Ronald Reagan once said that “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” When starting a birding tour, which words by your tour guide can have a similarly terrifying effect? For my money, the question “Do you like music” is a strong contender.

What to do when faced with this question, if the urge to start the birding trip is stronger than the initial reflex to run away? I am not sure there is a good answer to the question above. Of course, you can just recklessly say that you like music – but that would be foolish and almost guarantees you will have to listen to a mix of local folk music (preferably modernized by some electropop elements) and Celine Dion. Or you can say no – probably the better option, though (at least in my case) definitely a lie. The third option – to play dead – is the one most likely to be shown in a Gary Larson cartoon, but still somewhat impractical given the occasional need for interaction during the course of your birding trip.

Interestingly, it seems that Jonathan Slaght, when searching for Blakiston’s Fish Owl in remote parts of Russia, had similar experiences, as described in his book:

“Katkov filled our commutes with loud music. He was particularly fond of a mixtape of Russian songs dominated by wolf-related themes, which we listened to exclusively for the first week. Eventually, I tired of this and began to poke around the glove compartment for other options, but there were few. It turned out that growling, protracted howls, and lyrics like “You may think I’m a dog, but really I’m a wolf” become tolerable when the alternatives are dance remixes of the Carpenters’ love ballads.” (“Owls of the Eastern Ice”, Jonathan C. Slaght).

Anyway. Gonggangling Pass is a mountain pass with an altitude of about 3600 meters – it is on the road between the beautiful but extremely crowded Jiuzhaigou Valley in Sichuan and the rather less beautiful Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport.

The main reason to come here was to get another chance of getting a halfway decent photo of Crested Tit-warbler, something I had failed to achieve at Mengbishan a few days earlier. Indeed, I fared a bit better this time.

A juvenile Crested Tit-Warbler

Of course, the secret to being seen as a competent bird photographer is to never let people see the vast majority of photos you take. Unfortunately, sometimes this strategy fails, when even the best two out of 100 photos of a species still are not very good. I present to you: Chinese Fulvetta.

A White-throated Redstart gave me an easier time. It is more attractive anyway, don’t you agree? (though usually, I am the kind of person who, when asked whether the glass is half full or half empty, tends to reply “there is no glass”)

Long-tailed Minivets come in two flavors – this here is the orange one (male)

Also around here: Hodgson’s Treecreeper

… and Tibetan Serin

From Gonggangling Pass, it takes about 6 hours to drive to Dujiangyan, also in Sichuan. This place is the location of an ancient irrigation system that today is responsible not only for irrigating parts of the Sichuan basin but also for nurturing the local tourist industry.

Instead of inspecting these works (which I had already seen on an earlier trip to Sichuan – the good thing about staying in a country for a long time is that you have already seen most major sights and thus can focus on the fun things), I took photos of Ms. Gould’s Sunbird

Blue Whistling Thrush

Red-billed Leiothrix

and the most exciting local bird for me here, the Spot-breasted Parrotbill.

“Do you like music?”

Note: This trip was made with Alpinebirding, a Chinese tour company with very knowledgeable, English-speaking, and friendly guides – highly recommended to overseas birders despite the occasional question regarding music appreciation. See my report on Tripadvisor if interested.



Written by Kai Pflug
Kai Pflug has been living in Shanghai for 20 years. He only became interested in birds in China – so he is much more familiar with birds in China than with those in Germany. While he will only ever be an average birder, he aims to be a good bird photographer and has created a website with bird photos as proof. He hopes not too many clients of his consulting company read this blog, as they will doubt his dedication to providing consulting services related to China`s chemical industry. Whenever he wants to shock other birders, he tells them his (indoor) cats can distinguish several warblers by taste.