Siberian Cranes, Chinese Mergansers and Spoon-billed Sandpipers

– the most sought-after of China’s birds in one tour




"Hey Phil: Great to hear from you and get the magnificent CD and mega-report!  It's awesome and I sure appreciate it.  I have to come up with a powerpoint presentation of the trip for our Audubon group in May and this will really help!"......  Miss S, Missouri, March 2012


"Thanks for all your hard work and thank you for the trip report. I think it's one of the best I have had after a holiday." .....Miss P, W. Yorks, Jan 2012






The most critically endangered birds in the Far East include some of the most enigmatic birds in the world. Siberian Crane, Chinese Merganser and Spoon-billed Sandpiper must rank among the top ten most wanted birds. Their existence on this planet is in the balance and tourism to the non-sensitive parts of their range can only help raise conservation awareness among locals. Many things have changed in China in recent years. Logistically it is easier to travel around and there are now many keen birders there.


Our first days on the East China Sea coast will be spent at the most reliable wintering site for the unique Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China. We work closely with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Group and our records here will aid their conservation.


Moving to the sacred mountains at Wuyishan, we are in the home of the stunning Cabot’s Tragopan and the gorgeous Chinese Merganser. The magnolia and bamboo forest is very different from any European woodland and holds a superb selection of forest birds.


We then move on to China’s largest wetland at Poyang Lake. There is nothing more evocative in the bird world than the sight and sound of a large gathering of cranes. Poyang Lake is the wintering ground of hundreds of cranes comprising at least four species. Common, White-naped, Hooded and the mega-rare Siberian Crane.


No Chinese tour is complete without a visit to the Great Wall of China, and we will include a cultural interlude in Beijing before returning home. This is a tour that will allow us to see all of the above and a whole swathe of mouth-watering species that occur in Europe only as extreme vagrants. This is indeed a feast of rare birds.





We will take an overnight flight to Beijing and then a short domestic flight to Fuzhou. Our first two days birding will be spent on the coast. A small estuary here has a wintering population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, probably the most sought-after wader in the world. Our experience with the species in Russia and China has meant that we were able to find four individuals within a few minutes of scanning through the shorebird flocks during our recce and we can contribute to the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Recovery Group’s work by counting them here. Long-billed Curlew and Saunder’s Gull should stand out among the many Slaty-backed Gulls, and if we are lucky a Black-faced Spoonbill or two could be present.


On the third morning we will visit Fuzhou Forest Park which provides refuge for Siberian migrants. White’s Thrushes and Pallas’s Warblers can be found alongside residents like Grey-backed and Pale Thrushes. Tristram’s Buntings feed in leaf-litter where Bamboo Partridge hide. Fork-tailed Sunbirds and Orange-bellied Leafbirds add a tropical feel to the birding as this park has a very impressive list of passerines. After birding in the forest park, we will take a comfortable train ride in our own private carriage to Wuyishan in the afternoon.



Our four nights in this famous tea-growing region allow us to work our way through the farmlands and nature reserves around the sacred Wuyi Mountain. At high elevation we stay at Wuyi Protection Station where Tiger and Clouded Leopard occur but we would need amazing luck to see one. More likely is Serow, a strange kind of mountain deer.


As we descend through towering bamboo woodland into a sub-tropical forest of laurel, magnolia and camellia, we will search for Cabot’s Tragopan, and Silver and Golden Pheasants. They move quietly through the bamboo but emerge onto the tracks to take grit.


Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Red-flanked Bluetail and Daurian Redstart sit among the rocks while Rufous-faced Warblers and Grey-throated Minivets flit through the trees. In farmland lower down, we will check the many rice paddies for Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Rusty Crake, and Bull-headed and Long-tailed Shrikes. The latter has a striking black morph that occurs here.


Star birds to look for include Collared Falconet and the Chinese Merganser. The latter is arguably the most beautiful of sawbills and very wary. It can be very difficult to find but our local guides know all the usual haunts. Their knowledge allowed us to easily locate two pairs on a fast-flowing river on our last visit.


The damming of China’s rivers is driving this bird towards extinction and we hope that more interest from western birders will help stimulate an understanding of its plight.


From here we drive to Poyang Lake for a three night stay.



This area is the wintering ground for almost all the remaining Siberian Cranes in the world. Our trip is timed to see them once they are settled in for the winter and we will search for them among hundreds of White-naped Cranes. We should also be able to locate a few Hooded Cranes and Common Cranes as they congregate in this extensive floodplain. Wildfowl include the endangered Swan Goose and Middendorf’s Bean Goose, while Spot-billed Duck is common. The Oriental White Stork is another rare bird that occurs here in good numbers and although not listed as critically endangered, its global population is actually half that of the Siberian Crane!


Bitterns can be relatively easy to see as they sit in grass by the road. The Japanese Swamp Warbler is a highly desirable, but skulking passerine that frequents the same habitat. Both keep an eye open for the many harriers and falcons that quarter the fields at this time.


The vast open wetlands of the reserve are accessed via roads through agricultural land that provides an insight into the daily lives of the Chinese people. Oriental Greenfinch, Yellow-billed Grosbeak, Chinese Bulbul, and Spotted and Rufous Turtle Doves are present near small villages. The ditches and canals are home to large duck farms that also attract three species of kingfisher; White-breasted, Pied and Common.


Silky Starling and Collared Myna form large flocks to feed in the marshes. Chestnut-eared and Little Buntings creep through the grass where wild pheasants crouch. Oriental Skylark, Japanese Quail, and Buff-bellied, Water and Olive-backed Pipits also feed in this damp grass. 




On day 12 we fly back to Beijing for our final two nights. In the afternoon we will visit the Great Wall of China and the following day visit the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. Finally we will drive to the airport, flying back on a daytime flight.



Breakfast will be at about 7am. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field with short walks on the flat. Birding will generally involve short/medium walks. There will be some walking on uneven muddy ground in a saltmarsh and some uphill walking in Wuyishan, all done at a sensible pace.



Full-board accommodation is provided with two nights at Rongcheng Hotel, Changle, one night at Fuzhou New Ziyang Hotel, one night at Wuyi Villa, Wuyishan, one night at Wuyi Protection Station, Wuyishan, two nights at Zhuxi Guli Hotel, Wuyuan, three nights at the Oasis Holiday Hotel, Nanchang and two nights at Tian Tan Hotel, Beijing. Hotels are of Chinese tourist standard that vary from 2 to 4 star with en-suite facilities. At Wuyi Protection Station, which is not a hotel, the rooms are very simple, but clean and with en-suite.


The food is good local Chinese. There are very few places where typical western food is available. Lunch is usually packed but we may choose to take advantage of the many local restaurants and cafes, especially if it is cold.



All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, local guides and interpreter, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 5th, ending with breakfast on 17th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-coach, reserve entrance fees, internal flights, international flights and airport taxes.



Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.



Return flights from most UK airports (via Amsterdam) to Beijing using the scheduled services of KLM. Outbound flight departs late morning, return flight arrives back late afternoon.



13 nights including

one overnight flight:


Principal leader:


Local guide:


Maximum group size:


Cost with discount

(if you book before

21st August 2011):


Full Cost:


Single supplement:






4th to 17th December 2011


Phil Palmer


Lao Lin and others


10 clients with one leader, an

interpreter and various



£3580 per person sharing


£3730 per person sharing






To see more photos and hear about our previous experiences in China CLICK HERE

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Spoon-billed Sandpiper SE China