Birding trip report Sichuan, China 26 May – 9 June 2011
John van der Woude -
report(below) - species list    -   photos of birding sites   -   bird photos   -   other photos (street life, scenery)

This was a succesful and quite affordable trip. Nollie and I had a great time with our guide and driver Sid Francis. Sid is from the UK but lives near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. He is a serious and enthousiastic birder (employed in field research as well), a good driver, and skilful in logistics. He speaks enough Chinese to bring you anywhere, and where his Chinese was not sufficient, he just took his mobile phone to call his Chinese wife Meggie to have things sorted out. See his He used his own Suzuki van, with untinted windows (a rarity here but much better for birding of course), good ground clearance and ample space for our luggage and scope.

We had a flexible itinerary, so we could decide where to go depending on the weather (which was rather variable) and the road conditions, and depending on what bird species (lifers) we still needed. The highlights we saw were, among others, Severtzov's (Chinese) Grouse, Chinese Monal, Lady Amherst Pheasant, White and Blue Eared Pheasant, Black-necked Crane, Sichuan Jay, Chinese and Kessler's Thrush, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Firethroat, White-bellied, Hodgson's and White-throated Redstart, Przewalski's Nuthatch, Sichuan and Hodgson's Treecreeper, White-browed Tit, Russet and Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler, Crested and White-browed Tit-Warbler, Sichuan, Gansu, Chinese and Emei Leaf Warbler, Plain, Snowy-cheeked, Giant and Red-winged Laughingthrush, Hwamei, Emei Shan Liocichla, Golden-breasted, Chinese and Spectacled Fulvetta, Great, Ashy-throated, Grey-hooded, Fulvous and Golden Parrotbill, Tibetan Lark, Tibetan and Rufous-necked Snowfinch, Maroon-backed Accentor, Tibetan Siskin, Brandt's Mountain Finch, Long-tailed, Vinaceous and Pink-rumped Rosefinch, Slaty Bunting; Tibetan Fox and Pallas's Cat.

Hotels and restaurants were easy to find. We opted for hotels close to the birding sites, which means that they were sometimes a bit simpler than better hotels further away, but always with private bathroom with hot shower, for c. 10 euro to sometimes 30 euro per room (mostly around 15 euro). We preferred to eat in simple but busy restaurants, and never had any stomach problems. In the restaurants we often went straight to the kitchen to see what food they had, and we mostly had delicious tofu dishes with vegetables and rice and a beer, in total for 2 to 3 euro p.p. For the early breakfast we brought some bread and jam etc. into our room (nearly all rooms had water cookers to make tea), or had breakfast in the field. For lunch we sometimes had a meal in a restaurant, but often we had a bread lunch in the field.

Birding and driving went on for most of the daylight hours. We used our telescope quite a few times (for pheasants, raptors etc.), but we chose not to bring it on forest trails. Sid had brought all the essential bird sounds, for reference and for taping out, and he also used his recording equipment. Of course we used the MacKinnon & Phillipps field guide, and Sid could tell us which illustrations are not fully right, at least for Sichuan. Also, he knows the recent splits. We also used Mark Brazil’s Birds of Eastern Asia, which had better illustrations for some of the species. Every evening we did a roll-call for the checklist, together with Sid.

For our birding localities, see the Sichuan map below and the birding sites photo section. Our  itinerary was:

Day 1-3 Wolong hills (+ lower half of Wuyipeng mountain) and Balang pass.
Best trip ticks (all seen): Chinese Monal, Snow Partridge, White Eared Pheasant, Snow Pigeon, Lammergeier, White-throated Needletail, Swinhoe's Minivet, Kessler's Thrush, Firethroat, Grandala, Sichuan Tit, Collared Finchbill, Alpine, Chinese, Claudia's and Kloss's Leaf Warbler, Bianchi's Warbler, White-browed Tit-Warbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Rosy Pipit, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Plain and Brandt's Mountain Finch, White-browed and Red-fronted Rosefinch, Collared Grosbeak.

Day 1. We changed all the money we needed at the airport after arrival (Bank of China). This is the easiest place to change money without filling in a pile of paperwork. From the airport we drove to Wolong (ca 4 hrs drive). Arrived in afternoon, and went for a short walk to the lower part of the Wuyipeng trail. Next morning early (day 2) we went to Balang pass, in splendid weather (that's why we went there as quick as possible after our arrival in China). Second half of afternoon Wuyipeng trail and above Wolong. Day 3, whole morning on lower part of Wuyipeng trail. Afternoon drive to Chengdu, stay in Holly’s Hostel.

Day 4-5 driving and birding via Juizhaigou (JZ) to Ruoergai high plateau.

Best trip ticks: Black-necked Crane, Pallas's Gull, Collared Crow, Groundpecker, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Himalayan Bluetail, White-throated, Hodgson's and Daurian Redstart, Dusky, Yellow-streaked, Buff-throated and Rufous-faced Warbler, Plain, Elliott's and Black-faced Laughingthrush, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Tibetan Snowfinch, Maroon-backed Accentor, Tibetan Siskin, Beautiful and Pink-rumped (Stresemann's) Rosefinch, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Godlewski's Bunting.

Day 4: after good breakfast at Holly's drove to JZ. After the highway we made many stops when good birds were seen. Lunch in Pingwu, visit to the old temple on our request (and we were the only visitors). Night at JZ. Next morning (day 5): rain and fog. Decided not to go into JZ, but drive on to Ruoergai. Along the road stops at the productive ‘quarry track’ (rainy) and many stops on the snowy pass to look at birds along the road. Stay at Ruoergai. 

Day 6-8 Ruoergai and Baxi valley, and drive to JZ.
Best trip ticks: Blood Pheasant, Chinese (Severtzov's) Grouse, Blue Eared Pheasant, Black Woodpecker, Little Owl, Himalayan Buzzard, Saker Falcon, Sichuan Jay, Short-billed Minivet, Siberian Rubythroat, Daurian (Purple-backed) Starling, Przevalski's Nuthatch, Wallcreeper, Hodgson's Treecreeper, White-browed, Rufous-vented and Grey-crested Tit, Yellow-bellied and Spotted Bush Warbler, Sichuan and Gansu Leaf Warbler, Crested Tit-Warbler, Snowy-cheeked and Giant Laughingthrush, Chinese Fulvetta, Tibetan Lark, White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinch, Citrine Wagtail calcarata, White-winged Grosbeak, Pallas's Cat (!), Tibetan Fox.

Day 6: morning to Baxi road, birding along road and in bushy side valley. Also short visit to monastery, on our request. Afternoon: driving westwards from Ruoergai to Flower Lake (we chose not to take the ridiculous drive in a 4WD with tinted windows to the FlowerLake proper, but instead walk from the main road into even better Tibetan Lark habitat). Day 7: most of the day in Baxi valley, now also higher up into the coniferous forest. Day 8: morning drive westward to the ‘First Bend in the Yellow River’, afternoon drive to JZ, dusk walk on ‘quarry track’ again, late arrival in JZ.

Day 9-11: JZ to Pingwu to Ya'an to Wawu hills.
Best trip ticks: Wedge-tailed Green-Pigeon, Chinese Sparrowhawk, Brown Dipper, (Chinese) Blackbird, Chinese (Song) Thrush, Dark-sided, Ferruginous, Yellow-rumped and Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Little Forktail, Yellow-bellied Tit, Brown-flanked and Russet Bush Warbler, Eastern Crowned and Emei Leaf Warbler, Hwamei, Spot-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, Spectacled and Dusky Fulvetta, White-collared Yuhina, Ashy-throated and Golden Parrotbill, Forest Wagtail, Long-tailed and Vinaceous Rosefinch, Slaty, Black-faced and Elegant (Yellow-throated) Bunting.
Day 9: rain again! So skipped a visit to the JZ park again. Birding at many stops along the road to Pingwu. Side road to Monkey park for the first km, and further on the main road several stops on the forested pass West. Night in Pingwu. Day 10: morning visit to forest park above Pingwu town, and to the famous market hall. Driving for most of the rest of the day, short walk uphill after lunch. Night in Ya’an. Day 11: drive to Wawu, many stops along road: scenic side valley with stream, side track uphill, veggie gardens along forest, end of afternoon birding lower part Wawu and along the road to cable car. Dusk drive to find tragopan and Lady A Pheasant. Stay at one of the cottages near lower cable car station.

Day 12-14 Wawu and back to Chengdu; departure on day 15.
Best trip ticks: Lady Amherst Pheasant (males), Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo, Oriental Pratincole, Grey-headed Lapwing, Long-billed Plover, Grey-faced Buzzard, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Golden Bush Robin, White-bellied Redstart, Sichuan Treecreeper, Chestnut-crowned, Aberrant and Brown Bush Warbler, Spotted, Buffy and Red-winged Laughingthrush, Emei Shan Liocichla, Pygmy Wren Babbler, Chinese Babax, Grey-hooded Fulvetta, Great, Brown, Grey-hooded and Fulvous Parrotbill, Yellow-billed Grosbeak.

Day 12 Dawn drive for Lady A pheasant, then to Wawu top forest, still many visitors because of public holiday, found one quiet trail, afternoon drive down for bush-warblers and pheasants, stay in same room. Day 13 dawn pheasant drive, again to top forest, late afternoon along road. Day 14 morning birding along road, then drive back to Chengdu via Long-billed Plover site. Stay at Holly’s again. Day 15, some shopping at electronics mall Computer World together with Sid and Meggie (thanks Meggie for bargaining for us!) to buy some extra birdsound equipment etc. Final checklist in restaurant in departure hall.

So, we traded the extremely busy Juizhaigou national park in for other, lower birding sites nearby as the weather happened to be too rainy and misty at both days we were in JZ. We probably even got more lifers this way.

On this 15-day well-guided private trip we observed 258 bird species of which 116 were lifers (seen). As we mainly went for lifers, we occasionally skipped possible trip ticks which would take a long time. See the complete species list. See also comments at the birding site photos and our modest bird photos. Listen to some sound recordings at the bottom of this page.

The total cost of this trip was very reasonable, even compared with self-guided trips (but Sid's rate understandably has gone up since).

Apart from birds we keep many other nice memories of China and the Chinese. See the section with other photos. It was a pleasure to be there.

Black-necked  Crane

Red-fronted Rosefinch

Balang pass


Chinese Serow

Our guide Sid Francis, 
who lives in Sichuan.

Pingwu market hall

Sound recordings
With my LS-11 Olympus voice recorder I made the following recordings of bird songs, all in stereo:
Firethroat, Wolong
Tibetan Lark, Ruoergai
Oriental Skylark, Ruoergai
Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, road to Monkey park
Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Pingwu (with Rufous-faced Warbler trill)
Chinese Blue Flycatcher, road to Wawu
Lesser Cuckoo, Wawu
Chestnut-crowned Bush Warbler, Wawu
White-bellied Redstart, Wawu
Chinese Babax, Wawu
Several of these recordings are also linked on the bird photo page



See also species list -   photos of birding sites   -   bird photos   -  
  other photos
(street life, general scenery)

Chinese character for 'Sichuan', 
on car number plate.