China

Sichuan & Tibetan Plateau

A 16-day, small group birdwatching tour to China

China Birding Tours with Limosa Holidays: Our spectacularly scenic trip to Sichuan visits the Qionglai Mountains and eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau - a region that’s among the most botanically rich in the world outside the tropical rainforests, with a correspondingly rich and diverse fauna. Famous for its Giant Pandas, Sichuan also sparkles with many wonderful birds - the focus of our tour. Up to 9 species of pheasant (including Blue Eared Pheasant, Chinese Monal and Temminck’s Tragopan), Tibetan Snowcock, Black-necked Crane, the brilliant blue Grandala, Firethroat, White-browed Tit-warbler and the unique Przevalski’s Finch... If you are looking for some of the very best birding in the Palearctic, with many highly desired species, this spring bird tour to China is a must!

Tour Dates & Prices

Sun 23rd May 2021

Mon 7th June 2021

  • Spaces

Tour Cost: 16 Days from £4795* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £600Single Supp: £465*Land Only: £4195*Group Size: 10Leaders:  Colin Bushell & local guides

* * 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Chinese bird guide
  • Return flights - London Heathrow-Chengdu
  • 14 nights hotel accommodation in China
  • All main meals - and drinking water included
  • Transportation by small coach
  • All excursions, entry fees, local guides, tour-based tips (including driver, guides) and taxes
  • Map and Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, China visa costs, drinks, airport meals, snacks & other items of a personal nature.

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights.

Tour Highlights

  • Superb and diverse tour of central China, starting at Erlangshan in the beautiful Qionglai Mountains
  • Abundance of birdlife amidst majestic landscapes and snow-capped peaks
  • Up to 9 species of pheasant possible, including Temminck’s Tragopan and Lady Amherst’s
  • Firethroat, Grandala, White-browed and Crested Tit-warblers, Giant Laughingthrush
  • Bird the eastern Tibetan Plateau – Tibetan Lark, White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinches
  • Black-necked Crane, Tibetan Snowcock, Ground Tit, Himalayan Marmot, Plateau Pika
  • 21 species of Phylloscopus and 11 species of rosefinch seen on our 2019 tour!
  • Expertly led by Limosa’s Colin Bushell and specialist English-speaking Chinese bird tour guide

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London Heathrow-Chengdu. Afternoon arrival (day 2), transfer to hotel and birding in Baihuatan Park. Night Chengdu

  • Early birding at Chendgu then head southwest to Labahe Nature Reserve. Labahe (3 nts)

  • Two days in Labahe Nature Reserve, birding at varying altitudes up to 2800m

  • We travel via Tian Quan and the Erlangshan Pass tunnels to Luding. Luding (2 nts)

  • All day at Erlangshan, birding on the old pass road up to 3000m

  • Leaving Luding, a day of travel takes us to Rilong. Rilong (3 nts)

  • Two superb days exploring the bird-rich Balangshan Pass region

  • After early birding at Balangshan we continue west to Maerkang (Barkam). Birding the forests of the Mengbishan Pass. Maerkang (2 nts)

  • North via Hongyuan to Ruo’ergai, on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Ruo’ergai (2 nts)

  • We explore Baxi Forest and the Tibetan Plateau

  • We return full circle today, driving from Ruo’ergai to Dujiangyan (to the northwest of Chengdu), birding en route. Night Dujiangyan

  • Fly Chengdu-London Heathrow

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
Giant Laughingthrush China Tang Jun.jpg
The song of the Giant Laughingthrush is full of mimicry © Tang Jun

At the very eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau lie the Qionglai Mountains. The elevation of many mountains here exceeds 3,000m (9800ft). At its heart lies Mount Siguniang (‘Four Sisters Mountain’), which at 6250m (20,510ft) is the second highest mountain in Sichuan Province and known as the ‘Queen of Sichuan's Peaks’.

The Qionglai are home to a large, primitive forest and wild mountainous tracts that boast both spectacular scenery and superb wildlife. Safeguarding more than 30% of the world's highly endangered Giant Panda population (access to which is heavily regulated and for scientists only), they are also among the most botanically rich sites of any region in the world outside the tropical rainforests. Such diversity has resulted in an equally rich and varied birdlife, with many truly wonderful species to look for - including nine species of pheasant, Tibetan Snowcock, Giant Laughingthrush, the brilliant blue Grandala and stunning Firethroat, the pastel-coloured White-browed Tit-warbler and the gorgeous red-tailed Przevalski’s Finch.

Our adventure begins with a flight to Chengdu, capital of China's Sichuan Province, and follows a clockwise circuit, firstly into the Hengduan range then north into the Qionglai Mountains and beyond onto the easternmost part of the Tibetan Plateau. Here, beautiful Black-necked Cranes, Upland Buzzards, Tibetan Larks and White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinches grace the high elevation steppe alongside the curious Ground Tit. Along the way, we might also encounter the likes of Snow Pigeon, Daurian Jackdaw, Azure-winged Magpie, Sichuan, Père David’s and White-browed Tits, Przevalski’s Nuthatch, Elliot’s Laughingthrush, Great and Grey-hooded Parrotbills, Kessler’s Thrush, Chinese Rubythroat and Chinese Grey Shrike.

Our travels are designed to allow for some acclimatisation at lower altitudes. Our port of entry, Chengdu, sits at an elevation of 500m (1650ft) and our next two hotels between 1400 and 1700m (4600 and 5600ft), before we climb up into the higher mountains. The standard of accommodation throughout this tour is good – something of a revelation to those who may have travelled in China before!

As a journey, it promises to be an absolute delight, both in terms of the amazing range of birds to be seen and for the fabulous landscapes and fascinating towns we travel through. Join well-travelled Limosa guide Colin Bushell and our experienced, English-speaking Chinese bird tour guide in May 2020 for our second exciting Sichuan tour - and get to grips with some of the finest Palaearctic birding and landscapes!

This May 2020 tour will be Colin's seventh visit to China / Taiwan, and his second to Sichuan.

Grandala China Tang Jun.JPG
A vision in blue... Grandala at Balangshan Pass © Tang Jun

Days 1-2: FLY LONDON-CHENGDU
Our birdwatching tour to China begins with an afternoon departure from London Heathrow to Chengdu (Sichuan), where we arrive about lunchtime on day two.

After transferring to our hotel in the cultural centre of Chengdu and checking into our rooms there, our first birding is just a short walk away in Baihuatan Park. Resident species include Spotted Dove, Light-vented Bulbul, Chinese Blackbird, Black-throated Bushtit, Vinous-throated Parrotbill and White-browed Laughingthrush. In May, these might also be joined by migrants such as Taiga Flycatcher and Yellow-browed Warbler, with Collared Finchbill and the chunky, yellow-billed Chinese Grosbeak also possible. Night Chengdu

Day 3: CHENGDU SOUTHWEST TO LABAHE
Adjacent to our hotel, the Culture Park is typically Chinese, a place where people gather to walk about exercising. Exploring paths beside the river and in the park in the early morning we may be rewarded with views of local Himalayan White Wagtails - and even Citrine Wagtail on the river.

After breakfast we leave Chengdu and begin our drive southwest, initially along one of many new highways, then west along the Tianquan River to a small village at Yujia. Crossing a footbridge we spend the late morning checking the trails here for Ashy-throated Parrotbill, Swinhoe’s Minivet, the white-headed form of Black Bulbul, the brilliant Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and the tiny Rufous-faced Warbler. We could well see the distinctive, black-crowned form of Grey-headed Woodpecker (treated as a separate species by some), plus our first Red-billed Blue Magpies.

After lunch we continue west before turning off the main road and heading north up to our first hotel in the Labahe Nature Reserve (Mt. Erlang National Forest Park), on the heavily forested eastern slopes of Mt Erlang. Our new hotel sits next to a rushing river, with Brown Dipper plus Plumbeous Water and White-capped Redstarts nesting. Night Labahe

Days 4-5 : LABAHE NATURE RESERVE
We have two full days to explore this excellent area, with its mix of woodland habitats across a range of altitudes from 1600m to 2700m (5200 to 8900ft) holding a multitude of key bird species.

Labahe is regarded as one of the best sites to find the beautiful Red Panda, and in the early morning we will check the trees for it and other notable species. This area is also home to Red-winged Laughingthrushes – superb in flight as they flash their red wings – and the bamboo thickets hold elusive Fulvous, Golden, Three-toed and Great Parrotbills. Delightful White-collared Yuhinas and Black-throated Bushtits pass through in small flocks, and amongst the numerous Elliot’s Laughingthrushes we might hope for Spotted Laughingthrush and Golden-breasted Fulvetta. However, perhaps highest on everyone’s list of ‘most wanted’ species are two exquisite pheasants: the brilliant (almost gaudy) Temminck’s Tragopan, and the elegant Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. On our 2019 tour, we were lucky to see both spectacularly well!

In May, when the mixed woodlands will be coming into leaf or flowering, early morning starts will help us to find birds when they are most active. This is a terrific spot for tits: Fire-capped, Yellow-browed, Yellow-bellied, Green-backed, Japanese, Coal and Père David’s Tits are all possible. Phylloscopus warblers are well represented too and we will get stuck in to their various songs and calls. Species to watch for include the common Sichuan Leaf Warbler as well as Ashy-throated and Claudia’s Leaf Warblers, while the bright-and-stripy Kloss’s Warbler is a must-see! Now treated as ‘Phyllocs’, old-school Seicercus warblers are often rather trickier to see, with Bianchi’s Warbler being the most common (and easiest to view), but we also put in time for Marten’s, Alström’s and Grey-crowned Warblers... hoping they deign to come out!

The forest also holds Blue-fronted and White-bellied Redstarts (the latter another skulker), the diminutive Chestnut-headed Tesia, and Fujian Niltava. Red-bellied Pallas’s Squirrels scramble about the branches as we search for Darjeeling Woodpecker and, overhead, immense White-throated Needletails stitch through the deep blue skies. Two further nights Labahe

Day 6 : LABAHE TO LUDING
With only a relatively short distance to drive today, we have time this morning for a further walk by the river. Slaty Buntings can be found on the slopes and Little Forktails frequent the bases of waterfalls that feed it. Here, there is also an outside chance of Streaked Barwing.

Mid morning we descend from Labahe towards Luding County, stopping for a fine lunch at a roadside restaurant in Xingou. Here the G318 (China National Highway) passes, with cyclists following its 5,476 kilometres from Shanghai to Lhasa and beyond – an amazing feat of endurance! We spend time birding a quiet side road, with a chance of Kloss’s and Eastern Crowned Warblers, Chinese Bamboo Partridge and Russet Sparrow, plus Brown-flanked and the recently described Sichuan Bush Warblers.

Heading up the old road towards the high pass to Luding, we will stop before the top tunnel  through the Erlangshan Pass to enjoy a spell of birding along a quiet track. We could well hear and see the localised Emei Leaf Warbler, Chinese (Song) Thrush and Stripe-throated Yuhina, and re-acquaint ourselves with both Marten’s and Bianchi’s Warblers.

Heading through the tunnels, we cross to the drier western side of Erlangshan and the town of Luding, our destination this evening, where we arrive for dinner and a two-night stay. Our hotel is close to Luding Bridge, the site of the single most celebrated event on Mau’s Long March through China. Night Luding

Day 7: BIRDING THE ERLANGSHAN PASS
An early start is needed today to get to the best habitat along the old road to the Erlangshan Pass. We wind out of town and off the main road, then stop on the lower slopes to look for the amazing Firethroat – one of the special birds of this tour! The mix of trees and bushes here is perfect for them and we will devote some time to getting good views of this little cracker. Not quite so colourful, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush and Black-browed Bushtit also inhabit the bushes and trees, where the buzzing calls of Spotted Nutcrackers are often heard.

After a picnic breakfast, we continue to ascend the Erlangshan Pass. As we climb higher, the handsome Chestnut Thrush and snazzy Yellow-throated Bunting might be seen and, as the vegetation gradually thins out, we hope to encounter four different rosefinches: Vinaceous, Sharpe’s and Chinese White-browed as well as Crimson-browed Finch (which is really a ‘rosefinch’). Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits can also be found here, along with smart Rufous-breasted Accentors that sing atop the scattered trees.

Close to the top of the pass at an altitude of 3300m (10,800ft), we descend the south side a little, where the mix of scrub and bamboo hosts Black-faced Laughingthrush, both Great and endemic Grey-hooded Parrotbills, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush and Rufous-bellied Niltava, whilst in patches of rhododendrons we could be lucky to find the stunning Golden Bush Robin. As we descend we will hope for ‘seconds’ of Firethroat, plus a chance to see Buff-throated Warbler. We'll also be searching for such treats as White-browed Fulvetta, both Black-streaked and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Rufous-tailed Babbler, Hill Blue Flycatcher and the surprisingly smart Brown-breasted Bulbul.

After an exciting day of birding we return for a second night at our Luding hotel. Night Luding

Day 8: LUDING TO RILONG
After our bird-packed day in Luding County yesterday, today is mainly a travel day as we ‘re-position’ ourselves, heading north through some amazing upland scenery to the higher altitude mountains near Rilong, where we spend the next three nights. [Roads in this part of China are currently undergoing major works and our local guide will give advice as to which is the easiest route to take!]

Driving through increasingly spectacular landscapes, we'll stop from time to time to stretch our legs - or perhaps to admire a Golden Eagle or Himalayan Vulture soaring overhead. White-capped Redstarts dot the boulders along the gushing rivers and we could well find a trio of captivating corvids: Daurian Jackdaw and Red-billed and Alpine Choughs. After a long journey today, in the evening we arrive at our comfortable hotel on the edge of town at Rilong, with views towards Mount Siguniang at 6250m (20,500ft) - though you may have to wait until daylight to see it. Night Rilong

Days 9-10: RILONG & BALANGSHAN
The two full days we spend around Rilong are destined to be two of the most memorable – being both literally and metaphorically the high point of the tour! It is here that we have access to some higher elevations. Our early mornings offer the chance of three more fine pheasants: incredible-looking White Eared Pheasants are generally less shy than the distinctly unusual Koklass Pheasant - but the real star here could well be the iridescent Chinese Monal, shining in the early morning sun.

As the day warms up, Common Rosefinches (here a different colour to Western birds) begin to sing, as do Buff-barred and Greenish Warblers; Rufous-vented Tits pick about the cliff face and handsome Dark-breasted Rosefinches and Grey-headed Bullfinches perch in the eye-level bushes.

Pushing higher, we head towards the highest part of the incredible Balangshan Pass at around 4482m (14700ft). Stopping as we go, we have a good chance of finding Brandt's and Plain Mountain Finches  as we search excitedly for the unbelievably brilliant, wing-wafting Grandala, a vision in blue - and “bluer than a very blue thing!” Further careful checking of the ridges and rocky slopes might produce views of Snow Partridge on distant rocks and though hearing Tibetan Snowcock is invariably easier than actually seeing one, we do have a chance here – in 2019 two crossed the road by the bus! Chunky Red-fronted Rosefinches and Alpine Accentors join the throng of high-altitude species.

Heading over the pass to the drier and warmer side, we will again stop as we descend on our way down to Rilong, checking the slopes for dark-hooded Snow Pigeons and birds of prey. Himalayan Buzzards could well be joined - and dwarfed - in the skies by immense Himalayan and Cinereous Vultures, and Lammergeier.

On a very different scale, passerines to watch for include the lovely Blue-fronted Redstart, citrine Alpine Leaf Warblers in areas of low scrub, Twite (of the race miniakensis) and the localised Sichuan Tit, with its buzzing, Willow Tit-like call. Plus there are two more rosefinches to add to our growing collection: the crimson-bodied Streaked Rosefinch and the exquisite Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch. But the real prizes here are the stunning Chinese Rubythroat – often found alongside Rufous-breasted Accentors – and the tiny and elusive White-browed Tit-warbler; we will work hard to find them on the bushy hillsides. On the river a White-throated Dipper would make for a fitting end to a fine day in the mountains!

Next morning will see us heading back up towards the summit of Balangshan for further investigation of the high pass area. If we have not already seen them, a couple of ‘new’ pheasants await us here: Golden and Blood Pheasants - and if we missed them yesterday, we have another chance to look for Tibetan Snowcock as they forage snow patches. We also hope to find the vociferous Verreaux’s Monal Partridge in the lower bushes, where Giant and Barred Laughingthrushes also live - but (like the pheasants) both can be tough to see!

In the lower spruce forests not far from our hotel, we will spend time looking for the appealing, white-faced Przevalski’s Nuthatch that creeps along branches high in the treetops. Here on roadside cliffs, Wallcreepers can sometimes be found nesting. Two further nights Rilong

Days 11-12: BALANGSHAN TO MAERKANG
An exciting day of birding and travel begins with a pre-breakfast outing to see if we can ‘fill any gaps’ or to a patch of mixed woodland near Rilong.

Leaving Rilong, we first travel west then swing north, following the Fubian River through the mountains to Fubianxiang. We break our journey here with a stop for lunch, before continuing on our way north. As we drive, we have a chance for Salim Ali’s Swift, Daurian and Hodgson’s Redstarts, the appealing Long-tailed Rosefinch and the stripe-headed Godlewski’s Bunting. It will be hard to not keep stopping!

Encircled by awe-inspiring mountains, at the lofty Mengbishan Pass (4100m/13400ft) we may well find our first Upland Buzzard and the attractive Kessler’s Thrush. Eventually we arrive at the modern town of Maerkang (Barkam), for dinner and a two-night stay.

Next morning, we head back out to the forests of the Mengbishan Pass, devoting our time to finding the key species of this forest. This is a good spot to find the monochromatic Sichuan Jay (a relative of Siberian Jay) and the corking Maroon-backed Accentor, plus Chinese White-browed and Pink-rumped Rosefinches – the former bleating like lost lambs. We will also hope for Himalayan Bluetail, Collared Grosbeak or maybe a calling Black Woodpecker or singing Long-tailed Thrush. Roving tit flocks may well hold Grey Crested Tit or Hodgson’s Treecreeper. On the forest floor we will check for White Eared Pheasants or yet more Giant Laughingthrushes.

Dropping a little lower, we enter the realm of White-winged Grosbeak, Chinese Fulvetta and (can you believe it!) yet another rosefinch: the frosty-faced Three-banded Rosefinch - although this will probably be our last new rosefinch of the tour! As a bonus, we have further chances to watch for the attractive Blood Pheasant, along with the streaky Chinese Babax and maybe our only chance of White-throated Kingfisher of the local race fokiensis. Two nights Maerkang

Day 13: MAERKANG TO RUO’ERGAI
With a fair distance to cover today, we make an early start from Maerkang for Rou’ergai, on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Aside from having a picnic breakfast and a sit-down lunch, stops en route will be relatively short - but very sweet!

We should see our first eastern Black Kites today and, before heading out of the majestic Qionglai Mountains, we will make a stop for our first chance of both White-browed Tit and White-browed Tit-warbler. As open areas of grassland and bushes appear, marking the start of the Tibetan Plateau, we might see our first Azure-winged Magpies, Plain Laughingthrush, Siberian Stonechat and maybe the odd migrant passing through, such as Brown Shrike amongst the numerous Grey-backed. As the landscape levels out a little, we should also pick out our first stately Black-necked Cranes, Ruddy Shelduck and the bulky Himalayan Marmot.

As the valley opens out further, a photogenic meandering river - plus a series of ox-bow lakes - form a sinuous area of wetland. Pale Martins hawk with Barn Swallows, and Brown-headed Gull and Common Redshank occur in flooded meadows alongside buzzing Oriental Skylarks and eye-catching black-backed ‘Tibetan’ Citrine Wagtails that like to sit up on grass stems. The presence of a few more prey items such as Plateau Pikas adds a realistic chance of finding Saker Falcon (here of the race milvipes) as well as an honorary ‘raptor’, Chinese Grey Shrike - although thinly distributed, we will be keeping our eyes peeled. Black-winged Snowfinch is also one to look for as we continue north.

For our final stop of the day on the last stretch driving east towards Ruo’ergai, we pause by scrubby hillsides for the unique, rosy-tailed Przevalski’s Finch. Patience may well be required, but as we wait we will hopefully find  the pale-faced khamensis race of Horned Lark – possibly to be treated as a species in future - and rusty bellied Black Redstarts.

We should arrive at Ruo’ergai (Zoige) in daylight, with time to settle into our rooms before enjoying a delicious meal at the hotel. Night Ruo’ergai

Day 14: BAXI FOREST & TIBETAN PLATEAU
Rising early to make use of the early part of the day, we head east for around 20 miles to reach an area of forest near Baxi. In the crisp, early morning air we'll scan for the immaculate Blue Eared Pheasant and might also encounter Red Deer, Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush and the Woolly Hare (!), which all make their homes here. In the relatively old woodland with some remarkably tall pines, ‘real’ Common Pheasants, Plain Laughingthrushes and Chinese Leaf Warblers can also be found.

Venturing ‘off piste’ along a couple of forest trails may reveal such treats as Snowy-browed, Hill Blue and Slaty-backed Flycatchers, Chinese Nuthatch, Yellow-streaked Warbler and Chinese Fulvetta. But our real targets are Chinese Grouse and Crested Tit-warbler – both seen on our 2019 tour! We also have another chance to find the impressive Giant Laughingthrush, with its song full of mimicry.

Returning west, we have lunch back in town, before taking the well-made road north onto the Tibetan Plateau. Here we head into an open landscape, dotted with herds of domesticated Yaks, alive with thousands of tiny, black-nosed Plateau Pikas, snowfinches and bizarre, jumping Ground Tits. White-rumped Snowfinches nest in the pika burrows, and there will also be flurries of Rufous-necked Snowfinches. Upland Buzzards loaf about watching for easy pickings amongst the pikas – as do the occasional Saker Falcons. A nearby wetland holds yet more interesting species, including Black-necked Cranes and perhaps a few migrant waders - but we have another important ‘target’ here: the big Tibetan Lark.

As another exciting day's birding draws to a close, we will head back to town for dinner and our second night at the hotel. Night Ruo’ergai

Day 15: RUO’ERGAI TO DUJIANGYAN
We take an early breakfast in town this morning before heading back to Baxi Forest for one last chance to pick up specialities such as White-browed Tit or Crested Tit-warbler. From there, we steadily descend to the Gar Tai Pass at 3,800m (12450ft), hoping to come across the delicious little White-browed Tit-warbler and fabulous Siberian Rubythroat.

The long journey back towards Chengdu will take up most of the rest of the day, as we travel along roads through Sichuan’s spectacular mountains. Gazing from the window and drinking in the superb scenery as we drive will give us time to reflect on the many memorable moments of the tour. Evening arrival at our hotel in Dujiangyan, which lies just 40 or so miles to the northwest of Chengdu. Night Dujiangyan

Day 16: FLY CHENGDU TO LONDON
Our flight home today is scheduled to depart Chengdu in the early afternoon. So for those that wish, there should be time to enjoy an optional pre-breakfast walk locally, hoping to pick up a last few species for the tour, such as Asian Koel.

After breakfast, we transfer to Chengdu Airport and check in for our flight home. Evening arrival at London Heathrow later the same day, where our spring birding tour to China concludes.

Firethroat China Tang Jun.jpg
A superb male Firethroat - one of the potential stars of our May tour to Sichuan © Tang Jun

WHAT TO EXPECT
A 16-day, small group birding tour to Sichuan, in central China, beginning in the provincial capital Chengdu and looping south then north through the majestic Qionglai Mountains to the Tibetan Plateau. Along the way, we will visit Erlangshan and Balangshan passes, ascending to more than 4400m (14500ft), and explore the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau at 3500m (11500ft).

Though accommodation is good throughout, this trip does call for something of a 'pioneering spirit'. In order to make the most of our stay in China please be aware that days will be long and tiring - but extremely rewarding - with long journeys necessary on some.

Early morning is by far the most productive time for bird activity so we anticipate making early or very early starts most days - leaving the hotel at times that will vary between 5.00am to 7:00am. On some days, we will have picnic breakfasts provided for us by our ground agent. [There may sometimes be the opportunity to opt out of early morning sessions on days where we return to the hotel later.]

At the higher altitudes we will limit our physical activities, avoiding excessive uphill walking and choosing (where possible) to walk downhill. We move at a very sedate pace watching birds and this can help to avoid altitudinal headaches and breathlessness. Most problems can be overcome by drinking plenty of water and resting quietly in or near the vehicle.

Our guides will advise you locally about the day's events. If you wish to opt out of a particular activity or walk during the tour, please do ask!

At low altitude at Chengdu in early May, it should be fairly warm and humid (25-30°C/77-86F). As we climb higher, temperatures will cool considerably and it will become much less humid and more changeable – mountains make their own weather!

On some early mornings, it can be cold and this will be especially true near the summit of Labahe, at the Erlangshan and Balangshan Passes between Rilong and Wolong, and on the Tibetan Plateau around Ruo’ergai. We anticipate making early starts in these areas and temperatures at that time could well be below freezing (rarely dropping to as low as minus 4°C/25F, if skies are clear). There will probably still be some snow lying at higher elevations and on the highest peaks.

Rainfall occurs throughout the year in Sichuan. On this tour, precipitation is perhaps most likely at Labahe/Erlangshan and on the eastern side of the Balangshan/Wolong areas. It is perhaps least likely at Ruo’ergai on the Tibetan Plateau, but cannot be discounted anywhere.

BIRDS
240-270 species

MAMMALS
10-15 species

ACCOMMODATION
14 nights accommodation in China, staying at good hotels. Hotels throughout this tour are of  surprisingly good standard, and ‘Western-style’  – something of a revelation in this 'less-visited' corner of China, in fact. All rooms have Western-style private facilities (not the more traditional Oriental-style toilets).

Laundry service is erratic and it may not be easy to get clothes laundered on tour – taking travel soap with you is a good idea. All rooms have kettles, but it is best to take your own coffee/tea and UHT milk.

Wifi  All hotels have internet access in the rooms, but please note that some services are blocked in China. These include all Google services including gmail.

MEALS
All main meals are included in the tour price (and with plenty of bottled drinking water also provided), commencing with dinner on arrival in Chengdu on Day 2 and concluding with breakfast there on Day 16.

Please note that food on this tour is largely Chinese in character. Chinese cuisine is tasty, widely appreciated and usually plentiful. Sichuan is noted for its spicy food, but this is tempered for western tastes. Catering for non-Chinese diets is very difficult or impossible! Vegetarian food is always available.

The Chinese way of eating is to share a selection of dishes. Few restaurants are likely to provide knives and forks; chopsticks are of course provided instead so if you are unused to using these you should bring your own knife, fork and spoon. Green tea will be served with food.

On longer days, particularly when we are travelling, our leaders will do all they can to make sure the group eats at a reasonable time. However, occasionally early or late lunches and/or evening meals cannot be avoided. Snacks will be provided to help fill the ‘gaps’ and you may also wish to bring your own 'trail food' on tour.

We will have a few hotel (or local dumpling shop) breakfasts on this tour, but generally opt instead to have picnic breakfasts in the field. These typically consist of items such as tea and coffee, biscuits, chocolate, fruit, peanuts, boiled eggs, spam sausages, plus bread and jam (where bread is available).

On fewer than half of the days we will also have picnic lunches and these will consist of similar items to breakfast, with possibly pot noodles and cakes! On most days the local guide finds a suitable roadside restaurant for us to eat local cuisine and locally grown produce.

Coffee is provided by the local guide, but you might like to bring your own tea or drinking chocolate and powdered milk and sugar.

WALKING
Inevitably when walking in the mountains there will be some steeper sections along the roads and tracks. These are usually quite short and, wherever possible, we will aim to drive uphill and bird as we walk back down. The Azalea Trail at Labahe is longer, but taken very slowly and provides great rewards!

Comfortable, lightweight waterproof walking shoes or boots with stout soles and good grip are recommended. Walking poles or seat sticks can often be a good idea on slopes and for resting while birding.

Altitude: Though Chengdu sits at an elevation of just 500m (1600ft), this is a tour based largely in the mountains. Much of the tour is operated at quite high altitude and we will spend some time above 3500m (11500ft), with the highest point being at Balangshan, 4500m (14800ft). Our birding at high altitudes will necessarily be very leisurely – we expect to stay mostly on the road and to walk slowly downhill from the upper slopes. The list below gives an idea of some of the altitudes (height above sea level) we visit:

  • Chengdu (500m/1600ft)
  • Labahe (1600-2700m/5200 to 8900ft)
  • Luding (1300m/4300ft)
  • ‘old’ Erlangshan Pass (3300m/10,800ft)
  • Rilong (3200m/10,500ft)
  • Balangshan (4500m/14,800ft)
  • Mengbishan (3600-4000m/11,800-13,100ft)
  • Maerkang (2700m/8900ft)
  • Rouergai (3400m/11,100ft)

The altitudes of the hotels vary: at Labahe 1600m (5200ft): Maerkang 2615m (8600ft); and Rilong 3200m (10,500ft). For our two nights near the end of the tour at Ruo’ergai, on the edge of Tibetan Plateau, we are situated at 3400m (11,100ft).

TRAVEL
Return flights from London Heathrow to Chengdu (Sichuan), typically with a change of planes in either Amsterdam or Hong Kong. (In 2019 the best schedules were provided by KLM.)

Ground Transport   By small coach with local driver.

alpine leaf warbler balangshan 270519.jpg
The lovely primrose yellow colour on the face of an Alpine Leaf Warbler on Balangshan © Brian Small, Limosa

Tour Gallery

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