Monday, 18 June 2012

Sichuan & Tibetan Plateau Tour

Sichuan lies in the very heart of China and is situated on the eastern edge of the vast Tibetan Plateau.  It is a huge province, the size of France and hosts the richest concentration of Chinese specialities and endemics in this vast country. There is a remarkable wealth of birdlife waiting in its rich evergreen and temperate forests, alpine meadows, mighty snow-capped mountains and grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau which form some of the most spectacular scenery of any bird tour! Our unique and special  two-week tour visited the mountains of Labahe,  Balang Shan, Mengbi Shan, the Tibetan Plateau, and finished with a post-tour extension to Shaanxi Province for the amazing Crested Ibis. In all we recorded 275 species which included 54 endemic, near endemic and breeding-endemics. Amongst a very special selection of spectacular species the bird of the trip was Temminck’s Tragopan and families very well represented including 14 ‘galliformes’, 25 species of warbler, 28 species of babbler and 9 species of Rosefinch. 


Following an overnight flight from London via Hong Kong we eventually arrived at Chengdu in the early afternoon. After meeting Tang Jun we drove to a restaurant for lunch before paying a visit to Yuantan Park where despite the number of people and noise managed to notch up a few birds. First up was Chinese Blackbird, looking and sounding different to the blackbirds back in the UK. A few Vinous-throated Parrotbills showed very well, as did a cracking Yellow-billed (Chinese) Grosbeak, Collared Finchbill and several White-browed Laughingthrushes. With plenty of Chinese Bulbuls, a few Black-throated Tits, Himalayan Swiftlet, and a few other common species we had made a decent start and with most of the target species seen headed to our nearby hotel for a much needed rest before dinner.

We left Chengdu early the next morning and headed out across the Red Basin, a huge area of lowland cultivation, stopping to check out a small wooded area beside a river. What a great move this turned out to be as a displaying Forest Wagtail was seen, quickly followed by a pair of Swinhoe’s Minivets and a very fine Tiger Shrike. A small flock of Ashy-throated Parrotbills also came into view along the narrow stream, and as we watched them a very bright male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher flew in. With a couple of Grey-headed Canary-flycatchers and Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Oriental Greenfinch and a pair of Chinese Grosbeaks seen as well, along with some commoner species things were going well. Moving on, we checked out some sites for Hwamei but only succeeded in getting an Asian Drongo-cuckoo and Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler. So by now it was late morning and we headed to a great little restaurant in Ya’an for another great meal before driving further west to Labahe. 

The road went for miles through a spectacularly scenic river valley with huge, forest-clad mountains on either side and we then stopped to watch a Brown Dipper feeding in the tumbling river. Also here was a Spangled Drongo and a very tape-responsive Alstrom’s Warbler. Once inside the reserve we walked a few kilometres along the road and despite the misty & drizzly conditions managed decent views of Dark-sided Flycatcher, the endemic Yellow-bellied and several Green-backed Tits, a wing-flicking Claudia’s Warbler and a heard only Bianchi’s Warbler. A large flock of Asian House-martins and Himalayan Swiftlets held one or two Pacific Swifts, and a few White-throated Needletails also put in an appearance. Other birds seen included Blue Whistling-thrush, White-capped and Plumbeous Water-Redstarts, Japanese Tit and Red-billed Blue Magpie before reaching our accommodation for the next four nights, set amidst superb forest at 1950m.

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