Hainan 海南

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Offering at least two endemics, as well as a large number of endemic subspecies, this island has a great deal to attract the enterprising birder, especially the tropical enthusiast interested in travelling where few foreign birders have ventured. The island is now much better surveyed than in the past and probably attracts more ornithological study than any other province in south-east China. Nevertheless, the appeal of more discoveries combined with the province’s distinctive charm should place Hainan on any China birder’s list of places to visit.
The species list for the province is now around 415, reflecting the tropical maritime position combined with some good mountainous forest reserves. It is under-surveyed though, and there are many migrants not recorded that should occur on passage.


Key Species

The number of endemic species recognised for Hainan is not clearly agreed by all authorities. All agree on Hainan Partridge and Hainan Leaf Warbler. Hainan Peacock Pheasant is still not universally accepted as a distinct species. There are a number of other potential splits. White-eared Night Heron breeds on Hainan though there are no known sites at present. The recently named Rufous-cheeked Laughingthrush, a split from Grey Laughingthrush, occurs in China only in Hainan. Yellow-billed Nuthatch is also restricted in China to Hainan. Other rare species in Hainan that are greatly restricted in China include Black-backed Kingfisher and Germain’s Swiftlet (which breeds in Hainan only on the island of Dazhou off the south-west coast).
Several species have recently been re-discovered on the island. Pale-capped Pigeon (which had not been recorded since 1963) and Blyth’s Kingfisher were both found on the first ornithological survey of the recently established reserve at Ying Ge Ling. The Hainan endemic subspecies of Orange-breasted and Thick-billed Pigeons had also not been recorded for many years on Hainan, and their preferred lowland habitat is greatly depleted on the island. Thankfully, the KFBG surveys have recorded both of these species in the last few years. Lesser Fish Eagle was also presumed to be locally extinct as a winter visitor but an individual was seen in December 2003 at Song Tao reservoir in central Hainan.
However, there remain several species which have not been seen for several decades, and may now be extinct on Hainan, including Rufous-bellied Eagle, Red-breasted Parakeet, River Lapwing and Great Thick-knee.
In addition, the status of certain species of owls is unclear, including Oriental Scops and Tawny Fish Owls, both of which are uncertainly recorded from Hainan. The recently split Himalayan Wood Owl is considered to be resident on the island, but voice recordings made in the course of researching this book suggest that in fact the species occurring on the island is Brown Wood Owl. Black-faced Spoonbill has been recorded at Dong Zhai Gang and recently a group of 51 were seen near Dongfang 东方on the west coast.



With at least 62 reserves the choice of places to visit seems initially bewildering. However a number of these reserves are to protect coral reefs, and a number of the others are very small or degraded satellite areas to larger better reserves. This leaves about 20 more interesting reserves which are discussed in this chapter. Some of these reserves are very good – Ying Ge Ling for example has been described as holding the best tropical rainforest in China outside Xishuangbanna in Yunnan. Ba Wang Ling is at least as good, if not better.


Geography of the Province

The island’s highest mountains reach above 1800m and are concentrated in the south-west. In total there are around 80 peaks over 1000m high. However, most of the island is a low basalt plateau, though there are some volcanic cones in the north. The population is around five million, including some significant minority groups (Li – 700,000, and Miao 40,000).


Habitat and Vegetation

Most of the low-lying parts of the island were originally covered in tropical evergreen rainforest with typical tree species including Vatica astroticha, Hopea hainanensis and Tarrieta parvifolia. The majority of this forest has now been replaced by plantations of rubber, in particular, but also oil palm, coffee, cocoa and coconut. As a result the endemic tree species are now rare and reserves have been established to protect the Vatica species.
On the south-west hill slopes where the climate is hotter and drier there is some savannah-type habitat. Da Tian is a good example of this type.
Most of the hill forest reserves are composed of sub-montane rainforest and evergreen broadleaf forest with Castanopsis and Lithocarpus predominating in the higher areas. Above 1600m there are small areas of dwarf mossy forests.
Around the coast there are several extensive areas of mangroves.


Most people arrive by flying into Haikou 海口, the capital, in the north of the island. There are also flights into the resort town of Sanya 三亚 in the south-west, and this may well be the best option for the birder since most reserves are concentrated in the south. There are ferries from the southern tip of the Leizhou peninsula 雷州 to Haikou and there may still be boats running from Hong Kong, though these are slow. 






Provincial atlases are readily available.