Our southeast China in Spring tour targets some Asia’s rarest species, drawing the attention of even those with already impressive Asia and world lists. Seldom visited by western birders, we shall embark on a short, but action packed adventure beginning at the Minjiang Estuary, Fuzhou before moving our way slowly to Shanghai visiting the hot spots of Emei Feng, Wuyuan and Rudong en route. We hit the ground running searching for the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern at the Minjiang Estuary and the very skulky White-necklaced Partridge in Fuzhou itself. We move north east to Emei Feng, to find one of the world’s rarest pheasants, Cabot’s Tragopan and Spotted Elachura, now placed in its own family. Moving further north, we make a stop in Wuyuan for the recently discovered Blue-crowned (Courtois’s) Laughingthrush, of which perhaps 200 individuals still exist. Our final mega target for the tour is the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, which fattens up on the mud flats near Rudong before making its final flight to breed in Russia. Aside from the big draw card species, we shall collect a host of migrant passerines and other sought after species including Elliot’s Pheasants, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Saunder’s Gull, Fujian Fulvetta, Hartert’s Warbler, Siberian Blue Robin, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Thrush, Pallas’s Reed Buntings and a bevy of Phylloscopus warblers.
Cabot’s Tragopan, Chinese Crested Tern, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Blue-crowned (Courtois’s) Laughingthrush, Spotted Elachura, Elliot’s & Koklass Pheasant, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Saunders’s Gull, Fujian Fulvetta, Siberian Blue Robin, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, Chestnut & Brown-breasted Bulbul, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Chinese Bamboo Partridge, White-necklaced Partridge, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Collared Finchbill, Indochinese Yuhina, Yellow-bellied Tit, Chinese Hwamei, Buffy, Moustached & Masked Laughingthrush, Buff-throated, Hartert’s Leaf, Kloss’s Leaf, Sulphur-breasted, Bianchi’s, Rufous-faced and Alstrom’s Warbler, Mandarin Duck, Pied Falconet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Japanese Grosbeak, Brown Crake, Long-billed Plover, Short-tailed & Grey-headed Parrotbill, Marsh Grassbird, Reed Parrotbill, Chestnut Bunting, Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian & Pale Thrush, Rufous-tailed Robin, Amur Falcon, Pechora Pipit, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Far Eastern Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler
open mudflats, broad-leaved forest, bamboo, secondary forest, wetlands (open water & reedbeds), scrub, open fields
warm to cool, colder in the higher lying areas
Day 1: Arrival in Shanghai, fly to Fuzhou
We begin our tour of southeast China with a flight from Shanghai south to Fuzhou. Depending on our arrival times, we should have some time to start some initial exploration of Fuzhou Forest Park.
Days 2 & 3: Minjiang Estuary & Fuzhou Forest Park
Our time in Fuzhou will be largely spread between the Minjiang Estuary and Fuzhou Forest Park, though our visits will be timed according to ocean tides and local weather conditions.
The estuary will, of course be the focus of our attention for at least a few hours, and possibly on a couple of occasions. The estuary provides us the opportunity to thoroughly search for all of the specials we hope to encounter, including the star attraction – Chinese Crested Tern which is present here in spring. These very rare birds were, until recently thought to be extinct. Despite the reliability of a couple of sites, including the Minjiang Estuary – we would enter the ranks of a very small number of birders to have seen these elegant birds, should a little luck be on our side of course.
When not patrolling the shores of the estuary, our primary focus will be Fuzhou Forest Park, another fabulous spot to spend at least a day exploring. Not only does the park contain a network of well-maintained trails to service such visits, the variety of habitats contained within its boundaries house a host of widespread and localized species – foremost among the latter being White-necklaced Partridge. These birds are not uncommon in heavily wooded parts of the park, as is often evident from their vocalizations, though we will likely need to invest a lot of time to catch a glimpse of one. Along the way we can expect regular distractions from several other desirable species, including Pale-headed Woodpecker, Chestnut Bulbul, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Great Barbet, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Ashy Minivet, Collared Finchbill, Indochinese Yuhina, Brown-headed Thrush and Daurian Starling. On top of this, the list of potential migrants we may bump into includes a bounty of leaf-warblers, thrushes, buntings and even a robin or two!
Day 4: Fuzhou to Emei Feng
With at least a half-day’s journey lying between Fuzhou and our next destination, Emei Feng, we will depart town fairly early this morning. However, we do have a little time to revisit one of the sites nearby should we feel the need. We do hope, however, to arrive in the Emei Feng area with a few hours of daylight left to spare.
Days 5 & 6: Emei Feng & surrounds
Emei Feng is understandably one of the premier birding spots in the south-east corner of China. Not only do the area’s heavily wooded slopes harbour such sought-after endemics as Elliot’s Pheasant and the star bird of the region, Cabot’s Tragopan, they hold healthy populations of two other spectacular ‘chickens’ – Silver and Koklass Pheasant. A passerine platter includes Yellow-bellied Tit, Fujian and David’s Fulvetta, Chinese Hwamei, Buffy, Moustached and Masked Laughingthrush, Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Spotted Elachura.
The latter now in a monotypic family and another big drawcard in the region for family collectors, whilst warbler enthusiasts are drawn to the area for the chance to boost their lists with a host of Phylloscopus warblers including Buff-throated, Hartert’s Leaf, Kloss’s Leaf, Sulphur-breasted, Bianchi’s, Rufous-faced and Alstrom’s Warblers! In an effort to catch sight of as many of all these species as possible, we will bird the upper reaches of the mountain range as well as lower elevations, often covering the best stretches of road for pheasants in our vehicles, so as to give us the best chance of spotting these often shy beasts.
Day 7: Emei Feng to Wuyuan
Our departure from Emei Feng will provide us one more opportunity to sample the lower slopes and foothills of the mountain, hopefully rewarding us with a few more sightings and species before we begin our exploration of the lowlands around Wuyuan. We might also opt to remain in the highlands for part of the day, searching for any species we may still require.
Day 8: Wuyuan & surrounds
Wuyuan and the hills to its immediate south-west comprise almost the entire global range of the recently discovered Blue-crowned Laughingthrush, making this otherwise out-of-the-way town a must-visit destination for birders. Fortunately, the area also holds a number of other birds of significant interest, including Mandarin Duck, Masked and Moustached Laughingthrush, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Pied Falconet, Swinhoe’s Minivet, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Japanese Grosbeak, Brown Crake, Long-billed Plover, Short-tailed and Grey-headed Parrotbill, Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Red-billed Starling. We have therefore dedicated at least a full day of our China birding tour to explore the region around town, taking in a variety of habitats from agricultural areas to well-wooded slopes, quiet streams and even a restaurant rooftop!
Day 9: Wuyuan and PM flight to Shanghai
Depending on our flight schedule, we should be able to explore the Wuyuan area a little more this morning before today’s flight to Shanghai.
Day 10: Shanghai to Rudong
Much of the coastline and interior north of Shanghai is littered with mudflats, wooded plots and agricultural fields that temporarily host migrants on their journey between Southeast Asia and Australasia, as well as some very interesting resident species.
Taking our time to traverse the distance between Shanghai and Rudong during our China birding tour, we will scour some of these hotspots for a wide range of potential new species for the trip. Chief among these will be Marsh Grassbird and Reed Parrotbill, whilst migrants like Ashy Minivet, Narcissus Flycatcher, Yellow-rumped, Mugimaki and Green-backed Flycatcher, Chinese Grosbeak, Chestnut Bunting, Pale-legged Leaf and Eastern Crowned Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian and Pale Thrush, Siberian Blue and Rufous-tailed Robin, Amur Falcon, Pechora Pipit and perhaps a Northern Boobook.
Day 11: Rudong and surrounds
We will no doubt have encountered several shorebird species during our drive to Rudong, but our full day in the area will hopefully add the most prized species found along the entire eastern seaboard of China. Spoon-billed Sandpiper is of course found at several other sites along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, but none are as reliable as the coastal flats near Rudong. We therefore stand an excellent chance of seeing this Critically Endangered species. We also have enough time to search for other specials that stage in the area in preparation for their migration further south. Included in this list are Swinhoe’s Plover, Saunders’s Gull, Black-faced Spoonbill, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Far Eastern Curlew and Grey-tailed Tattler – all of which are possible in just one day of our China birding tour!
Day 12: Final departures from Shanghai
Today we start our drive south to Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport where the tour will conclude. For some this will be the end of their birding in the Orient, while for others, we shall take our scheduled flight to Taipei for the start of our Best of Taiwan tour.