Qinghai 2016 Week 7

This is the second of three posts about the second month of my Qinghai 2016 birding trip. This post covers Week 7, spent mainly at Hala Lake. The featured image above shows some of the highlights. Clockwise from top left: glacier and mountain at Hala Lake, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Tibetan Gazelle at sunset, and sea mollusk 50 million years old.

A post on Weeks 5-6 was published Thurs. 27 Oct. The third installment, on Week 8, will appear on Thurs. 24 Nov.

For more on the first month of the trip, please see these posts:

Qinghai 2016 Week 1-2 Highlights
Qinghai 2016 Week 3 Highlights
Qinghai 2016 Week 4 Highlights
Tibetan Lynx, Kanda Mountain, Qinghai
A Batch o’ Qinghai Goodies

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.

A WEEK AROUND HALA LAKE

Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, Qinghai, 10 Aug. 2016.
Our bird of the week for Week 7: Tibetan Sandgrouse. Elaine Du and I found 53 at Hala Lake on 10 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)

This post covers the seventh week of our eight-week birding trip to Qinghai, from Sat. 6 Aug. through Sat. 13 Aug. 2016. Elaine and I spent that time around Hala Lake, the wild, remote, high-altitude inland sea in north-central Qinghai. With the desolate environment as our backdrop, and despite daily rain, we noted 53 bird species. Highlights:

— Discovering flocks of Tibetan Sandgrouse in perfect semi-desert habitat near Hala Lake

— Finding 7 Tibetan Snowcock in a gorge east of the lake

— On the shore of Hala Lake, attaining several interesting Qinghai records, among them Little Stint, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Common Greenshank, and Whimbrel

— Making various less-surprising records around Hala, among them Black Stork, breeding Lesser Sand Plover (our most numerous bird), Ruddy Shelduck, Common Shelduck, Common Merganser, Bar-headed Goose, and Pied Avocet

— Watching a Tibetan Fox dig up and devour a Plateau Pika, and surmising that the area, if explored thoroughly, would yield Snow Leopard, Tibetan Wolf, Tibetan Lynx, and other powerful mammals

— Witnessing landscapes unlike any I have seen in nine years in China, with the vast, silent steppe giving way to the azure inland sea, and snow-clad peaks and glaciated mountainsides brooding in the background

— While lamenting the damage overgrazing is doing even to an area as pristine as Hala Lake, befriending Tibetan and Mongolian herdsmen, sharing stories with them, and learning about their tough, interesting lives

— Despite being alone and having only a 2WD vehicle (Kia Sportage), despite having to make approximately two dozen tricky creek crossings, and despite a ban on foreigners at parts of Hala Lake (see editor’s note below), getting into and out of the area without incident

Editor’s note: Part of the area around Hala Lake is off-limits to foreigners, a fact of which Elaine and I were unaware during our visit. Foreigners are banned from Delingha County, an administrative area that includes much of the area south and west of Hala Lake as well as the entire lake itself. Foreigners are allowed in Tianjun County, which covers the area north and east of the lake, up to the shoreline.

Foreigners caught in Delingha County can expect harassment and even detention, as was the case with German bicyclist Andreas Bruder, whom Elaine and I met at Hala. After we separated, Andreas was arrested, detained, questioned, and transported back to Hedong-Hexi, the urban part of Delingha. A memory card of his was confiscated. Birders, with their binoculars, scopes, and cameras, presumably would endure even closer scrutiny than Andreas.

As long as this harsh policy remains in place, I advise foreigners to approach Hala Lake from the east, as Elaine and I did, and remain in the areas in Tianjun County. Drive a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle, as the route through Tianjun County is longer and remoter and involves more creek crossings than the road from Hedong-Hexi.

THE ROAD TO HALA

Craig Brelsford, Selfie in Shadow Against Ochre Hillside, near Suli, 6 Aug. 2016.
Craig Brelsford, Silhouette Against Ocher Hillside, Suli-Yanglong road, 6 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Our explorations of the Hala Lake area began on Sat. 6 Aug. Elaine and I were sitting in a restaurant in Yanglong Xiang (38.816483, 98.415873), a town in Haibei Prefecture. The laoban said, “Yes, your car can make it to Hala Lake.” We were on our way.

We got gas at the only station in Yanglong, on the west side of town. Right next to the station (38.814444, 98.411556) is the turnoff from the S204 to the Suli-Yanglong road. Driving our rented Kia Sportage, we took that road over the South Tuole Mountains, which separate the Heihe River Valley from the Shule River Valley. We noted Tibetan Fox and Tibetan Gazelle, and the next morning, Sun. 7 Aug., we found a flock of 35 Blue Sheep.

Our Kia Sportage at the gas station in remote Suli. Mr. Zhou is far left talking to the attendant, whose head is visible next to the car.
Our Kia Sportage at the gas station in remote Suli. Mr. Zhou is far left, talking to the attendant.

We drove to Suli (38.702633, 98.026018), a remote, dusty Tibetan town that evoked the American Wild West. At the only gas station in the valley, we met the “sheriff,” Mr. Zhou, a muscular, square-jawed Tibetan man who is the local law-enforcement officer and who knows the name of everyone in Suli. After I gave him views through our spotting scope, Sheriff Zhou invited us to his home to view his fossil collection. In his driveway, Elaine and I gazed at fossilized sea mollusks at least 50 million years old.

We walked into Mr. Zhou’s home, on a wall of which hung a portrait of Xi Jinping, and in a corner of which sat his mother, 85 and in good health. She barely acknowledged us, being immersed in prayer. Her giant prayer top, longer than a broom, spun constantly, and she never stopped shuffling her beads.

70 million yrs. ago, the Indian Subcontinent began crashing into Asia, a process that continues to this day and that is the force creating the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalaya. 50 million years ago, the sea between the Indian Subcontinent and the rest of Asia finally closed. Therefore, the fossilized sea mollusks shown here cannot be younger than 50 million years of age.
Mr. Zhou’s fossil collection. Seventy million years ago, the Indian Subcontinent began crashing into Asia, a process that continues to this day and that is the force creating the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalaya. Fifty million years ago, the sea between the Indian Subcontinent and the rest of Asia finally closed. Therefore, the fossilized sea mollusks shown here cannot be younger than 50 million years of age. (Craig Brelsford)

After the exciting mammalian views in the mountains and the interesting encounter with Mr. Zhou, disappointment followed in the valley. Once again, nearly every square meter was fenced off and given over to grazing. In a magnificent stretch of high-altitude steppe that not long ago held thousands of ungulates, we managed to view only 10 Tibetan Wild Ass and 38 Tibetan Gazelle–and thousands of domestic sheep.

We drove slowly into the night on the Suli-Yangkang road, still being constructed. We left this road at 37.929055, 98.385921, a point 39.6 km north of Yangkang Xiang (37.675509, 98.635267). We drove west, toward the lake.

Rain began to fall, giving us a rare encounter with Chinese Zokor, probably flooded out of its burrow. We also saw Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa. We stopped at 37.971139, 98.085444.

STUCK IN THE BACK COUNTRY

Craig Brelsford tightens the spare on Kia Sportage, near Hala Lake, Qinghai. 8 Aug. 2016.
Craig Brelsford tightens the spare on Kia Sportage, near Hala Lake, Qinghai. 8 Aug. 2016. (Elaine Du)

On Mon. 8 Aug. I awoke to find a flat tire on our rented Kia Sportage. A tiny nail had caused a slow leak. We were 30 km away from a paved road, 40 km from the lake. As I was putting on the spare, a Tibetan Snowcock called from the ridge above.

We drove the 70 km back to Yangkang Xiang, the nearest place with tire-repair shops. Our tire was repaired by a Hui man who told me point-blank that he had originally tried to overcharge me because I am foreign. (The attempt to rip me off did not surprise me; the candor did.) We threw the newly repaired tire in the trunk and drove back into the wilderness. Elaine videoed me driving across the creek.

We camped at 37.980045, 98.047005, just 3.5 km (and five creek crossings) from the spot from the night before. We had gone essentially nowhere in 24 hours, but we had long since factored mishaps and difficulties into the price we were willing to pay to see Hala Lake.

Elaine viewing the planets at twilight, near Hala Lake, 8 Aug. 2016.
Elaine viewing the planets at twilight, 8 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

In the clean air the light from a slim crescent moon was casting shadows, and for the first time I could make out the bands of Saturn. I viewed Saturn through my Swarovski ATX-95 30-70x scope.

FINALLY, WE REACH HALA

Tibetan Snowcock, road to Hala Lake, Tianjun County, Qinghai. 9 Aug. 2016.
Tibetan Snowcock above our camp at 37.980045, 98.047005. The hills lining the stream gave us two views of this high-country game bird in two days. The area east of Hala Lake must be a prime location for this species. (Craig Brelsford)

The next morning, Tues. 9 Aug., I awoke at dawn and heard the calls of Tibetan Snowcock on the ridge above. I scoped a group of seven. Carrying my camera, I climbed 300 m to the ridge, elev. 4400 m. I found the snowcocks, three adults and four juveniles. I saw Brandt’s Mountain Finch, Tibetan Snowfinch, and Blanford’s Snowfinch. All were feeding young. I noted a single Plain Mountain Finch.

From the summit the valley spread out like a map before me, and I saw that the road made not just a sixth but also a seventh and eighth crossing of the creek before leaving the valley for the steppe. Those five crossings the day before had made me nervous.

Panorama near Hala Lake. 9 Aug. 2016.
Panorama near Hala Lake. 9 Aug. 2016. The coordinates here are 37.973072, 98.050575 and the elev. is 4340 m. These arid heights are the home of Tibetan Snowcock. (Craig Brelsford)

I returned to camp and met two Tibetan herdsmen. One could just barely speak Chinese, and he told us that it is possible to circumvent the sixth and seventh crossings. Yet another Tibetan arrived, Rén Qīng Cái Ràng (仁青才让). Rén Qīng was younger than the other two and spoke good Chinese. Rén Qīng watched us as we drove along the bluff above crossings 6 and 7 and descended safely to the road. The eighth crossing was a piece of cake. (Our 2WD Kia Sportage was a fine mini-SUV, but in the Hala Lake back country I would have felt safer in a larger 4WD. It would also be better to have at least one other vehicle in the group to serve as a rescue car.)

Ren Qing directs Craig (in the Sportage) down a steep path. Near Hala Lake, Qinghai, 9 Aug. 2016.
Rén Qīng directs Craig (driving the Sportage) down a steep path near creek crossings 6 and 7. (Elaine Du)

On the steppe Elaine and I witnessed scenes unlike any we have encountered in China. The valley spread out endlessly before us, with the snow-capped South Shule Mountains in the background. All was stillness and silence. There are scenes nearly as thrilling on the G214 in Guoluo and Yushu prefectures, but one views those landscapes from a busy highway, not from an unpaved road in the middle of nowhere. We met just one person on the steppe, a Tibetan herdsman on horseback who asked us to take him to Yangkang Xiang.

Steppe, sea, and sky: Hala Lake, 9 Aug. 2016.
Steppe, sea, and sky: Hala Lake, 9 Aug. 2016. (Elaine Du)

After driving about 30 km we saw a turquoise glow on the horizon: Hala Lake. The second-largest lake in Qinghai, the inland sea covers an area of 607 sq. km (234 sq mi.). Here at the eastern end of the lake one gets one’s closest views of the father of the waters, the mighty Gangze Wujie, elev. 5808 m (19,055 ft.). That awe-inspiring peak and its siblings north of the lake are complemented by other peaks on all sides, a dramatic reminder that the water here at 4077 masl has no outlet. The azure sea with snowy peaks behind is a deeply impressive sight. Except for the wind, all is silent; except for a few Tibetan herders’ tents in the distance, not a soul is around. The only signs of man are the road and the hundreds of sheep and yaks dotting the slopes.

Almost as soon as we arrived, the wind picked up, and rain started to fall. (Rain, it turned out, would bedevil us every day at Hala.) We noted species common on the high steppe, among them Tibetan Gazelle, Lesser Sand Plover, Horned Lark, and Rufous-necked Snowfinch. We turned the Sportage into our bedroom and spent the night on a bluff above the lake.

TIBETAN SANDGROUSE!

Juvenile Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, 10 Aug. 2016.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, 10 Aug. This juvenile is one of 53 sandgrouse we found that day. The presence of juveniles was encouraging, for it confirmed that we had found a breeding site. Juvenile Tibetan Sandgrouse show only a trace of orange on the throat and lack the pin tail. (Craig Brelsford)

The next day, Wed. 10 Aug., the rain was less but the wind even fiercer, blowing gale-force across the lake. We drove off the elevated unpaved road toward the lake, parking well away from the soft sand fringing the inland sea. We walked a few hundred meters to the shingly shoreline, there finding 2 Ruddy Turnstone. Elaine made this video of the turbulent lake.

Hume’s Short-toed Lark were calling, and there were juveniles around. Interestingly, we were finding Hume’s Short-toed only on the shore and about 300 m inland. The larks act like stints, running frantically along the shore, picking up insects. We saw 3 Pallas’s Gull, 6 Bar-headed Goose, and 1 each of Little Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, and Brown-headed Gull.

Shingly shore of Hala Lake, 10 Aug. 2016.
Shingly shore of Hala Lake, 10 Aug. 2016. (Elaine Du)

We could stand the gale no longer; we walked back to the Sportage, on the way noting Rufous-necked Snowfinch. Back on the road, driving west across the steppe, we noted a Ruddy Shelduck foraging on the track, a Saker Falcon, 7 Eurasian Hoopoe, and 2 Isabelline Wheatear.

We made half a dozen more non-dangerous stream crossings in the Sportage before arriving at Menggu Bao, the most developed place on Hala Lake. Here, yurts await tourists who have braved the three and a half hour ride north from Hedong-Hexi–or in our case, the even longer easterly route from Yangkang Xiang. Treasuring our self-sufficiency, we bypassed the outpost and continued west. (This was a good move, as we almost surely would have been reported the moment we set foot in the lobby.)

Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, 10 Aug. 2016.
This Tibetan Sandgrouse is an adult female and is identifiable as such by the fine barring on the mantle, coverts, and tertials. (Craig Brelsford)

Driving slowly on a muddy, non-elevated dirt track, Elaine and I found a flock of 21 Tibetan Sandgrouse, a life bird for us both. We were at 38.205017, 97.520042. The extremely flat terrain, just a few meters higher than the lake, must be good habitat for sandgrouse, as we found another 32 in flocks, trios, and pairs. Juveniles were among the sandgrouse we counted; surely the species breeds in the area.

Using my iPhone 6, Elaine got video of the sandgrouse through our spotting scope.

We drove ever west, the nearly perfectly flat terrain broken only by the slightest of depressions, in which were puddles, ponds, and occasionally running water. We found a slight rise of dry, sandy soil and there pitched our tent. The point is 38.209028, 97.477056 and would be our home for the next three nights.

Prime Tibetan Sandgrouse habitat near Hala Lake.
Near Hala Lake (in background), we found this prime Tibetan Sandgrouse habitat (38.205017, 97.520042). Gravelly semi-desert near a lake at high altitude: This is the environment in which Tibetan Sandgrouse thrives. (Elaine Du)

In wetter ages our camp surely was lake bed; though we were 500 m away from the shore, our elevation could not be more than 5 m higher. A few hundred meters west of our camp is the largest stream in this southwestern sector of Hala Lake. The stream is the deepest drivers must cross on the remote mountain road linking Hala Lake and Subei, Gansu, 320 km from our camp.

RAIN …

Elaine and Craig waiting out the rain in the tent.
Elaine and Craig waiting out the rain in the tent. (Craig Brelsford)

On Thurs. 11 Aug. rain fell all day. We used the time to rest in our tent. Even after nearly seven weeks in Qinghai, we still were not fully accustomed to the high altitude. Long drives, long walks, and intensive birding tax one much more at 4000 masl than at lower elevations. At Hala Lake, a day spent resting is an investment in good health.

The camp became our little world. Because we had set our tent on higher, sandier soil, and because I dug a little ditch on the periphery, the floor stayed dry. To block the wind blowing off the lake, I parked our Sportage close to the north side of the tent. We ate freeze-dried beef stew from Mountain House, the same brand I used while hiking the Grand Canyon in the 1980s. In the morning, when it was only drizzling, I took a bath using creek water we collected in empty Nongfu Spring bottles. Earlier in the trip, Elaine and I invested 20 yuan in a shovel, and with it I had dug a latrine. Elaine and I were clean, dry, and well-fed in our neat little camp in the wilderness.

Elaine Du washes up at our latrine, 11 Aug. 2016. Elaine and I keep a clean camp and stay civilized in the wild. A key component of staying civilized is a simple latrine, into which all our wastewater goes. The way Elaine and I see it, litter, unburied feces, and a sloppy camp are the marks of a barbarian.
Elaine Du washes up at our camp (38.209028, 97.477056), 11 Aug. Elaine and I keep a clean camp and stay civilized in the wild. A key component of staying civilized is a simple latrine, into which all our wastewater goes. Litter, unburied feces, a sloppy camp–these are the marks of a barbarian. (Craig Brelsford)

During a break in the rain, I emerged and set my Swarovski scope atop my Manfrotto tripod and head. My 360-degree scan of the vast plain and lake took a full hour. From a distance of about 2000 m, I watched a Tibetan Fox dig up and devour a pika. I counted 8 Eurasian Hoopoe, one of which flew into our camp; watched a flying Common Raven analyze our camp; and admired the snow-clad peaks north of the lake.

LITTLE STINT AT HALA LAKE

Little Sint, Hala Lake, Qinghai, 12 Aug. 2016.
Little Sint, Hala Lake, 12 Aug. Even in these poor photos, the mantle and scapular V’s are visible, as are the pale forehead and split supercilium. (Craig Brelsford)

On Fri. 12 Aug., the rain let up, and Elaine and I added eight new species to our Qinghai 2016 list. We birded the southwest corner of Hala Lake, including the big stream that empties into the inland sea. Among the new additions were good Qinghai records such as Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ferruginous Duck, Whimbrel, and Temminck’s Stint as well as Mallard, Grey Plover, and Common Greenshank. We once again recorded Ruddy Turnstone, we added to our Hala list Common Merganser, Common Shelduck, and Black Stork, and we had appreciable numbers of Ruddy Shelduck (85), Bar-headed Goose (80), and Lesser Sand Plover (230). We noted 29 species in all.

The brown on the Little Stint was so impressive that my first thought was not Red-necked Stint–I have never seen so dark a Red-necked Stint–but Broad-billed Sandpiper. The bird however was showing typical stint characteristics such as high pecking rate, constant, quick movements, and small size. I moved in closer, noting the bill, which was blunt-tipped, not downward-kinked, as in Broad-billed Sandpiper. The bill called my attention in another way: It was longer than the bill of a typical Red-necked Stint. I noted prominent white stripes on the brown mantle, a pale forehead, and very dark brown stripes on the crown. The flight feathers lacked grey coloring. Everything added up to juvenile Little Stint.

The 3 Curlew Sandpiper were in the delta of the big southwest stream and were easily ID’d. Two were juveniles with peach wash across the breast, and one was an adult molting into winter plumage.

Whimbrel, Hala Lake, Qinghai, 12 Aug. 2016.
Whimbrel, Hala Lake, 12 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)

The 2 Whimbrel were on the lakeshore, the Grey Plover and Common Greenshank in the delta. The 2 Mallard were males in eclipse plumage and were in the delta. Temminck’s Stint and Ferruginous Duck were in the delta and on the lakeshore. Ferruginous Duck showed very dark plumage, white undertail, and peaked head with no hint of tuft.

We met Andreas Bruder, a bicyclist from Dresden, Germany who had started his journey in Dunhuang, Gansu. He had cycled to Subei, ridden in a pickup truck to a point near the gate of Lanchiwang Nature Reserve, somehow slipped in, and continued on into the Hala Lake basin. (Later, near Menggu Bao, Andreas would be arrested for being in Delingha County.)

The grey sky finally blued up, but in the afternoon rain fell once again, this time in a squall. Elaine and I ran to the Kia Sportage, which I parked in an east-west orientation. So hard was the wind off the lake that I could open the south-facing windows, and nary a drop of rain fell in.

On Sat. 13 Aug., rain once again fell most of the day. We birded the lake, adding Pied Avocet to our Hala list. We decided we could not stand another night in the rain at high altitude. As darkness fell, we drove east, toward Menggu Bao, again noting Tibetan Sandgrouse at 38.205028, 97.520028.

We drove the Delingha road south in the dark and began our exodus from Delingha County.

Coming Thurs. 24 Nov.: beautiful Wulan County, site of the final week of our Qinghai 2016 trip!

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.

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 6 Aug. 2016 (17 species)

King of the high-country falcons: Saker Falcon <em>Falco cherrug</em>, 6 Aug. 2016.
King of the high-country falcons: Saker Falcon Falco cherrug, 6 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds noted between Jiabo Hot Spring (38.790355, 98.665485), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture & Suli (38.702633, 98.026018), Tianjun County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 07:00-21:00.

Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 4 (3400-3840 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1 (3790 m)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2 (3620-3780 m)
Saker Falcon F. cherrug 2 (pair) at 3400 m
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 15 (3450-3980 m)
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 15 (3410-3780 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 65 (3450-4090 m)
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 18 (3380-3980 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 3 (3400-3480 m)
Brown Accentor Prunella fulvescens 1 (3790 m)
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 1 (3660 m)
Water Pipit A. spinoletta blakistoni 1 at Jiabo Hot Spring (3660 m)
Brandt’s Mountain Finch Leucosticte brandti 1 (4280 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 76 (3790-4100 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 58 (3790-4100 m)
Streaked Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilloides 6 in scrub on Tuole River (3390 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 4 (2 ad., 2 juv.) breeding in scrub on Tuole River (3390 m)

Mammals

Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 7 (4150 m)
Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 6 (4200 m)
Tibetan Fox Vulpes ferrilata 2 (3530 m)

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 7 Aug. 2016 (20 species)

A sheep's skull wards off evil under a bridge near Suli, 7 Aug. 2016.
A sheep’s skull wards off evil under a bridge near Suli, 7 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds noted between Suli (38.702633, 98.026018) & 37.971139, 98.085444 (a point on road to Hala Lake), Tianjun County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 07:00-21:00.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 8 (3840 m)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 1 (3670 m)
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 17 (3770-4190 m)
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 3 (3840 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1 (3710 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 11 (3850-4050 m)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3 (3770 m)
Saker Falcon F. cherrug 7 (3960-4190 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 11 (3670-4190 m)
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 17 (3710-3840 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 60 (3670-4050 m)
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 1 (3960 m)
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 3 (1 juv.) at 4050 m
Black Redstart P. ochruros 14 (3710-4000 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 5 (3690-3970 m)
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 1 (4050 m)
Brown Accentor P. fulvescens 5 (3960-3970 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 1 (3840 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 80 (3670-4050 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 100 (3670-4050 m)

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae ca. 300 (4050 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 40 (3890-4190 m)
Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa Allactaga sibirica 1 (3970 m)
Chinese Zokor Eospalax fontanierii 1 (4020 m) likely flushed from burrow by rain
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 35 (4120 m)
Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 38 (3700-4190 m)
Tibetan Wild Ass Equus kiang 10 (4070 m)
Tibetan Fox Vulpes ferrilata 5 (3970-4070 m)

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 8 Aug. 2016 (12 species)

Craig Brelsford studies the planets through his spotting scope at camp on 8 Aug. 2016.
Craig Brelsford studies the planets through his spotting scope at camp on 8 Aug. 2016. (Elaine Du)

Birds noted around 37.971139, 98.085444 (a point on road to Hala Lake), Tianjun County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 08:00-11:00.

Tibetan Snowcock Tetraogallus tibetanus 1 (4020 m)
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 5 (4020 m)
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 9 (3940 m)
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1 (4020 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 2 (4020 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 1 (3700 m)
Northern Raven Corvus corax 2 (4020 m)
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 2 (4020 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 10 (4020 m)
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 1 (3830 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 20 (4020 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 100 (4020 m)

List 1 of 1 for Tues. 9 Aug. 2016 (12 species)

Brandt's Mountain Finch feeding young, near Hala Lake, Qinghai. 9 Aug. 2016.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch feeding young near Hala Lake. 9 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds noted between 37.980045, 98.047005 (a point on road to Hala Lake), Tianjun County & 38.185468, 97.663717 (a point overlooking Hala Lake), Delingha County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai.

Tibetan Snowcock Tetraogallus tibetanus 7 (3 ad., 4 young) at 4300 m
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 2 (4110-4230 m)
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 4 (4110 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 (4230 m)
Northern Raven Corvus corax 1 (4110 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 15 (4160 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 5 (4110 m)
Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola 2 (4150 m)
Brandt’s Mountain Finch L. brandti 20 (4150-4400 m)
Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla adamsi 2 (4200 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 2 (4230 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 11 (4110-4250 m)

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 20 (4050 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 7 (3890-4190 m)
Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 40 (4077 m)

List 1 of 1 for Wed. 10 Aug. 2016 (17 species)

Elaine and Craig took this selfie while birding the shore of Hala Lake on 10 Aug. 2016.
Elaine and Craig took this selfie while birding the shore of Hala Lake on 10 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds noted on S shore of Hala Lake (38.267875, 97.575430), Delingha County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 6 (4077 m)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 9 (4077-4130 m)
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 31 (4077 m)
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius 1 (4077 m)
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 2 (4077 m)
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 1 (4077 m)
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 1 (4077 m)
Pallas’s Gull Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus 1 (4130 m)
Tibetan Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes tibetanus 53 (4100 m); most found around 38.205028, 97.520028
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 7 (4077-4100 m)
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 1 (4110 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 11 (4077-4130 m)
Hume’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella acutirostris 13 (4077 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 1 (4077 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 2 (4100 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 3 (4077 m)
Blanford’s Snowfinch P. blanfordi 1 (4077 m)

Mammals

Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 40 (4090-4130 m)

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 11 Aug. 2016 (10 species)

Operating around camp on a rainy day. 11 Aug. 2016, Hala Lake.
Operating around camp on a rainy day. 11 Aug. 2016, Hala Lake. (Craig Brelsford)

Birds noted around 38.209028, 97.477056, a point near SW shore of Hala Lake, Delingha County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 4077 m.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 3
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 13
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 10
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 4
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 8
Northern Raven Corvus corax 1
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 6
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 3
Blanford’s Snowfinch P. blanfordi 1

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 12
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 3
Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 6
Tibetan Fox Vulpes ferrilata 2

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 12 Aug. 2016 (29 species). Birds noted around 38.209028, 97.477056, a point near SW shore of Hala Lake, Delingha County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 4077 m.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 80
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 85
Common Shelduck T. tadorna 9
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 6
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca 7
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 7
Black Stork Ciconia nigra 1 flyby
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 1
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola squatarola 1
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 230
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 20
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 2
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea 3
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 3
Little Stint C. minuta 2 (1 juv., 1 ad.)
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 1
Common Redshank T. totanus 28
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 7
Pallas’s Gull Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus 12
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 5
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 12
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 1
Northern Raven Corvus corax 1
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 14
Hume’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella acutirostris 18
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 3
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 6

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 13 Aug. 2016 (21 species). Birds noted around 38.209028, 97.477056, a point near SW shore of Hala Lake, Delingha County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 4077 m.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 130
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 55
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 7
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 1
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 12 (flock)
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 280
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 55
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea 1 juv.
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 6
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 18
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 31
Pallas’s Gull Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 7 (1 chick)
Tibetan Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes tibetanus 9 at 38.205028, 97.520028
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 9
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 3
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 6
Hume’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella acutirostris 17
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 2
Blanford’s Snowfinch P. blanfordi 2

Mammals

Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa Allactaga sibirica 2 on Delingha-Hala road (3930-4480 m)

Places Mentioned in This Post

Note: Many places in Qinghai have Tibetan or Mongolian names. For simplicity I have written place names only in English, simplified Chinese, and Pinyin.

Delingha County (Délìnghā Shì [德令哈市]) sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture. Prefectural seat of Haixi Prefecture. Officially, Delingha “City” (市).

Dunhuang (Dūnhuáng Shì [敦煌市]): sub-prefectural administrative area W Gansu.

Gangze Wujie (Gǎngzé Wújié [岗则吾结]): peak South Shule Mountains. At 5808 masl (19,050 ft.) highest peak in South Shule Mountains & Qilian Mountains. On some maps called Tuanjie Feng (Tuánjié Fēng [团结峰]). 38.503719, 97.718419.

Gansu (Gānsù Shěng [甘肃省]): province NW China bordering Qinghai to N & E.

Guoluo Prefecture (Guǒluò Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu [果洛藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area SE Qinghai.

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.

Hedong (Hédōng [河东]): administrative area Delingha County. Seat of Haixi Prefecture & Delingha County. Along with Hexi forms urbanized area of Delingha County, & the two areas are most commonly referred to as “Delingha.”

Heihe River (Hēi Hé [黑河]): river NW China rising on N side of Qilian Mountains in Gansu & flowing through Haibei Prefecture in Qinghai before returning to Gansu.

Hexi (Héxī [河西]): see Hedong.

Lake Xiligou (Xīlǐgōu Hú [希里沟湖]): lake Haixi Prefecture. 36.838594, 98.462896.

Menggu Bao (Měnggǔ Bāo [蒙古包]): “Menggu bao” means yurt, or circular tent in the style of the Mongolians. Here, the name refers to the area for tourists at the northernmost point on Delingha-Hala road on S shore of Hala Lake.

Qilian County (Qílián Xiàn [祁连县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haibei Prefecture.

Qilian Mountains (Qílián Shān [祁连山]): range N China forming part of border between Qinghai & Gansu.

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.
Map of Qinghai showing the eight prefectural-level divisions. (Wikipedia/Craig Brelsford)

Qinghai (Qīnghǎi Shěng [青海省]): province NW China. Area: 720,000 sq. km (278,000 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): three times larger than United Kingdom; slightly larger than Texas. Pop.: 5.6 million.

Qinghai Lake (Qīnghǎi Hú [青海湖]): largest lake in Qinghai. 36.877808, 100.228673.

Shule River (Shūlè Hé [疏勒河]): river NW China rising in Haibei Prefecture.

South Shule Mountains (Shūlè Nánshān [疏勒南山]): sub-range Qilian Mountains N of Hala Lake.

South Tuole Mountains (Tuōlè Nánshān [拖勒南山]): sub-range Qilian Mountains N Qinghai & W Gansu.

Subei County (Sùběi Měnggǔzú Zìzhì Xiàn [肃北蒙古族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area W Gansu, bordering Qinghai.

Suli (Sūlǐ Xiāng [苏里乡]): village on Shule River in Tianjun County. 38.702633, 98.026018.

Tianjun County (Tiānjùn Xiàn [天峻县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture.

Tibetan Plateau (Qīng Zàng Gāoyuán [青藏高原]): vast elevated plateau C Asia encompassing much of Qinghai. Highest & largest plateau on Earth.

Tuole River ([拖勒河]): tributary of Heihe River.

Xining Prefecture (Xīníng Shì [西宁市]): sub-provincial administrative area NE Qinghai. Capital of Qinghai. Officially, Xining “City” (市).

Yangkang Xiang (Yángkāng Xiāng [阳康乡]): village E of Hala Lake in Tianjun County. 37.675509, 98.635267.

Yanglong Xiang (Yānglóng Xiāng [央隆乡]): village W Qilian County, on S204. 38.816483, 98.415873.

Yushu Prefecture (Yùshù Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu [玉树藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area S Qinghai.

Qinghai 2016 Weeks 5-6

Starting today, I present to you the highlights of the second month of my Qinghai 2016 birding trip. I have broken up the material into three posts. This post, about Weeks 5-6, appears today; a post covering Week 7 will be published on Thurs. 10 Nov.; and a post on Week 8 on Thurs. 24 Nov.

Weeks 5-6 were spent mainly in Qilian County, in the far north of Qinghai. The featured image above shows some of the highlights. Clockwise from top left: poplar forest in Qilian County, Mountain Weasel, neon lights of Xining, and Eurasian Eagle-Owl.

For more on the first month of the trip, please see these posts:

Qinghai 2016 Week 1-2 Highlights
Qinghai 2016 Week 3 Highlights
Qinghai 2016 Week 4 Highlights
Tibetan Lynx, Kanda Mountain, Qinghai
A Batch o’ Qinghai Goodies

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.

A BREAK IN XINING

Skyline along Nanchuan River in Xining. After weeks birding at high elevation, Elaine and I spent 24-29 July relaxing in the capital of Qinghai.
Skyline along Nanchuan River in Xining. After weeks birding at high elevation, Elaine and I spent 24-29 July relaxing in the capital of Qinghai.

The activities of weeks 5 and 6 consisted of a five-day break in Xining followed by explorations in Haibei Prefecture. We went to Haibei to scout new birding areas in the Qilian Mountains, a place little-birded by foreigners. Our most important discovery was the poplar forests along the Heihe and Babao rivers, where we encountered woodland species such as Gansu Leaf Warbler and Chinese Thrush. Conifer forests near Qilian Xiancheng yielded Black Woodpecker, and the scrub and pastureland south of Qilian Xiancheng gave us Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Siberian Roe Deer, and Mountain Weasel. We found Güldenstädt’s Redstart at a handful of locations. We failed to find Przevalski’s Redstart.

After a first month with Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén that saw us drive 5800 km (3,600 miles), Elaine and I were ready for a rest. We spent the nights of 24-29 July 2016 in Chengxi (downtown Xining) at Jingjiang Hotel (Jǐngjiāng Jiǔdiàn [景江酒店], +86 (0) 971-4323333, 800 yuan, 36.632578, 101.780914). We birded little in Xining but found impressive numbers of Common Swift at Dongguan Mosque (36.615301, 101.797987). Air pollution was negligible, belying Xining’s reputation as one of the cities with the dirtiest air in China. The five-day break at “low-altitude” Xining, elev. 2280 m, came at the perfect time and completely reinvigorated us.

ENTERING THE QILIAN MOUNTAINS

Driving in the pitch dark near the Yong'an River, Elaine and I heard the grating calls of a family of Eurasian Eagle-Owl. We found the owls at <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/37%C2%B038%2748.2%22N+101%C2%B019%2747.5%22E/@37.6467162,101.327652,17z/data=%213m1%214b1%214m5%213m4%211s0x0:0x0%218m2%213d37.646712%214d101.329846" target="_blank">37.679298, 101.273231</a>. This is the juvenile; note the lack of ear tufts. By some measures the largest owl in the world, <em>Bubo bubo</em> ranges across Eurasia, from Spain to Sakhalin.
Driving in the pitch dark near the Yong’an River, Elaine and I heard the grating calls of a family of Eurasian Eagle-Owl. This is the juvenile; note the lack of ear tufts. By some measures the largest owl in the world, Bubo bubo ranges across Eurasia, from Spain to Sakhalin. We found the owls at 37.676941, 101.270580.

Our first three days back out, 30 July-1 Aug. 2016, saw us cover the area between the capital of Qinghai and Qilian Xiancheng, 300 km to the north. The G227, the main Xining-Qilian highway, offers much good high-altitude scenery and good scrub but in tourist season is packed with cars. The S302 and S204 are less busy.

This leg brought us the family of Eurasian Eagle-Owl, found in pitch darkness on a dirt road along the Yong’an River, followed the next day (31 July) by views of Siberian Roe Deer and near-threatened Mountain Weasel. We found the eagle-owls, two adults and a juvenile, on a cliff at 3220 m (37.676941, 101.270580). They were calling to each other, a hoarse “yipe”:

Eurasian Eagle-Owl, cliff near Yong’an River, 30 July 2016 (00:57; 3.1 MB)

The Mountain Weasel was found in pasture off the S302 at 37.906618, 100.381936. We noticed a raucous group of White-rumped Snowfinch, Rufous-necked Snowfinch, Ground Tit, and Horned Lark. The cause of their excitement was the weasel, which was raiding the pika burrows. For an hour we watched the weasel pop into and out of the holes, searching for prey.

The spectacle of this Mountain Weasel terrifying the poor birds was comical, but we respectfully noted the speed and agility of the carnivore.
The spectacle of this Mountain Weasel terrifying the poor birds was comical, but we respectfully noted the speed and agility of the carnivore.

We were joined by Majiu (马九), a 16-year-old Tibetan high schooler, and his uncle, a herdsman. Majiu, who is 1.8 m tall, was wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey and said to me in English, “Basketball is my life.” He is the star of his team at Qilian Ethnic High School in Qilian Xiancheng.

After dark, in Majiu’s uncle’s tent, Majiu’s uncle’s wife served us Tibetan milk tea and bread. We showed them Saturn through our scope.

The sun sets over our camp at Majiu's uncle's pasture in Qilian County, 31 July 2016.
The sun sets over our camp at Majiu’s uncle’s pasture in Qilian County, 31 July 2016.

Notes

— The Siberian Roe Deer was seen in broad daylight in scrub along the S302 at 37.682194, 101.061444. This was my best look ever at Siberian Roe Deer and first in summer pelage. We noted its yellow-brown coat and stocky build.

Good scrub habitat along S302 in Qilian County, 31 July 2016. Elev.: 3360 m. Near this point (37.682194, 101.061444) we found Siberian Roe Deer as well as Güldenstädt's Redstart and Streaked Rosefinch.
Good scrub habitat along S302 in Qilian County, 31 July 2016. Near this point (37.682194, 101.061444), elev. 3360 m, we found Siberian Roe Deer as well as Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Streaked Rosefinch.

— Qilian Xiancheng, a tourist center occupying a stunning location on the Qinghai-Gansu border, teems with tourists and has many restaurants and stores. There we recorded Spotted Dove, a species that in Haibei Prefecture is near the western edge of its range. An interesting spot is 38.117957, 100.190286, a conifer forest 12 km south of Qilian Xiancheng on the S204. There we noted Black Woodpecker, Rufous-vented Tit, and Willow Tit (ssp. affinis). Many other conifer forests cling to the slopes around Qilian Xiancheng. This one was the easiest to access.

POPLAR FOREST ON THE HEIHE RIVER

The tall poplars in the Heihe River riparian forest create a park-like ambience and contrast greatly with the semi-desert looming behind. Some of the trees in this forest are more than 300 years old.
The tall poplars in the Heihe River riparian forest create a park-like atmosphere and contrast greatly with the semi-desert looming behind. Some of the trees in this forest are more than 300 years old.

The highlight of our time in Haibei was finding forests of Small-leaf Poplar Populus simonii along the Heihe River and Babao River near Qilian Xiancheng. The best forest is across the Heihe River from Dipanzi Village at 38.212130, 100.160214. Among the trees, some of which are 300 years old, we found singing Gansu Leaf Warbler. This is probably a previously unknown breeding site of this little-known species.

Small-leaf Poplar Populus simonii is the basis of the riparian forests along the Heihe and Babao rivers in Qilian County. Here is a typical leaf, with the wrinkly trunk of a very old poplar in the background.
Small-leaf Poplar Populus simonii is the predominant tree in the forests along the Heihe and Babao rivers in Qilian County. Here is a typical leaf, with the wrinkly trunk of a very old poplar in the background.

The Gansu Leaf Warbler at the Dipanzi forest were singing in the same fashion as on 27 June, when Elaine, Michael Grunwell, and I found the species in coniferous habitat in Huzhu County (36.973133, 102.441300). The song consists of quickly delivered opening “tzit” fragments, usually followed by a sharp trill:

Gansu Leaf Warbler, poplar forest on Heihe River, 3 Aug. 2016 (01:35; 4.6 MB)

Gansu Leaf Warbler was the most numerous but not the only leaf warbler in the poplar forest. We had in addition Buff-barred Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, and a single Alpine Leaf Warbler sneaking in from the adjacent semi-desert to forage around the spring.

Chinese Thrush
We found Chinese Thrush in the poplar forest along the Heihe River. A Chinese near-endemic, Turdus mupinensis ranges across much of central China. It is closely related to Song Thrush T. philomelos but is more heavily spotted and has more prominent wing bars than its westerly counterpart.

The forest also gave us five trip firsts: Northern Goshawk, Eurasian Wryneck, Eurasian Treecreeper, Chinese Thrush, and, flying high above and caught by the sharp eye of Elaine, Black Stork.

We arrived at the poplar forest on the afternoon of 2 Aug. We had to wait until the morning of 3 Aug. to catch the dawn chorus. Gansu Leaf Warbler led the way. Common Cuckoo called at dawn and into the morning, and Chinese Nuthatch returned to our trip list. Hodgson’s Redstart and White-throated Redstart were feeding juveniles.

Eurasian Treecreeper, one of several woodland species found in the poplar forests along the Heihe and Babao rivers.
Eurasian Treecreeper, one of several woodland species found in the poplar forests along the Heihe and Babao rivers.

We estimate a total of 3 Northern Goshawk in that forest, one of them a juvenile and probably the offspring of the other two. Being woodland birds, the goshawks were a constant presence in the small forest, and their regular flybys startled the other birds. In the recording below, the resident Azure-winged Magpie scream as the goshawk approaches.

Northern Goshawk with Azure-winged Magpie, poplar forest, 2 Aug. 2016 (00:23; 1.7 MB)

Juvenile Northern Goshawk, riparian forest, 3 Aug. Identifiable as juvenile by coarse streaking on underparts. (Adult has barred underparts.)
Juvenile Northern Goshawk, riparian forest, 3 Aug. Identifiable as juvenile by coarse streaking on underparts. (Adult has barred underparts.)

Another similar poplar forest is along the Babao River 7 km from Qilian Xiancheng at 38.211356, 100.190371. Here too were Gansu Leaf Warbler. Unlike the quiet Dipanzi forest, accessible only by unpaved roads, the busy S204 runs through the Babao River forest.

EXPLORING THE HEIHE RIVER VALLEY

Jiabo Hot Spring, Qinghai.
Jiabo Hot Spring (38.790355, 98.665485), on the S204 in Qilian County.

The next 48 hours, from the afternoon of 4 Aug. to the afternoon of 6 Aug., Elaine and I spent exploring the Heihe River Valley along the 200-km stretch of the S204 from Qilian Xiancheng (38.176712, 100.247371) to Yanglong Xiang (38.816483, 98.415873). Our goal here once again was to discover little-birded areas. We indeed found such areas, places few foreigners ever see, but in them were few birds of great importance. To our trip list we added Water Pipit nesting at Jiabo Hot Spring (38.790355, 98.665485).

Water Pipit at Jiabo Hot Spring, with Robin Accentor in background.
Water Pipit at Jiabo Hot Spring, with Robin Accentor in background.

In the upper Heihe River Valley the scenery, not the birds, was the star. Stretches of the valley are every bit as stunning as the better-known areas along the G214 between Gonghe and Yushu. The landscape we were admiring in the Heihe Valley was particularly reminiscent of the landscape along the X731, which runs through the upper Yellow River Valley in Maduo County. In both places one sees a powerful stream near its birthplace coursing through a broad valley, with the mountains that are the father of those waters looming behind. (There are more snowy peaks at this northerly location.)

Conifer forest along Heihe River.
Conifer forest along Heihe River, elev. 2820 m. This forest is at 38.231934, 99.991251, 27.5 km from Qilian Xiancheng, and is accessible from the S204. Hard to reach and little disturbed, rich conifer forests grace the slopes around Qilian Xiancheng.

As we drove west along the Heihe River, we came to appreciate the rareness of the riverside poplar woodlands that we had left behind. We found just one or two more. As we rose, the gorge grew steeper, and conifer woodlands predominated.

Coming in the next installment, Thurs. 10 Nov. 2016: our week at Hala Lake!

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.

List 1 of 1 for Wed. 27 July 2016 (2 species)

Dongguan Mosque in Xining supports a community of Common Swift.
Dongguan Mosque in Xining supports a community of Common Swift.

Birds noted around Dongguan Mosque (36.615301, 101.797987), Chengdong District, Xining, Qinghai. Elevation 2230 m. 11:30-12:00.

Common Swift Apus apus ca. 100 around mosque
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 2 in tree on Dongguan Avenue

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 30 July 2016 (5 species). Birds noted along G227 from Chengxi District, Xining to Qingshizui (37.474644, 101.397441), Menyuan County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. 17:20-19:20.

Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1 (3160 m)
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus 4 singing (3770 m)
Red-fronted Rosefinch Carpodacus puniceus 1 (3770 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 2 (3770 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10 (3160 m)

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 30 July 2016 (19 species)

Rosy Pipit
Rosy Pipit, Banjie Gou, 30 July.

Birds noted along S302 & other back roads from G227-S302 junction (37.646712, 101.329846) to Banjie Gou (37.681962, 101.240959), Menyuan County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. Unless otherwise noted, all elevations 3250 m. 19:20-23:10.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo 3 (2 ads., 1 juv.) at cliff at 3220 m near Yong’an River (37.676941, 101.270580)
Little Owl Athene noctua 2
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
falcon sp. 1
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 17
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 12
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 12
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 32
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 1
Black Redstart P. ochruros 9
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus 3
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti 2 juvs.
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 5
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 8
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 11
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 6

Mammals

Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 1
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 1

List 1 of 2 for Sun. 31 July 2016 (27 species)

Oriental Skylark near Banjie Gou, Qinghai, 5 Aug. 2016.
Oriental Skylark near Banjie Gou, 31 July 2016.

Birds noted between Banjie Gou (37.681962, 101.240959), Menyuan County, & Mole Zhen (37.716626, 100.579661), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. 07:10-16:20.

Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 3 (3180-3600 m)
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 2 (3220 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 16 (3180 m)
Cuculus sp. 3 (3220-3490 m)
Little Owl Athene noctua 2 (3180 m)
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 50 (3180 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 (3220 m)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1 (3180 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 15 (3220-3310 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 11 (3180-3530 m)
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 20 (3180 m)
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 100 (3180 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 55 (3220-3490 m)
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 1 (3520 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 1 (3600 m)
Güldenstädt’s Redstart P. erythrogastrus 7 (3310-3520 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 26 (3220-3770 m)
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus 18 (3180-3490 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 2 (3180 m)
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 1 (3180 m)
Brown Accentor P. fulvescens 2 (3180 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 1 (3220 m)
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 8 (3180-3490 m)
Streaked Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilloides 3 (3520 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 11 (3180-3520 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 25 (3180 m)
Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla adamsi 2 (3490 m)

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 150 (3180-3600 m)
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 2 (3180 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 30 (3600 m)
Siberian Roe Deer Capreolus pygargus 1 (3520 m)

List 2 of 2 for Sun. 31 July 2016 (11 species)

White-rumped Snowfinch stands atop a cow patty at sunset, elev. 3720 m, 31 July 2016. The snowfinch was preoccupied with a Moutain Weasel, allowing me to crawl to within 6 m of the bird. Nikon D3S, 600 mm F/4, F/10, 1/2500, ISO 4000, hand-held.
White-rumped Snowfinch stands atop a cow patty at sunset, 31 July 2016. The snowfinch was preoccupied with a Mountain Weasel, allowing me to crawl to within 6 m of the bird. Nikon D3S, 600 mm F/4, F/10, 1/2500, ISO 4000, hand-held.

Birds noted along a 32-km stretch of S205 between Mole Zhen (37.716626, 100.579661) & 37.911510, 100.377859, Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. 16:50-11:20.

Black Kite Milvus migrans 2 (3700-3710 m)
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 1 (3700 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 4 (3640 m)
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 1 (3700 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 16 (3630 m)
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 5 (3700 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 24 (3640 m)
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 6 (3600 m)
Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola 1 (3700 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 60 (3630-3690 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 26 (3690 m)

Mammals

Mountain Weasel, Haibei Prefecture, 31 July 2016.
Mountain Weasel, Haibei Prefecture, 31 July 2016. Mustela altaica is found in central and east Asia. It is listed as Near Threatened in part because of the changes to its main habitat, mountain meadows, through over-grazing.

Mountain Weasel Mustela altaica 1 (3720 m)

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 1 Aug. 2016 (24 species)

Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai, 1 Aug. 2016.
Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis, 1 Aug. 2016. P. m. affinis differs only slightly from Sichuan Tit P. weigoldicus, the form found in south Qinghai (Yushu and Nangqian counties). Both taxa have cinnamon underparts and never show a crest. I photographed this tit in the conifer forest 12 km south of Qilian Xiancheng (38.117957, 100.190286).

Birds noted along 52-km stretch of S204 between 37.911510, 100.377859 & Qilian Xiancheng (38.176712, 100.247371), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. 09:00-17:00.

Black Kite Milvus migrans 3 (3140 m)
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 10 (2800 m)
Hill Pigeon C. rupestris 2 (3140 m)
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 3 (2840 m)
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 1 (2800 m)
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius 1 (3140 m)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 2 (2800 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 2 (2800 m)
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 5 (2840 m)
Rufous-vented Tit Periparus rubidiventris 4 (3140 m)
Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis 1 (3140 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 10 (3250-3530 m)
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides 2 (3140 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 6 (3140-3250 m)
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 4 (3140 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 2 (3140-3470 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20 (2800 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 30 (3140-3530 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 2 (3470 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 3 (3020 m)
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 4 (3250 m)
Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola 1 (3530 m)
Pink-rumped Rosefinch Carpodacus waltoni 1 (3140 m)
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 2 (2800 m)

List 1 of 2 for Tues. 2 Aug. 2016 (12 species)

Valley S of Qilian Xiancheng at 38.083892, 100.175667. Elev. 3370 m.
Valley S of Qilian Xiancheng at 38.083892, 100.175667. Elev. 3370 m.

Birds noted along 16-km stretch of S204 between 38.083856, 100.177060 & Qilian Xiancheng (38.176712, 100.247371), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. 07:10-15:10.

Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1 (2730 m)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 3 (2850 m)
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 4 (2950 m)
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 3 (3500 m)
Buff-barred Warbler P. pulcher 2 (3500 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 8 (3500 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 1 (3430 m)
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 1 singing (2950 m)
Pink-rumped Rosefinch C. waltoni 3 (3500 m)
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius 1 (3160 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20 (2730 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 4 (2860-3150 m)
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 3 (3500 m)

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 10 (3370-3500 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 2 (3450 m)

List 2 of 2 for Tues. 2 Aug. 2016 (23 species)

In the Heihe River poplar forest, a spring keeps the earth green, attracts birds from the surrounding semi-desert, and sustains a lush woodland habitat in arid northern Qinghai.
In the Heihe River poplar forest, a spring keeps the earth green, attracts birds from the surrounding semi-desert, and sustains a lush woodland habitat in arid northern Qinghai. Water from the nearby river also regularly spills into the forest.

Birds noted in riparian Small-leaf Poplar forest along Heihe River upstream from confluence of Heihe River & Babao River (38.212130, 100.160214), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 2650 m. 15:00-23:00.

Black Stork Ciconia nigra 5 flying high overhead
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis 1
Black Kite Milvus migrans 1
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia 1
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 4 calling
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 9 (2 juvs.)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 20
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 38
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 20
Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis 9
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris 1
Buff-barred Warbler Phylloscopus pulcher 1
Gansu Leaf Warbler P. kansuensis 6 singing
Plain Laughingthrush Garrulax davidi 1
Hodgson’s Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni 15 (3 juvs.)
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 1
Black Redstart P. ochruros 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 6
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 5
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 1

List 1 of 1 for Wed. 3 Aug. 2016 (25 species)

Eurasian Wryneck licks up ants at edge of riparian forest along Heihe River, 3 Aug. 2016.
Eurasian Wryneck licks up ants at edge of riparian forest along Heihe River, 3 Aug. 2016.

Birds noted in riparian Small-leaf Poplar forest along Heihe River upstream from confluence of Heihe River & Babao River (38.212130, 100.160214), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 2650 m. 07:00-15:00.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis 2
Black Kite Milvus migrans 1
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 7 calling
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 1
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 4 (1 ad., 3 juvs.)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 10
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 13
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 25
Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis 6
Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa 4
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris 4
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 1
Yellow-streaked Warbler P. armandii 3
Buff-barred Warbler P. pulcher 2
Gansu Leaf Warbler P. kansuensis 8 singing
Plain Laughingthrush Garrulax davidi 2
Chinese Thrush Turdus mupinensis 1
Hodgson’s Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni 6
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 7
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 6
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 3
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 15
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 1

List 1 of 2 for Thurs. 4 Aug. 2016 (24 species)

Gansu Leaf Warbler, Heihe River poplar forest, 4 Aug. 2016.
Gansu Leaf Warbler, Heihe River poplar forest, 4 Aug. 2016.

Birds noted in riparian Small-leaf Poplar forest along Heihe River upstream from confluence of Heihe River & Babao River (38.212130, 100.160214), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 2650 m. 07:00-15:00.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis 2
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 7
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 2
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 2
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 1
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 12
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 10
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 50
Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis 6
Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa 2
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris 4
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 1
Yellow-streaked Warbler P. armandii 2
Buff-barred Warbler P. pulcher 4
Gansu Leaf Warbler P. kansuensis 8 singing
Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides 2
Plain Laughingthrush Garrulax davidi 1
Chinese Thrush Turdus mupinensis 1
Hodgson’s Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni 7
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 7
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 4
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 4
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 12
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 1

List 2 of 2 for Thurs. 4 Aug. 2016 (23 species)

Heihe River Valley near village of Dipanzi.
Heihe River Valley near village of Dipanzi (38.083889, 100.175667), elev. 2650 m. Poplar forests line river on either side. As one travels upstream, the valley grows narrower, the poplar forests disappear, and conifer forests predominate.

Birds noted along 82-km stretch of S204 between Qilian Xiancheng (38.176712, 100.247371) & Yeniu Gou (38.457395, 99.542667), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. 13:00-21:00.

Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 7 (3160 m)
Black Kite Milvus migrans 1 (2750 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 4 (2880-2940 m)
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1 (3000 m)
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 3 calling (3000 m)
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 3 (3100 m)
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 1 (3050 m)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 5 (3000 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 17 (2940-3120 m)
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 15 (1 juv.) at 3100 m
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 2 (3020 m)
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 2 (3040 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 1 (3020 m)
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides 11 (2880 m)
White-capped Redstart Phoenicurus leucocephalus 1 (3170 m)
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni 1 (2880 m)
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 2 (3160 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 2 (3340 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 12 (2890 m)
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos fronto 1 (3260 m)
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 2 (3000 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 7 (3100 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20 (3100 m)

Mammals

Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 5 (3280-3340 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 20 (3200-3340 m)

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 5 Aug. 2016 (18 species)

Panorama of area around Jiabo Hot Spring, 5 Aug. 2016.
Panorama of area around Jiabo Hot Spring, 5 Aug. 2016.

Birds noted along 95-km stretch of S204 between Yeniu Gou (38.457395, 99.542667) & Jiabo Hot Spring (38.790355, 98.665485), Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai. 13:00-21:00.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 1 (3860 m)
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 2 (3480 m)
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 9 (3430-3860 m)
Little Owl Athene noctua 1 (3540 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 8 (3480-3860 m)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 3 (3640 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 2 (3590-3860 m)
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 5 (3430-3480 m)
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 4 (3770 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 30 (3430-3660 m)
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 2 (3860 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 11 (3570-3860 m)
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 2 (3790-3860 m)
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 60 (3430-3860 m)
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 25 (3430-3860 m)
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta blakistoni 1 nesting at Jiabo Hot Spring (3790 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 2 (3790 m)
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos fronto 5 (3590 m)

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 50 (3430-3950 m)
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 1 (3760 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 100 (3430-4130 m)

Places Mentioned in This Post

Note: Many places in Qinghai have Tibetan or Mongolian names. For simplicity I have written place names only in English, simplified Chinese, and Pinyin.

Babao River (Bābǎo Hé [八宝河]): tributary of Heihe River. Confluence at Qinghai-Gansu border in Qilian County.

Babao Zhen (Bābǎo Zhèn [八宝镇]): see Qilian Xiancheng.

Banjie Gou (Bànjié Gōu [半截沟]): village Menyuan County, Haibei Prefecture. 37.681962, 101.240959.

Chengxi District (Chéngxī Qū [城西区]): district Xining Prefecture. Along with other nearby urbanized districts, commonly referred to as Xining.

Dipanzi Village (Dìpánzi Cūn [地盘子村]): settlement Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture. Forest of Small-leaf Poplar across Heihe River at 38.212130, 100.160214.

Dongguan Mosque (Xīníng Shì Dōngguān Qīngzhēn Dàsì [西宁市东关清真大寺]): largest mosque in Qinghai. Built 1380. 36.615301, 101.797987.

Haibei Prefecture (Hǎiběi Zàngzú Zìzhì Zhōu [海北藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area NE Qinghai. Area: 39,354 sq. km (15,195 sq. mi.). Full name: Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Heihe River (Hēi Hé [黑河]): river NW China rising on N side of Qilian Mountains in Gansu, flowing through Haibei Prefecture in Qinghai, & returning to Gansu, where it runs through Hexi Corridor before drying up in Gobi Desert in W Inner Mongolia. Length: 630 km (391 mi.). Lower reaches known as Ruo Shui (Ruò Shuǐ [弱水]).

Huangshui River (Huángshuǐ Hé [湟水河]): largest tributary of Yellow River. Runs through Xining.

Jiabo Hot Spring (Jiǎbō Wēnquán [甲波温泉]): thermal spring Qilian County on S204. Elev. 3790 m (12,430 ft.). 38.790355, 98.665485.

Menyuan County (Ményuán Huízú Zìzhìxiàn [门源回族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haibei Prefecture.

Mole Zhen (Mòlè Zhèn [默勒镇]): town Qilian County. 37.716626, 100.579661.

Nanchuan River (Nánchuān Hé [南川河]): tributary of Huangshui River, which it meets in Xining.

Qilian County (Qílián Xiàn [祁连县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haibei Prefecture. Area: 15,610 sq. km (6,027 sq. mi.).

Qilian Mountains (Qílián Shān [祁连山]): range N China forming part of border between Qinghai & Gansu.

Qilian Xiancheng (Qílián Xiànchéng [祁连县城]): informal & more commonly used name for Babao Zhen, administrative center of Qilian County in Haibei Prefecture. 38.176712, 100.247371.

Map of Qinghai with the eight prefectural-level divisions in white. Last week, our team covered the 800 km from Yushu/Jiegu to Xining (both marked in black). Map courtesy Wikipedia.
Map of Qinghai with the eight prefectural-level divisions in white. Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Qinghai (Qīnghǎi Shěng [青海省]): province NW China. Area: 720,000 sq. km (278,000 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): three times larger than United Kingdom; slightly larger than Texas. Pop.: 5.6 million.

Tibetan Plateau (Qīng Zàng Gāoyuán [青藏高原]): vast elevated plateau C Asia encompassing much of Qinghai. Highest & largest plateau on Earth.

Xining Prefecture (Xīníng Shì [西宁市]): sub-provincial administrative area NE Qinghai. Capital of Qinghai & most populous city on Tibetan Plateau. Officially a “(prefectural-level) city” (市).

Yeniu Gou (Yěniú Gōu [野牛沟]): village Qilian County. 38.457395, 99.542667.

Yong’an River (Yǒng’ān Hé [永安河]): river Haibei Prefecture.