Wolong is a famous Giant Panda reserve area that’s situated west of Chengdu. Continuing west the road passes over Balang, a mountain in the Qionglai Range of the Hengduan Mountains. Birding this area takes you from bellow the 2000m mark up to a massive 4500m.
Golden Pheasant, Temminck’s Tragopan, Black-browed Tit, Sooty Tit, Three-toed Parrotbill (Wuyipeng), Brown Parrotbill (Wuyipeng), Golden-breasted Fulvetta (Wuyipeng), Barred Laughingthrush, Spotted Laughingthrush (Wuyipeng), Indian Blue, Robin Firethroat, Kloss’s Leaf Warbler, Marten’s Warbler, Slaty Bunting, Yellow-throated Bunting
Chinese Monal, Blood Pheasant, Golden Pheasant, Temminck’s Tragopan, Koklas Pheasant, White-eared Pheasant, Chestnut-throated Partridge, Tibetan Snowcock, Snow Partridge, Wood Snipe, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Black-browed Tit, Wallcreeper, Grandala, Kessler’s Thrush, Long-tailed Thrush, Plain-backed Thrush, Blue-fronted Redstart, White-throated Redstart,Golden Bush Robin, White-browed Bush Robin, Indian Blue Robin, Firethroat, Himalayan Rubythroat, White-browed Tit Warbler, Crested Tit Warbler, Alpine Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Leaf Warbler, Buff-throated Warbler, Buff-barred Warbler, Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Bianchi’s Warbler, Great Parrotbill, Chinese Babax, Eliots Laughingthrush, Giant Laughingthrush. Barred Laughingthrush, Chinese Fulvetta, White-browed Fulvetta, Grey-hooded Fulvetta, Alpine Accentor, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Maroon-backed Accentor, Rosy Pipit, Brandt's Mountain Finch, Plain Mountain Finch, Red-faced Rosefinch, Striated Rosefinch, Sharpe's Rosefinch, Pink-rumped Rosefinch, Dark-breasted Rosefinch, White-browed Rosefinch, Crimson-browed Finch,
The Wolong area was very close the epi-centre of the massive 2008, Sichuan earthquake and part of the road connecting the area to Chengdu is still, in 2015, under construction. A road trip from Chengdu, 40km’s of which is still rough track, will, depending on weather and traffic conditions, normally take around 4 hours. During heavy rain, particularly during the late-summer wet season, the road can be closed with flooding or landslide. A new road should be finished by autumn 2016 and should reduce travel time by at least an hour. The road from Wolong up onto Balang is in good condition, but during winter the road is closed for night traffic and has an 8.30 morning opening, which can hamper dawn gamebird watching.
Birding the Wolong area
The secondary forest and plantation on the valley slopes that border Wolong offer good Golden Pheasant, Firethroat, Indian Blue Robin, Chinese Leaf Warbler, Slaty Bunting, Chinese Babax and Barred Laughinthrush habitat. A good birding area can be found at the back of Lama Monastery, which is well sign-posted just a couple km on the road N out of Wolong Village.
A little further down the road and on the opposite side of the valley lies the famous Wuyipeng Reserve. Here there’s a lot of good bamboo habitat and Golden Pheasant, Temminck’s Tragopan, Firethroat, Indian Blue Robin, Golden-breasted Fulvetta and Barred and Spotted Laughingthrush can be found. The path up to reserve takes around 2 hours of steep climb, but has recently been improved. However you are officially required to have a, Chengdu issued, permit to enter this area, and most of Wuyipeng’s birds can also be found in more accessible parts of the Wolong/Balang area.
The steep winding road that takes you up onto Balang rises through mixed forest of the lower valley into sub-alpine conifer, through to Yak pasture and eventually into a harsh alpine habitat of rocky ridge tops and scree. Birds that characterize these zones include Chinese Monal, White-eared Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Chestnut-throated Partridge, Giant Laughingthrush, Firethroat, Golden Bush Robin, Chinese White-browed Rosefinch, Pink-rumped Rosefinch, Sharpe's Rosefinch, Dark Breasted Rosefinch, Common Rosefinch, Sichuan Tit, Himalayan Rubythroat, White-browed Tit Warbler and Kessler’s Thrush. Near the top we find Tibetan Snowcock, Snow Partridge, Grandala, Alpine Accentor, Brandt’s and Plain Mountain Finches, and Red-fronted Rosefinch.
Lammergeiers and Himalayan Griffons are a regular sight in this area.
The biggest Balang birding problem can be the weather. If there’s low cloud and mist birding is very difficult. The Chinese Monal site on the Wolong side of the pass is often covered in cloud, which is often an obstacle to finding these birds.
Effective Balang birding means you have a lot of road to cover - some form of transport is essential.
The local tourist industry still hasn’t fully recovered from the 2008 quake and the hotels in the area are not really geared for high quality accommodation. But there are many simple guest houses with a couple of hotels providing adequate rooms with western style toilets and hot showers. .
Rilong, on the western side of the pass, also offers hotels, but at over 3000m, visitors, arriving directly from Chengdu, may suffer the effects of altitude. Wolong is bellow 2000m and makes the perfect base – with birding high and sleeping low – for acclimatizing to altitude.