Wanting to swap the concrete jungle of Shanghai for a few days of fresh air and stunning scenery, a friend and I headed to the mountains of Zhejiang for some hiking and birding. We spent two and a half peaceful days at Tianmushan (天目山). As we visited outside of peak times, we barely saw another soul as we wandered around the mountain and inside the picturesque Scenic Area. Using the reports by Craig and Hiko as a guide, we were fortunate to encounter many of the area’s specialty birds. We recorded 61 species in total, with the main highlights being:
We hired a rather plush BYD car and drove the 270 km (170 mi.) from Shanghai to our inn, Hǎisēn Nóngzhuāng (海森农庄; 135-0681-8151), as mentioned in Hiko’s report. We arrived at around 10:30 a.m. and once unpacked, we took the shuttle bus to the top of the mountain, Longfengjian (龙凤尖, 30.344148, 119.440201), and slowly walked the 14 km down the mountain. As was not the case with Hiko, our bus fortunately allowed us to continue past the checkpoint without entrance tickets to the Scenic Area, and so we avoided slogging up the mountain and instead enjoyed a leisurely walk downhill.
Around the top entrance to the Scenic Area, we noted skulking Chinese Hwamei, Yellow-throated Bunting, Brambling, and Eurasian Jay. Great Spotted Woodpecker were drumming noisily. The walk downhill began quietly, and often the mountain would be deathly silent, the silence only being pierced as we hit upon a small wave of birds. The first wave contained Hartert’s Leaf Warbler in full song, as it was throughout our visit. A group of Indochinese Yuhina brought me my second lifer in quick succession, with a Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker mixed in amongst the group.
The pattern of alternating silence and quick, noisy action continued, with Huet’s Fulvetta, Rufous-faced Warbler, and Chestnut-crowned Warbler adding much interest to the walk. As we approached the bottom of the mountain, the day’s highlight arrived. My ears were on high alert following Hiko’s report of regular Short-tailed Parrotbill sightings in this area. Sure enough, I heard a trill and a group of 6 inquisitive individuals appeared in response to playback, hopping remarkably close to see what the fuss was all about. The day was rounded off when just a minute down the road, more activity revealed another highlight, a flock of Grey-headed Parrotbill.
Back around the hotel, Russet Sparrow were the common sparrow.
This morning we asked our hotel owner to drive us up to Longfengjian at 6 a.m., as the public shuttle bus doesn’t start operating until later on. Drawing on his guanxi, he got us into the park earlier than the advertised 8 a.m. opening time. This allowed us to explore the park, where we heard the familiar call of Collared Owlet. Actually seeing the birds is usually a struggle, but we were lucky enough to stumble across a pair duetting in the open. Our main hope first thing in the morning, however, was finding pheasants, as a group of friends had found Elliot’s Pheasant on the mountain a few weeks earlier. With this information in mind, we were listening out for any noise in the dense undergrowth. A little rustling noise caught our attention, and we glimpsed a Silver Pheasant scuttling away. Further on, the highlight of the trip occurred as we spotted a pheasant scurrying in the long grass. It kindly crossed the path ahead of us and paused for a few short seconds, allowing us to enjoy a resplendent male Koklass Pheasant! To our surprise, we encountered two further male Koklass Pheasants in similar situations. Other highlights inside the Scenic Area included Great Barbet, two Black Eagle soaring overhead, a large flock of Buffy Laughingthrush, and a Blue Whistling Thrush. An Orange-bellied Leafbird sang loudly near the entrance and posed obligingly.
We left the Scenic Area and walked down the mountain, enjoying many similar birds as yesterday and making for a total of 23 km of walking for the day.
We again asked the hotel owner to drive us to the top of the mountain and again strolled down. One bird that we hoped to find but that had eluded us on days 1 and 2 was Little Forktail. We had seen several White-crowned Forktail near the many streams, but had no luck with Little Forktail.
The day started with some nice additions to the trip list: A pair of Grey-headed Woodpecker, several Red-billed Blue Magpie, good views of Brown Dipper and Mountain Bulbul, as well as the welcome sight of more Short-Tailed Parrotbills. Ready to admit defeat after checking every stream three times over, we finally found a pair of Little Forktails on the stream right next to the lower ticket entrance to the park. Contented, we headed back to the car and began the journey home.
About a kilometer into our journey, a Crested Kingfisher perched on a wire over a stream, a great ending to the trip.
For more on Tianmushan and other birding hotspots in the mountains of southeast China, please see the following posts on shanghaibirding.com:
Editor’s note: Are you interested in a fuller appreciation of the birds of the Shanghai region? If so, then visiting Shanghai’s exciting coastal sites is not enough. You need to go inland, to the hilly interior. You need to visit the Tianmu Mountains. In this two-post series, Shanghai birder Komatsu Yasuhiko and I introduce you to the mountain range in Zhejiang. This first post was written by me and describes the key birds and habitats at Tianmushan. I also discuss my first trip to Tianmu in May 2015. In the second post, Hiko describes his July 2018 trip to the mountain. — Craig Brelsford
WHAT IS TIANMUSHAN?
Tianmushan is a mountain range 270 km (168 mi.) southwest of Shanghai. The thickly forested slopes are the place closest to the city where large numbers of south China species can be seen. Elliot’s Pheasant, Short-tailed Parrotbill, Moustached Laughingthrush, Hartert’s Leaf Warbler, and Spotted Elachura are just a few of the south China species recorded at Tianmushan and scarce or unrecorded in Shanghai. Silver Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant, Slaty Bunting, and Crested Bunting are also at Tianmu.
With elevations reaching 1506 m (4,941 ft.), Tianmushan offers a refreshing contrast to Shanghai’s coastal environments. Springtime is the best time to visit, but summer offers good birding and a respite from the lowland heat, and in autumn migrants and wintering birds can be seen.
The best-known birding area at Tianmushan is West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. The reserve boasts a forest worthy of a fairy tale. Below Xianren Ding (仙人顶), the highest peak in the area, a boardwalk trail leads through a land of giants—stands of Japanese Cedar Cryptomeria japonica 25 m (82 ft.) high and a thousand years old. What is claimed to be the only wild Ginkgo biloba trees in the world are also in this magical garden. Look here for Black Eagle, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, and Buffy Laughingthrush, among many other species.
At West Tianmu you can bird the following areas:
— The 12.7 km (7.9 mi.) road between Longfengjian (龙凤尖, 30.344148, 119.440201) and the hotels on the floor of the valley. Longfengjian serves as the parking area for the Japanese Cedar forest below Xianren Ding.
Take the bus to Longfengjian and walk the road back. You’ll descend about 700 m (2,300 ft.). Find Koklass Pheasant along the road, Little Forktail along the streams, and Short-tailed Parrotbill amid the bamboo. You could combine this walk with a visit to the Japanese Cedar forest and Xianren Ding and thereby cover in a single day an altitudinal range of more than 1000 m (3,280 ft.).
— Area around entrance to West Tianmu.
This is one of the broadest areas in the valley and offers streamside habitat as well as scrub, garden, and secondary forest. Asian House Martin breed in the eaves of the ticket office and other buildings, the forest holds Grey-chinned Minivet and Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, and the streams are good for White-crowned Forktail.
I have made two trips to Tianmushan, both in 2015. I spaced the trips six months apart in order to see the site at opposite ends of the year. Here is my account of the first trip, which took place in May. (Click here for our trip of November 2015.)
Thurs. 7 May 2015
Hangzhou Nantianmu Forest Park (Hángzhōu Nántiānmù Sēnlín Gōngyuán [杭州南天目森林公园]), 30.184555, 119.472668
Today my wife and partner Elaine Du and I scouted Hangzhou Nantianmu Forest Park, 255 km (159 mi.) southwest of Shanghai. We noted 21 species. We had Swinhoe’s Minivet, heard 11 Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, and saw 3 migrant Grey-streaked Flycatcher. We also found a pair of local poachers.
We entered and exited Hangzhou Nantianmu Forest Park by driving past an unmanned gate. I remarked to myself that a gate unmanned in the middle of the day is a strong indication that a park is being managed incorrectly. Elaine and I drove up the mountain, stopping at a gazebo where we found Russet Sparrow and the minivet. At the end of the road we met the poachers. They arrived on a moped. I saw their speaker and cages and told them that hunting wild birds is illegal in China. The younger poacher nodded as though he understood. The older man smiled nervously.
We drove back down the mountain. I said to Elaine that poaching must be pervasive around here if two guys can drive up a mountain with their poaching gear in full view.
Later, just outside the park gate, I told a villager that poaching was going on in the nearby park and asked him where I could report the crime. The villager said, in a friendly way, that the poachers take just “a few” (少) birds and that they do it just for fun (玩儿). The villager’s instinct to protect the lawbreakers shows how acceptable poaching is to him and presumably his fellow villagers.
The Russet Sparrow were able to make a living in the park because of the seeming absence of the more aggressive Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Today and on the ensuing three days in the Tianmu Mountains, Russet Sparrow was our default sparrow, commonly noted in town and country, and much more numerous than Eurasian Tree Sparrow, which in most places was absent.
Fri. 8 May 2015
East Tianmu Mountain Scenic Area (Dōng Tiānmùshān Jǐngqū [东天目山景区]), 30.342422, 119.509490
Elaine and I noted 30 species at East Tianmu. The highlight was finding one of our target species, a singing male Crested Bunting. Driving down the mountain road in the park, at an elevation of 600 m (1,970 ft.), we approached a bus stop, next to which was a quarry with steep walls. Immediately I was reminded of the roadside cliff in Yunnan where I had seen a female Crested Bunting in 2014. I stopped the car and spotted a Crested Bunting atop the highest conifer in the area. It sang a simple song over and over. A pair of Meadow Bunting were in the area.
Earlier, at the upper terminus of the cable car, Elaine and I saw a Crested Serpent Eagle carrying, you guessed it, a snake on the highest and last ride of its life. We walked from the upper terminus of the cable car to Zhaoming Temple (Zhàomíng Chánsì [昭明禅寺], 30.349009, 119.515961). I found a leech in the leaf litter and showed it to Elaine. The creature quickly attached itself to my glove. East and West Tianmu Mountain are the most leech-infested places I have ever birded.
Beautiful Zhaoming Temple, 1,500 years old, blends into the valley. We saw 2 Eurasian Jay, heard Yellow-bellied Tit and Collared Owlet, and on the way back down found 2 Grey Treepie and heard Great Barbet.
Our day began before dawn, when I ate breakfast on the patio of our room near the entrance to East Tianmu. I saw 4 Hair-crested Drongo and a Red-rumped Swallow nesting on the underside of the patio on which I was standing. We got past the gate at East Tianmu and drove to the end of the paved road and down the dirt road to its end, noting there Blue Whistling Thrush, White-crowned Forktail, and Brown Dipper as well as 2 Grey-headed Parrotbill and the first of many Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler.
Our plan was to bird the road and temple then walk to the top of the mountain, where a friend told me Short-tailed Parrotbill and Slaty Bunting may be found. Rain dashed those plans, and I have yet to find either of those species in the Tianmu area.
Sat. 9 May 2015 and Sun. 10 May 2015
West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve (Tiānmùshān Zìrán Bǎohùqū [天目山自然保护区], 30.344148, 119.440201)
On Saturday Elaine and I noted 28 species. We spent most of the day in the Japanese Cedar forest below Xianren Ding at West Tianmu Mountain Nature Reserve. Fog and large, noisy crowds suppressed our total.
The next day we returned to the Xianren Ding area and enjoyed a banner day, noting 42 species. The highlight was a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo appearing out of nowhere and flying straight at my head. The cuckoo was responding to the most effective “phish” I ever did, a whistle imitating its call. 5 Buffy Laughingthrush gave rise to the hope that at Tianmu the species may be locally common. Black Eagle flew low over the forest, Speckled Piculet joined a bird wave, Eurasian Jay and Black Bulbul were visually conspicuous, and Indian Cuckoo, Great Barbet, Collared Owlet, and Rufous-faced Warbler were more often heard than seen. Mugimaki Flycatcher and Brambling were among the migrants noted, with Grey Wagtail a possible breeder and White Wagtail already feeding fledglings.
Elaine and I arrived at the Japanese Cedar forest at 5:55 a.m., well before the crowds. The cool, quiet forest was full of enchantment and buzzing with birds. Chinese Hwamei cut melodiously through the silence. A standard bird wave included Black-throated Bushtit, Huet’s Fulvetta, and Indochinese Yuhina. White-crowned Forktail zipped along the creek.
As the hours wore on and noisy hikers began to pass through, Elaine and I followed an abandoned trail a few hundred meters. The trail is leech-infested, but with regular inspections of our clothing and socks pulled high over our pant legs, we managed to pick off every leech before it found our flesh.
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo was a species I hadn’t noted in five years. The cuckoos were calling from deep cover near the trail. My phish caused them to call loudly and fly in a circle around us. The call and vivid colors of this beautiful cuckoo made for an impressive spectacle. Those thrilling moments gave me energy as I drove back to Shanghai.
This post is the first in a two-post series about birding in the Tianmu Mountains.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Wed. 27 May 2015
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.
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.
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 2015 (00:18; 1.5 MB)
Yellow-cheeked Tit, Emeifeng, 28 May 2015 (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).
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.
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.
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 2015 (00:06; 266 KB)
Brown Bush Warbler, sewing-machine song, Emeifeng, elev. 1600 m (5,250 ft.), 30 May 2015 (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.
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.
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 2015 (00:03; 913 KB)
Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015 (00:10; 1.2 MB)
Speckled Piculet, Emeifeng, 31 May 2015 (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.
Brazil, Mark. Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press. Along with Birds of Southeast Asia, my first reference at Emeifeng.
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.
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 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, 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)
— 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 WarblerPhylloscopus subaffinis, Sulphur-breasted WarblerP. ricketti, Hartert’s Leaf WarblerP. goodsoni fokiensis, and White-spectacled WarblerP. intermedius
— At Shuibu Reservoir, finding Blue-throated Bee-eater, a species unexpected around Emeifeng
— Finding 4 of China’s 5 species of forktail: Little ForktailEnicurus scouleri, Slaty-backed ForktailE. schistaceus, White-crowned ForktailE. leschenaulti sinensis, and Spotted ForktailE. maculatus bacatus
— Hearing the many calls and songs of the accomplished vocalist Buffy Laughingthrush
— Hearing Spotted Elachura singing along a rushing stream
— 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
SPECIES OF BIRD NOTED BY CRAIG BRELSFORD AND ELAINE DU, EMEIFENG, APRIL-MAY 2015 (103 SPECIES)
Mandarin DuckAix galericulata White-necklaced PartridgeArborophila gingica Chinese Bamboo PartridgeBambusicola thoracicus Cabot’s TragopanTragopan caboti Koklass PheasantPucrasia macrolopha Silver PheasantLophura nycthemera Elliot’s PheasantSyrmaticus ellioti Black BitternDupetor flavicollis Chinese Pond HeronArdeola bacchus Eastern Cattle EgretBubulcus coromandus Little EgretEgretta garzetta Mountain Hawk-EagleNisaetus nipalensis Black EagleIctinaetus malaiensis Crested GoshawkAccipiter trivirgatus Chinese SparrowhawkA. soloensis BesraA. virgatus Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove)Columba livia Oriental Turtle DoveStreptopelia orientalis Spotted DoveSpilopelia chinensis Large Hawk-CuckooHierococcyx sparverioides Lesser CuckooCuculus poliocephalus Collared OwletGlaucidium brodiei Asian Barred OwletG. cuculoides House SwiftApus nipalensis Oriental DollarbirdEurystomus orientalis Common KingfisherAlcedo atthis Crested KingfisherMegaceryle lugubris Blue-throated Bee-eaterMerops viridis Great BarbetPsilopogon virens Speckled PiculetPicumnus innominatus Grey-capped Pygmy WoodpeckerYungipicus canicapillus Bay WoodpeckerBlythipicus pyrrhotis Grey-chinned MinivetPericrocotus solaris Brown ShrikeLanius cristatus White-bellied ErpornisErpornis zantholeuca Blyth’s Shrike-babblerPteruthius aeralatus Black-naped OrioleOriolus chinensis Black DrongoDicrurus macrocercus Eurasian JayGarrulus glandarius Red-billed Blue MagpieUrocissa erythroryncha Grey TreepieDendrocitta formosae Sultan TitMelanochlora sultanea Japanese TitParus minor Yellow-cheeked TitMachlolophus spilonotus Collared FinchbillSpizixos semitorques Light-vented BulbulPycnonotus sinensis Mountain BulbulIxos mcclellandii Chestnut BulbulHemixos castanonotus Black BulbulHypsipetes leucocephalus Barn SwallowHirundo rustica Red-rumped SwallowCecropis daurica Pygmy CupwingPnoepyga pusilla Rufous-faced WarblerAbroscopus albogularis Black-throated BushtitAegithalos concinnus Buff-throated WarblerPhylloscopus subaffinis Pallas’s Leaf WarblerP. proregulus Yellow-browed WarblerP. inornatus Two-barred WarblerP. plumbeitarsus Hartert’s Leaf WarblerP. goodsoni Sulphur-breasted WarblerP. ricketti White-spectacled WarblerP. intermedius Chestnut-crowned WarblerP. castaniceps Brown Bush WarblerLocustella luteoventris Yellow-bellied PriniaPrinia flaviventris Grey-sided Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus swinhoei Streak-breasted Scimitar BabblerP. ruficollis Rufous-capped BabblerStachyridopsis ruficeps Dusky FulvettaAlcippe brunnea Huet’s FulvettaA. hueti Red-billed LeiothrixLeiothrix lutea Chinese HwameiGarrulax canorus Greater Necklaced LaughingthrushPterorhinus pectoralis Buffy LaughingthrushP. berthemyi Masked LaughingthrushP. perspicillatus Grey-headed ParrotbillPsittiparus gularis Indochinese YuhinaYuhina torqueola Black-chinned YuhinaY. nigrimenta Spotted ElachuraElachura formosa Crested MynaAcridotheres cristatellus Red-billed StarlingSpodiopsar sericeus Black-collared StarlingGracupica nigricollis Chinese BlackbirdTurdus mandarinus Oriental Magpie-RobinCopsychus saularis Small NiltavaNiltava macgrigoriae Verditer FlycatcherEumyias thalassinus Mugimaki FlycatcherFicedula mugimaki Little ForktailEnicurus scouleri Slaty-backed ForktailE. schistaceus White-crowned ForktailE. leschenaulti Spotted ForktailE. maculatus Blue Whistling ThrushMyophonus caeruleus caeruleus Plumbeous Water RedstartPhoenicurus fuliginosus Blue Rock ThrushMonticola solitarius Chestnut-bellied Rock ThrushM. rufiventris Grey Bush ChatSaxicola ferreus Brown DipperCinclus pallasii Orange-bellied LeafbirdChloropsis hardwickii Fire-breasted FlowerpeckerDicaeum ignipectus Fork-tailed SunbirdAethopyga christinae Eurasian Tree SparrowPasser montanus White-rumped MuniaLonchura striata Scaly-breasted MuniaL. punctulata Grey WagtailMotacilla cinerea White WagtailM. alba
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 2015 (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.).
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 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. 730 m (2,400 ft.).
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 WarblerPhylloscopus intermedius, we were more successful than I expected.
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.
Click here for the second of our two-post series about birding Emeifeng.