Thursday 8th May - Saturday 24th May 2014(plus extension to 28th May)
Sichuan lies in the very heart of China and is situated on the eastern edge of the vast Tibetan Plateau. It is a huge province, the size of France and hosts the richest concentration of Chinese specialities and endemics in this vast country. There is a remarkable wealth of birdlife waiting in its rich evergreen and temperate forests, alpine meadows, mighty snow-capped mountains and grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau which form some of the most spectacular scenery of any bird tour! China is a vast country and it is impossible to do justice to the amazing diversity of superb birds in one trip, so this tour concentrates on the mountainous province of Sichuan. Our unique and special tour takes in the well-known sites of Labahe, Balang Shan, Mengbi Shan and finishes with a spectacular visit to the Tibetan Plateau. We also visit several lesser-known mountains during this unique ZOOTHERA tour which provides the opportunity to see as many of the endemic and sough-after specialities as possible amidst some of the most exciting scenery imaginable.
Lady Amherst's Pheasant
Salim Ali's Swift
Emei Shan Liocichla
Tibetan Grey Shrike
Day 1 UK - Chengdu- 8th May
Overnight flight from London to Chengdu.
Day 2 Chengdu – Baihua Tan Park
Following an afternoon arrival in Chengdu we can check out a nearby park in search of a few species we may not see elsewhere on the tour. In particular we shall look for the endemic Chinese Bulbul and Chinese Blackbird, as well as Rufous-faced Warbler, Ashy-throated and Vinous-throated Parrotbills, White-browed Laughingthrush, Oriental Greenfinch, Crested Myna, Yellow-billed Grosbeak, and both Red-billed and White-cheeked Starlings. Night in Chengdu.
Leaving Chengdu early in the morning we will make a few stops along the way to look for Forest Wagtail, Tiger Shrike and Swinhoe's Minivet which we probably won't see elsewhere. Then we will split our time between three of the finest mountain reserves in Sichuan over the following days in search of numerous key species. Longcanggou is a relatively new site that we visited in 2013 and is particularly good for Temminck's Tragopan, White-bellied Redstart, White-browed Bush-robin, the extremely localised and endemic Emei Shan Liocichla, Black-faced and Elliott's Laughingthrushes, Grey-hooded and Great Parrotbills, Aberrant Bush-warbler, and both Kloss's and Emei Leaf-warblers amongst others. There are also chances of seeing Red Panda, as we did n our 2013 tour.
Labahe is a superb area that gives us opportunities to see practically everything that used to be possible at Wawu Shan, before its closure.
We will have plenty of time to explore this 3000m mountain by means of a private track that takes you to a scenic boardwalk through moss-encrusted forest and a huge stand of bamboo. Our visit here gives us an outstanding chance of seeing the stunningly beautiful Temminck's Tragopan, as well as Lady Amherst's Pheasant. The mere fact that there isn't a public road to the top makes searching for the specialities a far more pleasant experience requiring a lot less effort! The terrain here consists of jagged mountain peaks, mixed coniferous-rhododendron forest, bamboo and evergreen broadleaf woodland and provides a spectacular setting for our search of Brown, Three-toed, Ashy-throated, Fulvous, Golden and Grey-headed Parrotbills, Rusty and Red-winged Laughingthrushes, Claudia's and Sichuan Leaf-warblers, as well as Buff-throated among 17 other phylloscopus warbler to be recorded here, 7 species of bush-warbler, Alstrom's, Bianchi's and Marten's Warblers, Grey-hooded Fulvetta and the near endemic Yellow-bellied Tit. Other special birds here are Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Chinese Song Thrush, Elliott's and Red-winged Laughingthrushes, White-collared Yuhina and Slaty Bunting. There are also a huge selection of other species, many of which range further west across the Himalayas including Crimson-breasted and White-backed Woodpeckers, Large and Whistling Hawk-cuckoos, Oriental and Lesser Cuckoos, Collared Owlet, Rufous-breasted Accentor, White-tailed Robin, White-browed Shortwing, White-bellied Redstart, Fujian and Vivid Niltavas, Scaly-breasted and Pygmy Wren-babblers, Blyth's Shrike-babbler, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Black-chinned Yuhina, Spotted Laughingthrush, Rufous-vented Tit, Gould's Sunbird, Japanese White-eye, both Dark-breasted and Dark-rumped Rosefinches and Grey-headed Bullfinch. On our last visit we even found the rare endemic Golden-fronted Fulvetta and Rufous-tailed Babbler.
Our last special site is Erlang Shan where Lady Amherst's Pheasant, Firethroat, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Black-streaked Scimitar-babbler, Barred Laughingthrush, Chinese Babax, Streaked Barwing, Chinese Leaf-warbler and Godlewski's Bunting can be found. We will stay at conveniently located lodges/hotels, very close to all of the birding sites.
Days 8 – 10 Labahe - Wolong – Balang Shan
We'll have an early morning excursion for any species still needed before our route takes us up through the bird-rich Balang Shan mountain range where the road reaches its highest point at the 4500m pass and is the right habitat zone for Tibetan Snowcock, Snow Partridge, Chinese Monal, Snow Pigeon, Grandala, Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, Alpine Accentor, Red-fronted Rosefinch and Brandt's Mountain-finch. We will spend 2 full days around the fabulous Balang Shan beginning at daybreak as the rare Wood Snipe displays over the hillsides covered in azalea-scrub. The endemic White Eared-Pheasant forages unobtrusively, Firethroats reside in the bamboo thickets, and both Koklass and Golden Pheasants hide in the undergrowth. Other species here include Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, White-throated Needletail, Crimson-breasted woodpecker, Rosy and Olive-backed Pipits, White-tailed Rubythroat, Indian Blue Robin, White-browed Bush-robin, White-browed Tit-warbler, White-throated and Daurian Redstarts, Kessler's and Chestnut Thrushes, Spotted Bush-warbler, Alpine and Chinese Leaf-warblers, Barred Laughingthrush, White-browed Fulvetta, White-collared Yuhina, Grey-crested and Fire-capped Tits, Chestnut-flanked White-eye, Spotted Nutcracker, White-winged and Collared Grosbeaks, Maroon-backed Accentor, Slaty Bunting, Plain Mountain-Finch, and Dark-breasted, Pink-rumped, Chinese Beautiful and Streaked Rosefinches. Nights at Wolong.
Days 11 – 12 Balang Shan – Mengbi Shan
If we still need any species there's a final opportunity to return to Balang Shan before leaving the wetter alpine zone and heading into dry valleys cloaked in spruce and pine forest and up to our first taste of the Tibetan avifauna. En-route we will check out some areas for White-tailed Rubythroat, Hill Pigeon, Black-browed Tit and Wallcreeper in a scenic valley. Then we drive along a little used mountain track higher into the marvellous coniferous forests of Mengbi Shan where Verreaux's Monal-Partridge, Firethroat, Sichuan Jay, Chinese Song Thrush, Giant Laughingthrush, Przewalski's Nuthatch, Chinese Fulvetta, Three-banded, Chinese White-browed and Chinese Beautiful Rosefinches reside, while there are further chances of White Eared and Koklass Pheasants, the spectacular Crested Tit-warbler, Long-tailed Thrush, Chinese Babax and Three-banded Rosefinch. Other more widespread species include Black, Rufous-bellied and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Himalayan Bluetail, White-throated Redstart, Hume's and Yellow-streaked Warblers, Bar-tailed Treecreeper, Kessler's and Chestnut Thrushes, Rufous-vented Tit, Maroon-backed Accentor, Pink-rumped Rosefinches, and both White-winged and Collared Grosbeaks. Nights at Maerkang.
Days 13 – 14 Tibetan Plateau
An early start will see us driving along the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau where we can explore the wide open grasslands and forest. Here we will look for Black-necked Crane, Golden Eagle, Amur Falcon, Saker, Upland Buzzard, Pale Martin, Brown Dipper, Tibetan Lark, Oriental Skylark, Blyth's Pipit, Tibetan Grey Shrike, Hume's Ground-tit, Chinese Grey Shrike, Pere David's Laughingthrush, Azure-winged Magpie, Rock Sparrow, Godlewski's Bunting, Rufous-necked, Black-winged and White-rumped Snowfinches, the latter usually nest amongst the colonies of Marmots and Pika! The scenery here is unimaginably beautiful and provides a complete contrast to the coniferous forests we have become used to. Flower Lake is a vast area of wetlands where numerous wildfowl reside and often turns up the odd surprise such as White-tailed Eagle or Cinereous Vulture, but more likely are some familiar waders to add to our list. Secret valleys bathed in high altitude scrub hold the endemic White-browed Tit, whilst some nearby forests hold the shy Severtsov's Grouse, Blue Eared-Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Black Woodpecker, Przewalski's and Chinese Nuthatches, Slaty-backed and Slaty-blue Flycatchers, Chinese Fulvetta, Sukatschev's Laughingthrush, Sichuan Willow and Japanese Tits, Tibetan Siskin, both Three-banded and Pink-rumped Rosefinches and there are further chances of Crested Tit-warbler. During our previous visits we have seen Tibetan Partridge, Gansu Leaf-warbler, Rosy Starling and Three-banded Rosefinch here, so anything is possible. Nights at Roergai.
After some final birding here this morning we will leave the forests that border the Tibetan Plateau and drop down into the typical mountainous terrain of northern Sichuan, checking a few special sites along the way for Blue Eared-Pheasant, Severtzov's Tit-warbler, Siberian Rubythroat or Verreaux's Monal-partridge if we still need them. By the end of Day 15 we will have arrived at a superb hotel in the new town of Chuanzhusi. Another early start will see us at Gonggangling Forest, which is an interesting site where we can find a wonderful selection of species. Past visits have produced Severtzov's Grouse, Blood Pheasant, Blue eared-Pheasant, Pere David's Owl, Przewalski's Nuthatch, both Plain-backed and Long-tailed Thrush, Tibetan Siskin, and many other species. For those not participating on our extension, you will return to Chengdu in the afternoon of Day 16 in plenty of time for a farewell dinner at a fine hotel. For anyone continuing with the extension, we will drive to Baolun for an overnight stay.
Day 17 Chengdu – End of Tour- 24th May
Transfer to the airport and return flights to the UK, where we should arrive in the late afternoon and the end of the tour.
Changquing Post Tour Extension:23rd - 28th May
Our exciting extension to Changqing Nature Reserve is in search of the enigmatic Blackthroat which has recently been discovered breeding here. This superb reserve protects around 300 square kilometres of forested mountains, some of which rise to 3000m. This localised Luscinia is only known from a small number of breeding localities and we will focus our efforts on finding this enigmatic species. We also have a chance of seeing the very rare Crested Ibis, whose numbers have now risen to around 200 pairs and can be found in only two remote breeding colonies in northern China.
Day 16 Gonggangling - Baolun - 23rd May
After some final birding at Gonggangling Forest this morning, we will drive to Baolun for an overnight stay.
Day 17 Baolun - Changquing
We will continue our journey deeper into undiscovered China and drive towards Changquing Nature Reserve, making several stops along the way to explore different habitats. Night Changquing.
Days 18 - 19 Changquing Nature Reserve
We have two full days to bird inside the Nature Reserve in search of our primary target, Blackthroat. We will be also be searching for several other species that are hard to find elsewhere such as Tawny Fish Owl, Three-toed, Fulvous and Spectacled Parrotbills, Spectacled Fulvetta, Chinese Hwamei, Black-streaked Scimitar-babbler, Moustached Laughingthrush, Sooty Tit, Slaty Bunting and Vinaceous Rosefinch. There is also a really great chance of getting good looks at Golden Pheasant and Crested Ibis, and an outrageous outside chance of Giant Panda as well! There are a number of other good birds to be found in this area including Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Temminck's Tragopan, Chinese Goshawk, Crested Kingfisher, Swinhoe's Minivet, Fujian Niltava, Forest Wagtail, Indian Blue Robin, Manchurian, Brown, Russet, Brownish-flanked and Aberrant Bush-warblers, Alstrom's and Grey-crowned Warblers, Kloss's, Emei and Large-billed Leaf-warblers, Fire-capped Tit, Mrs Gould's Sunbird, Collared Finchbill, Oriental Greenfinch, Red-billed Starling and Yellow-throated Bunting. Nights at Changquing.
Day 20 Changquing - Chengdu
After some final opportunity to catch up with any species still missing from our lists, we will make the long drive along the expressway to Chengdu, arriving in the early evening. Night in Chengdu.
Day 21 Chengdu - End of Extension/Tour - 28th May
Transfer to the airport and return international flights to the UK/USA.
Group size:Minimum for tour to go ahead 5 and maximum 10 with 2 leaders.
Included in cost:Accommodation in twin rooms en-suite, all meals including picnic lunches where necessary, bottled water, snacks, all entrance fees, transport throughout, and services of local guides and leaders.
Not included:International airfare, insurance, visa fee, departure tax, drinks, tips, and items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: The hotels used during this tour range from good to standard, all with en-suite facilities. We will stay in the best available lodges/guest houses as close to the birding sites as possible.
Tour Code:This is a relatively adventurous tour as we will spend a lot of the tour birding between 2,700m - 4,200m although this is mainly from roads. Any climbing will be done very slowly. Some long drives are necessary but the roads are mainly paved now and our land cruiser/minibus is both comfortable and well maintained. The weather is variable at this time of year, but expect it to be quite warm around Chengdu, ranging to cold with possible snow showers in higher areas. Rain is possible in the mountains.