Fire-tailed Myzornis at Pianmazhen, Yunnan

by Mark Havenhand

Mark Havenhand

Pianmazhen (26.012901, 98.625166) is a site of historic importance. The village lies on the border with Myanmar (Burma) about an hour’s drive from Lushui, the seat of Nujiang Prefecture in northwest Yunnan. It looked to be a worthy birding target, so this past April, I gave it a try.

I was fortunate to find an ex-soldier taxi driver up for the adventure. The road is signposted, and some 10 km (6 mi.) outside Lushui it branches off the main Lushui–Gongshan highway. It winds through cultivated hillsides and reaches a ridge at Shuangmidi (26.898752, 99.107914).

The next few kilometres pass through beautiful woodland, where I recorded Black-hooded Oriole, Chinese Babax, Yellow-bellied Fantail, and many Common Cuckoo. The road climbs higher through pine forest and tops out at Pianma Fengxue Yakou (25.972807, 98.683530), elev. 3000 m (9,840 ft.), a wild mountain pass with clouds continuously blowing through from Myanmar.

Feeding on red rhododendron flowers were Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, White-collared Yuhina—and to my great pleasure, looping in and out of the bushes, several Fire-tailed Myzornis.

This spot, just 2 km or 1.2 mi. from Myanmar, is home to a big police post. Thinking that in such a lonely place the police might like a chat, I walked over to say hello. Big mistake. They made it clear I should return forthwith, although they made no attempt to enforce their order.

On another day I walked up the valley from Lusaihe (25.964384, 98.762716), which goes into adjacent high country with no checkpoints. There is also a valley below the ridge road near Gutanhe (25.936742, 98.758122) that I could see would make for some useful trips.

The forest on this side of the Nujiang is much wetter and quite different from that on the opposite bank at equal latitude (Miaoganshan area, another worthy target without serious checkpoints).

The whole region is a paradise for the fit birder.


Pianma Fengxue Yakou
Scene from Pianma Fengxue Yakou (25.972807, 98.683530), elev. 3000 m (9,840 ft.). The point is ‘a wild mountain pass,’ writes Mark Havenhand, ‘with clouds continuously blowing through from Myanmar.’ (Mark Havenhand)
Gutanhe Valley
Gutanhe Valley, on road to Pianmazhen. Ridge in distance is Sino-Burmese border. (Mark Havenhand)


Read Mark Havenhand’s series on birding in western Yunnan:

River Lapwing

Birding in Western Yunnan Again, I Covered Laifengshan, Hongbenghe, Shiti, and Yingjiang Wetland: After a two-year absence, Mark Havenhand returned to Yunnan, finding Wreathed Hornbill at Hongbenghe and River Lapwing at Yingjiang Wetland. One place stood out: “I loved Shiti,” writes Havenhand. “The birding there is just extraordinary … better than Baihualing and Nabang.”

Silver-eared Mesia

Birding Baihualing, China’s Greatest Birding Hotspot, Amid the Pandemic: Havenhand squeezed in 2½ productive days at the birders’ mecca in the Gaoligong Mountains. Havenhand noted many specialties of western Yunnan, among them Silver-eared Mesia and Flavescent Bulbul. Was a visit to the partially closed resort worth it? Click to read Havenhand’s advice.

Beautiful Sibia

I Birded Yunnan’s Salween Valley but Was Unable to Bird the Dulong Gorge: Stymied in his quest to bird Dulong Gorge, Havenhand more than made do in the majestic Nujiang or Salween Valley, noting western Yunnan specialties Davison’s Leaf Warbler and Beautiful Sibia. has extensive coverage of birding western Yunnan:

Rufous-breasted Bush Robin

Eastern Himalayan Birds in the Majestic Dulong Gorge: We birded the remote valley in northwest Yunnan, noting 170 species. Among our many spectacular finds were flocks of 300 Grandala, Ibisbill in the thundering Dulong River, and one of the world’s least-known deer, the mysterious Gongshan Muntjac. We noted western Yunnan specialties Rufous-breasted Bush Robin and Golden-naped Finch.

Himalayan Thrush

Himalayan Thrush and Fire-tailed Myzornis in Dulong Gorge: founder Craig Brelsford became one of the first birders to visit Dulong Gorge in northwest Yunnan. In collaboration with Per Alström, Brelsford photographed and sound-recorded Himalayan Thrush. Brelsford’s team found the exquisite Fire-tailed Myzornis as well as other species with limited ranges in China, among them Scaly Laughingthrush and Scarlet Finch.

Black-backed Forktail

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

Featured photo: Fire-tailed Myzornis Myzornis pyrrhoura is a beautiful emerald-green bird reminiscent of both parrotbill and babbler. In China this Himalayan species is found exclusively in southeast Tibet and in the Gaoligong Mountains of western Yunnan. On a recent trip to Pianmazhen (26.012901, 98.625166) in western Yunnan, contributor Mark Havenhand found the species. Presented here are photos of Fire-tailed Myzornis taken by founder Craig Brelsford in the Dulong Gorge, 200 air-km (125 air-mi.) north of Pianmazhen. Clockwise from L: Inner Dulong Gorge (27.907752, 98.411028), elev. 1790 m (5,870 ft.), February; upper Dulong Gorge (27.770215, 98.447398), elev. 3370 m (11,070 ft.), June; inner Gorge (27.907730, 98.409472), elev. 2200 m (7,230 ft.), February; inner Gorge (27.907752, 98.411028), elev. 1790 m (5,870 ft.), February; and inner Gorge (27.907730, 98.409472), elev. 2200 m (7,230 ft.), February. (Craig Brelsford)

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