Dec 5, 2008

Sichuan Birdwatching - Sichuan a Birding Hotspot

Chinese Fulvetta - one of the China endemics that can be found in Sichuan

Sichuan Birding
For a variety of reasons, Sichuan is a fantastic birding destination. Within easy reach, of the provincial capital Chengdu, are diverse habitats, ranging from sub-tropical mountain forest to the high grasslands of the Tibetan plateau. These areas home a great diversity of species, which include the countries richest list of endemics and breeding endemics.

Through ongoing taxonomical studies – new distinct species are constantly being recognized among birds that were formerly recognized as sub-species – and Chinese checklists are quickly outdated. However if we were to take the Avibase – China Checklist as a reference, then we are told that China contains 53 endemics and 18 breeding endemics – an total of 71.
From the checklist Avibase provides, we can then discover that 36 of these species are found within Sichuan – making it the major endemic hotspot of China. (see list at the foot of this article)

Another reference, from The Institute of Zoology, Beijing, found at - - gives us tables and charts to further emphasize how important Sichuan is as an ornithological region.

In one of their charts, in the form of a color coded China map that relates to the density and distribution of endemic species, we can see how Sichuan (outlined in red) rates as a major species diversity hotspot when compared with the rest of the country.
Sichuan areas with high endemic lists include the Emei/Wawu areas and the Qionglai Mountain range (the famous Wolong Panda reserve, a favored birding destination, is located within this range – but due to the 2008 earthquake the reserve is now closed to the public . This range can be visited from alternative sites – including Laba He Forest park).

Sichuan almost twice the size of the UK – lies in the west of Central China , and the western regions of the province meet the Tibet Plateau and the Himalayas. Chengdu itself lies within the densely populated and intensively cultivated Sichuan basin (located within Eastern Sichuan) – but within close driving distance, to the West and North, one can already access a Sub-tropical habitat – that can be described as the Panda Zone. Further West and we are already heading up onto the Mountain Grasslands and Alpine Forest of the Tibetan Plateau.

Taken as a whole, Sichuan experiences a great variety of climates.
These range between -
A Monsoon type climate with long hot sticky summers and Short cool/cold winters - always expect a high chance of foggy hazy conditions, with little real sun or blue skies (China’s lowest sunshine hours are found in Eastern Sichuan). These type of weather conditions can be a be a problem for birders who are visiting the lower mountain sites such as Emei and Wawu – since fog/low cloud is often present around the summits.

An example of those misty conditions that can make birding difficult - howver going down often improves the situation - and amazingly if you cross high mountain passes into another valley system the weather sometimes changes.

An Alpine climate in the high west and north, where winters are long and cold and summers are short and mild – but masses of sun (bring your sunblock).

Up on the grasslands the sun can be very strong - even outside the summer period.

The Birding season
A favored birding season for visitors – especially in the sub-tropical locations - is during April/May and Early June – during the height of the breeding season, but before the summer gets too hot. During this period the temperatures have not reached their uncomfortable summer peaks, the humidity is not at its stickiest (clearer days – less risk of foggy/cloudy conditions on the sub-tropical mountains) and the type of heavy rain that’s often experienced during August and September is a rarity. During this period the birds are active – and calling – which make playback an effective method of luring birds out of dense undergrowth.
During July, August – activity dies down and birds seem to be less active and more difficult to spot at temperature and humidity levels soar.

However, in the mountainous west if you go travel to those altitudes around 4,000m it’s not unusual to find snow still lying on the high passes even during May and nights can be quite chilly up here until we get into June. The summer months of June, July and August are good months for visiting these higher regions, since they can be pleasantly warm, while the birds that live at high-altitude are still very active during these summer months.

During the spring and autumn months– all areas becoming interesting birding locations. But during these times unusual species can turn up in locations well way from the usual birding hotspots. During these months many species on passage pass through Chengdu. Sichuan also has areas where bird of prey passage can be observed.

Long-billed Plover - an interesting passage migrant and winter visitor to the muddy river areas around Chengdu.

Winter is also an exciting time, since many high altitude species flock and come down to lower heights – making it much easier to spot them. Some of the best places to watch during this period are in the valleys bellow the high mountain ranges. Winter also brings ducks – but the number and quality of suitable wintering sites is being seriously affected by population pressure. Northern migrants also over-winter in Sichuan.

Effects of the earthquake
During May 2008 Sichuan was badly affected by a huge earthquake – and a few well known birding sites suffered great damage due to landslides. Wolong and the Balang pass are no longer open to the public. However other famous sites like Emei and Wawu were almost totally unaffected by the quakes are remain fully open. Even sites like the Qingcheng Mountains – close to Dujiangyan - which were also badly affected are now once again open. However even though we’ve lost access to couple of prime birding sites – there are still so many alternative locations that still make Sichuan a birding hot spot of China.

A scence at Qingcheng Mountain where a rather large rock tumbled down the mountain during the quake - amazingly a lot of clearing work has already been completed since we took this pic in June - this area, which is desperate to get its tourist industry working again, is once again open for birding

Slaty Bunting - an endemic that can be found as a winter vistor in Chengdu

List of Endemic/Breeding Endemics found in Sichuan (after data found at – )

Severtzov's Grouse Bonasa sewerzow
Sichuan Partridge Arborophila rufipectus
Chinese Monal Lophophorus lhuysii
Blue Eared-Pheasant Crossoptilon auritum
Reeves' Pheasant Syrmaticus reevesii
Golden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus
Père David's Owl Strix davidi
Chinese Thrush Turdus mupinensis
Crested Tit-Warbler Leptopoecile elegans
Chinese Leaf-Warbler Phylloscopus yunnanensis
Emei Leaf-Warbler Phylloscopus emeiensis
Sulphur-breasted Warbler Phylloscopus ricketti
Martens's Warbler Seicercus omeiensis
Hodgson's Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni
Père David's Laughingthrush Garrulax davidi
Sukatschev's Laughingthrush Garrulax sukatschewi
Barred Laughingthrush Garrulax lunulatus
Biet's Laughingthrush Garrulax bieti
Giant Laughingthrush Garrulax maximus
Gray-faced Liocichla Liocichla omeiensis
Rufous-tailed Babbler Chrysomma poecilotis
Chinese Fulvetta Alcippe striaticollis
Grey-hooded Fulvetta Fulvetta cinereiceps
Three-toed Parrotbill Paradoxornis paradoxus
Spectacled Parrotbill Paradoxornis conspicillatus
Gray-hooded Parrotbill Paradoxornis zappeyi
Rusty-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis przewalskii
Sooty Tit Aegithalos fuliginosus
White-browed Tit Poecile superciliosa
Père David's Tit Poecile davidi
Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus
Sichuan Treecreeper Certhia tianquanensis
Sichuan Jay Perisoreus internigrans
Pink-rumped Rosefinch Carpodacus eos
Three-banded Rosefinch Carpodacus trifasciatus
Slaty Bunting Latoucheornis siemsseni