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 8

This post is about my Qinghai 2016 summer birding trip. It covers the eighth and final week. The featured image shows dunes and mountain in the remote back country of Wulan County, where I spent most of Week 8.

A post on Weeks 5-6 was published Thurs. 27 Oct., and Week 7 appeared Thurs. 10 Nov. Together, this and the two previous posts cover Month 2 of the two-month trip.

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

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.

THE FINAL WEEK

Stunning sunset over Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. 2016.
Stunning sunset over Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. 2016.

This post covers the eighth and final week of my Qinghai 2016 birding expedition, from Sun. 14 Aug. to Sun. 21 Aug. 2016. Elaine Du and I spent most of Week 8 in Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. Amid stunning scenery, we found Tibetan Wolf, discovered a new location for Przevalski’s Partridge, and around Lake Xiligou had a rare eastern record of Water Rail as well as Qinghai favorites Black-necked Crane, Tibetan Lark, and Henderson’s Ground Jay. The lake held Black-necked Grebe and a noisy super-flock of 4610 Ruddy Shelduck, and Mongolian Goitered Gazelle were in the hills behind. Near Chaka we had Mute Swan, and at a site south of Gonghe-Qiabuqia we noted Dusky Warbler, the 195th and final species of our two-month trip.

WORKING ‘VACATION’ IN WULAN

The view from our room at the hotel in Wulan. A new public square adds life to the town.
The view from our room at the hotel in Wulan Xiancheng. A new public square adds life to the town. The elevation here is 2950 m. The weather in August is warm and dry, a welcome contrast to the cold we endured the previous week at Hala Lake.

Elaine and I had spent 15 straight nights in our tent when in the afternoon of Sun. 14 Aug. we pulled into Wūlán Xiàn Hóngxiáng Jiǔdiàn (乌兰县鸿翔酒店, +86 (0) 977-8245666, 36.927295, 98.479888). This comfortable hotel in Wulan Xiancheng would shelter us for the next three nights. We did no more birding on the 14th. The next day, the 15th, a group of Elaine’s former co-workers who happened to be vacationing in the area stopped by our hotel for a big lunch. As in Xining in July, our vacation-within-a-vacation gave us the breather we needed.

Our explorations resumed on Tues. 16 Aug. In the morning, we reconnoitered the north side of Lake Xiligou (36.838594, 98.462896), the little-birded saline lake south of Wulan. The elevation around Lake Xiligou is 2950 m, more than 1100 meters lower than chilly Hala Lake, where we had spent the previous week.

This is the productive marshy area at 36.899263, 98.494709. We heard Water Rail calling from the reeds.
This is the productive marshy area near Wulan Xiancheng at 36.899263, 98.494709. From these reeds we heard the squeals of Water Rail, and nearby we found Tibetan Lark.

At a productive marshy area (36.899263, 98.494709) we heard Water Rail calling from the reeds, picked up trip-first Richard’s Pipit, and welcomed back Tibetan Lark to our Qinghai list. The scrub nearby yielded a single Henderson’s Ground Jay.

Despite those successes, approaching Lake Xiligou from the north was not optimal, because the lake is shrinking, and the shrinkage is most pronounced on the north shore. The more remote south shore, by contrast, which we visited in the afternoon, was a revelation.

Mongolian Goitered Gazelle, Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. 2016.
Mongolian Goitered Gazelle, Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. 2016. Goitered Gazelle ranges from the Arabian Peninsula to China. The IUCN lists it as Vulnerable, mainly because of poaching and habitat loss. The latter problem is glaringly acute in Qinghai, where numbers of domestic livestock continue to increase, straining the land and pushing the wild ungulates out.

The show started while we were still in the semi-desert. We found a black-tailed gazelle that did not bound away like a Tibetan Gazelle, but galloped. It was Mongolian Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa hilleriana. We found 12.

As we approached the south shore, we heard a roar coming from the water. The source was Ruddy Shelduck, of which we counted 4610. Next in numbers was Brown-headed Gull (625), Black-necked Grebe (275), and Black-winged Stilt (210). 4 bugling Black-necked Crane made up with charisma and grace what they lacked in numbers. Lake Xiligou also yielded a single Greylag Goose, 7 Common Shelduck, 20 Northern Shoveler, 4 Common Pochard, 1 Great Crested Grebe, and 35 Pied Avocet.

Elaine Du walks through a sea of grass near the south shore of Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. 2016. In the distance the town of Wulan can be seen.
Elaine Du walks through a sea of grass near the south shore of Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. 2016. In the distance the town of Wulan can be seen.

Driving out in the dark, we found 3 jerboa, two of them long-eared and presumably either Gobi Jerboa or Mongolian Five-Toed Jerboa, and the third short-eared and long-tailed and presumably Northern Three-toed Jerboa. What fun it is to watch these “jumping mice” (跳鼠) hop across the chaparral.

THE BACK COUNTRY OF WULAN COUNTY

Rusty-necklaced Partridge, Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, 17 Aug. 2016.
We found this Przevalski’s Partridge at a spot (36.826334, 97.965649) 66 km southwest of Wulan. Endemic to China, Alectoris magna has a compact range that extends from northeastern Qinghai to central Gansu. It is similar to Chukar Partridge A. chukar and is distinguished from it by the chestnut line on the neck. This line gives rise to its other English name, ‘Rusty-necklaced Partridge.’

On Wed. 17 Aug. Elaine and I were back on the road, exploring the area south of Wulan and north of Dulan (36.299080, 98.091569). Here Elaine and I found some of the best scenery and most remote country of the Qinghai trip. We drove for hours, not passing a single car. We saw more Przevalski’s Partridge than people, the result of our finding a new site (36.826334, 97.965649) for the species 66 km southwest of Wulan. The covey contained 13 birds. The site, at elev. 3380 m and with well-vegetated hillsides and steep cliffs for roosting nearby, meets the basic demands of the species and may hold the partridges throughout the year.

Asian Short-toed Lark, in semi-desert near Jinzi Lake, Wulan County, 19 Aug. 2016. The four panels show a single individual, a juvenile. Note the stubby bill, the noticeable extension of the primaries beyond the short tertials (Panel 2), and the streaked breast (4). Hume's Short-toed Lark and Greater Short-toed Lark show tertials overlapping the primary tips, and neither has streaking across the breast.
Asian Short-toed Lark in semi-desert near Jinzi Lake, Wulan County, 19 Aug. 2016. The four panels show a single individual, a juvenile. Note the stubby bill, the noticeable extension of the primaries beyond the short tertials (Panel 2), and the streaked breast (4). Hume’s Short-toed Lark and Greater Short-toed Lark show tertials overlapping the primary tips, and neither has streaking across the breast.

On Thurs. 18 Aug., on the way to Jinzi Lake (36.719109, 97.886371), we found a group of Mongolian Goitered Gazelle sprinting across the road. I once again noted the power and speed of these animals. Jinzi Lake is a spring-fed freshwater pond, elev. 2990 m. Here we found adult and juvenile Black-necked Grebe and Great Crested Grebe. At the lake we added to our Qinghai 2016 list Eurasian Coot, and later in the desert Tarim Babbler joined the list. We studied carefully the short-toed larks in the marshy areas near the lake. All were Asian Short-toed Lark.

I drove into a sand dune and got stuck. With our handy shovel I dug the car out. I learned two lessons from the incident. First, sand is treacherous; never approach it flippantly. Second, always have tools in your car, especially in remote places. Without that shovel, I would not have been able to dig the car out. I would have been at the mercy of some local–assuming we had found someone. Because we had the shovel, we were able to continue birding after a short delay.

Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula margelanica.
Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula margelanica near Jinzi Lake.

On the morning of Fri. 19 Aug. we found a watering hole in the desert near Jinzi Lake. The pool attracted Desert Whitethroat, a lone Temminck’s Stint, Tarim Babbler, several Isabelline Wheatear, and a Citrine Wagtail.

RESCUING REDSTARTS

Dunes and mountain near Lianhe Cun, Dulan County, Qinghai, 19 Aug. 2016.
Dunes and mountain near Chacha Cun (36.674281, 98.133550), Dulan County, Qinghai, 19 Aug. 2016. Nikon D3S and 600 mm F/4, F/11, 1/500, ISO 500.

On the afternoon of Fri. 19 Aug. Elaine and I were driving through Lianhe Cun (36.622738, 98.233933). We did a double-take. Someone had hung bird netting along the main road, in plain view. The nets were apparently some ill-advised attempt to protect the local crop of wolfberry growing in the gardens behind. Wolfberry or gǒuqǐ (枸杞) is an edible fruit grown in irrigated cropland in Haixi Prefecture.

The scheme was not only callous but also futile, as nearly all the birds could see the netting and were flying over it into the gardens. The only result the netting was having was to kill a few of the birds–and demonstrate the ignorance of the net-setters.

I saw two Black Redstart enmeshed in the netting. They were alive and struggling. In full view of the farmers, who were selling their wolfberry just yards away, I pulled out my knife and cut the redstarts out.

It was quite a job. The netting catches onto any irregular surface–claws, toes, wings, bill. And the redstarts are fragile. If I squeezed the frightened bird even a little too much, it would die in my hand. As I handled one of the beauties, a sleek adult male, the redstart pecked weakly at my fingers.

I set the redstarts free and drove off. I looked at the hard-bitten farmers, their faces wrinkled like raisins after years toiling in the desert sun. I told Elaine: “Poor folks can be materialistic, too–all that cruelty for a measly couple of yuan.”

TIBETAN WOLF

View looking north at 'Przevalski's Site' in the Dulan Mountains, 19 Aug. 2016.
View looking north at Przevalski’s Site in the Dulan Mountains, 19 Aug. 2016. The point here is 36.460567, 98.503088. The base of Przevalski’s Hill, where Przevalski’s Partridge often gather, is visible to the left of the gully. The wolves were found on the farthest ridge back. Przevalski’s Redstart have been found on the conifer-spotted sunlit hillside in the mid-ground. Pine Bunting often sing from the base of Przevalski’s Hill and in the grass in the foreground.

Later on Fri. 19 Aug. we found 3 Tibetan Wolf at the well-known “Przevalski’s Site” (36.457249, 98.502578). With our trip winding down, and steadily making our way east toward Xining and the airport, Elaine and I passed by the Przevalski’s Site and decided to make a lunch stop there. We drove off the G109 and motored through the arid grassland to the base of “Partridge Hill,” where Przevalski’s Partridge are often found.

After lunch, I said to Elaine, “I’m going to read that slope like a book.” I was talking about the slope that rises about 700 m from the valley floor where we were parked and is about 1500 air-meters away. During our visit in July with Jan-Erik Nilsén, I studied the slope and found Blue Sheep clinging to the nearly vertical wall.

I pulled out my Swarovski ATX-95 and mounted it atop my Manfrotto head. To reduce the effect of the wind, I was seated with the legs of the tripod unextended. As is my habit, I scanned the ridges first.

I found 3 Tibetan Wolf on the ridge. Canus lupus chanco is a small ssp., and at first I mistook the wolves for foxes. They had black-tipped tails, ocher fur on the back and outer legs, an off-white band on the upper back, and a white muzzle and throat. They moved with ease across the slope.

Battling heat haze, I struggled to keep up with the wolves. I held on for 5 to 10 minutes, during which time I noted their efficient gait, saw them investigating every nook and cranny in their path, and watched them sure-footedly clamber up steep rocks. Elaine peeked in, her first look ever at a wolf.

The wolves disappeared, and strangely enough about 30 minutes later a flock of 40 Blue Sheep, including several lambs, moved into the area. We waited for the wolves to attack, but no attack came.

A major birding location in Dulan County, the Przevalski’s Site is so named because it is reliable for Przevalski’s Partridge and Przevalski’s Redstart. On 19 Aug. the site delivered a covey of 18 partridges, emerging as if on cue from the base of Partridge Hill for a late-afternoon feed. No Przevalski’s Redstart were found, the wheeze of Pine Bunting was no longer heard, and even that little fighter Alpine Leaf Warbler was subdued.

As I stood there watching the now-skulky Alpine Leaf Warbler, so feisty when we arrived in Qinghai in June, it occurred to me that Elaine and I had spent virtually the entire summer in Qinghai.

We continued east, to Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878). At a spot (36.787688, 98.987532) for Henderson’s Ground Jay west of town, now flooded after much recent rain, we added our 194th species of bird for Qinghai 2016: Mute Swan.

THE END

On Sat. 20 Aug. Elaine and I drove from Chaka to a point (36.206372, 100.534206) south of Gonghe-Qiabuqia. There we spent our final night. The next morning, in the scrub near our camp I found Crested Lark and Dusky Warbler, the latter the 195th and final species of the trip.

We drove to Xining Caojiabao Airport, returned the Sportage, and flew back to Shanghai.

Day Lists
Lists are generated on eBird then adjusted to comport with my first reference, the IOC World Bird List. All observations by Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du.

List 1 of 2 for Sun. 14 Aug. 2016 (6 species). Birds noted in mountains of Delingha County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. Approximate location: 37.486489, 97.384522.

Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 2 (3630 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 4 (3870-4080 m)
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 5 (3900-4280 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 4 (3870-4080 m)
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 1 (3900 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 1 (3860 m)

Mammals

Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 20

List 2 of 2 for Sun. 14 Aug. 2016 (11 species). Birds noted at Gahai Lake (37.128349, 97.551656), Delingha County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 2850 m. 14:00-14:25.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 8
Common Shelduck T. tadorna 1
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata 2
Garganey Anas querquedula 1
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 1
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 1
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 6
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 15
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 4

List 1 of 1 for Tues. 16 Aug. 2016 (31 species)

Dusk at Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. 2016.
Dusk at Lake Xiligou, 16 Aug. 2016.

Birds noted at Lake Xiligou (36.838594, 98.462896), Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 2950 m. 10:00-14:15, 16:35-19:40.

Greylag Goose Anser anser 1
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 4610
Common Shelduck T. tadorna 7
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata 20
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 4
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 275
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus 1 calling in marshy area at 36.899263, 98.494709
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis 4
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 210
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 35
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 25
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 625
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 4
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 10
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 7
Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus 3
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 5
Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni 1
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 6
Hume’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella acutirostris 7
Tibetan Lark Melanocorypha maxima 4 (2 ads., 2 juvs.)
Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis 12
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 5
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 32
Rufous-breasted Accentor Prunella strophiata 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 6
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 1

Mammals

Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 2
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 1
jerboa sp. 3
Mongolian Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa hilleriana 12

List 1 of 1 for Wed. 17 Aug. 2016 (15 species)

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.
Dunes near the Przevalski’s Partridge site in Wulan County, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016.

Birds noted between Lake Xiligou (36.838594, 98.462896) & 36.856334, 97.863822, a point in Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 15:35-20:25.

Przevalski’s Partridge Alectoris magna 13 (covey) at 36.826334, 97.965649 (3380 m)
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 3 (3310-3380 m)
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis 1 (3310 m)
Common Swift Apus apus 3 (3310 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 3 (3300 m)
Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus giganteus 1 (3500 m)
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 4 (3310-3380 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 77 (3310 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 20 (3310-3480 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 2 (3490 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 2 (3300 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 15 (3300 m)
Brown Accentor Prunella fulvescens 1 (3300 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 30 (3300 m)
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 1 (3300 m)

Mammals

When approached by this photographer, this Woolly Hare decided to sit tight. From a survival perspective, the strategy paid off. Nikon D3S, 600 mm F/4, F/9, 1/250, ISO 8000, hand-held. Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai, 17 Aug. 2016.
When approached by this photographer, this Woolly Hare decided to sit tight. From a survival perspective, the strategy paid off. Nikon D3S, 600 mm F/4, F/9, 1/250, ISO 8000, hand-held. Wulan County, 17 Aug. 2016.

Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 4 (3300-3380 m)
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 8 (3310 m)

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 18 Aug. 2016 (32 species). Birds noted between 36.856334, 97.863822 & Jinzi Lake (36.719109, 97.886371), Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 15:35-20:25.

Greylag Goose Anser anser 17 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 45 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca 1 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Tufted Duck A. fuligula 15 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1 (3000 m)
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 29 (17 ad., 12 juv.) at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis 26 (10 ad., 16 non-br./juv.) at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 2 (3000 m)
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 1 (3000 m)
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra 20 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis 2 (3000 m)
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 49 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii 1 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 3 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 4 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 22 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 (3310 m)
Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus 9 (2970-3000 m)
Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni 2 (3310-3360 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 3 (3410-3460 m)
Northern Raven Corvus corax 2 (3000 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 4 (3000 m)
Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis 19 (3000 m)
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 80 at Jinzi Lake (2990 m)
Tarim Babbler Rhopophilus albosuperciliaris 1 (3000 m)
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti 2 (2970-3080 m)
Isabelline Wheatear O. isabellina 58 (2950-3310 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 6 (2970-3000 m)
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 1 (2990 m)
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 2 (3000 m)
White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis 5 (2970-3000 m)

Mammals

Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 1 (3410 m)
Mongolian Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa hilleriana 6 (3240 m)

List 1 of 2 for Fri. 19 Aug. 2016 (14 species)

Isabelline Wheatear are abundant in the semi-deserts of Wulan County. 18 Aug. 2016.
Isabelline Wheatear are abundant in the semi-deserts of Wulan County. We counted 58 on 18 Aug. and 110 on 19 Aug.

Birds noted between Jinzi Lake (36.719109, 97.886371), Wulan County & Lianhe Cun (36.627763, 98.235107), Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 08:35-13:45.

Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii 1 (3000 m)
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 1 (3000 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 3 (3000 m)
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2 (3130 m)
Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus 7 (3000-3130 m)
Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni 1 (3330 m)
Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis 14 (3000 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 3 (3130 m)
Desert Whitethroat Desert Sylvia minula margelanica 3 (3000 m)
Tarim Babbler Rhopophilus albosuperciliaris 2 (3000 m)
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 3 (3130-3260 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus ca. 300 (3130 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 110 (3000-3260 m)
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 3 (3000 m)

List 2 of 2 for Fri. 19 Aug. 2016 (16 species). Birds noted from Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578) in Dulan Mountains, Dulan County E to Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878), Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 14:25-19:30.

Mute Swan Cygnus olor 1 in marshland along highway at 36.787688, 98.987532 (3070 m)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 28 (3070 m)
Przevalski’s Partridge Alectoris magna 18 (covey) at Przevalski’s Site (3820 m)
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 1 juv. (3820 m)
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 1 (3820 m)
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1 (3070 m)
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 8 (3070 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1 (3550 m)
Common Swift Apus apus 8 (3340 m)
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1 (3820 m)
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 5 (3820 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 25 (3820 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 4 (3820 m)
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 1 (3820 m)
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 4 juvs. (3820 m)
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 2 (3820 m)

Mammals

Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 7 (3000-3820 m)
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 6 (3820 m)
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 40 (3820 m)
Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus chanco 3 at Przevalski’s Site (3820 m)

List 1 of 1 for Sat. 20 Aug. 2016 (10 species). Birds noted at Dashui Reservoir (36.716292, 99.471655), Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 3390 m. 13:25-15:05.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 48
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 21
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 13
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 2
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 2
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 3
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 1
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 1

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 21 Aug. 2016 (4 species). Birds noted at spot S of Gonghe-Qiabuqia at 36.206372, 100.534206, Gonghe County, Hainan Prefecture, Qinghai. All elevations 2920 m. 07:30-09:30.

Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 7
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 4
Crested Lark Galerida cristata 3
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 1

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.

Chacha Cun (Cháchá Cūn [查查村]): village Dulan County. 36.674281, 98.133550.

Chaka (Chákǎ Zhèn [茶卡镇]): town & tourist center Wulan County. 36.791576, 99.078878.

Dashui Reservoir (Dàshuǐ Shuǐkù [大水水库]): dam & artificial lake. 36.716292, 99.471655.

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

Dulan County (Dūlán Xiàn [都兰县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture.

Gahai Lake (Gǎ Hǎi [尕海]): freshwater lake Delingha County. Elev.: 2850 m (9,350 ft.). 37.128349, 97.551656.

Gonghe County (Gònghé Xiàn [共和县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Hainan Prefecture.

Haibei Prefecture (Hǎiběi Zàngzú Zìzhì Zhōu [海北藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area NE Qinghai.

Hainan Prefecture (Hǎinán Zàngzú Zìzhìzhōu [海南藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area E Qinghai.

Haixi Prefecture (Hǎixī Měnggǔzú Zàngzú Zìzhì Zhōu [海西蒙古族藏族自治州]): sub-provincial administrative area occupying all of NW & NC Qinghai & a portion of SW Qinghai. Area: 325,785 sq. km (125,786 sq. mi.). Area (comparative): slightly larger than New Mexico. Largest prefecture in Qinghai.

Hala Lake (Hālā Hú [哈拉湖]): inland sea N Qinghai in Haixi Prefecture. Second-largest lake in Qinghai. Area: 607 sq. km (234 sq. mi.). Elevation: 4077 m (13,373 ft.). 38.267875, 97.575430.

Huzhu County (Hùzhù Tǔzú Zìzhìxiàn [互助土族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haidong Prefecture.

Jinzi Lake (Jīnzi Hǎi [金子海]): freshwater lake Wulan County. Elev.: 2990 m (9,810 ft.). 36.719109, 97.886371.

Lake Xiligou (Xīlǐgōu Hú [希里沟湖]): saline lake Wulan County. Elev.: 2950 m (9,680 ft.). 36.838594, 98.462896.

Lianhe Cun (Liánhé Cūn [联合村]): village Dulan County. 36.627763, 98.235107.

Przevalski’s Site: birding area Dulan Mountains, Dulan County. Turnoff at KM 2335.5 on G109. Birding area at 36.457249, 98.502578.

Qiabuqia (Qiàbǔqià Zhèn [恰卜恰镇]): urbanized area Gonghe County, seat of Gonghe County & Hainan Prefecture. Commonly referred to as Gonghe. 36.275266, 100.624701.

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. 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.

Wulan County (Wūlán Xiàn [乌兰县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture. Also known as Ulan County. Area: 10,784 sq. km (4,164 sq. mi.)

Xining Caojiabao Airport (Xīníng Cáojiābǎo Jīchǎng [西宁曹家堡机场]): airport 30 km E of downtown Xining. 36.527923, 102.040889.

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

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.

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.

Qinghai 2016 Week 1-2 Highlights

In photo above, Michael Grunwell (L) carries spotting scope to view waterfowl on Eling Lake, near source of Yellow River in Guoluo Prefecture, Qinghai, 3 July 2016. To the right is Mark Waters, Michael’s old friend from England. This post covers the first two weeks of our Qinghai 2016 expedition.

Other posts in our Qinghai 2016 series:

Tibetan Lynx, Kanda Mountain, Qinghai
Qinghai 2016 Week 3 Highlights
Qinghai 2016 Week 4 Highlights
A Batch o’ Qinghai Goodies
Qinghai 2016 Weeks 5-6

Qinghai 2016 Week 7
Qinghai 2016 Week 8

Elaine Du and I were in Qinghai from 26 June to 21 Aug. 2016. We collected a huge amount of material and have been publishing it in bits and pieces here on shanghaibirding.com. In this post, we offer you the highlights of the first two weeks of the trip, 26 June to 10 July, which we spent with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and his old friend Mark Waters.

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

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

226 Common Merganser at Eling Lake

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

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

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

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

Tibetan Partridge, 5 July 2016. Craig Brelsford.
Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae, Kanda Nunnery (32.291641, 96.512173), 5 July.

5 Golden Eagle noted at various places

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

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

5 Ibisbill on tributaries of Mekong River in Nangqian County

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

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

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

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

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

1 Black Drongo, another interesting record for Qinghai

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

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

1 southern record of Mongolian Lark south of Gonghe-Qiabuqia

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

16 Sichuan Tit in Kanda Gorge and at Baizha Nature Reserve

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

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

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

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

22 Sichuan Leaf Warbler at Baizha Nature Reserve

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

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

1 Dark-sided Flycatcher at Baizha Nature Reserve

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

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

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

47 Slaty-backed Flycatcher, all at Baizha Nature Reserve

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

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

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

11 Plumbeous Water Redstart, all at lower elevations at Baizha

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

6 Güldenstädt’s Redstart breeding as low as 3800 masl around Heimahe. Also known as White-winged Redstart

7 Chestnut Thrush in forests in Huzhu County

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

1 Maroon-backed Accentor at Baizha Nature Reserve

3 Przevalski’s Finch at two sites near Heimahe

3 White-winged Grosbeak near Chaka and in Kanda Gorge

2 Blanford’s Rosefinch at Baizha Nature Reserve

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

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

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

13 Henri’s Snowfinch, mainly around Ela Pass

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

2 Tibetan Bunting at Kanda Pass

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

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

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

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

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

Day Lists
Lists are generated on eBird then adjusted to comport with my first reference, the IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 1 for Mon. 27 June 2016 (33 species). Birds noted in Huzhu County, Haidong Prefecture, Qinghai. Most activity around Jiading (36.951698, 102.494353). 08:45-15:45. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 3
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 3
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 3
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 4
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 6
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 50
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dryobates cathpharius pernyii 1
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 5
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus 4
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 6
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 6
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 14
Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis 1
Japanese Tit Parus minor 6
Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa 1
Gansu Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus kansuensis 8 (7 at 36.973133, 102.441300)
Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides 4
Large-billed Leaf Warbler P. magnirostris 30
Plain Laughingthrush Garrulax davidi 2
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii 1
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope beicki 2
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 2
Plumbeous Water Redstart P. fuliginosus 6
White-capped Redstart P. leucocephalus 10
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni 20
Chestnut Thrush Turdus rubrocanus 6
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 2
White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis 12
Water/Rosy Pipit Anthus spinoletta/roseatus 2
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 2
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius 1
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 1

Mammals

Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 3
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes 1

List 1 of 1 for Tues. 28 June 2016 (42 species). Birds noted at Qinghai Lake (36.877808, 100.228673) & in hills between Heimahe (36.729239, 99.779524) & Rubber Mountain Pass (36.754213, 99.606705), Gonghe County, Hainan Prefecture, Qinghai. 06:20-20:50. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus ca. 100
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 50
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 5
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo ca. 100
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 2
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 6
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis 2
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 5
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 1
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 6
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 5
Pallas’s Gull Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus 30
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii ca. 50
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 2 (pair)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 14
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 30
Tibetan Lark Melanocorypha maxima 1
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula ca. 100
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 30
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 3
White-browed Tit Poecile superciliosus 2 (pair)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis ca. 100
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 15
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 3
Black Redstart P. ochruros 30
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus Przevalskii 8
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 20
Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri 1
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 10
Rufous-breasted Accentor P. strophiata 1
Brown Accentor P. fulvescens 2
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 2
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 50
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 25
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 7
Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla adamsi 8
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 15
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 20
Przevalski’s Finch Urocynchramus pylzowi 2 (pair)

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 30
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 5
White-lipped Deer Cervus albirostris 1
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes 4

List 1 of 2 for Wed. 29 June 2016 (22 species). Birds noted at Qinghai Lake (36.877808, 100.228673) & in hills between Heimahe (36.729239, 99.779524) & Rubber Mountain Pass (36.754213, 99.606705), Gonghe County, Hainan Prefecture, Qinghai. 06:45-12:20. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 1
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 5
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 4
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 5
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 8
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 50
White-browed Tit-Warbler Leptopoecile sophiae 5
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 8
White-tailed Rubythroat Calliope pectoralis 1 singing male
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 1 (3600 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 15
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus Przevalskii 1
Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri 23 at Lamaozhi Siyuan
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 8
Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus 1
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 18
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 10
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 20
Przevalski’s Finch Urocynchramus pylzowi 1

List 2 of 2 for Wed. 29 June 2016 (20 species). Birds noted between Dashui Qiao (36.691347, 99.457542) & Rubber Mountain Pass (36.754213, 99.606705), Gonghe County, Hainan Prefecture, Qinghai. Includes records from Dashui Reservoir (36.716292, 99.471655). 17:00-20:20. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 35 at Dashui Reservoir (3390 m)
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 20 at Dashui Reservoir (3390 m)
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1 at Dashui Reservoir (3390 m)
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 1 at Dashui Reservoir (3390 m)
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 2 at Dashui Reservoir (3390 m)
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 1 at Dashui Reservoir (3390 m)
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 42 (3420-3780 m)
Common Swift Apus apus 20 (3440-3570 m)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2 (3410 m)
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 6 (3810 m)
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris ca. 50 (3390-3630 m)
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 20 (3390-3660 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 5 (3390 m)
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 18 (3370-3760 m)
Common Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis 1 (3370 m)
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti 2 (pair) nesting near Dashui Reservoir (3390 m)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 20 (3370-3390 m)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20 at Dashui Qiao (3370 m)
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 3 at Dashui Reservoir (3390 m)
Blanford’s Snowfinch Pyrgilauda blanfordi 6 (3410 m)

List 1 of 2 for Thurs. 30 June 2016 (12 species). Birds noted at Qinghai Lake (36.877808, 100.228673) & in hills between Heimahe (36.729239, 99.779524) & Rubber Mountain Pass (36.754213, 99.606705), Hainan Prefecture, Qinghai. 10:35-11:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 2
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 2
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 1
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Pale Martin Riparia diluta 8
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 8
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 5
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 2 nesting (3570 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 2
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 2
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 3

List 2 of 2 for Thurs. 30 June 2016 (19 species). Birds noted from Rubber Mountain Pass (36.754213, 99.606705), Gonghe County, Hainan Prefecture to chaparral W of Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878), Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 11:40-13:10, 15:30-20:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 7
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 6
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 11
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 1
Cuculus sp. 1 W of Chaka
Common Swift Apus apus 10
Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus 4
Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni 2
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 20
Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis 2
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 3
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti 6
Isabelline Wheatear O. isabellina 1
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 3 nesting near Chaka
White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis 6
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 120
Blanford’s Snowfinch Pyrgilauda blanfordi 1

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 1 July 2016 (23 species). Birds noted from Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878), Wulan County, W to Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578) in Dulan Mountains, Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. 05:45-16:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Przevalski’s Partridge Alectoris magna 1 heard on ridge above Przevalski’s Site (3960 m)
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 4 (3960 m)
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 4
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 2
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 105
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 50
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 20
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 4
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 3
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 1
Przevalski’s Redstart P. alaschanicus 2 (pair)
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 2 nesting pair (3960 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 10
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti 3 (1 juv.)
Isabelline Wheatear O. isabellina 2
Brown Accentor Prunella fulvescens 4
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 30
White-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas carnipes 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 20
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 1
Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla adamsi 1
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos fronto 11

Mammals

Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 1
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 7
White-lipped Deer Cervus albirostris 2

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 2 July 2016 (7 species). Birds noted on drive between Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878) & Tiegai Xiang (35.989249, 100.194396), Gonghe County, Hainan Prefecture, Qinghai. 08:20-10:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 1
Little Owl Athene noctua 1 (3110 m)
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 5
Mongolian Lark Melanocorypha mongolica 1 at 35.989249, 100.194396 (3110 m)
Crested Lark Galerida cristata 3 N of Gonghe-Qiabuqia at 36.206372, 100.534206 (2920 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 4
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 1

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 2 July 2016 (13 species). Birds noted around Ela Pass (35.497608, 99.511449), Hainan Prefecture, Qinghai. 14:20-19:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 2
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 1
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 4
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 4
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 10
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 10
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 2 at Ela Pass (4499 m)
Black Redstart P. ochruros 2
Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola 1
Tibetan Rosefinch Carpodacus roborowskii 2
Henri’s Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici 8
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 5
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 15

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae ca. 100
Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 45
Tibetan Wild Ass Equus kiang 3
Tibetan Fox Vulpes ferrilata 1 (4180 m)

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 3 July 2016 (27 species). Birds noted in Maduo County, Guoluo Prefecture, Qinghai. 10:20-20:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 150
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 40
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina 2
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 1
Common Merganser Mergus merganser 225
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 15
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 30
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 27
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 25
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis 2
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus atrifrons 20
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus 30
Pallas’s Gull Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus 45
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 8
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 10
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 1
Northern Raven Corvus corax 5
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 20
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla 1
Hume’s Short-toed Lark C. acutirostris 30
Sand/Pale Martin Riparia riparia/diluta 14
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 15
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 20
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii 10
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis 20
Blanford’s Snowfinch P. blanfordi 3

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 50
Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa Allactaga sibirica 2 Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata 25
Tibetan Wild Ass Equus kiang 26
Pallas’s Cat Otocolobus manul 1
Tibetan Fox Vulpes ferrilata 1

List 1 of 4 for Mon. 4 July 2016 (6 species). Birds noted along G214 from wetlands of Maduo County to Bayankala Pass (34.114476, 97.661992), Guoluo Prefecture, Qinghai. 10:10-11:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus 2
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 1
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 2
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis 2 (34.6434, 98.0329)
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 1
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 1

List 2 of 4 for Mon. 4 July 2016 (7 species). Birds noted around Bayankala Pass (34.114476, 97.661992), Guoluo Prefecture, Qinghai. 11:40-13:50. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 6
Northern Raven Corvus corax 2
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 1
Tibetan Lark Melanocorypha maxima 1
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 5
Güldenstädt’s Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus 1
White-rumped Snowfich Onychostruthus taczanowskii 2

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 10
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 1

List 3 of 4 for Mon. 4 July 2016 (14 species). Birds noted around Yankou Shan (33.199406, 97.466606), area of primary scrub elev. 4460 m in Chenduo County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 14:15-16:35. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 2
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 2
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 2
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 1
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus 1 along G214 N of Yankou Shan (4230 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 1
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 4
Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides 2
Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri 2
White-tailed Rubythroat Calliope pectoralis 4
Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides 1
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 3
Streaked Rosefinch C. rubicilloides 3 (2 male, 1 female)
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 6

List 4 of 4 for Mon. 4 July 2016 (17 species). Birds noted around Yushu-Jiegu (33.002242, 96.978488), Yushu County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 17:10-20:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii 2
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 9
Cuculus sp. 2
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 4
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 12
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 2
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 5
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 2
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 2
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 5
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii 1
Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri 10
Hodgson’s Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni 3
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alboides 4
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 2
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 10
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10

Mammals

Glover’s Pika Ochotona gloveri 1

List 1 of 2 for Tues. 5 July 2016 (8 species). Birds noted between Yushu-Jiegu (33.002242, 96.978488), elev. 3700 m, & Galaga Pass (elev. 4493 m), Yushu County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 09:45-11:00. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 1
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 2
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Northern Raven Corvus corax 1
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 2
Brown Accentor Prunella fulvescens 1
Henri’s Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici 4
Tibetan Snowfinch M. adamsi 1 singing

List 2 of 2 for Tues. 5 July 2016 (32 species). Birds noted between Galaga Pass (elev. 4493 m) & Kanda Mtns. (32.314561, 96.624807), Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 11:20-20:20. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon 3
Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae 3
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 30
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 2
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 9
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 1
Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 23
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 4
Cuculus sp. 3
Little Owl Athene noctua 1
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus 1 at mouth of Kanda Gorge (3690 m)
Grey-backed Shrike L. tephronotus 6
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 9
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 17
Alpine Chough P. graculus 12 (flock) at Kanda Pass (4650 m)
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 8
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 3
Tibetan Babax Babax koslowi 3 at Kanda Nunnery (3910 m)
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii 21
Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri 11
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 1
White-capped Redstart P. leucocephalus 4
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni 4
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alboides 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 12
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 72
Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch C. pulcherrimus 3
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 2
Tibetan Bunting Emberiza koslowi 2 (pair) at Kanda Pass (4650 m)
Godlewski’s Bunting E. godlewskii 6

Mammals

Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 5
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 5
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 10

List 1 of 1 for Wed. 6 July 2016 (37 species). Birds noted around Baizha Nature Reserve (31.964250, 96.573340), Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 09:50-16:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 1
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 1
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 3
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 26
Snow Pigeon C. leuconota 1
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 4
Cuculus sp. 1
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 4
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 6
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 13
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 18
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 7
Carrion Crow C. corone 1
Large-billed Crow C. macrorhynchos 3
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 7
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 4
White-browed Tit-Warbler Leptopoecile sophiae 2
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 3
Yellow-streaked Warbler P. armandii 3
Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides 3 (3950 m)
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii 8
Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri 20
White-capped Redstart Phoenicurus leucocephalus 10
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni 9
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 6
Black Redstart P. ochruros 6
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus 1 juv.
Brown Accentor Prunella fulvescens 3
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alboides 6
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 15
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Montifringilla ruficollis 3
White-rumped Snowfich Onychostruthus taczanowskii 2
Pink-rumped Rosefinch Carpodacus waltoni 30
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius 3
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 4
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 3

Mammals

Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 4
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 25
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 25

List 1 of 1 for Thurs. 7 July 2016 (39 species). Birds noted around Baizha Nature Reserve (31.964250, 96.573340), Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 11:55-20:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae 1
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 1
Accipiter sp. 1
Black Kite Milvus migrans 1
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 2
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 30
Little Owl Athene noctua 1
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 9
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 8
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 1
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 4
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 3
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 16
Large-billed Crow C. macrorhynchos 2
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 7
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2
Rufous-vented Tit Periparus rubidiventris 2
Sichuan Tit Poecile weigoldicus 6
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 2
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes 5
Yellow-streaked Warbler Phylloscopus armandii 6
Sichuan Leaf Warbler P. forresti 10
Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides 3
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii 17
Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri 17
Slaty-backed Flycatcher Ficedula sordida 12 singing
Plumbeous Water Redstart Phoenicurus fuliginosus 3
White-capped Redstart P. leucocephalus 12
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni 15
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 6
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus 1
Maroon-backed Accentor Prunella immaculata 1
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 2
White Wagtail M. alba alboides 16
Grey-headed Bullfinch Pyrrhula erythaca 3
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 4
Pink-rumped Rosefinch C. waltoni 2
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius 9
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 2

Mammals

Tibetan Macaque Macaca thibetana 4
Glover’s Pika Ochotona gloveri 2
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 2
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 8

List 1 of 1 for Fri. 8 July 2016 (49 species). Birds noted around Baizha Nature Reserve (31.964250, 96.573340), Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. Includes records from Ga’er Monastery (31.829966, 96.487758). 09:10- 20:40. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon 5 (flock; 3870 m)
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 1
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 7
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 2
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 3
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 30
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 2
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 2
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius 1
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 2
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 10
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 14
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 31
Carrion Crow C. corone 5
Large-billed Crow C. macrorhynchos 4
Northern Raven C. corax 2
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 1
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 1
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 2
Grey Crested Tit Lophophanes dichrous 2
Sichuan Tit Poecile weigoldicus 6
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 4
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes 2
Alpine Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus occisinensis 2
Yellow-streaked Warbler P. armandii 3
Sichuan Leaf Warbler P. forresti 5
Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides 5
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii 32
Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri 6
Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica 1 (3730 m)
Slaty-backed Flycatcher Ficedula sordida 35
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 2
White-capped Redstart P. leucocephalus 18
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni 13
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 5
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Montifringilla ruficollis 2
White-rumped Snowfich Onychostruthus taczanowskii 3
Rufous-breasted Accentor Prunella strophiata 2
Brown Accentor P. fulvescens 4
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alboides 26
Water/Rosy Pipit Anthus spinoletta/roseatus 1
Blanford’s Rosefinch Carpodacus rubescens 2 (pair)
Common Rosefinch C. erythrinus 4
Pink-rumped Rosefinch C. waltoni 26
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius 13
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 1

Mammals

Tibetan Macaque Macaca thibetana 1
Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae 10
Glover’s Pika O. gloveri 3
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 7
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 8
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 40

List 1 of 2 for Sat. 9 July 2016 (41 species). Birds noted between Kanda Mtns. (32.314561, 96.624807) & Galaga Pass (elev. 4493 m), Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 09:10-18:30. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae 3
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 55
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 3
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 3
Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii 2 in stream along G214 (4020 m)
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 26
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 4
Little Owl Athene noctua 1
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 10
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 4
Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus 12
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica 18
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 14
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus 9
Northern Raven C. corax 2
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula 6
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 3
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus 1
Sichuan Tit Poecile weigoldicus 4
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 1
Yellow-streaked Warbler Phylloscopus armandii 13
Sichuan Leaf Warbler P. forresti 7
Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides 12
Tibetan Babax Babax koslowi 4
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii 30
Chestnut Thrush Turdus rubrocanus 1
Kessler’s Thrush T. kessleri 17
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis 2
Plumbeous Water Redstart P. fuliginosus 2
White-capped Redstart P. leucocephalus 3
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni 11
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps 6
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus 2
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alboides 7
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 13
Pink-rumped Rosefinch C. waltoni 11
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius 3
White-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas carnipes 3
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 14

Mammals

Glover’s Pika Ochotona gloveri 4
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus 2
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana 20
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur 5

List 2 of 2 for Sat. 9 July 2016 (4 species). Birds noted between Galaga Pass (elev. 4493 m) & Yushu-Jiegu (33.002242, 96.978488), elev. 3700 m, Yushu County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 18:35-20:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus 1
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 4
Henri’s Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici 1
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 1

List 1 of 1 for Sun. 10 July 2016 (15 species). Birds noted around Yushu-Jiegu (33.002242, 96.978488), Yushu County, Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai. 10:50-14:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, Michael Grunwell, & Mark Waters.

Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis 2
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 1
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 2
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii 10
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 10
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris 2
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla 1
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica 1
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis 30
Hodgson’s Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 2
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 1
Rufous-necked Snowfinch Montifringilla ruficollis 9
White-rumped Snowfich Onychostruthus taczanowskii 4
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 3

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

Baizha Nature Reserve (Báizhā Sēnlín Zìrán Bǎohùqū [白扎森林自然保护区]): protected area Nangqian County, Yushu Prefecture. Junction of G214 & X832 at 31.966314, 96.535097. On some maps, X832 is called “Ranniang Section” (Ránniáng Duàn [然娘段]). This is the road that leads toward the nature reserve. At another turnoff (31.964250, 96.573340), bear right, leaving Ranniang Section, & continue on to the reserve.

Chaka (Chákǎ Zhèn [茶卡镇]): town & tourist center Wulan County, Haixi Prefecture. 36.791576, 99.078878.

Ela Pass (Èlā Shānkǒu [鄂拉山口]): elev. 4499 m (14,757 ft.). 35.497608, 99.511449.

Eling Lake (Èlíng Hú [鄂陵湖]). Also known as Ngoring Lake. 34.902685, 97.709949.

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

Haidong Prefecture (Hǎidōng Shì [海东市]): sub-provincial administrative area E 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.

Heimahe (Hēimǎhé Xiāng [黑马河乡]): village on SW shore of Qinghai Lake in Gonghe County, Hainan Prefecture. Major tourist center. 36.729239, 99.779524.

Huzhu County (Hùzhù Tǔzú Zìzhìxiàn [互助土族自治县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haidong Prefecture.

Jiegu (Jiégǔ Zhèn [结古镇]): urbanized area E Yushu County. Commonly referred to as Yushu. 33.002242, 96.978488.

Michael Grunwell scans scrub for birds in the Kanda Mountains, 5 July 2016. High-quality scrub is just one of the many attractions of this pristine location in Nangqian County. The slopes hold White Eared Pheasant and Tibetan Partridge, and among the animals found here is Tibetan Lynx.
Michael Grunwell scans scrub for birds in Kanda Mountains, 5 July 2016. High-quality scrub is just one of the many attractions of this pristine location in Nangqian County. The slopes hold White Eared Pheasant and Tibetan Partridge, and among the animals found here is Tibetan Lynx.

Kanda Mountains (Kǎndá Shān [坎达山]): high country Nangqian County. Elev. at mouth of Kanda Gorge, near Zaqu River: 3670 m (12,040 ft.). Elev. Kanda Pass: 4680 m (15,350 ft.). Junction of G214 & road leading to Kanda Mountains: 32.315911, 96.454165. Mouth of Kanda Gorge: 32.277059, 96.485171. Kanda Pass: 32.314561, 96.624807.

Kanda Nunnery: religious institution Kanda Gorge. Reliable site for Tibetan Partridge & Tibetan Babax. Elev.: 3910 m (12,830 ft.). 32.291641, 96.512173.

Machali (Mǎchálǐ Zhèn [玛查理镇]): town W Maduo County. Commonly referred to as Maduo. 34.911354, 98.211208.

Maduo County (Mǎduō Xiàn [玛多县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Guoluo Prefecture.

Nangqian County (Nángqiān Xiàn [囊谦县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Yushu Prefecture.

Map of Qinghai with the eight prefectural-level divisions in white. From 26 June to 10 July 2016, the birding team of Michael Grunwell, Mark Waters, Elaine Du, and Craig Brelsford covered the 800 km from Yushu/Jiegu to Xining, marked in black. Map courtesy Wikipedia.
Map of Qinghai with the eight prefectural-level divisions in white. From 26 June to 10 July 2016, the birding team of Michael Grunwell, Mark Waters, Elaine Du, and Craig Brelsford covered the 800 km from Yushu/Jiegu to Xining, marked in black. 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.

Wulan County (Wūlán Xiàn [乌兰县]): sub-prefectural administrative area Haixi Prefecture.

Xining (Xīníng Shì [西宁市]): capital of Qinghai & most populous city on Tibetan Plateau.

Yushu County (Yùshù Shì [玉树市]): sub-prefectural administrative area Yushu Prefecture.

Map of Qinghai showing Yushu Prefecture in yellow and Yushu County in pink. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Map of Qinghai showing Yushu Prefecture in yellow and Yushu County in pink. Courtesy Wikipedia.

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

Zaqu River (Zāqū [扎曲]): name for upper reaches of Mekong River in Qinghai.

Qinghai 2016 Week 4 Highlights

On Sun. 24 July, Elaine Du and I drove our partner Jan-Erik Nilsén to Xining Caojiabao Airport, completing our second week with the Beijing-based Swedish birder and fourth in Qinghai. This trip started on 26 June with Michael Grunwell and his old friend Mark Waters. Since then, Elaine and I have noted 168 species of bird, driven 5800 km, and birded six of the eight prefectures of this province, which is thrice the size of the United Kingdom. I have been attacked by dogs at Kanda Nunnery, met a Living Buddha at a Buddhist art school, scoped the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter in the clear Tibetan Plateau air, and photographed Tibetan Lynx.

After four weeks birding at high altitude without a day off, and after nearly collapsing in exhaustion Sunday night in our hotel room here in Xining, Elaine and I made the only logical choice: We have decided to extend our Qinghai trip three more weeks, into August. You can say we’re crazy about Qinghai, or you can say we’re just crazy.

Elaine and I relaxing at an Italian restaurant in Xining on Monday night. After non-stop, high-altitude birding for a month, we were ready to kick back.
Elaine and I relaxing at an Italian restaurant in Xining on Monday night. After non-stop, high-altitude birding for a month, we were ready to kick back.

My wife and I are currently resting up here in the capital of Qinghai, the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau. Trading our birder’s hat for a tourist’s, we have taken in the sights of Xining, a city that has long been a crossroads of Han, Hui, and Tibetan culture. Dongguan Mosque dates from 1380, Ta’er Monastery from 1583. Western culture has arrived: On Monday night Elaine and I shared a steak at an Italian restaurant, and I drank a Hoegaarden.

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. Last week, our team covered the 800 km from Yushu/Jiegu to Xining (both marked in black). Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Jan-Erik’s second week with us saw us range from the town of Yushu (Jiegu) (33.002242, 96.978488) north through Maduo County and Ela Pass (35.497608, 99.511449) and into the desert around Dulan before a final night in Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878) and a long ride to Xining Caojiabao Airport (36.527923, 102.040889). We noted 69 species. Highlights:

Greylag Goose Anser anser
2 in pond west of Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878). First record for Qinghai 2016 trip.

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus
952 in lakes in Maduo County (4250 masl) and at Lake Donggeicuona (35.290072, 98.537098) in Maduo County (4100 masl).

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
1 at Lake Donggeicuona. My first record on Tibetan Plateau.

Great Egret Ardea alba
1 at Donggeicuona. My first on Tibetan Plateau. Unexpected in region (according to A Field Guide to the Birds of China).

Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
1 surprising record along G214 in Maduo County at lofty 4250 masl.

Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis
1 sub-ad. 24 July in semi-desert between Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878) and Heimahe (36.729239, 99.779524).

Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis

Himalayan Vulture pausing as it rips apart a lamb carcass, near Ela Pass, 20 July 2016. Juvenile looks passively on, never once interrupting the meal of the adult. Who says vultures lack table manners?
Himalayan Vulture pausing as it rips apart a lamb carcass, near Ela Pass (35.497608, 99.511449), 20 July 2016. Juvenile looks passively on, never once interrupting the meal of the adult. Who says vultures lack table manners?

Amazing scene 20 July near Ela Pass (35.497608, 99.511449) in which juvenile waited patiently while adult ate its fill of lamb carcass.

Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis
16 around Maduo County wetlands, at Donggeicuona, and at Chaka.

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
4 in pond with Greylag Goose west of Chaka. My first on Tibetan Plateau.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
59 around Chaka. Unexpected (according to A Field Guide to the Birds of China).

Little Owl Athene noctua

Little Owl stands at attention below Yankou Shan, 18 July 2016. Elev. 4430 m.
Little Owl stands at attention below Yankou Shan (33.199406, 97.466606), 18 July 2016. Elev. 4430 m.

Owlets examined us near Yankou Shan (33.199406, 97.466606) in Yushu Prefecture.

Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus giganteus
4 in semi-desert W of Dulan.

Mongolian Lark Melanocorypha mongolica
4 in grassland between Chaka and Gonghe-Qiabuqia (36.275266, 100.624701).

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
1 (first record of trip) across from hotel in Chaka (36.791576, 99.078878).

Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula
1 singing individual and 1 dead individual in semi-desert W of Dulan.

Tibetan Rosefinch Carpodacus roborowskii

Tibetan Rosefinch (female), Ela Pass, 20 July. Note robust size of the Tibetan Plateau endemic, a bird built for high country and harsh weather.
Tibetan Rosefinch (female), Ela Pass (35.497608, 99.511449), 20 July. Note robust size of the Tibetan Plateau endemic, a bird built for high country and harsh weather.

1 female at Ela Pass (35.497608, 99.511449), elev. 4499 m, on G214, Hainan Prefecture.

Streaked Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilloides
2 (pair) aggressively defending territory in semi-desert W of Dulan.

Great Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilla

This montage shows two individuals, one (1, 2) a male Great Rosefinch, the other (3-5) a male Streaked Rosefinch. The birds were photographed on 22 July 2016 within a few hundred meters of each other in the semi-desert west of Dulan in Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. The elevation here is 3340 m. Note the more strongly streaked back of the Streaked Rosefinch, the darker flight feathers, and the smaller white spots on its breast. The two species are deceptively similar, a situation neatly summed up by the Chinese name for Streaked Rosefinch: "pseudo-Great Rosefinch" (拟大朱雀).
This montage shows two individuals, one (1, 2) a male Great Rosefinch, the other (3-5) a male Streaked Rosefinch. The birds were photographed 22 July 2016 within a few hundred meters of each other in the semi-desert west of Dulan in Haixi Prefecture, Qinghai. The elevation here is 3340 m. Note the more strongly streaked back of the Streaked Rosefinch, the darker flight feathers, and the smaller white spots on its breast. The two species are deceptively similar, a situation neatly summed up by the Chinese name for Streaked Rosefinch: ‘pseudo-Great Rosefinch’ (拟大朱雀).

2 males found near Streaked Rosefinch; no defense of territory, no streaking on back, larger white spots on breast, browner wings.

Henri’s Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici
2 at Ela Pass.

Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos fronto
8 singing males at Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578) in Dulan Mountains west of Chaka.

Mammals

Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa Allactaga sibirica

Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa, near Maduo (Machali), 19 July 2016. This photo, taken by the light of the headlights of our rented Mitsubishi Pajero, serves as an introduction to this unusual rodent but doesn't nearly do it justice. To fully appreciate the jerboa, one needs to see the lightning-fast movements of what the Chinese call "Five-toe Jump-mouse" (五指跳鼠).
Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa, near Maduo-Machali (34.911354, 98.211208), 19 July. This photo, taken by the light of the headlights of our rented Mitsubishi Pajero, serves as an introduction to this unusual rodent but doesn’t nearly do it justice. To fully appreciate the jerboa, one needs to see the lightning-fast movements of what the Chinese call ‘Five-toe Jump-mouse’ (五指跳鼠).

6 noted after dark 19 July at elev. 4250 m on steppe west of Maduo-Machali (34.911354, 98.211208). Although we found jerboas along paved roads, we had more success along dirt roads, where traffic was less. A particularly good dirt road is 13.8 km from Maduo-Machali on the X731. It can be accessed from the X731 at 34.976612, 98.100317. The dirt road is on the right-hand side of the X731 for drivers coming from Maduo-Machali.

Bactrian Camel Camelus bactrianus
ca. 1000 in rangeland west of Chaka. Presence of this huge herd on 23 July probably was the factor dooming Jan-Erik’s chances of another look at Henderson’s Ground Jay.

Tibetan Wild Ass Equus kiang
166 on 21 July around Gouhua, a site near the border of Guoluo and Haixi prefectures and first covered by Jan-Erik, Brian Ivon Jones, and me in July 2014. This site remains the single-richest spot for Tibetan Wild Ass that I have seen.

Red Fox Vulpes vulpes
3 (1 on 22 July at Przevalski’s Site, 2 on 18 July near Maduo-Machali).

Tibetan Fox Vulpes ferrilata
7 (2 near Maduo 19 July, 5 [2 ads., 3 juvs.] 18 July near Maduo-Machali).

Selected Place Names

Lake Donggeicuona (Dōnggěicuònà Hú [冬给错纳湖]): lake Maduo County, Guoluo Prefecture. Elev.: 3950 m (12,960 ft.). 35.290072, 98.537098.

Gouhua (Gōuhuā [沟花]): valley ca. 30 km W of Huashixia in Dulan County, Haixi Prefecture. Elev.: 3990 m (13,090 ft.).

Machali (Mǎchálǐ Zhèn [玛查理镇]): town W Maduo County. Commonly referred to as Maduo. 34.911354, 98.211208.

Featured image: Jan-Erik Nilsén scans a pond near the Yellow River in Guoluo Prefecture, Qinghai, China, 19 July 2016. Elev. 4240 m. Photo by Craig Brelsford using iPhone 6.