The almost mythical Black-billed Capercaillie Photo: Cun Zhanng
We’ll explore a small part of the fantastic and isolated northern Nei Mongol region at a time when many normally elusive species are easier to find. There will be several sought-after birds but chief amongst them is the stunningly patterned Black-billed Capercaillie and we have a reasonable chance of obtaining views of this scarce bird. The supporting cast will include a host of owls, such as the splendid Great Grey, Northern Hawk and possibly both Ural and Tengmalm’s, as well as Siberian Jay, Azure Tit and both Long-tailed and Pallas’s Rosefinches.
Near Beijing we’d expect to see the recently split Beijing Babbler as well as Mandarin Duck and possibly Baikal Teal while elsewhere we’ll also visit the best sites in the world for Brown Eared Pheasant and the perilously endangered Baer’s Pochard.
Day 1: The tour begins with the departure of the Sunbird group on an overnight flight from London to Beijing. Participants traveling directly to Beijing should arrive no later than this evening (see note **, below).
Day 2: We’ll join the newly arrived Sunbird group this morning and drive east to Nanpu, a site on the coast of neighboring Hebei province. We’ll spend the next three nights at Nanpu.
Days 3-4: We’ll spend these two days birding around Nanpu and will explore the extensive area of saltpans and the vast coastal mudflats in our quest to see its specialties. Most of the world’s Relict Gulls winter here and we should see a decent number of this and Saunders’s Gull, another poorly known larid. Nanpu is perhaps best known for its fabulous wader migration and, while most of this will be over by late October, we should see a few of the later migrants and perhaps a few lingering Great Knots and Terek Sandpipers. We could also see large number of passerine migrants such as Buff-bellied and Olive-backed Pipits, Little and Pallas’s Reed Buntings along the coastline itself. Small numbers of the gorgeous Reed Parrotbill, arguably east Asia’s most attractive parrotbill, breed at Nanpu and we’d expect to see a few of these as well as one or two vociferous Chines Grey Shrikes. While many of the saltpans should hold good numbers of Pied Avocets and Common Shelducks we’ll also hope to find a few migrant waterfowl. Falcated Duck should be one of the commonest and with a bit of luck we should also be able to find a few Baikal Teal or even some geese. Tundra Bean is the commonest goose in this part of China but there are several others that we might also encounter.
Day 5: We’ll return to Beijing today aiming to arrive in plenty of time to explore an area north of the city. Several of the tiny marshes around Huairou reservoir hold small numbers of Brown-cheeked (or Eastern) Water Rails while raptors here should include good numbers of Hen and a few lingering Eastern Marsh Harriers and, perhaps an Upland Buzzard or two. Diminutive Chinese Penduline Tits should be possible, their presence betrayed by their faint, breezy calls, while attractive Daurian Redstarts are fairly common, as are a whole host of East Asian buntings including Godlewski’s, attractive Pine, Pallas’s and even Japanese Reed Buntings are possible. We could see large flocks of Daurian Jackdaws while other specialities in this part of Beijing include Plain Laughingthrush and the recently split Beijing Babbler and possibly even Chinese Nuthatch. Night in Hauirou.
Day 6: Leaving Huairou we’ll return to Beijing airport for a two-hour flight north to Hailar in the mighty Nei Mongol province. Our destination will be Wu’erqihan, a small lumber town, just over a two-hour drive further north but we’re sure to see a few birds such as Common Raven, Steppe Eagle or our first diminutive Long-tailed Rosefinch along the way. After lunch in Wu’erqihan we’ll head out again. We’ll be part of only a small number of foreign birders to have visited this amazing site and explored its extensive tracts of larch forest that support an impressive variety of hardy, northern birds. Night in Wu’erqihan.
Days 7-10: Four full days around Wu’erqihan will give us plenty of time to discover its many avian riches. The area was once extensively logged and we’ll use the old logging tracks around this northern outpost to explore the massive areas of forest in our quest to see our target species. Great Grey Owl, among the most majestic of northern owls, is regular here and we expect to see several. Northern Hawk Owl is also here, usually sitting sentinel-like atop a tall conifer. Ural and Tengmalm’s Owls are both also present in these northern forests but they’re secretive and we’ll need a bit more luck to connect with either.
We focus on several species of gamebirds; Common Pheasant and Hazel Grouse should not be too difficult, and Black Grouse is possible with a modest amount of luck, but the real prize is the little-known Black-billed Capercaillie. This large gamebird is resident in these cold forests and we’ll be focusing our attentions on finding it. While they’re not particularly rare here they are quite secretive but autumn is the very best time of year to see this enigmatic species. Females are relatively easy to see but hopefully we’ll also connect with a handsome, spotted male.
Turning our attention to smaller birds, Long-tailed Rosefinch breeds locally, its numbers swollen by migrants in late autumn, and we shouldn’t have any problem finding this diminutive sprite, or its rarer northern cousin, Pallas’s Rosefinch. Siberian Jay is another scarce resident but we know several specific sites and are confident of locating at least one. A host of woodpeckers will also be the agenda including the diminutive Lesser Spotted, White-backed, Eurasian Three-toed and the mighty Black. We’ll also look for Azure Tits and the engaging white-headed caudatus race of Long-tailed Tits, along with attractive Asian Rosy Finches, Bohemian Waxwings and with a bit of luck, a Siberian Accentor. There are mammals to seek out as well with Siberian Roe Deer, Raccoon-dog and possibly even Lynx, all ensuring that we’ll never be short of things to look for. Considering the massive areas of pristine landscape that surround us it will be difficult to believe that we’re still in the world’s most populous nation!
We’ll spend four nights in a comfortable, warm hotel in Wu’erqihan and on the evening of day nine will return to Hailar airport for a flight back to Beijing where we’ll spend the night in a hotel near the airport.
Day 11: After a pleasant breakfast we’ll head south from Beijing taking the expressway to Hengshui Hu, a wetland site that’s recently been discovered to hold good numbers of Baer’s Pochard, one of Asia’s rarest and most threatened ducks. Baer’s Pochard breeds here and we’ll concentrate on getting good looks at this perilously threatened bird along with other wildfowl including Ferruginous Duck while other species here include the attractive and vociferous Reed Parrotbill. We’ll spend the night in a comfortable hotel right beside the lake.
Day 12: We’ll spend the morning around Hengshui Hu, exploring its reed beds, dykes and pools and mid-afternoon will take a train northwest to Taiyuan, the historic capital of Shanxi province. We’ll spend that night in a hotel near Taiyuan.
Day 13: Leaving early we’ll drive a short distance from Taiyuan to an historic monastery nestled low in the nearby hills. This monastery has recently become known as a brilliant site for seeing the magnificent Brown Eared Pheasant. Although this Chinese endemic is reasonably widespread in northeast China it is rare, secretive and difficult to see well – away from this site that is! Here, thanks to the protection afforded it by the Buddhist monks, these hulking pheasants have become habituated to people and roam freely around the temple complex and neighboring woodland. Often giving their presence away by their harsh, husky barked cries and it is not uncommon to see them feeding at almost point blank range. Spotted Nutcrackers are also locally common while other birds around the temple should include include Long-tailed Rosefinches of the rare central Chinese lepidus form. These birds are very different to those we’ll already have seen in Chinese Mongolia and are a likely future split. Night near Taiyuan.
Day 14: After another morning with the Brown Eared Pheasants we’ll take a high-speed train from Taiyuan back to Beijing arriving in time for dinner. Night close to the airport in Beijing.
Day 15: The tour concludes this morning in Beijing.
Updated: 22 February 2017
- 2017 Tour Price : $5,950
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $980
This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.
Maximum group size 10 with 2 leaders. Both leaders will accompany the group irrespective of group size.
**Accommodation the night of Day 1 and transfers from and to the airport as needed are included in the tour cost for WINGS participants. Meals are not included until you join the Sunbird group arriving on Day 2.