«Yunnan, SW China (& White-eared Night-Heron in Guanxi, SC China), Apr 25-May 9, 2015 Visited sites Chengdu (Sichuan); Wan Mu Du Juan (SE of Lijiang), ...»
Yunnan, SW China (& White-eared Night-Heron in Guanxi, SC China), Apr 25-May 9, 2015
Chengdu (Sichuan); Wan Mu Du Juan (SE of Lijiang), Cangshan (N of Dali), Gaoligongshan (W of
Baihualing), Yingjiang, Nabang area, Nanjingli (N of Ruili), Moli, reservoir (Ruili), Xi Zi Shan
(Chuxiong)(all Yunnan); Liuzhou (Guanxi).
Hemme Batjes (HB), Jan-Joost Bouwman (JJB), Remco Hofland (report, RH), Lucas Kaaij (LK),
Peter Maaskant (PM) and Peter-Paul Schets (PPS) from The Netherlands. Guide: Menxiu Tong (MT).
Introduction Birding the Gaoligongshan mountain range had been a dream of me ever since I first visited China for the first time, in 2005; regular reports from the area by Jesper Hornskov on [OB] email wetted my appetite even further. Even though many of its avian highlights are also found at Eaglenest in NE India (a place I visited in winter 2007-08, seeing most of them), the Gaoligongshan still kept its appeal. When Peter Maaskant asked me to join a trip to Yunnan, incl Gaoligongshan, I couldn’t say no. Things got even better when Joakim Hammar’s tripreport of April 2014 was published: they’d seen both Sclater’s Monal and Gould’s Shortwing, both ranking high in my top-100 birds-to-see.
We were to visit the exact same sites a year later, on (almost) the exact same dates ….
Calling male Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, Cangshan Highlights You won’t find Sclater’s Monal and Gould’s Shortwing here, as we dipped on both (not for lack of trying though). For me, the highlights were mainly in the laughingthrush department, although for many the 14 Lady Amherst’s Pheasants in one morning at Cangshan (incl sev displaying males) ranked higher :-). Our combined list of highlights includes sev White-eared Night-Herons at a breeding colony (incorporated in the itinerary during the trip, adding 16- and 22-hr train rides), Purple Cochoa, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Biet’s (White-speckled), Red-tailed, Blue-winged, Assam & Rufous-chinned (as well as 10 other species of) Laughingthrush, Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, Grey-bellied Wren Babbler, Scarlet-faced Liocichla (my last), Common Hill & Rufous-throated Partridge, Black-headed & Clicking (Chestnut-fronted) Shrike- Babbler, Himalayan Cutia, prolonged close-ups of Dark-sided Thrush, sev Golden Bush Robin, great views of sev Spotted Elachura (a.k.a. Spotted Wren Babbler, now a unique bird-family)(including 1 displaying), all three mainland Asian tesias (Chestnut-headed most commonly seen), the odd 1 endemic Rufous-tailed Babbler (a.k.a. Moupinia), Grey Sibia, Brown-winged, Black-throated & Grey-headed Parrotbill, Giant & Yunnan Nuthatch and Collared Myna. We were also very much taken with the (condition, colours & inhabitants of the) forest all along the 16-km hike up the pass over the ‘1,000-year old tea trail’ at Gaoligongshan (basically, NE India’s Eaglenest). And, as always in China, the food, even when staying near the pass, was of good to excellent quality!
Local guide: Menxiu Tong Our guide was Menxiu Tong, China Wild Tour [firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com].
Menxiu is very knowledgeable on where to go for specific wanted birds, incl back-up sites, and is also very good on ID in both sight and sound. His photographs will help you enjoy the trip afterwards (and with the occasional ID). Even though he is frequently in the field (employed by both foreign and Chinese birders / photographers), he replied to email quickly, and he was proactive in suggesting alternate itineraries. He is also very good at arranging transportation & accommodation, and so comes highly recommended!
All photographs in this tripreport were taken by Menxiu (unless stated otherwise, in which case they’re mostly mine) and as far as I can tell, with the exception of Menxiu’s Biet’s Laughingthrush, all were taken during this trip.
Biet’s Laughingthrush, Lijiang & in captivity (Menxiu Tong, 2011). The lack of a good ‘own’ picture notwithstanding, our views of this highly localised, severely threatened endemic were excellent!
Trip Totals We recorded 322 birds, of which 15 were heard only (HO). Of these 322, (only) 15 were lifers for me, but as this trip was mainly about quality, not quantity (as always), finally seeing most-wanteds like Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Biet’s & Red-tailed Laughingthrush, Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, Grey Sibia, Moupinia, Giant Nuthatch and White-eared Night-Heron made the trip a great success. This trip was also good for my China list, adding c 60 new birds.
Six of the 322 birds recorded are endemic to China, these are: Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, Biet’s (White-speckled) Laughingthrush, Rufous-tailed Babbler (a.k.a. Moupinia), Sichuan Bush Warbler (Locustella chengi, described during our trip), Alpine Leaf Warbler and Yunnan Nuthatch. Martens’s Warbler is a Chinese breeding endemic, wintering in SE Asia.
Rufous-tailed Babbler (Moupinia), Cangshan Martens’s Warbler, Lijiang
Birds not seen We undertook the trip primarily for two beautiful hard-to-get Asian specialties: Sclater’s Monal and Gould’s Shortwing, but sadly we dipped both. Where Joakim Hammar and his mates saw both at the exact same dates in 2014 (see Literature), we couldn’t find either. The weather at the Gaoligongshan pass not being great (very windy, harsh rain at night, foggy) may have played a major part in us dipping the Monal; however, we found a viewpoint overlooking a number of fields suitable for feeding monals but did not see them there either. Menxiu knows other sites for the monal near Liuku (further north in the same mountain range) but these were no-go because of the ‘political unrest’ amongst Birmese minorities. Regarding the shortwing we think spring might have been early this year (since we also encountered many birds feeding young), causing the birds to leave their wintering gullies to head for their alpine breeding grounds. Another bird we didn’t encounter was the local race of Plain-backed Thrush, although I did flush a Zoothera from the ‘tea trail’ that was either this or Long-tailed Thrush.
We were turned away by the Chinese military / police (‘political unrest’) at a checkpoint few km’s from the Tongbiguan Nature Reserve (Nabang) where we would have had a (very)(small) chance at Spot-breasted Laughingthrush. (I’m however pleased to say I saw all four of my other wanted laughingthrushes, including the highly localised and threatened Biet’s, which is rarely seen nowadays).
Other birds we hoped for in known locations but missed include Mrs Hume’s Pheasant (Chuxiong), Spot-breasted Parrotbill (Gaoligongshan) and Pale-footed Bush Warbler (Yingjiang). Asian Emerald Cuckoo and White-gorgeted Flycatcher (both lifers) should be relatively easy in the Nabang / Ruili area but were seen nor heard.
Fire-tailed Myzornis, Gaoligongshan pass Acknowledgements Joakim Hammar kindly shared pre-trip info on where to go on Gaoligongshan (as well as some birdsounds), as did John Holmes and Björn Anderson. All three have also previously published tripreports on the region.
Visa Arranged pre-trip in The Hague, issued within 3 days. A one-entry China visa cost us € 71.
Money & cost At the time of travel, 10 Y (yuen, or renminbi) was worth c € 1,35. We all took 1,000 Y from the ATM in Chengdu, which sufficed for drinks & laundry (once) during the trip. Since I don’t drink beer, I could even afford some souvenirs :-).
We each wired Menxiu Tong c € 2,200 in advance, which covered all local cost except for extra beers and laundry. Included were all transportation, his guiding, the cost & keep of the drivers, entry fees, local guides where applicable, two horses to carry our gear and food up to the Gaoligongshan pass, all lodging, all meals, fruit, a drink with every meal, all drinking water etc.
For the side-trip to Liuzhou (Guanxi: White-eared Night Heron) we each paid an additional € 30 to cover the cost of extra train travel.
Birding Du Fu’s Cottage Park, Chengdu; Chinese lunch (Remco Hofland) 4 Travel arrangements International flight: KLM Amsterdam – Chengdu vice versa (direct, c. 10 hrs one-way).
Domestic flight: Sichuan Airlines Chengdu – Lijiang. Departure time moved up after booking, meaning we had an 8-hr layover in Chengdu (spent at the crowded Du Fu’s Cottage park).
Four of us were to take the Sichuan Airlines flight Kunming – Chengdu in the morning of May 9th (cost: c € 130), but because of our little side trip to Guanxi we decided in favour of a train ride directly from Liuzhou to Chengdu instead of first returning to Kunming by train, only to fly to Chengdu the next morning. HB, MT and LK did go back to Kunming, because they had onward flights to Beijing (HB dipping Baer’s Pochard because of adverse weather) and Fuzhou (LK seeing Chinese Crested Tern & Courtois’s Laughingthrush), respectively.
All local travel arrangements, i.e. spacious vans on the first and last dates of the trip, two good cars-with-drivers in between, local train transportation to and from Guanxi (Kunming – Guilin, Liuzhou – Chengdu (for 4 of us) or (for 3) Liuzhou – Kunming); and horses to carry luggage up to Gaoligongshan pass, were very well-arranged by guide Menxiu Tong.
Lijiang (Remco Hofland) Literature We took the following on the trip A field guide to the Birds of China, John MacKinnon & Karen Phillipps (2000), ISBN • 978-0198549406. Plates and text not up-to-(current)-standard, but the only book that depicts all endemics;
Birds of East Asia, Mark Brazil (2008). Plates and text excellent, but does not cover • many of the specialties that occur in Yunnan, SW China;
New Holland Field guide to the Birds of South-East Asia, Craig Robson (2005), ISBN • 978-0691124354. Plates good and text scant but adequate, in my opinion the most appropriate book to bring (if you’re limiting yourself to just one);
Birds of South Asia, vol I (= The Ripley Guide), Pamela C. Rasmussen & John C.
• Anderton (2nd edition, 2012). Plates very good but no text (for that one has to also bring vol II, a heavy piece); does not cover some specialties that occur in Yunnan;
Mammals of China, Andrew Smith & Yan Xie (2013), ISBN 978-0691154275. Also • available in eBook;
The Book of Indian Butterflies, Isaac Kehimkar (2008), ISBN 978-0195696202;
• Butterflies of the Holarctic Region, Part 2: Satyridae (concl.), Nymphalidae • (partim.), Bernard D’Abrera (1992), ISBN 0646062557.
Tripreports Baihualing and Nabang, Yunnan, 26 April – 4 May 2014, J. Hammar. Great reading, • enticing photographs, but no maps or GPS coordinates;
Western Yunnan, Feb 2015, M.J. Grunwell. Very informative on the Baihualing area, • including many good photographs, maps and GPS coordinates;
Western Yunnan, Jan-Mar 2014, C. Brelsford. A photographer’s report that contains • enticing photographs of Gould’s Shortwing, and some information on where the author saw no less than 4… After comparing these tripreports with our own sightings it’s clear that there is a big difference between Yunnan’s (Baihualing’s) winter birds (Nov-Febr) and those found in spring (Apr-May).
Basically, for Sclater’s Monal one only stands a chance if one visits late Apr (taking sufficient time, hiking to the pass & staying there); if it is Gould’s Shortwing one wants to see then a visit in winter time is probably more appropriate. The supporting cast of (mainly) passerines is good at any time of year, both along the hike up to the pass and along the road and from the hides on the lower part of the mountain. However, in winter the resident birds are supplemented by many winter visitors, such as Bush-Robins, Thrushes, Leaf-Warblers etc, many of which show themselves at the hides.
Red-tailed Laughingthrush waiting for new food & photographers in the hide, Baihualing (Remco Hofland) Hides at Baihualing (Apr 28 and May 2) Quite a few hides are found at Baihualing, providing an income for locals. The hides are strategically placed easy walking distance from the (unsurfaced) road and accommodate (mostly Chinese) photographers and birders. All hides provide logs or plastic chairs for seating. The birds are attracted by water (for bathing/drinking) and food, such as mealworms and fruit, which are regularly refreshed and birds visiting them are plentiful.
Brelsford (2014) gives an idea of which birds can be expected at which specific hide in winter.
Sought-after birds that are only seen irregularly at hides include Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler and Blue-winged & Moustached Laughingthrush. During our visit, we used one hide in particular, that we shared with up to eight Chinese photographers. It appeared they’d rented the place for sev days, but they were very welcoming when we shared. Hide birding is not to everyone’s liking (it’s not my favourite either) but one does get the chance to appreciate a skulking birds’ colours and behaviour more than one would in thick forest.
The hide we frequented was, like sev more PPS and RH inspected one morning, placed at the (secondary) forest edge; therefore, the likelihood of true forest birds coming in is not that great.
The hides are also mainly found at mid-altitude (c 1,800m) so you won’t have a chance of all Gaoligongshan specialties.
6 Sightings at the hide At the time of our visit, a pair of Rufous-throated Partridge was seen (almost) daily, usually early morning or late afternoon, and indeed part of our crew saw them in the afternoon. RH & PPS stayed in the hide one morning and were surprised by a loud, eventually very obliging pair of the normally very retiring & skulky Blue-winged Laughingthrush! Red-tailed Laughingthrush was common, small parties turning up every half hour or so. Even more regular were Black-breasted Thrush, Black-headed Sibia, Large Niltava, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Silver-eared Mesia, Bluewinged & Bar-throated Minla, Yunnan Fulvetta, Whiskered Yuhina, Cinereous Tit, Grey Bush-Chat & Hill Prinia; as well as Asian Red-cheeked Ground Squirrel. We also saw Rusty-capped Fulvetta, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, a probable Sichuan Leaf-Warbler, Blue Whistling-Thrush, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Rufous-capped Babbler and Red-billed Blue Magpies once. Photographic opportunities were excellent.