Oct 3, 2008

Qingcheng Mountains

The Red-billed Leiothrix are a colorful and active bird - and easily found in many areas around Chengdu

Around 40kms from Chengdu, the town of Dujiangyan hit world headlines back in May because it was badly affected by the Sichuan earthquake. I only live 20kms from this town, and can report that, 4 months after the quake, things are very much on the mend – and that Dujiangyan and surrounding areas have once again opened up to tourists and travelers. In fact in a bid to boost the local economy – tourists are now being openly encouraged to visit this area! This is good news for birders since the town lies under a chain of small mountains (well at least small by Sichuan standards) called the Qingcheng mountains (the highest peak reaching 2,700m). There are two main tourist sites here – the most famous being called the front mountain and another quieter site called the back mountain. These mountains contain both broad-leaf and conifer habitats – and at the back-mountain you can find some very picturesque mountain streams - a lot of small waterfalls in deep narrow gorges.
There are also good birding spots away from the main tourist areas, and its possible to find rewarding rough trails – especially in the vicinity of the highest peak, Zhaogongshan – which can give some good birding.

At the top viewing point of Qingcheng Front Mountain - on a chilly, but bright, Febuary morning

Post quake, most of the trails up the Front Mountain and Zhaogongshan are completely passable – but because of landslides some of the path on the Back Mountain has been badly damaged. However new temporary tracks are being made all the time – and with a bit of a scramble it’s now possible to get to the top. However the Back Mountain is the best habitat for Forktails close to Chengdu (you can get out to Forktail sites in an hour and half from downtown Chengdu) – so for those with limited Sichuan birding time, this area could be a tick-rich location.


A Collared Owlet we caught enjoying a meal

The Front Mountain.
If you take a walk on the front mountain – then around the temples (this mountain has important religious significance for Taoists – and the walk up here is a stone stairway that links several monasteries together) you may see Black-headed Sibia together with the usual host of Collared Finchbills and during the summer the white-headed variety of Black Bulbul. These temples are also good spots for viewing the canopy of the mountain forest – and early morning summer watching may well bring – among other stuff - calling Collared Owlets, Spangled Drongos, Red-billed Blue Magpies, Black-naped Orioles or a passing Crested Goshawk.
If you take into the wooded areas down in the scrub you should easily be able to get Red-billed Leiothrix and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler . For those who are lucky, there’s always a chance for a glimpse of a quick moving Golden Pheasant – but if you don’t get to see them, you’ll certainly hear them if you're birding during spring or early summer.
All of these species are also present in the winter – but during this season flocks of small passerines, which are often dominated by Grey-cheeked Fulvetta and White-collared Yuhina. Winter also brings in altitude migrants, which of course include various species of Laughinthrush.
There have also been April reports for Temmnick’s Tragopan for this site.

A word of warning! The front mountain is a major tourist site – and, during late mornings and afternoons of holidays or weekends, noisy crowds can be the norm. Another factor that adds to birder stress are the many hawkers/vendors,who try to bend your ear in attempting to find a new customer. To cap all of this there are guys who will carry you up the mountain stairway on a stretcher like contraption built out of bamboo and canvas. Some of these folk may follow you up a path for a long distance hoping you’ll tire and hire their services. Needless to say – this can be a pain – but early mornings will get you out of the worst of this mess. You can actually overnight in the mountain monasteries (a cold experience in winter) – which sets you up nicely for an early morning watch.


We got this Grey-headed Bullfinch on the Back Mountain

The Back Mountain.
This is a far more Birder friendly site – less crowded, and away from weekends, during off-season, it can be very peaceful. Again a stairway of stone – but here there are more areas where you don’t have to climb/descend. The path follows a mountain steam and some of the small waterfalls are very nice.

In this habitat Forktails are the species of note – a single visit can bring you little, Slaty-backed, Spotted and White-crowned. To get that Slaty–backed start watching on the river stretches at the base of the mountain (well before the entrance to the mountain – you can also pick up plenty of Brown Dipper here). Little is the commonest Forktail and can often be seen flicking around in the stream that flows through the end village – White-crowned and Spotted can be seen from much of the path that leads to the summit.

Little Forktail - one of the four Forktails to be found on Qingcheng

Once again this is a good location for winter passerines – we’ve had goodies like Barred, Spotted and Red-winged Laughingthrush and that dazzler of a bird – Gold-fronted Fulvetta. This area is also a good spot to pick up that mini-woodpecker – Speckled Piculet.
As mentioned before – this place was badly hit by the quake. In the old days there was a lot of accommodation for those who wanted to stay on the mountain – but I reckon we’ll have to wait to the summer of 09 before any of that is in place again.


There are some great walks around Zhaogongshan

Zhaogongshan
I’ve never seen this part of Qingcheng mentioned in any foreign bird reports – but in the area around the 2,700m Zhaogong Mountain birding can be good. To trek around here you have to use small farmer’s trails – but there is one larger path that leads to Temple on the summit. However these are not well marked routes that are found in the more popular tourist spots, but because this place is less disturbed you may get a better chance to spot Golden Pheasant. Temminck’s Tragopan has also been reported. I’ve seen Great and Grey-headed Parrotbill in this area, Spot-breasted and Brown Parrotbill have also been reported as winter birds.
It's quite possible to find accommodation on the mountain – either in the temples (there is one at the summit) or at lower elevations in small guest-houses.

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