Shanghai, Beijing, Xian,Yangtze river cruise, Chengdu, Lhasa, Hong Kong
During the course of an OAT tour of China, I took every opportunity to break away for birding. Following are some suggestions as to where others might productively visit. These suggestions reflect, of course, the time of year that I was there and may not be as applicable to other seasons.
General thoughts I carried binoculars with me at all times and picked up a few good birds in the normal course of the tour. I often birded locally starting at first light for a couple of hours, returning in time to join the general tour when it set forth later in the morning. Most Chinese city parks charge a nominal entrance fee that is often waived first thing in the AM when the locals begin to show up for their exercising. Opening times vary during the year for no apparent reason. Check with your hotel. You can sometimes get in before the official opening time by jumping the fence with the locals. All of the locations discussed below are in or very close to town. Cabs are everywhere and cheap. Getting lost is impossible. Just take along a card with the name in Chinese of your hotel and another of the place you want to go, e.g., botanical garden plus the word for taxi. Everyone is very helpful. Nevertheless, it takes a certain amount of guts to jump into a taxi in some huge Chinese town that youve never heard of going to a place you cant pronounce trusting that the cabbie, who speaks not a word of English, really knows where hes going. (He does.)
I used A Field Guide to the Birds of China by Mackinnon and Phillipps. Its all there is but using it can be frustrating. The range maps are often very rough approximations, it does not depict all the species and the colors are off on others. It was particularly helpful to have a professional guide in Hong Kong to assist in identification of some of the many species seen there identification that would have been difficult if not impossible using Mackinnon and Phillips on my own.
Shanghai No one has previously mentioned Peoples Park just across the street from the Park Hotel in central Shanghai. Great birding, especially before the exercise hordes take over about 0800. I also spent an afternoon at the Botanical Garden. Looks great and probably is at the right time of year. It was slow but still interesting when I was there.
Xian I spent part of a morning at the Botanical Garden a few blocks south of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda - same comment as for the Shanghai Botanical Gardens. One of the best places I birded on the whole trip was at Xingqing Park just outside of the SW corner of the old city wall. I spent an entire AM there, especially around the western-most lake, the only one with a natural border, not a man-made stone wall. Also, there is a park on the east side of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda good birds here also, especially along the eastern edge bordering the Xian Garden Hotel.
Beijing Beihai Park was a big disappointment and waste of time. The grounds of the Summer Palace were a highlight. Plan to spend at least a half day there. Proceed thru the entrance directly to the main lake. Turn right to the northern edge of the lake and bird the forested hillside along this side. Especially, go to the park-like, treed, far side where there are lesser lakes. Excellent birding.
Yangtze River Cruise be sure and take your binoculars on the sampan excursion Mandarin Duck, Brown Dipper, three Wagtails, two redstarts, etc. The guides will tell you that the Cormorants flying by are Eagles. They dont like being corrected.
Chengdu Go early to the nearby Giant Panda Breeding Center. It opens variably at 0700 or 0800. By 1000 it is overloaded with screaming schoolchildren but still birdable away from the immediate panda enclosure areas. Many good birds. The lake has a major egret rookery.
Lhasa Very interesting. I birded one full AM along the south shore of the rivers floodplain. There is an elevated sidewalk the whole way along the edge that I walked two accentors, Brown-headed Gull, Rosefinch, Snowfinch, Ruddy Shelduck, several Redstarts, Twite, others. (Directions are: Proceed west past the Potala Palace and the town center on Beijing Street to Linkuo Street. Go right or north on Linkuo to the main river channel. In doing so, you will pass over a seasonal channel of the river such that you will be on a large, seasonal island when you get to the main channel. You can start walking east on the sidewalk here or have the taxi take you to the east end of the sidewalk where the river and seasonal channel again come together. The biggest concentration of birds was in the floodplain where these two channels come back together. There is a spectacular view of the Potala Palace from here as well.)
Also, look for birds when ascending and descending the Potala Palace swifts, Hill Pigeon, Godlewskis Bunting. The road to and from the airport (2 hours) along the river looks great raptors, waterfowl and much more. I was unable to ID much from our bus but anyone who was not so restricted should see a lot of birds larks and such all over the fields being plowed with yak power.
The long, broad fertile valley just to the south and extending west into the mountains from the Sera Monastery was still pretty bleak when I was there but still yielded interesting things, e.g, Saker Falcon. I think this area could be great at the right season. Contrary to what has been otherwise inferred, you need a vehicle to cover this area or a tour bus that makes a few stops to cover other things (yak dung fuel factory) as in my case.
Hong Kong My hotel bordered upon Kowloon Park which produced some excellent birds if thats all the time you have. This is a lovely park, one of the nicest city parks that Ive seen anywhere. Even my non-birding wife enjoyed walking there. If you have the time, however, I highly recommend that you contact and retain the services of Martin Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org), one of Hong Kongs top birders and guides. Not only is Martin extremely knowledgeable, he is great at getting you on the birds, knows all the calls and is great company. I went with him, in one day, to the world famous Mai Po Marshes and to the Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve. Retaining someone like Martin is the only way to access a special Mai Po mud flats blind, to know what time of day to go there based on the tides, to know where to go when you get there and all of that. I think that a day at the marshes would be wasted without an expert guide at your side. Besides, he provides a scope, essential to birding the marshes. I certainly didnt want to lug mine all over China for this one day. Martins services are not cheap but theyre worth every penny. At the end of the day, youll know that you got your moneys worth and then some.
Bottomline for this non-birding tour I saw about 160 species of which 92 were new to me.
Edward C. Hall
San Diego, California