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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

China: Yunnan Province

2018 Narrative

A quick perusal of the end of tour ‘Bird of the Trip’ list gives a good indication of just how successful this year’s Yunnan tour was. The network of photographic blinds that have been so popular at Yingjiang and in the Gaoligong Mountains on our previous tours continue to be expanded and there were now multiple offerings at both these sites. And boy did we see birds from these blinds. It’s a testimony to their success that the five top birds in the end of trip ‘Bird of the Tour’ poll were all seen best, and most memorably, from one or more of these blinds. Common Green Magpie and Red-headed Trogon romped home as the joint winners – and Paul, who has now been to Yunnan 19 times, had never come remotely close to seeing either of them anywhere near as well as we did on this tour. Third in that same poll was Red-tailed Laughingthrush and at one stage we had more than a dozen of these gorgeous-yet- combative gems in view at the same time! Blue-winged Laughingthrush and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher came in fourth relegating the likes of Grey Peacock-pheasant, Golden Bush Robin, Red-billed Leiothrix, Red-tailed Minla, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Mrs Hume’s Pheasant, Mountain Bamboo Partridge and White-browed Shortwing, all potential winners, to lesser positions.

Our introduction to birding in Yunnan was at Moli Tropical Forest Park between Mangshi and Ruili. And what an introduction: the 1.5 kilometre stretch of flat road between the entrance gate and the car park took us almost three hours to walk – but then, with distractions such as our first male Red-headed Trogon, two Long-tailed Broadbills, two Rosy Minivets, a rather elusive Speckled Piculet as well as 12 Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters and three Rufous-headed Parrotbills, no-one was complaining! After our first of Qingyu’s picnic breakfasts we pressed on into the park and up towards the waterfall. Several Slaty-backed Forktails and Streaked Wren-babblers performed well but our first encounter with Slaty-bellied Tesia left much to be desired. After lunch we visited a now-defunct smaller tropical park right on the border with Myanmar and scored here as well with a handful of sunbirds and a Wire-tailed Swallow metres from where the first for China was seen back in 2004.

The next day saw us exploring a forested ridge close to Ruili town and, with over 120 species logged, this was one of the most birdy days of the entire tour. Here again birds came thick and fast with six Pin-tailed Green Pigeons, four of the recently-split Cook’s Swifts, several Mountain Tailorbirds, and some superb views of our first White-browed Piculets. Other goodies on this same ridge included a fabulous Greater Yellownape, four rather recalcitrant White-hooded Babblers, a pair of vocal Spot-throated Babblers, a superb Hume’s Treecreeper and our first Black-breasted Thrushes. We had lunch after hacking our way down a largely overgrown trail and explored a different area in the afternoon.

Our next port of call would be Yingjiang and its bird hides, but we explored another forested ridge on route. Here too there were plenty of goodies with five Speckled Wood Pigeon, a loud Grey-bellied Wren Babbler, the first of our five Banded Bay Cuckoos (and the only one that we would actually see), our only Jerdon’s Baza of the tour, a cruising Black Eagle, no fewer than six Short-billed Minivets, stunning looks at a manikin-like exaggerated dancing pair of Slaty-bellied Tesias, three more Rufous-backed Sibias, and great looks at our first White-gorgeted Flycatcher. But for some it was the magnificent pair of Cachar Wedge-billed Babblers that really stole the show. That afternoon the Yingjiang River yielded the hoped-for Small Pratincoles and River Terns.

The network of photographic blinds that have proved so popular in the Gaoligong Mountains on our previous tours have more recently been expanded and there were now several in the lower elevation forests to the southwest of Yingjiang. And boy did we see some birds from these blinds! Highlights of our time around Yingjiang included Grey Peacock-pheasant (we’d see seven and hear at least eight others), two Collared Falconets, Oriental Dollarbirds galore, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Great Slaty Woodpecker, a magnificent male Indian Paradise Flycatcher, two stunning Collared Treepies, an obliging Large Scimitar Babbler and both Lesser Necklaced and Black-throated Laughingthrushes.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing…we only heard and never managed to see the Blue-naped Pittas that Paul had seen so well here only a few days earlier, and Black-backed, our hoped for fourth species of forktail, was nowhere to be seen.

Agricultural land on the edge of Yingjiang held several other species with Crested Bunting, Burmese Shrike, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, the range-restricted Collared Myna, Grey-headed Lapwing and Siberian Rubythroat being among the best.

After a successful excursion to a forest near the southern edge of the mighty Gaoligong mountain range for Manipur Fulvetta – a trip that also produced our only Grey-sided Laughingthrushes of the tour – we next headed to the town park in the volcanic region of Tengchong. Here we hoped to find Brown-winged Parrotbill (and we did – surprisingly quickly) and a few other goodies before we moved on yet again, this time to Baihualing in the mighty Gaoligong Mountains.

Stunning scenery, nice accommodation, an abundance of good food, and more fabulous birding – made all that much easier with the advent of the photographic blinds mentioned earlier. We scored well with numerous encounters with Rufous-throated Partridges, six Mountain Bamboo Partridges, three Mrs. Hume’s Pheasants, an impressive haul of laughingthrushes (Blue-winged, Scaly, Assam, and Red-tailed) and three confiding Long-tailed and a Himalayan Thrush. Normally skulking species such as Chinese Wren Babbler, Chestnut-headed Tesia, White-browed Shortwing, and Golden Bush Robin lost their inhibitions, appeared like apparitions as if from nowhere, strutted their stuff right in front of the photographic blinds and then vanished just as quickly. Oh, and then there was the brilliant performance by a pair of Spot-breasted Parrotbills. It was a reluctant group that finally left after two-and-a-half days at Baihualing but other things, including a male Falcated Duck on the edge of a reservoir near Baoshan, beckoned.

Our journey up to our final destination, Lijiang, a town whose skyline is dominated by the 5600-meter peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, had been eased considerably by the construction of another new expressway and we could afford the time to be distracted en route by the likes of Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Purple Swamphen, Clamorous Reed Warbler, and a typically-elusive Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. We’d hardly arrived at Lijiang when we found the first of the historic town’s star avian attractions: a Yunnan Nuthatch. And although most of us only glimpsed sordidior Spectacled Fulvetta and Black-browed Tit that day, we’d go on to see them again as well as Chinese Babax, Rufous-tailed Babbler, and an inquisitive Black-bibbed Tit remarkably easily the following morning. Somehow, we even found time for a leisurely stroll around Lijiang’s ancient (well, sort of – it’s now a glorified shopping precinct with the likes of McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks) town center. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site and booming tourist resort with its ethnically distinctive Naxi cultural group, Lijiang’s undoubtedly a fascinating place but one that we spent too little time in before another flawless flight took us back up to Beijing.

I wrote in a recent China tour report ‘How many of us knew, in advance of our trip, quite what to expect in modern day China and how many of us went home with altered opinions as to where the Middle Kingdom’s heading? Now more than ever China’s a land of incredible contrasts and accelerating social change, a land of considerable personal wealth juxtaposed with near grinding poverty, a land of thriving elitism, rampant ambition and a populace with an enviable work ethic. Right now’s the time to visit China and we were privileged indeed to see some of the more impressive parts of it’. In these days of a major global economic downturn all this still holds true. 

 -         Paul Holt


Created: 30 April 2018