Himalayan Thrush, Dulong Gorge, Yunnan, March. Elev. 1470 m (4,820 ft.). Note the very dark subocular/moustachial area connected to the dark lores and the ill-defined dark spot on the ear coverts. These features allowed us to easily distinguish this bird from Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush, a member of the Plain-backed Thrush complex described in 2016 by Per Alström et al. (Craig Brelsford)
Himalayan Thrush, Dulong Gorge, June. Note the somewhat rufous-toned upper surface, dark lower lores and subocular/moustachial area, lack of distinct dark patch on rear ear-coverts, entirely dark lower mandible, and pale pinkish legs. (Craig Brelsford)
Shanghai birders should use Birds of Japan and Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas. I served as proofreader of both books, published by Helm Field Guides. Keep Japan on your bookshelf or in your car as you bird the coast of China, and use Bhutan as your first reference in western Yunnan.
Authored by Mark Brazil, Birds of Japan follows Brazil’s 2009 opus, Birds of East Asia, the best field guide for the coastal provinces of China. Birds of Japan sees Brazil returning to his first love, Japan, where Brazil has been active since the 1980s.
Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas, by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp, and Sherub, covers not just Bhutan but also the neighboring Indian states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. All border Tibet, and Arunachal Pradesh extends east to a point only 80 km (50 mi.) from the Dulong Gorge in Yunnan.
Japan and Bhutan each come with introductions to their regions, richly illustrated with maps and photographs. With its detailed “Where to Bird” section, Grimmett et al.’s 38-page opener is as thorough an introduction as a birder is likely to find to the eastern Himalayas. Brazil’s is less extensive but still does justice to a biogeographically complex archipelago that stretches 3000 km (1,900 mi.) from subarctic Hokkaido to the subtropical Ryukyus.
Japan and Bhutan repurpose much artwork from earlier Helm works, Japan drawing from Birds of East Asia and Bhutan from Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. There is, however, much that is new. In Japan no less than 18 new illustrations of White Wagtail are offered, 12 covering the three ssp. (leucopsis, ocularis, lugens) most common on the Chinese coast. Illustrations better than those in Birds of East Asia are provided for Chinese Egret and several species of duck.
Published nearly a decade after East Asia, Japan incorporates many of the ornithological advances made since 2009. For example, in East Asia Brazil incorrectly writes that the calls of Pale-legged and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler are indistinguishable, and the illustrations suggest that the morphological differences between the two species are appreciable. In Japan, Brazil describes the higher-pitched call of Pale-legged, and the new paintings convey more accurately the near indistinguishability of the species on plumage and bare parts.
To a China-based birder, Birds of Japan offers regional interest and usefulness in the coastal provinces, where it can serve as a backup and partial update to Birds of East Asia. Japan also provides a foretaste of a second edition of East Asia. “The publisher has expressed strong interest in a new edition,” Brazil wrote, “and I have the artist already lined up. I am just awaiting a contract” (in litt., 2019).
Bloomsbury touts Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas as “the one guide you’ll need on a visit to this incredible corner of Asia.” Including the neighboring Indian states along with Bhutan was an inspired decision, broadening the scope of the book without diminishing its coherence and increasing its usefulness in the Himalayan regions of China. For birders in the Dulong Gorge and at Baihualing, Ruili, and other hotspots in western Yunnan’s Gaoligong Mountains, Bhutan can replace Craig Robson’s Birds of Southeast Asia. Bhutan has better species descriptions than Robson’s sometimes cryptically concise work, and its illustrations excel those in Robson.
Birders in other parts of China will find Bhutan useful. In Himalayan south Tibet, in particular Yadong, wedged between Sikkim and Bhutan, birders will do just fine with Bhutan and only Bhutan in their backpack. Bhutan will prove useful in regions east of Himalayan China, notably Sichuan, as well as on the Tibetan Plateau. In southern Yunnan (Xishuangbanna), whose avifauna is more Southeast Asian than Himalayan, Bhutan can back up Robson.
Like Birds of Japan, Bhutan includes recent ornithological breakthroughs, among them Himalayan Thrush, a species described in 2016 by Alström et al., and Bugun Liocichla, discovered in 2006 in Arunachal Pradesh. Other Himalayan specialties sought after by China-based birders, such as Sclater’s Monal, Fire-tailed Myzornis, and Beautiful Nuthatch, receive ample coverage in the species accounts and introduction of Bhutan.
China sorely lacks good bird books. On the Helm Field Guides bookshelf, there are gaps where works such as Birds of Sichuan and Yunnan and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau should be. Birders in China have long had to cobble together field-guide strategies, using as a major component field guides covering regions of Asia bordering China. One welcome development has been the increasing quality of those guides. Nowhere are the improvements more evident than in Birds of Japan and Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas.
Do you own either of the books discussed in this article? Add your review in the comments below.
Brazil, Mark. (2019). Email to author, 9 August.
Featured image: Covers of Birds of Japan (2018) and Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas (2019), published by Helm Field Guides/Bloomsbury. (Craig Brelsford)
A week in Yunnan is under our belt, and Dulong Gorge is yielding amazing Himalayan specialties. Among the species noted by us so far are Fire-tailed Myzornis, Grandala, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Striated Laughingthrush, and Assam Laughingthrush as well as Gongshan Muntjac. We have noted western Yunnan favorites Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Beautiful Sibia, Rusty-fronted Barwing, and Streak-throated Barwing. We have heard the mournful whistle of Hill Partridge, found a flock of 140 Tibetan Serin, noted Goldcrest in a mixed flock at 2960 m (9,710 ft.), and discovered 4 Eurasian Teal looking out of place on the Dulong River. Also using the river are Common Merganser, Great Cormorant, Crested Kingfisher, and Brown Dipper. Crimson-breasted Woodpecker was a lifer for us, and Wallcreeper delighted us all. We noted a troop of Stump-tailed Macaque.
HOW WE GOT TO DULONG GORGE
To reach this remote valley, on Tues. 16 Feb. Elaine, our partner Brian Ivon Jones, and I drove non-stop from Kunming Changshui International Airport to Gongshan (27.741232, 98.665604), a grueling twelve-and-a-half hour, 814-km (506-mi.) ride. Brian, an Englishman living in Shenzhen, is the person who first gave me the idea of visiting the Dulong Gorge; this is my fourth birding trip with him. From Kunming we took the G56 to the G320 and S228 north of Baoshan. We drove the narrow S228 at night because we guessed that traffic in the dozens of towns along the Salween River would be less. We were right. At 03:15 Wednesday we arrived exhausted but in good spirits at Gongshan.
On Wednesday morning 17 Feb., we stocked up on food and fuel at Gongshan. We filled the tank of our rented Mitsubishi Pajero and, after applying for a permit with the local government, filled a 30-liter (7.9 U.S. gal.) tank with gasoline. The tank would hold our extra source of fuel, for there are no service stations in the Dulong Gorge.
We birded the Gongshan-Dulong Road 87 km (54 mi.) to Kongdang (27.874454, 98.336630). On the Gongshan side, still in the Salween basin, we noted our first of many Ashy-throated Warbler, Yellow-browed Tit, Whiskered Yuhina, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, and Green-tailed Sunbird. A bird wave at elev. 1980 m (6,500 ft.) gave us views of less-common birds such as Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Grey Crested Tit, and Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. At a scenic overlook at 2450 m (8,040 ft.), we found a stunning male Blue-fronted Redstart. At about 2600 m (8,530 ft.), we began to notice snow on the ground. At 2960 m (9,710 ft.), near the eastern terminus of the Dulongjiang Tunnel, with snow lying deep all around us, a bird wave passed. It contained Coal Tit as well as our first Rusty-flanked Treecreeper and Goldcrest.
On the other side of the tunnel, at elev. 2260 m (7,420 ft.), we noted Darjeeling Woodpecker and Beautiful Sibia at a stretch of road I call “Sibia Lane” (27.909517, 98.410674). I never fail to find Beautiful Sibia there. At the bridge below we found Yellow-browed Tit and a flock of Black-faced Warbler.
In Kongdang, the administrative center of the Dulong Gorge, I found a town much different from the one I met during my first trip here in June 2014. Bridges are being built, a row of new hotels and restaurants has arisen, and a service station is under construction. Despite the progress, this valley still feels like a land that time forgot. Some Dulong people keep the tradition of animal sacrifice, and we have seen two old women with tattooed faces.
DULONG GORGE FROM END TO END
We spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday exploring the areas south, north, and east of Kongdang. On Thurs. 18 Feb. we drove to Qinlangdang (27.686833, 98.283097), the village at the southern terminus of the Dulong Gorge road and the last stop before the China-Burma border. We noted 45 species and covered elevations ranging from 1220 m (4,000 ft.) at Qinlangdang to 1570 m (5,150 ft.) along the cliffs north of that village. Great Cormorant and Crested Kingfisher were a surprise. An impressive bird wave just south of town netted us many trip firsts, among them Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Rufous-bellied Niltava, and Silver-eared Mesia. At stops along the road we found Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, a lifer for all of us, as well as Golden-throated Barbet, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Rusty-fronted Barwing, and Alpine Accentor.
On Fri. 19 Feb. we headed north. We easily found Wallcreeper, and in the heavily forested opposite bank of the river we heard the harsh cries of Striated Laughingthrush. As we drove, we scanned the river carefully, particularly the calm spots. At one such spot we found 4 Eurasian Teal. They were not feeding and must have been using the gorge as a conduit to more suitable waters. South of Xiongdang (28.106766, 98.322952), conifers and other alpine flora begin to predominate, and the landscape looks profoundly different from the lusher, warmer areas around Qinlangdang. We found a scree slope far above us and, using my spotting scope, I pulled in a flock of 8 Grandala.
Dizhengdang (28.079174, 98.325987) occupies one of the broadest areas we have seen in the Dulong Valley and is an excellent place for birding. At the fringes of the farmland are scrubby areas that hold many species and will surely hold more come spring, and there is a collection of abandoned farmhouses and adjacent gardens that will be nicely overgrown a few months from now. We finally were able to leave the car here and walk around. We picked up many trip firsts, among them Himalayan Buzzard, Snow Pigeon, Grey-backed Shrike, Black-browed Bushtit, and White-throated Redstart. We drove north to the village of Xiongdang. We drove past the church in Xiongdang on a dirt road that is soon to be a paved highway to Tibet. We stopped 3 km (2 mi.) north of the village. As it was late afternoon and because the road was getting rougher, we decided to turn back. We noted Common Merganser and Brown Dipper, and as we approached Xiongdang again we encountered another Wallcreeper.
Sat. 20 Feb. saw us head back up the Gongshan-Dulong Road. We birded an elevation range of 1350 m (4,430 ft.), from 1490 m (4,890 ft.) in Kongdang to 2840 m (9,320 ft.) at the snowy western terminus of the Dulongjiang Tunnel. Elaine saw a bird that had to be either Ward’s or Red-headed Trogon, and we heard the cries of Hill Partridge on the ridges above us. At Sibia Lane, elev. 2260 m (7,420 ft.), Elaine cried out, “Myzornis!” Brian and I came running and found a pair of this quintessential Himalayan bird. The pair gave us clear views before retiring into the undergrowth, and we found another pair nearby. The beautiful, emerald-green cross between parrotbill and babbler was a lifer for Elaine and Brian. I had seen the species in 2014.
Striated Laughingthrush and Assam Laughingthrush were hard-won ticks. A flock of 4 of the former appeared screaming above us on the Gongshan-Dulong Road. The fig tree on which they were feeding was directly above us, 25 m (82 ft.) high. I leaned back and took record shots, set down my camera, and recorded the harsh cries before a car came and forced me to pause. Later, examining the photos and listening carefully to my recording, we were able to get the ID. Here is the recording I made of Striated Laughingthrush (00:08; 1.1 MB):
The Assam was almost as tricky. Walking along the road, I scared off a single laughingthrush. As Black-faced Laughingthrush has been the most commonly seen laugher so far, I played back a recording of that species to see whether I would get a response. The Assam called back from cover. It was obviously not a Black-faced, but what was it? The bird alighted very briefly on a backlit branch, a silhouette against the sky; this allowed me to determine its size and nothing more. But I had recorded the call, and comparisons to Assam recordings I have downloaded from xeno-canto.org allowed me to make the ID. Here is my recording of the brief call (00:03; 905 KB):
On Sun. 21 Feb. it rained all day and we did no birding. In Kongdang electricity was out for most of the day, and even the cell-phone signal died. We took advantage of the down time to sleep.
Mon. 22 Feb. saw us redo our route to the Dulongjiang Tunnel and back. The big find of the day was the mysterious Gongshan Muntjac. We were at the large clearing at 2300 m (7,550 ft.) on the Gongshan-Dulong Road. I had just recorded a lively pair of Bay Woodpecker and was walking back toward the car and Brian. My partner was looking at a dark spot below us on the road. Brian and I aimed to shoot, and I found to my horror that the ultra-high humidity of the gorge had compromised the focusing mechanism on my lens. I had to focus manually, and by that time the muntjac had turned its back to us. Brian captured the earlier moment when the deer was still facing us; I could only get photos of it looking away. The diminutive, rare deer scurried under the guardrail to cover. We walked downhill to the point where it had stood. Above us, we heard a sound like a man imitating a dog barking. Muntjacs are also known as “barking deer”; now we knew why. We believe we photographed a doe and that the buck was barking from cover. So little is known about Muntiacus gongshanensis that IUCN lists it not as endangered or near threatened but as “data deficient.” Almost all photos taken of the species have been done by camera traps. We have photos of an animal that we saw. I recorded the barking (00:19; 1.6 MB):
The other mammalian highlight was Stump-tailed Macaque. Walking along the road, I noticed rustling in the bamboo far down slope. At first I thought I had startled a herd of small deer. I got this impression because the animals were on the ground and were on all fours. I was able to determine that the animals were macaques. I noted a bare face and nub of a tail. We estimate the troop contained about 10 individuals.
Amid these glories, the birding was not bad! We added these species to the trip list: Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Bar-throated Minla, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, White-browed Fulvetta, Himalayan Bluetail, Rufous-breasted Accentor, and the recently re-described Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush. Elaine, who is familiar with the Zoothera thrushes because of my keen interest in this genus, radioed me: “Himalayan Thrush!” I ran back and just managed to capture record shots. The bird I photographed has the dark ear coverts, yellow base of lower mandible, and yellow legs that distinguish Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush from Himalayan Thrush.
Other big news: 290 Grandala in two flocks, an impressive 168 Tibetan Serin, a Fire-tailed Myzornis whose loud calls caused us to stop the car to look, and yet more encounters with Rusty-flanked Treecreeper and Rufous-breasted Bush Robin.
Tues. 23 Feb.-Thurs. 3 March 2016 Kongdang
Fri. 4 March 2016 Wayaozhen
Sat. 5 March 2016 Kunming
The second half of our Dulong trip lasted 13 days, from 23 Feb. to 6 March 2016. Brian Ivon Jones, my wife Elaine Du, and I saw drier weather and a rich procession of birds, taking our species count to 170. We found Golden-naped Finch at bird-rich Sibia Lane, we noted Fire-tailed Myzornis at various locations, we marveled at Ibisbill on the Dulong River, and we witnessed a spectacular flock of 300 Grandala. With the clearing of mudslides that had blocked access to the southern end of the gorge, we spent five days around Qinlangdang. There, Brian noted Beautiful Nuthatch, and we found Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, Himalayan Cutia, and Scaly-breasted Cupwing. Driving and walking along the twisting roads, we noted Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Gould’s Shortwing, Long-billed Wren-Babbler, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, and the newly described Himalayan Thrush and Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush. Rufous-breasted Bush Robin made several appearances at various elevations, Himalayan Bluetail was noted in smaller numbers, and White-naped Yuhina and Yellow-throated Fulvetta often were in large flocks. Heading back to Kunming, we found Banded Bay Cuckoo near Wayaozhen.
RAIN, RAIN, RAIN … AND A REPRIEVE
The rain from the first week of the trip was still with us on Tues. 23 Feb. and Wed. 24 Feb., causing a mudslide near Bapo (27.737042, 98.350309) that blocked access to Qinlangdang. Even on Thurs. 25 Feb., skies were still grey, and despite the excellent weather on Fri. 26 Feb., the road to Qinlangdang was still blocked. We grit our teeth and birded on.
23 Feb. saw us note just 28 species, but among them were choice birds such as Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Golden-naped Finch, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, and Dark-rumped Rosefinch. We found Golden-naped Finch, the rosefinches, a few of our Fire-tailed Myzornis, and White-browed Fulvetta around Sibia Lane. This bird-rich spot on the Gongshan-Dulong Road has tall trees, rich undergrowth, and many birds, among them the Beautiful Sibia which are a constant presence there and for which the place is named.
On 24 Feb. we noted 51 species despite the rain and despite doing all our birding within 12.5 km (7.8 mi.) of Kongdang, our home base. One reason for our success was my re-discovery of Dulong Beach (27.795076, 98.329884), a place I remembered from my 2014 visit and one of the few broad areas in that part of the Dulong Gorge. At Dulong Beach, one can park in a spacious parking area well off the narrow road, and it is possible to walk around. Great Cormorant roost on boulders studding the Dulong River, and occasionally a Mallard flies by; Himalayan Swiftlet can be seen in the corridor of sky framed by the gorge; Ashy Drongo and Striated Bulbul hawk insects high in the trees; White-naped Yuhina and Grey-cheeked Warbler browse in the trees; Golden Babbler join bird waves with Yellow-browed Tit, Rufous-capped Babbler, and Yellow-throated Fulvetta; and Chestnut-headed Tesia, Slaty-bellied Tesia, and Pygmy Cupwing call from the undergrowth.
We also birded an even broader area, Pukawang (27.839581, 98.327779), the resort 8 km (5 mi.) north of Dulong Beach and 4.5 km (2.8 mi.) south of Kongdang. There we found Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Large Niltava, Rufous-breasted Accentor, and Little Bunting using the now-barren gardens and fields. Little Forktail was in the Dandangwang River. We found Elliot’s Laughingthrush.
25 Feb. saw us stymied in our quest for Qinlangdang by a mudslide at Bapo. We retraced our steps to Dulong Beach, where in a bird wave we found Black-throated Parrotbill. We had our first record of Grey-chinned Minivet, and at Pukawang we had our only record of Pied Bush Chat and only Dulong record of Eurasian Hoopoe. The next day saw splendid blue skies, but the still-blocked road meant we had to work the Gongshan-Dulong Road once again. There, we achieved stunning photos of the moon setting over the mountains, fresh with new snow. In the afternoon, we returned to Dulong Beach, where Brian spotted Black-crested Bulbul high on the ridge on the opposite side of the river.
RETURN TO QINLANGDANG
Once the weather improved and the road crews cleared the road, we headed straight for Qinlangdang and the southern end of the gorge. We spent five of the next six days here: Sat. 27 Feb. through Mon. 29 Feb. and Wed. and Thurs. 2-3 March.
On 27 Feb., during the 43 km (27 mi.) drive from Kongdang to Qinlangdang, we stopped at Dulong Beach. There we met Ān Kǎi Xiáng (安凯祥, “Steven An”), a tour guide whom I have met on several occasions, and Hóu Tǐ Guó (侯体国), the man famous for running the photo blinds at Baihualing. They were guiding Erik and Henning, two Danes and friends of Jesper Hornskov. Erik and Henning paid this writer a nice compliment: They had read my post on Week 1 of the Dulong trip! We chatted awhile and admired a Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. Also at Dulong Beach, we saw Crested Kingfisher flying rapidly up the river and found Scaly Laughingthrush.
Further down, we yet again heard Long-billed Wren-Babbler calling from thick undergrowth on the side of the road; try as I might, I could not coax the bird out, but I recorded its call (00:03; 922 KB):
Driving back, nearing dark we got a lifer for Brian and Elaine: Rufous-backed Sibia. I captured sound and an image of this impressive bird (00:35; 2.2 MB):
On the morning of 28 Feb., again near Qinlangdang, and after hours spent searching for Beautiful Nuthatch with no success, I heard dueling Spotted Elachura singing from either side of the Dulong River. Dilemma: (1) Study elachura, a sure thing, or (2) invest still more time in searching for Beaut Nut? Brian opted for Choice 2 and walked ahead. Elaine and I chose Option 1 and achieved an excellent recording of the strange song of Spotted Elachura plus my closest views ever of the species. Here is what I captured (01:17; 3.9 MB):
Brian, meanwhile, found Beaut Nut! He radioed us, but we arrived too late. Congrats, Brian! We also got Himalayan Cutia, a lifer for Brian.
Other great birds from 28 Feb.: Black-headed Shrike-babbler and Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, another encounter with that Long-billed Wren-Babbler on the side of the road, Scaly-breasted Cupwing, good views of Striated Laughingthrush, and new looks at Blue-winged Laughingthrush and Scaly Laughingthrush. We found 4 Zoothera birds, most likely Alpine/“Yunnan”/Himalayan Thrush, feeding along the pre-dawn road and looking like nightjars (Brian’s apt description) as they fled our car.
29 Feb. saw us once again working the area around Qinlangdang. The terraced fields at the north entrance to the village are a good place for birds, yielding our only Dulong records of Hill Prinia, Slaty-backed Forktail, and Black Redstart as well as Blue-fronted Redstart and Olive-backed Pipit. At Brian’s nuthatch spot just north of town, relaxing in our parked car I got our only owl record of the trip: Asian Barred Owlet, calling unseen from the ravine on the opposite side of the river. In the morning, as we were driving to Qinlangdang we heard Brown-flanked Bush Warbler singing at Maku and at another place farther south.
On 1 March we changed direction, heading north 31 km (19 mi.) on the paved road to Dizhengdang. There, we revisited the extensive farmland north of town. Within a large flock of Little Bunting, Elaine and I picked out 3 Godlewski’s Bunting. Blue-winged Laughingthrush were using trees between two abandoned farmhouses, and we found Snow Pigeon and a smart male Hodgson’s Redstart. Brian went off on his own, finding White-throated Dipper. We drove through Xiongdang to the road being constructed north of that village. We took it to a point 9 km (5.6 mi.) north of town, where a rockslide stopped us. We noted Mountain Hawk-Eagle here.
Heading back, just north of Xiongdang, Brian, once again walking ahead, radioed us: “Ibisbill, flying downstream!” Brian deserves credit for insisting that this most unusual of waders would be on the Dulong. “The habitat is right; they must be here,” he had said repeatedly. Now Brian had his reward, but what about Elaine and me? Would it be possible for us to get a view? It was up to me to guess where the Ibisbill had flown to. Zipping past Brian’s position, Elaine and I sped south in the Pajero, splashing through a creek along the way. We approached the church in Xiongdang, and I said, “Let’s try here.” Elaine and I got out and, lo, there were 4 Ibisbill along the rumbling stream below. Brian arrived, and we savored the view together.
On our two final full days in the gorge, 2-3 March, we dove back into the Qinlangdang area. We met Himalayan Thrush and Alpine/“Yunnan” Thrush on the road, we had a strange encounter with an apparently lost Northern Lapwing, and we added Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-billed Scimitar Babbler, and Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike to our trip list. I achieved an excellent recording of the powerful song of tiny Scaly-breasted Cupwing (00:24; 1.7 MB):
We found several common birds that we had not noted before, among them Japanese Tit, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, White-bellied Erpornis, and Chestnut Thrush. These late additions are an indication of the vastness of the forests and the long time it takes to get an accurate impression of the avifauna of this rich gorge.
BACK TO KUNMING
We took two full days to cover the 900 km (560 mi.) between Kongdang and Kunming. On Fri. 4 March we spent the daylight hours driving the 90 km (56 mi.) to Gongshan. We saw a massive flock of 300 Grandala, added Great Barbet to the trip list, heard Hill Partridge calling unseen, and noted Fire-tailed Myzornis and Golden-naped Finch. After refueling, we departed Gongshan at 17:15 and drove south on the S228. Along this amazing, narrow road, the lifeline for the dozens of communities along the Salween River, we saw folks taking sponge baths under the spigots along the road, saw people getting haircuts at open-air barber shops just inches from passing cars, and watched a drunken man nearly walk into the path of our car. Few roads are more interesting, or more dangerous, than the S228. Long after dark, we made it to Nujiang and pressed on, arriving exhausted at 01:15 in Wayaozhen (25.445260, 99.263076), a town just a few kilometers north of the G56 freeway. Once again, we had made it through the Salween Gorge in good time, as before by driving mainly at night when traffic is less.
New birds came to us immediately the next morning: Red-vented Bulbul and Grey-breasted Prinia in the farm-garden area just across from Bababa Hotel, Grey Wagtail in a stream running between rows of houses, and White-browed Laughingthrush and Yellow-browed Warbler on the scrubby, partly forested hillside behind the hotel.
The grand finale, the fitting end to our profitable expedition, came later in the morning, less than a kilometer north of the G56. Driving on the G320 toward the freeway, I was scanning the hillside to our right and admiring the Mekong River to our left. I noticed a forested ravine that looked promising. Brian was game for a final hunt, and we set off. Elaine stayed at the car, scanning the treetops with the spotting scope. Brian and I walked up the ravine until we could walk no more, then doubled back. Along the way we heard Slaty-bellied Tesia and saw Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike. Brian picked up Grey-throated Babbler, a species we had noted in Dulong Gorge but that Brian had not seen well.
Brian went on ahead, and I stayed behind in the forest. Suddenly a Banded Bay Cuckoo appeared on a branch just 3 m (10 ft.) from me, calling. This species is hard to find in China, has long been among my most desired of cuckoos, and was a lifer for me. I was without my camera, but I had my recorder and used it. In the recording, one notes the similarities and differences between the four-note call of Banded Bay and the well-known four-note call of Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus. Whereas the call of Banded Bay is a high-pitched whistle, the call of Indian is fuller and throatier. Examine my recordings:
Banded Bay Cuckoo 1 (four-note whistle; 00:07, 1.1 MB)
Banded Bay Cuckoo 2 (rising call plus four-note whistle; 01:18, 3.9 MB)
I hustled down the hill to the car, roused Elaine and Brian, and took them up the hill. They heard the call of Banded Bay Cuckoo.
We took the G56 to Kunming Changshui International Airport, driving the last of the 2856 km (1,775 mi.) that we logged on this trip. We spent the night in the strangely named but very clean Rainbow Interstellar Hotel (+86 871-65301666). On Sun. 6 March we flew home, Brian to Shenzhen, Elaine and I to Shanghai.
Our simple list of the 170 bird species we noted is at the top of this page. For the systematic list, click here.
In Kongdang we checked into Dúlóng Jiāng Dàjiǔdiàn (独龙江大酒店; +86 886-3066888, +86 139-8868-5660). The hotel was new and clean. Electric power was intermittent throughout the village, and because of the uncertain electricity it was prohibited to run the air-conditioning unit; our room was usually chilly as a result. Hot water was not guaranteed. In 2014 I stayed in Dàpíng Bīnguǎn (大平宾馆; +86 139-8869-6984).
We flew into and out of Kunming rather than Baoshan or Dali because of the wider selection of rental cars. We worked with the rental-car company Héxié Zūchē (和谐租车; +86 871-67085834). Héxié rented us a brand-new, four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Pajero, the perfect car for our trip.
LIST OF PLACE NAMES
Baoshan (Bǎoshān Shì [保山市]): prefecture-level city W Yunnan.
Maku (Mǎkù Cūn [马库村]): hamlet Dulong Gorge 37 km S of Kongdang & 6 km N of Qinlangdang. Elev. 1570 m.
Mekong River: river rising on Tibetan Plateau & flowing through Yunnan to Southeast Asia. In Yunnan often referred to as Lancang River (Láncāng Jiāng [澜沧江]).
Nujiang River: see Salween River.
Pukawang (Pǔkǎwàng [普卡旺]; 27.839581, 98.327779), resort in Dulong Gorge 4.5 km S of Kongdang. Site of confluence of Dandangwang River & Dulong River. Elev. 1480 m.
Qinlangdang (Qīnlángdāng [钦郎当]; 27.686833, 98.283097): village Dulong Gorge 43 km S of Kongdang. Elev. 1220 m.
Salween River (Nùjiāng [怒江]): river rising on Tibetan Plateau, flowing through W Yunnan & into Burma.
Sibia Lane (27.909517, 98.410674): birding area on Gongshan-Dulong Road with many tall trees. So named because Beautiful Sibia are abundant there. Area extends ca. 1.5 km from bridge crossing large stream E toward Dulongjiang Tunnel.
Robson, C. 2005. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA. Our first reference in Dulong Gorge and western Yunnan.
Smith, Andrew T. and Yan Xie, eds. Mammals of China. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA. Our first reference for mammals in China.
Cameras: Nikon D3S; for landscapes, Apple iPad, Apple iPhone 4S, and Apple iPhone 6
Lens: Nikon VR 600mm F/4G
Sound recorder: Olympus DM-650
Binoculars: Swarovski EL 8 x 32 (Craig), Zeiss Conquest HD 8 x 42 (Elaine)
Spotting scope: Swarovski ATX-95
Tripod and head: Manfrotto 055 Carbon Fiber Tripod, Manfrotto VH502AH video head
Featured image: The sublime spectacle of the moon setting over the Gaoligong Mountains at dawn was our reward for enduring days and days of rain. Photo taken on Gongshan-Dulong Road near Kongdang on 26 Feb. 2016. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/9, 1/320, ISO 640. (Craig Brelsford)
— Being among the first birders to visit Dulong Gorge, “The Last Green Valley in China,” in the far northwestern corner of Yunnan
— In collaboration with Per Alström, finding, photographing, and sound-recording Himalayan Thrush at the dramatic Salween-Irrawaddy Divide in the Gāolígòng Mountains
— On the Old Erlang Road in Sichuan, spotting, waiting out, and finally photographing a rare female Firethroat, as well as photographing and sound-recording a male
— Finding and photographing a pair of Fire-tailed Myzornis at the Salween-Irrawaddy Divide
— In Dulong Gorge, finding several species of bird with limited ranges in China, among them Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Lemon-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Scaly Laughingthrush, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Streak-throated Barwing, Beautiful Sibia, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Fire-tailed Sunbird, and Scarlet Finch
My flight from Shanghai arrived at 20:00 at Chéngdū. My partner Huáng Xiǎo Ān (黄小安) picked me up at the airport. Xiǎo Ān lives in Beijing. Later that night, Jon Gallagher arrived. Jon was born in England and is a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Maryland. This trip would be our second together; in 2013, the three of us birded in Qinghai.
Sun. 1 June 2014
Today I drove our rented Chevrolet Captiva to the Lǎo Chuān Zàng Lù (老川藏路), known in English as the Old Erlang Road. The road, no longer in regular use because of the new Èrláng Shān tunnels, lies between Yǎ’ān (雅安) and Kāngdìng (康定). The Old Erlang Road dips off the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau; the eastern side of the road is soggy and foggy; the western side, higher and drier. The contrast in vegetation and climate is stark and immediately noticeable. I’ve yet to see a place that more dramatically shows the contrast between wet eastern China and arid western China. Our top bird, found on the eastern side, was Chestnut-headed Tesia. Phylloscopus and Seicercus warblers were singing everywhere, giving me the easier IDs that I have been dreaming about. The most conspicuous leaf warbler was Claudia’s Leaf Warbler. Also common: Sichuan Leaf Warbler. I sound-recorded and photographed a Seicercus warbler; the recording of the voice was crucial in my ID’ing the bird as a Martens’s Warbler. Here are three recordings I made today:
Chestnut-headed Tesia (00:19; 1.1 MB)
Claudia’s Leaf Warbler (00:56; 1.7 MB)
Black-faced Laughingthrush (00:38; 1.4 MB)
We drove to Lúdìng (泸定), the nearest city, 30 km from the western end of the Old Erlang Road.
Mon. 2 June 2014
Walking alone up the Old Erlang Road, at an elevation of about 2730 m, I heard robins singing. Within minutes, I had found a male Firethroat. Two males apparently have territories on either side of the Old Erlang Road. Firethroat is listed as near-threatened by the IUCN. Near the highest point on the Old Erlang Road, we ran into Frank Lambert, who was leading a tour. We led Frank’s group back to our Firethroat spot. A few members of Frank’s tour were so happy to see the Firethroat, they had tears in their eyes. I recorded the beautiful song of Firethroat (01:18; 2 MB):
Tues. 3 June 2014
Raining this morning. At the “tree-lined avenue” on the west side of the Old Erlang Road (elev.: 2450 m), I saw Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. Cuckoos were singing from every tall tree. Large Hawk-Cuckoo were most commonly heard, followed by Lesser Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo, and Himalayan Cuckoo.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo (00:34; 1.3 MB)
Lesser Cuckoo (00:16; 1 MB)
Jon and I took a long walk along the road. We found another pair of Firethroat at about 2450 m above sea level. In the afternoon, we drove to Kāngdìng.
Wed. 4 June 2014
We spent the morning at a site 5 km from Kāngdìng dedicated to photographing wild pheasants. The site is owned by Liào Kāng Lín (廖康林; +86 135-4147-1963, +86 836-2823096). Mr. Liào charges 80 yuan per photographer per day. A stay at his house costs 40 yuan per night. Cooked meals are available. Our time at Mr. Liào’s place was not very successful. We viewed only one gamebird, a Lady Amherst’s Pheasant (male), and it left after only a few seconds. Mr. Liào said the best time to come is March. While there, I recorded the local Alpine Leaf Warbler (00:41; 1.4 MB):
After finishing at Mr. Liào’s place, we drove back to the Old Erlang Road, where we caught a tantalizing glimpse of the female Firethroat. We drove back to Lúdìng, where we spent the night.
Thurs. 5 June 2014
It took some work, but today on the Old Erlang Road I managed to capture clear shots of a female Firethroat. Photographing the female is a much greater challenge than photographing the male. The female is silent, much unlike the songster the male, and very shy. Special thanks to Jon and Xiǎo Ān for agreeing to give another morning to the female Firethroat (I’m happy to report that they too saw and photographed the female). As I continue to capture images for my photo field guide, I am striving to get shots of the most elusive species. The female Firethroat is a big step forward. Also attracted to our setup was a female Slaty-blue Flycatcher. In the afternoon, we drove to Lóngcānggōu (龙苍沟). We stayed at Hǔlín Shānzhuāng (虎林山庄; +86 189-8162-4444). There, a power surge occurred, destroying the battery charger for my camera, the power adapter of my Apple MacBook Pro, and other items.
Before that disaster occurred, we took a walk in the forest, where I recorded the haunting, hoopoe-like call of Himalayan Cuckoo (01:31; 2.2 MB):
Fri. 6 June 2014
Early this morning, a rock ripped apart the oil pan (U.K.: sump) of our rented Chevy Captiva. We were driving into the wilderness area at Lóngcānggōu. We hit a bump, but the bump didn’t seem especially serious. I was shocked to see oil running over the ground. A tow truck from Yǎ’ān came to rescue us. We were taken to a Chevrolet dealership outside Yǎ’ān. We rented a Volkswagen Passat from an agency in Yǎ’ān and drove to Chéngdū.
Sat. 7 June 2014
We visited the camera center in Chéngdū, where I bought a new battery charger. Our next stop was the Apple store, where Xiǎo Ān and I replaced our power adapters. We then drove to Éméishān (峨眉山).
Sun. 8 June 2014
Drizzled all day. In the early morning, we walked uphill from our hotel below the lower terminus of the cable car. Already there were many tourists, disturbing the few birds that we could see. We walked down the road from the cable car. On this road, there were fewer people. We found Bianchi’s Warbler. After lunch, we drove downhill to get below the fog. There are few safe places to stop along the busy road. The best place is at 1540 m, where a dirt road meets the main, paved road. If you’re driving uphill on the paved road, look for a road turning off to your right. The road is a few hundred meters uphill from the “32” sign. We spent an hour walking along the dirt road before rain forced us back to the Passat. Driving back up, we discovered another good spot within walking distance of the complex of hotels where we’re staying. This place is a ski area. Local workers live in some of the buildings. A walkway leads from a parking lot uphill past the slope and through a small forested area to a second parking lot above. Because few tourists go there, the ski area is quiet, and with its clearings and trails is highly birdable. In the forested part of the walkway near the upper parking lot, we saw Golden Parrotbill. We named the forested part the Magic Walkway.
Mon. 9 June 2014
Rain and fog all day. The team stayed in. No birding. In spite of our recent run of bad luck, we are still laughing, still having fun.
Tues. 10 June 2014
This morning, the sky was clearer and it was no longer raining. Jon and Xiǎo Ān took the cable car to the Golden Summit. They saw little, as the upper reaches of the mountain were foggy. Feeling weak, I slept in. Later, I felt better and walked alone to the Magic Walkway. I found at least 2 Chestnut-headed Tesia, Grey-hooded Fulvetta, Golden Parrotbill, and a first for me, White-bellied Redstart. Large-billed Leaf Warbler were singing everywhere. Here are two recordings made today.
Large-billed Leaf Warbler (01:27; 2.2 MB)
White-bellied Redstart (00:27; 1.2 MB)
The temperature was around 10, very chilly. At the restaurant at our hotel, we ran into German birder Kai Pflug. Kai lives in Shanghai. I’d been communicating with Kai by e-mail for months but hadn’t met him until this chance encounter.
Wed. 11 June 2014
Along the S217 in Yunnan
We awoke at Éméishān to fog and drizzle. We went to the Magic Walkway. We found the White-bellied Redstart again and heard others singing. I recorded Martens’s Warbler. We received word from the Chevy dealership that the Captiva had been repaired. We drove down to the side road at 1540 m (the road we’d discovered on 8 June). There, visibility was excellent; there was no rain and no fog. We walked in and took the fork right. We found Rufous-capped Babbler. I made a good recording of the well-known call from close range (00:59; 1.7 MB):
Heading back toward the fork, we found a flock of Golden Parrotbill. Also in the area were Green-backed Tit, Red-billed Blue Magpie, and 3 Grey Treepie. A White-throated Needletail zipped by. We drove on the newly opened G93 to Yǎ’ān. Along the nearly empty freeway, I heard Indian Cuckoo. At the Chevy dealership, we finished up the paperwork on the Captiva, transferred our stuff from the Passat to the Captiva, and, after dinner in a restaurant down the road from the dealership, headed south. Our destination: Yunnan and Dulong Gorge. I drove for hours, mostly on the G5, the major freeway. A steady stream of Red Bull kept me awake. In Yunnan, we left the G5 and took the S217 to the G56. Somewhere along the S217, I became sleepy and pulled over. I slept for 90 minutes then continued driving.
Thurs. 12 June 2014
Gòngshān (贡山), Yunnan
Stopped at Gòngshān (贡山)! Dúlóng will have to wait till tomorrow. Despite not reaching Dulong Gorge, and despite 36 hours of nearly non-stop driving from Éméishān to Gòngshān, our mood is upbeat. One reason: the amazing 300 km odyssey through the Salween Gorge. In Chinese, the Salween is called the Angry (怒 [nù]) River because of its churning rapids, so readily seen in the gorge. But to the thousands of people living along its banks, the Salween is like a member of the family, a constant, nurturing presence. The S228 is the other lifeline of the communities here, the only route in and out and in many places the only flat surface. Sunning dogs, running children, toothless old men bearing loads, wrinkled old women chatting—all on the road. Our progress was often slowed to a snail’s pace. And the scenery! The higher one drives up the gorge, the greener the mountainsides.
Fri. 13 June 2014
We’re in Kǒngdāng, the major town here along the Dúlóng River (Dúlóng Jiāng [独龙江]). Kǒngdāng has no gas station—in fact, there isn’t one in this entire valley, a remote place bordering Burma and Tibet. Gòngshān, 300 km from the G56, is one step removed from normal China; this valley is yet another step beyond. The natives of this valley, the Dúlóng people, number about 7,000 and until recently were totally cut off from the outside world. There are still a few old women with tattooed faces, a tradition that arose from the fear that the neighboring Tibetans would invade and steal the women. I’ve been to 31 of China’s provincial-level entities and seen few places as strange and breathtaking as Dúlóng. We are staying at Dàpíng Bīnguǎn (大平宾馆; reach Mr. Huáng at +86 139-8869-6984; reach his wife at +86 157-0885-2602). Today, on the ridge dividing the Irrawaddy and Salween basins, at an elevation of 3270 m, our team found a pair of Fire-tailed Myzornis. A Golden Bush Robin caught our attention. We also found perhaps two species of what is still officially known as Plain-backed Thrush (Zoothera mollissima). The man who is studying the Plain-backed Thrush complex, none other than Per Alström, met us just below the Salween-Irrawaddy Divide. Per was with his partners, Zhào Chāo (赵超) and Zhào Jiàn (赵健). We talked for about an hour. Using the hood of Per’s jeep as a desk, Per and I opened our MacBooks, and Per copied over to me a recording he’d made of a bird in the Plain-backed Thrush complex. Per’s generosity inspired me. Per said, “I only have photos of thrushes I’ve captured. It would be good to have photos of the thrushes in their natural environment.” “I’ll do everything I can to get those photos,” I said.
Sat. 14 June 2014
Rain and fog this morning grounded us until 09:00. The three of us worked our way from Kǒngdāng (elev.: 1500 m) to a bridge on the Gòngshān-Dúlóng Road (2200 m). Here, the skies brightened, and old-growth, moss-covered trees on either side of the road seemed promising habitat for our target bird, Beautiful Nuthatch. We found none today, but those old trees proved productive, yielding Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker eating mistletoe berries, two pairs of Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Streak-throated Barwing, a male Scarlet Finch, and dazzling Yellow-cheeked Tit. Outside Qinghai and Xinjiang, I have not seen such vast expanses of unspoiled nature in China as I’ve seen in Dulong Gorge.
Sun. 15 June 2014
With good photography out of the question because of the rain, I turned Dulong Gorge into my classroom, with Jon Gallagher and Huáng Xiǎo Ān as my classmates. We spent the day building up our Dúlóng list and gaining familiarity with the more common birds we were finding. Through the fog we found several Yunnan specialties, among them Rusty-fronted Barwing. We also continued our search for Beautiful Nuthatch and Cachar Wedge-billed Babbler.
On Friday, during our Meeting in the Wilderness, Per Alström told me to be on the lookout for Davison’s Leaf Warbler. In this far-flung part of Yunnan, Davison’s is the leaf warbler with the “double wing flick”; in other parts of China, the closely related Kloss’s Leaf Warbler is the double wing flicker. Today, during a break in the rain, we found Davison’s Leaf Warbler.
Mon. 16 June 2014
Day 4 of our Dúlóng Expedition found my team in the high country again, up to the Dúlóng end of the new tunnel on the Gòngshān-Dúlóng Road (2850 m). Amid the constant drizzle, we persevered. Among our hard-won gems were Rusty-flanked Treecreeper and Manipur Fulvetta. When the rain let up briefly at 18:00, the birds came out in great numbers, as if it were dawn. The star of that bird wave was a male Scarlet Finch sitting proudly atop the highest tree.
Tues. 17 June 2014
Jon, Xiǎo Ān, and I continued our search for birds expected in this region but not confirmed. Glorious, rain-free weather did not make birding any easier, but it did allow us to enjoy expansive views across the valley.
Wed. 18 June 2014
We set our sights on finding Yellow-throated Fulvetta. It is a noisy, active bird, usually in small parties. Its limited range in China includes southeast Tibet and northwest Yunnan. At first glance, one may mistake it for a leaf warbler or bush warbler, but this species and its congeners in Alcippe belong firmly to the ground babblers (Pellorneidae). We quickly found one at the bridge near Pǔ Wàng Kǎ (普旺卡), south of Kǒngdāng. The rain came once again. Amid the steady shower, we got close to a Slaty-bellied Tesia (00:04; 852 KB).
Thurs. 19 June 2014
Our final full day in Dulong Gorge saw less rain. We found another Slaty-bellied Tesia, and near Kǒngdāng we found a scraggly Brown Shrike. We parked near the river and studied the stream closely. Few birds rely on the turbulent, nutrient-poor water of the Dúlóng River. We saw a single Common Kingfisher.
Fri. 20 June 2014
Today, a week after meeting Per Alström and his partners, my team was back at the Salween-Irrawaddy Divide. I was mindful of Per’s desire to get “natural” images of a “Plain-backed Thrush.” During a rare break in the rain, I stepped out and played the song Per had transferred to me on 13 June. After a few minutes, a “Plain-backed Thrush” called back. The thrush perched just 15 m from me, singing powerfully. What a rush! I took dozens of photos and made three good recordings. Afterward, I texted Per: “We got your thrush! This morning, my team was on the Gòngshān-Dúlóng Road, on the Dúlóng side of the Hēipǔ (黑普) Tunnel (the high tunnel), just up the road from where our teams ran into each other. Rain was falling steadily, & there was much fog. During a break in the rain, I stepped out of the car and walked downhill, playing the recording that you shared with me. Within seconds, a hearty response. Then the rain started falling very hard, and the fog grew thick, and I had to run back to the Captiva. Half an hour later, there was another break in the weather, & I tried again. After a few minutes, my jaw dropped: a ‘Plain-backed Thrush’! The bird was singing powerfully in response to the recording. For 15 minutes, the thrush did circles around me, circles that as the bird grew used to me were getting tighter and tighter. The thrush perched just 15 m from me. I whipped out my pocket recorder and made 3 good recordings. Finally, a Nissan Paladin arrived, carrying a team of Beijing journalists who’d invited us to dinner last night down at Kǒngdāng! I had no choice but to greet them. By the time the journalists moved on, the thrush had moved off, and the rain had started again. Jon, Xiǎo Ān, and I lingered for an hour on the Dúlóng side of the Divide, but the rain never stopped. We drove through the tunnel to the Salween side and spent another hour there. The rain let up some, and I went out and played your Dúlóng recording. I got no response. When you generously lent me your recording, Per, you said that you’d like to see some photos of ‘Plain-backed Thrushes’ in their natural state, as opposed to captured birds photographed in the hand. Well, here they are. With these photos and the recordings I made, we should have little trouble determining to which of the new ‘Plain-backed Thrush’ taxa the individual I met belongs.” Later, Per wrote back, having seen my photos and listened to my recordings. He said he had little trouble determining to which of the new “Plain-backed Thrush” taxa the individual I met belongs. However, as Per’s work on the complex hasn’t been published yet, Per has asked me to temporarily refer to my bird by the currently recognized binomial, Zoothera mollissima. What a pleasure it was to find that “Plain-backed Thrush,” and at such a remote, thrilling location! What a pleasure it has been working with Per. As we drove through the mountains, we saw local people picking zhúyè cài (竹叶菜). We arrived in Gòngshān just before dark.
UPDATE, 26 JAN 2016: The bird I found on 20 June 2014 is Himalayan ThrushZoothera salimalii. Earlier this month, Per and his team published an article in which they make known that what was once thought to be one species (Plain-backed Thrush Z. mollissima) is actually three species, and perhaps four. The three species identified by Per and his team are Himalayan Thrush Z. salimalii, which is completely new to science; Sichuan Thrush Z. griseiceps, formerly Z. m. griseiceps, now given species status; and Alpine Thrush Z. mollissima (in the wake of the new discoveries, “Alpine Thrush” replaces the former name “Plain-backed Thrush”). A fourth putative taxon, “Yunnan Thrush,” requires further study. Here are the three recordings that I achieved of Himalayan Thrush on 20 June 2014:
(00:25; 1.2 MB)
(01:25; 2.2 MB)
(00:45; 1.5 MB)
Sat. 21 June 2014
We drove all day on the S228 through the Salween Gorge. Arrived after nightfall in Dàlǐ (大理).
Sun. 22 June 2014
We drove from Dàlǐ to Chéngdū. Along the S217 in Yunnan, we did some roadside birding in a semi-arid region south of Shuǐrén (水仁). There, I saw my first-ever Crested Bunting. We drove through another big rainstorm and hobbled into Chéngdū well after dark. It was another exhausting drive, but Dulong Gorge was worth our sacrifices. I’d lived nearly seven years in China before seeing such expansive, little-touched forest. I’m calling Dulong Gorge “The Last Green Valley in China”—last in space (the “last” valley in northwestern Yunnan before Burma) and last in time (one by one, the other formerly rich valleys in China have succumbed to the harsh hand of man; Dulong Gorge remains rich, pure, pristine). I know that “The Last Green Valley in China” is an exaggeration; there are other well-preserved valleys in China. The point of my poetic license is to underline the environmental disaster unfolding in China and to highlight the value of Dúlóng.
Mon. 23 June 2014
We split up, Xiǎo Ān returning to Beijing, Jon to Maryland, and I to Shanghai.
BIRDS NOTED IN SICHUAN AND YUNNAN, JUNE 2014
For taxonomy and English names, my first reference is the IOC World Bird List. I noted 193 species, representing 12 orders and 45 families.
3 (1 seen, 2 heard) on Old Erlang Road (1750 m) on 2014-06-02
Lady Amherst’s Pheasant
白腹锦鸡 (báifù jǐnjī) Chrysolophus amherstiae
3-4 each day on Old Erlang Road (2300-2500 m) on 2014-06-02 & 2014-06-03
1 male at Liào Kāng Lín’s place (2590 m) on 2014-06-04
1 heard at Lóngcānggōu (1200 m) on 2014-06-06
1 heard at Éméishān (1830 m) on 2014-06-08
1 in Dulong Gorge (2390 m) on 2014-06-15
1 in Dulong Gorge (2400 m) on 2014-06-16
2 in Dulong Gorge (2270 m) on 2014-06-17
1 in Dulong Gorge (2310 m) on 2014-06-17
2 in Dulong Gorge (2410 m) on 2014-06-17
Brown-flanked Bush Warbler
强脚树莺 (qiángjiǎo shùyīng) Horornis fortipes
1 on Old Erlang Road on 2014-06-01
1 at Éméishān (2750 m) on 2014-06-10
1 in Dulong Gorge (1740 m) on 2014-06-17
1 in Dulong Gorge (1620 m) on 2014-06-19
Aberrant Bush Warbler
异色树莺 (yìsè shùyīng) Horornis flavolivaceus
Noted Old Erlang Road (2500 m) on 2014-06-03
1 at Éméishān (2450 m) on 2014-06-08
1 at Éméishān (1330 m) on 2014-06-08
1 at Éméishān (2850 m) on 2014-06-10
3 at Éméishān (2450 m) on 2014-06-08
1 on Salween side of Salween-Irrawaddy Divide (3270 m) on 2014-06-13
1 on Dúlóng side of Salween-Irrawaddy Divide (3260 m) on 2014-06-13
1 on Salween side of Salween-Irrawaddy Divide (3260 m) on 2014-06-20
1 in Dulong Gorge (2280 m) on 2014-06-14
1 in Dulong Gorge (2260 m) on 2014-06-15
1 in Dulong Gorge (1820 m) on 2014-06-16
3 in Dulong Gorge (2700 m) on 2014-06-17
1 on Gòngshān-Dúlóng Road (2190 m) on 2014-06-20
2 (pair) each day on Old Erlang Road (2750 m) on 2014-06-02 & 2014-06-05
2 (pair) at Éméishān (2450 m) on 2014-06-08
2 (pair) at Éméishān (2850 m) on 2014-06-10
血雀 (xuě què) Carpodacus sipahi
1 male in Dulong Gorge (2180 m) on 2014-06-14
1 male in Dulong Gorge (2390 m) on 2014-06-15
2 (pair) in Dulong Gorge (2390 m) on 2014-06-16
2 (pair) in Dulong Gorge (2430 m) on 2014-06-17
1 female in Dulong Gorge (2410 m) on 2014-06-17
Northern Tree Shrew
北树鼩 (běi shùqú) Tupaia belangeri
One seen foraging near a garbage bin at a gas station on G5 S of Yǎ’ān (雅安), Sichuan on 2014-06-22
Dúlóng River, Dulong Gorge (Dúlóng Jiāng [独龙江]): valley and eponymous river in NW Yunnan; the valley borders Tibet and Burma; the Dúlóng River is part of the Irrawaddy Basin
Éméishān (峨眉山): nature reserve and holy Buddhist mountain in C Sichuan
Gāolígòng Mountains (Gāolígòngshān [高黎贡山]): mountain range in W Yunnan running N-S ca. 500 km and dividing the Salween and Irrawaddy River basins
Gòngshān-Dúlóng Road: road connecting Gòngshān (贡山) and Dulong Gorge
Irrawaddy River: major river of Burma; a small part of Irrawaddy Basin lies in China (Dúlóng River)
Liào Kāng Lín’s place: site dedicated to setup photography, specializing in gamebirds; 5 km from Kāngdìng (康定), Sichuan. Elev.: 2590 m
Lóngcānggōu (龙苍沟): nature reserve in C Sichuan
Old Erlang Road: former route of S318 on E edge of Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan between Yǎ’ān (雅安) and Kāngdìng (康定). The W end of the old road is about 30 km E of Lúdìng (泸定). The Old Erlang Road has been superseded by new tunnels but not completely abandoned. Known in Chinese as Lǎo Chuān Zàng Lù (老川藏路)
Salween-Irrawaddy Divide: in NW Yunnan, the ridgeline of the Gāolígòng Mountains separates the Salween and Irrawaddy basins; on the Gòngshān-Dúlóng Road, the Hēipǔ (黑普) Tunnel lies below the divide and joins the two basins
Salween River (Nùjiāng [怒江]): river rising on Tibetan Plateau, flowing through W Yunnan and into Burma, and emptying into Andaman Sea
Grimmett, R., Inskipp, C. & Inskipp, T. 2011. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, London. Consulted at home in Shanghai.
Harrap, S. & Quinn, D. 1995. Chickadees, Tits, Nuthatches, & Treecreepers. Princeton University Press, USA. This excellent book, though old, remains Craig’s first reference for all questions related to the families Certhiidae, Paridae, and Sittidae.
Lynx Edicions. The Internet Bird Collection. ibc.lynxeds.com
MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps. 2000. A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press. Flawed but indispensable.
Robson, C. 2005. Birds of Southeast Asia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, USA. Craig’s first reference in Dulong Gorge.
Xeno-Canto Foundation. Xeno-Canto: Bird Sounds from Around the World. xeno-canto.org. Craig has downloaded hundreds of calls from this Web site.
Huáng Xiǎo Ān and Jonathan Gallagher are great teammates—unselfish, friendly, tough, and knowledgeable. Brian Ivon Jones first suggested Dulong Gorge to me. Per Alström gave us much good information about Dúlóng.
Featured image: Yellow-cheeked TitMachlolophus spilonotus spilonotus, Dulong Valley, Yunnan, China. Elev. 2320 m. 14 June 2014. (Craig Brelsford)