YourPosition:  Home  >  China birdwatching info

SICHUAN AND SHAANXI,Birdwatching report(part1)


Participants: Jan Smith from USA and Chris Lester from Australia

Visited Sites: Dufu's Cottage in Chengdu, Emei-shan, Wawu-shan, Wolong (including Sawan and Wuyipeng), Balang-shan, Mengbi-shan, Honguan, Rouergai, and Juizhaigou, all in Sichuan Province and Yangxian, Foping, and Xian in Shaanxi Province.

Strategy and Planning: While most visitors looking for birds in Sichuan seem to plan trips in May and June, because of work schedules, we needed to go in April. We also wanted to avoid Golden Week from May1-7, which China has adopted from the Japanese as a spring holiday week to promote domestic tourism and when many Chinese are traveling. We studied all the trip reports that we could find (and found to be a great resource) in order to develop ideas for where to go. The reports from individuals were much more helpful than those from the professional tour operators. A cautionary report from a traveler in mid-April who related a less than ideal birding experience due to cold, wet weather was a little worrisome, but we decided to rely on our own judgment and the advice from Susan Myers (Australia) that April should be OK. We also wanted to add on an excursion to Shaanxi Province to look for Crested Ibis, since it seemed fairly close on the map, as well as an excursion further east to see the Army of Terracotta Soldiers near Xian. While April proved to be colder and somewhat early for many migrants, we still managed to see most of our target species, as well as several early migrants that others missed. We heard that Chengdu had one of its warmest winter's on record during winter 06-07, so we hoped that it might lead to early migration or early singing for many species to compensate for our April arrival, despite our strong concerns for the impacts of global warming.

We were met at the airport by our local English-speaking guide, Kevin, ( who spoke excellent English and who had traveled with birding groups previously and our driver, Mr. Lee, who arrived with a five passenger Mitsubishi SUV. Kevin and Mr. Lee sat in the front, while Chris and I shared the back. The view out the windows was good enough that it did not greatly hinder our birding, being in the back. It was comfortable enough, too, although we needed the occasional stretch on a few long drives. Kevin and Mr. Lee kept us well stocked with bottled water and snacks, as well as carried a thermos for hot water for tea. Kevin was finishing his final year of university in tourism management and clearly enjoyed birding tours. He was very familiar with all of the birding locations in Sichuan on our itinerary, having visited them with birding groups several times previously, and quickly figured out the sites in Shaanxi. Although not an expert birder, Kevin carried binoculars and a Chinese version of the Mackinnon and Phillips Field Guide and was good at spotting birds. Even Mr. Lee learned to spot birds, which proved valuable a couple of times. Kevin was very energetic, hiking with us most of the time, and very knowledgeable about many things, in addition to birds. He helped to teach us a little Chinese on some of the drives, both speaking and reading, and also knew about history and culture. Most of all, Kevin was very attentive to our needs, especially when choosing places to eat, where he would always even enter the kitchen to supervise the cooking of our meals. Kevin checked in with operator everyday by cell phone to report our progress and also to make a few adjustments in our travel plans, resulting from unforeseen road conditions. Mr. Lee was a skilled driver, which we came to appreciate many times when we had to navigate the roads under construction, so we didn't object when he chose to watch television all day during the days when we stayed at the same place for a few nights.

General Notes: We discovered that there is a tremendous push in China to both develop the country and to get ready for the 2008 Olympic games. The Chinese anticipate many tourists and want the infrastructure to be in the best shape possible for the world to see. As a consequence, there were massive road projects nearly everywhere, as well as numerous urban renewal projects, which occasionally affected our birding efforts. We had to do road detours in many cases, or wait for long periods, up to two hours, to accommodate one way traffic in certain tunnels and roadways, and to curtail birding in some locations, such as on Balangshan, due to the noise and dust of construction. Often, we needed to squeeze into narrow spots to allow larger trucks and construction vehicles to pass by, and Mr. Lee's great driving skills were very evident. While it was a frequent nuisance, it seldom was an insurmountable problem, although we did have to cut our planned stay at Wawu-shan short by a day, due to a longer drive to Wolong as a result of ongoing road construction. Air pollution is a serious problem in China, but it was confined almost entirely to the large cities, where we spent little time (Chengdu and Xian). I have to say that the food was fabulous where ever we went. We like spicy food, to the disbelief of many Chinese, so we were always ordering it as hot as we could get it. Kevin paid a lot of attention to our food and generally ordered dishes for us and supervised their preparation, which may have had a lot to do with what we ate. Our favorite dish was a traditional spicy dish with eggplant. Because Kevin had traveled the route before with other birding groups, he was familiar with most of the best eating locations.

Visa: With China now implementing reciprocity for US citizens for visa requirements, a visit in person is required for a visa to China, which meant that I had to use a visa service (who presented my paperwork in person) since there was no consulate in Boston. It was a nuisance but fairly straightforward and fast (less than two weeks), using one of a number of services that I found on the web. Chris was able to go directly to the consulate in Melbourne.

Money: ATMs and currency exchange were not widely available, except for Chengdu and Emei. I changed money in the airport in Shanghai, since I had a four hour layover, while Chris struggled, eventually successfully, to exchange Australian $ in Emei.

Resources: In addition to the MacKinnon and Phillips Field Guide, which was a necessity, despite numerous drawbacks and lackings, we carried Baker and Baker's Warblers of Europe, Asia, and North Africa and Clement, Harris, and Davis's Finches and Sparrows (mostly for rosefinches). We also brought Frank Rheindt's article on splits in warblers and Pamela Rasmussen's article on rosefinch splits and identification from Birding Asia 5 (2006) and 3 (2005) respectively. All were helpful, in addition to the trip bird lists and maps in various trip reports. We have listed the species below that we saw on our trip, with locality information, using the taxonomic order used by the Field Guide. It was not our first choice to use this particular taxonomic order, but I found that it makes it easier to use the book. Apologies to those who disagree, and I understand completely.

Detailed Itinerary, with notes on Specific Sites:

Day One, Chengdu, Friday April 6: We both arrive in Chengdu in the evening, met by Kevin and Mr. Lee. It was humid and around 21 degrees C (70 F). Clearing customs and the airport was a little slow, but we arrived at the hotel (the Lhasa Grand Hotel) in downtown Chengdu by 11:30 and in our room by midnight. Despite the 12 hour time zone change, I had no problem sleeping. The hotel was not really new but comfortable enough, and the room design was exactly like several hotels that I stayed in on a previous visit to China in 2002.

Day Two, Chengdu to Emei Shan, Saturday April 7:  Kevin met us for breakfast at 6 AM and we departed at 6:30 AM for a visit to Du Fu's Cottage in Chengdu, the traditional spot for city birding in Chengdu (as well as an interesting historical location). There was a light to moderate rain, with temps around 15 C (60 F). We arrived at the gate at 7, still raining, and discovered that the park would not open until 8, so we walked around for an hour in the adjacent landscaped park with some adjacent waterways. Despite the rain, there was a fair amount of bird activity, including White-browed Laughingthrushes, several wagtails, and several common species, but we also flushed a Eurasian Woodcock off a grassy, wet lawn, found a singing Little Bunting, several Red-billed Leiothrix, and heard a Yellowish Bellied Bush Warbler, along with some very wet Vinous-throated Parrotbills and Black-throated Tits. A couple of White-cheeked Starlings perched high in a tree, which was mostly leafed out. The park with Du Fu's Cottage opened at 8 and we were first in line. Not too much competition on a wet day. The rain eased up a bit and as we explored the historic park, we found single Eye-browed and Dusky Thrushes and Striated Prinia, and more of the common things. We left a little after 10 to meet operator to hand over our trip payment and had a snack that evolved into a lunch as the number of small dishes increased. About 12, we left for the drive to Emei-Shan, arriving about 3 at Bao Guo where we checked into the Emei Shan Hotel. We spent the last few hours of the afternoon birding around the base of Emeishan up as far as the main (new) entrance gate. We added Brown-breasted Bulbul and Ahlstrom's Warbler, our only ones of the trip, as well as a number of common species, including the first of many White-capped and Plumbeous Redstarts and a Slaty-backed Forktail. The day ended overcast and very humid, but not hot.

Day Three, Bottom to Top (Golden Summit) of Emei Shan, Sunday, April 8: It was the weekend, unavoidably, so Emei-shan was crowded, despite off and on rain, which was heavy at times, mostly when we tried to look for birds. It became steadily cooler as we traveled up the mountain. We got up early, stashed most of our luggage in Mr. Lee's room, since he got to stay and watch TV all day at the Emei Shan Hotel, and, with Kevin, we caught the first public bus to the Wannian Temple parking area. The crowds were already gathered in long lines for the cable car. We decided to walk up the steps in the hopes of both escaping the crowds and seeing a few birds, as the rain picked up in intensity. We succeeded only slightly on both counts. Our best bird was a small group of White-winged Magpies, part way up the climb. The rain really hindered our birding, though we managed to find some Collared Finchbills, and, after a shower let up, the trail around the temple, which was largely quiet, except for a large flock of White-collared Yuhinas. We then walked down a different trail in the mist, finding Hwameis, Grey Bushchat, Masked and Elliott's Laughingthrushes, a couple of shy Emeishan Leiochiclas, and some likely migrating Chestnut-eared Buntings, as well as several common species. We heard several loudly singing birds with a distinctive song that we later identified as Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers, because we found many more. At the parking area again, we caught a public bus to go higher up, in order to catch the cable car to the top for the night. The cloud ceiling got steadily lower, the temperature decreased, and it started to snow lightly by the time we got to the base of the new glass-walled cable car. As we rode up the cable car, the vegetation got progressively more encrusted with ice, and I started to wonder if I had made a serious mistake in coming so early in the season. This was by far the coldest night of the trip. The ground at the summit was covered with a crusty layer of packed snow, the visibility was down to a few meters, the temperature was definitely below freezing, and the hotel room was not much warmer, even after we got the heater going. I slept under the comforter with all of my clothes on and was barely comfortable enough to get some sleep. We found one restaurant open, and while the food was good and spicy and hot, it cooled rapidly in the below freezing room of the restaurant. We ate quickly and returned to our beds, as the snow fell lightly. We did have hot water in the bathroom, but I was in no mood to undress in below freezing temperatures.

Day Four, Golden Summit down to bottom and drive to Wawu-shan, Monday, April 9:   Most visitors get up by tradition to view dawn on the Golden Summit and the hotel receptionist dutifully knocked on everyone's door. It was still cold, with a small layer of snow on the ground and the visibility was poor. No birds in view and not a sound in the icy pre-dawn. Kevin cheered us on to look for dawn, but it was evident that it was not to be, as the light snow kept falling. We searched the top and finally found a few Winter Wrens and a Rufous-breasted Accentor at a rubbish tip, as well as a couple of Elliott's Laughingthrushes eating some discarded corn cobs, and then decided to head down right after breakfast to warmer climes.  Near the bottom of the cable car, we encountered a tit flock and a couple of Black-faced Laughingthrushes, but that was it. We took the bus down to meet Mr. Lee and immediately left for the drive to Wawu-shan, which would take about six hours. The weather improved temperature-wise and the snow/rain stopped. The newly completed hydroelectric dam near Wawu-shan had been completed and had started filling with water the day before. We had to drive on the new road, still under construction, around what would become the new rim of the future lake. There was lots of road construction, as well as hotel and restaurant construction along the road, in anticipation of an influx of tourism once the lake was filled. The largely agricultural valley, with the old road to Wawu-shan across it, below us would be flooded. As we entered the park, the temperatures were very comfortable and the vegetation seemed well leafed out, as it had been in Chengdu, but as we climbed up the road to the hotel, early summer gave way to early spring, until we reached the Gongtong Hotel where buds on the tree were barely in view, though the rhododendrons were blooming. The hotel was nearly empty and it was cold outside, though not freezing. The down side was that the hotel had no hot water, except for some supplied to us in large thermos bottles (enough to wash our faces but not shower) but the up side was that the beds had warm electric heating pads. A few birds were singing in the early evening as we went to an excellent dinner at the restaurant, but they were hard to spot. We only identified a Collared Owlet.

Day Five, Wawu-shan, Tuesday, April 10: I woke early to a chorus of birds, with a clear sky, and temperatures slightly above freezing. Collared Owlet was the only one that I recognized right away. We went for a walk down the road until breakfast at 8. Temminck's Tragopans seemed to be calling loudly everywhere. Bird life was numerous, which was a welcome change, along with the improved weather. The day got steadily warmer. In our morning walk, in addition to the Tragopans (which we never managed to see here, despite how common they seemed to be) we heard several Lady Amherst's Pheasants, Chestnut Thrushes, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Red-winged and Rusty Laughingthrushes, Golden-breasted Fulvettas, Claudia's Warbler, and a flock of Golden Parrotbills, as well as others. After breakfast, with the good weather continuing, we decided to go to the summit on the cable car.  While some of the cars looked pretty rusty, it seemed like a safe operation. Although the ground was bare at the bottom, we found several inches (10 cm) of wet slushy snow at the top. The day was warm with the sun, so it was melting rapidly into a wet mess. We hiked down the trail to the left of the summit and quickly started finding birds. A Black Baza flew by just over the tree tops, and there were lots of warblers singing in the trees, most of which appeared to be Lemon-rumped, but we also identified Hume's and Greenish and White-tailed (Kloss's).  Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers were numerous but the biggest surprise, and probably the best bird of the trip, was a male Blackthroat that we got great looks at low down, as it fed among the bamboo and rhododendron with its tail cocked. We found several Great Parrotbills, as well as more Goldens, and a brief view of two Grey-hoodeds in the bamboo meadow. Tits, particularly, Coal Tit, were numerous. A Sichuan Treecreeper, followed by long views of a Red Panda watching us from a bare tree, made it a great day. We ate a picnic lunch from snacks that Kevin brought and took an early afternoon cable car down. We ended the day with another, longer walk back down the road, adding Yellow-browed and Fire-capped Tits and Gould's Sunbird to the day's list. Dinner was back at the hotel dining room and then we went back into the heated bed pads for the night.   At dinner, we got the news from Kevin that we would have to leave the following day, a day earlier than planned, because the drive to Wolong would take two days, due to extensive road construction and wide detours, but that we could still have a morning of birding down the mountain.

Day Six, Down Wawu-shan and drive to Dujiang Yan, Wednesday, April 11: We were up early and heard an Asian Barred Owlet from our room window overlooking the forest and then walked back down the road again, where there was a lot of bird activity. We heard more Tragopans and Pheasants calling and finally saw a female Lady Amherst's Pheasant fly across the valley. We saw several Streak-Breasted ScimitarBabblers and two constantly calling White-browed Fulvettas, as well as two species of Shrike-Babblers. After breakfast at 8, we packed up and then drove down the mountain, stopping frequently for birding stops until we reached the bottom.  Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers were common, now that we knew the song, and we heard a repeated loud call that we later matched exactly to Bay Woodpecker on the recordings. We also heard and saw Emei Leaf Warbler at the elevation reported by others, as well as Chestnut-crowned Warbler, a flock of Red-winged Laughingthrushes, Yellow-bellied Tits, and a Slaty Bunting foraging beside the road. As with the previous two days, traffic was negligible. Just outside the park entrance, we tried to walk up the side road that several reports recommended, but were chased back after a kilometer or so by two vicious dogs. We continued with a long days drive to Dujiang Yan over extensive construction. The distance was not far but the detours were extensive and our driver had to stop frequently and inquire about the route. We had lunch in a new city where the refugees from the flooded valley had been moved to and saw them receiving mass public education on an outdoor screen. House Swifts flew around the city. We arrived in Dujiang Yan, after passing through an irrigation system with Little Egrets and a lone Tufted Duck to a comfortable hotel in the early evening.

Day Seven, Dujiang Yan to Wolong, Thursday, April 12:  Although the distance was not so far to Wolong, we learned that one of the tunnels in a multi-tunnel system only allowed one way traffic, in the direction we needed, from 9 to 11. In fact we encountered frequent long delays and one way traffic that made the trip a five hour endurance test. In the early dawn light, I heard a Collared Scops Owl on the hotel grounds. Before leaving Dujiang Yan, I birded the grounds of the hotel some more and found Collared Finchbill and a Rufous-faced Warbler, among many common species. During one of our many waiting periods, we thought we heard what we were sure were Golden Pheasants on the steep hillsides near the road and saw more Collared Finchbills. Although we had not planned to visit the Wolong Panda Breeding Center, we stopped to have lunch nearby and had a chance to see some pandas in their enclosures visible from the road. Shortly after, we arrived at the comfortable Wolong Hotel where wagtails were very common on the grounds. We had a room facing the hillside behind the hotel and soon spotted a female Spot-winged Rosefinch (a late migrant, we wondered?) feeding very close to the wall, which we were able to study at length, and many pheasants were calling. Later, climbing up the hill, we got several quick views of gorgeous Golden Pheasants. The only other bird of note was a Sooty Tit. We had an OK meal at the hotel restaurant, but Kevin decided that we should eat the rest of our lunches and dinners at the Good Flavor Restaurant a short walk up the main road. The weather had been sunny and pretty warm all day, 25 degrees.

Day Eight, Hiking up to Wuyipeng, Friday, April 13: An early morning stroll found a pair of Black-faced Buntings in Wolong villageThe plan for this day was, after breakfast and leaving most of our luggage at the hotel, to hike up to the Wuyipeng Research Station and stay overnight. After buying some food supplies, which were later carried up the hill by some hired locals, at 9 o'clock we drove a short distance up the road, again with heavy road construction everywhere, to a spot where we walked through the village to a swinging metal bridge where we crossed to the other side of the river to the trail. We were accompanied by Kevin and a local guide, Mr. Liu, from the Research Station. It was a rather steep hike and since the weather had turned quite warm, it was good exercise. We heard a number of Golden Pheasants on the hike up, found another Slaty Bunting near the start of the trail, and glimpsed Giant and Barred Laughingthrushes. The walk became easier when the trail leveled off at the top and we continued to the field station where we ate lunch. We spent the time before and after lunch wandering the level trails on either side of the station and added Koklass Pheasant, Collared Owlet, Darjeeling and White-backed Woodpeckers, Two-barred Warbler, Red-flanked Bush-Robin, Pere David's Tit, and Nutcracker to our list. We spent the night at the field station, where conditions were a little primitive (barely running water and essentially no heat, but plenty of blankets) , but the friendly caretaker, Mr. Wong, who also cooked our meals made up for it. His wife, son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren arrived later in the afternoon for the weekend, adding a family atmosphere.

Day Nine, Around Wuyipeng in the morning and return down to Wolong in the afternoon, Saturday, April 14: The weather continued fine the next day, though the night was quite cool. We heard Blood and Koklass Pheasants and Tragopans calling. While hiking up the high trail, I saw a Collared Owlet, spotted a silent sitting Long-tailed Thrush, saw Yellowish-bellied Bush, Dusky, and Lemon-rumped Warblers, and heard at least one Firethroat. A White-browed Robin jumped off the trail in the early morning light. We heard another Barred Laughingthrush and also a Spotted, but didn/t manage to see either. We found many more Golden Fulvettas and Chris spotted a Three-toed Parrotbill on the high trail and we found a couple of Fulvous Parrotbills on the flat trail. A Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler foraged quietly near the main trail, as we returned for lunch. We noted several Chestnut-vented Nuthatches with different tit flocks and found another Sichuan Treecreeper.   In the afternoon, we hiked back down in 25 degree+ sun and it was pretty quiet. We went back to the Wolong Hotel for the night, but spent a little more time hiking the hill behind the hotel with no new additional sightings.

Day Ten, Up early to Balangshan, birding back down to Wolong, Sunday, April 15:

 We got Kevin and Mr. Lee to get up early for a drive up to Balangshan. In the dark and mist and dodging around almost continuous roadwork projects, we barely made it up to Km 94 in time for the pre-dawn. We left at 4:30 thinking it would leave us plenty of time, since dawn was later this early in the spring, but the driving was so slow due to construction, that we arrived just in time to hear the Wood Snipe overhead twice. Just one bird. We had trouble determining the exact location since all the kilometer markings had been removed during the road construction. We relied on using the landmark of where the power lines crossed over the road. Maybe ther was only one snipe because it was early in the season. We ate a bowl of hot instant noodles for breakfast, using hot water that Kevin had brought from the hotel, in the close to freezing temperatures, with a stiff wind making it feel colder. Rosy Pipits were singing all around us. Despite some low mist, it was clear at the top. As it grew lighter, we heard many pheasants, including White-eared and many Verreaux's Monal Partridge. Several Blue-throated Redstarts materialized, as well as several small flocks of rosefinches that we couldn't identify in the low light. Suddenly we spotted a large pheasant on the open slope above us that proved to be a Chinese Monal. Later as we walked slowly back down the road from Km 94 we found one calling vigorously above us and quite close to the road and had another fly across the road right in front of us. Meanwhile, all the road workers were coming out of their make shift shelters to start the days work, even though it was Sunday. Soon there were hundreds of them and the noise of jackhammers and heavy equipment every hundred meters was drowning out the birds. In spite of this disturbance, we continued to find new species: Himalayan Griffon, Northern Goshawk, and Himlayan (Eurasian) Buzzard soared overhead , while we found a Snow Partridge close to the road and a flock of Snow Pigeons flew quickly along the ridge above us. Asian Martins were along the road, apparently already nest building, and we found our first Kessler's Thrushes. We continued walking slowly down the road, getting a lift from our driver who slowly followed us every few kilometers. We found Blandford's and White-browed Rosefinches—nice males, along with Grey-headed Bullfinches and Spot-winged Grosbeaks. As we neared Beimuping and the white obelisk, two Black-headed Sibias dove low across the road. Then, at the obelisk, we saw a group of four dull looking birds flying like starlings and realized that they were female Grandalas. By this time, it was late morning and getting quite warm. The noise of road construction was increasing and the bird life was decreasing. We decided to drive down to the village of Dengsheng where we noticed a trail heading off away from the road at a sharp bend and decided to try it to get away from the noise. By this time it was very warm and bird life had dwindled to nearly nothing up this trail. We found a number of Blueflanks, but not much else. We returned to Wolong for a late lunch and a rest, followed by another excursion up the slope near the hotel where we stayed for another night. Even in Wolong, up to this point, we had not seen many other western tourists.

Day Eleven, Wolong area, Monday, April 16: Our schedule called for us to bird the hillsides above the hotel this day, but we felt that we had already covered it pretty well. We had seen and heard Golden Pheasants on every visit. This morning, on another fine, warm day, I found a Eurasian Sparrowhawk gliding across the valley above the hotel. We asked Kevin about other places and he suggested that we hike up a nearby valley that had just opened as a new Wild Panda Center. We agreed to try it. It was a new tourist attraction with a long hike up a valley with hundreds of stone steps and spectacular waterfalls and a stream that flowed down to the river in the center of the valley. It was an interesting hike but with few new birds, except for Fork-tailed Swifts. At the top a new hotel was under construction and there was a steady stream of workers carrying building materials up the steep trail. Just beyond, there was a fenced enclosure, part of the facility, which boasted that you could enter the enclosure and “look for” and get close to a wild panda that was somewhere in the hectare forested cage area. The charge was 350 yuan which seemed outrageous, even if we wanted to do it, which we didn't. We hiked down where I spotted a Little Forktail in the main river bed on the way back to the hotel for another late lunch and a free rest of the day. We did find a Marten's (Grey-faced) Warbler on the hillside behind the hotel. Earlier, we had discovered a hidden away internet café close to the hotel where we could just email for a couple of yuan. This was our final night in Wolong.

Day Twelve, Drive from Wolong over Balangshan and on to Rilong, Tuesday, April 17:  Up early again, almost as early as two days previously, and departed Wolong at 5 AM. It had rained briefly the during the night but was again a clear day. As we went higher, we found that it had snowed at high elevation. We got to Km 94 early enough to hear the Wood Snipe again, along with the pheasants, but we pressed on to get higher and eventually saw two separate Lammergeiers. We stopped at a spot that seemed to have a few birds hopping around. Although it was sunny, there was a stiff wind and temperatures hovered at -2 or slightly lower. Even here there were a number of road workers, though not quite as dense as from Km 94 and down towards Wolong. We stopped when we spotted a few birds by the roadside and got out to hike around in the thin cold air. Suddenly birds materialized all around with both Choughs, both Plain and Black-headed Mountain Finches, and most spectacularly a loose group of 200 Grandalas, most of them within a few meters, affording great views and great photos. We also added Pink-rumped and Dark-breasted Rosefinches. We tried to bird higher up at the pass, but although it was clear and sunny, the howling wind and cold temperatures made it impossible. We saw no birds moving at all. We tried to bird down the slope towards Rilong but the wind and heavy construction most of the way made it nearly hopeless. We had a late lunch in Rilong and then Chris and I tried walking back up the road out of town but the dust from construction vehicles eventually drove us back, after adding Songar Tits and Godlewski's Bunting to our list. We spent the night in the supposed best and nearly empty hotel in Rilong but found a great internet café, the Iced Rock Café, run by an English speaking ice and rock climber, Wei., with his wife and friendly big dogs.

Day Thirteen, Hike near Rilong and drive to Mengbishan and Maerkang, Wednesday, April 18: We got up pre-dawn with Kevin, again a clear and cold morning at over 3000 meters here, and hiked up the trail on the slope opposite the hotel. There is supposed to be an entrance fee for this protected area, since the hike leads into the Four Sisters peaks, one of the most climbed set of peaks in China by those practicing for Everest, but we were too early for the toll booth to be open. The woodlands around the trail were full of birds. A few Speckled Wood Pigeons flew by, Rufous-breasted and Brown Accentors appeared to be on territory, a Vivid Niltava foraged from a perch, both Barred and Great Laughingthrushes were in the underbrush, a pair of Spot-breasted Scimitar Babblers engaged in an elaborate courtship display on open ground, and there were large mixed rosefinch flocks and single individuals of several species. Afterwards we continued on our drive northwards, where our progress was slowed by numerous road construction projects and clouds of road dust. Slowly we climbed again until we reached the pass leading over Mengbishan. It was not as high nor as cold and windy as Balangshan, but the ground was still snow covered around the top and a little windy. We descended slowly down the other side, eventually stopping at a location for a packed lunch at about the stop where others had reported Sichuan Jays. With a few minutes, right on cue, a family of six jays appeared quietly and foraged along the trees below the road at eye level and finally flew across and continued their way up the slope, the only time we saw this species. We later continued down the road, stopping to bird at several stops, but the afternoon had turned warm and bird life was pretty quiet. Finally, once at the bottom, it was about half an hour to the city of Maerkang where we stayed the night. It was probably the least comfortable of all of our hotels, but the only one around. No towels and both the electricity and the hot water failed. The courtyard that our room faced was noisy.

Day Fourteen, Hiking on Mengbishan, Thursday April 19: Today we backtracked from Maerkang to Mengbishan and spent the day hiking around, starting near the top. The weather was clear and started cold, near freezing near the top. We tried hiking behind the house just below the top, but the steep valleys were snow coated, though the open areas were bare. I flushed a shy Severtzov's Grouse but most of the rest of the species were familiar ones. Walking down the road from the top, I heard several White-cheeked (Przevalski's) Nuthatches calling and a Tibetan Siskin flew by, but they proved impossible to get good looks of. Generally, it was surprisingly silent as the day warmed. We did find a pair of White-throated Dippers hiking up a somewhat flat valley about 10 km from the top, as well as a couple of Giant Laughingthrushes and Chinese Babaxes and also some Chinese Fulvettas. At the top and at several places near the road and hiking, we saw a few species of Rosefinches: Beautiful, Pink-rumped, and White-browed. Back to Maerkang for the night.

Day Fifteen, Maerkang to Hongyuan, Friday April 20: The next day we headed out by 7, ate breakfast, and picked up some food for a picnic lunch since Kevin thought there would few opportunities to find lunch along the route. It was partly to mostly overcast and cool, and we gradually ascended to an open, grassy, less hilly high plateau. Wetlands and small streams were scattered around. We started seeing a few ducks, including a few Ruddy and one Common Shelduck, and Common Mergansers. Raptors picked up and we had good views of a Black-eared Kite while eating lunch and a group of 7 Cinereous Vultures over the hills, as well as a couple of Long-legged Buzzards sitting roadside on the poles. We spotted 3 Pallas's Gulls flying past us along a river and heard and saw the first of many Oriental Skylarks and Black Redstarts. In some of the low vegetation we found a Dark-throated Thrush and a Robin Accentor. Passing a small cluster of houses, we spotted 2 Daurian Jackdaws on the roof. At a short roadside stop, we saw 6 Blandford's Snowfinches. We stayed overnight at the comfortable Hong Yuan Hotel. It was cold outside but the heated bed pads kept us warm and the hotel had a good restaurant. We struggled to find an internet café. They were either smoky with kids playing computer games or full of pre-teens playing games.

Day Sixteen, Hongyuan to Rouergai, Saturday April 21: We headed out the next morning on our way to Rouergai across the plateau. I spotted 5 White-cheeked Starlings in an early morning walk in the city. It was overcast and just above freezing and we continued birding along the route, spotting our only Greylag Goose in a small pond, another Lammergeier, five Griffon Vultures, and more Long-legged and Upland Buzzards.    In some flat shrubby areas, we found our first Common Pheasants, Azure-winged Magpies, and Pere David's Laughingthrushes and also, where there was water, small groups of Black-necked Cranes (9 total). Along a river we found a couple of Common Sandpipers and more Pallas's Gulls, as well as a couple of Brown-headed Gulls as we arrived in Rouergai. In the fields, we found both Greater Short-toed and Asian Short-toed Larks, as well as a couple of Hoopoes, and 1 Water Pipit. A larger flock of 30 migrating Dark-throated Thrushes showed that our single bird the day before was not a fluke and also 4 Hodgson's Redstarts, 7 Ground Tits, a pair of Black-winged Snowfinches, and at least 20 Twite along the roadside. The hotel in Rouergai was comfortable enough. The temperatures outside were not much, if at all, above 5 degrees C.

Day Seventeen, Rouergai to Juizhaigou, Sunday April 22: On the road again after breakfast for the drive to Juizhaigou National Park. We descended down from the plateau on a road that was under heavy construction, with lots of mud, ruts, and heavy truck traffic, with an occasional break onto short completed sections of highway. Mostly a sunny day with warmer temperatures, as we headed lower and during one of our stops, we spotted a Red-rumped Swallow, mixed in with the Barns. We climbed up a bit again, before descending into the park on a winding road, passing many new hotels and other development in the park, before finally arriving at out hotel which was immediately adjacent to the park entrance where the buses start. We saw the first Mallards, but otherwise the birds were unremarkable. Juizhaigou seemed remarkably overrun with tourists, nearly all of them appearing to be Chinese, though our guide told us that this was still the “low” season.

Day Eighteen, JuizhaigouNational Park, Monday April 23: We awoke to sporadic heavy rain showers the next day. We had planned to bird up the main road, along the route that we had entered the park. Initially our guide Kevin planned to take us on a hike at higher elevation but as we approached the entrance to the trail head, the rain turned into a heavy wet snow, on top of a substantial amount already on the ground. We quickly canceled that hike and descended back down the hill until we near the rain line. We stopped at a spot where we saw a flock of Rosefinches by the side of the road, and the flock turned into several hundred. It was a mixed species flock and we worked to try and identify them in the rain, finding at least Beautiful, Dark-rumped, Three-banded, and White-browed, all likely driven to lower elevations by the heavy snow fall higher up. We also spotted Maroon-backed and Rufous-breasted Accentors and the first of a couple of Tickell's Leaf-Warblers. Another stop down the road yielded three Blue-eared Pheasants, spotted by our driver initially. At wetland sites even lower down, we found Little Grebes, our first Moorhen and Coot for the trip, a Northern Goshawk, and a couple of Citrine Wagtails. Finally, we went back to the hotel to find lunch in a nearby restaurant and spent the rest of the day taking it easy, since the weather was still not great.