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Emei Shan, China Birding

Jan 31- Feb 6 , Feb 24-27, 1991

by Mike Kilburn


This report is based on two visits to Emei Shan during winter, 1991. There are no site maps because six-year-old site details for winter birds are unlikely to be useful in May.

On my visit I used gen from Jesper Hornskov and Andy Goodwin and Craig Robson/Mick Turton. All were available from Steve Whitehouse's Foreign Birding Reports Service. My copies got trashed on the mountain. Andy Goodwins's is particularly good and includes a number of other sites in China.

The best source of logistical information on the site and accessing it are in the most recent edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to China, an invaluable tool for planning a visit to the mountain and deciding where you stay on a day to day basis.

Its a Buddhist holy mountain in Central Sichuan Province with good primary and secondary forest, deep river gorges as well as rhododendrons, and firs towards the summit. Patches of forest have been cleared for farming below Wannian Si. This arable land holds some birds and is easier going than the forest

Lesser Pandas are still found wild on the mountain. You won't see one.

Access to the mountain is by a series of trails and stone stairways leading to the summit - maps are good, essential and freely available in the hotels at the base of the mountain. It's pretty hard work trailing up and down the stairways - I didn't bother with a scope and didn't feel the loss.

The trail is interspersed with monasteries and temples which these days have few monks, but do provide accommodation, food, and boiled water. There is no need to bring bedding - it's always provided, although a sheet sleeping bag and spray-on Dettol will offer some protection from biting bugs. Washing facilities are basic, sometimes very (BYO bog roll) and cold-water. Xi Xiang Chi was the most stunning - built on a razor edge spine and all-wooden. There are also numerous hostels around the more popular sections of the trail.

Trackside stalls offering tea, bottled drinks and basic but wholesome food pop up every now and again. A bag of munchies such as sweets, biscuits, chocolate and raisins would be a good idea The price of food and drinks generally increases with altitude - you pay for the distance some punter has to carry the drinks up the hill so you can buy them without the strain.

The top of the mountain is significantly more expensive for everything. This is because it's the target spot for all the pilgrims, and they're a captive market. I didn't stay up there, but apparently accommodation is poor and expensive. There is also a road to the top, allowing access by minibus without the struggle of dragging yourself up the staircase.

This is one of China's top tourist destinations and as a result can be an incredibly frustrating place to go birding as birders present a spectacle which distracts the pilgrims from the monotony of the climb. It's best, for this reason, to find trails away from the main drag to do your birding on. However, I did see a lot of birds from the main trails.

The other nuisance is monkeys, which have been known to pull bags out of hands and to bite. Although I encountered several groups of monkeys, I was not bothered by them, although I saw people who were. A big stick, tripod or umbrella is probably a good deterrent


It rains a lot on Emei and there are frequent “cloud-outs” - the higher you go the more likely you'll be birding in clouds or precipitation. Be prepared!

It was pretty cold in winter, especially from the summit down to the Elephant's Bathing Pool (Xixiang Chi) and the Xianfeng Monastery, where there was snow on the ground. I birded mostly below Wannian Si because there was a lot of low cloud higher up and monastery dormitories are pretty boring places to sit around on your own while you wait for the weather to clear.

I definitely missed out on some good birds as a result of this - Temminck's Tragopan has been seen on the rubbish dump at Xianfeng Si and on side-trails from Xi Xiang Chi, Purple Cochoa is a also found at a similar altitude. Lady Amherst's Pheasant has been seen on the catchment trail to the right of Wannian Si.

Warning: The 'pilgrims' often use the side trails for alfresco toilet stops - walk carefully for the first few yards!!

Accommodation at the foot of Emei Shan

I stayed in the Hongzhushan Hotel. Its a collection of low buildings set in a compound which has several lakes, some low scrub and some areas with more mature trees. In 1991 it was a cheap place to stay, but had OK double rooms with en-suite bathrooms (and running hot water), a left luggage facility and very average food. I ate much better at the small restaurants outside the hotel entrance.

The best attraction of the Hongzhushan Hotel was the on-the-doorstep birding. My best birds here included Japanese Waxwing, Streaked Barwing, White-crowned Forktail, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, and Fukien Slaty Bunting.

I used the hotel as a base for day trips around the base of the mountain - both to the paddy fields and a couple of the nearby temples - Fuhu Si is where I saw Emei Shan Liocichla and White-browed Shrike-Babbler.

Birds Observed

Common Buzzard - 2 Hzs

Black Kite - 3 Hzs

Grey-faced Buzzard - 1 wnn catchment

Accipiter sp. - 1 Hzs

Grey-headed Lapwing - 4 Hzs

Northern Lapwing - 3 Hzs

Woodcock - 3 Hzs

Common Kingfisher - 1 Hzs

Greater Spotted Woodpecker - 1 XXC

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker - 1 Hzs

Bay Woodpecker - 1 Xf

Grey-headed Woodpecker - 1 QY

Japanese Waxwing - 10 Hzs

Olive-backed Pipit - common

White Wagtail - common low

Grey Wagtail - 4-5 daily Hzs

Brown-breasted Bulbul - 1 Hzs

Chinese Bulbul - 1 Hzs

Mountain Bulbul - 5 Hzs

Collared Finchbill - 2 CY

Magpie Robin -2 Hzs

Grey Bushchat - 1 Hzs

Riverchat - common

Red-flanked Bluetail - common

Plumbeous Redstart - common

Daurian Redstart - up to 3 daily Hzs

Hodgson's Redstart - 1 Hzs

Blue-fronted Redstart - common low elev

White-crowned Forktail - common

Slaty-backed Forktail - common

Spotted Forktail - upstream from Blk Dragon Gorge

Chinese Song Thrush - 1 Hzs

White's Thrush - 5 Hzs

Naumann's Thrush - 4-5 daily Hzs

Pale Thrush - 1 QY

Chestnut Thrush 1 HCP

Violet Whistling Thrush - common in streams

Black-headed Sibia - common low elev

Streaked Barwing - 3 - Hzs

Fukien Niltava - 1 Hzs

Ashy-throated Parrotbill - 2 flocks QY, Hzs

Spot-breasted Parrotbill - 3 HCP

Golden Parrotbill - 1 flock Wnn catchment

Crested Parrotbill - 20 Summ, 1 XXC

Streak-breasted Scim. Babbler - common

Pygmy Wren Babbler - 1 Fuhu, 1 Xf

Hwamei - 2 Hz, 2 QY

Elliot's Laughingthrush - common

Moustached Laughingthrush - 2 Wnn

Black-faced Laughingthrush - 2 CY

Red-winged Laughingthrush - 2 Leiyin, 2 Wnn

Rufous-capped Babbler - c.10 Fuhu, CY

Red-tailed Minla - 1 XXC

Emei Shan Liocichla - 2 Fuhu

Red-billed Leiothrix - common

Grey-cheeked Fulvetta - common low

Golden-breasted Fulvetta - c.15 Leiyin, Fuhu

Collared Yuhina - up to 20 daily Hzs

Stripe-throated Yuhina - up to 10 Hzs

Black-chinned Yuhina - 10 Hzs

Green Shrike-Babbler - 1 Leiyin

White-browed Shrike-Babbler - 1 Fuhu

Ashy-throated Warbler - common Hzs, Leiyin

Pallas' Leaf Warbler - common Hzs, Fuhu

Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler - 1 Hzs

Rufous-faced Flycatcher Warbler - common Green-backed Tit - common

Yellow-bellied Tit - 15 QY

Great Tit - common

Marsh Tit - 2 Fuhu

Coal Tit - 2 CY

Rufous-vented Tit - 4 above XXC

Yellow-browed Tit - 4-5 in birdwaves CY, Hzs

Black-throated Tit - common low elev

Chestnut-vented Nuthatch - 4 ridge above Hzs

Bar-tailed Treecreeper - 3 Fuhu

Fork-tailed Sunbird - 1 Hzs

Fukien Slaty Bunting - up to 3 on 2 days Hzs

Yellow-throated Bunting - 10 Hzs

Little Bunting - up to 70 Hzs

Meadow Bunting - 1 Hzs

Tristram's Bunting - common low

Brambling - 3 Hzs, 1 summ

Siskin - 25 Hzs

Japanese Hawfinch - 10 HCP

Collared Grosbeak - 2 wnn catchment

Vinaceous Rosefinch - a few all altitudes

Brandt's Mountain Finch - 1 above XXC

Long-tailed Shrike - 4 low elevs

Eurasian Jay - 2 CY

Blue Magpie - 3 XF

Large-billed Crow -2 Hzs

Eurasian Nutcracker - 5 summ

Total species : 93 spp

Key: Birds were seen at or near these sites. Most are temples/ monasteries

CY : Chun Yang

HCP : Hong Chun Ping

HZS: in grounds of/near Hong Zhu Shan Hotel

Fuhu : Fuhu Si

Leiyin : Leiyin Si

QY : Qing Yin Pavilion

XF : Xian Feng Monastery

XXC : Xi Xiang Chi (Elephant Bathing Pool)

Wnn : Wannian Si

N.B. “Si” is the Chinese word for monastery

Additional site in Cheng Du:

Du Fu's Cottage

The nicest urban park I visited in China - see Lonely Planet for access details and background.

Key birds - half-day visit:

White-cheeked Laughingthrush

Black Bulbul (white-headed)

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker

(Indian Blue Robin - spring 86 - A. Goodwin)

Chinese Song Thrush

Naumann's Thrush


Ashy-throated Warbler

Rufous-faced Warbler

Black-throated Tit

Bar-tailed Treecreeper

Fukien Slaty Bunting

Chinese Grosbeak

Mike Kilburn
2/F, 219 Sheung Wo Che
Shatin, N.T.

Copyright © 1992-2012 John Wall