Day 287: Off the Beaten Path at 10,000 Feet

Noah breaks away from the crowd—and so do the birds.

October 14, 2015: Dujiangyan, China  Sid and I returned to Mount Emei this morning and, unlike yesterday, we were waved through the entrance gate when we arrived. Today’s mission was to bird the mountain’s high elevations.

Emei is just over 10,000 feet tall and is one of the four most sacred Buddhist peaks in China. At the top are several temples and monasteries amid an incredibly scenic landscape, above a layer of clouds and surrounded by fall foliage. It’s a popular spot to watch the sunrise but you must get up early. To ascend the last couple of kilometers you have to either walk a stone staircase or, as most people do, take a high-speed cable car. We looked at the stairs today and realized the climb would take hours, and lined up for the cable car with the other tourists.

The place was cheek-to-jowl crowded! Mount Emei is one of China’s most popular summer destinations and thousands of people visit every day, almost all from China. Among the hordes, I couldn’t spot a single other foreign-looking person. It seems, of all the masses of people on Mount Emei this morning, that I made the longest pilgrimage.

Most visitors head straight for the so-called Golden Summit, an enormous 660-ton golden Buddha statue which faces 10 directions from the peak, but my quest was a bit different. Just before the Golden Summit, Sid and I ducked through a hedge to reach an abandoned monorail station in the forest. This old monorail line, which carves a loop through the surrounding area, gives the best access away from the crowds on Mount Emei, and we spent the next three hours slowly walking along it with the place to ourselves.

Birders don’t visit this spot very often because of difficult access. Spring is the best season for bird activity here, so Sid and I weren’t sure what to expect. Right away, a Chestnut-crowned Bush-Warbler popped upa rare bird in Sichuan and a sweet lifer for me. Some flocks kept us busy for a while, then Sid spotted a Gray-hooded Parrotbill, a species which is only known from about five mountaintop sites, all in this part of China. Good birds!

New birds today: 8

Year list: 4819

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