However, as most of the good birds found there are resident species (like pheasants, parrotbills and laughingthrushes, our favorites), we felt a winter trip should produce at least some of these specialties. Two of the most famous Sichuan sites, E’mei Shan and Wolong Panda Reserve, were considered, however, we decided on a visit to Wawu Shan, as it appeared to never have been visited before in winter and it is apparently a good site for parrotbills and laughingthrushes (see the tripreport on “Mabian Dafengding & Wawu Shan, Sichuan” by Björn Anderson, available from www.eurobirding.com). Moreover, we guessed that all three sites would be prone to large quantities of snow in winter and we figured Wawu Shan might be the easiest to explore from one site (either the plateau or the bottom hotel). As it turned out, the site is a must for forktail-enthusiasts (see Notes on sites visited). Two sought-after endemics found here (at least in summer) are Sichuan Treecreeper and Grey-hooded Parrotbill.
Preparation: On www.eurobirding.com, I studied China trip reports in detail, especially the ones posted by Björn Anderson (hereafter: BA), a Swedish birder living in Beijing. As nearly half of the trip would be spent in Beijing, several sites were chosen where sightseeing could be combined with some good birding. BA was contacted for first-hand information, and he offered to come birding for a day, an offer that was gladly accepted.
Other good tripreports on Poyang Hu are the ones by Steve Bale (Jan 2002) and Graham Talbot (Dec 2000).
NOTE that this tripreport is posted belatedly. I have published another tripreport about a visit to Wawu Shan in May 2006 (posted on www.birdtours.co.uk and www.lauwersmeer.com) that has more info on this interesting and productive site.
Travel arrangements: We flew KLM Royal Dutch Airlines from Amsterdam to Beijing for ca € 600 return. Air China was used for domestic flights Beijing – Nanchang (3 tickets); Nanchang – Beijing (1, NZ); Nanchang – Chengdu (2) and Chengdu – Beijing (2). We paid 7260 yuen / around € 700 for these 8 flights, which were arranged through a travel agency in Beijing with the help of NZ’s father. Tickets were delivered at the hotel and paid in cash yuen.
We prearranged transport between Chengdu airport – Wawu Shan return (about 4 hrs one-way), using a small 4WD provided by the travel agency of Sam’s Guesthouse in Chengdu (where we also stayed a night, much recommended): firstname.lastname@example.org. For this we paid 1200 yuen / around € 110 return; on the first leg Sam threw in an interpreter who was helpful when we weren’t allowed onto Wawu Shan mountain and had to arrange overnight stay at the Grand Hotel. Using a 4WD is recommended, at least in winter, as there were quite heavy roadworks in various places, resulting in muddy, slippery roads.
Transport between the entrance to Wawu Shan and the chairlift, around 18 kms up from the entrance, was with either a spacious 4WD or a bus, price included in entrance fee of 184 yuen / € 16.5 per person.
According to taximeter, a half-hr one-way trip from Beijing Capital Airport into downtown Beijing should cost around 84 yuen / € 8; more likely, however, one is asked to pay anything up from 150 yuen.
Accommodation: In Beijing, we stayed at the adequate Yuan Yang (‘Ocean’) Hotel, Dong Si South Street 198, downtown Beijing (tel no +86-10-6522 8888). Cost was 300 yuen / € 27 for a double room; this was however a special rate as NZ’s father knew the manager.
In Yiyang, we stayed at Jin Da Hotel, which cost 3400 yuen / € 33 for a double room*.
In Nanchang, we stayed at Ai De Hotel, which probably cost around € 30 for a double room*.
Atop the Wawu Shan plateau, we stayed at a wooden bungalow next to the Xiang Er Hotel, 330 yuen / € 30. Lower down we stayed at the Grand Hotel that, in the absence of (other) guests, did not feel the need to heat their rooms, even though it was well below zero. Also regular power-cuts. Special price however, a double room costing 120 yuen / € 10 for our first and 180 yuen / € 16.5 for the other nights. Other hotels are found at Wawu Shan village: DuKe, for example, stayed at the white restaurant (the one with Red-winged Laughers in the garden!) for a few euros a night.
In Chengdu we stayed at the recommended over-100-year-old building of Sam’s Guesthouse, which was properly heated and cost a cheap 100 yuen / € 9 for a spacious double room with garden view.
* These were included in mr Lin’s all-in price (see Notes on sites visited, Poyang Hu).
Notes on sites visited: On Jan 2nd, Nan and RH paid a brief visit to Zhongshan Park, just west of the main entrance to the Forbidden City in downtown Beijing. Good birds found there were Azure-winged Magpie (s)sp. interposita, Oriental Greenfinch, White-cheeked Starling and a possible male Japanese Grosbeak. Great Spotted Woodpeckers (ssp. cabanisi) and Large-billed Crows were also seen.
For his free Monday, Jan 3rd, Bjorn chose to visit Songshan, a mountain reserve 2 hrs northwest of Beijing, and Nan and RH gladly came along. As it turned out, the reserve was closed to visitors (“fire hazard”, yet the coldest day of the trip) but still the slopes just below the gate yielded some good birds like Siberian Accentor, Songar Tit, Vinous-throated Parrotbill and Chinese (White-browed) Hill Warbler.
Nearby Long Qing Xia, a site where people were busy preparing an ‘ice sculpture festival’, was located between steep scrubby hillsides, where we encountered Père David’s Laughingthrush, Chinese (White-browed) Hill Warbler and Songar Tit, and heard Common Pheasant.
Early afternoon was spent at Badaling, the most commonly visited Great Wall site, where many of the aforementioned specialties can be found. New for the list here were two flushed Common Pheasants and a small flock of Yellow-throated Buntings; great views of Père David’s Laughingthrush were also had.
On Jan 4th, Nan, RH and CQ strolled through Jingshan Park, just north of the Forbidden City in downtown Beijing. Here, a very tame Yellow-billed (Chinese) Grosbeak was found, along with two Pine Buntings and several dozens of scaly-red ‘dusky thrushes’ with rufous tails, indicating they were most probably Naumann’s Thrushes Turdus eunomus naumanni. However, we cannot rule out the fact that there were also Dusky T. e. eunomus x Naumann’s T. e. naumanni integrades present. Moreover, at least one clear male Dusky Thrush was present. Azure-winged Magpies were abundant.
On Jan 15th, mr Li Hai Tao (email@example.com) agreed taking CQ and RH to Xialongmen, about 2.5 hrs southwest of Beijing, to try for the endangered Brown Eared-Pheasant. This being a clear but cold day, we heard some as we flushed them from a hillside, but didn’t see them. Good birds found here included Songar Tit, Chinese Nuthatch and ‘vinaceus’ Long-tailed Tit. Nearby Donglingshan produced CQ’s first Siberian Accentors, while good views of Godlewski’s and Meadow Bunting were also much appreciated. As agreed in advance, we paid 400 yuen / € 35 for the day. We were accompanied by three other Chinese birders, of which I had contacted Lei Jinyu (firstname.lastname@example.org) about the pheasants prior to the trip.
On our way back to Beijing, we visited Pearl Lake, where we saw Mandarin Duck and two Black Storks (apparently wintering this far north) and heard Vinous-throated Parrotbills.
Mutianyu Great Wall site, north of Beijing, was our target for Jan 16th, combined with Huairou reservoir. Mutianyu unfortunately didn’t produce any Père David’s Laughingthrush, a species which CQ therefore missed, but Chinese Nuthatch and Red-billed Blue Magpie were found. A confiding Crested Kingfisher along the road made up for it, though. Although Huairou reservoir was completely frozen, an adult White-tailed Eagle meant one of CQ’s highlights, and we also found Chinese (White-browed) Hill Warbler here. The scrub north of the Kuan Gou Hotel, SE corner of Huairou reservoir, proved good for passerines such as Red-flanked Bush-robin, Little Bunting (both not expected to winter this far north), Chinese (White-browed) Hill Warbler, Marsh and Long-tailed Tit.
A tip from Björn put us on the track of a site for Ibisbill: he had seen 9 at Bei He river, 2 hrs north of Beijing, on Jan 9th. Although not a new bird for either, we decided to give this site a go on Jan 17th, and found 6 confiding Ibisbills, along with Brown Dipper and Smew. A map indicating the site is found at http://126.96.36.199/doc/sichuan0506.pdf.
NOTE that this site turned out to be reliable for Ibisbill right through 2005 and 2006. A pair with two pulli was observed here in May 2005 (cf the article in Dutch Birding, vol. 27, no 5 (2005).
The huge Poyang Hu area is best visited with someone who knows all the sites. Björn advised me to get in contact with professor He Fen-qi (email@example.com), who in turn recommended we hire mr Lin Jian-sheng (mobile 0086-13807001872). Mr Lin Jian-sheng doesn’t speak a word of English, but he is a keen birder who knows the local sites (including the site for Scaly-sided Merganser and, not visited by us, the Wuyuan area (that holds Elliott’s Pheasant, Pied Falconet and the very localised Blue-crowned Laughingthrush Dryonastes courtoisi (formerly regarded at the ‘courteoisi’ race of Yellow-throated Laughingthrush) and Wuyishan (Cabot’s Tragopan) like the back of his hand. Mr Lin’s price was 800 yuen / € 73 per day, including a roomy van. We paid him 6,000 yuen / € 545 for 5 days of guiding, rental car, gas, toll, all hotels and meals for 4 (CQ, RH, NZ and mr Lin).
As my Nelles Verlag map of the area was useless, I have no real clue where the areas we visited are located exactly. As I have written down their names and most had a specific avifauna, I’ll give some details anyway. The Nelles Verlag map shows Poyang Hu as one gigantic lake, however, this is only true in summer. In winter water levels are down by as much as 11m, and 9 “small” lakes are all that are left, interspersed with mudflats and bogs/wet grassland.
A gravel-extracting site in the Hetambu river, half an hour drive southwest of Yiyang (Jiangxi), which in turn is around 3 hrs drive southeast of Nanchang, is where one can find wintering (Chinese) Scaly-sided Merganser. The site is a slow-moving river about 80m wide with few gravel banks. The birds, although found 300m west and east of the small-scale gravel works, did not seem to be very disturbed by people working. Up to 40 birds can be found here in winter; late morning is apparently best. We also encountered a Collared Owlet, Yellow-throated and Black-faced Buntings, Daurian Redstarts, Pallas’s Leaf Warblers, Dusky Thrushes and Brown Crakes. Mr Lin Jian-sheng heard Masked Laughingthrush (while CQ and I were chasing buntings) but failed to mention this until we were already on our way to Poyang Hu.
NOTE that the gravel-extracting seems to have increased in the winter of 2006-2007, and birds are apparently less reliable here.
Da Hu, which we visited on Jan 7th, is a huge protected lake (partly) overseen by a watchtower. Fog can be a problem in this area and although we could see for about 2 km, the many distant Bewick’s Swans and Oriental White Storks were hard to see well. Fortunately we saw some (storks) up close, as well as Swan Goose (only in flight, quite well however), Common Cranes, Siberian White Cranes (in flight only) and Japanese Swamp Warbler.
Sha Hu is probably opposite, but took about 2 hrs to reach from Da Hu. Here, too, were enormous amounts of birds, mostly Bewick’s Swans, Greater White-fronted Geese, Eurasian Spoonbills and 72 Oriental White Storks.
Late afternoon of Jan 7th was spent on Yun Shan (Cloud Mountain), found west of the highway north from Nanchang. Good birds seen halfway the ‘mountain’ included a mixed species flock holding Speckled Piculet, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Rufous-capped Babbler, Yellow-bellied Tit, Japanese White-eye and Collared Finchbill, while nearby a flock of Chestnut Bulbuls and a single White-crowned Forktail were seen. Mr Lin Jian-sheng also saw Mountain Bulbul, while lower down we found a group of most wanted Yellow-browed Buntings.
Saturday Jan 8th was spent at Nan Ji Shan nature reserve, dry in winter but flooded in summer, so that the two remote villages Nan and Ji become islands. Larger flocks (of up to 107) Common Cranes were found here, as well as Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, Pied Kingfisher, Oriental White Stork, Great Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron and Japanese Swamp Warbler. Mr Lin Jian-sheng also saw Chinese Penduline Tit.
Approaching Nan Ji Shan nature reserve, one drives along a straight road for kms on end (along which we saw Black Stork and Chinese Pond Heron), finally ending at a dyke. On this scrub-fringed dyke (visited by us in late afternoon) many buntings were found: we saw Little, Rustic, Chestnut-eared, Black-faced and Yellow-throated Buntings.
Between 10 and 11.30 am on Jan 9th was spent at Heng Hu, found about an hour drive north of Changbei Airport north of Nanchang. This site appears to be the western fringe of Poyang Hu, just south of the Can Kiang river. Marshy grassland dotted with creeks and ponds could be seen from a huge dyke, and several flocks of cranes were found – albeit the ones we’d already seen, Common and Siberian White. Quite a big flock (220+) of the latter included several dancing. That was actually how they could be identified, as, being over 2 km away, their black wingtips gave them away. Over 220 Oriental White Storks were also present.
Jan 10th we found ourselves at the foot of Wawu Shan mountain, S Sichuan, located about 70 km south of the town Hongya, west of the famous E’mei Shan mountain. Entry fee (incl bus or 4WD transportation to the chairlift) was 184 yuen / € 16.5 per person. After having reached the plateau (altitude at an estimated 2,800m; reached by ca 40 mins public 4WD up from the Grand Hotel; 35 mins of near-vertical chairlift over the snowcovered spruce trees; 20 mins walk through the snow towards the Xiang Er Hotel), a 6-hr walk produced only six species of birds: Streak-throated Fulvetta (3), Rufous-vented Tit (3), Three-toed Woodpecker of the distinct ssp. funebris (a drumming male) and Brown (3 flocks of about 8), Fulvous (2 flocks of about 20) and Grey-hooded Parrotbills (a flock of 4). Of these, 4 (RH) respectively 5 (CQ) were lifers, so it was actually not bad at all. We had, however, hoped for more birds (incl the endemic Sichuan Treecreeper), so when the following morning didn’t produce any birds (apart from Grey-crested and Coal Tit (of the local long-crested ssp. aemodius) we decided to head down the mountain.
Jan 11th and 12th, as well as the morning of 13th, were spent roadside-birding at the foot of Wawu Shan mountain between the Grand Hotel and about 6 km up from there (altitude probably between 1,200 and 1,400m). Quite often it was snowing or raining and thus cold, keeping vocal birds to a minimum. However, some good birds were seen, such as Bay and Crimson-breasted Woodpecker (singles along the ‘side-road’ starting from the entrance), Red-winged Laughingthrush (in the ‘gardens’ of Wawu village), White-browed Laughingthrush (3, startled by a Crested Goshawk, along the ‘side-road’), Grey-headed Parrotbill (several flocks of up to 120 birds), Ashy-throated Parrotbill (a flock of over 50, in low bamboo bordering the ‘side-road’ several bends up from the river), Golden-breasted Fulvetta (three small flocks, on one date only), White-browed Bush-Robin (a male next to the Grand Hotel, with a female higher up along the road), Green Shrike-Babbler (just one, in a mixed flock containing over 30 White-browed Shrike-Babblers) and Grey-headed Bullfinch (mostly higher up the mountain). Grey-cheeked Fulvetta (of the non-browed ssp. davidi) and Red-billed Leiothrix proved common, whereas on all dates 4 species of forktail Enicurus were seen: Little, Spotted, Slaty-backed and White-crowned.
On our way back towards Chengdu, in the early afternoon of Jan 13th, we visited Cao Yu Tan reservoir. DuKe, a Chinese birdwatcher from Chengdu who we’d met at Wawu Shan, knew how to get there and told us about larg(ish) numbers of wildfowl found there. Hoping for Falcated or Mandarin Duck we gave it a go, but only small numbers of familiar Eurasian ducks were found. However, Ferruginous Duck (single male) was nice, and Goldeneye (several) was a new bird for DuKe. In the trees bordering the road a flock of Black-chinned Yuhinas were new to the (Dutch) both of us, and a small flock of Ashy-throated Parrotbills was seen near the dam. Cao Yu Tan reservoir is located about half an hr drive west of the Hongya – Wawu Shan road; the turn-off being found at the market in a village. DuKe might be able to help pin-point the exact location, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Qingyi Jiang river, just south of Hongya, is a 500m-wide boulder-strewn river that looks like excellent habitat for Ibisbill and Crested Kingfisher. When checking the riversides and boulderbanks, all we found however were more Eurasian ducks, along with Long-billed and Kentish Plovers and Grey, Masked (M. (alba) personata) and Himalayan (M. (alba/lugens) alboides) Wagtails.
Legend: HO = heard only; hr(s) = hour(s); sev = several; UTV’s = untickable views; prob. = probably; incl = including; NW = northwest (etc)