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

Birding Trips in China

I, Craig Brelsford, 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
Orange-bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii lazulina, one of several taxa endemic to Hainan. (Craig Brelsford)

Nonggang, Guangxi, December 2015: I birded the picturesque karst-country village of Longheng, Guangxi. I noted Nonggang Babbler, ticked White-winged Magpie, and discovered south China favorites Red-headed Trogon and Chestnut-capped Babbler.

Tianmu Mountains, Zhejiang, 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 Koklass Pheasant. We missed Elliot’s Pheasant and Short-tailed Parrotbill, but other birders regularly find them there.

Emeifeng, Fujian, April-May 2015: Elaine Du and I birded eight days on the mountain in Fujian. We noted key gamebirds Cabot’s Tragopan, Elliot’s 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.

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
Maroon-backed Accentor, Baihualing. Prunella immaculata was one of dozens of Himalayan species I discovered in 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. Visiting at the height of breeding season, we noted 113 bird species in just four days. Our list reflected the rich diversity of the 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 birded the remote valley from end to end and noted 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 Rufous-bellied Bush Robin and Golden-naped Finch.

Sichuan and Yunnan, June 2014: I became one of the first birders to visit Dulong Gorge in northwestern Yunnan. In collaboration with Per Alström, I photographed and sound-recorded Himalayan Thrush. My team 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 achieved the best photographs ever taken in the wild of female Firethroat.

Western Yunnan, January-March 2014: This 47-day expedition included visits to Tengchong and Nabang and 25 nights at Baihualing in the Gaoligong Mountains. At Baihualing, Elaine Du and I visited the bird-photography blinds, finding there Slender-billed Scimitar BabblerGrey-sided Laughingthrush, and Red-tailed Laughingthrush. In Nabang on the border with Burma, we found several species whose ranges just touch China, among them Wreathed Hornbill and Black-backed Forktail.


Tibetan Antelope
Tibetan Antelope in the Chuma’er River Valley, Qinghai. (Craig Brelsford)

Qinghai, June-August 2016: Elaine Du and I birded Qinghai for 57 days in 2016. We noted classic Tibetan Plateau birds such as White Eared PheasantBlack-necked Crane, White-browed Tit, Przevalski’s Redstart, and Red-fronted Rosefinch. We explored little-birded northern Qinghai, discovering new locations for Przevalski’s Partridge, Tibetan Sandgrouse, and Gansu Leaf Warbler.

Qinghai and Gansu, July 2014: Our team drove 3,977 km (2,471 mi.)  in 15 days, starting and ending in Golmud, Qinghai. In mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), we found 98 species of bird. 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 23-day trip to Qinghai. We covered most of the Tibetans (Tibetan Snowcock, Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Babax, Tibetan Rosefinch, and Tibetan Bunting) and we found Przevalski’s Finch near Qinghai Lake.


Amur Basin of Northeast China
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 noted Band-bellied Crake, found breeding Eurasian Eagle-Owl and Mandarin Duck, and recorded secretive species such as Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo and Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler.

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

Jilin, Inner Mongolia, and Heilongjiang, April-May 2013: On our first trip to Northeast China, Elaine Du and I found Jankowski’s Bunting in Inner Mongolia and counts of up to 600 Siberian Crane 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. In 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. We noted 160 species of bird, among them China rarities Siberian Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler. We scoped Himalayan Snowcock in the Tianshan, ticked White-headed Duck at a bird-rich reservoir in Urumqi, and at beautiful Hongyanglin oasis found Central Asian specialties White-winged Woodpecker, Turkestan Tit, and Sykes’s Warbler. We had Red-fronted Serin and Eversmann’s Redstart in the Tianshan and Sulphur-bellied Warbler in the Altai.

Wulingshan, Hebei, June 2017: On this mountain near Beijing, my partners 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.

Wuyuan & Poyang Lake, November 2014

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


Statue of Chiang Kai-shek
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])

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