Landlocked Sichuan Province has long been one of the most popular Chinese destinations for overseas birders. Although the basin around the provincial capital, Chengdu, is polluted and heavily built-up, the mountains at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau are only a few hours’ drive to the west. Here there are species that would be familiar to those who have birded elsewhere in the Himalayas, as well as many of China’s fifty-or-so endemic bird species. Clear blue skies, snow-capped mountains and ethnic Tibetan culture all add to the excitement of a visit.
White-browed Rosefinch Carpodacus thura ©Philip He Alpine Birding
The bird tour companies began exploratory trips to Sichuan in the 1980s. Thirty years on, a typical three-week programme has evolved into visits to isolated peaks such as Emei Shan and Wawu Shan, a visit to Wolong/Balangshan, a visit to the Tibetan Plateau through Rouergai and on to scenically outstanding Jiuzhaigou.
Jiuzhai National Park ©Philip He Alpine Birding
Emei Shan (‘Shan’ is Chinese for mountain) has a well-developed tourist infrastructure. There are plenty of places to stay at different levels of the mountain. Fit and keen birders can walk from the base (around 600m) to the summit at 3,000m, or descend the many stone steps. Emei can also be tackled by birding around different levels, for example near mid-level Wannian Temple (cable car access to 1,020m) or from Leidongping/Jieyin Hall beneath the summit (at the end of the road at 2,500m).
Grey-headed Bullfinch Pyrrhula erythaca ©Philip He Alpine Birding
Wawu Shan is about three hours’ drive southwest from Leidongping at Emei. Wawu is famous as the place of the discovery of Sichuan Treecreeper. It has a remarkable summit plateau habitat of bamboo beneath fir trees, although it is very wet and misty in May and June. No fewer than eight species of parrotbill have been seen at Wawu Shan. It is probably easier to see Grey-hooded Parrotbill and Emei Liochichla here than at Emei Shan.
Sichuan Wood Owl Strix davidi ©Philip He Alpine Birding
Wolong was close to the epicentre of the tragic May 12th 2008 earthquake, and there was loss of life at both the Panda Research Centre and at Shawan village. The road from Wolong westwards over Balangshan pass provides access to good habitat up to an elevation of 4,700m. Chinese Monal, White Eared Pheasant and Grandala are among the many special birds recorded near the road.
Buff-throated Partridge Tetraophasis szechenyii ©Philip He Alpine Birding
The Tibetan Grasslands near Rouergai are home to different birds, such as Hume’s Ground Tit, Tibetan Lark and (in summer) breeding Black-necked Cranes.
Jiuzhai National Park (Sichuan) ©Philip He Alpine Birding
Jiuzhaigou is a famous, scenically beautiful and hugely popular National Nature Reserve (NNR), open for business year-round. It is located in the Min Shan, an area with many Chinese endemics. Sought-after birds here include Sooty Tit, Spectacled Parrotbill, Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush and Rufous-headed Robin. These birds may also been seen at the less-visited Wanglang National Nature Reserve, which has a common border with Jiuzhaigou. Tangjiahe NNR, a good site to see mammals such as Takin, as well as endemic Golden Pheasant and Slaty Bunting, is nearby.
Takin Budorcas taxicolor ©Philip He Alpine Birding
It should be remembered that Sichuan is a huge province with many new site discoveries to be made. These days there are local Chinese birdwatching groups such as the Chengdu Birdwatching Society and Mianyang Bird Society who are exploring the many ornithologically little-known corners of the province.
Major Source: Fatbirder
Map Source: Googlemaps™
Photo Source: Alpine Birding