Chengdu – Labahe NNR – Wolong & Balang Mountain – Ruoergai – Tangjiahe NNR – Chengdu
November – December
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Day 1 Chengdu - Bifengxia Scenic Spot
Arrive Chengdu, then 1.5 hours to Bifengxia Scenic Spot, where we overnight in a comfortable hotel close to the Giant Panda breeding Research Base. If time allows, we should have a good chance of locating Grey Laughingthrushes and Great Barbets nearby, with perhaps the added bonus of Collared Scops Owl, Oriental Scops Owl and Northern Boobok as darkness falls.
Day 2 Bifengxia Scenic Spot - Labahe NNR
Morning birding around Bifengxia Scenic Spot and visit the Giant Panda breeding Research Base. After lunch 1.5 hours short journey to Labahe Nature Reserve, where we check in to our hotel located in the heart of the reserve for a 3-night stay.
Day 3-5 Labahe NNR
Labahe Nature Reserve lies in an area of rugged montane habitat, approximately 200kilometressouth-west of Chengdu, in the Hengduan mountain range. Here, amongst the mixed alpine forests and dense bamboo understory, our principal focus will be searching for the elusive Red Panda. Like their larger namesake, for much of the year Red Pandas feed primarily on bamboo, but during the autumn months, they will often climb to the top of broadleaved trees to feedon berries, taking advantage of thisrich food supplybefore the onset of the winter snow. Typically found between 2,200 and 4,800 metres, Red Pandas are endemic to the temperate forests of the Himalayas, ranging from the foothills of western Nepal to China’s Qinling Mountains in the east. Despite its large range, the population is fragmented, rather than continuous, and the totalpopulation is estimated to be less than 10,000 mature individuals, leading the IUCN to classify it as ‘Endangered’. Red Pandas are the only living species of the genus Ailurus. Althoughpreviously placed withinthe raccoon and bear families, recent geneticanalysis provides strong support for its taxonomic classification in its own familyofAiluridae(which is part of the superfamily Musteloidea) anddispelling any previous misconceptions that it is related to the Giant Panda.
Labahe Nature Reserve is widely regarded as one of the best places in the world to view Red Pandas, but even at this time of the year when they are at their most conspicuous and most active during daylight hours, it will still require a good amount of hard work and patience to find our quarry. As we explore the reserve through a mix of walks and drives, we will likely encounter a variety of other mammals and birds. Troops of Tibetan Macaques are a common sight, whilst Red and White Giant Flying Squirrels, measuring up to a metre in length and able to glide over 20 metres, can be found on steep vegetated cliffs. The forests and stream edges provide good habitat for such birds as Little Forktail, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Chestnut, Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes, plus a variety of woodpeckers, including Grey-capped Pygmy, Bay, Darjeeling and Crimson-breasted Woodpeckers. Mixed flocks of parrotbills are also not uncommon and can includeThree-toed, Fulvous and Great.
Nightly spotlight forays have the potential to reveal further species, including Sambar Deer, Chinese Serow, Chinese Leopard Cat, Complex-toothed Flying Squirreland Hog Badger.
Day 6 Labahe NNR - Wolong
Today we leave Labahe and travel to Wolong, a distance of around 280 kilometresthat will likely take much of the day. We will stop frequently enroute, however, to admire the scenery and lookfor a variety of interesting birds aimingto arrive at our hotel in the later afternoon. This will be our base for the next 2 nights of the tour.
Day 7 Wolong National Nature Reserve & Balang Mountain
Wolong National Nature Reserve is at thecore of Sichuan’s Giant Panda sanctuaries and is listed as a World Natural Heritage Site. Designated in 1963, Wolong is the first, largest and perhaps best known of China’s Giant Panda reserves. Although an encounter with a Giant Panda is extremely unlikely due to their preference to reside in the most inaccessible areas of the forests, there is a fantastic array of other wildlife to enjoy and it is oftencited as ‘Bio-gene Bank’, due to the wide variety of rare and endangered animals and plants present
During our time in the area we focus our attention on the alpine forest and grasslands of Balang Mountain. We will set out early today to make the most of our time here. On the lower slopes, amongst the mixed forests and up the treeline we will be hoping to encounter one or two of the resident (but very elusive) gamebirdsincluding White-eared Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant, Blood Pheasant and Chestnut-throated Partridge. Smaller birds may include Giant Laughingthrush, Chinese White-browed Rosefinch, Pink-rumped Rosefinch, Dark-breasted Rosefinch, Common Rosefinch, Sichuan Tit and White-browed Tit Warbler. As we gain altitude, following a steep winding road that takes up to a rocky pass at 4,500metresthe terrain begins to open out, first through Yak pasture and eventually into a harsh alpine habitat of rocky ridges and scree. Here we will look forTibetan Snowcock, Snow Partridge, Grandala, Alpine Accentor, Brandt’s and Plain Mountain Finchesand Red-fronted Rosefinch, with a chance of passing Lammergeyers and Himalayan Griffons. Blue Sheep can often be found in the area and although extremely rare, in recent years Snow Leopards have even been captured on camera traps and are believed to be making a comeback. Birding at such high altitude is always a challenge and we must keep our fingers crossed for clear skies!
Day 8 Wolong - Ruoergai
We next head north to the vast rolling grasslands and marshes of Ruoergai that lie on the eastern edge of the vast Tibetan Plateau, a wonderfully scenic driveof 430kilometresthat will take much of the day. Arriving at our hotel in the late afternoon or early eveningwe will check in for a 3-night stay.
Day 9 -10 Ruoergai & Baxi
Attracted by the abundance of Plateau (Black-lipped) Pika that inhabit the high alpinegrasslands at 3,500metres, Rouergai now has a reputation for being one of the best places in the world for seeing both Pallas’s and Chinese Mountain Cats, alongside good numbers of Tibetan Fox and, with luck, Tibetan Wolf. Tibetan Gazelle are also likely. This vast montane grassland and marshland is home to an unique avian ecosystem and during our time here we hope to find such Tibetan specialties as Black-necked Crane, Hume’s Ground Tit, White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinches, Przevalski’s Finch, Tibetan Lark and Tibetan Grey Shrike. Other birds to look out for include Robin Accentor, Godlewski’s Bunting, Przewalski’s Nuthatch and Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush. The large colonies of Plateau Pika also provide an important food source for an array of raptors that includeSaker Falcon, Upland Buzzard, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Steppe Eagle and Black-eared Kite. At nearby Baixi we will visit an area of upland forest to look for a range of ungulates that could include Chinese (White-maned) Serow, Siberian Roe Deer, Tufted Deer, Sika Deer and Thomas’sPika. Spotlighting after dinner may yield Mountain Cat, Asian Badger and Woolly Hare.
Day 12 Ruoergai - Tangjiahe NNR
Today we have another long drive to complete, this time of approximately 300kilometresto the town of Pingwu. This journey will take us over a 3,800 metre pass and through yet more spectacular mountain scenery, home to such birds as Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Grandala, Guldenstadt’s Redstart and Red-billed Chough.
Day 13 -14 Tangjiahe Nature Reserve
This morning we will explore the forests around the town of Pingwu. A winding 10 kilometre road climbs a forested hill which overlooks the town and neighboring mountains. Here we will look for such species as Spot-breasted Parrotbill, Sooty Tit, Mountain Bulbul, Spectacled Fulvetta and Slaty Bunting. There will also be the opportunity to visit theBao'en Temple, an unusually well preserved fifteenth centaury monastery whichis located nearby.
After lunch we will complete the drive to the Tangjiahe Nature Reservefor a 3-night stay. Established in 1978, Tangjiahe occupies an area of approximately 40,000 hectares and provides some of the best mammal viewing in China. According to a recent census, the park is home to over 430 different species of vertebrates and close to 2,500 species of plant, including a large number of state-level and internationally protected species. Although seldom seen, the park is believed to have a population of 60 Giant Panda, as well as over 1,200 Golden Takin and in excess of 1,000 Golden Snub-nosed Monkeys. From an avian perspective, over 260 species have been recorded, accounting for 41% of the total in Sichuan province.
Our time in Tangjiahe will be split between a mix of early morning and late afternoon/evening drives, principally searching for mammals and daytime forays in to the forest on foot, exploring the many trails on offer in search of birds. We have anexcellent chance of finding the extraordinary Golden Takin during our stay here,alongside a fabulous variety of other mammal species, including Reeve’s Muntjac, Hog-nosed Badger, Chinese Ferret Badger, Leopard Cat and MaskedPalm Civet, with the possibility of such rarities as Asian Black Bear and Forest Musk Deer. Birding in Tangjiahe can be very exciting, with possible highlights including Tawny Fish Owl, Golden Pheasant, White-crowned Forktail, Sooty Bushtit, Red-billed Leothrix, Himalayan Bluetail, David’s Fulvetta, Slaty Buntingand Crested Kingfisher.
Day 15 Tangjiahe - Chengdu
After a final morning in the reserve, we will begin the 300 kilometredrive back to Chengdu, where we will overnight in a comfortable hotel, transferring to the airport the following morning.
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