Craig Brelsford with two Tibetan brothers, Ela Shan, Qinghai, China. Elevation 4700 m. 27 July 2013.


I had two goals in China: to study the birds of Shanghai and to discover birding locations elsewhere in that vast country. This page is about the latter. A selection of my best birding expeditions is below.


Orange-bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii lazulina, one of several taxa endemic to Hainan. In January and February 2013 I spent 28 days on the island.
Orange-bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii lazulina, one of several taxa endemic to Hainan. In January and February 2013, I spent 28 days on the island. (Craig Brelsford)

Nonggang, Guangxi, December 2015: From 16-21 Dec. 2015, Michael Grunwell, Elaine Du, and I were in the picturesque karst-country village of Longheng, Guangxi. We noted Nonggang Babbler, ticked White-winged Magpie, enjoyed nighttime views of Collared Scops Owl, waited out the elusive Lesser Shortwing, and discovered south China favorites Red-headed Trogon, Large Woodshrike, Sultan Tit, Streaked Wren-Babbler, and Chestnut-capped Babbler.

Tianmu Mountains, Zhejiang, May 2015: From 7-10 May 2015, Elaine Du and I visited the Tianmu Mountains, 250 km (155 mi.) southwest of Shanghai. We watched Crested Bunting sing, found a pair of Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, were encouraged by the many Buffy Laughingthrush, and saw Crested Serpent Eagle and Black Eagle. We appreciated the strong Indo-Malayan character of the avifauna, as evidenced by classic southern Chinese species such as Grey Treepie, Grey-headed Parrotbill, and White-crowned Forktail. Elaine and I visited the Tianmu Mountains again in November 2015.

Emeifeng, Fujian, April-May 2015: Elaine Du and I birded eight days on this well-preserved mountain in northwest Fujian. We noted 103 species, among them key gamebirds Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge as well as dozens of other south China species such as Blue-throated Bee-eater, Yellow-cheeked Tit, and Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler. We found breeding Buff-throated Warbler, Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Hartert’s Leaf Warbler, White-spectacled Warbler, and Brown Bush Warbler.

Hainan, January-February 2013: I spent most of my 28 days at Jianfengling on the southern part of the island. I noted 26 endemic species or subspecies, among them Hainan Silver Pheasant, Hainan Peacock-Pheasant, Hainan Partridge, and Hainan Leaf Warbler. I found Ratchet-tailed Treepie and Yellow-billed Nuthatch, species in China found only on Hainan.


Maroon-backed Accentor, Baihualing, 13 Feb. 2014. Prunella immaculata was just one of dozens of Himalayan species we discovered in the Gaoligong Mountains in western Yunnan.
Maroon-backed Accentor, Baihualing. Prunella immaculata was one of dozens of Himalayan species Elaine Du and I discovered during our 2014 trip to the Gaoligong Mountains in western Yunnan. (Craig Brelsford)

Wuyipeng plus Wolong-Balangshan, Sichuan, May 2017: ​​Michael Grunwell and I covered the 79-km (49-mi.) stretch of mountain highway between Wolong and Rilong, birding famous sites such as Lama Temple and Balangshan Pass as well as the secret world of Wuyipeng Field Monitoring Station. Visiting at the height of breeding season, we noted 113 bird species in four days. Our list reflected the rich diversity of this extraordinary region, with eight species of gamebird, eight species of tit, nine species of leaf warbler, and sought-after species such as Sichuan Thrush, Indian Blue Robin, and Firethroat.

Dulong Gorge, Yunnan, February-March 2016: Elaine Du and I spent 17 days in Dulong Gorge, covering the remote valley from end to end and noting 170 species. Among our many spectacular finds were flocks of up to 300 Grandala, Ibisbill in the thundering Dulong River, and one of the world’s least-known deer, the mysterious Gongshan Muntjac. We noted western Yunnan specialties White-naped Yuhina, Rufous-bellied Bush Robin, and Golden-naped Finch. In the lush southern end of the gorge, we found Beautiful Nuthatch, Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-faced Liocichla, and Scaly-breasted Cupwing. Driving and walking along the twisting roads, we noted Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Long-billed Wren-Babbler, and Rusty-flanked Treecreeper.

Sichuan and Yunnan, June 2014: I became one of the first birders to visit Dulong Gorge in the remote northwestern corner of Yunnan. In collaboration with Per Alström, I found, photographed, and sound-recorded Himalayan Thrush at the dramatic Salween-Irrawaddy Divide above the gorge. My team also found the exquisite Fire-tailed Myzornis as well as other species with limited ranges in China, among them Scaly Laughingthrush and Scarlet Finch. In Sichuan I became one of the few photographers to achieve high-quality photographs of female Firethroat.

Western Yunnan, January-March 2014: This 47-day expedition included extended visits to Tengchong and Nabang and 25 nights at Baihualing, the birding capital of the Gaoligong Mountains. At Baihualing, Elaine Du and I visited the major bird-photography blinds, finding there Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Assam Laughingthrush, Grey-sided Laughingthrush, and Red-tailed Laughingthrush. Along the Cha-Ma Gudao or Southern Silk Road we found elusive species such as Himalayan Cutia, Hume’s Treecreeper, and Gould’s Shortwing. In Nabang on the border with Burma, we found several species whose ranges just touch China, among them Wreathed Hornbill, Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, and Black-backed Forktail.


Tibetan Antelope in the Chuma'er River Valley, Qinghai, China, 19 July 2014.
Tibetan Antelope in the Chuma’er River Valley, Qinghai, 19 July 2014. (Craig Brelsford)

Qinghai, June-August 2016: Elaine Du and I birded Qinghai from 26 June to 21 Aug. 2016. We noted 195 species of bird, but the highlight was a mammal: Tibetan Lynx in Yushu Prefecture on 14 July. We spent the first month with Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén, covering the eastern and southern parts of the vast province. We noted classic Tibetan Plateau birds such as White Eared Pheasant, Ibisbill, Black-necked Crane, White-browed Tit, Grandala, Przevalski’s Redstart, and Red-fronted Rosefinch. In the second month, Elaine and I explored northern Qinghai, discovering at previously unknown locations Tibetan Snowcock, Przevalski’s Partridge, Tibetan Sandgrouse, and Gansu Leaf Warbler. I became one of the few foreign birders to visit remote Hala Lake, where we recorded Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, and Lake Xiligou, where we found Mongolian Goitered Gazelle. At a site in the Dulan Mountains, Elaine and I spied a trio of Tibetan Wolf. The 57-day expedition saw us drive 8054 km (5,005 mi.) and visit seven of the eight prefectures of Qinghai.

Qinghai and Gansu, July 2014: Brian Ivon Jones, Jan-Erik Nilsén, and I drove 3,977 km (2,471 mi.)  in 15 days, starting and ending in Golmud, Qinghai. Our trip took us across a broad swath of central Qinghai and into western Gansu. We became some of the few birders to visit Gouhua and the Chuma’er Valley in Qinghai and Subei in Gansu. In deserts and mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), we found 98 species of bird, among them arid-country specialists such as Sulphur-bellied Warbler and Saxaul Sparrow. Mammals were the big stars. I watched a Tibetan Fox catch and devour a vole, we found 46 Tibetan Antelope and a Tibetan Wolf in Antelope Valley, and we saw dozens of Tibetan Wild Ass.

Qinghai, July-August 2013: I led a three-person team on a 4700-km (2,920-mi.), 23-day trip to Qinghai. We covered most of the “Tibetans” (Tibetan Snowcock, Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Babax, Tibetan Rosefinch, Tibetan Bunting, even a baby Tibetan Gazelle) and we found Przevalski’s Finch near Qinghai Lake and Henderson’s Ground Jay near Chaka.


Note the location of Boli County within the Amur Basin of Northeast China. Boli is the largest subdivision of Qitaihe Prefecture in eastern Heilongjiang, not far from the Sino-Russian border.
In 2013, 2015, and 2016, our explorations in the northeast took place within the Amur River Basin. Note position of Elaine Du’s hometown, Boli, near the Sino-Russian border. (Wikipedia/Craig Brelsford)

Boli, Heilongjiang, May-June 2016: From 26 May to 12 June 2016, Elaine Du and I made our third visit to her home village of Dawucun in Boli County, Heilongjiang. We revisited bird-rich Xidaquan National Forest, noted Band-bellied Crake, found breeding Eurasian Eagle-Owl and Mandarin Duck, recorded secretive species such as Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo and Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, and witnessed in breeding mode many birds that we had previously known only as passage migrants in Shanghai, among them Siberian Blue Robin, Siberian Rubythroat, White’s Thrush, and Siberian Thrush.

Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, 2015: Elaine Du and I became the first birders to survey Xidaquan, a 9400-hectare (36 sq. mi.) forest reserve in Elaine’s home county of Boli in southeast Heilongjiang. We noted 91 species around Xidaquan, among them Ural Owl and Long-eared Owl as well as local breeders Eastern Crowned Warbler, Radde’s Warbler, and White-throated Rock Thrush. We also explored Hulunbeier, the remote U.K.-sized jurisdiction in northeastern Inner Mongolia. There we found breeding Scaly-sided Merganser and Arctic Warbler as well as Black Grouse, Hazel Grouse, Great Grey Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl, Great Tit, and Baikal Bush Warbler.

Jilin, Inner Mongolia, and Heilongjiang, April-May 2013: On our maiden trip to Northeast China, Elaine Du and I found Jankowski’s Bunting at Saddleback Ridge in Inner Mongolia and counts of up to 600 Siberian Crane at Momoge in Jilin. Tumuji wetland yielded Red-crowned Crane and Oriental Stork as well as flocks of hundreds of geese, and at Zhalong Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang we found Swan Goose and White-naped Crane.


L panels: Himalayan Bluetail. R panels: Red-flanked Bluetail. C: "Gansu" Bluetail. Craig Brelsford.
Bluetails of the world: Himalayan (left panels), Red-flanked (right panels), and in the middle the inscrutable ‘Gansu’ Bluetail. On 11 June 2017 at Wulingshan, Hebei, our team achieved the easternmost record in history of this little-known form. (Craig Brelsford)

Northern Xinjiang, July 2017: Jan-Erik Nilsén and I covered the area from the Tianshan Mountains in the south to the Altai Mountains in the north and visited a score of Jungar Basin sites in between. We noted 160 species of bird, among them China rarities Siberian Chiffchaff, Yellowhammer, and Sedge Warbler. We scoped Himalayan Snowcock in the Tianshan, found four species of Passer at Fukang-Beishawo, ticked White-headed Duck at a bird-rich reservoir in Urumqi, saw Asian Desert Warbler and Henderson’s Ground Jay at a random stop in the semi-desert, and at beautiful Hongyanglin oasis found Common Nightingale, White-winged Woodpecker, and Sykes’s Warbler. The latter two species were among the many Central Asian specialties we enjoyed. Others were Red-fronted Serin and Eversmann’s Redstart in the Tianshan, Eastern Imperial Eagle at Daquangou Reservoir, Sulphur-bellied Warbler in the Altai, and, at various sites in the Jungar Basin, Turkestan Tit Parus major turkestanicus.

Wulingshan, Hebei, June 2017: On this mountain northeast of Beijing, Michael Grunwell, Jan-Erik Nilsén, and I achieved the easternmost record in history of “GansuBluetail. We also had sought-after regional breeders such as Grey-sided Thrush and Green-backed Flycatcher, and we just missed Zappey’s Flycatcher, which also breeds on the mountain. We found East Asian specialties Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, and White-throated Rock Thrush, and we had four species of leaf warbler: Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Chinese Leaf Warbler, and Yellow-streaked Warbler.

Wuyuan & Poyang Lake, November 2014

Xuanzhong Temple, Shanxi, Dec.-Jan. 2012-2013


Statue of Chiang Kai-shek at Alishan, Taiwan, 27 Feb. 2013.
Statue of Chiang Kai-shek at Alishan, Taiwan. (Craig Brelsford)

Taiwan, February-March 2013: Partnering with Taiwanese bird guide Wú Chóng Hàn, I noted 19 of of the 23 endemic bird species of Taiwan. Among the endemics were the majestic Mikado Pheasant as well as Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Taiwan Partridge, Steere’s Liocichla, and White-eared Sibia. A trip to Orchid Island netted us Lanyu Scops Owl and Philippine Cuckoo-Dove. We covered Taiwan from north to south, driving 3800 km (2,360 mi.) in 19 days and finding more than a quarter of the bird species recorded on the island.

Featured image: Craig Brelsford with two Tibetan brothers, Ela Pass, Qinghai, China. (Huáng Xiǎo Ān [黄小安])

Keep on the web. Donate today.