2016 Photo Highlights

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.

Unlike 2015, which saw Elaine Du and me visit the United States, in 2016 we never left China. We birded eight months in Shanghai, two months in Qinghai, and three weeks apiece in the Dulong Gorge in Yunnan and in Elaine’s hometown of Boli in Heilongjiang.

SHANGHAI RARITIES

In a year that saw unprecedented numbers of good records in Shanghai, among them Nordmann’s Greenshank, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Swinhoe’s Rail, Black-naped Monarch, Crow-billed Drongo, Fujian Niltava, and Slaty Bunting, Elaine and I were on hand to record some of the rarities.

One of the best was Cinereous Vulture. I got this photo on 23 Jan. on Chongming Island.

Cinereous Vulture, 23 Jan. 2016. Photo by Craig Brelsford.
Cinereous Vulture, Chongming, 23 Jan. 2016.

Pomarine Jaeger was discovered at Cape Nanhui on 19 Oct., a first for Shanghai. The next day, Elaine and I got this image.

Pomarine Skua/Pomarine Jaeger Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, Shanghai, 20 Oct. 2016.
Pomarine Jaeger/Skua Stercorarius pomarinus, Nanhui, 20 Oct. 2016.

A trio of Critically Endangered Siberian Crane took up residence on Hengsha Island around 12 Nov. On 7 Dec., I got this photo.

Siberian Crane, Hengsha, 7 Dec. 2016.
Two of the 3 Siberian Crane on Hengsha Island, 7 Dec. 2016.

Here are images of birds more commonly noted in the Shanghai region.

Grey Nightjar, Dongtai, Craig Brelsford.
Grey Nightjar, Dongtai, Jiangsu, 21 May 2016.

 

Northern Boobook, one of four we saw on 23 Oct. 2016 at Nanhui.
Northern Boobook, 23 Oct. 2016, Nanhui.

 

Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Shanghai. Craig Brelsford.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, 1 May 2016, Nanhui.

 

Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui. 29 Oct. 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Siberian Rubythroat, Magic Parking Lot, Nanhui, 29 Oct. 2016.

Dulong Gorge

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.

Beautiful Dulong Gorge near between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016.
Dulong Gorge between Maku and Qinlangdang, 27 Feb. 2016.

After days of rain, we were rewarded with this moon-set at dawn on 26 Feb.

The sublime spectacle of the moon setting over the Gaoligong Mountains at dawn was our reward for enduring days and days of rain. Photo taken on Gongshan-Dulong Road near Kongdang on 26 Feb. 2016. Nikon D3S, 600 mm, F/9, 1/320, ISO 640.
Gongshan-Dulong Road, 26 Feb. 2016.

We noted 170 species of bird at Dulong. One of the best was Grandala.

Grandala, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016. Elev. 1820 m.
Grandala, Gongshan-Dulong Road, 22 Feb. 2016.

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin was Craig’s Bird of the Trip.

For its combination of stunning beauty and strong Himalayan character, Rufous-breasted Robin was Craig's Bird of the Trip. Our team noted 44 members of Tarsiger hyperythrus in the Dulong Gorge, all but 1 of them adult males. I got this photo at Pukawang on 24 Feb.
Rufous-breasted Bush Robin Tarsiger hyperythrus, 24 Feb. 2016.

Birds have plenty of places to hide in the thickly vegetated Dulong Gorge. Sometimes we got lucky, as with this Chestnut-headed Tesia.

Chestnut-headed Tesia, Dulong Beach, 26 Feb. 2016.
Chestnut-headed Tesia Cettia castaneocoronata, 26 Feb. 2016.

Qinghai

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 Lynx (Lynx lynx isabellinus), Kanda Mountain, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai, China. 14 July 2016. Elev. 4550 m.
Tibetan Lynx Lynx lynx isabellinus, Kanda Mountain, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 14 July 2016. Elev. 4550 m (14,920 ft.).

Tibetan Partridge was commonly noted in eastern Yushu Prefecture.

Tibetan Partridge, 5 July 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Tibetan Partridge, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016.

Another great chicken: White Eared Pheasant.

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, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016.

At desolate Hala Lake, elev. 4077 m, we found Tibetan Sandgrouse.

Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala, 10 Aug.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, 10 Aug. 2016.

Brandt’s Mountain Finch is hardy. It thrives at high elevations.

Brandt's Mountain Finch takes long, straight flights at altitudes above 5000 m. I found this individual near Hala Lake, Qinghai, at an elev. of 4400 m.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch, near Hala Lake, 9 Aug. 2016. Elev. 4400 m.

Henderson’s Ground Jay is master of arid scrubland …

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 near Chaka, 30 June 2016.

… while Isabelline Wheatear is master of the semi-deserts of Wulan County.

Isabelline Wheatear 2/3. F/16, 1/320, ISO 800.
Isabelline Wheatear, Wulan County, 18 Aug. 2016.

We had great partners in Qinghai. One of them was Michael Grunwell.

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 in Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.

Landscapes in Qinghai are beyond beautiful. Here are my favorites.

Dunes and mountains, Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. This photo was taken at 36.826334, 97.965649, elev. 3380 m.
Dunes and mountains, Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016.

A closer look at the dunes.

The sand in these dunes was deposited grain by grain from the wind. Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016. F/7.1, 1/200, ISO 1250.
Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016.

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.

Proud and strong, this Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis has gazed out at the Dulan Mountains for 200 years. It clings firmly to the slope at elevation 3960 m.
Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis, Dulan Mountains, 1 July 2016.

Heilongjiang

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.

Band-bellied Crake stunned Elaine and me with its beauty.
Band-bellied Crake, Boli County, Heilongjiang, 8 June 2016.

Mandarin Duck breed in Boli County. We found this drake in a small pool deep in Xidaquan Forest.

Mandarin Duck, Xidaquan, 3 June 2016.
Mandarin Duck, 3 June 2016.

In the Manchurian forest, woodpeckers abound. The most common species is White-backed Woodpecker.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos, in wooded area off Road Z004 near Xidaquan, 1 June 2016.
White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos leucotos, 1 June 2016.

Elaine

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.

Elaine and Craig, Boli, Heilongjiang.
Elaine and Craig at home in Boli, Heilongjiang, 1 June 2016.

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.

Elaine and Craig waiting out the rain in the tent.
11 Aug. 2016, Hala Lake.

At Eling Lake in Qinghai, where the Yellow River and China are born, Elaine and I posed for this self-portrait.

'We Are Family!' sang Sister Sledge back in '79. Here's the Chinese-American adventure team, Elaine Du (L) and yours truly--partners, spouses, family. Eling Lake, where the Yellow River and Chinese culture are born. 3 July 2016. Self-portrait taken with my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens.
Self-portrait taken 3 July 2016 with my Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens.

Elaine is a little short, but she never gives up. In Dulong Gorge, she improvised a way to see Grandala, a life bird.

Brian Ivon Jones (L) and Elaine Du viewing Grandala for the first time, Dulong Gorge, 19 Feb. 2016.
Brian Ivon Jones and Elaine viewing Grandala, 19 Feb. 2016.

Elaine is proud of the remnant Manchurian forest near her home in Boli. Here we are in front of a stand of Silver Birch.

The husband-and-wife birding team of Elaine Du (L) and Craig Brelsford, Xidaquan National Forest, Boli, Heilongjiang, 10 June 2016.
Xidaquan, 10 June 2016.

People like Elaine’s family put food on the table for the city folks.

Elaine Du (L) with parents and elder sisters. Dawucun, 12 June 2016.
Elaine (L) with parents and elder sisters. Boli, 12 June 2016.

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.

Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).
Shanghai birders at Nanhui, 10 Dec. 2016. Photo by Hǎo Zhàokuān (郝兆宽).

Happy New Year 2017!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. Photo by 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. Photo by 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.

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. Photo by 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. Photo by 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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

A Batch o’ Qinghai Goodies

Last Sunday 21 Aug. Elaine Du and I returned to Shanghai from Qinghai. We had arrived in Xining on 26 June, and we spent exactly eight weeks in the sparsely populated province. We drove 8054 km (4,994 miles). I lost 5 kg (11 lbs.). On Sunday Dusky Warbler near Gonghe became our 195th and final species of the trip.

While in Qinghai, Elaine and I made new friends and deepened our friendship with our first-rate partners Michael Grunwell and Jan-Erik Nilsén. And the memories … let me tell you ’bout the memories.

Better yet, let me show you them. Ready?

I found this downy Bar-headed Goose at sunset on 28 June on the shore of Qinghai Lake, whose blue sheen you can see in the background. This youngster has much growing to do before he’ll be ready to make the flight across the Himalaya to India for the winter. Will he get strong enough in time to make the frightening trip? Strength, my lad, strength!

Bar-headed Goose, Qinghai Lake, 28 June 2016. F/7.1, 1/800, ISO 1600.
Bar-headed Goose, Qinghai Lake, 28 June 2016. F/7.1, 1/800, ISO 1600.

Last week I created a photo essay, “Little Birds in a Big Land,” in which I photographed Isabelline Wheatear from a distance, with mountains, sand dunes, and scrub visible in the background. It was an intense, 90-minute photo workout with that arid-country specialist, well-adapted to the semi-deserts of Wulan County.

Isabelline Wheatear 1/3. F/14, 1/400, ISO 1600. Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 18 Aug. 2016.
Isabelline Wheatear 1/3. F/14, 1/400, ISO 1600. Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 18 Aug. 2016.
F/16, 1/320, ISO 800.
F/16, 1/320, ISO 800.
F/16, 1/250, ISO 1600.
F/16, 1/250, ISO 1600.

Henderson’s Ground Jay is also known as Mongolian Ground Jay. Despite the ground in the name, these birds fly just fine.

Henderson's Ground Jay, scrub W of Chaka, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 30 June 2016. F/6.3, 1/6400, ISO 2500.
Henderson’s Ground Jay, scrub W of Chaka, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 30 June 2016. F/6.3, 1/6400, ISO 2500.
Henderson's Ground Jay in flight. Chaka, 30 June 2016.
Henderson’s Ground Jay in flight. Chaka, 30 June 2016.

When agitated, breeding White-rumped Snowfinch does a wing-flicking display reminiscent of Claudia’s Leaf Warbler. Qinghai Lake, 28 June.

White-rumped Snowfinch contorting its head in territorial display. Along G109 near Qinghai Lake, 28 June 2016.
White-rumped Snowfinch contorting its head in territorial display. Along G109 near Qinghai Lake, 28 June 2016.
Left wing-flick.
Left wing-flick.
Right wing-flick.
Right wing-flick.

The top two photos displayed below are of Gansu Leaf Warbler (the lower of the two from our newly discovered breeding site along the Heihe River in northern Qinghai); the bottom one is of Sichuan Leaf Warbler. Note the cleaner lower mandible of Gansu Leaf Warbler and compare it to the typically darker lower mandible of Sichuan. In summer, when we met these species, they were singing, and the songs of the two species differ much. In winter, when the birds are quiet, bill color is a good way to begin to identify these two similar-looking species.

Gansu Leaf Warbler at Huzhu Beishan, 27 June 2016.
Gansu Leaf Warbler at Huzhu Beishan, 27 June 2016.
Gansu Leaf Warbler, riparian forest along Heihe River, Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, 4 Aug. 2016.
Gansu Leaf Warbler, riparian forest along Heihe River, Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, 4 Aug. 2016.
Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Jiangxi Forest Station, Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, 17 July 2016.
Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Jiangxi Forest Station, Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, 17 July 2016.

I sound-recorded Gansu Leaf Warbler:

Gansu Leaf Warbler, Qilian County, Qinghai, 3 Aug. 2016 (01:35; 4 MB)

We found a new location for Przevalski’s Partridge along some back roads in Wulan County. Rusty-necklaced Partridge (alternative name) looks much like Chukar, but note the rusty line.

Rusty-necklaced Partridge, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, 17 Aug. 2016.
Rusty-necklaced Partridge, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, 17 Aug. 2016.

While we’re on partridges, what about this charismatic Tibetan Partridge, a semi-tame specimen at the nunnery, Kanda Gorge, Yushu Prefecture.

Tibetan Partridge, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016.
Tibetan Partridge, Kanda Gorge, 5 July 2016.

Birds of KM 2189.5 along the G109 near Qinghai Lake: Robin Accentor, a Siberian Stonechat that wasn’t happy when we stumbled upon its nest, Tibetan Snowfinch using the embankment for a nest, and that one-of-a-kind species that is neither finch nor bunting but derives from a line independent of the two: Przevalski’s “Finch.”

Robin Accentor in scrub above KM 2189.5 on G109 near Qinghai Lake. 28 June 2016.
Robin Accentor in scrub above KM 2189.5 on G109 near Qinghai Lake. 28 June 2016.
Siberian Stonechat in hovering flight near nest, 28 June 2016.
Siberian Stonechat in hovering flight near nest, 28 June 2016.
Tibetan Snowfinch looking warily at cameraman before entering its cavity nest. KM 2189.5, G109, near Qinghai Lake. 28 June 2016.
Tibetan Snowfinch looking warily at cameraman before entering its cavity nest. KM 2189.5, G109, near Qinghai Lake. 28 June 2016.
Przevalski's 'Finch' in song, 28 June 2016, KM 2189.5.
Przevalski’s ‘Finch’ in song, 28 June 2016, KM 2189.5.

Blue-fronted Redstart is also sui generis, the only blue-headed Phoenicurus. Females are tougher to distinguish from other female redstarts, but note the inverted T, shown here on this male. Females have it too, and it is distinctive.

Blue-fronted Redstart showing inverted T on tail. Huzhu Beishan, 27 June 2016.
Blue-fronted Redstart showing inverted T on tail. Huzhu Beishan, 27 June 2016.

We had a memorable moment with Black-necked Crane near Lake Xiligou, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture.

Black-necked Crane in flight, Lake Xiligou.
Black-necked Crane in flight, Lake Xiligou.

More bird + land: Bar-headed Goose at point where Eling Lake empties into the young Yellow River, Guoluo Prefecture.

Bar-headed Goose stands at the point where high-altitude Eling Lake empties into the young Yellow River. 3 July 2016.
Bar-headed Goose stands at the point where high-altitude Eling Lake empties into the young Yellow River. 3 July 2016.

On a moonless, pitch-black night we heard a family of Eurasian Eagle-Owl making strange sounds. I shot the owls by the light of our headlights. We were in Haibei Prefecture.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl at cliff-side roost in Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai, 30 July 2016.
Eurasian Eagle-Owl at cliff-side roost in Haibei Prefecture, Qinghai, 30 July 2016.

I had long wanted to put Chinese Thrush in my camera. Here’s the moment when I achieved that goal. I was at the riparian forest along the Heihe River in Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture.

Chinese Thrush in riparian forest along Heihe River, Haibei Prefecture. 4 Aug. 2016.
Chinese Thrush in riparian forest along Heihe River, Haibei Prefecture. 4 Aug. 2016.

Amazing Tibetan Sandgrouse near Hala Lake.

Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, Haixi Prefecture, 10 Aug. 2016.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala Lake, Haixi Prefecture, 10 Aug. 2016.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala, 10 Aug.
Tibetan Sandgrouse, Hala, 10 Aug.

Brandt’s Mountain Finch may look unexciting, but just watch it fly.

Brandt's Mountain Finch is a small but powerful bird, taking long, straight flights at altitudes topping 5000 m. I found this individual 9 Aug. near Hala Lake at an elev. of 4400 m.
Brandt’s Mountain Finch is a small but powerful bird, taking long, straight flights at altitudes topping 5000 m. I found this individual 9 Aug. near Hala Lake at an elev. of 4400 m.

Do these Himalayan Vulture disgust you? Why? They’re only doing their job–a very important one. And they have manners. Note that the juvenile doesn’t interfere with the adult as it feeds.

Himalayan Vulture, Guoluo Prefecture, 20 July 2016.
Himalayan Vulture, Guoluo Prefecture, 20 July 2016.

King of the high-altitude falcons: Saker.

Saker Falcon, Haibei Prefecture, 6 Aug. 2016.
Saker Falcon, Haibei Prefecture, 6 Aug. 2016.

Who cares about Spotted Dove? When you’re in a city park in Shanghai, then you don’t care about Spotted Dove. When you’re in Qilian County, Qinghai, the extreme west of its range, then you care about Spotted Dove.

Unusual record of Spotted Dove in Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, 1 Aug. 2016.
Unusual record of Spotted Dove in Qilian County, Haibei Prefecture, 1 Aug. 2016.

Goitered Gazelle, a Vulnerable species. Ranges from Arabian Peninsula to China. We recorded it in Wulan County.

Goitered Gazelle near Lake Xiligou, Wulan County, 16 Aug. 2016.
Goitered Gazelle near Lake Xiligou, Wulan County, 16 Aug. 2016.

Tibetan Gazelle was waiting for us at sunset in the mountains north of Hala Lake.

Tibetan Gazelle near Suli, Haixi Prefecture, 6 Aug. 2016.
Tibetan Gazelle near Suli, Haixi Prefecture, 6 Aug. 2016.

We noted Glover’s Pika at various places in Yushu Prefecture. This little guy is marketable!

Glover's Pika, Yushu Prefecture, 4 July 2016.
Glover’s Pika, Yushu Prefecture, 4 July 2016.

This Mountain Weasel is one of the cutest little killers you’ll ever meet. Like all weasels, it’s almost completely carnivorous. In Haibei Prefecture one afternoon, Elaine and I watched this little dude dart into and out of the pika burrows, terrorizing the local birds and pikas. The fruitless attempts were comical, but we noted with respect the speed and agility of this star performer.

Mountain Weasel, Haibei Prefecture, 31 July 2016.
Mountain Weasel, Haibei Prefecture, 31 July 2016.

There’s something sensuous about those smoothly curved sand dunes–and in that soft sunset light. Right time, definitely right place.

In a few weeks I’m going to be missing Qinghai big-time, and scenes like these are going to be why. There’s no place on Earth like Qinghai, no place under the sun like the Tibetan Plateau.

The sand in these dunes was deposited grain by grain by the wind. Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016. F/7.1, 1/200, ISO 1250.
The sand in these dunes was deposited grain by grain by the wind. Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016. F/7.1, 1/200, ISO 1250.

Other posts in our Qinghai 2016 series:

Tibetan Lynx, Kanda Mountain, Qinghai
Qinghai 2016 Week 3 Highlights
Qinghai 2016 Week 4 Highlights

Featured image: “We Are Family!” sang Sister Sledge back in ’79. Here’s the Chinese-American adventure team, Elaine Du (L) and yours truly–partners, spouses, family. We were at Eling Lake, Qinghai, where the Yellow River and Chinese culture are born. The date was 3 July 2016. This is a self-portrait, engineered (as indeed every picture in this post was engineered) by Craig Brelsford using the Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4 lens.