This section gives basic information about weather, climate, access and special features of various areas in Sichuan.
It shall serve as background information for travellers, climbers, birdwatchers and anyone who is interested.
WOLONG / BALANG PASS
Emei Shan (Shan = Mountain) is a famous Buddhist mountain in the western part of the Sichuan Basin.
It lies at the westernmost tip of the Sichuan Basin and meanwhile is the beginning of a transitional zone between Sichuan
Basin and Tibetan High Plateau. Due to Buddhist principles – ‘do not kill, protect life’ –
this area resembles a biodiversity island amidst the public land which has been heavily developed for agriculture and forestry reasons,
and thus is one of the most important birding areas in Sichuan. Emei's forests have been protected since ever and thus enable
the visitor to imagine how Sichuan still must have looked like decades ago.
The distance is 2-3 hours from Chengdu by car/bus.
The Golden Summit:
The top is made into a large square with a gigantic golden Buddha Statue in the middle and a few temples to its edges.
The so called ‘Jin Ding = Golden Summit, 3099m asl’ offers a great prospect towards the huge mountains in the west
(Minya Konka Range) and the Sichuan Basin to the east. It also is the gathering point for a huge number of tourist groups who
arrive here early in the morning to witness the sunrise or to experience natural phenomena such as fog-bow or the sea of clouds.
The widely stretched summit area mainly features conifer and deciduous forest, while the vegetation changes gradually into
subtropical forest closer down to the bottom.
Temperatures can drop down to -20° Centigrade in winter. During this season most
guesthouses are closed, stairways and paths often are ice covered and the hike from Leidongping (2500m) up to the top can become a
survival trip. However, days usually are clear and temperatures rise in the late morning sun. In spring and summer the air
remains cool but humid.
The hike from the end of the road (Leidong Ping) to the summit takes approximately 2h comfortable walking.
Alternatively there is a cable car that runs up this section.
The warming winter sun usually attracts tits and other bud/seed eating birds to come higher up in their quest for food. However,
winter probably isn't the best time for birding in upper part. Additionally the summer months come with daily rain and thick fog,
what sometimes can turn bird watching into a patience-demanding adventure. Therefore, April to June seem to be the best season to find good birds:
Rosefinches (Vinaceous, Chinese White-browed, Three-banded), Tits (Grey Crested, Yellow-bellied, Great, Rufous-vented, Sichuan, Green-backed, Coal Tit),
Treecreepers, Swifts (White-throated Needletail, Forktailed, House), Bush Robins (Golden, White-browed), Nuthatches, and many more
belong to the common species of the mountain's upper part.
Old Forests and Eastern Slopes:
The middle part comprises the whole waist of the mountain, beginning at Leidong Ping (marked by a big parking lot and the bottom
station of the cable car) and ending at Jingyin Ge Pavilion. Here one could theoretically spend a few days walking within natural
broadleaf forest without getting bored. It is exactly what a subtropical jungle should resemble!
The partly steep path mostly is made of more or less well maintained stairways. The longer option via Yuxian Temple
and Jiulao Dong is the best choice to escape the thousands of (screaming) tourists who usually start at Leidong Ping
but won't take the turn-off into this longer and more strenuous hike. However, be prepared for an over-night stay at
Yuxian or Xianfeng Temple and be armoured with a long walking stick to protect yourself against bunches of aggressive Emei Shan macaque!
This is the place where to find Fruit Pigeons (Speckled Wood Pigeon, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon), Bush and Leaf Warblers
(Bianci's, Alström's, Emei, Sichuan, Kloss's, Claudia's, Dusky, Buff-throated), Woodpeckers (White-backed, Darjeeling, Crimson-breasted),
Fulvettas, Flycatcher, Yuhinas (Stripe-throated, White-collared, Black-chinned) and many of the old world babblers
(Shrike Babblers; Red-winged, Black-faced, Spotted, Buffy and Moustached Laughingthrush).
Lower Part and Bottom:
Monasteries as well as farm houses are built on a high number of clearings within the lush subtropical forest.
Fuhu Temple, Baoguo Temple or Guangfu Temple should be regarded as the biggest and most important ones.
However, and this actually may be much more attractive than the big monasteries, the bottom area also offers quite a few small nunneries which lie
outside the scenic area and thus are free of ticket-charge. Besides, they offer cheap, but basic accommodation. This would be the
perfect option for a more peaceful and genuine visit of a Buddhist monastery on Emei Shan.
Modest temperatures in winter and good accommodation facilities make the mountain's lower parts a good base for birding even in bad weather.
Here, birding is interesting in winter as well. Birds of higher ranges come down here to feed in warmer realm. Birding is tremendous
at and around Wuxian Gang and on a small ridge path between the entrance area near Fuhu Temple and Wuxian Gang. Common birds are: Great Barbet,
Hwamei, Ashy-throated Parrotbill, Grey Treepie, Forktails, Black-headed Sibia, Red-tailed Minla and Blue-winged Minla,
Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Asian Coel, etc.
Wawu Shan lies approx. 50km west of Emei Shan. Geographically it somewhat belongs to the same territory as Emei Shan.
However, there are significant topographical and biological differences between these two mountains, and thus also vary in habitat.
Wawu is a table mountain with an altitude of ca. 2700m. It offers old conifer forest with thick bamboo undergrowth on its almost flat
top and subtropical forest at the bottom. It is connected to a wide and open inhabited hill area to its west - an enormous difference to the
‘biological island’ of Emei Shan. Here the Red Panda and Asian Black Bears are regular visitors.
The plateau on the top has an area of approx. 12 sq km and drops almost vertically at most of its edges. This is the reason why local
people named it Wawu (Wa=Tile and Wu=House).
Difficult access has kept away logging activities for ages and therefore left the forest fairly unharmed.
Unfortunately, there are plans for 2012 to change the top (upper) area into a mass tourism holiday resort which is very likely to alter
habitat and bird watching conditions severely. Besides, it may be possible that the entire forest park will be closed down for the duration
of the construction work (a couple of years).
Distance from Chengdu is about 4hours driving (2011). An upgrade of the highway from Chengdu is part of the development plan.
A cable car leads up from the middle elevation (end of road, ca. 1900m) to the top which skips the steep and dangerous ascent to
the forest park on the summit.
The upper levels often are absorbed by fog and rain. Especially afternoons you easily may face rain and bad sight. Be prepared with appropriate gear!
The summit region regularly is covered by clouds. So, take the chance of a clear morning or whenever the permanent layer of clouds
breaks open to visit this part of the mountain before it turns wet again. The lower sections may provide better sights even in bad weather,
and thus do not require a spontaneous change of the schedule.
Wawu Shan is home of a big number of bird species. Amongst the hundreds of birds recorded for this mountain are Grey-hooded, Three-toed,
Fulvous, Golden and Brown Parrotbill, Lady Amherst's Pheasant, Temminck's Tragopan, Silver Pheasant, Red-winged, Buffy and Spotted Laughingthrush,
Emei Shan Liocichla, White-bellied Redstart, Russet, Brown and Spotted Bush Warbler, Chestnut-crowned, Kloss's, Claudia's and Emei Warbler,
Pere David's Tit, Gold-fronted Fulvetta, Sichuan and Barred Treecreeper, Crimson-breasted, Darjeeling, Bay and White-backed Woodpecker,
Slaty Bunting and many more.
The name 'Wolong' usually refers to two separate (birding) areas. One is the World Natural Heritage and Giant Panda Nature
Reserve called Wolong Town at the valley bottom. The other area is an hour drive from Wolong Town up to the 4600m pass across Balang Shan.
Wolong has been heavily damaged in the 2008 Earthquake. It suffered huge habitat loss, especially on stepper slopes.
Almost all facilities in the township and in the breeding centre nearby were destroyed. The captive Giant Pandas were brought
into undamaged facilities in Bifeng Gorge. It is unclear by when the Panda centre and tourist accommodation will be set in place again.
The road to and through Wolong is not open to public transport yet (2012). Falling rocks and follow-up landslides were much too
dangerous for tourists! However small passenger cars were and still will be able to pass and proceed all the way up to Balang Shan
under normal weather circumstances. Wolong is 3-4h from Chengdu.
Due to its geographical position this valley is disposed for rain, even during the dry season.
(This is why vegetation is so abundant and has been providing Panda-food throughout the past at least 150.000 years.)
So don't forget to bring your rain-proof (birding) gear. In Summer leeches show up at wet or grassy spots. Leech gaiters, precaution or
anything else to prevent leeches may be advised to bring.
A research facility called Wuyipeng has been established on one of the ridges near Wolong Town.
Many birders accept the 1h hike up the small and steep path to this station. However, there are still other sites
in this narrow valley and side valleys worthy enough to explore.
Bird species here include Golden Pheasant, Temminck's Tragopan, Barred Laughingthrush, Firethroat, Indian Blue Robin, Pere David's Tit,
Sooty Tit, Chinese Thrush, Tiger Shrike...
BALANG MOUNTAIN PASS
On the Balang Mountain Pass you may have the luck to sometimes stand above the layer of clouds and enjoy sun, scenery and wildlife.
The pass itself is at 4529m. Luckily, the road is in a good condition (2011) which makes driving save and reduces the driving
time between Wolong and Rilong/Siguniang Shan to approx. 2h. Some peaks of the Siguniang Massif can be seen from a spot a few 100m behind the pass.
Birds can be easily watched from the road. There's no need to hike long distances in high altitude!
High alpine meadows and scree slopes are dominant on the top and produce fantastic birds such as Tibetan Snowcock,
Snow Partridge, Brandt's and Plain Mountain Finch, Red-fronted Rosefinch, Grandala etc. The lower meadows near the tree line (3900m)
give Wood Snipe, White Eared Pheasant, Chinese Monal and Koklass Pheasant. But also Crested Tit Warbler, Kessler's and Chestnut Thrush,
Grey-headed Bullfinch, White-winged and Collared Grosbeak or Lammergeier belong to the long list of birds at Balang Mountain.
Furthermore, rare mammals such as Argali, Blue Sheep or Musk Deer roam around and sometimes can be caught with a decent telescope.
The Mengtun Valley lies in Lixian County in Aba (Ngawa) Prefecture. It belongs to the Gyarong Tibetan tealm:
Between deep valleys (<2000m asl) and snow capped mountains (>5000m asl) this long and undeveloped valley features a
huge spectrum of habitats and sceneries. The climate is arid and warm in the valley bottoms. However, vegetation
changes gradually with rising altitude: conifers and rhododendron follow temperate scrubland and deciduous forest.
Above the tree line, steep rock walls separate the patches of pastures. Glaciers cover the mountain tips.
You can find all four seasons in only one small area!
From Chengdu downtown it takes ca 3h to Wenchuan County Town. The newly build highway was destroyed in the 2008
earthquake - two months after its opening. Now, the rebuild version is even wider and faster. In Wenchuan the road splits into
the national road (G 213) to Songpan and Jiuzhaigou and into the west up the Zagunao River Valley to Lixian and Barkam (Ma’erkang) (G 317).
From this junction it is another 1 1/2h drive via Xuecheng Town up the Mengtun Valley.
Alpine scenery, dense forests, rushing streams and green pastures make it a perfect area for a holiday trip. The visitor has abundant
options of hiking, birding, mountain-biking, relaxing, mountaineering, climbing or just travelling from one Tibetan village to the next.
Good quality homestays in the mountain villages offer adquate accommodation and decent food. Free camping sites can be
found near the many wild streams or on the pastures.
Mengtun not only serves as birding spot for dedicated bird watchers. It also is a great place for
families who want to spend their holidays within an enchanting natural and cultural environment.
Here you can escape expensive entry-ticketing and crowded tourist rip-off spots.
The highest peak around is sited at the end of Laojun Valley: Mt. Xuelongbao. With its 5355m ‘loaf shaped’ top
it attracts a good number of alpinists year by year.
Due to steep ice walls, after all, you need to prepare a smaller expedition including base camp and porters.
Mengtun Valley stretches for about 35km in length and connects many promising birding sites. Some are accessible by car,
others, such as high altitude lakes (for Chinese Monal) or rhododendron slopes only on foot. Common bird species include:
Golden Pheasant, Chinese Monal, Temminck's Tragopan, Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Kessler's Thrush, Scaly Thrush,
Spectacled and Three-toed Parrotbill, Himalayan (White-tailed) Rubythroat, Sooty Tit, Spotted Nutcracker and many more.
The town Moxi, originally a smallpox colony during imperial China, is nicely sited at the lowest
tip of a huge moraine at the east face of the Mt. Minya Konka Mountain Range. Until recently it has
been a neat old mountain town where people of different ethnic groups have been living together.
Unfortunately, this little town has been turning into a booming tourist resort since beginning of 2000,
with focus on mass-tourism catering. Nevertheless, the majestic Minya Konka features stunning high
alpine scenery with hot springs, glaciers which reach down into subtropical (!)
forest and interesting wildlife and birds.
The main valley - Moxi Valley – stretches northwards all along the eastern side of the mountain range.
It ends up at the Xuemen Kan Pass (3950m) which separates it from the Darzedo Valley and Kangding.
The Hailuo (=Conch), Yanzi (=Swallow) and Nanmenguan (Southgate) Valleys split from the Moxi Valley and lead straight
into the mountain massive. Hailuo and Yanzi Valley have been developed into mass-tourism attractions with entry tickets,
cable car, bus service, entertainment, etc.
Busses into Hailuo Gou and Yanzi Gou depart from Moxi; private cars are not admitted.
With the transport system it is possible to do a one day in-and-out trip into each of the valleys respectively.
However, it is also possible to stay for longer and overnight in one of the hotels along the road
(in Hailuo Gou called Camp Three and Four). The cable car in Hailuo Gou enables guests to cross the lower section of the
glacier (from 2900m – 3500m). In Yanzi Valley, a massive flood in 2010 flushed all facilities away, and made re-development
necessary. An even bigger road was set up the same year and a cable car was in discussion.
Camping is tolerated in both valleys, but usually park staff wants guests to stay in more 'decent' accommodation.
(This way they don't have to organize search parties for lost tourists.)
Bird watching is great in almost all sections of the main valley and its side valleys.
However, you'll have to know the crucial spots to get the right bird. Amongst the highlights are:
Lady Amherst's Pheasant, Tibetan Snow Cock, Chinese Monal, Pere David's Owl, Brown Hawk Owl / Northern Boobook, Black-capped Kingfisher,
Darjeeling, Crimson-breasted and Bay Woodpecker, Tiger Shrike, Grey-backed Shrike, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Grandala,
Chestnut-headed Tesia, White-browed Shortwing, Streaked Barwing, Pere David's Tit, Grey-headed, Brown and Spot-breasted Parrotbill,
Mrs. Gould's Sunbird, etc.