Home to Shanghai (Plus a Jaunt to Fujian)

Editor’s note: Daniel Bengtsson (the tall guy next to me) is a former Shanghai resident, a frequent visitor to Earth’s Greatest City, and an avid birder. Daniel left his mark on Shanghai birding with his Century Park All-time Bird List, which he began compiling in 2008. The list is the best record ever made of the birds of a major Shanghai park.

In this guest post, Daniel’s first for shanghaibirding.com, Daniel discusses the birding side of his latest trip to China. He introduces us to two important locations in Fujian: Ziyun Cun, a forest site good for Cabot’s Tragopan, and the Minjiang estuary, breeding area of the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern. — Craig Brelsford

by Daniel Bengtsson
for shanghaibirding.com

As I spent more than two years in Shanghai over a five-year period (2006-2010), and since Shanghai is the birthplace of my wife and daughter, this huge city will always be my second home—a bit unlikely, perhaps, considering I was raised in the Swedish countryside.

My daughter is now 8, which means that we are limited to Christmas and summer breaks to visit the Shanghainese side of our family. We did our latest summer trip this past June and July.

Any time I’m in Shanghai, I visit Century Park, my “home spot” which I birded more than 50 times back in 2008. This past summer, I birded the park twice, on 23 and 29 June.

In contrast to other parts of Shanghai, Century Park has undergone little change over the years. This time, however, I noticed that Oriental Magpie-Robin had moved in. Other records of interest were singing Indian Cuckoo (2 birds seen), Eurasian Hoopoe with 2 fledged chicks, and Asian Brown Flycatcher (difficult to know whether it had already been to the breeding grounds and returned south or whether it had been delayed and was on its way north).

To add more birding flavor to the visit, I asked my wife and daughter to do a family-plus-birding trip with me to Fujian. On 5 July we flew from Pudong Airport to Sanming in western Fujian. We were picked up and driven to Ziyun Cun (紫云村, 26.359541, 117.492287). Like Emeifeng 80 km to the west, Ziyun Cun, elev. 800 m, lies in hilly, thickly forested, sparsely populated country. The peaceful village of 1,000 inhabitants was a welcome contrast to hot and humid Shanghai.

We stayed in a small family hotel which offered nice rooms and fresh, self-produced food at a very reasonable price. Birder Xiao Yang (小杨, +86 158-5982-8858) arranged driver and hotel. His parents run the hotel.

Cabot's Tragopan
Cabot’s Tragopan often appears at specially constructed photographic blinds around Ziyun Cun. (Daniel Bengtsson)

Among birders and photographers, Ziyun Cun is well-known for the temple on one of the nearby hilltops, often providing both Cabot’s Tragopan and Elliot’s Pheasant. Although Elliot’s Pheasant did not show during the two days I spent in the area, I got fine views of the tragopan as well as of Silver Pheasant and Chinese Bamboo Partridge.

Bird activity was low, and it was obvious that it was long gone into the breeding season. Though birds were calling little, I did manage to hear White-necklaced Partridge, Chinese Barbet, and Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler. Bay Woodpecker and Rufous Woodpecker showed nicely.

Night birds were more active. By walking from the village to the temple (1.5 km) before dawn, I heard Collared Scops Owl, Oriental Scops Owl, Collared Owlet, Asian Barred Owlet, and Grey Nightjar.

For 50 RMB another driver took us to the temple by car. This was a good deal when bringing my wife and daughter, since they would not have been too happy walking the steep track from the paved road up to the temple. Alongside the temple track, a stairway leads down to a different side of the hill. This side has better forest, and most of the birds were here.

Silver Pheasant
Silver Pheasant Lophura nycthemera occurs in Southeast Asia and south China. The race at Ziyun Cun, fokiensis, is the northernmost subspecies. (Daniel Bengtsson)

On the last morning, Xiao Yang’s father took me to a private hide at the base of the hill, where the better forest begins. Apparently this is too low for Elliot’s Pheasant, but it is reliable for Silver Pheasant (and sometimes Cabot’s Tragopan). The deal was that I would pay 100 RMB if I got to photograph either the pheasant or tragopan. (I recommend paying anyway, since this is a good way of supporting ecotourism!) The same deal goes for the hide at the temple.

After two nights in Ziyun Cun, we were driven back to Sanming. We were dropped off at the train station and took the high-speed train to Fuzhou.

White-faced Plover
White-faced Plover Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus, worn male, Minjiang estuary. Note the white lores and black spot just in front of the eye. Other characters, perhaps less obvious in this picture, and in comparison to other races of Kentish Plover, are larger size, blunter bill, more extensively white forehead, reduced black on crown, brighter and paler upperparts, reduced black lateral breast patches, rufous-brown of crown not extending onto nape, more white in wing bar, and paler and longer legs. Look for White-faced Plover in sandy areas and Kentish Plover along muddy shorelines. (Daniel Bengtsson)

Two mornings later, on 9 July, through the kind arrangements of the Fujian Bird Watching Society, I was picked up for a two-hour drive to the Minjiang estuary (26.023600, 119.653200). The Minjiang estuary is the only reliable site in mainland China for the critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern, a species whose total world population probably does not exceed 50. The mudflats are also important as a stopover site for many waders, among them the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Another bird of interest to Shanghai-based birders is White-faced Plover Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus, a member of the Kentish Plover clade. At Fuzhou it is probably close to the northern border of its breeding range.

Foreign visitors need a permit to enter the protected area. The fee of 1,000 RMB may seem high, but if it can help protect the mudflats and the birds relying on them for survival, then it is money well-spent.

Chinese Crested Tern breeds on islets in the Taiwan Strait. For bathing and drinking, the terns use the brackish water close to the mouth of the Minjiang River. They don’t come every day, though, and not outside the breeding season, which lasts from April to September. In fact, the rest of our party had tried the previous day without success. On this day, we were lucky to have 1 adult Chinese Crested Tern join the rest of the roosting terns. It stayed for less than an hour before taking off again, swooping down to drink a couple of times then heading for the strait.

Roseate Tern in non-breeding plumage, Minjiang estuary. Compared to Common Tern, this bird is slightly larger, has a longer bill, darker legs, crisper black head pattern (similar to non-breeding Whiskered Tern), paler back, and whiter primaries. Also in this picture: Greater Crested Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, and Black-tailed Gull. (Daniel Bengtsson)

Other terns of interest were a couple of briefly visiting Bridled Tern as well as a few Roseate Tern (in both breeding and non-breeding plumages). Along with Common Tern, Little Tern, Greater Crested Tern, Whiskered Tern, and White-winged Tern, it all added up to eight species of terns in one day—a record for me.

The shoreline also provided 9 Black-faced Spoonbill and various species of wader, among them Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper, Great Knot, Red-necked Stint, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Pacific Golden Plover, and Greater Sand Plover. Some Sanderling and Red-necked Stint were in full breeding plumage, so I guess they had already made it up to the Arctic tundra and back.

Thinking of the amazing journeys these small creatures perform twice a year, and with the rarest of all species of tern in the bag, I strolled pleasantly through the muddy channels (helped by my waterproof sandals and zip-off trousers). The next morning we got on the high-speed train, and four and a half hours later we were back in Shanghai.

Featured image: Daniel Bengtsson and Craig Brelsford pose with their families. L-R: Daniel’s wife, Zhao Qing (赵清); Daniel Bengtsson; Daniel and Qing’s daughter, Linnea; Craig Brelsford; and Craig’s wife, Elaine Du. Shanghai, 2 July 2017.
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Birding Emeifeng, Fujian, Part 2

This post covers 28 to 31 May 2015, the second of my two four-day trips to Emeifeng, the pristine mountain in Fujian, China. A post on the first trip is here.

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

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Wed. 27 May

During our first trip to Emeifeng, Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and I agreed to bird the mountain about a month later to see the changes four weeks would bring. Today, that second trip began. As in April, Elaine and I took the high-speed train from Shanghai to Nanchang and at Nanchang boarded the train to Taining. We once again checked in to Huada Hotel (Huádà Jiǔdiàn [华大酒店], +86 598-7817777).

With my camera in the repair shop, I was unable to take photographs. I focused on birding and made many sound-recordings. The bird photos in this post come from other trips.

Thurs. 28 May

Birds of Emeifeng
L: Red-billed Blue Magpie. R: Verditer Flycatcher. (Craig Brelsford)

On our return to Emeifeng, Elaine and I noted 57 species. Bird of the day was Elliot’s Pheasant. We also had 5 Silver Pheasant and 16 Buffy Laughingthrush. Little Forktail became our fourth species of forktail seen at Emeifeng, and Yellow-cheeked Tit put on an amazing vocal display.

Elliot’s Pheasant was a life bird for Elaine and me. We found a male near the road to Qingyun Temple just above kilometer marker 8 at an elevation of 1100 m (3,610 ft.). The bird allowed us several seconds to view it before it slipped away. 4 of the 5 Silver Pheasant we noted were in a flock (3 males, 1 female) on a hillside just above km 6 at an elev. of 940 m (3,080 ft.).

As was the case four weeks ago, we noted White-spectacled Warbler only above elev. 1400 m (4,590 ft.). The song of this species, coming from various directions, was one of the most common bird sounds today around Qingyun Temple. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler was not seen, but our other two “southern” leaf warblers from our earlier trip, Buff-throated Warbler and Sulphur-breasted Warbler, were represented by 1 individual each. Buff-throated Warbler was found along the boardwalk to Qingyun Temple and is presumably one of the same pair that I met at that spot on 30 April. The Sulphur-breasted Warbler that I found four weeks ago responded to playback with song; today’s Sulphur-breasted Warbler responded with a brief call.

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
We noted Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush on four of our eight days at Emeifeng. (Craig Brelsford)

Fog shrouded the Qingyun Temple area most of the day. When it finally cleared, around 15:00, birds became active, as though it were dawn. 8 Buffy Laughingthrush were the main component of a foraging party that included 3 Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush. They moved through the forest next to the boardwalk. The loud, jazzy sound of Buffy Laughingthrush caused a carpenter working in the area to start singing along. Another powerful singer in that wood was Yellow-cheeked Tit. A beautiful male performed three distinct songs for us, stopping only to devour a caterpillar:

Yellow-cheeked Tit, Emeifeng, 28 May (00:18; 1.5 MB)

Yellow-cheeked Tit, Emeifeng, 28 May (00:05; 1 MB)

Besides the 8 Buffy Laughingthrush near the temple, we found a flock of 6 quickly crossing the road, 1 amid a flock of 25 Grey-headed Parrotbill, and 1 heard calling from some distant spot in the forest. A pair of Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler were foraging together and calling antiphonally. We found them near the villages in the lower country at an elevation of about 750 m (2,460 ft.).

Besides Elliot’s Pheasant and Little Forktail, Elaine and I today added Lesser Cuckoo, Masked Laughingthrush, Brown Dipper, and Fire-breasted Flowerpecker to our Emeifeng list.

For our driver we once again hired Dèng Zhōngpíng (邓忠平, +86 138-6059-6327; no English, non-smoker).

Fri. 29 May

Elaine and I noted 63 species. The highlight of the day was finding Blue-throated Bee-eater and Oriental Dollarbird on a utility wire above Shuibu Reservoir. Blue-throated Bee-eater was new to our Emeifeng list and a lifer for Elaine. Other new birds were Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Common Kingfisher, Crested Kingfisher, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-naped Oriole, Black Drongo, Red-billed Starling, and White-rumped Munia.

Sat. 30 May

Brown Bush Warbler
A monotypic species, Brown Bush Warbler Locustella luteoventris ranges from India across southern China to Fujian and Zhejiang. At Emeifeng we found the species exclusively near Qingyun Temple in high-quality alpine scrub at elevations between 1500 m and 1700 m (4,920 ft. to 5,580 ft.). We noted the bird only on the second half of the trip, with 6 found on 30 May and 5 the next day. I shot the photos here at Mt. Wawu, Sichuan. (Craig Brelsford)

Michael Grunwell joined Elaine and me. We noted 54 species. Elliot’s Pheasant were seen in poor light, Cabot’s Tragopan appeared at an elevation of about 1400 m (4,590 ft.), Blue-throated Bee-eater were present by Shuibu Reservoir, and Brown Bush Warbler were staking out territories at the top of the Emeifeng altitudinal layer-cake.

The Elliot’s were near Shuibu Reservoir at an elevation of about 750 m (2,460 ft.). As darkness was falling, Michael, walking ahead of us along the road, inadvertently flushed a sub-adult male. Elaine and I arrived in time to see 5 females (or perhaps fledglings) exploding into flight from positions just a few meters from us. The tragopans were seen earlier but also in low light, this caused by fog.

Blue-throated Bee-eater
Blue-throated Bee-eater was a surprising find in the forests around Shuibu Reservoir. (Craig Brelsford)

The Blue-throated Bee-eater are a mystery; the species apparently has not bred in the area in recent memory. The habitat around Shuibu Reservoir seems favorable. There are plenty of vertical surfaces of soft earth in which to construct cavity nests, and the artificial lake is at a remote location, near the Fujian-Jiangxi border.

We noted all our Brown Bush Warbler between Qingyun Temple and the radio tower at altitudes of 1500 m (4,920 ft.) to 1700 m (5,580 ft.). At Emeifeng, the dense alpine scrub that Locustella luteoventris favors occurs only at those altitudes. Confident in their nearly impenetrable tangle of vegetation, the extreme skulkers allowed us to peek in from distances of less than 2 m. I recorded the soft, monotonous song of this species, like a sewing machine running or an automobile idling.

Brown Bush Warbler, sewing-machine song, Emeifeng, elev. 1600 m (5,250 ft.), 30 May (00:06; 266 KB)

Brown Bush Warbler, sewing-machine song, Emeifeng, elev. 1600 m (5,250 ft.), 30 May (00:24; 999 KB)

The three of us wanted to explore more of the high country on the peak directly opposite the radio tower, but clouds again engulfed the ridgeline, and rain started to fall.

A search for Spotted Elachura between kilometer markers 12 and 13 got us wet feet but no bird. Hartert’s Leaf Warbler and Sulphur-breasted Warbler also were not noted, a surprise given that we had heard these species singing and defending territories a month earlier.

Besides Brown Bush Warbler, Elaine and I today added Black Bittern and Asian Barred Owlet to our Emeifeng list.

Sun. 31 May 2015

Elaine Du
Elaine Du in rich alpine scrub, Emeifeng. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine and I noted 48 species. From the lodge area atop Emeifeng we walked to the little tower on the slope opposite the radio tower. The little tower sits amid pristine alpine scrub and is reachable only by foot. We walked to an elevation of about 1650 m (5,410 ft.). We were searching for Russet Bush Warbler and failed to find it. We found species similar to those in the scrub between the radio tower and Qingyun Temple, among them Brown Bush Warbler and Buff-throated Warbler.

Earlier, on the dirt road behind the locked gate in the lodge area, Mr. Deng came running back to me, signaling for me to come. We tiptoed a few steps, and there she was, the queen of the high forest, a female Cabot’s Tragopan. She was standing on the edge of the forest track. The tragopan did not flee but foraged calmly in front of us for two magic minutes before creeping silently into the forest.

The magic feeling continued in the alpine scrub. We saw no evidence of logging; the scrub is there not because an older forest was cut, but because Mother Nature intended it that way. The place exudes health and balance. Grass grows lushly, and one can look at almost any spot on the ground and find many types of colorful insects. Butterflies flit from flower to flower. When the clouds parted, we enjoyed the commanding view of the forest below. Flybys of Great Barbet and Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush enlivened the scene. White-necklaced Partridge, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, and Lesser Cuckoo called from hidden locations below. Buff-throated Warbler were busy patrolling their territories, standing sentinel atop the shrubs. Brown Bush Warbler were not calling spontaneously, and their presence might not have been detected but for their vigorous response to playback.

Rich alpine scrub
Another look at the rich alpine scrub atop Emeifeng. The grass there is lush, the turf thick, the smell of the earth fragrant. Insects abound. No goats graze, and there is no evidence of logging. The place exudes health and balance. (Craig Brelsford)

The day was nearly windless, and few tourists were visiting the top. The golden silence was broken only by birds, among them a drumming Speckled Piculet. The songs of Blyth’s Shrike-babbler and White-spectacled Warbler carried far. In the contest of laughingthrush songs, Chinese Hwamei took the prize for power, and Buffy Laughingthrush won for melody. Here is a selection of what we heard:

White-spectacled Warbler, Emeifeng, 31 May (00:03; 913 KB)

Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Emeifeng, 31 May (00:10; 1.2 MB)

Speckled Piculet, Emeifeng, 31 May (01:10; 3.6 MB)

Driving back down the hill, we found a male Silver Pheasant at 1300 m (4,270 ft.) and a female Elliot’s Pheasant at 1200 m (3,940 ft.).

In addition to Speckled Piculet, Black-collared Starling was new to our Emeifeng list.


Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler
Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler was noted by us on three of our eight days at Emeifeng. Pomatorhinus swinhoei is endemic to southeast China. (Craig Brelsford)
Crested Kingfisher
A Crested Kingfisher emerges from a creek after an unsuccessful dive at Qiliping, Hubei. On 29 May at Shuibu Reservoir below Emeifeng, Elaine and I noted 3 Crested Kingfisher. (Craig Brelsford)
Asian Barred Owlet
On 30 May 2015 we noted a single Asian Barred Owlet in farmland below Emeifeng. The 30 species of pygmy owl, genus Glaucidium, occur on all the inhabited continents except Australia. Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides ranges from the Himalaya to Southeast Asia and south China. I photographed this individual in Yunnan. (Craig Brelsford)
Chinese Bamboo Partridge
We found Chinese Bamboo Partridge on seven of our eight birding days at Emeifeng. I photographed this pair at Hangzhou Botanical Park. (Craig Brelsford)


Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Along with Birds of Southeast Asia, my first reference at Emeifeng.

John MacKinnon
John MacKinnon

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press.

Robson, Craig. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press. Co-first reference at Emeifeng.


Per Alström sent me a recording of Hartert’s Leaf Warbler. Michael Grunwell’s recommendation of Emeifeng enticed us to go; his knowledge of the area was indispensable.

Click here for the first in our two-post series about birding Emeifeng.
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Birding Emeifeng, Fujian, Part 1

This post is about birding Emeifeng in the spring of 2015. The mountain in western Fujian, 635 km (395 miles) southwest of Shanghai, 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, the first of my two four-day trips to the mountain. A post on the second trip, which took place 28 to 31 May, is here.

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

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com


Cabot's Tragopan
Emeifeng (Éméifēng [峨嵋峰]; 27.006583, 117.076389) is in western Fujian. The densely forested mountain is a reliable spot for key southeast China game birds Cabot’s Tragopan (above), Elliot’s Pheasant, and White-necklaced Partridge. (Craig Brelsford)
— Noting 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 four Phylloscopus warblers that breed in southern China: Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti, Hartert’s Leaf Warbler P. goodsoni fokiensis, and White-spectacled Warbler P. intermedius

Phylloscopidae warblers
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
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

alpine scrub
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)


Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata
White-necklaced Partridge Arborophila gingica
Chinese Bamboo Partridge Bambusicola thoracicus
Cabot’s Tragopan Tragopan caboti
Koklass Pheasant Pucrasia macrolopha
Silver Pheasant Lophura nycthemera
Elliot’s Pheasant Syrmaticus ellioti
Black Bittern Dupetor flavicollis
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Mountain Hawk-Eagle Nisaetus nipalensis
Black Eagle Ictinaetus malaiensis
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
Chinese Sparrowhawk A. soloensis
Besra A. virgatus
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis
Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides
Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus
Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei
Asian Barred Owlet G. cuculoides
House Swift Apus nipalensis
Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Crested Kingfisher Megaceryle lugubris
Blue-throated Bee-eater Merops viridis
Great Barbet Psilopogon virens
Speckled Piculet Picumnus innominatus
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus canicapillus
Bay Woodpecker Blythipicus pyrrhotis
Grey-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
White-bellied Erpornis Erpornis zantholeuca
Blyth’s Shrike-babbler Pteruthius aeralatus
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythroryncha
Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae
Sultan Tit Melanochlora sultanea
Japanese Tit Parus minor
Yellow-cheeked Tit Machlolophus spilonotus
Collared Finchbill Spizixos semitorques
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis
Mountain Bulbul Ixos mcclellandii
Chestnut Bulbul Hemixos castanonotus
Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Pygmy Cupwing Pnoepyga pusilla
Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis
Black-throated Bushtit Aegithalos concinnus
Buff-throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler P. proregulus
Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus
Two-barred Warbler P. plumbeitarsus
Hartert’s Leaf Warbler P. goodsoni
Sulphur-breasted Warbler P. ricketti
White-spectacled Warbler P. intermedius
Chestnut-crowned Warbler P. castaniceps
Brown Bush Warbler Locustella luteoventris
Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris
Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus swinhoei
Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler P. ruficollis
Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps
Dusky Fulvetta Alcippe brunnea
Huet’s Fulvetta A. hueti
Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush Pterorhinus pectoralis
Buffy Laughingthrush P. berthemyi
Masked Laughingthrush P. perspicillatus
Grey-headed Parrotbill Psittiparus gularis
Indochinese Yuhina Yuhina torqueola
Black-chinned Yuhina Y. nigrimenta
Spotted Elachura Elachura formosa
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus
Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus
Black-collared Starling Gracupica nigricollis
Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus
Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis
Small Niltava Niltava macgrigoriae
Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassinus
Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki
Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri
Slaty-backed Forktail E. schistaceus
White-crowned Forktail E. leschenaulti
Spotted Forktail E. maculatus
Blue Whistling Thrush Myophonus caeruleus caeruleus
Plumbeous Water Redstart Phoenicurus fuliginosus
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush M. rufiventris
Grey Bush Chat Saxicola ferreus
Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii
Orange-bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker Dicaeum ignipectus
Fork-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga christinae
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
Scaly-breasted Munia L. punctulata
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail M. alba


Wed. 29 April

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

Silver Pheasant
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 (19 mi.) 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 elev. 1150 m (3,770 ft.). Just below the end of the road at elev. 1450 m (4,760 ft.), 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
Birds of Emeifeng, 30 April. 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

Sultan Tit
The largest tit and among the most spectacular, Sultan Tit 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 (4,100 ft.) 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
Sulphur-breasted Warbler Phylloscopus ricketti. 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). Here is its high-pitched song:

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

We stopped at a creek containing Pygmy Cupwing. 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 cupwing 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 (4,330 ft.), below the temple, and a male at 1260 m (4,130 ft.).

Sat. 2 May

Birds of Emeifeng
Great Barbet (L) and 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. 730 m (2,400 ft.), 2 May (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. 730 m (2,400 ft.).

Sun. 3 May

Hartert's Leaf Warbler
Hartert’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus goodsoni fokiensis. (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 (5,120 ft.). 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 leaf warblers, including the warblers formerly placed in Seicercus. The task is 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 Phylloscopus intermedius, we were more successful than I expected.

White-spectacled Warbler
White-spectacled Warbler Phylloscopus intermedius. (Craig Brelsford)

Mr. Deng drove us to the radio tower. At an elevation of ca. 1700 m or 5,580 ft., this is the highest point for miles around. The habitat here 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 (5,320 ft.).

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.


Emeifeng is in western Fujian (red), near the border with Jiangxi, 635 km (395 miles) southwest of Shanghai. Elev.: 1528 m (5,013 ft.) at Qingyun Temple (Qìngyún Sì [庆云寺]). Higher slopes reach elevations of 1700 m. (Wikimedia/Craig Brelsford)
Cabot's Tragopan
Cabot’s Tragopan, female.
Yellow-cheeked Tit
Yellow-cheeked Tit, one of dozens of south China species we noted at Emeifeng. Machlolophus spilonotus rex was noted by us on seven of our eight birding days there. (Craig Brelsford)
Buff-throated Warbler. (Craig Brelsford)
Birds of Emeifeng
Birds of Emeifeng. Clockwise from top L: Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei brodiei showing true and false face; Chestnut Bulbul Hemixos castanonotus canipennis in thick forest at elev. 1270 m (4,170 ft.); and Cabot’s Tragopan Tragopan caboti running across the Emeifeng mountain road. (Craig Brelsford)
Maritime Striped Squirrel
Maritime Striped Squirrel Tamiops maritimus. (Craig Brelsford)
Birds of Emeifeng
Birds of Emeifeng, 3 May. Clockwise from L: Collared Finchbill, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Brown Shrike, and Indochinese Yuhina. (Craig Brelsford)
Emeifeng road
Michael Grunwell stands on the Emeifeng mountain road, 2 May. The elevation here is 1350 m (4,430 ft.). A dense hardwood forest covers the mountainside. Cabot’s Tragopan and White-necklaced Partridge live in these woods. (Craig Brelsford)

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