17 Feb 2018

Tangjiahe NNR in Sichuan - a February flying visit

Takin - Budorcas taxicolor
Just before Lunar New Year, (10th - 14th February 2018) we had five-day break to visit Tangjiahe, a Chinese National Nature Reserve on Sichuan’s border with Gansu.

The American Zoologist Dr. George Schaller spent a year at Tangjiahe in 1984/5, and wrote about it in his book “The Last Panda”.

Brief summer visits were made by Jemi and I in 2005 and 2009, and I had spent a couple of nights there in November 2006. Winter time had looked promising for mammal viewing.

On this trip, our first and last days (including flying to and from Chengdu) were “travel” days, so we only had three days inside the Reserve. 

Tangjiahe National Nature Reserve, Sichuan

Bird and mammal viewing was mostly done from the roads at the bottom of the steep-sided river valleys. Temperatures were below freezing at night, and rose only to single figures during the day, despite weak sunshine. There were patches of snow in wooded gullies and icicles in the river.

First, some "river birds"...

Crested Kingfisher - Megaceryle lugubris

White-throated Dipper - Cinclus cinclus
White-throated Dipper - Cinclus cinclus

White-crowned Forktail - Enicurus leschenaulti
Many of the birds were encountered in fast-moving mixed flocks, but the hazy sunshine and it’s reflections were good for photography. As usual, most shots are quite heavily cropped, though.

David's Fulvetta - Alcippe davidi

Coal Tit - Periparus ater

Red-billed Leiothrix - Leiothrix lutea

Hodgson's Treecreeper - Certhia hodgsoni
Rufous-faced Warbler - Abroscopus albogularis

Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europea (sinensis)

Crimson-breasted Woodpecker - Dendrocopus cathpharius
We encountered two Chinese Endemic specialties of the area, Slaty Bunting….

Slaty Bunting - Emberiza seimsseni (m)

Slaty Bunting - Emberiza seimsseni (f)

….. and Golden Pheasant

Golden Pheasant - Chrysolophus pictus

Golden Pheasant - Chrysolophus pictus

After "spectacular" I run out of adjectives !

Tangjiahe is famously a good place to view mammals, and the late-winter lack of leaf coverage meant that the animals were easily sighted. If they thought they were safe across the river from us - like this Takin - then we really had prolonged views. This gave us lots of time to try to line up photos with as few branches in the way as possible.

Takin - Budorcas taxicolor

There were several other mammals encountered here and there -

Reeve's Muntjac - Muntiacus reevesi

Reeve's Muntjac - Muntiacus reevesi

Tufted Deer - Elaphodus cephalophus

Tufted Deer - Elaphodus cephalophus

Tufted Deer - Elaphodus cephalophus

Chinese Serow - Capricornis milneedwardsi

Chinese Serow - Capricornis milneedwardsi

Tibetan Macaque - Macaca thibetana

Tibetan Macaque - Macaca thibetana

On our final afternoon we checked the road towards Motianling for otters in the river below us. There were no otters, but the first members of the group found a single Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey close to the road.  Dawdling at the back, I missed it. This photo was taken by Carrie Ma.

Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey - Rhinopithecus roxellana

Accommodation at Tangjiahe had been fine on our earlier trips, but we found this time that it had really gone upmarket. The important thing, though, was that the food was still good, the electric blankets worked and there was hot water in the shower.

Our last night in Sichuan was spent near the museum at SanXingDui, where we added a few waterfowl on the nearby river to our bird count. We were surprised at the sight of people using cormorants to fish. 

This practice is tough on the cormorants of course, but it was unusual to see this now-rare mode of fishing, especially on the outskirts of one of modern China’s major cities.

An early afternoon flight took us back to Hong Kong with indelible memories of Tangjiahe's wildlife.  

Many Thanks to Carrie Ma for organising the trip.


  1. Great series, John, and a memorable trip I am sure, but I think that your White-throated Dipper is a Brown Dipper.

  2. Hi David - Many of the "White-throated" Dippers did not have a whitish throat, but (I've added another shot to make it clearer) I'm confident they were the Chinese race of Cinclus cinclus - there is greyish on the wings and tail. Brown Dipper should be fairly uniform above.

    1. Thanks for this, John. I live and learn! In "Wrens, Dippers and Thrashers" (2001) by David Brewer, illustrated by Barry Kent MacKay, there is a listed subspecies: Cinclus cinclus przewalski, described as .....belly wholly dark; in some parts of western China a dark-chested morph occurs. Thanks for adding the second picture.

  3. Wow some weird looking deer there John............

    1. ...and Serow used to be categorised as a "Goat-Antelope" !