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Day 1 : London to Chengdu
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we leave London on a late afternoon flight, arriving at Chengdu late morning the following day.
Day 2: Chengdu
We check-in at our hotel in the city before some introductory 'easy' birding in a nearby park to allow us to acclimatise. We hope to see feeding flocks of Vinous-throated Parrotbills and obtain close views of inquisitive White-browed Laughingthrushes. Other possibilities include Chinese Blackbird, Chinese Grosbeak and both White-cheeked and Red-billed Starlings. Overnight Vegas Culture Hotel, Chengdu.
Days 3 – 5: Longcanggou
After breakfast we drive south to Longcanggou (3 nights), breaking our journey from time to time to stretch our legs and look for localised species such as Swinhoe’s Minivet, Dusky Fulvetta, Ashy-throated Parrotbill and Chinese Hwamei.
Longcanggou has only recently come to light as a superb alternative to Wawu Shan; its mix of woodland types gives rise to an impressive species list, and during two full days we hope to find a host of special birds. It is one of the best areas for Laughingthrushes; some are real skulkers, some more obliging, and we will search for Buffy, Spotted and Red-winged Laughingthrushes as well as Emei Liocichla. The area is also noted for parrotbills amongst which we hope to find Golden, Brown and, if we are lucky, rare Grey-hooded. We have our first opportunity to get to grips with a number of phylloscopus warblers such as Emei, Kloss’s and Claudia’s Leaf Warblers, whilst our identification skills will be tested even further as we distinguish between seicercus warblers including Alstrom’s and Grey-crowned. Other possibilities include Père David's, Grey-crested and Rufous-vented Tits, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Sichuan Treecreeper, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Large Hawk Cuckoo and perhaps even a stunning Temminck’s Tragopan. Red Panda is one of several exciting mammals found in the area, and we have outside chances of seeing them. Driving distance (approx.) 210km, about 3 hours driving. Overnight at Hlin Forest Hotel, on the edge of Longcanggou Forest Park, for three nights.
Days 6 - 7: Luding County
After some final birding at Longcanggou we head to Luding County, a drive of around four to five hours. An early start the following day gives us the maximum time to birdwatch along the old main road near Erlangshan. This mountain is home to a number of highly sought-after birds such as Slaty Bunting, Chinese Babax, Daurian Redstart, Rufous-tailed Babbler, Black-streaked Scimitar Babbler, Barred Laughingthrush, Brown-breasted Bulbul, Godlewski's Bunting and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird. We have another chance of seeing Temminck’s Tragopan and will also make a special effort to find both wonderfully attractive Firethroat and majestic Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, hopefully a male with a full length tail. Overnight at Luding Bridge Hotel for two nights.
Days 8 - 10: Wolong
A last morning birding at Luding, then more spectacular scenery as we drive north and up into the hills towards Wolong, famous for its population of Giant Pandas (although it is highly unlikely we will see one in the wild). We drive for five to six hours to Wolong, to an altitude of 1900m, and have two full days to explore. On at least one morning we will make an early start in order to arrive before first light at a site just above the tree-line where the increasingly rare Wood Snipe is known to lek. Chinese Monal and White Eared Pheasant also occur in this area but we will need good luck to see them. The scenery at Balangshan Pass is spectacular, peaks rising to well over 4000m, a wonderful backdrop as we search for Tibetan Snowcock, Grandala, Snow Partridge, several rosefinches and both Brandt’s and Plain Mountain Finches. Heading just over the pass will give us the chance to search for two more stunning passerines, Himalayan Rubythroat and White-browed Tit Warbler, and perhaps Lammergeier. Overnight at Tian Chen Hotel for 3 nights.
Days 11 – 12: Maerkang
We travel up and over the Balangshan Pass, birding en route, and have lunch in a local restaurant in Rilong, a Tibetan-style town full of character. In the afternoon we continue our journey, encircled by awe-inspiring mountains, making for Maerkang at an altitude of 2700m. We have a full day in the magnificent coniferous forests on Mengbishan, above 3000m above sea level. The forest covered slopes are home to such specialities as Przewalski’s Nuthatch, Sichuan Jay and Giant Laughingthrush, and we also hope to find Crested Tit Warbler, Sichuan Tit and Chinese Fulvetta. In open areas we hope to bump into family parties of Blood and Koklass Pheasants and, with luck, Verreaux’s Monal Partridge. Rosefinches include Common, Chinese White-browed, Beautiful and Pink-rumped. Overnight at Jiarong International Hotel for two nights.
Days 13 – 14: Ruoergai
Leaving Maerkang early in the morning, we begin yet another exciting phase of the tour as we head toward Ruoergai on the Tibetan plateau at an altitude of 3500m. Our journey, and the full day which follows, give us the opportunity to see high altitude grasslands, forests, scrubby hillsides and vast wetlands which unsurprisingly contain a very different avifauna from other areas. Beautiful Black-necked Cranes, Upland Buzzard, Tibetan Lark and both White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinch inhabit fields near a lake where we may encounter a variety of wildfowl including Ferruginous Duck and Red-crested Pochard. Tibetan Wagtail and Horned Lark feed on the muddy margins, and other birds in the general area include Père David’s Laughingthrush, White-browed Tit, Azure-winged Magpie, Daurian Jackdaw, Kessler’s Thrush, Tibetan Grey Shrike, Saker Falcon and Oriental Skylark. Typical mammals of the grasslands include Himalayan Marmot and Plateau Pika.
In Baxi Forest we search for species difficult to find at other sites. These include Blue-eared Pheasant, Snowy-cheeked Laughingthrush, Severtzov’s Grouse, Severtzov’s Tit Warbler and Chinese Nuthatch. If we have time, we may visit a scrubby area where a small population of Przevalski’s Rosefinches has been discovered recently; this species is the only member of its family. Overnight at Ruoergai Grand Hotel for two nights.
Day 15: Gonggangling
We have time for some final birding near Ruoergai (perhaps we will return to Baxi for most of the morning) before we begin our journey to Chuanzhusi. En-route we enjoy birding to search for White-browed Tit-warbler, Siberian Rubythroat and many more. Overnight at Minjiang Yuan Hotel for one night.
Days 16 - 17: Tangjihae
We start pre-dawn at Gonggangling, where just 30km away we have an outside chance of Pere David’s Owl, plus other good birds including Blue-eared Pheasant, Pere David’s, Giant and Sukatschev’s Laughingthrushes, Severtzov’s Grouse, Three-banded, Chinese White-browed and Pink-rumped Rosefinches, Chinese and Przewalski’s Nuthatches, and Godlewski’s Bunting. Then we continue, with total travelling of around 280km, to Tangjiahe NR.
We have a full day inside Tang Jia He concentrating on the lower slopes and valley. A whole range of species are possible – Golden Pheasant, Temminck’s Tragopan, Claudia’s, Kloss’s, Sulphur-breasted, Alstrom’s and Marten’s Warblers, Slaty Bunting, Sichuan Bush Warbler, Fujian Niltava, White-crowned Forktail, Sooty Bushtit, Yellow-bellied Tit and even a slim chance of Tawny Fish Owl. Tangjiahe is also a good site for some sought-after mammals, including Takin, Chinese Serow, Chinese Goral, Hog Badger,Tufted Deer, Reeve's Muntjac, Masked Palm Civet, Wild Boar, Swinhoe's Striped, Pere David's Rock, and Perny's Long-nosed Squirrels. Overnight at Tang Jia He Grand Hotel for two nights.
Day 18: Foping via Yangxian
Today involves a long transfer of around eight to ten hours, though we travel mostly along the expressway to Foping, located at Qinling Mountain and famous for Giant Pandas. On the way we will detour at Yang Xian to look for the iconic Crested Ibis. Overnight at Foping Shuangwei Hotel or Panda’s Hotel for one night.
Day 19: The birds and Golden Monkeys of Panda Valley
After breakfast in a local restaurant, we drive 30km to Panda Valley to spend the most morning inside the valley to see Golden Monkeys and to look for birds missed during the trip so far. Little Forktail, Ellion's Laughingthrush, Moustached Laughingthrush, Spectacled Fulvetta and several others are possible. Then we continue for about three to four hours to Xi’an city. Overnight at Bell Tower Hotel for one night.
Day 20: Terracotta Warriors then fly to Beijing
The Terracotta Warriors and Horses is a superb collection of sculptures reproducing the mega imperial guard troops of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 - 210BC), the first emperor of the first unified dynasty of Imperial China. Being one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century and a World Heritage Site, the Terracotta Army Museum is a must-see for every visitor to Xian, and we have at least two hours in the museum. In the afternoon we fly to Beijing. Overnight at Beijing Yu Yuan Royal Garden International Hotel for three nights.
Day 21: Great Wall of China at Badaling
The Great Wall was originally constructed as an ancient military defence project, and is the key symbol of China, one of which the people are justly proud. There are many sections of Great Wall around Beijing, though most travellers choose Badaling Great Wall, the first section opened to tourists (in 1957). Badaling Great Wall is a restored section, showing us the Great Wall as it would have looked originally. There are several birds to see as we go, though the majority of the birds here will now be familiar to us, but with luck we might find the regional endemic, Beijing Babbler.
Day 22: The Summer Palace and Forbidden City
Today we concentrate on the key cultural delights of China's capital city. In the morning we visit the Summer Palace, which contains the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China. The Summer Palace greatly influences Chinese horticulture and landscape with its famous natural views and cultural interests, and has long been recognized as 'The Museum of Royal Gardens'. After lunch we drive to the Forbidden City now known as the Palace Museum, to the north of Tiananmen Square. Rectangular in shape, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. Surrounded by a 52-meter-wide moat and a 10-meter-high wall are more than 8,700 rooms. At the city center of Beijing, the Forbidden City once served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911). We close our holiday with a big finish, a superb meal with a big cultural show, full of light, colour and dancing.
Day 23: Return to UK.
Flight back from Beijing to London