Poyang Hu, China - 10th - 12th November 2006

Published by Graham Talbot (gtalbot AT netvigator.com)

Participants: Graham Talbot, Chris Campion and Joakim Hammar


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Siberian Crane
Siberian Crane


Jocko had to make a business trip to China and was keen to visit Poyang during his visit. Although Chris and myself had both been there before, we thought it would be good to catch up with him and also it would be great to see some geese and swans which are a real rarity in Hong Kong.

Poyang Hu in Jiangxi Province is a huge lake surrounded by a number of smaller lakes. In the summer the lakes are filled by the flooding of the Jangzi River however in the autumn as the waters subside, vast areas of shallow water and extensive muddy banks are created producing ideal habitat for cranes, ducks and geese.

Only a fraction of the area is designated a reserve which is centred around the village of Wu Cheng where the reserve Head Quarters are located.

The village of Wu Cheng is located on higher ground at the confluence of the river Xiu and the river Gan and is surrounded by areas of cultivated fields, paddies and small areas of woodland.


The usual guide Mr Lin was busy however we managed to contact Sophie (poison007@sohu.com) a friend of his, who also a birdwatcher. She speaks very good English and made all the arrangements with regards transport, reserve entry fees and accommodation and everything went like clockwork. We would certainly recommend her.

The reserve HQ is only a 2-hour drive from Nanchang airport along a combination of highway, concrete, and dirt roads. A four-wheel drive is not necessary, we used an 8-seater van.

It is possible to view the main lake from the road leading to the village and in fact at one location there is a watchtower, however the lakes are vast and it is best for at least one day to rent a boat to take you to a different area of the lake. Sophie arranged the boat for us.

We found that different areas of the lake held different species of birds. We saw the majority of the Cranes on the Saturday at one location with only a few seen at a different area on Sunday.

Accommodation/ Food/ Health

We stayed at the reserve HQ which has recently been completely revamped and is now almost up to hotel standard. The rooms even have hot water, a far cry from the last time we were there.

An evening meal was provided for us at the HQ on the Saturday evening and Sophie arranged snacks to keep us going during the day.

We had no problems health wise.


The weather was unseasonably warm. We were expecting temperatures to be just above freezing but instead were greeted by temperatures in the low twenties and brilliant sunshine, so it was a case of trading in our woolly hats for our sunhats.

On the Saturday it was very windy which made looking for passerines difficult, but by Sunday the wind had all but died down making for very pleasant birdwatching conditions.


Friday 10th November

We all made our way to Shenzhen airport separately meeting up at 7:30pm for the 8:20pm flight to Nanchang, which departed on time. Arrived at 9:45pm collected our bags and headed to the arrival hall where Sophie was waiting for us as agreed. We quickly loaded up into a van and started the journey to Wu Cheng, initially along an expressway before turning off onto a rough dirt road, which eventually became concrete and within two hours we had arrived at the reserve HQ. We were shown to our rooms and by midnight were asleep.

Saturday 11th November 2006

Got up at 6am just as it was getting light and headed out. As we couldn’t arrange a boat until 8am we spent an hour birding the small clumps of trees and fields next to the HQ, however the strong wind made birding difficult. We had some breakfast and at 8am set off on the boat upstream. At this stage much to our surprise we were joined by the reserve manager’s daughter Victoria and her friend Annie, both English students at Nanchang University.

The boat chugged slowly upstream and at one point we were delayed for 20 minutes due to technical problems. A few birds were seen flying over including a flock of 24 Siberian Cranes, however the very high riverbanks made viewing difficult and so any birding was restricted to flyovers.

After about two and a half hours we eventually pulled over to the riverbank and disembarked. We trekked for ten minutes through a reedy area to the edge of the lake. In front of us were vast numbers of ducks, geese, swans waders and large numbers of cranes. We spent the next six hours exploring the edge of the lake. The majority of the time was spent walking through the marshy edge hoping to find a Yellow Rail, but despite walking many kms, all we could find were Japanese Quails. We did however find Hooded, White-napped, Siberian and Common Crane.

By 4pm it was time to start the journey back, which was much quicker being downstream and by 5:30pm we arrived back at the HQ just as it was getting dark.

We had an early dinner with Sophie and the students and over a bottle of whisky discussed tactics for the following day.

Sunday 12th November

Woke to calm weather and at 6:30am, the same party as yesterday set out in the van just as it was getting light towards a watchtower on the side of the lake. From the tower we had great views across the lake, which was full of wildfowl and waders. All the time more Geese and Swans were flying in leading to a remark that it appeared to be “snowing swans”. After a while we checked out the nearby scrub for passerines before moving on to a large marshy area where Yellow Rail had been seen a month again. Again despite much searching the Rail still eluded us.

We moved further along the road and stopped in an area of tall grass where Sophie had seen Japanese Marsh Warbler before and it was not long before we connected.

By now it was 11am and Sophie decided that we should visit a different part of the lake, which held different birds. The drive took two hours, which was longer than we had expected. The area did indeed hold a different selection of birds with more diving ducks and grebes.

We again spent a considerable amount of time walking through many kms of low marshy grass hoping to find Yellow Rail but much to our disappointment our efforts were not rewarded.

In the end we gave up and decided to spend the last hour of good light in the surrounding paddies, cotton fields and scrub looking for buntings. This at least proved fruitful with three species of bunting seen.

As the light started to fade we headed back to the airport where we had dinner. We said our goodbyes with Chris and myself heading back to Shenzhen and Jocko to Shanghai.

Although it was good weekend, we were disappointed not to see Yellow Rail as we made a very big effort for it. Why we are not sure but it was unusually dry this year and this may have had something to do with it. Looking back on the weekend we should have arranged the boat to leave much earlier on the Saturday so as to maximise birding time. On the Sunday instead of wasting two hours driving, we should have stayed in the main area and tried again for the rail.


A Field Guide to the Birds of China - John MacKinnon

The only field guide that covers all the birds and although it contains many mistakes and is widely criticized nobody has yet come up with a better alternative.

Systematic List

Chinese Bamboo Partridge
Bambusicola thoracica

Two flushed from cotton field 12th November

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus

Up to twenty seen daily in all types of habitat including lakeside marshy areas

Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus

Numbers were hard to estimate but many thousands seen both days

Swan Goose Anser cygnoides

Up to a thousand seen daily

Bean Goose Anser fabalis

The commonest Goose with up to two thousand seen daily

Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons

Up to 25 positively identified as Greaters seen daily

Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus

A large flock of 50 flew over on 11th November and small groups of up to ten birds seen on both days

Greater/Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons/erythropus

Mixed flocks of up to 500 birds seen daily

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea

Two on river 12th November

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Up to five seen daily

Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha

Two thousand 11th November and 200 on 12th November

Pintail Anas acuta

Ten picked out from the large numbers of duck 11th November

Falcated Duck Anas falcate

A single male picked out by Jocko 12th November

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope

Scarce with only ten seen on 11th and three on 12th November

Baikal Teal Anas formosa

One picked out amongst the vast Teal flock 11th November

Common Teal Anas crecca

The commonest duck with over 5,000 in one large flock on 11th November. Only small numbers seen on 12th November

Common Pochard Aythya ferina

Up to 100 seen on 12th November

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula

Up to seventy five seen 12th November

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

Two 11th November and three 12th November

White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis

One 12th November

Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis

Ten seen along the river 11th November. Two over the lake 12th November

Common Hoopoe Upupa epops

A single bird seen each day

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis

Common around Wu Chen village and surrounding fields with up to 30 seen daily

Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis

Fifty in the fields around Wu Chen village 11th November. One 12th November

Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus

Two hundred in a single flock 11th November. Seventy-five 12th November

White-naped Crane Grus vipo

Four amongst the Common Cranes 11th November. Six at the edge of the lake 12th November

Common Crane Grus grus

Fifty 11th November

Hooded Crane Grus monacha

Four 11th November

Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica

A total of 15 flushed from the lake edge 12th November. Two flushed from the lake edge 12th November

Brown Crake Amaurornis akool

One on small roadside pool 12th November

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Five 12th November

Common Coot Fulica atra

A total of 150 on 12th November

Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago

A total of 30 at the edge of the lake 11th November. At least 75 at the edge of the lake 12th November

Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus

Up to two hundred seen daily

Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus

One with Lapwings 12th November

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa

Thousands seen daily

Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus

The commonest wader with many thousands seen both days

Common Redshank Tringa totanus

Ten 11th November

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia

Up to 100 seen daily

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus

Six 11th November and two 12th November

Dunlin Calidris alpina

Five 11th November and two 12th November

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus

Ten 12th November

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus

Twenty 11th November and three 12th November

Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus

One 12th November

Eastern Marsh Harrier Cirus spilonotus

Four 11th November and eight 12th November

Hen Harrier Cirus cyaneus

One male 11th November and two (a male and female) 12th November

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo

One 12th November

Bonelli’s Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus

One 12th November

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

One 11th November and one 12th November

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Small numbers on every roadside pool

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus

Fifty 12th November

Great White Egret Casmerodius albus

Two 11th November

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Up to forty seen daily

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia

Up to one thousand seen daily

Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris

Two 12th November

Oriental White Stork Ciconia boyciana

Fifty flying over in three groups 11th November. Twenty-five at the edge of the lake 12th November

Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach

Up to five seen daily

Carrion Crow Corvus corone

Ten over Wu Chen village 11th November

Blackbird Turdus merula

Twenty flying around Wu Chen Village at first light 11th November and up to fifty around the watchtower on 12th November

Dusky Thrush Turdus naumanni

A total of 15 including one of the race naumanni at the watchtower 12th November

Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus

One Wu Chen Village 11th November

Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus

Up to 10 daily

Black-collard Starling Sturnus nigricollis

Six 11th November and ten 12th November

Red-billed Starling Sturnus sericeus

Thirty in fields 12th November

White-cheeked Starling Sturnus cineraceus

Ten 11th November and twenty 12th November

Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus

Ten 11th November and six 12th November

Great Tit Parus Major

One 11th November and two 12th November

Swallow Hirundo rustica

Four 11th November

Chinese Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis

Small numbers seen daily

Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis

Up to 30 seen daily in grass at edge of lake

Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola

One 11th November

Japanese Marsh Warbler Locustella pryeri

Four 12th November

Vinous-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis webbianus

Six 11th and ten 12th November

Eurasian Skylark Aauda arvensis

Twenty 11th November. Fifty 12th November

Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

Five 11th November

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava

One 12th November

White Wagtail Motacilla alba

Up to twenty seen daily

Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni

Two 12th November

Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens

Up to 100 seen daily

Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus

Twenty 11th November

Grey-capped Greenfinch Carduelis sinica

Five 11th November and twenty 12th November

Yellow-billed Grosbeak Eophona migratoria

Fifty 11th November. Ten 12th November

Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala

Ten 11th November. Twenty 12th November

Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys

One 12th November

Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans

Five 12th November

For further information please contact Graham Talbot (e-mail gtalbot@netvigator.com)