Elaine Du, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015. Photo by Craig Brelsford.

Emeifeng 2015, Part 1

This post is about birding Emeifeng in the spring of 2015. The mountain in western Fujian, not to be confused with the more famous Emeishan in Sichuan, ranks high on Shanghai birders’ must-see lists. It is a reliable site for Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, and its vast forests provide habitat for other key southeastern Chinese species. A bit too far to drive, a bit too close to fly, Emeifeng is the perfect expedition for the high-speed train.

This post covers 30 April to 3 May 2015, the first of my two four-day trips to the mountain. A post on the second trip, which took place 28 to 31 May 2015, will be published two weeks from today, on Thurs. 26 Jan. 2017.

The photo above shows Elaine Du searching for Brown Bush Warbler in the pristine alpine scrub on Emeifeng, elev. 1650 m (5,410 ft.).


Cabot's Tragopan, 1 May 2015.
Male Cabot’s Tragopan, Emeifeng. A mountain in western Fujian, Emeifeng (27.006583, 117.076389) is a reliable spot for Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge. For eight days in spring 2015, Elaine Du and I birded the thickly forested mountain, noting dozens of key southeastern Chinese species. (Craig Brelsford)

— Noting the five key game birds: Elliot’s Pheasant, Cabot’s Tragopan, Koklass Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge, as well as the beautiful Chinese Bamboo Partridge

— Closely studying three Phylloscopus warblers that breed in southern China: Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti, and Hartert’s Leaf Warbler P. goodsoni fokiensis, as well as having close encounters with White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis intermedius

Major breeding Phylloscopidae warblers of Emeifeng. Craig Brelsford.
Emeifeng is a good place to study warblers. Clockwise from top L: Buff-throated Warbler, Hartert’s Leaf Warbler, White-spectacled Warbler, and Sulphur-breasted Warbler. All four breed on the mountain. (Craig Brelsford)

— At Shuibu Reservoir, finding Blue-throated Bee-eater, a species unexpected around Emeifeng

— Finding 4 of China’s 5 species of forktail: Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri, Slaty-backed Forktail E. schistaceus, White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti sinensis, and Spotted Forktail E. maculatus bacatus

— Hearing the many calls and songs of the accomplished vocalist Buffy Laughingthrush

— Hearing Spotted Elachura singing along a rushing stream

Collared Owlet, 30 April 2015.
Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei, one of dozens of south China species at Emeifeng. (Craig Brelsford)

— Noting 103 species, 81 on the first trip, 86 on the second. Among the birds we found were key southern Chinese species such as Black Bittern, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Great Barbet, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Sultan Tit, Brown Bush Warbler, Small Niltava, Verditer Flycatcher, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, and Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler

— Enjoying the clean air and unspoiled beauty of Emeifeng

Emeifeng is full of high-quality mountain habitat. This is alpine scrub, elev. 1500 m. Here, Buff-throated Warbler and Brown Bush Warbler thrive.
High-quality alpine scrub on the slopes above Qingyun Temple (27.010034, 117.077515). The elevation here is 1600 m (5,250 ft.). Buff-throated Warbler and Brown Bush Warbler breed here. (Craig Brelsford)

Simple List of the Species of Bird Noted Around Emeifeng, Fujian, China, 30 April 2015 to 3 May 2015 and 28-31 May 2015 (103 species)

Mandarin Duck
White-necklaced Partridge
Chinese Bamboo Partridge
Cabot’s Tragopan
Silver Pheasant
Elliot’s Pheasant
Black Bittern
Chinese Pond Heron
Eastern Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Mountain Hawk-Eagle
Black Eagle
Crested Goshawk
Chinese Sparrowhawk
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove)
Oriental Turtle Dove
Spotted Dove
Large Hawk-Cuckoo
Lesser Cuckoo
Collared Owlet
Asian Barred Owlet
House Swift
Oriental Dollarbird
Common Kingfisher
Crested Kingfisher
Blue-throated Bee-eater
Great Barbet
Speckled Piculet
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Bay Woodpecker
Grey-chinned Minivet
Brown Shrike
White-bellied Erpornis
Blyth’s Shrike-babbler
Black-naped Oriole
Black Drongo
Eurasian Jay
Red-billed Blue Magpie
Grey Treepie
Sultan Tit
Japanese Tit
Yellow-cheeked Tit
Collared Finchbill
Light-vented Bulbul
Mountain Bulbul
Chestnut Bulbul
Black Bulbul
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Pygmy Wren-babbler
Rufous-faced Warbler
Black-throated Bushtit
Buff-throated Warbler
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Two-barred Warbler
Hartert’s Leaf Warbler
Sulphur-breasted Warbler
White-spectacled Warbler
Chestnut-crowned Warbler
Brown Bush Warbler
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler
Rufous-capped Babbler
Dusky Fulvetta
Huet’s Fulvetta
Chinese Hwamei
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
Buffy Laughingthrush
Masked Laughingthrush
Red-billed Leiothrix
Grey-headed Parrotbill
Indochinese Yuhina
Black-chinned Yuhina
Spotted Elachura
Crested Myna
Red-billed Starling
Black-collared Starling
Chinese Blackbird
Oriental Magpie-Robin
Small Niltava
Verditer Flycatcher
Mugimaki Flycatcher
Little Forktail
Slaty-backed Forktail
White-crowned Forktail
Spotted Forktail
Blue Whistling Thrush
Plumbeous Water Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush
Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush
Grey Bush Chat
Brown Dipper
Orange-bellied Leafbird
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker
Fork-tailed Sunbird
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
White-rumped Munia
Scaly-breasted Munia
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail

Wed. 29 April 2015

Elaine and I took the high-speed train from Hongqiao Railway Station in Shanghai to Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi. There, we transferred to the train to Taining. We checked in to the perfectly adequate Huada Hotel (Huádà Jiǔdiàn [华大酒店], +86 598-7817777).

Thurs. 30 April 2015

Startled by our car, a Silver Pheasant scoots from the roadside back into the safety of the forest. Emeifeng, 30 April 2015. Craig Brelsford.
Startled by our car, a Silver Pheasant scoots from the roadside back into the safety of the forest. Lophura nycthemera is a mainly tropical Southeast Asian and south China species. The race at Emeifeng, fokiensis, is the northernmost subspecies, ranging into Zhejiang. (Craig Brelsford)

What a first day at Emeifeng! Elaine and I noted 49 species. We heard White-necklaced Partridge, saw Silver Pheasant, photographed Buff-throated Warbler and Collared Owlet, and missed Cabot’s Tragopan and Elliot’s Pheasant. We got close views and good sound-recordings of White-spectacled Warbler, and we found a pair of Small Niltava.

Elaine and I drove up the mountain this morning with our easygoing driver, Dèng Zhōngpíng (邓忠平, +86 138-6059-6327; no English, non-smoker). The 30 km trip from Taining to Emeifeng started at Huada Hotel. In the lower country we found Chinese Sparrowhawk and Oriental Dollarbird. We saw the single male Silver Pheasant at 1150 m. Just below the end of the road at 1450 m, a bird wave included 2 stunning Yellow-cheeked Tit, the Small Niltava, and the Collared Owlet.

At the top we met Steven An, who was leading a bird tour that included Tony Sawbridge. After those birders left, we had the lodge area to ourselves. Large Hawk-Cuckoo were uttering their mad cry of “Brain fever!” 2 Black Eagle were soaring elegantly above. A Crested Goshawk appeared briefly.

Birds of Emeifeng, 30 April 2015: Clockwise from top L: Small Niltava, female (L) and male; Grey Bush Chat; Black-chinned Yuhina; and Crested Goshawk. Craig Brelsford.
Birds noted at Emeifeng, 30 April 2015. Clockwise from top L: Small Niltava Niltava macgrigoriae signata, female (L) and male; Grey Bush Chat Saxicola ferreus haringtoni, male; Black-chinned Yuhina Yuhina nigrimenta; and Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus indicus. (Craig Brelsford)

The morning fog burned off, revealing a brilliant blue sky. As the forenoon wore on, the birds retired. Elaine and I walked down a wide trail, seeing no one, reveling in the solitude, peacefulness, and unspoiled beauty of Emeifeng. We found 2 Mugimaki Flycatcher and the White-spectacled Warbler. A comparison of our recordings with those of Frank Lambert helped us ID our White-spectacled Warbler.

In the late afternoon, we found Buff-throated Warbler in a big tree near the boardwalk leading to the temple. 2 Grey Bush Chat were also using the tree.

White-necklaced Partridge were heard at various places throughout the day.

Fri. 1 May 2015

Sultan Tit, Emeifeng, 2 May 2016.
Sultan Tit, Emeifeng. The largest tit and among the most spectacular, Melanochlora sultanea has a mainly Himalayan and Southeast Asian distribution. The race at Emeifeng, seorsa, is an isolated group, occurring in Fujian and Guangxi. (Craig Brelsford)

Rain and fog kept species count low (37), but the species we found were good ones, with Cabot’s Tragopan leading the list. We heard Spotted Elachura. Elaine was much impressed by Sultan Tit, and she had a close encounter with Koklass Pheasant. 9 Silver Pheasant tiptoed through the bamboo forest.

A Sulphur-breasted Warbler helped us find the Koklass. Driving slowly up the mountain road at a point about 1250 m above sea level, we heard birdsong unfamiliar to us. I walked downhill toward the sound, and Elaine walked straight to the edge of the road. There she found the Koklass, a male. She called me back, but I arrived too late. During our vigil for its reappearance, I heard its raspy call.

Sulphur-breasted Warbler, 1 May 2015.
Sulphur-breasted Warbler. This is a jewel of a leaf warbler, golden yellow with a boldly patterned head. (Craig Brelsford)

The Sulphur-breasted Warbler was waiting for me. This is a jewel of a Phylloscopus, golden yellow below with a boldly patterned head (golden supercilium and coronal stripe, black lateral crown stripes). Its high-pitched song is sweet music:

Sulphur-breasted Warbler, song, 1 May 2015 (00:18; 1.5 MB)

We stopped at a creek containing Pygmy Wren-babbler. Relishing the chance to see this common but little-seen bird, I crawled into the vegetation near the source of the sound. Responding to playback, the wren-babbler came closer and closer until, like magic, it popped its head out from behind a rock just a meter from me. I watched this streamside specialist for several seconds.

At the same creek we played the song of Spotted Elachura. I played it so many times that I came to know the thin, high notes thoroughly—so much so that, long after I had turned the recording off and heard the song, I checked my speaker to make sure it was off. Fearing that my wishful thinking had caused a hallucination, I decided to wait before claiming a “tick.” The song stopped, but several minutes later, I heard it again, stronger. This time Elaine heard it also. I climbed up the steep creek bed, but I never heard the song again, and I have yet to see Spotted Elachura. But we know what we heard.

We found a female Cabot’s at 1320 m, below the temple, and a male at 1260 m.

Sat. 2 May 2015

Birds of Emeifeng, 2 May 2016. Great Barbet (L) and male Chinese Sparrowhawk. Craig Brelsford.
Birds noted at Emeifeng, 2 May 2015. Great Barbet (L) and adult Chinese Sparrowhawk. (Craig Brelsford)

Michael Grunwell joined Elaine and me. We noted 45 species. As we drove down the X762 near the Fujian-Jiangxi border, Elaine spotted a Cabot’s Tragopan. At dusk, at the well-known spot for Elliot’s Pheasant (27.038276, 117.094207), we heard Dusky Fulvetta:

Dusky Fulvetta, short song, below Emeifeng, elev. ca. 730 m, 2 May 2015 (00:03; 897 KB)

Rain, sometimes heavy, hampered us throughout the day but let up by late afternoon. Among the new species for our trip were Mandarin Duck, Brown Shrike, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Chinese Hwamei, Slaty-backed Forktail, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, and Grey Wagtail.

We had the pleasure of leading Michael to two lifers today: Sulphur-breasted Warbler and Buff-throated Warbler.

The Mandarin Duck were seen at a small lake near the Elliot’s Pheasant site. The site is a row of fallow rice paddies at elev. ca. 730 m.

Sun. 3 May 2015

Hartert's Leaf Warbler, 3 May 2015.
Hartert’s Leaf Warbler, 3 May 2015. (Craig Brelsford)

Michael Grunwell once again joined Elaine and me. Under brilliant blue skies, we noted 59 species. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler was a life bird for everyone and the third “southern” leaf warbler we found at Emeifeng, the others being Buff-throated Warbler and Sulphur-breasted Warbler. While driving we flushed 2 Cabot’s Tragopan and a White-necklaced Partridge; in the confusion Michael managed to spot the partridge. I found yet another Silver Pheasant. We heard 2 Buffy Laughingthrush. We struck out on Elliot’s Pheasant but while searching for it found Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler. Among the other additions to our trip list were 4 Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, 2 Grey-headed Parrotbill, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Verditer Flycatcher, and Fork-tailed Sunbird.

The Hartert’s Leaf Warbler was found on the road to the radio tower at an elevation of 1560 m. It flicked its wings one at a time, a territorial display. It sang powerfully in response to playback (00:24; 1.8 MB):

One of our goals for Emeifeng was to positively ID, photograph, and sound-record Phylloscopus and Seicercus warblers, a task easiest to perform in spring when these birds are singing. We missed Kloss’s Leaf Warbler, but with our work on Hartert’s Leaf, Buff-throated, and Sulphur-breasted, as well as our coverage of White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis intermedius, we were more successful than I expected.

White-spectacled Warbler, 3 May 2015.
White-spectacled Warbler, 3 May 2015. (Craig Brelsford)

Mr. Deng drove us to the radio tower. This is the highest point (ca. 1700 m) for miles around, and the habitat is alpine scrub, much unlike the forest stretching like a carpet below. Buff-throated Warbler greeted us at the top. We found an aggressive White-spectacled Warbler at 1620 m.

Visibility was excellent all day, and in the late afternoon the world was bathed in a golden hue. We left Emeifeng for Nanchang having accomplished most of our goals and with a feeling of satisfaction.


Buff-throated Warbler, Emeifeng, 30 April 2015. (Craig Brelsford)
Birds of Emeifeng, 1 May 2015. Clockwise from top L: Collared Owlet showing true and false face; Chestnut Bulbul; and Cabot's Tragopan running across the road. Craig Brelsford.
Birds noted at Emeifeng, 1 May 2015. Clockwise from top L: Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei brodiei showing true and false face; Chestnut Bulbul Hemixos castanonotus canipennis in thick forest at 1270 masl; and Cabot’s Tragopan Tragopan caboti running across the Emeifeng mountain road. (Craig Brelsford)
Maritime Striped Squirrel, Emeifeng.
Maritime Striped Squirrel Tamiops maritimus. (Craig Brelsford)
Birds of Emeifeng, 3 May 2015. Clockwise from L: Collared Finchbill, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Brown Shrike, and Indochinese Yuhina.
Birds noted at Emeifeng, 3 May 2015. Clockwise from L: Collared Finchbill, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Brown Shrike, and Indochinese Yuhina. (Craig Brelsford)

Click here for the second post in our two-post series about birding Emeifeng.

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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. When he departed China, Craig was the top-ranked eBirder in the country, having noted 933 species, as well as the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai (323 species). A 1993 graduate of the University of Florida, Craig was an award-winning newspaper editor in the United States for 10 years. In 2002, Craig earned a master's in business administration from the University of Liege in Belgium. Craig lives in Debary, Florida with his wife, Elaine, and their son, Tiny.

One thought on “Emeifeng 2015, Part 1”

  1. What a wonderful post! The multitude of beautiful and majestic creatures that reside in Emeifeng make me want to travel there myself. This post will be a perfect guide for any bird-lovers thinking of traveling to this gorgeous location.

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