Birding trip report Sichuan, China 26 May – 9 June 2011
John van der Woude -
Photos of birding sites 
See also:   report and species list  -   bird photos   -   other photos
Note: this is a selection of the birding sites. We had many more stops than shown here.

Balang pass above Wolong. Good for many high altitude birds.

Just before the Balang pass, coming from Wolong. We stopped at various sites along this road, from the tree line up to the pass proper. Chinese Monal was our first big hit, but we also got several good passerines, like rosefinches.

Below the treeline of the Balang pass.

Start of the trail up the Wuyipeng mountain. Chinese Babax was loudly present in the vegetation behind the bridge, but did not show at all. In fact we only got good views of this species towards the end of the trip, in Wawu.

The narrow Wuyipeng trail in the Wolong area is well suited for observing robins etc., like our only Firethroat. As we were not yet used to the altitude, we did not walk the trail all the way to the top, where we might have seen Temminck's Tragopan. If we would have done Wawu first after arrival in China, the altitude had probably not been a problem here at Wuyipeng/Wolong. But we deliberately chose to do the Wolong/Wuyipeng/Balang area first, for two reasons: 1. the weather was still fine when we arrived in China, a good reason to go straight to the Balang pass in order to optimize the chance of seeing Chinese Monal, one of the top birds of the trip (and we saw it indeed, in splendid weather, see above), 2. when the rains would set in, the road may have become blocked because of the earthquake-hit mountain slopes. Moreover, doing Wawu at the end of the trip also had two advantages: 1. we took all the time we had left (1 day more than expected) for searching the pheasant, warblers, parrotbills and laughingthrushes there, 2. we were closer to the airport for our departure back home, and this can be important as traffic jams can be enormous around Chengdu.

We shortly tried this trail as a break on our way from the Chengdu basin to Juizhaigou (it is probably a new pipeline) and were rewarded with Black-faced Laughingthrush, a lifer. 

This track well west of Juizhaigou goes to a deserted quarry and these bushes produced many songbirds.

On our way from Juizhaigou to Ruoergai we passed a broad zone with snowfall. This made birding actually easier, as the birds 1. probably descended from the mountain slopes, and 2. were easier to see because of the white background. We even had a group of Grandalas in this open field.

In Baxi valley, east of Ruoergai. This valley had many good species, both along the road amidst the cultivated fields, as in the overgrown side valley where we had stopped now, and in the coniferous forest higher up along the road to the pass. See the species list for code Bx.

The overgrown side valley in Baxi valley. Nollie and I both got Chinese Grouse here, which is a matter of seconds (hence Sid let us walk upfront), but the bird is unmistakable. It is the Chinese version of Hazelhen, but much more range restricted than Hazelhen itself.

Hill side in Baxi valley. Luckily, the coniferous forest is much easier to reach by just driving up the road to the pass.

Another view of the valley bottom of Baxi. At this spot we heard a very range-restricted laughingthrush (Snowy-cheeked) which Nollie did see well after some time, but I missed it...

The enormous grasslands around Ruoergai, on the eastern border of the Tibetan plateau, were a delight to bird. One of the best sites was here at Flower Lake. We chose to walk from the main road to this point and were rewarded with excellent views of Tibetan Lark, which may not be so easy to see along the official track to the lake.

The same spot as the photo above, looking the other way.

Along the road from Ruoergai to the Yellow River is a vast grassland reserve with locally also wet conditions. Several Citrine Wagtail and even some Tibetan Lark.

The Yellow River ('the First Bend') looks promising on the other side but we had little time to explore this further. A group of Azure-winged Magpie was busy there.

When driving back from the Ruoergai high plateau to Juizhaigou (now without snow), we stopped several times. E.g. at a shrubbery part of the valley bottom, where we got a territorial pair of Siberian Rubythroat.

At a bend in the river on our way from Ruoergai back to Juizhaigou, we had a mating pair of Long-tailed Rosefinch, the only ones of the whole trip. These sort of short stops were often rewarding.

Steep valley sides are characteristic for this mountainous area east of Juizhaigou. Black-faced Buntings were singing in the vegetation along the river.

Right above Pingwu town is this forest park where we got some flycatchers, Elegant Bunting etc. On our flexible itinerary, we had chosen to stay the night in Pingwu, and just tried this park in the morning.

On our way from Ya'an to Wawu we tried several possible birding sites as it was a national holiday so Wawu would be far too busy to arrive there early on the day. Sid just chose this well wooded stream valley and indeed it was a good idea: several Little Forktail, Hwamei (well visible!) and several other good species.

Wawu national park is well wooded, with many laughingthrushes, warblers, and the main prize, Lady Amherst Pheasant.

The cable car which brings you from the modest hotel and restaurant complex at the end of the Wawu road to the top forest. A concrete trail was made now for walking down all the way in stead of taking the cable car back. Although this trail runs rather close to the cable car and has caused some damage to the vegetation, it may be worthwhile for birding.

The excellent top forest of Wawu consists of open coniferous forest with a good understorey of smaller broadleaved trees and lots of bamboo. Good for parrotbills, treecreepers, warblers etc.

Centrally in the top forest is this open bamboo area, good for yet more parrotbills.

Birding in Wawu national park is done from the road (except in the top forest above the cable car, this has a good trail system). As said, avoid weekends and especially public holidays, when the road is too busy, and the top forest trails too. So it was good to have ample time here: it was only on the  fourth of our early morning and late evening 'pheasant drives' that we finally saw Lady Amherst Pheasants walking across the road.

View from the large bridge of Huangya, with Long-billed Plover in the foreground (see bird photo section)

View from the same bridge, to the other side, with Oriental Pratincole and prinias.

See also:   report and species list  -   bird photos   -   other photos