Located in south-western China, Yunnan Province has recorded over 770 bird species, including several species that are restricted to this tiny area of southern China and neighboring northern Myanmar and remote north-east India, ranking first in China in terms of total bird species. Yunnan has a varied climate ranging from subtropical forests in the hills and lowlands to cool temperate forests in the higher mountains. Highlights include Lady Amherst’s and Mrs. Hume’s Pheasants, Yunnan and Giant Nuthatches, Red-tailed and the rare and endangered White-speckled Laughingthrushes, superb Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Chinese Babax, Chinese and Black-breasted Thrushes, Rusty-capped, Yellow-throated, Spectacled and Yunnan Fulvetta, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Black-headed Greenfinch, Beautiful and Black-headed Sibia, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler, Godlewski’s Bunting, Black-bibbed Tit and the extremely localized and unique Rufous-tailed Babbler (Moupinia).
Lady Amherst’s & Mrs. Hume’s Pheasants, Yunnan & Giant Nuthatches, White-speckled & Red-tailed Laughingthrushes, Chinese Babax, Scarlet-faced Liocichla, White-tailed Robin, Crested Finchbill, Chinese & Black-breasted Thrushes, Rosy Minivet, Rusty-capped, Yellow-throated, Spectacled and Yunnan Fulvettas, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Black-headed Greenfinch, Beautiful and Black-headed Sibias, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler, Godlewski’s Bunting, Black-bibbed Tit & Rufous-tailed Babbler (Moupinia)
coniferous (mostly pine) & broad-leaved forest, bamboo, secondary forest, wetlands (open water & reedbeds), scrub, open fields
warm to moderate, cooler in the higher lying areas
spectacular scenery, seldom-visited forests and mountains
Day 1: Flight from Chengdu to Kunming and drive to Zixishan Nature Reserve
This morning we begin the Yunnan Extension with a flight from Chengdu (the capital city of Sichuan) to Kunming in southern Yunnan province. The provincial capital is Kunming and is known as the “City of Eternal Spring”, with a population of 4 million and lying at an elevation of 1,800m (5900ft). From here we will then embark on a three hour drive through the hilly terrain south-west of Kunming to Zixishan Nature Reserve, arriving in time for some late afternoon birding in the surrounding coniferous and mixed broad-leaved forest. Our well-appointed but rather rustic guest house is perfectly situated in the heart of the nature reserve. Mouth-watering species that we may already encounter this afternoon include Black-headed Greenfinch, Black-headed Sibia, Black-breasted and Chinese Thrushes and Godlewski’s Bunting.
Day 2: Zixishan Nature Reserve and drive to Dali
We will spend the entire morning birding along the network of roads and side-tracks in Zixishan Nature Reserve. Our day will begin early with a dawn drive in search of the rare Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant that can sometimes be found feeding at the road edge in the early morning. We will, however, have to be very fortunate to encounter this seldom-seen and declining pheasant. In the large stands of pine trees, we will search for Giant, Yunnan and Chestnut-vented Nuthatches, while Rosy and Long-tailed Minivets, Grey-capped Pygmy and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Black-browed and Black-throated Bushtits, Russet Sparrow, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Magpie, Ashy-throated Warbler, Brown-breasted Bulbul and Blyth’s Shrike-babbler may also be found. We will also explore the small pockets of broad-leaved forest in the wetter gullies for species such as Rusty-capped, Yunnan and Spectacled Fulvetta, White-tailed Robin, Rufous-capped Babbler, Blue-winged Minla, Vivid Niltava, Chinese Blue and Brown-breasted Flycatchers, Red-billed Leiothrix and Grey-crowned Warbler.
In the late morning, we will depart Zixishan and after a tasty lunch in the town below we shall continue the drive to Dali, a city that is distinctly separated between the “old” and “new” sections of the town. “New” Dali is essentially a modern city, while “old” Dali is a rather quaint and interesting town that has continued to survive as a traditional Yunnanese village with a lot of charm. Our hotel tonight is situated in the heart of old Dali and is well appointed for our late afternoon and early morning visits to the nearby Cangshan Mountain.
We will check into our hotel upon arrival in the late afternoon and then drive up to the top of Cangshan, an impressive mountain that towers over Dali and also harbours some great birds, most notably the spectacular and much-desired Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. The pheasant will be our main target this afternoon but we may also encounter several other eye-catching species that are all possible again tomorrow.
Day 3: Dali to Gaoligongshan via Cangshan
This morning on our China birding tour, we will drive to Cangshan and head up to higher elevations in search of the fabulous Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, which can sometimes be found along the road edges in the early morning. We will commence our general birding of the mountain after a field breakfast that may well be interrupted by several exciting species such as Collared Grosbeak, Russet and Aberrant Bush Warblers, the dazzling Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird and Black-headed Greenfinch. Other noteworthy species we hope to encounter this morning include the unique and endemic Rufous-tailed Babbler (or Moupinia as it is often called), chattering flocks of White-collared Yuhina, Elliot’s Laughingthrush, Rusty-capped, White-browed, Spectacled and Yunnan Fulvettas, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Black-streaked and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Japanese White-eye, Yellow-throated Bunting, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Bianchi’s Warbler. After lunch back in old Dali, we will commence our six hour drive south to Gaoligongshan where we can expect to arrive in the early evening. Gaoligongshan is a long chain of forested mountains that run from north to south along the Burmese border and harbour an array of mouth-watering specialities. We will spend three nights at our perfectly situated and hospitable guest house near the edge of the forest.
Days 4 & 5: Gaoligongshan
We have two full days of our China birding tour in this wonderfully bird-rich area and will spend time birding the lush, mid-altitude broad-leaved forest that cloaks the surrounding mountains as well as the secondary forest above our guest house. Both habitats are prolific for birds and we can expect a very enjoyable and exciting time birding along the track that winds its way through this beautiful forest.
In the pristine forest higher up we will search for specialities like Beautiful Sibia, Golden-throated Barbet, Grey-bellied Tesia, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Pygmy Wren-Babbler, Collared Owlet, the scarce and secretive Grey-sided Laughingthrush, handsome Yellow-cheeked Tit, richly-colored Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Blyth’s Shrike-Babbler, Chestnut-tailed, Red-tailed and Blue-winged Minla, Rusty-fronted Barwing and the shy and retiring Rufous-throated and Hill Partridges.
The lower altitude secondary forest supports Wedge-tailed and Pin-tailed Green Pigeons, Speckled Wood Pigeon, Black-breasted Thrush, Blue-throated Barbet, Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler, the splendid Scarlet-faced Liocichla, Blue-winged and the stunning Red-tailed Laughingthrushes, Striated, Brown-breasted, Flavescent and Mountain Bulbuls, eye-catching Crested Finchbill, buzzing Black-throated Bushtits, Chestnut-flanked White-eye, the gaudy Silver-eared Mesia, Yunnan Fulvetta, Grey Treepie, Grey Bush Chat, Hill Prinia, Blue Whistling Thrush, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush and Black-throated Sunbird. We may very well also encounter Crested Goshawk, migrating Chinese Sparrowhawk and the magnificent Black Eagle soaring overhead.
If we are very fortunate, we may even find a few of Gaoligong’s very rarely seen inhabitants such as Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler, Grey-bellied Wren-Babbler or Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, while an evening excursion to the forest edge could yield Brown Wood Owl and the rare and elusive Hodgson’s Frogmouth.
Day 6: Gaoligongshan to Lijiang
After some final birding this morning we will embark on the long drive to Lijiang where we will arrive in the late afternoon. We may encounter a few widespread lower altitude species along the drive such as Black-winged Kite, Spotted Dove, Greater Coucal, White-throated Kingfisher, Coppersmith Barbet, Red-rumped Swallow, Asian House and Pale Martins, Sooty-headed and Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Long-tailed Shrike, Pied Bush Chat, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Crested Bunting, Grey-breasted and Striated Prinia, Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Oriental White-eye and Scaly-breasted Munia. Depending on our arrival time at Lijiang, we may be able to explore a nearby wetland that usually harbours an array of water-birds and interesting, thicket-associated species. Eurasian Wigeon and Ferruginous Duck are usually present and we may find Oriental Reed Warbler, Dusky and Alpine Leaf Warblers, Taiga Flycatcher and Black-faced Bunting in the surrounding thickets and low trees. The wetland edge provides habitat for migrating Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Citrine and White Wagtails, Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Wood Sandpiper and Rosy Pipit.
Day 7: Lijiang
Early this morning we will head out in search of Lijiang’s prize birds in the forested slopes of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, peaking at an incredible 5,000m (16,400ft)! Although the peaks rise up to that altitude, we will be birding between 2000 and 2800m (7000 and 9200ft) for most of the morning. Our aim in particular is to find Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, should we not have already seen this species at Cangshan. It is an uncommon but regularly recorded pheasant with sightings more often in the early morning or late afternoon along the roads. Other great birds we will also be looking for here on our China birding tour include Spotted Nutcracker, the very rare and endangered White-speckled Laughingthrush, Chinese Babax, Yunnan Nuthatch, Grey-crested, Coal, Japanese and Green-backed Tits, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Indian Blue Robin, White-bellied Redstart, Grey-crowned, Black-faced and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Pale-footed Bush Warbler, Black-headed Sibia, Davison’s, Alpine and Blyth’s Leaf Warblers, Slaty-backed and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers, Rufous-tailed Babbler, the scarce Grey-headed Bullfinch and elusive Upland Pipit. Open fields near the roads hold Eurasian Hoopoe, Oriental Skylark, Siberian Stonechat, Grey-backed Shrike and Russet Sparrow.
After lunch back in Lijiang town, we will drive for about an hour and a half to an area of mixed bamboo and broad-leaved forest near the Yangtze River where our main target species will be the scarce and range-restricted Brown-winged Parrotbill. Other notable species that we may encounter here include Black-breasted Thrush, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird and Black-headed Greenfinch and if we are very lucky the rare, elusive and nomadic Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker.
Day 8: Flight from Lijiang to Chengdu and final departure
After breakfast at our hotel, we will fly back to Chengdu where the tour will conclude, and those continuing on the main Sichuan tour will meet up with their fellow participants and commence birding in the city’s Botanical Gardens.