Siberian Blue Robin - one of many eastern migrants we’ll encounter in Beidaihe. Photo: Sunbird
Happy Island and the seaside resort of Beidaihe are both approximately 280 kilometres east of Beijing. Situated on the Gulf of Bohai at the northern end of the Yellow Sea they have become established as top migration watch points and are now the destination for seeing Asian migrants, including many of the Siberian species which occur as vagrants in the West or in Alaska. Throughout the spring the tracts of woodland, the rocky outcrops, mudflats and estuaries along the coastline act as magnets to the hundreds of thousands of birds migrating north. There are always birds to see and given the right conditions the falls of these migrants can be truly spectacular. During our visit we would hope to witness at least one large fall but even a ‘typical day’ would produce thrushes, flycatchers, warblers, pipits and buntings in profusion. Our tour coincides with the peak of spring migration in coastal north eastern China and we can expect to see over 200 species, of which about only 15 are residents! Accommodation and food are good and we even fit in a visit to the Great Wall.
Sunbird pioneered birdwatching tours to this region and the experience we have gained from almost 25 years of birding in the area means that we know how to get the best out of it. This recently revamped tour offers some world-class birding with a wide variety of species that can only come from a top migration spot. Over the years we have seen how almost all of the prime migration spots on the mainland around Beidaihe have been destroyed so we are spending five nights on Happy Island, three nights at the shorebird hotspot of Nanpu and one night on Old Peak to get the maximum possible value from our visit. Happy Island is by far the best place to find many of the exciting passerine migrants for which the region is so famous. However actually staying on the island, as we do, adds to the cost of the tour but we feel this is an expense well worth it for the rewards it brings.
Day 1: The tour begins with a flight from London to Beijing.
Day 2: Upon arrival we’ll transfer to our coach and drive almost 280 kilometres east of Beijing to Jingtanggang, our base for the following night. We should arrive in time for an initial exploration of at least a couple of this area’s migration hot spots. Night at Jingtanggang.
Day 3: We have almost a full day around Jingtanggang. At some stage we’ll visit the ‘Magic Wood’ – a name given to this small coppice by birders stunned at the incredible variety of birds it contained! Larger woods nearby can contain a similar dazzling array of migrants and in the late afternoon we’ll transfer to Happy Island for a five night stay..
Days 4-7: We’ll spend four full days on the appropriately named Happy Island. Happy Island isn’t large, stretching just over four kilometres from end-to-end and just under half this at its widest point. However its attraction to migrants and the recently improved accommodation make it a wonderful place to go birding. We could see a few over-summering Relict Gulls while Saunders’s Gull breeds nearby and is normally seen daily. When not scouring the narrow mud flats we’ll be searching for passerines, perhaps the premier attraction of Happy Island. Siberian Rubythroats, Rufous-tailed Robins, Two-barred and especially Yellow-browed Warblers can be common to abundant while past rarities have included Narcissus Flycatcher and the ever-elusive Fairy Pitta. As with all migration watch-points, the birding is strongly influenced by the weather. Even on ‘quiet’ days there should be good numbers of migrants around, but it is the falls of grounded birds and the ‘waves’ of passing migrants that help make a visit to Happy Island and Beidaihe so memorable. Visits in recent years have included such remarkable daily counts as 18 Von Schrenck’s Bitterns, 26 Baillon’s Crakes, 150 Olive-backed and 70 Red-throated Pipits, 200 Brown Shrikes, 250 Siberian Blue Robins, 100 Yellow-browed, 35 Radde’s, 49 Lanceolated, 82 Black-browed Reed and 44 Thick-billed Warblers and 260 Chestnut-flanked White-eyes. Waves of passing birds have included 140 Pied Harriers, over 1000 Crested Honey-buzzards, 667 Pacific Golden Plovers and 276 Little Whimbrels! This really is migration birding at its very, very best. Nights on Happy Island.
Day 8: Leaving Happy Island today around midday we’ll head back to the mainland where we’ll search other areas of woodland and saltpan for migrants before heading south. Night in Nanpu.
Days 9 & 10: We’ll have two full days around Nanpu and will explore the extensive area of saltpans and the vast coastal mudflats for waders. Small numbers of Nordmann’s Greenshank are regularly seen here in spring and we’d hope to find one or two of these among the many thousands of Great and Red Knot, Red-necked Stints and Bar-tailed Godwits. Other species we’re sure to see include Sharp-tailed and Terek Sandpipers and Eastern Curlew. Asian Dowitchers will already be scarce by mid-May but we’d expect to find a few as we would with Broad-billed Sandpiper. Several Spoon-billed Sandpipers have been seen in recent years but we’d be extremely lucky to find one of these extreme rarities. Small numbers of the gorgeous Reed Parrotbill, arguably east Asia’s most attractive parrotbill, breed at Nanpu and we’d expect to see a few.
Day 11: Today we’ll drive a short way north back up the coast from Nanpu past Happy Island to Beidaihe. Unlike mid-summer, when Beidaihe is bustling with Chinese fleeing the oppressive heat of Beijing and Tianjin, the town will be largely devoid of tourists, save for the occasional foreign birdwatcher. It will not be devoid of birds however and we’ll spend time at a variety of sites around the town searching them out. Night in Beidaihe.
Day 12: We’ll leave Beidaihe early to drive to Old Peak, which at 1,424 metres is the highest mountain close to the coast. We first explored the protected remnant forest here in the early 1990’s. It was then, and still is, one of very few patches of forest on the entire Chinese eastern seaboard! The lower, scrub-covered slopes hold small populations of Blunt-winged Warblers and Manchurian Bush Warbler and we hope to see both of these before we head higher up. Our recent visits have also yielded Koklass Pheasant, Large Hawk, Lesser, Indian and Himalayan Cuckoos, near endemics such as Chinese Nuthatch and Yellow-bellied Tits, Hair-crested Drongo, Chinese Thrush, White-bellied Redstart, the recently described Chinese Leaf Warbler, as well as Claudia’s Leaf Warbler and Yellow-throated Bunting. The mountain’s two top avian attractions are Grey-sided Thrush and Green-backed Flycatcher. Both are globally-threatened and only known to breed at a handful of sites in north-eastern China, with Old Peak being the best known. Our accommodation will be in a newly refurbished guest house surrounded by woodland, right in the heart of the best forest and the best birding. Night at Old Peak.
Day 13: After another exciting, birdsong-filled morning on Old Peak we’ll return to the coast, pausing on the way to search for Long-billed Plover, Red-billed Chough and Eurasian Crag Martin. In the afternoon we will visit the Great Wall north of Beidaihe and besides walking along this magnificent structure, we’ll search for species not usually found at Beidaihe such as Plain Laughingthrush, Yellow-streaked Warbler and Vinous-throated Parrotbill. Night in Beidaihe.
Day 14: We’ll spend all day in Beidaihe. The mix of species we should see will have changed noticeably as spring migration has progressed, and birds which are more likely towards the end of our stay include Von Schrenck’s Bittern, Baillon’s Crake, Grey-tailed Tattler, Oriental Reed, Thick-billed, Pallas’s Grasshopper and Lanceolated Warblers, and Dark-sided Flycatcher. Night in Beidaihe.
Day 15: After a final few hours on the coast we’ll head back to Beijing and spend the night in a hotel close to the airport. Night in Beijing.
Day 16: We’ll catch a flight back to London where the tour concludes.
Updated: 31 August 2016