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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

China: Happy Island and Beidaihe

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Green-backed Flycatcher Photo: Paul Holt

Happy Island and the seaside resort of Beidaihe are both approximately 280 kilometres east of Beijing. Situated on the Gulf of Bohai at the northern end of the Yellow Sea they have become established as top spring migration watch points and are now the destination for seeing Asian migrants, including many of the Siberian species which occur as vagrants in the western US. The tracts of woodland, the rocky outcrops, mudflats and estuaries along the coastline act as magnets to the hundreds of thousands of birds migrating north. There are always birds to see and given the right conditions the number of these migrants can be truly spectacular. During our visit we would hope to witness at least one large “fallout” but even a more typical day should produce thrushes, flycatchers, warblers, pipits and buntings. Our tour coincides with the peak of spring migration in coastal north eastern China and, even though we only stay in five different places throughout the entire two week trip, we can still expect to see over 200 species, of which about only 15 are residents!

We’ll spend five nights on Happy Island, three nights at the wader paradise of Nanpu, one night on Old Peak, and somehow also find time for sightseeing on the Great Wall! Our accommodation is good, the food superb, there’s not much travelling, and the birding can be as good as it gets.

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: The Sunbird group will arrive in Beijing this morning and we will begin our almost 280 kilometer drive to Jingtanggang. We should arrive in time for an initial exploration of several of this area’s migration spots. At some stage we’ll visit the ‘Magic Wood’ – a name given to this small coppice by birders stunned at the remarkable variety of birds it contained! Night at Jingtanggang.

Days 3-7: After almost a full day around Jingtanggang we’ll take a 20 minute boat ride to the aptly named Happy Island. Stretching just over four kilometers from end-to-end and just under half this at its widest point, the island is a wonderful place to go especially now that excellent accommodation has been added to all the migrants. We could see a few over-summering Relict Gulls while Saunders’s Gull breeds nearby and is normally seen daily. When not scouring the narrow mud flats we’ll be searching for passerines, perhaps the premier attraction of Happy Island. Siberian Rubythroats, Rufous-tailed Robins, Two-barred and especially Yellow-browed Warblers can be common to abundant while past rarities have included Narcissus Flycatcher and the ever-elusive Fairy Pitta.

As with all migration watch-points, the birding is strongly influenced by the weather. Even on ‘quiet’ days there should be good numbers of migrants around, but it is the falls of grounded birds and the ‘waves’ of passing migrants that help make a visit to Happy Island and Beidaihe so memorable. Visits in recent years have included such remarkable daily counts as 18 Von Schrenck’s Bitterns, 26 Baillon’s Crakes, 150 Olive-backed and 70 Red-throated Pipits, 200 Brown Shrikes, 250 Siberian Blue Robins, 100 Yellow-browed, 35 Radde’s, 49 Lanceolated, 82 Black-browed Reed and 44 Thick-billed Warblers and 260 Chestnut-flanked White-eyes. Waves of passing birds have included 140 Pied Harriers, over 1000 Crested Honey-buzzards, 667 Pacific Golden Plovers and 276 Little Whimbrels! This really is migration birding at its very, very best. Nights on Happy Island.

Days 8-10: Leaving Happy Island around midday on day 8, we’ll return to the mainland to search for more migrants before swinging southwest to a spectacular shorebirding area around Nanpu. We’ll spend three nights and two full days here – just enough time to get a flavor of this often spectacular site. With a huge expanse of near coastal saltpans and extensive inter tidal mudflats Nanpu’s been the site of concerted conservation and research efforts in recent years. Small numbers of Nordmann’s Greenshank are regularly seen in spring and we hope to find one or two among the many thousands of Great and Red Knot, Red-necked Stints and Bar-tailed Godwits. Other species we’re sure to see include Sharp-tailed and Terek Sandpipers and Eastern Curlew. Asian Dowitchers will already be scarce by mid-May but we’d expect to find a few as we would with Broad-billed Sandpiper. Several Spoon-billed Sandpipers have been seen in recent years but we’d be extremely lucky to find one of these extreme rarities. 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. Nights in Nanpu.

Day 11: We’ll drive a short way up the coast from Nanpu to Beidaihe. Unlike mid-summer, when Beidaihe is bustling with Chinese fleeing the oppressive heat of Beijing and Tianjin, the town will be largely devoid of tourists, save for the occasional foreign birdwatcher. Once the epicenter of migraton watching in north-eastern China, Beidaihe has in recent years been eclipsed by Happy Island as development has taken many of the best areas. However there are several of note remaining and Beidaihe can still be very rewarding. Night in Beidaihe.

Days 12-13: We’ll spend two full days in Beidaihe. The mix of species we should see will have changed noticeably as spring migration has progressed, and birds which are more likely towards the end of our stay include Von Schrenck’s Bittern, Baillon’s Crake, Grey-tailed Tattler, Oriental Reed, Thick-billed, Pallas’s Grasshopper and Lanceolated Warblers, and Dark-sided Flycatcher. Nights in Beidaihe.

Day 14: We’ll leave Beidaihe early to drive to Old Peak, which at 1,424 meters is the highest mountain close to the coast. We first explored the protected remnant forest here in the early 1990’s. It was then, and still is, one of very few patches of forest on the entire Chinese eastern seaboard! The lower, scrub-covered slopes hold small populations of Blunt-winged Warblers and Manchurian Bush Warbler and we hope to see both of these before we head higher up. Our recent visits have also yielded Koklass Pheasant, Large Hawk, Lesser, Indian and Himalayan Cuckoos, near endemics such as Chinese Nuthatch and Yellow-bellied Tits, Hair-crested Drongo, Chinese Thrush, White-bellied Redstart, the recently described Chinese Leaf Warbler, as well as Claudia’s Leaf Warbler and Yellow-throated Bunting. The mountain’s two top avian attractions are Grey-sided Thrush and Green-backed Flycatcher. Both are globally-threatened and only known to breed at a handful of sites in north-eastern China, with Old Peak being the best known. Our accommodation will be in a newly refurbished guest house surrounded by woodland, right in the heart of the best forest and the best birding. Night at Old Peak.

Day 15: After another exciting, birdsong-filled morning on Old Peak we’ll return to the coast, and from there head back to Beijing. We’ll pause on the way to search for Long-billed Plover, Red-billed Chough and Eurasian Crag Martin. We’ll spend the night in a hotel close to the airport. Night in Beijing.

Day 16: The tour concludes this morning in Beijing.

Updated: 01 June 2017


This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

Questions? The Tour Manager for this tour is Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 or 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* 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 group irrespective of group size. 

Single accommodation not available on Happy Island.

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