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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.
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:
Black Bulbul (white-headed)
(Indian Blue Robin - spring 86 - A. Goodwin)
Chinese Song Thrush
Fukien Slaty Bunting