Michael Grunwell (L) carries spotting scope to view waterfowl on Eling Lake, near the source of the Yellow River in Guoluo Prefecture, Qinghai 3 July 2016. To the right is Mark Waters, Michael's old friend from England. In the background is our rented Mitsubishi Pajero. Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du were in Qinghai from 26 June to 21 August 2016. We spent the first two weeks of our expedition with Michael and Mark and noted 136 species. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6.

Qinghai, June-August 2016

Qinghai, June-August 2016
By Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du
www.craigbrelsford.com
www.shanghaibirding.com
info@craigbrelsford.com
Latest update: 2017-03-21
© 2016-2017 by Craig Brelsford

“Qinghai, June-August 2016” contains six parts. This is Part 1.

Part 1: Weeks 1 & 2
Part 2: Weeks 3 & 4
Part 3: Weeks 5 & 6
Part 4: Week 7
Part 5: Week 8
Part 6: Facts & Figures

“Qinghai, June-August 2016” is part of a series on Craig Brelsford’s birding trips in Qinghai. Other reports in the series:

Qinghai & Gansu, July 2014
Qinghai, July-August 2013

Who Are We?

Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Eling Lake, Qinghai, 3 July 2016.
Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford, Eling Lake, Qinghai, 3 July 2016.

Craig Brelsford lives in Shanghai, where he runs craigbrelsford.com and shanghaibirding.com while studying Chinese at the Shanghai University of Engineering Sciences. Craig is from Florida in the United States. Elaine Du’s Chinese name is Dù Lián Róng (杜连荣). Elaine is from Heilongjiang, China and lives in Shanghai. Elaine has a master’s degree in food science and engineering from the Harbin Institute of Technology.

Reach us at info@craigbrelsford.com. Call or text Craig at +86 158-2169-8624.

INTRODUCTION: A SUMMER IN QINGHAI

Map of Qinghai showing the eight prefectural-level divisions. With just 5.6 million inhabitants in an area larger than Texas, Qinghai is a vast, sparsely populated province. Map courtesy Wikipedia.
A province in NW China, Qinghai is three times larger than the United Kingdom and slightly larger than Texas. The Yellow, Yangtze, and Mekong rivers rise in the sparsely populated province, which lies almost entirely on the Tibetan Plateau. From 26 June to 21 Aug. 2016, Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford explored this vast domain, birding in seven of the eight prefectures and finding 195 bird species. Map courtesy Wikipedia; customized by Craig Brelsford.

Elaine Du and I birded Qinghai from 26 June to 21 Aug. 2016. We noted 195 species of bird, but the highlight was a mammal: Tibetan Lynx in Yushu Prefecture on 14 July. We spent the first month with Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén, covering the eastern and southern parts of the vast province. We noted Tibetan Plateau birds such as White Eared Pheasant, Ibisbill, Black-necked Crane, White-browed Tit, Grandala, Przevalski’s Redstart, and Red-fronted Rosefinch. In the second month Elaine and I explored northern Qinghai, discovering at previously unknown locations Tibetan Snowcock, Przevalski’s Partridge, Tibetan Sandgrouse, and Gansu Leaf Warbler. I became one of the few foreign birders to visit remote Hala Lake (38.267875, 97.575430), where we recorded Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, and Lake Xiligou (36.838594, 98.462896), where we found Mongolian Goitered Gazelle. At a site in the Dulan Mountains, Elaine and I spied a trio of Tibetan Wolf. The 57-day expedition saw us drive 8054 km (5,005 miles) and visit seven of the eight prefectures of Qinghai.

BIRDS NOTED IN QINGHAI, 26 JUNE-21 AUGUST 2016 (195 SPECIES)

Tibetan Partridge, 5 July 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae inhabit the grounds of Kanda Nunnery (32.291641, 96.512173) in Nangqian County. We found Tibetan Partridge at Baizha Nature Reserve (31.882305, 96.556738), also in Nangqian County, as well as along the X308 on both sides of Dagela Pass (32.514573, 97.209993). I took this photo on 5 July 2016 at the nunnery.

Greylag Goose
Bar-headed Goose
Mute Swan
Ruddy Shelduck
Common Shelduck
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Garganey
Red-crested Pochard
Common Pochard
Ferruginous Duck
Tufted Duck
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Przevalski’s Partridge
Tibetan Snowcock
Common Pheasant
White Eared Pheasant
Tibetan Partridge
Great Crested Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Black Stork
Great Cormorant
Grey Heron
Great Egret
Eastern Cattle Egret
Bearded Vulture
Himalayan Vulture
Steppe Eagle
Golden Eagle
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Northern Goshawk
Black Kite
Himalayan Buzzard
Upland Buzzard
Water Rail
Eurasian Coot
Black-necked Crane
Black-winged Stilt
Pied Avocet
Ibisbill
Grey Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Kentish Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Whimbrel
Black-tailed Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Curlew Sandpiper
Temminck’s Stint
Little Stint
Common Sandpiper
Common Greenshank
Wood Sandpiper
Common Redshank
Brown-headed Gull
Pallas’s Gull
Common Tern
Tibetan Sandgrouse
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove)
Hill Pigeon
Snow Pigeon
Oriental Turtle Dove
Eurasian Collared Dove
Spotted Dove
Common Cuckoo
Eurasian Eagle-Owl
Little Owl
Common Swift
Salim Ali’s Swift
Eurasian Hoopoe
Eurasian Wryneck
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker
Black Woodpecker
Grey-headed Woodpecker
Common Kestrel
Eurasian Hobby
Saker Falcon
Long-tailed Minivet
Tiger Shrike
Isabelline Shrike
Grey-backed Shrike
Chinese Grey Shrike
Black Drongo
Azure-winged Magpie
Eurasian Magpie
Henderson’s Ground Jay
Red-billed Chough
Alpine Chough
Daurian Jackdaw
Carrion Crow
Large-billed Crow
Northern Raven
Horned Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Hume’s Short-toed Lark
Tibetan Lark
Mongolian Lark
Asian Short-toed Lark
Oriental Skylark
Crested Lark
Pale Martin
Eurasian Crag Martin
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Asian House Martin
Rufous-vented Tit
Grey Crested Tit
White-browed Tit
Willow Tit
Sichuan Tit
Ground Tit
Japanese Tit
White-browed Tit-Warbler
Dusky Warbler
Alpine Leaf Warbler
Yellow-streaked Warbler
Buff-barred Warbler
Gansu Leaf Warbler
Lemon-rumped Warbler
Sichuan Leaf Warbler
Greenish Warbler
Large-billed Leaf Warbler
Desert Whitethroat
Tarim Babbler
Giant Laughingthrush
Plain Laughingthrush
Tibetan Babax
Elliot’s Laughingthrush
Eurasian Wren
Chinese Nuthatch
Wallcreeper
Eurasian Treecreeper
Chestnut Thrush
Kessler’s Thrush
Chinese Thrush
Dark-sided Flycatcher

Siberian Rubythroat
White-tailed Rubythroat
Grandala
Slaty-backed Flycatcher
Blue-fronted Redstart
Plumbeous Water Redstart
White-capped Redstart
Przevalski’s Redstart
Hodgson’s Redstart
White-throated Redstart
Güldenstädt’s Redstart
Black Redstart
Common Rock Thrush
Siberian Stonechat
Desert Wheatear
Isabelline Wheatear
White-throated Dipper
Brown Dipper
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Henri’s Snowfinch
Tibetan Snowfinch
White-rumped Snowfinch
Pere David’s Snowfinch
Rufous-necked Snowfinch
Blanford’s Snowfinch
Alpine Accentor
Robin Accentor
Rufous-breasted Accentor
Brown Accentor
Maroon-backed Accentor
Citrine Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Richard’s Pipit
Rosy Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit
Water Pipit
Przevalski’s Finch
Plain Mountain Finch
Brandt’s Mountain Finch
Grey-headed Bullfinch
Blanford’s Rosefinch
Common Rosefinch
Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch
Pink-rumped Rosefinch
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch
Tibetan Rosefinch
Streaked Rosefinch
Great Rosefinch
Red-fronted Rosefinch
Grey-capped Greenfinch
Twite
White-winged Grosbeak
Pine Bunting
Tibetan Bunting
Godlewski’s Bunting

MAMMALS

Glover's Pika, Yushu Prefecture, 4 July 2016.
We noted Glover’s Pika Ochotona gloveri in Nangqian County and Yushu County in southern Qinghai. I photographed this individual on 4 July 2016 near Yushu-Jiegu at an elevation of 3700 m. Glover’s Pika is endemic to the eastern Tibetan Plateau.

Tibetan Macaque
Plateau Pika
Glover’s Pika
Woolly Hare
Himalayan Marmot
Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa
Chinese Zokor
Bactrian Camel
Siberian Roe Deer
Sichuan Deer
White-lipped Deer
Blue Sheep
Tibetan Gazelle
Mongolian Goitered Gazelle
Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang)
Pallas’s Cat
Tibetan Lynx
Tibetan Wolf
Red Fox
Tibetan Fox
Mountain Weasel

THE FIRST TWO WEEKS

L-R: Mark Waters, Michael Grunwell, and Elaine Du watching Himalayan Vulture at sunset on 3 July 2016 in Maduo County, Qinghai. Yellow River just visible at their feet. As soon as the sun set on 3 July, our team turned its attention to the heavens, enjoying in the clear Tibetan Plateau air stunning views of the Milky Way, the rings of Saturn, and the moons of Jupiter. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6.
Mark Waters (L), Michael Grunwell (C), and Elaine Du watch Himalayan Vulture at sunset on 3 July 2016 in Maduo County. The Yellow River is visible at their feet.

Elaine Du and I spent the first two weeks of the Qinghai trip, 26 June to 10 July, with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and his old friend Mark Waters. We covered a vast area, ranging from Huzhu County on the Gansu border in northeast Qinghai to Ga’er Monastery (31.829966, 96.487758) in southern Qinghai, near the border with Tibet.

Among the 136 species of bird we found were 40 of Michael’s 45 hoped-for lifers. Highlights:

2 Red-crested Pochard at Eling Lake (34.902685, 97.709949), near source of Yellow River

226 Common Merganser at Eling Lake

1 Przevalski’s Partridge at “Przevalski’s Site” (36.457249, 98.502578), a birding area in the Dulan Mountains

7 Tibetan Partridge at nunnery (32.291641, 96.512173) in Kanda Gorge, at mouth of Kanda Gorge (32.277059, 96.485171), and along Mekong (Zaqu) River

8 White Eared Pheasant in Kanda Gorge (32.314561, 96.624807) and at Baizha Nature Reserve (31.966314, 96.535097)

A pair of White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani pause from their evening forage to gaze warily at the camera. Kanda Gorge, Nangqian County, 5 July 2016. Elev. 3980 m. White Eared Pheasant is listed as Near Threatened because of habitat loss and poaching. In Kanda Gorge, the species seems to be doing well. This pair was feeding in the open next to the road.
White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani pause from their evening forage to gaze warily at the camera. Kanda Gorge, Nangqian County, 5 July. White Eared Pheasant is listed as Near Threatened because of habitat loss and poaching.

5 Golden Eagle noted at various places

6 Black-necked Crane at Qinghai Lake (36.877808, 100.228673) and in Maduo County

26 Lesser Sand Plover ssp. atrifrons breeding on edges of high-altitude lakes as well as in drier steppe country

5 Ibisbill on tributaries of Mekong River in Nangqian County

One of the stars of the Tibetan Plateau, Ibisbill is the sole species in the family Ibidorhynchidae. This highly specialized shorebird is adapted to life along shingle-bed rivers at elevations between 2000 m and 4400 m. We found this pair in Yushu Prefecture in a stream next to the G214 at 4020 masl.
One of the stars of the Tibetan Plateau, Ibisbill is the sole species in the family Ibidorhynchidae. This highly specialized shorebird is adapted to life along shingle-bed rivers at elevations between 2000 m and 4400 m. We found this pair in Yushu Prefecture in a stream next to the G214 at 4020 masl.

21 Common Cuckoo and 7 Cuculus sp. We noted calling Common Cuckoo at elevations as high as 4300 m

1 Black Woodpecker at Baizha Nature Reserve. Black Woodpecker is one of several species whose ranges cover northern-temperate Eurasia in a band from Europe to northeast China then spur southwestward to the Tibetan Plateau

1 Tiger Shrike at entrance to Kanda Gorge (32.277059, 96.485171). A highly unusual Qinghai record for this species

This male Tiger Shrike stunned us. What was a mainly lowland species, usually found at altitudes no higher than 1000 m and no further W than the Sichuan Basin, doing at 3670 masl in Qinghai?
This male Tiger Shrike stunned us. What was a mainly lowland species, usually found at altitudes no higher than 1000 m and no further west than the Sichuan Basin, doing at 3670 masl in Qinghai?

1 Black Drongo, another interesting record for Qinghai

2 Henderson’s Ground Jay in scrub west of Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878)

Henderson's Ground Jay, scrub W of Chaka, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 30 June 2016. F/6.3, 1/6400, ISO 2500.
Henderson’s Ground Jay, scrub W of Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878), 30 June.

1 southern record of Mongolian Lark south of Gonghe-Qiabuqia

2 White-browed Tit in scrub at KM 2189.5 on G109 (36.778749, 99.653861) near Heimahe (36.729239, 99.779524)

16 Sichuan Tit in Kanda Gorge and at Baizha Nature Reserve

7 White-browed Tit-Warbler at my reliable site near Heimahe as well as at Baizha

25 singing Yellow-streaked Warbler in Baizha Nature Reserve as well as in riparian scrub along Mekong River

Yellow-streaked Warbler, Baizha Nature Reserve, 7 July 2016. 3900 masl.
Yellow-streaked Warbler, Baizha Nature Reserve, 7 July.

8 Gansu Leaf Warbler in stand of conifers at 36.973133, 102.441300 in Huzhu County

22 Sichuan Leaf Warbler at Baizha Nature Reserve

29 Greenish Warbler at various sites, including high-altitude scrub

7 Tibetan Babax at nunnery in Kanda Gorge as well as at mouth of gorge

1 Dark-sided Flycatcher at Baizha Nature Reserve

2 Siberian Rubythroat in Huzhu County. This mainly Siberian breeder has a disjunct breeding range extending across northern Qinghai, southern Gansu, and northern Sichuan

5 White-tailed Rubythroat, the Himalayan counterpart to Siberian Rubythroat, in scrub (36.758683, 99.663055) near Heimahe as well as at Yankou Shan (33.199406, 97.466606)

White-tailed Rubythroat in scrub near Heimahe, 29 June 2016. Elev. 3600 m.
White-tailed Rubythroat in scrub (36.758683, 99.663055) near Heimahe, 29 June.

47 Slaty-backed Flycatcher, all at Baizha Nature Reserve

2 Przevalski’s Redstart, colorful China endemic noted at Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578) in Dulan Mountains west of Chaka

Przevalski's Redstart, Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016. Elev. 3820 m. We found a pair, both of which are shown here. Note the all-black tail of the female.
Przevalski’s Redstart, Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578), 1 July. We found a pair. Note all-black tail of female.

76 Hodgson’s Redstart, always in greener, forested areas such as Huzhu County and Baizha Nature Reserve

11 Plumbeous Water Redstart, all at lower elevations at Baizha

109 Black Redstart, a species well-adapted to high-altitude desert, semi-desert, steppe, and scrub

6 Güldenstädt’s Redstart breeding as low as 3800 masl around Heimahe

7 Chestnut Thrush in forests in Huzhu County

107 Kessler’s Thrush at various sites, usually in high-altitude forest and scrub, sometimes around farms and villages

1 Maroon-backed Accentor at Baizha Nature Reserve

3 Przevalski’s Finch at two sites near Heimahe

3 White-winged Grosbeak near Chaka and in Kanda Gorge

2 Blanford’s Rosefinch at Baizha Nature Reserve

2 Tibetan Rosefinch on barren saddle, elev. 4700 m, above Ela Pass (35.497608, 99.511449)

9 Blanford’s Snowfinch in semi-desert and high steppe, sometimes occurring alongside its congener Rufous-necked Snowfinch, which we usually were finding in slightly wetter habitats

This Rufous-necked Snowfinch shows the distinctive head pattern of the species, with black eye-line and submoustachial stripe, white throat, and reddish band on neck-sides. Pyrgilauda ruficollis is a common species of the Tibetan Plateau, with a range nearly perfectly coterminous with the Rooftop of the World. I took this photo 29 June 2016 near Heimahe at an elevation of 3480 m.
This Rufous-necked Snowfinch shows the distinctive head pattern of the species, with black eye-line and submoustachial stripe, white throat, and reddish band on neck-sides. Pyrgilauda ruficollis is common on the Tibetan Plateau, its range nearly perfectly coterminous with the Rooftop of the World. I took this photo 29 June at the base of Tit-Warbler Mountain (36.766994, 99.667711).

13 Henri’s Snowfinch, mainly around Ela Pass

10 Tibetan Snowfinch, including nesting pair at G109 KM 2189.5 (36.778749, 99.653861) near Heimahe

2 Tibetan Bunting at Kanda Pass

11 Pine Bunting at Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578)

A male Pine Bunting sings in the Dulan Mountains W of Chaka, Wulan County, 1 July 2016. Elev. 3820 m. The bunting shown here is a member of ssp. fronto, endemic to N Qinghai and adjacent Gansu. Emberiza leucocephalos fronto is resident in its range, which is disjunct from that of the nominate ssp.
Male Pine Bunting at Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578), 1 July. Emberiza leucocephalos fronto is endemic to N Qinghai and adjacent Gansu.

Mammals: Tibetan Wild Ass (steppe, Maduo County), Pallas’s Cat (night view near Maduo [Machali]), Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa (Maduo [Machali]), Plateau Pika, Glover’s Pika (Yushu [Jiegu], Kanda Gorge, Baizha), Himalayan Marmot, Tibetan Antelope (steppe), Tibetan Fox (steppe, Maduo County), Red Fox (steppe near Qinghai Lake), White-lipped Deer (scrub near Heimahe), Tibetan Macaque (fully wild individuals in Baizha Nature Reserve), Blue Sheep (half-tame herds around Ga’er Monastery [31.829966, 96.487758])

Astronomy: Amazing views of Milky Way, rings of Saturn, and bands of Jupiter as well as Jupiter’s Galilean moons on clear night in steppe near Maduo (Machali), elev. 4200 m. Used my Swarovski ATX-95.

MICHAEL’S FIRST BIG TICK: GANSU LEAF WARBLER

Gansu Leaf Warbler in a stand of conifers at <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/36%C2%B058'23.3%22N+102%C2%B026'28.7%22E/@36.973133,102.4402057,409m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d36.973133!4d102.4413" target="_blank">36.973133, 102.441300</a>, Huzhu County, Qinghai.
Breeding Gansu Leaf Warbler in a stand of conifers at 36.973133, 102.441300 in Huzhu County, 27 June 2016.

On Sun. 26 June 2016, Michael Grunwell, Mark Waters, Elaine Du, and I flew from Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai to Xining Caojiabao Airport. We rented a Mitsubishi Pajero from Shenzhou and drove 200 km to Jiading (36.951698, 102.494353) in Haidong Prefecture. We checked in to the very comfortable Huzhu Yingyuan Hotel (Hùzhù Yíngyuàn Bīnguǎn [互助营苑宾馆], +86 (0) 972-8395288, 320 yuan, 36.951935, 102.480026).

The next morning, Mon. 27 June, in the gardens near the hotel we noted singing Siberian Rubythroat. Juvenile Hodgson’s Redstart were numerous, a Chestnut Thrush was collecting worms, and we found Chinese Nuthatch and Elliot’s Laughingthrush.

After breakfast, driving along the Datong River, we quickly found Michael’s target species, Gansu Leaf Warbler. It was making its easily recognizable trill from the crown of trees near the busy S302. The warbler did not show. Thinking we would find plenty of Gansu Leaf Warbler elsewhere, we drove to Zhalong Gou Scenic Area. There we noted Large-billed Warbler and Greenish Warbler but no more Gansu Leaf Warbler.

We doubled back to the hotel and checked out. We drove northwest on the S302. We enjoyed extended views of Gansu Leaf Warbler in a stand of conifers at 36.973133, 102.441300. At the pass and at the areas below the pass we found Blue-fronted Redstart and heard Chinese White-browed Rosefinch.

A BAGFUL OF LIFE BIRDS AT QINGHAI LAKE

Przewalski's 'Finch' in song, 28 June 2016, KM 2189.5.
Przewalski’s ‘Finch’ in song, scrub near KM 2189.5 (36.778749, 99.653861) on the G109, 28 June.

With Gansu Leaf Warbler now firmly ticked, we drove 330 km to Heimahe, a tourist center on the southwest corner of Qinghai Lake. We checked in to Heima River Business Hotel (Hēimǎhé Shāngwù Bīnguǎn [黑马河商务宾馆], +86 (0) 974-8519377, 188 yuan, 36.722987, 99.784353).

Tues. 28 June was a banner day that saw Michael tick 13 lifers. We awoke at dawn to the sound of Black Redstart singing from the top of a nearby building. Alpine Chough flew over the heads of the crowd of tourists watching the sun rise. We drove west of Heimahe on the G109. Along the way we found Ground Tit and Rock Sparrow nesting in cavities on the wall of a ditch. We stopped at KM 2189.5 (36.778749, 99.653861) on the G109. Among the highlights there were Przevalski’s Finch, White-browed Tit, Tibetan Snowfinch raising young, and three species of accentor: Robin Accentor, Brown Accentor, and Rufous-breasted Accentor.

Rufous-breasted Accentor (top L) and Robin Accentor, KM x, 28 June. These high-country specialists are common on the Tibetan Plateau.
Rufous-breasted Accentor Prunella strophiata (top L) and Robin Accentor P. rubeculoides, KM 2189.5 (36.778749, 99.653861), 28 June. These high-country specialists are common residents of the Tibetan Plateau.

Kessler’s Thrush was singing at the top of the scrub-covered mountain (36.778217, 99.660255). I walked to that point, noting Twite and breeding Siberian Stonechat. Alpine Leaf Warbler were carrying cropfuls of grubs for their young, and Himalayan Vulture made a low flyover. We noted trip-first Upland Buzzard.

The long climb up the scrub-covered hill by KM 2189.5 tired everyone out. We drove back to Heimahe and rested.

In the late afternoon we birded the shore of the great inland sea. We took the G109 to 36.700053, 99.870267 and turned down a dirt track, noting our trip-first Isabelline Wheatear. We stopped and examined the lake at 36.727617, 99.883880. We had 5 Common Goldeneye, the only record of that species for the trip.

We drove along the S206 and were stunned by the thousands of yurts set up to attract tourists. The explosion of tourism along the lake has crowded out many wetland birds. After a long search we finally found a non-breeding pair of Black-necked Crane and Tibetan Lark. (To reach the mini-wetland where we found the crane and lark, leave the S206 for a dirt road at 36.750067, 99.772678. The wetland is at 36.756179, 99.785853.)

TIT-WARBLER MOUNTAIN

On Wed. 29 June our team returned to a spot I had discovered on my first Qinghai trip back in 2013. I call the spot “Tit-Warbler Mountain.” We drove to KM 2187 on the G109 and turned left onto a dirt road at 36.782112, 99.675814. We drove to the end of this dirt road (36.766994, 99.667711). We started walking toward the scrub-covered hill and topped out at the peak at 3620 masl (36.758683, 99.663055). Along the way we found a party of White-browed Tit-Warbler, a splendid male White-tailed Rubythroat, and Przevalski’s Finch. I am now 2 for 2 at that site for White-browed Tit-Warbler.

The rubythroat and tit-warblers were lifers for everyone but me. We also had Robin Accentor and Alpine Leaf Warbler. We failed to note Smoky Warbler and White-browed Tit, species I had noted on that hill in 2013. We found 10 White-lipped Deer, a species we have seen regularly at KM 2189.5 (36.778749, 99.653861) as well as on Tit-Warbler Mountain.

Michael was particularly happy, and everyone was amazed at the panorama of mountain, scrub, and pasture. High clouds softened the intense sun. We could see our Pajero in the valley far below, and in the hazy distance Qinghai Lake was blue, like a sea.

As we were watching the rubythroat, a pair of young Tibetan men arrived. They had seen us in the valley and followed us. One of the pair hardly spoke Mandarin, but the other was fluent, having attended university in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi. As Michael spent two years in Nanchang, we immediately had something to talk about. The young man said he would like to go abroad but cannot, because the Chinese government will not issue passports to young Tibetans. The Qinghai that for me is a paradise of birds and clean air is for this young man a place of restrictions and dilemmas. To be fair, though, one must note that just a few decades ago a university education for a Tibetan would have been unthinkable.

Driving back to Heimahe, we found Common Tern in a pond on the outskirts of town.

Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia, Dashui Reservoir (36.716292, 99.471655), Qinghai, China, 29 June 2016. © 2016 by Craig Brelsford (www.craigbrelsford.com, www.shanghaibirding.com).
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia at nest hole, Dashui Reservoir (36.716292, 99.471655), 29 June.

In the afternoon we drove 22 km to Rubber Mountain Pass (36.754213, 99.606705), elev. 3817 m. Just below the pass we found Güldenstädt’s Redstart, a lifer for everyone in our party but me. We crossed the pass and on the Chaka side soon noted the transition from an alpine to semi-desert environment. The birds were different: Common Rock Thrush, Common Swift, Blanford’s Snowfinch, Desert Wheatear.

Near Dashui Qiao (36.691347, 99.457542), elev. 3370 m, we found a dirt track and pulled onto it. We followed it to Dashui Reservoir (36.716292, 99.471655). The Desert Wheatear, a pair, had chosen a prime spot for their nest, which we discovered in the tall bank of the creek. The mouth of this creek contained a Lesser Sand Plover. For neighbors the wheatear family had nesting Rock Sparrow.

CHAKA AND THE PRZEVALSKI’S PARTRIDGE SITE

Henderson's Ground Jay in flight. Chaka, 30 June 2016.
Henderson’s Ground Jay in flight in scrub W of Chaka, 30 June.

On Thurs. 30 June we drove the 80 km from Heimahe to Chaka. We drove west of Chaka on the G109 and found the area well-known for Henderson’s Ground Jay. One good spot is just past KM 2266 if one is heading west from Chaka. The coordinates are 36.777162, 98.960870. We did not find Henderson’s Ground Jay here, but the habitat is ideal, and very importantly one can drive into the chaparral at this point. The other point, 36.772307, 98.945571, is just before KM 2268 heading west from Chaka. Here we found 2 Henderson’s Ground Jay. One cannot drive off the dangerous G109 at this point. We parked as far off the road as possible. There is no shoulder, and the road is elevated. Cars zoom by.

We found the ground jays in the late afternoon, after rainstorms had cleared the already very clean air. The air was cool and refreshing, the views superb. The Chaka area is the very definition of a basin. Mountains, the higher ones lightly dusted with newly fallen snow, surround the ground-jay spot. The vegetation is old; the woody bushes occupy little clumps of earth created by the holding action of the roots over the decades. The ground jays perch atop the bushes.

PRZEVALSKI’S SITE

Proud and strong, this Chinese Juniper <em>Juniperus chinensis</em> has gazed out at the Dulan Mountains for 200 years. It clings to the slope at elevation 3960 m.
Proud and strong, this Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis has gazed out at the Dulan Mountains for 200 years. It clings to the slope at elevation 3960 m at the location we call Przevalski’s Site.

Fri. 1 July saw us note Przevalski’s Redstart and Pine Bunting. We drove 82.7 km west from Chaka to the turnoff at KM 2335.5 on the G109. We negotiated the dirt road carefully in our high-clearance Pajero. We parked at the entrance to the valley. Nothing had changed since my last visit in 2013. Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis stud the slopes, some of the trees centuries old.

Przevalski’s Partridge did not appear, so I climbed to the ridge, elev. 3990 m. Michael, Mark, and Elaine stood ready below, around the spotting scope. I saw a nesting pair of White-throated Redstart at 3960 m. I reached the ridge and walked into the next valley. I heard a single Przevalski’s Partridge calling, but Michael and Mark weren’t going to climb 400 m from the valley floor to get to this valley. I returned to the ridge and walked back down. En route I noted Blue-fronted Redstart and Alpine Leaf Warbler. White-lipped Deer were in the scrub.

Michael Grunwell (at scope) and Mark Waters view Przevalski's Redstart at Przevalski's Site in the Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.
Michael Grunwell (at scope) and Mark Waters view Przevalski’s Redstart at Przevalski’s Site in the Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.

Michael walked up the valley to meet me. At 36.462925, 98.50332 he found Przevalski’s Redstart. He radioed me with the news, and I scrambled down the valley toward him. A male and female were together. Michael, Mark, and Elaine had a life bird.

ELA PASS AND MADUO

On Sat. 2 July, the team explored Ela Pass (Èlā Shānkǒu [鄂拉山口]), elev. 4700 m. We were looking for three “Tibetans” and found one: Tibetan Rosefinch. A flat tire ate into our time today and precluded a trip to the top.

Another interesting record today was Mongolian Lark found at KM 197 on G214 south of Gonghe (共和). The elevation at that spot is 3110 m. This region of Qinghai must be the far southern extension of the range of Mongolian Lark. Just south of KM 197, the land tilts upward, the average elevation is about 1000 m higher, and the vegetation changes from high-arid to alpine.

We have walked up the stairs to the Rooftop of the World.

WHERE CHINA BEGINS

On Sun. 3 July our team drove west of Maduo-Machali to Eling Lake, one of the sources of the Yellow River, which is the source of Chinese civilization. At the place where China begins, we found 225 Common Merganser, 250 Bar-headed Goose, 2 Red-crested Pochard, 1 Common Pochard, and 27 Himalayan Vulture devouring the carcass of a sheep. On the high-altitude steppe between Maduo-Machali and the lake we found 2 Black-necked Crane, 27 Tibetan Wild Ass, 25 Tibetan Gazelle, and a Tibetan Fox.

Here near its source China’s Mother River runs clear and cold, a mountain stream. The steppe is remarkably flat and vast. Sunset was a marvel.

After the sun set, we chose a spot on the range and set up my spotting scope. We saw the bands on Jupiter as well as the moons of that giant planet, and we saw the rings of Saturn. The Milky Way was so bright, it looked like haze.

Driving back to Maduo-Machali, our headlights caught the eye shine of a plump little Pallas’s Cat. Crossing the road were 2 long-eared, whip-tailed Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa.

TWO MIGHTY RIVERS

On 4 July 2016, our team crossed the Yellow River and the Yangtze River in the same day. We drove from the Yellow River town of Maduo-Machali to Yushu-Jiegu, the major Tibetan cultural center just south of the Tongtian River, i.e., the upper Yangtze.

En route we noted Black Drongo at 4230 masl, an unusual record. We found high-altitude specialist Streaked Rosefinch and breeding Greenish Warbler at 4460 masl. We drove over Bayankala Pass at 4824 masl, higher than Mont Blanc, and explored an extensive stretch of untouched scrub at Yankou Shan.

From Yankou Shan, 4460 masl, we practically coasted down to Jiégǔ/Yùshù, elev. 3700 m. Along the way we found 2 Ibisbill fleeing the flooded stream. Mammal of the day was Glover’s Pika, found at elev. 3700 m N of the Tongtian.

Photos

Here’s your chance to learn about Glover’s Pika, a mammal of which my second lifetime record was achieved today. In Chinese it’s called Chuānxī Shǔtù (川西鼠兔) or “West-Chuan Mouse-Hare.” (For a better sense of the monosyllabic aspects of Chinese, I abbreviate “Sichuan” to “Chuan.”) Chinese calls pikas “mouse-hares,” just one of many common-sense, folksy animal names in that great language. Photo by Craig Brelsford. Book photo taken from Mammals of China.

GET THEE TO THE NUNNERY (IN KANDA GORGE)!

Tues. 5 July 2016: In China, Buddhist sites are famous for doubling as nature reserves. Take for example the nunnery in Kanda Gorge, north of Nangqian in Qinghai. Nestled deep in the canyon, the steep limestone walls holding the world out, the nunnery is a refuge for Tibetan Partridge and Tibetan Babax, species endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. Today I had the pleasure of watching Michael Grunwell, his old friend Mark Waters, and my wife Elaine add them to their life list.

Kanda holds another major Tibetan: Tibetan Bunting, found today by us at Kanda Pass, elev. 4650 m.

Far below, we found a pair of White Eared Pheasant feeding with Woolly Hare. We had another White Eared Pheasant at the entrance to Kanda Gorge, the Mekong River coursing below. Also near the mouth of the gorge, we had our surprise record of the day: Tiger Shrike.

We counted 72 Common Rosefinch, most of them in large flocks assembling toward sunset. We found it strange that the rosefinches would be forming large flocks during breeding season.

Photos

— Temple at Kanda Gorge nunnery, near Nangqian, Qinghai.
— Alpine scrub and mountain scenery, Kanda Gorge. The remote valley holds large tracts of untouched scrub and conifer woodland. Our rented Mitsubishi Pajero is just visible on the unpaved but sturdy Kanda Mountain road.
— Michael Grunwell viewing Greenish Warbler amid sea of scrub, distant peak behind, Kanda Gorge.

Quotation

“Get thee to a nunnery!” comes from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. Today, we got ourselves to the nunnery in Kanda Gorge to enjoy key Tibetan species hard to view elsewhere.

7 July 2016: We’re in Nangqian, Qinghai. Today’s images: Elaine talking Blood Pheasant with Tibetans. We are trying to find Blood Pheasant in Baizha Forest and thought these gentlemen may know where to go. I got this shot at the entrance to the reserve. Craig admiring a fine painting of male Hodgson’s Redstart outside our hotel room in Nangqian. What a nice touch, honoring your local birds in your hotel.

​Posted to Shanghai Birding 8 July 2016 11:17 pm:

INCREDIBLE, BEAUTIFUL BAIZHA FOREST & GA’ER TEMPLE: (1) Michael Grunwell using my scope to scan the slopes around Ga’er Temple, Nangqian County, Yùshù Prefecture, Qinghai. In background you can see one of the main buildings of the temple clinging to the mountain at the lofty elev. of 4200 m. While we scan, friendly Tibetan monks and pilgrims pass by, Bearded Vulture pass overhead, no less than 6 species of crow make a living, Kessler’s Thrush and Rufous-breasted Accentor add beauty, and half-tame Blue Sheep cling to the cliff faces. (2) Other photo shows just one of many beautiful scenes in Baizha Forest. Breathtaking! (3) Elaine rests in our dirty and dependable Mitsubishi Pajero. In Qinghai, a non-4WD vehicle such as our Pajero is acceptable, but high clearance is a must. Our Pajero offers high clearance.

​Posted Tues. 12 July 2016 12:34 pm

QINGHAI UPDATE: Hello Shanghai Birders from beautiful Yushu, Qinghai! This past weekend, the second week of Elaine’s and my Qinghai expedition ended with BLANFORD’S ROSEFINCH, BLACK WOODPECKER, & WHITE-EARED PHEASANT at Baizha Forest on Friday 8 July & on Saturday 9 July TIBETAN BABAX at mouth of Kanda Gorge & IBISBILL in stream along G214.

Featured image: Michael Grunwell (L) carries spotting scope to view waterfowl on Eling Lake, near source of Yellow River in Guoluo Prefecture, Qinghai, 3 July 2016. To the right is Mark Waters, Michael’s old friend from England. Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du were in Qinghai from 26 June to 21 Aug. 2016. We spent the first two weeks of our expedition with Michael and Mark and noted 136 species.

Next: Part 2

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