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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

China: The Southeast in Winter

Sunday 7 January to Sunday 21 January 2024
with Paul Holt and Wang Qingyu as leaders
The easiest place to see the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper may be in coastal Fujian, China.The easiest place to see the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper may be in coastal Fujian, China.
  • The easiest place to see the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper may be in coastal Fujian, China.

    The easiest place to see the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper may be in coastal Fujian, China.

  • Reed Parrotbill has a very limited range in extreme eastern China.

    Reed Parrotbill has a very limited range in extreme eastern China.

  • Daurian Redstart is common and striking.

    Daurian Redstart is common and striking.

  • The endangered Red-crowned Crane is an east Asian endemic.

    The endangered Red-crowned Crane is an east Asian endemic.

  • Azure winged Magpie is an east Asian endemic.  It's only close relative inhabits the Iberian peninsula almost 9000 kms away.

    Azure winged Magpie is an east Asian endemic. It's only close relative inhabits the Iberian peninsula almost 9000 kms away.

  • The attractive Scaly-sided Merganser is one of the prizes on the tour.

    The attractive Scaly-sided Merganser is one of the prizes on the tour.

Outstanding among China’s myriad variety of birds are its fabulously evocative cranes, and we expect to see five or even six species, including mythical Siberian, White-naped, and Hooded Cranes at Poyang Hu National Nature Reserve, and majestic Red-crowned Cranes on the edge of the Yellow Sea.

Our tried-and-true itinerary has been revised to include a visit to Fuzhou, where we hope to have a very good chance to see the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper at its most accessible regular wintering site.

The supporting cast includes a world-class list of waterbirds. We should see thousands of Swan Geese, hundreds of Falcated Ducks and Baikal Teal, and huge parties of Oriental Storks, and we stand a good chance of encountering reasonable numbers of Scaly-sided Mergansers at their most reliable wintering site anywhere in the world. Other specialties should include spectacular Mandarin Ducks and diminutive Pied Falconets, and we have a chance of seeing the rare Baer’s Pochard, demure Saunders’s Gulls, and perhaps even a Relict Gull or Swinhoe’s Crake. Songbirds, too, will impress; among the expected endemics and near endemics are Reed Parrotbill, Chinese Gray Shrike, Red-billed Starling, and Chinese Penduline Tit.

China has come a long way in the past decade or so. Besides hosting an increasing number of comfortable hotels, this fascinating country now boasts an impressive transport infrastructure, and we’ll make good use of it on this unusual tour.

Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Shanghai. Night in a Shanghai airport hotel. (see note **, below).

This tour, the third that I have taken with Paul Holt, was another wonderful experience. Paul and Wang Qingyu went above and beyond to find the birds we were looking for and the only target bird misses were waterfowl species that appeared to have stayed north due to the mild winter. I look forward to my next tour with these wonderful leaders.

Elliott Bedows

Day 2: After breakfast we’ll fly south to Fuzhou in Southwest China’s Fujian Province. With a population of seven million, Fuzhou holds considerable political, economic, and cultural sway as one of the largest cities in southeastern China. Well known for its many hot springs and banyan trees, the area around Fuzhou, is developing at break-neck speed. Fortunately for the birder, the area still holds an impressive array of highly sought-after birds such as Black-faced Spoonbill, Red-billed Starling and Siberian Rubythroat. We’ll spend the afternoon birding around Changle before spending the next two nights in town. Night in Changle.

Day 3: Shanyutan, a small island in the Minjiang Estuary just a short distance from our hotel, is the single best site in the whole of China, and arguably the most accessible reliable site in the world, for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, one of the world’s rarest and most enigmatic waders. The extensive areas of heavily corrugated, sandy mud flats exposed at low tide appear to be irresistible to this species, and as many as ten “spooners” have been found here in recent winters. The first individuals of this superbly distinctive species probably arrive in mid-September, and a few remain to early May; our tour is perfectly timed to coincide with the period when this diminutive shorebird is at its most dependable. Other specialties of this area include Black-footed Spoonbill and Saunders’s Gull, one of the world’s rarest gulls. Night in Changle.

Day 4:  Leaving Changle, we’ll head north, skirting the city to visit a beautifull botanical garden on the edge of the city. We’ll spend the entire day exploring the park’s myriad trails and gullies for species such as the very elusive White-necklaced Partridge, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Spotted Elachura, and Japanese Robin.

Day 5: We’ll travel up to Wuyuan in Jiangxi Province today. This picturesque small town in the north-eastern corner the province is home to several of our target species. It’s a reliable a site for the tiny Pied Falconet and we also hope to see both Mandarin Duck and Red-billed Starlings. Night in Wuyuan. 

Day 6: We’ll spend the entire day around Wuyuan, searching for some of the area’s other specialties with the rare Scaly-sided Merganser one of our main aims. Up to sixty birds have been counted wintering here in recent years, and we’re likely to find a few parties of this attractive sawbill. Other species along this stretch of river could include Long-billed Plover and Black-collared Starling, while elsewhere around Wuyuan we’ll look for Yellow-browed Bunting, that magnificent songster the Chinese Hwamei, and, with luck, Japanese Waxwing. Night in Wuyuan.

Day 7: We’ll spend the morning searching for Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Grey-sided and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Gray-chinned Minivet and, with luck, Spotted Elachura, along with any species we might have missed the day before. In the late afternoon we’ll start the journey to Poyang Hu. Night outside the nature reserve.

Days 8-9: It shouldn’t take us long to reach the world-renowned Poyang Hu from our hotel and we’ll spend two full days exploring this fabulous reserve. Poyang Hu is subject to huge annual fluctuations in its water level: the lake covers up to 2,000 square miles during the summer rainy season, but water levels can fall by as much as 50 feet by the end of the winter, leaving the lake at an area less than 10% of its summer maximum. The result is a mosaic of shallow residual lakes, and it’s the combination of these with the fairly mild winters that creates ideal conditions for tens, even hundreds of thousands of waterbirds.

One of the most important wetlands in the world, Poyang Hu holds the planet’s largest concentrations of a number of threatened or endangered species. The magnificent Siberian Crane is undoubtedly the reserve’s star attraction, with more than 95% of the world population (3,200 birds) wintering here; even larger numbers of the equally majestic White-naped Crane winter. Hooded Crane is decidedly scarcer, but we expect to encounter a number of them among the huge flocks.

We’ll make extensive use of boats during our stay at this huge wetland. The ancient tradition of cormorant-fishing is still practiced at Poyang Hu, and we may see groups of these busy tethered birds. Thousands of Tundra Swans, Tundra Bean-Geese, and Greater White-fronted and Swan Geese spend their winter at Poyang Hu alongside hundreds of Oriental Storks and huge swirling flocks of Spotted Redshank and Pied Avocets. Other, less conspicuous species include Marsh Grassbirds and Baikal Teal. With a great deal of luck, we might even find a Swinhoe’s Crake. Nights at Yongxiu, a small town just outside the reserve.

Day 10: We’ll leave Yongxiu early and drive south to spend the morning exploring Nanjishan Reserve. Marsh Grassbird and Swinhoe’s Crake are more regular here than at Poyang Hu, and we’ll concentrate on those two species in particular. In the afternoon we’ll return to Nanchang airport and travel back to Shanghai. We’ll then journey north across the Yangtze, China’s largest and arguably most important river, and continue on towards Yancheng Nature Reserve. Night in Yancheng. 

Days 11-12: Yancheng Nature Reserve is just over an hour’s drive from our comfortable hotel and we’ll be there from the early morning, giving us plenty of time to explore this vast complex of coastal grassland, shrimp ponds, saltpans, and reedbeds on the edge of the Yellow Sea. Yancheng, China’s second largest Nature Reserve, and our focus of these two days, harbors an impressive array of species. Nearly half of the world’s 2,000 or so Red-crowned Cranes winter here, and we’re sure to have good views of these striking birds. Other highlights here include Falcated and Baikal Teal, the near-endemic Chinese Gray Shrike, Chinese Penduline Tit, the endemic Reed and ubiquitous Vinous-throated Parrotbill, plus Rustic, Black-faced, Pallas’s, and possibly even Ochre-rumped Buntings. 

Day 13: Leaving Yangcheng, we’ll head southeast to a vast area of coastal mudflats, visiting a site where Relict and the exquisite Saunders’s Gulls regularly winter. We hope to be able to study both species at close range as they patrol the mud-fringed fishponds for crabs. Night in Nantong.

Day 14: We expect to arrive back in Shanghai in time for a sightseeing excursion into the heart of this bustling, ambitious metropolis with its intoxicating mix of old European-style buildings and awe-inspiring modern structures. Night near the international airport in Shanghai.

Day 15: The tour ends this morning at the Shanghai airport.

Updated: 12 February 2018


  • 2024 Tour Price Not Yet Available


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Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

** For those arriving early, there will be an option of some afternoon birding close to the hotel.  

We can assist with booking extra nights at our Shanghai hotel and airport transfers upon request.

Maximum group size 10 with two leaders.  

Single accommodation cannot be guaranteed at the Yancheng National Nature Reserve guesthouse.

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