Trip Report: Shanghai and Chengdu (China), June 2-11, 1997

Michael Houle ("Novice Birder"), La Crosse, WI, USA; Houlem@AOL.COM

Shanghai -- June 2, 1997

82°F, partly cloudy, nice cooling breeze, but the air was heavy with the industrial progress of China. Shanghai is very modern, has good roads, and bike paths, but people drive everywhere. I had this day free, so I walked 1 km to the Shanghai Zoological Park to observe some of the local birds. The 1 km walk is a challenge. There are bike lanes, used by everyone going everywhere, and bikes, motorized rickshaws, and small taxis using the sidewalks. Crossing the street is pure possession. Just aim and do not stop. Bikers, taxis, buses, and all coming from every direction, will brush past but will not run you over, unless you panic and stop. Everyone aims and goes. Even when the traffic cop holds up traffic for school children, the vehicles just brush past them.

The park is huge, about 700 acres with lots of ponds, canals, streams, lotus ponds etc. for natural bird sanctuaries. There are a lot of areas remote from the poor caged animals for some birding. I recorded a lot of lifers and was driven crazy by not being able to identify at least 20 other birds. On the big lake there were Swan Goose, Greylag Goose, Common Shelduck, Mandarin Duck (flock of 60), Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Great Knot, Eastern Curlew, Oriental Turtle Dove, White Wagtail, Light-vented Bulbul (very sharp features as compared to the same birds found in Chengdu), Black Bulbul (white-headed form), Oriental Magpie-Robin, Siberian Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, Masked Laughingthrush, Yellow-billed Grosbeak, White-throated Laughingthrush, Great-necklaced Laughingthrush, Hwamei, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Red-billed Mesia, Black-naped Oriole, Long-tailed Shrike, Eurasian Jay, Blue Magpie, Azure-winged Magpie, Crested Myna, and Grey-capped Greenfinch. Most of these birds were very common, seen several times during the day. The Oriental Magpie-Robin followed me everywhere with its beautiful song. I found a spring which flooded the pathway so the hoards of people had to go around. The spring was a natural draw for most of these birds. They would come in to drink, take a bath, or find bugs among the muck. I was in the park from 8am until about 5:30pm and saw all of these birds up close and personal.

Chengdu --June 4, 1997

I saw four White Wagtail out of the Hotel in Chengdu. I worked in Jian Jang, which was one hour southeast of Chengdu, where I saw a small flock of swallows, specifically Barn Swallows and one female Oriental Magpie-Robin. Saw a flock of five pigeon/dove? and some type of pheasant hen? which I was not able to identify. This was the total birds seen in Chengdu, Jian Jang and all points in between in three days.

Chengdu is the Capitol City of Sichuan, the most densely populated province in China, 0.11 billion people. You just never run out of homes, villages, towns, cities, rice paddies, lotus ponds, and corn. The heavy, chocking smog is almost as bad as Bangkok, Thailand, or at times, worse. The price of the new industrial revolution. The city of Chengdu (several million) has total traffic chaos. You cannot believe the traffic. It is death-defying. Shanghai is ultra-modern by comparison. At one point, in an area where there are two lanes in each direction, we faced up to five lanes of traffic coming at us, and we kept on going, just found a space and kept moving. The sea of people mesmerize you into thinking a river is flowing. Everything is hauled by bike in the middle of the crowded streets, rickshaws, trucks, busses, people, scooters, all just pointing and going, the only rule is not to stop. Once out of the city, the average speed on the highway is 16 km/hour (10 mph). In every town, and that's every km, there are open markets taking up two lanes on each side of the road, leaving only a trail to thread through. They use the two-bike-wheel carrier to haul 10 m (30') hollow concrete building structures, sometimes two on a cart, pulled by a single man, on the only road in town. Among all this chaos you will find 3 to 5 year old children standing on the back of a bike hanging on the shoulders of their dad. Quite a picture (which I missed).

Leshan -- June 7, 1997

The Company treated me to a driver and my interpreter, Sylvia. A young computer engineer came with us for a three-day trip. We drove about four hours south to Leshan. There are a lot of cows (not oxen) and buffalo pulling loads down the highways. We crossed many giant rivers which Sylvia said were just a branch of a branch of a branch of the Yangtze River. At Leshan, three of these branches met to form a serious branch of the Yangtze. We did not see a single shore- or water bird on this entire trip.

We visited the Great Buddha, the worlds largest at 71 meters high, carved out of the mountain in 300 AD. We saw it by boat, and then climbed up and down in the hills and caves several times. It was hot, humid, with thick smog, but we had a great time. We climbed to the top of the Buddha, and in a cool valley behind we saw a Golden Bush-robin, what a beauty. We walked in the woods with a constant swarm of people, beautiful people, all the nationalities of China, young and old, but not good for birding. We were able to get off the trail at some points and saw a White-browed Laughingthrush. Birds were scarce. In the cavern of the Giant Buddha we watched a pair of Grey Bushchat. On the main path out of the shrine we saw several Chestnut-tailed Minla at 5 to 10 feet despite the swirling hoard of people.

Emei Shan June 8, 1997

We stayed the night at Emei, at the base of Emei Shan. The town has a lot of nice little hotels in town and in the foothills. Only a few are registered to host foreign guests. The mountain is a massive collection of peaks. There is a 50 km road up to Jieying Hall which is at 2540 m, from which you must take a cable car to the Wyoun Nunnery (3058 m) and then climb to the Golden Summit. We followed the road to Jieying Hall for only 20 km, to Jingshui. We took a cable car to Wannian Temple (1020 m) and worked our way up and down many mountains, taking all day including slippery rocks, clay trails, old suspension bridges, planks, and finally waded across icy streams. We covered a very small portion of the lower mountain range. We walked down to Qungyin Pavilion (710 m), then back up the trail to a strip of heaven. Here the suspension bridges and planks across the stream gave way, and we had to wade about 100 m to cross the stream at a wide shallow spot. A very old man at the beginning of the trail sold hand woven reed slippers to walk the gravel bed of the stream and to cross the deep spots. He sold them for sixty cents a pair. We ate at a remote site in the mountains and could pick out our own live eel. Not to worry, this is Sichuan, they cook and use hot spices on everything.

We saw a Blue Whistling-Thrush as we crossed the icy stream. We heard lots of birds we could not see nor identify by sound. This day was also spent in a constant mist/drizzle/rain, which was cold and whipped around, making birding very difficult. At the pavilion we saw a White-crowned Forktail. We returned past the Guangfu Temple and saw a Hooded Oriole.

We stopped to admire the spectacular falls on the far side of the gorge and a family of White-tailed Leaf Warblers, feeding four young birds on a nest, and they made quite a spectacle trying to lure us away from the nest. Sylvia and Shang both became so excited at seeing birds on a nest being fed for the first time. I bought a pair of binoculars, 10x50 for US$30 for Sylvia, and we now have two new devoted birders in China. We finally saw a White-throated Laughingthrush and a Pied Wagtail at the parking lot at Wuxiangang. We did not see many birds, but after wading icy streams in a steady rain, we still think we were nearly in heaven. A trip to Emeishan has got to be a must for anyone going to Sichuan or Western China. Our new birder recruits were cold and wet but were full of excitement. I have been around the world and have never experienced scenery like this anywhere. I now know where they get the inspiration for all those fake Chinese paintings. They are not fakes.

Du Fu Cottage -- June 9, 1997

Hazy overcast day, a little more clear than normal, but the air is still very bad. On our return from Emei Shan, we passed Xin Jin where the Chinese were celebrating the Great Dragon Boat Races. They were spectacular in design and manpower. Just past Xin Jin we saw our first Intermediate Egret gracefully fly up from a rice paddy. Not much further and we saw a House Crow on a path through a rice paddy. The swallows were always present along every river, but these are all the birds we saw. We did see busses, with the entire roof covered with live geese, bikes with about 50 live geese on the back, all their heads looking around, bikes with 100 plucked, but whole chickens. It is a treat to travel among these beautiful people and the quaint rice paddies squeezed into every corner of the earth.

We returned to Chengdu, and I went to the poet Du Fu's Thatched Cottage, a park just out of Chengdu. As usual the crowds of people were there, but I was able to see a flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbill. They just swarm in, pass you, and swarm on by, very busy a quick. I saw the same or several flocks this afternoon. The White-browed Laughingthrush were everywhere, and a very lightly marked Light-vented Bulbul was feeding juveniles. This Bulbul was very common. The Oriental Magpie-Robin was a constant companion with its melodious song, also Eurasian Blackbird, a small group of Coal Tit in a nest-building activity, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, the Oriental Turtle-Dove, and a dozen I could not identify. There are some quiet areas in this small park. I took a bicycle-powered rickshaw ride back to the Hotel, about 2 km, and that was one of the treats of the trip. We challenged bikes, scooters, trucks, busses, cars, taxis, and people in this strange merge of everything with only one rule, do not stop. You cannot imagine how this works. We went through some of the tiniest streets and back alleys, a very special treat.

Wen Su --June 10, 1997

Sunshine, thru a thick grey haze. I went to the Wen Su Monastery and the Buddhist Temple next to the zoo. The zoo had some quality sheltered areas, but the Temple is the quiet place. I saw all the same birds as seen at Du Fu's Thatched Cottage with the addition of a Chinese Babax, Black Drongo, Forest Wagtail, Common Stonechat, and a pair of Yellow-billed Grosbeaks at the Temple, and a Long-tailed Shrike at the Wen Su Monastery. I met a tour guide and went to his home down some tiny, (filthy dirty is all you can say) streets into his one-room apartment. We then walked through one of the small market streets with live chickens, ducks, eels, everything just out on the sidewalk. The meat market is a bamboo pole with hunks of meat on it. A board on the sidewalk and a meat cleaver is all it took.

Shi Nanjaio -- June 11, 1997

I was at the Shi Nanjaio Gongyaun (The Peoples Park) by 6am, and the gates to the park were locked. I watched from outside and eventually got in for 20 rmb ($2.40). This is the secret, get in early before everyone is up. I heard some spectacular birds, crept up on them, and there were about 30 old guys with their pets singing away. The air was very heavy, smokey, not just a smog. Saw all the same birds as at Du Fu and Wen Su (except the Chinese Babax) but did see the spectacular Common Kingfisher. Watched him come and go about five times, each time more impressed than at the last sighting.

Shanghai -- June 11, 1997

I flew to Shanghai and walked about 1 km to the Shanghai Zoo near the airport. In the southwest corner there is a dung drop, trash field, with grass being harvested for the animals. This is the least busy part of the zoo. No native goes there. I saw my second Black-naped Oriole as I stood in some old dung. I wandered over by the monkey field, surrounded by a green algae-covered pond, and totally absent of monkeys. A White-throated Kingfisher flew by in a spectacular fashion. I cannot believe two lifer kingfishers on the same day, one in Chengdu and the second in Shanghai. You can imagine the natives all stopping to watch the empty pool, devoid of any life except for this brilliant little bird, which none of them saw. Also saw both the Intermediate Egret (flock of 6), two Black-crowned Night-Heron and three separate Little Egret flying over the zoo. I found the secret to quiet birding in Chinese Parks. About 5:30 everyone seems to leave and by 6pm the park is empty. You get the feeling you may be locked in. You're right. I walked up to the locked gates and there were 600 Chinese looking in at me, all trying to get me out, each pointing a different direction. I knew the police station was next to the zoo, so I climbed over the fence and spent considerable time trying to convince them I was a birder, not trying to sabotage them. That was very difficult as you might well expect, because I am a just a birder-in-training.

Preliminary count: Shanghai = 46 birds, 37 lifers; Chengdu = 26 (new birds not seen in Shanghai), 24 lifers; Total = 72 birds for China, 61 lifers.

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This page served by Urs Geiser;; September 25, 1997