White-speckled Laughingthrush Photo: Alister Benn
Lying in the most south-western corner of China, Yunnan is a province that has received very little attention from birders and yet one that holds some of the most alluring species and exciting habitats in the whole of Asia. The area’s close proximity to Myanmar (formerly Burma), along with its good roads, superb food, and often excellent hotels, is sure to make for an exceptional trip full of special birds.
On this new tour we’ll visit an area in northern Yunnan where the rare White-speckled Laughingthrush was recently rediscovered and then a number of sites close to the border with Myanmar in westernYunnan. The entire area, much of it on the ancient Southern Silk Road, is a historical treasure trove. We’ll start by visiting quaint Lijiang, whose skyline is dominated by Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and whose nearby woodlands are home to Yunnan Nuthatch.
Gaoligongshan, our next port of call, was featured in the BBC’s Wild China television series, and it’s easy to see why. We’ll search among the rich flora here for the likes of Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Cachar Wren-Babbler, Gould’s Shortwing, and Black-breasted Thrush. Next we’ll move on to Tengchong, another historic settlement and scenically stunning area surrounded by clusters of young volcanoes. We’ll concentrate on finding Brown-winged Parrotbill and Slender-billed Oriole before heading east to Nabang, a small town nestled beside the Myanmar border. Sought-after species here include Pale-billed Woodpecker, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, Collared Myna, and Vinous-breasted Starling. Our final stop will be Ruili, another border town and one also blessed with good-quality forest on its doorstep. Here we will look for such species as Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Cook’s Swift, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, and Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill before heading back to Beijing.
Day 1: Participants should arrive in Beijing no later than this evening. Night in Beijing.
Day 2: Arriving in Beijing in the early morning, we’ll connect with a flight south to Lijiang in western Yunnan. It’s unlikely that we’ll arrive in time to do any birding, so we’ll almost certainly drive straight to our comfortable hotel on the edge of Lijiang’s historic old town, a district that dates back more than eight centuries. Originally inhabited by the ethnically distinct Naxi cultural group, Lijiang is an attractive modest-sized town. Once a confluence for trade along the old packhorse road, Lijiang’s old town is famous for its orderly Naxi architecture and distinctive system of waterways and bridges. Recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Lijiang is now a booming tourist resort with equal numbers of visitors drawn to the town’s rich cultural heritage and to the nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a snow-capped peak that boasts the Northern Hemisphere’s southernmost glacier. At almost 5,600 meters this impressive mountain remains proudly unclimbed. Night in Lijiang.
Day 3: We’ll spend a full day around picturesque Lijiang. After breakfast we’ll go to the site where the poorly known and globally threatened White-speckled Laughingthrush was recently discovered. Other target species in the rich forests here include Yunnan’s only endemic bird, the imaginatively named Yunnan Nuthatch, as well as the fabulously inquisitive Rufous-tailed Babbler, Black-bibbed Tit, vociferous but melancholy Black-headed Sibia, Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler, Chinese Babax, Elliot’s Laughingthrush, Rusty-capped and Spectacled Fulvettas, White-collared Yuhina, and our first Phylloscopus warblers.
Time permitting, we’ll spend the afternoon exploring Lashihai, a bird-thronged lake a short distance west of town where we hope to see Falcated and Ferruginous Ducks, while small flocks of Common Cranes strut amid the tiny fields where Black-headed Greenfinches also feed. Night in Lijiang.
Day 4: After another morning near Lijiang searching for species we might have missed earlier, we’ll start a lengthy journey south to Baoshan. This will be our longest drive of the entire tour, and it’s unlikely we’ll arrive at our Baoshan hotel until the early evening. Night in Baoshan.
Day 5: Leaving Baoshan early, we’ll continue on to Baihualing in the mighty Gaoligong mountain range. Our spectacular route will take us through deep valleys and across impressive dividing ranges, and while the roads are now excellent and our progress likely to be rapid and easy, this wasn’t always the case. Indeed, it’s the region’s former remoteness that has kept it an intact, vast refuge for an extraordinarily rich biodiversity. The Gaoligong range, sandwiched between the mighty Salween (Nujiang) River and neighboring Myanmar, encompasses a wide variety of habitats from subtropical evergreen forests to snow-capped peaks and glaciers at over 6,000 meters. We’ll be enthralled by the fabulous Gaoligong forests—the same forests that several early plant hunters, including George Forrest and Frank Kingdon Ward (themselves immortalized by plants and birds that carry their names to this day), explored for rhododendrons and other garden-worthy plants. Night at Baihualing Guest House.
Days 6–7: Spending two full days based at Baihualing Nature Reserve right in the heart of Gaoligong’s incredibly varied forests, we’ll have a good amount of time to find some of the reserve’s more celebrated birds among its 1,400-plus plant species. In stands of bamboo we’ll search for delights such as Broad-billed Warbler and Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler while deep forest gullies will hold more secretive species such as the often reticent Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, Spotted and Grey-bellied Wren-Babblers, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, and the gorgeous Red-tailed Laughingthrush. We’ll explore several forest trails, including one that was previously part of the Southern Silk Road. Other special species will include Black-headed and Blyth’s Shrike-Babblers, Beautiful Sibia, Spot-breasted Parrotbill, and with luck even Gould’s Shortwing. Three tesias—Slaty-bellied, Grey-bellied, and Chestnut-headed—also inhabit the moss-encrusted lush forest. Hill and Rufous-throated Partridges are, unfortunately, both much more likely to be heard than seen, while other secretive forest denizens include both Silver and Mrs. Hume’s Pheasants. We’ll spend two more nights in the reserve’s comfortable Baihualing Guest House.
Day 8: After a final morning at Baihualing we’ll drive to Tengchong, an area famed for a mild climate, ancient volcanoes and geothermal springs, and the important role it played during the Second World War when Allied pilots flew sorties to resupply Chinese forces fighting the Japanese. We’ll spend the night in a comfortable hotel in Tengchong.
Day 9: We may be woken this morning by the attractive song of Black-breasted Thrush, the first of a handful of Tengchong specialties that we’ll spend the morning searching for. A pleasant bird-thronged park holds our other targets—Mountain Bamboo Partridge, the localized Brown-winged Parrotbill, and Slender-billed Oriole—along with other species, and we’ll spend several hours here before heading on to Nabang, a small settlement right on the border with Myanmar where we’ll spend the next three nights.
Days 10–11: Spending two full days around Nabang, we’ll have ample time to see many of the area’s lower-elevation ornithological delights. Some, such as Grey Peacock-Pheasant and Spot-bellied Eagle-Owl, are genuinely rare and decidedly elusive, but others, including Black-tailed Crake, Grey-headed Parakeet, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Collared Treepie, Red-billed and perhaps even Coral-billed Scimitar Babblers, and Rufous-capped and Yunnan Fulvettas, will be easier to find (we hope). The forests here abound with birds, and in our quest to see a representative sample of them, we’ll explore some forest trails and a small reserve not far from our hotel. This is the best area in the whole of China for seeing species such as Oriental Pied, Great, and Wreathed Hornbills, White-hooded Babbler, Golden-crested and Collared Mynas, and Vinous-breasted Starling as well as both Sapphire and Hill Blue Flycatchers. At times Myanmar will be only a stone’s throw away, and the river where we’ll look for Ibisbill is actually the border, so we’re sure to add species to our embryonic Myanmar lists as we go. Nights in Nabang.
Day 12: After a final morning near Nabang we’ll head to another, equally fascinating settlement on the China-Myanmar border, Ruili. We’ll spend three nights in Ruili.
Days 13–14: Home of the Dai ethnic group, Ruili is bordered on three sides by Myanmar and is a much larger and more prosperous border settlement than Nabang. The import of gems, jade ware, and jadeite from neighboring Myanmar has helped create China’s largest jewel market. As in Nabang, many of the low-lying ridges around Ruili are cloaked in good-quality forest, and with two full days here we’ll concentrate on finding some of this area’s specialties. These include such birds as Jerdon’s Baza, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Brown Wood Owl, Stripe-breasted Woodpecker, Black-throated and Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, and both Pale-billed (previously Lesser Rufous-headed) and White-breasted (split from Greater Rufous-headed) Parrotbills. With a bit of luck we might also come across a Hodgson’s Frogmouth. Nights in Ruili.
Day 15: After a final morning in Ruili we’ll make a short drive to nearby Mangshi, where we’ll take a flight up to Kunming, Yunnan’s provincial capital. From there we’ll fly back to Beijing, where we’ll spend the night in a hotel near the airport.
Day 16: The tour concludes this morning in Beijing.
Updated: 29 March 2012
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
- (2013 Tour Price $6250)
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
* This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Please review the explanation of our Sunbird pricing here.
Maximum group size 10 with two leaders.