The charming Red Panda is just one of the fascinating creatures we’ll see in Sichuan’s richly endowed forests. Photo: Paul Holt
Sichuan province, right in the heart of the Middle Kingdom, is a fabulously bird-rich region, home to the bulk of China’s endemic birds and the majority of its Giant Pandas. We’ll concentrate on seeing the endemic and near-endemic species as well as sampling the cuisine, genuine hospitality, and dramatic scenery for which this region is rightly famous. Although the wild mountainous terrain and torrential rivers have combined to keep the province isolated until relatively recently, today the impressive diversity of habitats and a well-developed tourist infrastructure make Sichuan an appealing destination for a birding tour.
We’ll visit numerous sites, each one different and with its own charm and specific bird life: Longchang Gou, a valley that cuts into several of the mighty peaks that rise abruptly out of the Red Basin; the town of Luding which we’ll use as a base from which to explore a different set of mountains; Siguniangshan and neighboring Wolong National Park, the latter famed as the home of China’s few remaining Giant Pandas but also renowned as a haven for a large number of spectacular birds; the rolling grasslands at the extreme eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, where we’ll search for specialties such as Black-necked Crane and Rufous-necked Snowfinch; and finally the strikingly attractive Jiuzhaigou National Park, with its dramatic alpine scenery, turquoise lakes, and myriad waterfalls. Without a doubt Sichuan is the very best of China.
Day 1: The tour begins with the departure of the Sunbird group on an overnight flight from London to Beijing. Participants traveling directly to Chengdu should arrive no later than this evening (see note **, below). Night in Chengdu.
Day 2: The Sunbird group will arrive in Chengdu, Sichuan’s attractive provincial capital, around midday, and we’ll set off across the Red Basin to Longchang Gou, where we’ll spend three nights.
Days 3–4: We’ll spend two days exploring several different habitats in these mountain, ranging from deciduous forest on the lower slopes to tracts of bamboo and stands of mixed coniferous-rhododendron forest higher up.
Some superb birds occur here, and we’ll concentrate on finding several of the very localized endemics—Grey-hooded Parrotbill and Emei Shan Liocichla. Parrotbills are particularly well represented in Sichuan, and in addition to Grey-hooded we hope to see Great, Three-toed, Ashy-throated, Fulvous, and Golden. Numerous warblers, including eight bush warblers and no fewer than 17 species of Phylloscopus, can be seen on this tour, and a good number of them breed here. Other possibilities in this area include the magnificent White-throated Needletail, Maroon-backed Accentor, White-browed Shortwing, Vinaceous Rosefinch, and Grey-headed Bullfinch. Here too we have a chance of encountering the gorgeous Temminck’s Tragopan and Lady Amherst’s Pheasant.
Golden-spectacled Warbler has recently been split into a number of different species, four of which occur in Sichuan, and we expect to encounter three of these attractive sprites as we explore this region. Mid-altitude forests will ring to the sounds of Oriental, Lesser, and Large Hawk Cuckoos, making it a challenge to distinguish more subtle vocalists such as Emei Shan Liocichla and Slaty Bunting. We’ll spend three nights in a comfortable guest house near the base of the mountain. Nights at Longchang Gou.
Day 5: After another morning searching for specialties that we might have missed earlier, perhaps including Chinese Bamboo Partridge (much easier to hear than to see) and Whistling (previously Hodgson’s) Hawk Cuckoo, we’ll drive to the town of Luding, where we’ll spend the next two nights.
Day 6: We’ll spend the day exploring the mountain of Erlang Shan on one of several roads that cross Sichuan’s high passes. These roads have now been replaced by a tunnel, which means that our birding should be undisturbed by traffic. Lady Amherst’s Pheasants are common on Erlang Shan, and we expect to encounter several, hopefully including a resplendent adult male. Another target species here is one of Sichuan’s premier avian jewels, the fabulously named Firethroat. We should be able to find at least one of these truly world-class songsters. The supporting cast should include species such as Slaty-backed Flycatcher and Spotted Nutcracker. Night in Luding.
Day 7: After a final morning near Luding we’ll drive on to our next base near the city of Ya’an. Night near Ya’an.
Day 8: Leaving Ya’an, we’ll wind our way through deep valleys and narrow gorges, eventually reaching Rilong, a thriving tourist town at the foot of the mighty “Four Sisters Mountains,” where we’ll spend four nights.
Days 9–11: Dominated by spectacular mountains, Rilong is an ideal base from which to explore the neighboring Wolong Nature Reserve. World-renowned as the headquarters of Giant Panda conservation, Wolong also has much to offer the birder. The whole area is scenically stunning, and although we’re unlikely to see a wild Giant Panda (though we have seen Red Panda in the reserve), the magnificently forested mountains, extensive stands of bamboo, splendid alpine meadows, and rugged snowcapped peaks harbor some truly outstanding birds.
With three full days to explore the area, we’ll have numerous options. We’ll cross the mighty Balangshan Pass on a daily basis, spending some time around the summit, which at just over 14,700 feet is the highest point we’ll reach on the entire tour. Small coveys of scurrying Snow Partridges and Tibetan Snowcocks are regularly seen on the scree slopes beside the road, as are Grandalas, the males dazzling in their cobalt-blue plumage. Other high-altitude specialties could include Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier), Red-billed and Alpine Choughs, Alpine Accentor, Brandt’s Mountain Finch, and Red-fronted Rosefinch. On another day we’ll start earlier, cross the pass in darkness, and descend in the hope of finding Wood Snipe displaying over some of the higher alpine meadows immediately before dawn. Koklass Pheasant and Kessler’s Thrush both breed close to the tree line here, and while the former is elusive and difficult to see, we’re sure to hear its unpleasant barking calls ringing across the valleys.
With luck we might also find a covey of handsome White Eared Pheasants or perhaps even a Chinese Monal. Farther down on the mountain’s mid-slopes we’ll search for both Barred and mighty Giant Laughingthrushes, as well as Chinese Leaf Warbler, Chinese Fulvetta, and Sichuan Mountain Thrush. Nor will we neglect the mammals—the park boasts reasonable populations of Himalayan Marmot and both Blue Sheep and Takin. Nights at Rilong.
Day 12: Leaving Rilong we’ll wind our way through another series of valleys and cross a few more small passes on our way to Maerkang, where we’ll spend two nights.
Day 13: We’ll spend the day searching for birds on the Zhegushan Pass. Chestnut-throated Partridge and Blood Pheasant are both fairly regular here, and other targets include the strikingly patterned Przewalsky’s Nuthatch, gorgeous White-browed and even more appealing Crested Tit Warblers, Chinese Fulvetta, Crimson-browed Finch, and Tibetan Siskin. We’ll also have our first chance for Three-banded Rosefinch. Night in Maerkang.
Day 14: After another morning on the Zhegushan Pass we’ll continue to the mighty Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau proper. We’ll stop just as we crest the eastern edge of the plateau, where amid the more gently undulating grasslands we’ll explore a couple of isolated stands of conifers, searching in particular for the endangered endemic Sichuan Jay as well as Sichuan and White-browed Tits and Plain and Elliot’s Laughingthrushes. Night in Hongyuan.
Day 15: Moving farther onto the plateau, past tented camps and fields of yaks, we’ll constantly scan for more specialties such as the comical Hume’s Groundtit, hulking Tibetan Larks, and both White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinches. Our destination is Ruoergai, a relatively modern Tibetan settlement right in the heart of some exciting plateau birding. In the afternoon we’ll head off to search the surrounding steppes for parties of majestic Black-necked Cranes, and with luck we might also find a Saker Falcon or Chinese Grey Shrike. Night in Ruoergai.
Day 16: We’ll leave the plateau this morning and take a minor road over the spectacular La Ma Ling Pass to Jiuzhaigou. We’ll make numerous stops to search for species such as Sichuan Jay, Daurian Jackdaw, Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush, and Pink-rumped Rosefinch. Night close to Jiuzhaigou National Park.
Days 17–18: Spending two days at Jiuzhaigou, we’ll have time to explore a number of sites both inside and just outside this wonderful sanctuary. Scenically, Jiuzhaigou must rank as one of the most spectacular mountain areas in Asia. Startlingly jagged snowcapped peaks flanked with alpine meadows, broad swaths of bamboo, and large tracts of dense coniferous and mixed forests abound. But in truth it’s the myriad waterfalls, the pools, and especially the multicolored small lakes for which this park is rightly famous. A few Tibetan villages also survive, each with its own attractive wooden dwellings. We’re not allowed to take our own vehicles inside the park, so we’ll use the reserve’s frequent shuttle bus services to explore a number of the better birding sites. Rufous-headed Robin is virtually unknown away from here, so we’ll spend time searching an area of mixed forest for this fabulous songster. Other sought-after species include Chinese Nuthatch, Rusty-breasted Tit, Sooty Bushtit, and the noisy Spotted Laughingthrush. We’ll venture into the coniferous forest on one day to search for Chestnut-throated Partridge, Chinese Grouse, Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, the enigmatic Sichuan Wood Owl, Himalayan Bluetail, Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush, and White-winged Grosbeak. We’ll also spend time looking for the diminutive Spectacled Parrotbill. Nights close to Jiuzhaigou National Park.
Day 19: On our final morning around Jiuzhaigou we’ll explore an area outside the park where both Snowy-cheeked and Barred Laughingthrushes are more regular and where we’ve also seen Three-toed Parrotbill. In the afternoon we’ll start our journey back to Chengdu. Night in Jiangyou.
Day 20: Continuing south to Chengdu we’ll arrive in time to visit the Giant Panda breeding center on the edge of the city. Besides the pandas, birds here include Rufous-faced Warbler, White-browed Laughingthrush, Grey-headed and Vinous-throated Parrotbills, and Yellow-billed Grosbeak. Night in Chengdu.
Day 21: The tour concludes this morning in Chengdu.
Updated: 16 July 2016
- 2017 Tour Price : $6,000
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $960
- 2018 Tour Price Not Yet Available
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.
**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.
Maximum group size 10 with two leaders. Both leaders will accompany the tour irrespective of group size.