Editor’s note: My photos of the year, 2016. Clockwise from top left: Cinereous Vulture on Chongming Island in January kicked off a year that saw a parade of interesting sightings in Shanghai; ultra-rare Band-bellied Crake was the highlight of my three-week trip to a never-birded area of Heilongjiang; on 10 Dec. members of Shanghai’s ever-growing birding community had a big day out at Pudong’s Cape Nanhui; in a two-month expedition to Qinghai, meeting this Tibetan Lynx was my biggest thrill.
Happy New Year! This post is a photographic summary of my birding year 2016.
Here are images of birds more commonly noted in the Shanghai region.
From 16 Feb. to 5 March, Elaine and I were in Yunnan, where we explored the Dulong Gorge, a remote valley in the northwestern corner of the province. Birding there is excellent, and the views are sublime.
After days of rain, we were rewarded with this moon-set at dawn on 26 Feb.
We noted 170 species of bird at Dulong. One of the best was Grandala.
For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was Craig’s Bird of the Trip.
Birds have plenty of places to hide in the thickly vegetated Dulong Gorge. Sometimes we got lucky, as with this Chestnut-headed Tesia.
Elaine and I spent most of the summer in Qinghai. We noted 195 species of bird, but our most unforgettable moment was supplied by a mammal. This is Tibetan Lynx.
Tibetan Partridge was commonly noted in eastern Yushu Prefecture.
Another great chicken: White Eared Pheasant.
At desolate Hala Lake, elev. 4077 m, we found Tibetan Sandgrouse.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch is hardy. It thrives at high elevations.
Henderson’s Ground Jay is master of arid scrubland …
… while Isabelline Wheatear is master of the semi-deserts of Wulan County.
We had great partners in Qinghai. One of them was Michael Grunwell.
Landscapes in Qinghai are beyond beautiful. Here are my favorites.
A closer look at the dunes.
I used my iPhone 6 for this image of a Chinese Juniper gazing out at the Dulan Mountains. The tree clings to the slope at elev. 3960 m.
From 26 May to 12 June 2016, Elaine Du and I visited her home village of Dawucun in Boli County, Heilongjiang, China. The area was never properly birded before we arrived there, and our discoveries have been many. The biggest highlight was Band-bellied Crake.
Mandarin Duck breed in Boli County. We found this drake in a small pool deep in Xidaquan Forest.
In the Manchurian forest, woodpeckers abound. The most common species is White-backed Woodpecker.
Elaine Du is my wife and partner. The year 2016 was our third in a row of non-stop birding. Although she is happy birding and has put together an impressive life list, the Heilongjiang native is never happier than when she is in her hometown.
Through thick and thin we tough it out. Here we are smiling despite being confined to our tent during a rain shower at Hala Lake.
At Eling Lake in Qinghai, where the Yellow River and China are born, Elaine and I posed for this self-portrait.
Elaine is a little short, but she never gives up. In Dulong Gorge, she improvised a way to see Grandala, a life bird.
Elaine is proud of the remnant Manchurian forest near her home in Boli. Here we are in front of a stand of Silver Birch.
People like Elaine’s family put food on the table for the city folks.
The Shanghai Birding Community
In 2015 I started shanghaibirding.com and the Shanghai Birding WeChat group. In 2016, the number of readers of the Web site and members of the chat group steadily grew. On 10 Dec., the day of the Shanghai Birding Christmas party, I led a group of birders to Cape Nanhui. There we found a pair of Red-crowned Crane, a first for mainland Shanghai. Here is the group after the historic event.
This post is about my Qinghai 2016 summer birding trip. It covers the eighth and final week. The featured image shows dunes and mountain in the remote back country of Wulan County, where I spent most of Week 8.
A post on Weeks 5-6 was published Thurs. 27 Oct., and Week 7 appeared Thurs. 10 Nov. Together, this and the two previous posts cover Month 2 of the two-month trip.
For more on the first month, please see these posts:
The Qinghai 2016 birding trip began on 26 June 2016 and was originally scheduled to last a month. My wife Elaine Du and I extended the trip another month, from 24 July to 21 Aug. 2016. In Month 2 we drove 2260 km (1,400 miles) in Xining, Haibei, Haixi, and Hainan prefectures and noted 136 bird species. We discovered 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 Hala Lake, where we found Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper, and Lake Xiligou, where we found Mongolian Goitered Gazelle. At the Przevalski’s Site in the Dulan Mountains, we spied a trio of Tibetan Wolf.
THE FINAL WEEK
This post covers the eighth and final week of my Qinghai 2016 birding expedition, from Sun. 14 Aug. to Sun. 21 Aug. 2016. Elaine Du and I spent most of Week 8 in Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. Amid stunning scenery, we found Tibetan Wolf, discovered a new location for Przevalski’s Partridge, and around Lake Xiligou had a rare eastern record of Water Rail as well as Qinghai favorites Black-necked Crane, Tibetan Lark, and Henderson’s Ground Jay. The lake held Black-necked Grebe and a noisy super-flock of 4610 Ruddy Shelduck, and Mongolian Goitered Gazelle were in the hills behind. Near Chaka we had Mute Swan, and at a site south of Gonghe-Qiabuqia we noted Dusky Warbler, the 195th and final species of our two-month trip.
WORKING ‘VACATION’ IN WULAN
Elaine and I had spent 15 straight nights in our tent when in the afternoon of Sun. 14 Aug. we pulled into Wūlán Xiàn Hóngxiáng Jiǔdiàn (乌兰县鸿翔酒店, +86 (0) 977-8245666, 36.927295, 98.479888). This comfortable hotel in Wulan Xiancheng would shelter us for the next three nights. We did no more birding on the 14th. The next day, the 15th, a group of Elaine’s former co-workers who happened to be vacationing in the area stopped by our hotel for a big lunch. As in Xining in July, our vacation-within-a-vacation gave us the breather we needed.
At a productive marshy area (36.899263, 98.494709) we heard Water Rail calling from the reeds, picked up trip-first Richard’s Pipit, and welcomed back Tibetan Lark to our Qinghai list. The scrub nearby yielded a single Henderson’s Ground Jay.
Despite those successes, approaching Lake Xiligou from the north was not optimal, because the lake is shrinking, and the shrinkage is most pronounced on the north shore. The more remote south shore, by contrast, which we visited in the afternoon, was a revelation.
The show started while we were still in the semi-desert. We found a black-tailed gazelle that did not bound away like a Tibetan Gazelle, but galloped. It was Mongolian Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa hilleriana. We found 12.
As we approached the south shore, we heard a roar coming from the water. The source was Ruddy Shelduck, of which we counted 4610. Next in numbers was Brown-headed Gull (625), Black-necked Grebe (275), and Black-winged Stilt (210). 4 bugling Black-necked Crane made up with charisma and grace what they lacked in numbers. Lake Xiligou also yielded a single Greylag Goose, 7 Common Shelduck, 20 Northern Shoveler, 4 Common Pochard, 1 Great Crested Grebe, and 35 Pied Avocet.
Driving out in the dark, we found 3 jerboa, two of them long-eared and presumably either Gobi Jerboa or Mongolian Five-Toed Jerboa, and the third short-eared and long-tailed and presumably Northern Three-toed Jerboa. What fun it is to watch these “jumping mice” (跳鼠) hop across the chaparral.
THE BACK COUNTRY OF WULAN COUNTY
On Wed. 17 Aug. Elaine and I were back on the road, exploring the area south of Wulan and north of Dulan (36.299080, 98.091569). Here Elaine and I found some of the best scenery and most remote country of the Qinghai trip. We drove for hours, not passing a single car. We saw more Przevalski’s Partridge than people, the result of our finding a new site (36.826334, 97.965649) for the species 66 km southwest of Wulan. The covey contained 13 birds. The site, at elev. 3380 m and with well-vegetated hillsides and steep cliffs for roosting nearby, meets the basic demands of the species and may hold the partridges throughout the year.
On Thurs. 18 Aug., on the way to Jinzi Lake (36.719109, 97.886371), we found a group of Mongolian Goitered Gazelle sprinting across the road. I once again noted the power and speed of these animals. Jinzi Lake is a spring-fed freshwater pond, elev. 2990 m. Here we found adult and juvenile Black-necked Grebe and Great Crested Grebe. At the lake we added to our Qinghai 2016 list Eurasian Coot, and later in the desert Tarim Babbler joined the list. We studied carefully the short-toed larks in the marshy areas near the lake. All were Asian Short-toed Lark.
I drove into a sand dune and got stuck. With our handy shovel I dug the car out. I learned two lessons from the incident. First, sand is treacherous; never approach it flippantly. Second, always have tools in your car, especially in remote places. Without that shovel, I would not have been able to dig the car out. I would have been at the mercy of some local–assuming we had found someone. Because we had the shovel, we were able to continue birding after a short delay.
On the morning of Fri. 19 Aug. we found a watering hole in the desert near Jinzi Lake. The pool attracted Desert Whitethroat, a lone Temminck’s Stint, Tarim Babbler, several Isabelline Wheatear, and a Citrine Wagtail.
On the afternoon of Fri. 19 Aug. Elaine and I were driving through Lianhe Cun (36.622738, 98.233933). We did a double-take. Someone had hung bird netting along the main road, in plain view. The nets were apparently some ill-advised attempt to protect the local crop of wolfberry growing in the gardens behind. Wolfberry or gǒuqǐ (枸杞) is an edible fruit grown in irrigated cropland in Haixi Prefecture.
The scheme was not only callous but also futile, as nearly all the birds could see the netting and were flying over it into the gardens. The only result the netting was having was to kill a few of the birds–and demonstrate the ignorance of the net-setters.
I saw two Black Redstart enmeshed in the netting. They were alive and struggling. In full view of the farmers, who were selling their wolfberry just yards away, I pulled out my knife and cut the redstarts out.
It was quite a job. The netting catches onto any irregular surface–claws, toes, wings, bill. And the redstarts are fragile. If I squeezed the frightened bird even a little too much, it would die in my hand. As I handled one of the beauties, a sleek adult male, the redstart pecked weakly at my fingers.
I set the redstarts free and drove off. I looked at the hard-bitten farmers, their faces wrinkled like raisins after years toiling in the desert sun. I told Elaine: “Poor folks can be materialistic, too–all that cruelty for a measly couple of yuan.”
Later on Fri. 19 Aug. we found 3 Tibetan Wolf at the well-known “Przevalski’s Site” (36.457249, 98.502578). With our trip winding down, and steadily making our way east toward Xining and the airport, Elaine and I passed by the Przevalski’s Site and decided to make a lunch stop there. We drove off the G109 and motored through the arid grassland to the base of “Partridge Hill,” where Przevalski’s Partridge are often found.
After lunch, I said to Elaine, “I’m going to read that slope like a book.” I was talking about the slope that rises about 700 m from the valley floor where we were parked and is about 1500 air-meters away. During our visit in July with Jan-Erik Nilsén, I studied the slope and found Blue Sheep clinging to the nearly vertical wall.
I pulled out my Swarovski ATX-95 and mounted it atop my Manfrotto head. To reduce the effect of the wind, I was seated with the legs of the tripod unextended. As is my habit, I scanned the ridges first.
I found 3 Tibetan Wolf on the ridge. Canus lupus chanco is a small ssp., and at first I mistook the wolves for foxes. They had black-tipped tails, ocher fur on the back and outer legs, an off-white band on the upper back, and a white muzzle and throat. They moved with ease across the slope.
Battling heat haze, I struggled to keep up with the wolves. I held on for 5 to 10 minutes, during which time I noted their efficient gait, saw them investigating every nook and cranny in their path, and watched them sure-footedly clamber up steep rocks. Elaine peeked in, her first look ever at a wolf.
The wolves disappeared, and strangely enough about 30 minutes later a flock of 40 Blue Sheep, including several lambs, moved into the area. We waited for the wolves to attack, but no attack came.
A major birding location in Dulan County, the Przevalski’s Site is so named because it is reliable for Przevalski’s Partridge and Przevalski’s Redstart. On 19 Aug. the site delivered a covey of 18 partridges, emerging as if on cue from the base of Partridge Hill for a late-afternoon feed. No Przevalski’s Redstart were found, the wheeze of Pine Bunting was no longer heard, and even that little fighter Alpine Leaf Warbler was subdued.
As I stood there watching the now-skulky Alpine Leaf Warbler, so feisty when we arrived in Qinghai in June, it occurred to me that Elaine and I had spent virtually the entire summer in Qinghai.
We continued east, to Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878). At a spot (36.787688, 98.987532) for Henderson’s Ground Jay west of town, now flooded after much recent rain, we added our 194th species of bird for Qinghai 2016: Mute Swan.
On Sat. 20 Aug. Elaine and I drove from Chaka to a point (36.206372, 100.534206) south of Gonghe-Qiabuqia. There we spent our final night. The next morning, in the scrub near our camp I found Crested Lark and Dusky Warbler, the latter the 195th and final species of the trip.
We drove to Xining Caojiabao Airport, returned the Sportage, and flew back to Shanghai.
Day Lists Lists are generated on eBird then adjusted to comport with my first reference, the IOC World Bird List. All observations by Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du.
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 2 (3630 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 4 (3870-4080 m)
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 5 (3900-4280 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 4 (3870-4080 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 1 (3900 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 1 (3860 m)
Przevalski’s Partridge Alectoris magna 13 (covey) at 36.826334, 97.965649 (3380 m)
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 3 (3310-3380 m)
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis 1 (3310 m)
Common Swift Apus apus 3 (3310 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3 (3300 m)
Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus giganteus 1 (3500 m)
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 4 (3310-3380 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 77 (3310 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 20 (3310-3480 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 2 (3490 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 2 (3300 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 15 (3300 m)
Brown Accentor Prunella fulvescens 1 (3300 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30 (3300 m)
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 1 (3300 m)
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 4 (3300-3380 m)
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 8 (3310 m)
Greylag Goose Anser anser 17 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 45 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca 1 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 15 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1 (3000 m)
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 29 (17 ad., 12 juv.) at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 26 (10 ad., 16 non-br./juv.) at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 2 (3000 m)
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 1 (3000 m)
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 20 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis 2 (3000 m)
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 49 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 3 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 4 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 22 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 (3310 m)
Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus 9 (2970-3000 m)
Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni 2 (3310-3360 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 3 (3410-3460 m)
Northern Raven Corvus corax 2 (3000 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 4 (3000 m)
Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis 19 (3000 m)
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 80 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Tarim Babbler Rhopophilus albosuperciliaris 1 (3000 m)
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti 2 (2970-3080 m)
Isabelline Wheatear O. isabellina 58 (2950-3310 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 6 (2970-3000 m)
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 1 (2990 m)
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 2 (3000 m)
White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis 5 (2970-3000 m)
Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 1 (3410 m)
Mongolian Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa hilleriana 6 (3240 m)
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii 1 (3000 m)
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 1 (3000 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 3 (3000 m)
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2 (3130 m)
Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus 7 (3000-3130 m)
Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni 1 (3330 m)
Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis 14 (3000 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 3 (3130 m)
Desert Whitethroat Desert Sylvia minula margelanica 3 (3000 m)
Tarim Babbler Rhopophilus albosuperciliaris 2 (3000 m)
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 3 (3130-3260 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 300 (3130 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 110 (3000-3260 m)
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 3 (3000 m)
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 1 in marshland along highway at 36.787688, 98.987532 (3070 m)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 28 (3070 m)
Przevalski’s Partridge Alectoris magna 18 (covey) at Przevalski’s Site (3820 m)
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 1 juv. (3820 m)
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 1 (3820 m)
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1 (3070 m)
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 8 (3070 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1 (3550 m)
Common Swift Apus apus 8 (3340 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 (3820 m)
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 5 (3820 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 25 (3820 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 4 (3820 m)
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 1 (3820 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 4 juvs. (3820 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 2 (3820 m)
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 7 (3000-3820 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 6 (3820 m)
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 40 (3820 m)
Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus chanco 3 at Przevalski’s Site (3820 m)
Delingha County (Délìnghā Shì [德令哈市]) sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture. Officially, Delingha “City” (市).
Dulan County (Dūlán Xiàn [都兰县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture.
Gahai Lake (Gǎ Hǎi [尕海]): freshwater lake Delingha County. Elev.: 2850 m (9,350 ft.). 37.128349, 97.551656.
Gonghe County (Gònghé Xiàn [共和县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Hainan Prefecture.
Haibei Prefecture (Hǎiběi Zàngzú Zìzhì Zhōu [海北藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area NE Qinghai.
Hainan Prefecture (Hǎinán Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu [海南藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area E Qinghai.
Haixi Prefecture (Hǎixī Měnggǔzú Zàngzú Zìzhì Zhōu [海西蒙古族藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area occupying all of NW & NC Qinghai & a portion of SW Qinghai. Area: 325,785 sq. km (125,786 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): slightly larger than New Mexico. Largest prefecture in Qinghai.
Hala Lake (Hālā Hú [哈拉湖]): inland sea N Qinghai in Haixi Prefecture. Second-largest lake in Qinghai. Area: 607 sq. km (234 sq. mi.). Elevation: 4077 m (13,373 ft.). 38.267875, 97.575430.
Huzhu County (Hùzhù Tǔzú Zìzhìxiàn [互助土族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haidong Prefecture.
Jinzi Lake (Jīnzi Hǎi [金子海]): freshwater lake Wulan County. Elev.: 2990 m (9,810 ft.). 36.719109, 97.886371.
Lake Xiligou (Xīlǐgōu Hú [希里沟湖]): saline lake Wulan County. Elev.: 2950 m (9,680 ft.). 36.838594, 98.462896.
On Sun. 24 July, Elaine Du and I drove our partner Jan-Erik Nilsén to Xining Caojiabao Airport, completing our second week with the Beijing-based Swedish birder and fourth in Qinghai. This trip started on 26 June with Michael Grunwell and his old friend Mark Waters. Since then, Elaine and I have noted 168 species of bird, driven 5800 km, and birded six of the eight prefectures of this province, which is thrice the size of the United Kingdom. I have been attacked by dogs at Kanda Nunnery, met a Living Buddha at a Buddhist art school, scoped the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter in the clear Tibetan Plateau air, and photographed Tibetan Lynx.
After four weeks birding at high altitude without a day off, and after nearly collapsing in exhaustion Sunday night in our hotel room here in Xining, Elaine and I made the only logical choice: We have decided to extend our Qinghai trip three more weeks, into August. You can say we’re crazy about Qinghai, or you can say we’re just crazy.
My wife and I are currently resting up here in the capital of Qinghai, the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau. Trading our birder’s hat for a tourist’s, we have taken in the sights of Xining, a city that has long been a crossroads of Han, Hui, and Tibetan culture. Dongguan Mosque dates from 1380, Ta’er Monastery from 1583. Western culture has arrived: On Monday night Elaine and I shared a steak at an Italian restaurant, and I drank a Hoegaarden.
Streaked RosefinchCarpodacus rubicilloides
2 (pair) aggressively defending territory in semi-desert W of Dulan.
Great RosefinchCarpodacus rubicilla
2 males found near Streaked Rosefinch; no defense of territory, no streaking on back, larger white spots on breast, browner wings.
Henri’s SnowfinchMontifringilla henrici
2 at Ela Pass.
Pine BuntingEmberiza leucocephalos fronto
8 singing males at Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578) in Dulan Mountains west of Chaka.
Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa Allactaga sibirica
6 noted after dark 19 July at elev. 4250 m on steppe west of Maduo-Machali (34.911354, 98.211208). Although we found jerboas along paved roads, we had more success along dirt roads, where traffic was less. A particularly good dirt road is 13.8 km from Maduo-Machali on the X731. It can be accessed from the X731 at 34.976612, 98.100317. The dirt road is on the right-hand side of the X731 for drivers coming from Maduo-Machali.
Bactrian Camel Camelus bactrianus
ca. 1000 in rangeland west of Chaka. Presence of this huge herd on 23 July probably was the factor dooming Jan-Erik’s chances of another look at Henderson’s Ground Jay.