Our second tour of South-east China was once again a great success. This wonderful itinerary to an under-appreciated part of China provides a great opportunity to see some very rare wintering birds plus a number of south-eastern Chinese specialties. We saw a total of 192 species with an additional four species heard only and one leader-only species. Our tour began north of Shanghai where we saw some of the first returning Red-crowned Cranes, plus Reed Parrotbill, Baer’s Pochard, Chinese Grey Shrike and a fine assortment of wintering buntings. At Poyang Hu we marveled at flocks of cranes that included Hooded, White-naped and Siberian all of which were seen very well. Amongst the wintering geese flocks we encountered small numbers of Lesser White-fronted plus large numbers of White-fronted, Bean and Swan. A couple of late lingering Oriental Pratincoles were a surprise here and we moved on to the Wuyuan area where Pied Falconet and Scaly-sided Merganser were amongst the highlights. Since we last offered this itinerary we have added a visit to Emei Feng which proved highly successful with wonderful views of Silver and Koklass Pheasants and superb Cabot’s Tragopan among the many highlights. Finally we finished the tour with a flourish with a visit to the Minjiang Estuary where we saw Black-faced Spoonbill and that much desired species Spoon-billed Sandpiper. As always China leaves me with a feeling of wanting to get back at the earliest opportunity and our next departure will be in January 2016.
A gallery of images from this tour can be found on our Facebook page .
7th/8th November: London to Shanghai. Xiao Yang Kou.
Weather: Overcast with intermittent rain. Cool.
We all met at London Heathrow's Terminal 5 and took a British Airways flight direct to Shanghai. Arrival was only a few minutes behind schedule and we were soon clear of the formalities of entering China, had met up with our local guide and were on our way north from Shanghai. The weather was dreary and grey with intermittent rain. Our progress was slowed by heavy traffic, but after a lunch stop we had reached our hotel a little before 3pm. Not far from our hotel we had a short exploration of some patches of reeds where we quickly found one of the specialties of the region as at least two Reed Parrotbills showed quite nicely. Black-faced and a brief Elegant Bunting, plus Daurian Redstart, Siberian Stonechat and a Chinese Pond Heron were all early additions to the list. Moving to a couple of small areas of bushes and trees more tasty species were added with Pallas's and Yellow-browed Warblers posing alongside one another, Red-flanked Bluetail, Rustic Bunting and at least four Hoopoes showing nicely. Further along we improved on our views of Elegant Bunting, and then added Little Bunting, Greenshank, Dunlin, Curlew and some smart Dusky Thrushes. With dusk falling and the tiredness from the journey catching up with us we headed back to the hotel, took an early dinner and then had an early night.
9th: November: Xiao Yang Kou. Yancheng.
Weather: Bright and sunny with variable cloud and a light breeze. Cool.
We began the day with a pre-breakfast walk in the same area we had visited the previous evening. Many of the same species were still evident, but looked rather better in the sunshine! We enjoyed very satisfying views of Pallas's Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Elegant and Rustic Buntings. New birds for the list predictably followed quickly with Red-billed and White-cheeked Starlings showing nicely. Brambling, Little Bunting, Pale Thrush, Chinese Grosbeak were other passerines to put in their first appearance, whilst out on the mudflats an Eastern Curlew was present along with Grey Plover and various other common waders.
After breakfast we headed for Yancheng. There were a few commoner species added to the list along the way, but little of significance until we reached our destination. A sizeable flock of Avocets were present along with a bunch of Mongolian Gulls. We explored some fishponds where throngs of Coots, Pochards and smaller numbers of Tufted Ducks were joined by one Baer's Pochard. We all enjoyed excellent views of this, now sadly, very rare and rapidly declining species. Good numbers of Whiskered Terns included a few White-winged Black Terns, whilst Yellow Wagtails were of the 'Green-headed' form taivana. The next pond hosted a large mass of Mallard with Pintail, Shoveler and Chinese Spot-billed Duck were present.
A large reedy fringed pool hosted many of the same duck species but Goosanders were new and a sizeable flock of Spoonbills were roosting. An Oriental White Stork was a pleasing find here whilst overhead small groups of Tundra Bean Geese were moving between feeding areas. Finally as the light was beginning to fade we had distant views of Red-crowned and Common Cranes, with a couple of Oriental Storks also in the same areas of fields. A fitting note on which to end a most enjoyable day.
10th November: Yancheng.
Weather: Bright and sunny, although a little hazy at times. Pleasantly mild in the middle of the day, but cool early morning and evening.
The day began with an exploration of the farmland habitats that are home to wintering flocks of cranes. Although readily found the Common Cranes were a bit tricky to get to grips with, small groups were scattered around the area and often difficult to see on the ground. With perseverance we enjoyed good views of these magnificent birds and importantly managed to find Red-crowned and a surprise Siberian White Crane which performed nicely albeit in less than perfect light conditions.
The ditches and field edges were frequented by large numbers of buntings with Pallas's Reed by far the most numerous. Rustic and Little were also seen well and a couple of Japanese Reed Buntings were also well received. Three Japanese Quail were seen dropping into a rice field and the patches of reeds produced nice views of Reed Parrotbills and a flyover Bittern. At least one female Hen Harrier was seen on a couple of occasions. Exploring further afield we found more Common Cranes but little else. However on the return for lunch we found a cracking Chinese Grey Shrike on wires by the roadside and were able to enjoy some nice scope views.
After a lunch of noodles we returned to the duck flocks as we went in search of Baikal Teal. Unfortunately our luck was out again, but some smart drake Falcated Ducks were very welcome and three Eastern Marsh Harriers and an Eastern (Japanese) Buzzard were also new. Back at the previous day's pochard flock we saw two Baer's Pochards and a dodgy looking hybrid. A flock of White-fronted Geese flew directly overhead and we had more views of Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns.
11th November: Yancheng. Drive to Shanghai Airport. Flight to Nanchang and onward travel to Yongxiu.
Weather: A chilly start with hazy sunshine becoming increasingly cloudy.
The day began with a rather chilly and misty pre-breakfast walk at some botanic gardens on the edge of town. Unfortunately it was a little disappointing with the birds slow to get active. Blackbird and Black-throated Tits were new for the list, but the views were nothing to shout about. Pallas's and Yellow-browed Warbler, Goldcrest and Black-faced Buntings were all noted before we headed for breakfast. After breakfast we headed back to the rice fields where we had better views of four Red-crowned Cranes, a smart Chinese Grey Shrike and plenty more Rustic and Pallas's Reed Buntings. Finally a fourth attempt to find Baikal Teal unfortunately ended up with the same result as previous attempts. A flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills showed nicely at close range but there was little else of particular note before it was time to move on and begin our journey to Shanghai. Unfortunately a road closure due to a bicycle race sent us on a diversion that ended in a dead end and we had to retrace our route, losing an hour in the process. However a speedy drive and clear roads meant that we arrived for our flight only a little behind schedule and we were able to check-in in good time. The flight was a little late to depart, but we arrived more or less on time in Nanchang at 2000hrs. After a meal at a restaurant near the airport we headed to our hotel where we arrived at around 2200hrs.
12th November: Poyang Hu.
Weather: Cloudy with sunny spells. Mild middle of the day.
After breakfast in our hotel we made the relatively short journey to Poyang Hu where we enjoyed an excellent day's birding. As we crossed the causeway en-route to Wucheng we paused for a little flurry of pipits that included Water and Red-throated, plus our first Oriental Skylarks. Flocks of Common Cranes were flying about and it was not long before we saw our first Siberian Cranes. Small groups of Bewick's Swans were flying to and fro overhead and flocks of geese included Taiga Bean, Greylag and White-fronted with, a little later on, our first Swan Geese flying over. A visit to a viewing tower yielded our first Brown-flanked Bush-warbler plus Pallas's Warbler and Red-flanked Bluetail whilst Chinese Hwamei sang unseen from dense scrub and a little further down the road White-throated Kingfisher.
We checked into our hotel whilst we waited for our boatman to arrive and then headed out to the point where we could board the boat. A picnic lunch was enjoyed in pleasantly warm sunshine (such a contrast to the cold, wet and overcast conditions experienced last time I was here) and then headed across the river on the boat. A Ruddy Shelduck was near the launching point and then once at our destination we had a lengthy walk in order to reach the water and the birds. Here we enjoyed a lovely afternoon in the company of White-naped, Hooded and Siberian Cranes all of which we could watch at length. Wheeling flocks of waders included large numbers of Spotted Redshanks (1200+!) and additions to the list in the form of Kentish Plover and Marsh Sandpiper. A female Merlin streaked through causing the waders to spook, whilst in the distance we saw large numbers of Spoonbills and a fair few Oriental Storks. As we returned to the bus we added Pied Kingfisher and a brief walk near the hotel offered up a Black-collared Starling.
13th November: Poyang Hu.
Weather: Cloudy and rather windy in the early morning, becoming pleasantly warm with clear skies and sunshine by midday.
An early pre-breakfast walk in the trees near our hotel kicked off proceedings for the day. Unfortunately overcast skies and quite a strong wind made for difficult birding and after half an hour or so we had seen little. On the verge of heading off to breakfast we located a Grey-backed Thrush which performed nicely and then we enjoyed some nice views of Chinese Grosbeak and Red-billed Starling. After breakfast we headed out in the boat to Sha Hu. Here we spent a most enjoyable morning wandering along the edge of the lake amidst a vast number of birds that included in excess of 120 Siberian Cranes, smaller numbers of Common, Hooded and White-naped Cranes, some Oriental Storks, several hundred Spoonbills, Bewick's Swans and Taiga Bean Geese. Careful scanning of a flock of White-fronted Geese yielded some candidate Lessers. After some careful stalking we eventually manoeuvred ourselves into a position to get some nice views although they were rather skittish. Retracing our steps and sifting through the waders we located some Pacific Golden Plovers and then after a picnic lunch in warm sunshine we continued to look through the waders adding surprises in the form of Ruff and Oriental Pratincole to the list.
We had just about exhausted the realistic possibilities for this particular area so we returned to the bus and then visited an area of fields and scrub where we saw three Brown Crakes, Plain Prinia, a restless flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills, two Black-collared Starling, a showy Yellow-browed Warbler and a couple of White-throated Kingfisher. The final stop of the day was back at the causeway, where we enjoyed the spectacle of feeding flocks of Taiga Bean, Greylag and White-fronted Geese, whilst flocks of Common Cranes and Bewick's Swans flew over and a Eurasian Bittern skimmed the reed tops; a wonderful way in which to end a great day in the field at this truly magnificent wetland.
14th November: Wucheng to Wuyuan with stops in the southern part of Poyang Hu.
Weather: Sunny with clear blue skies and light winds. Chilly early morning.
Today was mainly a travel day as we headed east to Wuyuan. We left at 6am and made a stop for a breakfast of noodles in Yongxiu. Continuing on our journey we made a stop in some rice paddies where we located Chestnut-eared Bunting almost immediately on arrival. Further exploration of the area yielded three more plus good numbers of Black-faced and Elegant with Chinese Grosbeak, Pallas's, Yellow-browed and Brown-flanked Bush-Warblers providing a supporting cast. Exploration of lakes in the area added little of note so we continued our journey, which took us along a freeway where lunch was taken in a service area restaurant and then along some country roads and small towns where the rice harvest was in full swing.
A few stops in another part of Poyang Hu produced more geese, with our best views of some sizeable flocks of Swan Geese. Many of the now familiar Poyang Hu wetland species were present but new for the list were a couple of family parties of Whooper Swans. With time slipping by, we had to keep moving and eventually reached Wuyuan around 1800hrs.
15th November: Wuyuan.
Weather: Sunny with clear blue skies becoming overcast during the day. Chilly early morning.
Our birding in the Wuyuan area began with a visit to a small wooded island where a pre-breakfast walk produced a flurry of new birds. Grey-headed and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpeckers and Yellow-browed Bunting all showed very nicely. A flock of four Mandarin Ducks were less cooperative and gave only flight views, whilst a group of Chinese Bamboo Partridges were only glimpsed by group members. After breakfast we targeted Pied Falconet which duly obliged very nicely in its usual area, although the hoped for point blank range views were not forthcoming. Other new birds in this area included Crested Goshawk, Plumbeous Redstart, Brown Dipper, Grey Wagtail, White-rumped Munia and Collared Finchbill.
After lunch we visited the stretch of river frequented by the rare Scaly-sided Merganser. We saw two flocks almost immediately on arrival, but both flew off! Frustrating. However heading up stream we found one of the groups frequenting the rock-strewn river channel and we were treated to some very nice scope views. Two Long-billed Plovers were feeding on a rocky island and then we spent the rest of the afternoon along a narrow trail through some woodland and fields. This proved a little frustrating with most birds not showing particularly well. However we did manage to have some more good views of Yellow-browed Buntings and a sizeable flock of Bramblings, whilst we also added Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Rufous-capped Babbler and a Chinese Hwamei for some.
16th November: Wuyuan.
Weather: Dull and overcast all day. Mild.
Today we explored a number of valleys characterised by wooded hillsides with agricultural fields in the valley bottoms. It was fairly slow going at times, but we persisted and eventually winkled out a few good species. An early addition to the list was a couple of Streak-breasted Scimitar-babblers sulking through the forest. Chestnut Bulbuls were vocal and eventually we saw some nicely, even if it took rather longer than expected. Flocks of Grey-cheeked Fulvettas were seen nicely and a couple of groups of Black-throated Tits were well received, as were some Grey Treepies. The afternoon walk added Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes, two skulking Grey-sided Scimitar-babblers (although views were not exactly easy to come by and brief at best!), some Grey-chinned Minivets and a Crested Goshawk.
17th November: Wuyuan to Emei Feng with a stop for lunch in Tai Ning.
Weather: Bright and sunny becoming cloudy through the day. Cold at Emei Feng.
Mainly a travel day. We left Wuyuan after breakfast and spent much of the morning and early afternoon travelling the recently built freeways. A marvel of Chinese engineering as much if it was on elevated bridges or passing through long tunnels through the hills and mountains. Few birds were seen although as we neared Tai Ning we added Black-shouldered Kite to the list. A lunch of noodles was taken in Tai Ning and then we headed up to Emei Feng. En-route we followed a rocky river where we found a smart White-crowned Forktail plus Plumbeous Redstart and Grey Wagtail. A Bull-headed Shrike was by the roadside in a small village and a flock of Red-billed Blue Magpies were our first of the trip. Eventually we arrived at the summit of Emei Feng and checked into our rather cold accommodation - home for the next three nights...Brrrrrr!
18th November: Emei Feng.
Weather: Sunny with clear skies all day. Cold in the morning and late afternoon.
Although the total bird list was a very modest one today, it did include some excellent quality. We began the day with a trip in the bus on a 'pheasant safari'. Initially this was certainly not living up to its billing and we had reached the furthest point without seeing anything other than a brief White-crowned Forktail. However, on the way back up the mountain we found a couple of Koklass Pheasants, of which the female was seen feeding quietly amongst the undergrowth and the male was less accommodating. Further up, we saw a superb male Silver Pheasant, always a wonderful sight. After breakfast a Northern Goshawk showed very nicely for some and then we had a walk along a disappointingly quiet trail. Grey Treepie, Chestnut Bulbul, Eurasian Jay, two Streak-breasted Scimitar-babblers and two Tristram's Buntings was about the size of it. After lunch we headed back down the road in the bus. Anne spotted another Silver Pheasant and after getting out for that a bit more rustling a little further down the road proved to be a Cabot's Tragopan. A bit of judicious playback and we were soon enjoying great views of a smart male and nearby we located a female. Superb stuff! We spent much of the afternoon doing short walks at various points along the road. There was little new, although a heard only Pale-headed Woodpecker was something of a frustration and another Koklass Pheasant was seen. A further spell of 'pheasant safari' in the habitat of Elliott's Pheasant proved fruitless although a male Silver Pheasant flying up from the road concluded proceedings after an excellent day.
19th November: Emei Feng.
Weather: Sunny with clear skies becoming cloudy through the afternoon. Cold in the morning but pleasantly warm around the middle of the day at lower elevation.
Our pheasant safari departed a little earlier in the hope of reaching Elliott’s Pheasant habitat a little earlier in the morning. The earlier start made little difference to our success with this species, but we did enjoy a great performance by two groups of Silver Pheasants totaling 15 birds. We again saw Koklass Pheasant and then on the return journey found a busy flock of Grey-headed Parrotbills. After breakfast we enjoyed great views of Indochinese Yuhina, whilst a walk in the vicinity of our accommodation yielded three Buff-throated Warblers, plus Eastern (Japanese) Buzzard, Elegant Bunting and Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler.
Heading back down the mountain we made a few stops and were rewarded with White-bellied Erpornis, Mountain Hawk-eagle and Black Eagle in addition to now more familiar species. Lunch was taken in Xin Qiao. We then checked a number of low elevation sites, where at a stop in some bamboo we encountered a feeding flock that included Rufous-faced Warbler, Grey-chinned Minivet and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker amongst commoner species. A walk in some fields produced our first Siberian Stonechat for a while, Eurasian Jay and poor views of some distant Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes. A stream hosted a couple of Plumbeous Redstarts. The journey back to the accommodation added nothing new, but we did have views of White-crowned Forktail and some more Koklass Pheasants.
20th November: Emei Feng to Fuzhou.
Weather: Sunny with an early morning frost. Warmer in the lowlands and in Fuzhou.
Our final morning at Emei Feng began with a walk near our accommodation. Black-throated Tit, Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Eurasian Jay, showy Chinese Hwamei, Elegant Bunting, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Japanese White-eyes were the main species of interest. After breakfast we head downhill making a couple of stops seeing Silver Pheasant, the briefest glimpse of a Cabot's Tragopan and were taunted by an unresponsive Bay Woodpecker which remained a heard only. The rest of the day was spent on the journey along the highways to Fuzhou where we arrived to check in to our hotel just before 5pm.
21st November: Minjiang Estuary. Fuzhou Forest Park.
Weather: Warm with largely cloudy skies.
One of the most highly desired species of the tour was on the agenda today - the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. We left the hotel after a relatively late 7am breakfast and made the short journey to the Minjiang Estuary where we boarded a small boat and were punted down a tidal channel and out to an island where we were to spend the next three hours searching through the wader flocks. Last time I was here 'Spoonie' kept us waiting for over an hour before I eventually found one amongst the flocks of Dunlin, Sanderling and Red-necked Stints. This time Spoonie kept us waiting even longer! Clearly this global rarity likes to keep you (or me at least!) waiting at this site.
On arrival a sizeable roost of Calidris waders was present. However they were densely packed together and there was no obvious sign of our target. Other birds were of course present and we had at last seen Chinese Penduline Tit well on the boat journey. An Osprey had taken a fish and amongst the Curlew we located a single Far Eastern. A Black-faced Spoonbill was another rare species that we were after and a Black-tailed Gull was with the gulls swimming about offshore. As time passed the tide began to recede and slowly the waders began to leave the roost and feed on the nearby mudflats. Time passed and still no sign of our target. The local guide informed us that we had 30 minutes left before we would have to leave the island and still no sign. So pressure on! But then with about 20 minutes left, a scan of the remaining waders on the roost revealed our quarry. That oh so distinctive bill on view as it was preening on the front edge of the flock. We all enjoyed some nice scope views before it was time to leave. Fantastic! Though next time I would appreciate it if this species does not time its appearance quite so close to the wire!
Delighted with this success we left and had a lunch of noodles in a nearby restaurant and then headed across the city to Fuzhou Forest Park. Here we enjoyed a productive couple of hours and added a significant number of new species that included Fork-tailed Sunbird, Great Barbet, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Slaty-backed Forktail and over 100 Eyebrowed Thrushes.
22nd November: Fuzhou Forest Park. Flight to Shanghai.
Final species total: 192.
Weather: Warm and humid with variable cloud. A little breezy at times.
Our final birding sessions of the tour were spent in the Fuzhou Forest Park where despite the large numbers of local people walking the trails we enjoyed some very pleasant birding. The most striking aspect of the day was the large number of Eyebrowed Thrushes that were present, with hundreds, perhaps a thousand or more present and affording excellent views. We at last got some good views of the skulking and elusive Grey-sided Scimitar-babbler, but White-necklaced Partridges remained heard only. Fork-tailed Sunbird, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and other species were attracted to my imitations of Collared Owlet calls, and indeed we had been using this standard technique to entice forest species into view for a number of days during the tour. Collared Owlets had not been impressed enough to appear though, but perhaps my imitation had improved as we got a response from one and soon were enjoying some nice views of this delightful little owl. After checking out of our hotel we had a late lunch and a short unproductive birding session before heading for the airport where we caught a flight to Shanghai. Foggy conditions caused us to circle the airport for the best part of an hour, so it was a late arrival into the airport hotel where we had a late supper and headed for bed.
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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