Oct 2, 2008

Birding in Chengdu

Chengdu – the capital of Sichuan province – is located in the West of China. This important city, the fourth largest in China, has become a popular travel destination, especially for those who intend to visit neighboring Tibet.
For birdwatchers, even though this is a modern polluted, developing city so typical of the new China, Chengdu is a fascinating area – and even within the city boundaries there are opportunities to spot interesting species. Short drives outside the city will of course give even greater opportunities – and within a days driving you can be transported out to areas that have world-famous reputations for their ornithological diversification. If you’re more adventurous 2/3day trips will give you the chance to spot some of the species that are associated with the Tibetan plateau.

Vinous-throated Parrotbill - a common bird in Chengdu

During winter and migration periods – uncommon species can turn up in the city – there has even been a very recent record of an Ibisbill smack bang in a city center river location. But apart from vagrants it’s quite easy to find locations where an interesting variety of birds, more commonly associated with the area, can be found.
Since most visitors come in the summer then it’s the resident and summer species list that’s usually the most of interest – and this contains, even within the parks in about the city center Chinese specialties such as Black-throated Tit, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, White-browed Laughingthrush and Yellow-billed Grosbeak.
If you were a winter visitor then a city center watch could bring you Long-billed Plover and Ferrunginous Duck, Snowy-browed Flycatcher and Orange-flanked Bush Robin.
Taking trips to the outskirts of Chengdu will of course prove a big dividend for your bird watching – and a hour and a half will bring you into areas where you can watch 3 Forktail species, or get a chance to see Golden Pheasant or Painted Snipe. Again season makes a big difference and migration and winter can bring visitors from high altitude locations.

A good indication is to buy a city map – English versions are easily available and look for the green areas that indicate a park.

The best of these seems to be the park around the Dufu Cottage tourist site. This consists of a newly built park surrounding the older area of the Dufu cottage. The newly built park now has trees and shrubs that are maturing which can only improve the birding opportunities. However for best results – and less staring faces – try to get there early and if possible give it a miss on those crowded weekends. A nice feature of this park is a small lake where you can always see Little Egret (a common Chengdu bird) and maybe get a summer glimpse of White-breasted Waterhen. The big trees that are close to the lake are a good place to see Yellow-billed Grossbeaks. This lake is also a fairly good spot for winter Ferrunginous Duck (usually small flocks of 2 or 3 birds) and the whole area can throw up some interesting stuff.
The actual compound of Dufu cottage has its own park – and in here there are a lot of trees of great age – with a resultant richness in species. You have to pay an entrance fee to get in – which of course makes this a less popular destination for us guys who are regularly birding in Chengdu – but a lot of birders have given interesting lists for this little park within a park.

A male Yellow-billed Grosbeak

This is another area that contains nice old trees – and even though this place obviously contains a lot of buildings, roads and all the other stuff a large campus should have – you can still find nice little areas that are attractive to birds. This area will hold all your typical Chengdu species – but where it is good is during the migration and winter periods where those trees attract some of the more interesting species, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker is a winter visitor here – and specialties such as Golden Bush Robin have been recorded.
This location isn't such a huge crowd puller – but still many people gather here especially during weekends.

WANJIAN TOMB PARK (Yongling mausoleum)
This is a small park but again with lots of nice old trees and a burial site of some old ancient general of the Tang Dynasty – it also has some nice stagnant ponds that attract flycatching species especially during migration times. I’ve noted Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Tiger shrike and Ferrunginous Flycatcher here.
The great thing about this place is that it doesn’t attract the crowds – but you do have to pay an admission fee. It also has a nice tea house so you can sit, sip and watch!

Female Asian Paradise-flycatcher pictured at Wanjian park

Two big Rivers run through the heart of Chengdu – and for most of their lengths they are bounded by green park type areas that make them areas where you once again can spot the common Chengdu species. The river environment itself is interesting, even though most of river-banks comprise of man made wall – but during periods where water levels are down exposing mud and stone the bird watching is better.. The best areas are on the outskirts of the city – but near the center – on the river closer to the famous River-viewing Pavilion Park there is shallow river habitat and even a place in the park where there is something approaching a natural grass bank. In this kind of habitat – during migration and winter time – look out for Long-billed plover and other waders. Also during winter periods Plumbeous Water Redstart can be found. Otherwise Little Egrets are common residents and if there’s a little cover and it’s quiet then this species maybe joined by Chinese Pond and Black–crowned Night Herons. During the summer months a constant sight in this habitat will be Red-rumped Swallow.

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