In this exciting ZOOTHERA tour we target some of Asia’s rarest and most enigmatic birds as we visit areas of south-east China seldom visited by western birders. During this adventure we will begin by visiting what has been called the best site in the world for seeing Spoon-billed Sandpipers. This is their last staging post before leaving for their breeding grounds in eastern Russia and we have a chance of seeing one in its breeding finery if we are lucky. A multitude of other migrant waders should also be seen, as well as endemics such as Reed Parrotbill and Japanese Swamp Warbler. From here we travel to the rural countryside around Wuyuan, in search of the exceedingly rare Courtois’s Laughingthrush, a species only discovered 12 years ago and which has a world population of around 200 individuals – and has only been seen by a handful of birders. Moving on to more remote areas we will explore the new site of Emei Feng, which is the current 'hot-spot' for the most-wanted bird in south-east China and one of the rarest 'pheasants' in the world - Cabot's Tragopan. Finally we visit the Minjiang Estuary which is undoubtedly the best place in the world to see the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern, whose world population may not exceed 50 individuals. Add to this a fine supporting cast including Chinese Bamboo-partridge, White-necklaced Partridge, Elliot’s, Silver and Koklass Pheasants, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asiatic Dowitcher, Saunder’s Gull, Fujian Fulvetta, Hartert’s Warbler, Grey-sided Scimitar-babbler as well as a whole host of spring migrants to add a little more ‘stardust’ to an already incredible tour jam-packed with quality birds. Spring Migration will be in full flow and we should see a good selection of 'eastern vagrants' such as Siberian Blue Robin, Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Blyth's Pipit, Thick-billed, Lanceolated, Two-barred Greenish, Pallas's, Radde's and Dusky Warblers, Siberian, White's and Eye-browed Thrushes, and Meadow and Pallas's Reed Buntings amongst many others.
Chinese Crested Tern
Japanese Swamp Warbler
Siberian Blue Robin
Pallas's Reed Bunting
Days 1 - 2 UK/Europe/USA - Shanghai- 24th to 25th April
Following an overnight flight we will arrive in Shanghai (Pudong) the following morning and begin our exploration of this fascinating country by driving for around an hour to an area of marshes and reed beds, where we can search for the stunning endemic Reed Parrotbill. The parrotbill is usually rather inquisitive and very active as it flies over the reeds before perching on a tall stem to survey its territory. The other key species here is Japanese Swamp Warbler, which usually betrays its presence by its diagnostic song flight where it rises high into the air before parachuting back into the reeds. There are a number of other birds here and considering it is migration time, anything could possibly turn up. We may well see Eurasian Bitterns here, as well as migrating Japanese Sparrowhawks or Amur Falcons, Pacific Swifts, Chinese Penduline-tit, the hulking Manchurian Bush-warbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill or even Pallas's Reed Bunting amongst many other possibilities. Night in Nanhui.
Day 3 Shanghai - Rudong
We can spend the whole morning checking out various migration hot-spots and this is a particularly good area for waders with species such as Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Long-toed and Red-necked Stint, Oriental Pratincole and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Our previous visit found Little Curlew, Citrine Wagtail, Narcissus, Mugimaki and Asian Brown Flycatchers, Red-throated and Pechora Pipits, Yellow-browed, Pale-legged and Eastern crowned Warblers, as well as a stunning Chinese Grosbeak. After lunch we will drive for a few hours to Xiao Yang Kou, or more simply known as Rudong. Night in Rudong.
Days 4 - 6 Rudong
This is the single best site in the whole of China, and arguably the most accessible reliable site in the world for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the world’s rarest and most enigmatic waders. We have timed our visit to give us a chance of seeing these exceedingly rare birds in their splendid brick-red breeding finery just before they depart for their breeding grounds in north-east Russia – something that very few western birders have had the privilege to witness. It will take some finding in this vast area, especially considering that tens of thousands of shorebirds pass through here each Spring, so we'll need a good slice of luck as well! Indeed, it is possible to see over thirty species of wader here in a day! Amongst a superb selection of other waders we can find such sought-after species as Lesser and Greater Sandplovers, Far Eastern Curlew, Pacific Golden Plover, Great Knot, Kentish Plover, Broad-billed, Sharp-tailed and Terek Sandpipers, Spotted Redshank, Red-necked and Temminck’s Stints and Grey-tailed Tattler. There are also good opportunities to find the highly-prized Asiatic Dowitcher and Nordmann’s Greenshank amongst huge flocks of more familiar waders. The recently discovered White-faced (or Swinhoe's) Plover and Black-faced Spoonbill are also a distinct possibility here. Further searching of the mudflats should reveal Gull-billed Tern and if we are lucky, a fine Saunder’s Gull. At this time of year migration will be well underway and this opens up a whole new realm of possibilities to add to the resident population. The nearby Magic Forest is a local migrant trap where many surprises can turn up and we could find Grey-streaked, Dark-sided, Yellow-rumped and Taiga Flycatchers, Brown Shrike, Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Blue and Rufous-tailed Robins, White-throated Rock-thrush, Siberian, Eye-browed, Pale and Grey-sided Thrushes, Forest Wagtail, Olive-backed and Pechora Pipits, Black-browed Reed-warbler, Dusky, Arctic, Pale-legged and Claudia's Warblers and Chestnut, Chestnut-eared and Elegant Buntings. Other species we may encounter in the general area include Falcated Duck, Yellow Bittern, Intermediate Egret, Pied Harrier, Grey-headed Lapwing, Oriental Turtle-dove, Black-capped Kingfisher, Lesser Coucal, Pacific Swift, Chinese Grosbeak, Ashy Minivet, Chinese Blackbird, Azure-winged Magpie, Japanese White-eye, Meadow and Black-faced Buntings and Crested Myna. Nights in Rudong.
Day 7 Rudong - Shanghai - Wuyuan
We can spend the morning around the estuary and woodland looking for recently arrived migrants and new birds will almost certainly delay our departure! We could well find Lesser Cuckoo, Radde's and Two-barred Warblers, Tristram's, Little and Meadow Buntings. During our last visit we managed to find a beautiful Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher, both Blue-and-white and Elisae's Flycatchers, Lanceolated Warbler and Japanese Grosbeak. In the afternoon we will return to Shanghai and take a short internal flight to Huangshan or Jingdezhen, depending on flight schedules. Upon arrival we will drive to Wuyuan town in east Jiangxi Province for an overnight stay.
Day 8 Wuyuan
One of the most important recent discoveries in Asian birding was made in 2000 when local ornithologists discovered a population of Courtois’s Laughingthushes at Wuyuan. Previously known from two museum specimens collected in 1919 it has spent ‘time’ lumped within Yellow-throated Laughingthrush but is now, quite rightly, given full species status. It is a fascinating bird and unlike nearly all other laughingthrushes it nests in loose colonies, and more amazingly has only been found nesting in large trees within small villages in the remote, traditional countryside. A strange bird indeed and one that only a handful of western birders have yet encountered and we shall count ourselves extremely privileged to see such a rare and beautiful bird. Less than 200 individuals are known to date, making this one of the rarest birds in the world. The area we will search is a complete contrast to most of the lowlands of south-east China, retaining much of the original way of life with small, picturesque villages situated amongst the rice fields that are still worked using traditional methods.
Birds are numerous in this area and amongst a whole host of other possibilities we can find the delightful Pied Falconet, as well as Mandarin Duck, Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Black Baza, Chinese Sparrowhawk, Large Hawk-cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Crested Kingfisher, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Swinhoe’s and Grey-chinned Minivets, Brown-chested Jungle-flycatcher, Narcissus Flycatcher, Japanese White-eye, Fujian Niltava, Chinese and Chestnut Bulbuls, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Dusky and Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, Collared Finchbill, White-crowned Forktail, Chinese Hwamei, White-browed, Masked and Moustached Laughingthrushes, Rufous-faced Warbler, Black-throated Tit, and both Black-collared and Red-billed Starlings. Night in Wuyuan.
Day 9 Wuyuan - Emei Feng
Another morning around Wuyuan and we can check out a number of sites where possibilities include the very tough Elliott's Pheasant and Short-tailed Parrotbill. There is also Long-billed Plover, White-throated Needletail, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Dollarbird, Chinese Blackbird, Grey-sided Scimitar-babbler, David's Fulvetta, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush and Grey Treepie. In the afternoon we will drive to the relatively unknown Emei Feng in Fujian Province and an excellently situated hotel. Night at Emeifeng.
Days 10 - 11Emei Feng Nature Reserve (1528m)
An early start will see us entering the reserve and slowly driving up into the mountains in search of our main target Cabot's Tragopan, a species which is endemic to south-east China. Although this is currently the best site in the country to find this species, it is still very shy and moves quietly through the bamboo but emerges onto the tracks to take grit in the early mornings and late evenings. This mountain’s other main prizes are the endemic White-necklaced (Rickett’s) Partridge and Elliott's Pheasant for which we will make a special effort to find, and there are also good chances of Koklass and Silver Pheasants as well.
As we descend the mountain into the bird rich subtropical forest we will have plenty of time to fully explore this seldom-visited area and other species present include Barred Cuckoo-dove, Speckled Piculet, Bay and White-backed Woodpeckers, Great Barbet, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Brown Dipper, Bull-headed, Tiger and Long-tailed Shrikes, Blue-throated and Ferruginous Flycatchers, Small Niltava, Lesser Shortwing, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Mountain and Black Bulbuls, Blyth's and Green Shrike-babblers, Daurian Redstart, Golden and Vinous-throated Parrotbills, Fujian (split from Grey-hooded) Fulvetta, David's (split from Grey-cheeked) Fulvetta, Striated and Black-chinned Yuhinas, the endemic Yellow-bellied and Yellow-cheeked Tit, Grey-Chinned Minivet, Brownish-flanked and Yellowish-bellied Bush-warblers, Sulphur-breasted, Bianchi’s, White-spectacled, Alstrom’s, Rufous-faced and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Hartert’s Warbler (split from Blyth’s Leaf-warbler), Kloss’s Leaf-warbler (split from White-tailed Leaf-warbler), Red-billed Leiothrix, Black-chinned and Indochinese Yuhinas, Buffy and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Spotted and Pygmy Wren Babblers, Yellow-browed Tit, Brown Bullfinch and Oriental Greenfinch. Meanwhile a visit to the highest accessible area of this mountain could yield Brown Bush-warbler and Buff-throated warbler amongst others. At night we can hear Mountain Scops-owl and Collared Owlet. Nights at Emei Feng.
Day 12 Fuzhou Forest Park
We will set out early on the long drive to Fuzhou and should arrive in plenty of time to pay a visit to the beautiful Fuzhou Forest Park in the afternoon. A network of trails heads up into the hills from here and passes through superb forest where the monotonous calls of Great Barbets resound, and we can see Collared Owlet, Blue Whistling-thrush, Slaty-backed Forktail, Chestnut Bulbul, Indochinese Yuhina, Orange-bellied Leafbird, both Grey-sided and Streak-breasted Scimitar-babblers, Red-billed Blue Magpie, and if we are very lucky, Pale-headed Woodpecker. Night in Fuzhou.
Day 13 Minjiang Estuary
Along the rocky coastline of Fujian, the wide-open mudflats of the Minjiang Estuary provide the best opportunity in the world to see the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern, who has a population estimated at less than 50 individuals. Presumed extinct up to 12 years ago, a small population has been found breeding off Taiwan and there have been erratic occurrences at other sites in south-east Asia but nowhere is as reliable as here. There should hopefully be a few individuals in perfect breeding plumage loafing on the mudflats in company with flocks of Great Crested Terns. This is one of those very special species that most birders have never really considered it a possibility of seeing - until now that is! At this time of the year migration is in full swing and there will be numerous species present and definitely the odd surprise or three! Many waders should be present including Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Far Eastern Curlew, and there could also be Saunder’s and Black-tailed Gulls as well. Depending on our success with the terns we could explore the fields around the estuary which usually prove attractive to tired migrants and possibilities include Japanese Quail, Amur Falcon, Little Whimbrel, Chinese Penduline-tit, Siberian Rubythroat, Yellow-browed, Dusky and Radde’s Warblers, Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipits, Japanese Reed, Black-faced, Yellow-browed, Little and Chestnut-eared Buntings and White-shouldered Starling among many possibilities. Night in Fuzhou.
Day 14Fuzhou Forest Park - Minjiang Estuary - Shanghai
Depending on what species we still need we can make a return visit to Fuzhou Forest Park to make the most of the early morning activity. Possibilities here include White-necklaced Partridge, Chinese Bamboo-partridge, Rufous Woodpecker, Spotted Wren-babbler, Large Woodshrike, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Chinese Grosbeak and Ashy Minivet. This is also a good place for migrants and lingering winter visitors such as Whites, Grey-backed and Pale Thrushes, Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers, Daurian Starling and Tristram’s Bunting. Alternatively, we can return to the Minjiang Estuary if we haven't seen Chinese Crested Tern yet, or just enjoy one final migration session. In the evening we will take the short internal flight back to Shanghai where we will spend our last night.
Day 15Shanghai - UK and End of Tour- 8th May
Transfer to the international airport and onward journey back to the UK/Europe/USA and the conclusion of a wonderful tour.
Group size:Minimum for tour to go ahead 5 and maximum 9 with 2 leaders.
Included in cost:Accommodation in twin rooms, mostly en-suite, all meals, all entrance fees, internal flights, all transport throughout, and services of leaders and an English speaking guide.
Not included:International airfare, visa fee, insurance, drinks, tips, and items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: Considering this tour is venturing into the relatively unknown, most of the hotels and lodges used on this tour are of a reasonably good standard. Although please bear in mind we are going to be well off the tourist trail! But we are staying in the best available hotels closest to the birding sites.
Tour Code: This is definitely an exciting tour as we will stray a long way off the tourist circuit into areas hardly visited by any other western birder. Expect good food, reasonable hotels, some long drives and a mixture of weather. Above all, you need to expect the unexpected! This is definitely not a standard tour and we will spend long days in the field and will need to be especially persistant to find some of the target species. For example, at the Rudong Estuary it may be necessary to wade across the mudflats to get closer to some of the more distant shorebirds. And there may be some long walks in the mountains or a lot of waiting in the coach for some of the pheasants, so a large dose of patience will be required. The weather is generally unsettled at this time of year, so expect some cooler weather and odd showers during the first week, followed by warmer weather during the second week.