Poyang Lake Cranes and Mountains
4–19 January 2018
This new tour combines the mountains west of Beijing, where Siberian Accentor, Ala Shan Redstart, Pallas’s Rosefinch and Asian Rosy-finch can be found, and the southeastern wetlands, where waterfowl include Baikal Teal and Hooded, Red-crowned and White-naped Cranes plus most of the world’s population of Siberian Cranes. We will also look for Scaly-sided Merganser, Cabot’s Tragopan and Spoon-billed Sandpiper.
Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Beijing via Zurich.
Day 2 Early morning arrival in Beijing and drive west into the mountains where the air will certainly be cleaner than in the capital! As we gradually climb up into the mountains we will start to see Red-throated Thrushes on the buckthorn. We are however, looking for three species which are difficult to see in their breeding ranges: Siberian Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch and Asian Rosy-finch. Whilst searching for these birds we should also see White-winged Redstarts and if exceptionally lucky, Ala Shan Redstarts, which were recorded at this site during the winter of 2013/4. Other species which may be present include Alpine Accentor and Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch. Late afternoon, we will transfer back to Beijing where we will spend the night.
Day 3 After breakfast we will take a mid-morning flight from Beijing to Yancheng (Salt City) followed by a short drive to the Yancheng Nature Reserve. There is a formal reserve with a visitor centre but the rest of the area is a vast complex of reedbeds, lagoons, grasslands, fishponds and saltpans bordering the Yellow Sea. The star bird here is the wintering flock of Red-crowned Cranes, a large percentage of the remaining world population together with greater numbers of Common Cranes with the occasional Hooded or even Sandhill Crane. Two nights Yancheng.
Days 4 We will spend the whole day at Yancheng Nature Reserve. Many waterfowl winter here and we will search for the globally-threatened Baikal Teal amongst them. On the coast, large flocks of gulls can be found and as well as the commoner Black-tailed and Herring (Vega) Gulls we may find the equally rare Relict and Saunders’s Gulls. Passerines will not be forgotten as the reedbeds are full of Reed Parrotbills and Pallas’s Buntings whilst the woodland edges attract Little, Rustic and Yellow-throated Buntings with Ochre-rumped Bunting also possible. Flocks of grosbeaks may contain both Japanese and Yellow-billed whilst Dusky, Grey-backed and Pale Thrushes all winter here. Brown Crakes can be found in the ditches and Chinese Grey Shrike is a speciality here but it is by no means easy with Long-tailed Shrike being much commoner. Flocks of diving ducks can be found on the various lakes in the area and may include Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Goldeneye and Ferruginous Ducks amongst the ubiquitous Tufted Ducks. We may even be lucky enough to find the critically-endangered Baer’s Pochard. Also, Azure-winged Magpies can be found in the pine trees close to the roads.
Day 5 We will have the morning to further explore Yancheng Nature Reserve to search for any important species we may still need before driving south in the afternoon to Shanghai, crossing the mighty Yangtze River, where we will catch a late evening flight to Fuzhou, our base for the next three nights.
Day 6 Today is a very special day. We will drive east to Changle on the coast where we will take a boat (actually a punt across a channel!) to a small offshore island to look for one of the world’s rarest waders, Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Thousands of waders can be seen at close range with Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin predominating and smaller numbers of Red-necked Stints. Whilst several Spoon-billed Sandpipers have been present for the past few winters they are very dependent on the vagaries of weather and tides. The endangered Black-faced Spoonbill can also be found here. We will also visit some nearby marshes where White-breasted Waterhen and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas can sometimes be found in the winter together with Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, which winter in small numbers. Nearby pools also occasionally hold Baer’s Pochard amongst the common diving ducks.
Day 7 Today we will spend the whole day in the Fuzhou Forest Park. Actually, we will already be in a hotel in the park so we will have a head start on day visitors! This is an excellent site for seeing both Slaty-backed and White-crowned Forktails with the former being remarkably tame for a forktail. Fork-tailed Sunbird is usually easy to see here but quite the opposite are White-necklaced Partridge even making Chinese Bamboo-partridges look like exhibitionists! Streak-breasted Scimitar-babblers haunt the thickets around the streams whilst Orange-bellied Leafbirds, Scarlet Minivets, Oriental Magpie-robins and Chestnut and Light-vented Bulbuls are relatively common. Other birds we will look out for are Black Eagle, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Great Barbet, Red-headed Trogon, Grey Treepie, Large Woodshrike, Common Tailorbird, Plumbeous Redstart, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Japanese White-eye, Collared Finchbill and Japanese Tit whilst Japanese Robin regularly winters in the park. Depending on weather conditions, we may swap yesterday’s itinerary with today's.
Day 8 It is quite a long drive to Emei Feng in the Wuyishan Mountains on the borders of the Fujian and Jiangxi provinces so we will leave immediately after breakfast leaving the bustling city of Fuzhou behind us. After making a couple of birding/comfort stops en route including for lunch, we should arrive mid-afternoon. This is essentially a travel day but we may have time to make our first visit up into the mountains. Two nights Taining.
Day 9 Today we will spend the whole day around Emei Feng. It can be bitterly cold at this time of year with snow likely but we will not be deterred from looking for pheasants that are easier to see at this time of year. The main prize will be the rare Elliott’s Pheasant and during our search we are likely to see the more widespread Koklass and Silver Pheasants. The most difficult species is, however, Cabot’s Tragopan and we will need a great deal of luck to find it! We will take a packed lunch with us and during our time on the mountain we should encounter mixed feeding flocks of birds dominated by the abundant Huet’s Fulvetta. Other species may include Barred Cuckoo-dove, Bay Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Speckled Piculet, White-bellied Erpornis, Black-chinned Yuhina, Mountain Bulbul, Red-flanked Bluetail, Yellow-browed and Yellow-cheeked Tits, Rufous-capped Babbler and Chinese Hwamei.
Day 10 We may have some time early morning for revisiting the mountain if we still need any of the speciality birds before heading north. It is quite a long drive but it will be broken up by ad hoc birding stops, comfort breaks and of course lunch! Late afternoon we will arrive in Yingtan where we will spend the night.
Day 11 We are now not far from the fantastic Poyang Lake. It is actually not just one lake but a vast complex of lakes and marshes and only a small part of the area in the northwestern corner is officially a nature reserve known as the Nanjishan National Nature Reserve. Birds spread out over a much larger area however, and we will firstly make several stops at lakes and marshes to the southeast of this vast area. We will start to see large numbers of waterbirds but our principal target will be the highly-localised and very-elusive Marsh Grassbird. Whilst the chances of seeing the grassbird are quite good, this can’t be said for Swinhoe’s Rail but we will still try! We will start to see large numbers of Greater White-fronted and Greylag Geese as well as smaller numbers of the increasing-rare Swan Geese. Eurasian Bitterns are relatively easily found here as are small numbers of the endangered Oriental Storks. Dabbling ducks are numerous with Eastern Spot-billed and Falcated Ducks being found amongst the more numerous Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers and Eurasian Wigeons. We will also check through rafts of diving ducks again for Baer’s Pochard again. Of the passerines, Zitting Cisticola, Plain Prinia and Chinese Grey Shrike can all be found amongst the ubiquitous Eurasian Tree Sparrows. At the end of the day we will continue on to Yongxiu where we will spend the next two nights.
Day 12 The whole day will be spent around the Poyang Lake complex taking packed lunches with us. The sheer numbers of waterbirds present on and around the lakes can be overwhelming and represent a high number of the world population of several species. The most spectacular bird is of course, Siberian Crane with some 3000 wintering at the lake. They are relatively easy to find because of their colour but less easy are Hooded Cranes because they blend in perfectly with their surroundings! Endangered White-naped Cranes can also be found. Small numbers of Lesser White-fronted Geese winter here but are often difficult to pick out amongst the large flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese. Taiga and Tundra Bean-geese are relatively common and virtually the whole world population of the endangered Swan Goose winter here, up to 10,000 birds. Up to 200 endangered Oriental Storks winter here whilst large numbers of Eurasian Spoonbills can also be found and large herds of Tundra Swans graze the fields and stubble. Other species we may find during the day include Black-shouldered Kite, Imperial Eagle, Common Kestrel, Japanese Quail, Pied and White-throated Kingfishers, Oriental Skylark, Chinese Penduline-tit, Black-collared Starling, Crested Myna and Scaly-breasted Munia.
Day 13 We now head east to Wuyuan in northeast Jiangxi province. On arrival, we will immediately visit one of the best sites along the river for the critically-endangered Scaly-sided Merganser, which can be found in small flocks along this relatively unspoilt and unpolluted river. Also present on the river are Long-billed Plovers whilst in the adjacent farmland and hills we will look for the rare Yellow-throated Laughingthrush, both Greater Necklaced and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, the endemic Grey-sided Scimitar-babbler, Grey-chinned Minivet, Dusky Fulvetta, Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler, Grey-headed and Short-tailed Parrotbills and Black-throated Tit. Two nights Wuyuan.
Day 14 Early morning we will drive to a small village and take an alfresco breakfast on the roof of a local café! It may be cold up there but there is a good reason for this as it is a superb lookout point for the cute little Pied Falconet that frequently perches on nearby trees in the mornings often giving fantastic photographic opportunities. Often a Red-billed Blue-magpie or two can be seen mobbing them! As soon as we have seen this bird we can revisit the river if we still need Scaly-sided Merganser as well as other birds we may not have had time for yesterday.
Day 15 We will have time in the early morning to revisit any sites around Wuyuan before making the long drive east to Shanghai where we will spend the night.
Day 16 Morning flight back to London via Zurich.
General Information The weather in all areas we visit can be very cold with rain or snow possible at this time of year. The pace of the tour is moderate, with only a moderate level of fitness required for walking, but some long days will be spent in the field. There are a number of health requirements and you must consult your GP in this respect. Visas are required. Accommodation will vary from medium-standard hotels to more basic but all will have private facilities. Please note that Chinese hotels south of the Yangtze River don’t have central heating so can be cold although electric blankets are sometimes available! Food will be mostly ethnic Chinese outside of the cities.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 8; maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders.