Qinghai in October

by Jesper Hornskov
for shanghaibirding.com

P Benstead (Greentours), P Annesley, L Fitch, B and M Griffin, N Haggart, H Kloser, K Little, P Pilbeam, D Spencer and I visited NE Tibet, China’s Qinghai province, 7-23 Oct 2019.

It was the 6th Greentours mammal-watching trip in this area; the first was in October 2012. Our trip aimed to see as many of the unique mammals of the Tibetan highlands as we could, but in the field searching for mammals typically allows one plenty of time to record birds as well, and it is hopefully of interest what we saw at a time of the year when few dedicated birdwatchers visit this unique land. Predictably, the relatively late dates meant that some breeders had already departed for their winter quarters, and the bulk of the Siberian passage migrants, notably waders, had gone through. No matter: pretty much all the key birds are residents, and the lateness of the season has its potential advantages—we saw some of the specialities better and/or in far greater numbers than we would have in summer, and as a bonus turned up a few surprises. We recorded 178 spp of bird and no fewer than 27 species of mammal, incl Tsingling Pika Ochotona huangensis, Pallas’s Cat Felis manul, Lynx Lynx lynx, Snow Leopard Uncia uncial, Wolf Canis lupus (21 individuals!), Tibetan Fox Vulpes ferrilata, Mountain Weasel Mustela altaica, Kiang (= Tibetan Wild Ass) Equus kiang, Wild Boar Sus scrofa (a range extension!), Alpine Musk Deer Moschus chrysogaster, White-lipped Deer Przewalskium albirostris in full rut, the ultra-rare Przevalski’s Gazelle Procapra przewalskii, Wild Yak Bos grunniens, Argali Ovis ammon, Tibetan Antelope Panthalops hodgsonii, and Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur.

Among the highlights/my personal favourites/most interesting records were:

Szechenyi’s Monal-Partridge Tetraophasis szechenyi

18+ bird-days. Noted on three dates near Nangqian—undeterred by a thin layer of new snow on the ground, five gave the full territorial call as they left roost and started feeding under a juniper as we kept our scopes on them …

Tibetan Snowcock Tetraogallus tibetanus

19 bird-days. Noted on two dates near Nangqian—three swooped down landing next to a large herd of Blue Sheep, slightly startling some of them: eventually there were five, but soon they became very hard to keep track of as the snow melted fast.

Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae

c100 bird-days. Noted on at least three dates—photographed at absurdly close range as some subtle driving turned our trusty 4WDs into mobile hides …

Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus

A covey of no fewer than 24 scoped out on a bare slope near Nangqian on 16th.

White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon

470 bird-days. Noted near Nangqian on three dates, incl a shocking 355 in a day!

Blue Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon auritum

A languidly feeding covey of 16 did their best to distract us from the sight of a full stag Siberian Roe Deer Capreolus pygargus near Xining on 8th.

Saker Falco cherrug

63 bird-days. Noted on eight dates. For most of us a welcome opportunity to familiarize ourselves with a species which is declining globally: not many two-week trips allow you to take such giant strides towards full Saker Expert status!

Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus

35 bird-days. We recorded this “flying dragon” on 11 dates—eh, hang on, “recorded”? We were just BLOWN AWAY by some the views we got: TINGALING!!

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis

Seven bird-days. Noted on four dates—not a local speciality, granted, but typically a species hard to get prolonged looks at …

Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis

Just three bird-days! At what was in the very recent past a perfect time of the year for it, only single individuals of this suddenly “Endangered”-listed species were noted on no more than three dates.

Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis

46 bird-days. Noted on six dates. Widespread overgrazing—of hills and wetlands alike—is bound to be spelling trouble for this emblematic species, and as in 2018 we were dismayed to find only around 10 present at a large wetland near Yushu on 17th: we’d counted 40 there on 11 Oct 2014, and 26 on 11 Oct 2015. Nonetheless our repeated sightings—incl two adults giving their single juvenile a dance lesson on 9th, pretty much as soon as we set foot on the Plateau—was a cheering sight … and of course delighted our photographers!

Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii

24 bird-days. Noted on three dates—although our trip prioritized mammals, all present enjoyed taking time to watch a gathering of no fewer than nine of this enigmatic, monotypic family creature en route on 12th.

Solitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria

A single individual was seen up close at Nine Ibisbills Spot on 12th!

Pallas’s Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes paradoxus

A single distant flock of 38 was all we managed …

Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo ssp

One scoped in desert poplars on 22nd—its presence outraged the resident pair of Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus.

Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus jokata

One along the Mekong on 16th.

Tibetan Grey Shrike Lanius giganteus

Singles were noted on two dates. IOC (2019) is finally poised to join the rest of us in accepting giganteus as a full species: “Tibetan Grey (or Giant) Shrike” L. giganteus may be split from Chinese Grey Shrike (Svensson et al. 2009, Olsson et al. 2010, Panov et al. 2011); await improved resolution of this complex. Zheng et al. (2011) list this taxon only for “E Qinghai, NE Xizang, N and W Sichuan.”

White-browed Tit Poecile superciliosus

14 bird-days. Noted on six dates—superb views of this highly specialized and very pretty species. Zheng et al. (2011) listed the species for only “S Gansu, S Xizang, E Qinghai, and N and W Sichuan.”

Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus

69+ bird-days. A monotypic family species, these supremely attractive birds were very much in evidence at Koko Nor and in the Qaidam, with groups taking off suggesting an irruption in progress—42 in a morning near Golmud!

Mongolian Lark Melanocorypha mongolica

11 were noted on 22nd. Listed as “Least Concern” (https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22717295/94526964), but a popular cage bird in China, and juveniles are collected from nests, very likely at least locally in unsustainable numbers.

Tarim Babbler Rhopophilus albosuperciliaris

Eight near Golmud on 20th—a sunny, calm morning (one of many we enjoyed) encouraged pairs of these often skulky birds to sit right out atop desert thornbushes, allowing scope viewing.

Kozlov’s Babax Babax koslowi

26+ bird-days. Recorded only near Nangqian—best of all was a presumed family of six … “[The species] is known by just a few scattered records in this inaccessible and poorly known area, but it appears to be genuinely rather scarce and localised” (https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22716515/94497919#geographic-range).

Chinese Fulvetta Alcippe striaticollis

No fewer than 18—many of them seen extremely well—in forest S of Nangqian on 14th. Now listed as a sylviid babbler by IOC (https://www.worldbirdnames.org/bow/sylvias/), away from the Alcippe fulvettas (https://www.worldbirdnames.org/bow/babblers/). Zheng et al. (2011) listed its range as “S Gansu, SE and E Xizang, SE Qinghai, NW Yunnan and W Sichuan,” and the commonly accepted English name is thus somewhat misleading.

Przevalski’s Redstart Phoenicurus alashanicus

Five bird-days. Noted on two dates—three fairly obliging males w/ a female in a plantation on the S edge of the Qiadam on 20th did not quite do the photo op posing that we’d hoped for but did allow long scope views as they fed out in the afternoon sun.

Henri’s Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici

A feeding flock of 550 strung out across the slope at Er La: a very fine sight, and possibly the largest gathering ever recorded …

Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris

Seven bird-days. Noted on two dates near Nangqian—unexpected due to the lateness of the season: the extended scope views we had were enjoyed all the more.

Przevalski’s Finch Urocynchramus pylzowi

A flighty gathering of 15-20 found on 11th (once we’d finished watching and photographing a lone wolf!) incl several males sitting up for photos. Przevalski’s Finch is a not-to-be-taken-for-granted bird which has something to offer no matter what subspecies of birder you are: beauty, interesting behavior (notably its parachute type song-flight), odd song, as well as taxonomic interest (it has for some years now been known to represent a monotypic family). We have noted this species at no fewer than 12 sites!

Red-fronted Rosefinch Carpodacus punicea

Four bird-days. Unexpectedly—due to the lateness of the season—noted near Nangqian on three dates.

Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos

26+ leaving roost, squabbling and flighty, taking turns to sit up nicely (but rarely for long!), near Dulan on 21st—at this season you’d normally be delighted to see one or two!

The supporting cast included Severtov’s Grouse Tetrastes severtzovi, Przevalski’s Alectoris magna and Daurian Partridge Perdix dauurica, Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus, Chinese Spotbill Anas zonorhyncha, Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus, Merlin Falco columbarius, Oriental Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus, Black Vulture Aegypius monachus, Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus, Himalayan and Upland Buzzard Buteo burmanicus and B. hemilasius, Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca, Demoiselle Crane Anthropoides virgo, Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, Great Black-headed (= Pallas’s) and Brown-headed Gull Larus ichtyaetus and L. brunnicephalus, Snow Pigeon Columba leuconota, Chinese Pied Woodpecker Dendrocopus cabanisi, Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus, Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni, Hume’s Groundpecker Pseudopodoces humilis, Sichuan Tit Poecile weigoldicus, Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus, Stoliczka’s Tit-warbler Leptopoecile sophiae, Elwe’s Horned Lark Eremophila elwesi, Gansu Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus kansuensis, Giant Laughingthrush Garrulax maximus, Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa, Hodgson’s Treecreeper Certhia hodgsoni, Kessler’s Thrush Turdus kessleri, Northern Red-Flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus, White-throated Redstart Phoenicurus schisticeps, Tibetan Montifringilla adamsi, White-rumped Onychostruthus taczanowskii, and Rufous-necked and Blanford’s Snowfinch Pyrgilauda ruficollis and P. blanfordi, Robin, Rufous-browed, and Brown Accentor Prunella rubeculoides, P. strophiata and P. fulvescens, Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola, Brandt’s Mountain Finch Leucosticte brandti, Pink-rumped, Chinese White-browed, Eastern Great and Caucasian Great Rosefinch Carpodacus waltoni, C. dubius, C. rubicilloides and C. rubicilla, White-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas carniceps, and Godlewski’s and Little Bunting Emberiza godlewskii and E. pusilla.

Want more information on mammal- and bird-watching in Qinghai? Reach me at enquiries@greentours.co.uk. Good birding!

PHOTOS

qinghai birds
Jesper Hornskov’s mammal-watching tour ticked some of the most coveted birds of the Tibetan Plateau. Among them are (top row) Kozlov’s or Tibetan Babax Pterorhinus koslowi; second row, L-R: Henri’s or Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici and Przevalski’s Finch Urocynchramus pylzowi; third row: Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii and Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae; and (bottom row) Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni. These species have been shaped by the harsh climate and isolation of the Rooftop of the World. Ibisbill, the sole species in the family Ibidorhynchidae, is a highly specialized shorebird adapted to life along shingle-bed rivers at high elevations. Henderson’s Ground Jay thrives in the high altitude semi-deserts of the Tibetan Plateau. Przevalski’s Finch is the sole member of the family Urocynchramidae and is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau, as are Tibetan Babax, Tibetan Snowfinch, and Tibetan Partridge. (Craig Brelsford)
mammals-qinghai
Hornskov’s team saw some of the iconic mammals of the Tibetan Plateau, among them (top row) Tibetan Fox Vulpes ferrilata; second row, L-R: Tibetan Lynx Lynx lynx isabellinus and Mountain Weasel Mustela altaica; third row: Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur and Tibetan Antelope Panthalops hodgsonii; and (bottom row) Kiang or Tibetan Wild Ass Equus kiang. (Craig Brelsford)
hornskov-qinghai
Qinghai lies almost entirely on the Tibetan Plateau. The average elevation is more than 3000 m (9,800 ft.). The high elevation and arid climate make for a thin human population; though Qinghai is slightly larger than the U.S. state of Texas, it has only a fifth as many people. (Jesper Hornskov)
hornskov-kanda
Expeditionists return to base camp after scanning the slopes for mammals. The team was in the Kanda Mountains in southern Qinghai. (Jesper Hornskov)
birders in qinghai
Happy team members warm up after yet another exciting tick. Hornskov writes that his group experienced Qinghai ‘at a time of the year when few dedicated birdwatchers visit this unique land.’ (Jesper Hornskov)

EDITOR’S NOTE

This post is the latest addition to shanghaibirding.com’s extensive coverage of Qinghai. For the complete index to our posts, please see our page Birding in Qinghai. A list of our most prominent posts on Qinghai is below.

Summer-long Birding Expedition to Qinghai: Richly illustrated, 6-post series on a 57-day birdwatching expedition to Qinghai.

Mammals and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau: Exploring mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), our team found 98 species of bird and many key mammals, among them Tibetan Wolf.

Tibetan Bunting Leads Parade of Tibetan Plateau Endemics in Qinghai: shanghaibirding.com founder Craig Brelsford led a three-person team on a 23-day trip to Qinghai.

In addition to coverage of Qinghai and our core area of Shanghai, shanghaibirding.com has extensive coverage of other areas of China, among them

Yunnan
Xinjiang
Sichuan
Northeast China

Featured image: Wildlife watchers scan the snowy landscape during a tour in October of Qinghai. (Jesper Hornskov)
Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

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Qinghai, June-August 2016: Introduction

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

A SUMMER BIRDING IN QINGHAI

Map of Qinghai.
A province in northwestern China, Qinghai is three times larger than the United Kingdom and slightly larger than Texas. The Yellow, Yangtze, and Mekong rivers rise in the sparsely populated province, which lies almost entirely on the Tibetan Plateau. From 26 June to 21 Aug. 2016, Elaine Du and Craig Brelsford explored this vast domain, birding in seven of the eight prefectures and finding 195 species of bird. (Wikipedia/Craig Brelsford)

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

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

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

Greylag Goose Anser anser
Bar-headed Goose A. indicus
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Ruddy Shelduck T. ferruginea
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata
Garganey S. querquedula
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Ferruginous Duck A. nyroca
Tufted Duck A. fuligula
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
Common Merganser Mergus merganser
Przevalski’s Partridge Alectoris magna
Tibetan Snowcock Tetraogallus tibetanus
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon
Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Great Egret A. alba
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus
Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis
Golden Eagle A. chrysaetos
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Northern Goshawk A. gentilis
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius
Himalayan Buzzard B. burmanicus
Water Rail Rallus aquaticus
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii
Little Stint C. minuta
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola
Common Redshank T. totanus
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus
Pallas’s Gull Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Tibetan Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes tibetanus
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove) Columba livia
Hill Pigeon C. rupestris
Snow Pigeon C. leuconota
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis
Eurasian Collared Dove S. decaocto
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Eurasian Eagle-Owl Bubo bubo
Little Owl Athene noctua
Common Swift Apus apus
Salim Ali’s Swift A. salimalii
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker Dryobates cathpharius
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius
Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Eurasian Hobby F. subbuteo
Saker Falcon F. cherrug
Long-tailed Minivet Pericrocotus ethologus
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus
Isabelline Shrike L. isabellinus
Grey-backed Shrike L. tephronotus
Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus giganteus
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus
Black-rumped Magpie Pica bottanensis
Henderson’s Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Alpine Chough P. graculus
Daurian Jackdaw Coloeus dauuricus
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Large-billed Crow C. macrorhynchos
Northern Raven C. corax
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
Hume’s Short-toed Lark C. acutirostris
Tibetan Lark Melanocorypha maxima
Mongolian Lark M. mongolica
Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis
Oriental Skylark A. gulgula
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Pale Martin Riparia diluta
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus
Rufous-vented Tit Periparus rubidiventris
Grey Crested Tit Lophophanes dichrous
White-browed Tit Poecile superciliosus
Willow Tit P. montanus affinis
Sichuan Tit P. weigoldicus
Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis
Japanese Tit Parus minor
White-browed Tit-Warbler Leptopoecile sophiae
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus
Alpine Leaf Warbler P. occisinensis
Yellow-streaked Warbler P. armandii
Buff-barred Warbler P. pulcher
Gansu Leaf Warbler P. kansuensis
Lemon-rumped Warbler P. chloronotus
Sichuan Leaf Warbler P. forresti
Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides
Large-billed Leaf Warbler P. magnirostris
Desert Whitethroat Sylvia minula
Tarim Babbler Rhopophilus albosuperciliaris
Giant Laughingthrush Ianthocincla maxima
Plain Laughingthrush Pterorhinus davidi
Tibetan Babax P. koslowi
Elliot’s Laughingthrush Trochalopteron elliotii
Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris
Grandala Grandala coelicolor
Chestnut Thrush Turdus rubrocanus
Kessler’s Thrush T. kessleri
Chinese Thrush T. mupinensis
Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica
Chinese Rubythroat Calliope tschebaiewi
Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope
Slaty-backed Flycatcher Ficedula hodgsonii
Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis
Plumbeous Water Redstart P. fuliginosus
White-capped Redstart P. leucocephalus
Przevalski’s Redstart P. alaschanicus
Hodgson’s Redstart P. hodgsoni
White-throated Redstart P. schisticeps
Güldenstädt’s Redstart P. erythrogastrus
Black Redstart P. ochruros
Common Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti
Isabelline Wheatear O. isabellina
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus
Brown Dipper C. pallasii
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia
Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici
Black-winged Snowfinch M. adamsi
White-rumped Snowfinch Onychostruthus taczanowskii
Pere David’s Snowfinch Pyrgilauda davidiana
Rufous-necked Snowfinch P. ruficollis
Blanford’s Snowfinch P. blanfordi
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris
Robin Accentor P. rubeculoides
Rufous-breasted Accentor P. strophiata
Brown Accentor P. fulvescens
Maroon-backed Accentor P. immaculata
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea
White Wagtail M. alba
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi
Rosy Pipit A. roseatus
Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni
Water Pipit A. spinoletta
Przevalski’s Finch Urocynchramus pylzowi
Plain Mountain Finch Leucosticte nemoricola
Brandt’s Mountain Finch L. brandti
Grey-headed Bullfinch Pyrrhula erythaca
Blanford’s Rosefinch Agraphospiza rubescens
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus
Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch C. pulcherrimus
Pink-rumped Rosefinch C. waltoni
Chinese White-browed Rosefinch C. dubius
Tibetan Rosefinch C. roborowskii
Streaked Rosefinch C. rubicilloides
Great Rosefinch C. rubicilla
Red-fronted Rosefinch C. puniceus
Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica
Twite Linaria flavirostris
White-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas carnipes
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos fronto
Tibetan Bunting E. koslowi
Godlewski’s Bunting E. godlewskii

MAMMALS

Glover's Pika
We noted Glover’s Pika Ochotona gloveri in Nangqian County and Yushu County in southern Qinghai. I photographed this individual 4 July near Yushu-Jiegu at an elevation of 3700 m (12,140 ft.). Glover’s Pika is endemic to the eastern Tibetan Plateau. (Craig Brelsford)

Tibetan Macaque Macaca thibetana
Plateau Pika Ochotona curzoniae
Glover’s Pika O. gloveri
Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus
Himalayan Marmot Marmota himalayana
Mongolian Five-toed Jerboa Allactaga sibirica
Chinese Zokor Eospalax fontanierii
Bactrian Camel Camelus bactrianus
Siberian Roe Deer Capreolus pygargus
Sichuan Deer Cervus canadensis macneilli
White-lipped Deer C. albirostris
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur
Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata
Mongolian Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa hilleriana
Tibetan Wild Ass (Kiang) Equus kiang
Pallas’s Cat Otocolobus manul
Tibetan Lynx Lynx lynx isabellinus
Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus filchneri
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes
Tibetan Fox V. ferrilata
Mountain Weasel Mustela altaica

INDEX

“Qinghai, June-August 2016” contains an introduction and six parts. This is the Introduction.

Introduction: A Summer in Qinghai
Part 1: Weeks 1 & 2
Part 2: Weeks 3 & 4
Part 3: Weeks 5 & 6
Part 4: Week 7
Part 5: Week 8
Part 6: Facts & Figures

This report is part of shanghaibirding.com’s extensive coverage of Qinghai. For the complete index to our posts on Qinghai, please see our page Birding in Qinghai. A list of our most prominent reports on Qinghai is below.

Mammals and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau: Exploring mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), our team found 98 species of bird and many key mammals, among them Tibetan Wolf.

Tibetan Bunting Leads Parade of Tibetan Plateau Endemics in Qinghai: shanghaibirding.com founder Craig Brelsford led a three-person team on a 23-day trip to Qinghai.

Qinghai in October: Jesper Hornskov and his team noted 178 species of bird in October, a time of year, Hornskov writes, “when few dedicated birdwatchers visit this unique land.”

In addition to coverage of Qinghai and our core area of Shanghai, shanghaibirding.com has extensive coverage of other areas of China, among them

Yunnan
Xinjiang
Sichuan
Northeast China

Featured image: Highlights from a summer in Qinghai. Clockwise from top L: Tibetan Lynx, Henderson’s Ground Jay, dunes in Wulan County, and Tibetan Partridge. (Craig Brelsford)
Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

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Qinghai, June-August 2016: Part 1

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

THE FIRST TWO WEEKS

birders
Mark Waters (L), Michael Grunwell (C), and Elaine Du watch Himalayan Vulture at sunset on 3 July in Maduo County. The Yellow River is visible at their feet. (Craig Brelsford)

Elaine Du and I spent the first two weeks of the Qinghai birding expedition, 26 June to 10 July 2016, with Shanghai-based British birder Michael Grunwell and his old friend Mark Waters. We covered a vast area, ranging from Huzhu County on the Gansu border in northeast Qinghai to Ga’er Monastery (31.829966, 96.487758) in southern Qinghai, near the border with Tibet.

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

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

226 Common Merganser at Eling Lake

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

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

Tibetan Partridge
Tibetan Partridge at the nunnery, 5 July. (Craig Brelsford)

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

White Eared Pheasant
White Eared Pheasant Crossoptilon crossoptilon dolani pause from their evening forage to gaze warily at the camera. Kanda Gorge, 5 July. White Eared Pheasant is listed as Near Threatened because of habitat loss and poaching. (Craig Brelsford)

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

Ibisbill
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 (6,560 ft.) and 4400 m (14,440 ft.). We found this pair in Yushu Prefecture in a stream next to the G214 at elev. 4020 m (13,190 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

21 Common Cuckoo and 7 Cuculus sp. Common Cuckoo were singing at elevations as high as 4300 m (14,110 ft.)

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

Tiger Shrike
This male Tiger Shrike stunned us. What was a mainly lowland species, usually found at altitudes no higher than 1000 m (3,280 ft.) and no further west than the Sichuan Basin, doing in Qinghai at elev. 3670 m (12,040 ft.)? (Craig Brelsford)

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
Henderson’s Ground Jay, Chaka. (Craig Brelsford)

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 (36.758683, 99.663055) 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
Yellow-streaked Warbler, Baizha Nature Reserve, 7 July. (Craig Brelsford)

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 Chinese Rubythroat in scrub (36.758683, 99.663055) near Heimahe as well as at Yankou Shan (33.199406, 97.466606)

White-tailed Rubythroat
Chinese Rubythroat in scrub (36.758683, 99.663055) near Heimahe, 29 June. (Craig Brelsford)

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
Przevalski’s Redstart, Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578), 1 July. We found a pair. Note black tail of female. (Craig Brelsford)

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 around Heimahe at elevations as low as 3800 m (12,470 ft.)

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 (15,420 ft.), 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

Rufous-necked Snowfinch
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). (Craig Brelsford)

13 Tibetan Snowfinch Montifringilla henrici, mainly around Ela Pass

10 Black-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla adamsi, including nesting pair near Heimahe at G109 KM 2189.5 (36.778749, 99.653861)

Black-winged Snowfinch
Black-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla adamsi looking warily at cameraman before entering its cavity nest. KM 2189.5, G109, near Qinghai Lake. 28 June. (Craig Brelsford)

2 Tibetan Bunting at Kanda Pass

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

Pine Bunting
Male Pine Bunting at Przevalski’s Site (36.457249, 98.502578), 1 July. Emberiza leucocephalos fronto is endemic to N Qinghai and adjacent Gansu. (Craig Brelsford)

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 (13,780 ft.). Used my Swarovski ATX-95.

MICHAEL’S FIRST BIG TICK: GANSU LEAF WARBLER

Gansu Leaf Warbler
Breeding Gansu Leaf Warbler in a stand of conifers at 36.973133, 102.441300 in Huzhu County, 27 June. (Craig Brelsford)

On Sun. 26 June 2016, Michael Grunwell, Mark Waters, Elaine Du, and I flew from Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai to Xining Caojiabao Airport. We rented a Mitsubishi Pajero from Shenzhou and drove 200 km (124 mi.) to Jiading (36.951698, 102.494353) in Haidong Prefecture. We checked in to the very comfortable Huzhu Yingyuan Hotel (Hùzhù Yíngyuàn Bīnguǎn [互助营苑宾馆], +86 (0) 972-8395288, 320 yuan, 36.951935, 102.480026).

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

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

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

A BAGFUL OF LIFE BIRDS AT QINGHAI LAKE

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

We next drove 330 km (205 mi.) to Heimahe, a tourist center on the southwestern corner of Qinghai Lake. We checked in to Heimahe Business Hotel (Hēimǎhé Shāngwù Bīnguǎn [黑马河商务宾馆], +86 (0) 974-8519377, 36.722987, 99.784353).

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIT-WARBLER MOUNTAIN

On Wed. 29 June our team returned to a spot I had discovered on my first trip to Qinghai in 2013. I call the spot “Tit-Warbler Mountain.” We drove to KM 2187 on the G109 and turned left onto a dirt road at 36.782112, 99.675814. We drove to the end of this dirt road (36.766994, 99.667711). We started walking toward the scrub-covered hill and topped out at the peak at 3620 masl (11,880 ft.) (36.758683, 99.663055). Along the way we found a party of White-browed Tit-Warbler, a splendid male Chinese Rubythroat, and Przevalski’s Finch. I am now 2 for 2 at that site for White-browed Tit-Warbler.

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

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

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

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

Rock Sparrow
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia at nest hole, Dashui Reservoir (36.716292, 99.471655). (Craig Brelsford)

In the afternoon we drove 22 km (14 mi.) to Rubber Mountain Pass (36.754213, 99.606705), elev. 3817 m (12,520 ft.). Just below the pass we found Güldenstädt’s Redstart, a lifer for everyone in our party but me. We crossed the pass and on the Chaka side soon noted the transition from an alpine to semi-desert environment. The birds were different: Common Rock Thrush, Common Swift, Blanford’s Snowfinch, Desert Wheatear.

Near Dashui Qiao (36.691347, 99.457542), elev. 3370 m (11,060 ft.), we found a dirt track and pulled onto it. We followed it to Dashui Reservoir (36.716292, 99.471655). The Desert Wheatear, a pair, had chosen a prime spot for their nest, which we discovered in the tall bank of the creek. The mouth of this creek contained a Lesser Sand Plover. For neighbors the wheatear family had nesting Rock Sparrow.

CHAKA

Henderson's Ground Jay
Henderson’s Ground Jay in flight in scrub west of Chaka, 30 June. (Craig Brelsford)

On Thurs. 30 June we drove 80 km (50 mi.) from Heimahe to Chaka. We drove west of Chaka on the G109 and found the area well-known for Henderson’s Ground Jay. One good spot is just past KM 2266 if one is heading west from Chaka. The coordinates are 36.777162, 98.960870. We did not find Henderson’s Ground Jay here, but the habitat is ideal, and very importantly one can drive into the chaparral at this point. The other point, 36.772307, 98.945571, is just before KM 2268 heading west from Chaka. Here we found 2 Henderson’s Ground Jay. One cannot drive off the dangerous G109 at this point. We parked as far off the road as possible. There is no shoulder, and the road is elevated. Cars zoom by.

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

PRZEVALSKI’S SITE

Dulan Mountains
Proud and strong, this Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis has gazed out at the Dulan Mountains for 200 years. It clings to the slope at elevation 3960 m (12,990 ft.) at the location we call Przevalski’s Site. (Craig Brelsford)

Fri. 1 July saw us note Przevalski’s Redstart and Pine Bunting. We drove 82.7 km (51.4 mi.) west from Chaka to the turnoff at KM 2335.5 on the G109. We negotiated the dirt road carefully in our high-clearance Pajero. We parked at the entrance to the valley. Nothing had changed since my last visit in 2013. Chinese Juniper Juniperus chinensis stud the slopes, some of the trees centuries old.

Przevalski’s Partridge did not appear, so I climbed to the ridge, elev. 3990 m (13,090 ft.). Michael, Mark, and Elaine stood ready below, around the spotting scope. I saw a nesting pair of White-throated Redstart at 3960 m (12,990 ft.). I reached the ridge and walked into the next valley. I heard a single Przevalski’s Partridge calling, but Michael and Mark weren’t going to climb 400 m (1,310 ft.) from the valley floor to get to this valley. I returned to the ridge and walked back down. En route I noted Blue-fronted Redstart and Alpine Leaf Warbler. White-lipped Deer were in the scrub.

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

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

ELA PASS AND MADUO

flat tire
On 2 July at Ela Pass Michael Grunwell guided me as I changed a flat tire. (Elaine Du)

On Sat. 2 July, the team explored Ela Pass (Èlā Shānkǒu [鄂拉山口]), elev. 4700 m (15,420 ft.). We were looking for three “Tibetans” and found one: Tibetan Rosefinch. A flat tire ate into our time today and precluded a trip to the top.

Another interesting record today was Mongolian Lark found at KM 197 on G214 south of Gonghe (共和). The elevation at that spot is 3110 m (10,200 ft.). This region of Qinghai must be the far southern extension of the range of Mongolian Lark. Just south of KM 197, the land tilts upward, the average elevation is higher by about 1000 m (3,280 ft.), and the vegetation changes from high-arid to alpine.

WHERE CHINA BEGINS

Brelsford at Eling
Elaine got this shot of me walking along the shore of Eling Lake, my camera and tripod in the foreground. (Elaine Du)

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

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

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

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

TWO MIGHTY RIVERS

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

En route we noted Black Drongo at an elevation of 4230 m (13,880 ft.), an unusual record. We found high-altitude specialist Streaked Rosefinch and breeding Greenish Warbler at 4460 m (14,630 ft.). We drove over Bayankala Pass, elev. 4824 m (15,827 ft.), higher than Mont Blanc, and explored an extensive stretch of untouched scrub at Yankou Shan.

From Yankou Shan, elev. 4460 m (14,630 ft.), we practically coasted down to Jiégǔ/Yùshù, elev. 3700 m (12,140 ft.). Along the way we found 2 Ibisbill fleeing the flooded stream. Mammal of the day was Glover’s Pika, found at elev. 3700 m (12,140 ft.), north of the Tongtian.

GET THEE TO THE NUNNERY (IN KANDA GORGE)!

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

Kanda holds another major Tibetan: Tibetan Bunting, found today by us at Kanda Pass, elev. 4650 m (15,260 ft.).

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

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

7 JULY

Elaine and Tibetans
Elaine Du asks local Tibetans about Blood Pheasant, at gate (31.882305, 96.556738) to Baizha Nature Reserve. (Craig Brelsford)

We’re in Nangqian, Qinghai. Today Elaine talked Blood Pheasant with Tibetans. We are trying to find Blood Pheasant in Baizha Forest and thought these gentlemen may know where to go. Craig admired a fine painting of male Hodgson’s Redstart outside our hotel room in Nangqian. What a nice touch, honoring your local birds in your hotel.

8 JULY: ​INCREDIBLE, BEAUTIFUL BAIZHA FOREST & GA’ER TEMPLE

Michael Grunwell used my scope to scan the slopes around Ga’er Temple, Nangqian County, Yùshù Prefecture, Qinghai. In the background you could see one of the main buildings of the temple clinging to the mountain at the lofty elevation of 4200 m (13,780 ft.). While we scanned, friendly Tibetan monks and pilgrims passed by, Bearded Vulture passed overhead, no less than six species of crow were making a living, Kessler’s Thrush and Rufous-breasted Accentor added beauty, and half-tame Blue Sheep were clinging to the cliff faces.

​POST TO SHANGHAI BIRDING WECHAT GROUP

Tues. 12 July 12:34 pm

QINGHAI UPDATE: Hello Shanghai Birders from beautiful Yushu, Qinghai! This past weekend, the second week of Elaine’s and my Qinghai expedition ended with Blanford’s Rosefinch, Black Woodpecker, and White Eared Pheasant at Baizha Forest on Fri. 8 July and on Sat. 9 July Tibetan Babax at mouth of Kanda Gorge and Ibisbill in stream along G214.

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

PHOTOS

ruddy shelduck
Ruddy Shelduck on shore of Qinghai Lake, 28 June. (Craig Brelsford)
carcass and vulture
Himalayan Vulture lurks near carcass, 4 July. (Craig Brelsford)
elaine chaka
Elaine Du searching for Henderson’s Ground Jay in arid country west of Chaka. (Craig Brelsford)
kanda nunnery
Main house of worship at the Kanda Nunnery. Around this building gather semi-tame flocks of Tibetan Partridge Perdix hodgsoniae, and Tibetan Babax Pterorhinus koslowi is reliably found nearby. Coordinates: 32.291512, 96.512200. Elev.: 3910 m (12,830 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)
Kanda Gorge
Prayer wheels in Kanda Gorge. (Craig Brelsford)
Grunwell, Ela Pass, Qinghai
Michael Grunwell above Ela Pass, Qinghai, 2 July. Coordinates: 35.497253, 99.518350. Elev.: 4610 m (15,130 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)
Qinghai
The Przevalski’s Site is in the Dulan Mountains 82.7 km (51.4 mi.) west of Chaka on the G109. It is a reliable spot for China endemics Przevalski’s Partridge Alectoris magna and Przevalski’s Redstart Phoenicurus alaschanicus, and lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of Tibetan Wolf Canus lupus filchneri. Coordinates: 36.467217, 98.499595. Elev.: 3910 m (12,820 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)
Blue-fronted Redstart
Blue-fronted Redstart showing inverted T on tail. Huzhu Beishan, 27 June. (Craig Brelsford)
black-redstart
Black Redstart, Heimahe, Qinghai, June 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
Bar-headed Goose
Bar-headed Goose, Qinghai Lake, 28 June. (Craig Brelsford)
Scrub-covered mountainside
Scrub-covered mountainside above KM 2189.5 on the G109 near Qinghai Lake, Qinghai, 28 June. This site is a reliable spot for Przevalski’s Finch Urocynchramus pylzowi. Other birds using the scrub are White-browed Tit-Warbler Leptopoecile sophiae, White-browed Tit Poecile superciliosus, Smoky Warbler Phylloscopus fuligiventer, and Robin Accentor Prunella rubeculoides. Coordinates of this site: 36.778217, 99.660255. Elevation: 3580 m (11,730 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)
White-rumped Snowfinch
White-rumped Snowfinch contorting its head in territorial display, along G109 near Qinghai Lake, 28 June. (Craig Brelsford)
Left wing-flick.
Left wing-flick. (Craig Brelsford)
Right wing-flick.
Right wing-flick. (Craig Brelsford)
Bar-headed Goose
Bar-headed Goose stands at the point where high-altitude Eling Lake empties into the young Yellow River, 3 July. (Craig Brelsford)
Michael Grunwell
Michael Grunwell scans scrub for birds in Kanda Mountains, 5 July. 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. (Craig Brelsford)

INDEX

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

Introduction: A Summer in Qinghai
Part 1: Weeks 1 & 2
Part 2: Weeks 3 & 4
Part 3: Weeks 5 & 6
Part 4: Week 7
Part 5: Week 8
Part 6: Facts & Figures

This report is part of shanghaibirding.com’s extensive coverage of Qinghai. For the complete index to our posts on Qinghai, please see our page Birding in Qinghai. A list of our most prominent reports on Qinghai is below.

Mammals and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau: Exploring mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), our team found 98 species of bird and many key mammals, among them Tibetan Wolf.

Tibetan Bunting Leads Parade of Tibetan Plateau Endemics in Qinghai: shanghaibirding.com founder Craig Brelsford led a three-person team on a 23-day trip to Qinghai.

Qinghai in October: Jesper Hornskov and his team noted 178 species of bird in October, a time of year, Hornskov writes, “when few dedicated birdwatchers visit this unique land.”

In addition to coverage of Qinghai and our core area of Shanghai, shanghaibirding.com has extensive coverage of other areas of China, among them

Yunnan
Xinjiang
Sichuan
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Featured image: Birders walk near the shore of Eling Lake, a part of the young Yellow River. (Craig Brelsford)
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Qinghai, June-August 2016: Part 2

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

INTRODUCTION TO PART 2

Part 2 covers the third and fourth weeks of our birding expedition in Qinghai. The third week, 11-17 July, took place entirely within Yushu Prefecture and featured the arrival of Beijing-based Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsén. The highlight of our two-month trip occurred in Week 3, when we found Tibetan Lynx (above). We noted 93 bird species, discovered new birding sites, immersed ourselves in Tibetan Buddhist culture, and saw evidence of attacks by Brown Bear.

X308, A LITTLE-KNOWN, BIRDY ROAD

Common Cuckoo
Common Cuckoo in the rain, along X308, 13 July. (Craig Brelsford)

Jan-Erik, Elaine Du, and I spent 12-13 July exploring a scenic and birdy 85-km (53-mi.) stretch of County Road 308 (X308). The route starts at the junction on the G214 15 km south of Yushu-Jiegu; the junction is at 32.869631, 97.070772. The route ends at Xiao Sumang Xiang near the Qinghai-Tibet border. The midpoint is Dagela Pass elev. 4752 m (15,590 ft.), which divides the Yangtze and Mekong watersheds. On either side of the pass is scrub more pristine than any I have seen in Qinghai. In many places, the scrub covers entire slopes, from the tree line hundreds of meters above to the X308 on the valley floor.

Tibetan Partridge and Woolly Hare
Tibetan Partridge and Woolly Hare, 12 July. (Craig Brelsford)

Our X308 route is a good place to find Tibetan Partridge. We noted 28 without really searching. In one dreamlike scene, a pair of Tibetan Partridge were feeding at dusk with a Woolly Hare.

Among our other X308 highlights were Alpine Accentor at Dagela Pass and, on the slopes below, Grandala and Güldenstädt’s Redstart. We noted Red-fronted Rosefinch, the highest-breeding (to elev. 5700 m/18,700 ft.) bird in the Palearctic, and Streaked Rosefinch, another high-altitude breeder.

Red-fronted Rosefinch
Red-fronted Rosefinch along X308 in Yushu County. (Craig Brelsford)

The scrub delivered close views of White-browed Tit and White-browed Tit-Warbler as well as Common Cuckoo and Greenish Warbler. In the streams were Ibisbill, White-throated Dipper, and Brown Dipper. Bearded Vulture, Himalayan Vulture, and Golden Eagle soared above. Among the most conspicuous birds were Kessler’s Thrush (39), found mainly around the scrub, and on the grassy slopes Brandt’s Mountain Finch (50) and Tibetan Snowfinch (25). We noted a single Snow Pigeon.

White-browed Tit
White-browed Tit in scrub along X308 in Yushu County. (Craig Brelsford)

A group of eagle-eyed Tibetans gave us close views of White-lipped Deer. Two truckfuls of these hard-working men skidded to a stop near us, curious about the foreigners with the telescope on the side of the X308. None spoke Chinese. As one of the men was trying out my binoculars, another man was pointing to the scrub-covered slope and giving me the three symbol with his fingers. Finally I understood: 3 White-lipped Deer just visible in the scrub above. The buck looked formidable and the two does appeared healthy.

We returned to Yushu-Jiegu and there spent the night of 13-14 July.

DOGS, LYNX, AND BEARS, OH MY!

On 14 July we set off again, this time heading south on the G214 to Nangqian County and Kanda Mountain. We found Wallcreeper along the G214 as well as on a sheer limestone wall in the narrows at Kanda Gorge.

Blue Sheep
Blue Sheep Pseudois nayaur feels its way down a rock face along the G214 near Shanglaxiu, Yushu Prefecture, 14 July. (Craig Brelsford).

Kanda Nunnery (32.291641, 96.512173) is nestled in a valley above the Gorge and is an easy place to pick up Tibetan Partridge and Tibetan Babax. We saw a partridge but were stymied in our quest to view Tibetan Babax by a pack of watchdogs.

As I was walking toward the car, Elaine, who had been resting in the car, suddenly emerged, startling the dogs, which had been lying near the car. Elaine climbed back into the car, and the dogs surrounded me, growling and baring their teeth. Nine days earlier, I had fed and befriended the very dogs that were now snarling at me. I first tried standing firm, but still they closed in. Then I kicked them, but when I went for one, the other four would nip at my heels. I finally had no choice but to jump onto the hood of our Mitsubishi Pajero. One of the nuns came out and chased the dogs away.

White-browed Tit-Warbler
White-browed Tit-Warbler, Kanda Mountain, elev. 4250 m (13,940 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

All the unpleasantness with the dogs melted away the moment we saw the lynx. It was around sunset. With me at the wheel, my birding partners and I are driving up the Kanda Mountain road. I look left and see the lynx. It is motionless, looking at us. What luck! What a stunning sight!

lynx
The cat slinks away. The lynx gave us a few seconds of its time—and a memory to last forever. (Craig Brelsford)

“Wild cat!” I cry to my partners, hitting the brakes and reaching for my camera. The lynx posed only a moment before trotting away.

I waited nearly half a century to glimpse a lynx. My partners also had never seen a lynx. This is the Central Asian subspecies of Eurasian Lynx, also known as Himalayan Lynx and Turkestan Lynx. We found the lynx at elev. 4550 m (14,920 ft.).

Kanda Mountain
Kanda Mountain is in Nangqian County in southern Qinghai. Few places offer so enticing a combination of stunning scenery and good birding. I took this photo the morning after we saw the lynx near the place where the encounter occurred. Near this point one can find White Eared Pheasant, Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Babax, and Tibetan Bunting. We found Blue Sheep on the slopes above. Some of the local Tibetans told us that Snow Leopard still roam the area. (Craig Brelsford)

Lynx roam throughout the Northern Hemisphere and are mainly associated with boreal forests. Alpine meadows at 4550 m may not be classic lynx habitat, but our specimen was very much well-suited—a sleek, supple, healthy cat, probably feasting regularly on the Blue Sheep, Himalayan Marmot, Plateau Pika, Woolly Hare, and gamebirds that are abundant at Kanda.

Just before finding the lynx, we observed a group of White-browed Tit-Warbler at 4400 m (14,440 ft.). At Kanda Pass, elev. 4680 m (15,350 ft.), we found the local Tibetan Bunting within minutes of our arrival. Here is the male singing:

Tibetan Bunting, Kanda Pass, 14 July 2016 (00:33; 2.9 MB)

Elaine Du
Elaine Du viewing Saturn through our Swarovski ATX-95 spotting scope at Kanda Pass (32.314561, 96.624807), elev. 4680 m (15,350 ft.). (Craig Brelsford)

Star-gazing at Kanda Pass was even better than it was 3 July near Maduo-Machali, probably because we were higher by 400 m (1,310 ft.). I could not keep my eyes off Saturn, its ring clearly visible. The Galilean moons of Jupiter were easy to pick out, and we saw the bands ringing the gas giant.

The next morning, 15 July, just below Kanda Pass, Jan-Erik’s sensitive ear once again proved its worth. He correctly assumed that the rosefinch in front of us was not the more commonly noted Pink-rumped Rosefinch but Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch. I recorded the call of the individual shown below:

Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Kanda Mountain, 15 July 2016 (00:49; 2.7 MB)

Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch
Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch Carpodacus pulcherrimus, Kanda Mountain. (Craig Brelsford)

We drove over Kanda Pass to the eastern side of the mountain, passing through good scrub habitat and getting a view of singing Chinese Rubythroat. We followed the X830 to Maozhuang (32.266550, 96.824579) and continued south through the scenic gorge of the Ziqu River, a tributary of the Zaqu River (upper Mekong River). Finally we arrived at the forest station, Jiangxi Forest Management Area (32.076777, 97.009417), just a valley away from Tibet.

Ziqu River
Ziqu River near Jiangxi Forest Management Area. Note the rich conifer forests in this wetter, greener area of Qinghai. (Craig Brelsford)

At the gate, the friendly Tibetan guard asked us what we wanted to seek there. “Birds,” Elaine said. “Birds? You won’t find many,” he said, and let us in.

In Jiangxi Village we camped on the grounds of an institution called the “City of Yushu Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School” (32.076395, 97.063995). There, students, under the tutelage of two monks, study Buddhist-style painting. Their works are beautiful, the students are polite, and the kangbo (monks) are wise and kind. The school is an outpost of civilization in the wilderness.

We were befriended by Genqiu (根秋), a student from Kangding, Sichuan. We taught him English; he revealed to us his dream of going to the United States to see his cousin.

artwork
This is an example of the beautiful artwork being produced by the students at the Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School in Jiangxi Village, Nangqian County. The detail here is amazing. Genqiu told us that if even the slightest mistake is detected, then no matter how far along the painting is, the canvas will be discarded and the painter made to start again. (Craig Brelsford)

Genqiu took us to the studio, where 20 students were painting a wall-sized canvas that will take months to complete while one of the kangbo chanted Buddhist prayers. Later, Genqiu and his master showed us sacred paintings worth thousands of yuan. I felt I had been plugged into a Matrix, a beautiful, higher world of art, order, and peace.

On 16 July the school was visited by a huofo (活佛, “living Buddha”). The huofo smiled at me and said, “America.” Genqiu said, “I have been at this school for three years and had never seen a huofo. You have been here one day and already seen a huofo.”

We drove through the gorge. The school is at elev. 3680 m (12,070 ft.); we rose to 4000 m (13,120 ft.). As we ascended, farms and settlements grew farther apart, and the locals started telling us of attacks by Brown Bear. At first we thought the folks were telling tall tales, but we kept hearing the same story—that a local man had been mauled and had to be taken to Xining for treatment. On 17 July, as we were driving back to Yushu, we met a man who showed us the damage two Brown Bear caused when they broke into his farm.

Craig and Tibetans
Craig gets advice on bears from local Tibetan men, Jiangxi Village. (Jan-Erik Nilsén)

The reports of bear aroused our curiosity, and we scanned the slopes and ridges looking for one. We found none, but our search bore fruit with good views of Sichuan Deer (Cervus canadensis macneilli) and at dusk a distant view of White Eared Pheasant.

The steep valleys around Jiangxi Forest Management Area and the Ziqu River gave us a rare Qinghai record of Japanese Tit as well as Black Kite, Black Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Sichuan Tit, Long-tailed Minivet, Giant Laughingthrush, Tibetan Babax, and Dark-sided Flycatcher.

On the grounds of the school, birds roamed freely and fearlessly. Large-billed Crow cawed throughout the day, Elliot’s Laughingthrush were ubiquitous, Kessler’s Thrush used the lawns, and Slaty-backed Flycatcher called from the copses. There were three species of pigeon: Snow Pigeon, Hill Pigeon, and Oriental Turtle Dove. The trill of Pink-rumped Rosefinch was commonly heard, and Hodgson’s Redstart and White-throated Redstart were the two main representatives of Phoenicurus. Salim Ali’s Swift and Crag Martin were in the area, and we noted Red-rumped Swallow.

Jan-Erik and I paid special attention to leaf warblers. We found Yellow-streaked Warbler, Buff-barred Warbler, Sichuan Leaf Warbler, and Greenish Warbler and have an unconfirmed record of Claudia’s Leaf Warbler. I sound-recorded Sichuan Leaf Warbler:

Sichuan Leaf Warbler, trill, Jiangxi Forest Management Area, 16 July (00:25; 1.8 MB)

Sichuan Leaf Warbler
Sichuan Leaf Warbler, Jiangxi Forest Station. (Craig Brelsford)

After staying two nights at the school, on 17 July we returned to Yushu-Jiegu via Xiao Sumang Xiang and the X308. En route we found a pair of White-winged Grosbeak. The scrub on either side of Dagela Pass held Chinese Rubythroat, Blue-fronted Redstart, Robin Accentor, Brown Accentor, and Streaked Rosefinch. Tiny pools held Ruddy Shelduck, all the White Wagtail we saw were of the ninja-masked ssp. alboides, and breeding-yellow Citrine Wagtail looked like drops of sunshine on the green pastures.

We spent the night of 17-18 July at Yùshù Kōnggǎng Jiǔdiàn (玉树空港酒店; +86 [0] 976-7800777). This hotel is a good choice for birders needing a rest after days birding at high altitude. The restaurant is good and the shower in your room is separated from the rest of the bathroom. We paid 320 yuan per night.

WEEK 4

Jan-Erik Nilsén
Jan-Erik Nilsén scans a pond near the Yellow River in Guoluo Prefecture, 19 July. Elev. 4240 m. (Craig Brelsford)

Jan-Erik’s second week with us was Elaine’s and my fourth overall. We ranged from 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 (elev. 4250 m/13,940 ft.) and at Lake Donggeicuona (35.290072, 98.537098) in Maduo County (elev. 4100 m/13,450 ft.).

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 m (13,940 ft.).

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

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
Little Owl stands at attention below Yankou Shan (33.199406, 97.466606), 18 July. (Craig Brelsford)

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 west of Dulan.

Tibetan Rosefinch Carpodacus roborowskii

Tibetan Rosefinch
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. (Craig Brelsford)

1 female at Ela Pass (35.497608, 99.511449), elev. 4499 m (14,760 ft.), on G214, Hainan Prefecture.

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

Great Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilla

rosefinches
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 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 (10,960 ft.). 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). (Craig Brelsford)

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

Tibetan 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
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). (Craig Brelsford)

6 noted after dark 19 July at elev. 4250 m (13,940 ft.) 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 (8.6 mi.) 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).

PHOTOS

pink-rumped rosefinch
Pink-rumped Rosefinch Carpodacus waltoni, female, Jiangxi Forest, 17 July. (Craig Brelsford)
giant l'thrush
Giant Laughingthrush Ianthocincla maxima on sheep’s skull, Jiangxi Forest, Qinghai, 15 July. (Craig Brelsford)
road near school
Jan-Erik birds the road near City of Yushu Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School’ (32.076395, 97.063995). (Craig Brelsford)
artwork at the school
Artwork produced by ‘City of Yushu Jiangxi Huimu Vocational Training School’ (32.076395, 97.063995). There, students, under the tutelage of two monks, study Buddhist-style painting. Their works are beautiful, the students are polite, and the kangbo (monks) are wise and kind. The school is an outpost of civilization in the wilderness. (Craig Brelsford)
lower kanda gorge
Lunch stop, lower Kanda Gorge, 14 July 2016. (Craig Brelsford)
sleeping elaine
Elaine Du sleeping at Kanda Pass, elev. 4680 m (15,350 ft.), 15 July. Weeks on end at high elevation tax the body, and good rest is essential. (Craig Brelsford)
tibetans
Jan-Erik Nilsén (second from L) and Craig Brelsford laughing with Tibetans along County Road 308 (X308), 12 July. (Elaine Du)
Craig and Tibetans
While Tibetans including the kangbo in red get a taste of Craig’s camera, Craig nurses a hot coffee. Jiangxi Forest, southern Qinghai, July 2016. (Elaine Du)
Craig crossing stream
Craig Brelsford crossing stream to get photos of Great Rosefinch. (Elaine Du)

INDEX

“Qinghai, June-August 2016” contains an introduction and six parts. This is Part 2.

Introduction: A Summer in Qinghai
Part 1: Weeks 1 & 2
Part 2: Weeks 3 & 4
Part 3: Weeks 5 & 6
Part 4: Week 7
Part 5: Week 8
Part 6: Facts & Figures

This report is part of shanghaibirding.com’s extensive coverage of Qinghai. For the complete index to our posts on Qinghai, please see our page Birding in Qinghai. A list of our most prominent reports on Qinghai is below.

Mammals and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau: Exploring mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), our team found 98 species of bird and many key mammals, among them Tibetan Wolf.

Tibetan Bunting Leads Parade of Tibetan Plateau Endemics in Qinghai: shanghaibirding.com founder Craig Brelsford led a three-person team on a 23-day trip to Qinghai.

Qinghai in October: Jesper Hornskov and his team noted 178 species of bird in October, a time of year, Hornskov writes, “when few dedicated birdwatchers visit this unique land.”

In addition to coverage of Qinghai and our core area of Shanghai, shanghaibirding.com has extensive coverage of other areas of China, among them

Yunnan
Xinjiang
Sichuan
Northeast China

Featured image: Tibetan Lynx, Kanda Mountains, Qinghai. (Craig Brelsford)
Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

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Qinghai, June-August 2016: Part 3

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

INTRODUCTION TO PART 3

Part 3 covers weeks 5 and 6, in which we birded mainly in Qilian County in northern 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.

A BREAK IN XINING

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. (Craig Brelsford)

The activities of weeks 5 and 6 consisted of a five-day break in Xining followed by explorations in Haibei Prefecture. Elaine and I 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.

Elaine and Craig
Elaine and I relaxing at an Italian restaurant in Xining on 25 July. After non-stop, high-altitude birding for a month, we were ready for a break. (Craig Brelsford)

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. We 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 (7,480 ft.), came at the perfect time and completely reinvigorated us.

ENTERING THE QILIAN MOUNTAINS

Eurasian Eagle-Owl
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. (Craig Brelsford)

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 (186 mi.) 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 (37.676941, 101.270580) at 3220 m (10,560 ft.). The family consisted of two adults and a juvenile. 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.

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

We were joined by Majiu (马九), a 16-year-old Tibetan high schooler, and his uncle, a herdsman. Majiu, whose height is 1.8 m (5’11”), 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.

pasture
The sun sets over our camp at Majiu’s uncle’s pasture in Qilian County. (Craig Brelsford)

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. Near this point (37.682194, 101.061444), elev. 3360 m (11,020 ft.), we found Siberian Roe Deer, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, and Streaked Rosefinch. (Craig Brelsford)

— 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.

Willow Tit
Willow Tit Poecile montanus affinis, 1 Aug. 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 (7.5 mi.) south of Qilian Xiancheng (38.117957, 100.190286). (Craig Brelsford)

— An interesting spot is 38.117957, 100.190286, a conifer forest 12 km (7.5 mi.) 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

Heihe River forest
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. (Craig Brelsford)

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
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 an old poplar in the background. (Craig Brelsford)

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 this 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. (Craig Brelsford)

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

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)

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

Another similar poplar forest is along the Babao River 7 km (4.4 mi.) 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. (Craig Brelsford)

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 (124 mi.) 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
Water Pipit at Jiabo Hot Spring, with Robin Accentor in background. (Craig Brelsford)

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.)

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.

PHOTOS

forest
Conifer forest along Heihe River, elev. 2820 m. This forest is at 38.231934, 99.991251, 27.5 km (17.1 mi.) from Qilian Xiancheng, and is accessible from the S204. Hard to reach and little disturbed, rich conifer forests grace the slopes around Qilian Xiancheng. (Craig Brelsford)
Dongguan Mosque
Dongguan Mosque in Xining supports a community of Common Swift. (Craig Brelsford)
Eurasian Eagle-Owl
Eurasian Eagle-Owl at cliff-side roost in Haibei Prefecture, 30 July. (Craig Brelsford)
Oriental Skylark
Oriental Skylark near Banjie Gou, 31 July. (Craig Brelsford)
White-rumped Snowfinch
White-rumped Snowfinch stands atop a cow patty at sunset, 31 July. (Craig Brelsford)
Mountain Weasel
Mountain Weasel, Haibei Prefecture, 31 July. 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. (Craig Brelsford)
valley
Valley south of Qilian Xiancheng at 38.083892, 100.175667. Elev. 3370 m. (Craig Brelsford)
Spotted Dove
Who cares about Spotted Dove? When you’re in a city park in Shanghai, then you don’t care about Spotted Dove. When you’re in Qilian County, Qinghai, the extreme west of its range, then you care about Spotted Dove. 1 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)
Heihe River poplar forest
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. (Craig Brelsford)
Eurasian Wryneck
Eurasian Wryneck licks up ants at edge of riparian forest along Heihe River, 3 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)
Gansu Leaf Warbler
Gansu Leaf Warbler, Heihe River poplar forest, 4 Aug. (Craig Brelsford)
Heihe River Valley
Heihe River Valley near village of Dipanzi (38.083889, 100.175667), elev. 2650 m (8,690 ft.). Poplar forests line the river on either side. As one travels upstream, the valley grows narrower, the poplar forests disappear, and conifer forests predominate. (Craig Brelsford)
Jiabo Hot Spring
Panorama of area around Jiabo Hot Spring, 5 Aug. 2016. (Craig Brelsford)

INDEX

“Qinghai, June-August 2016” contains an introduction and six parts. This is Part 3.

Introduction: A Summer in Qinghai
Part 1: Weeks 1 & 2
Part 2: Weeks 3 & 4
Part 3: Weeks 5 & 6
Part 4: Week 7
Part 5: Week 8
Part 6: Facts & Figures

This report is part of shanghaibirding.com’s extensive coverage of Qinghai. For the complete index to our posts on Qinghai, please see our page Birding in Qinghai. A list of our most prominent reports on Qinghai is below.

Mammals and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau: Exploring mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), our team found 98 species of bird and many key mammals, among them Tibetan Wolf.

Tibetan Bunting Leads Parade of Tibetan Plateau Endemics in Qinghai: shanghaibirding.com founder Craig Brelsford led a three-person team on a 23-day trip to Qinghai.

Qinghai in October: Jesper Hornskov and his team noted 178 species of bird in October, a time of year, Hornskov writes, “when few dedicated birdwatchers visit this unique land.”

In addition to coverage of Qinghai and our core area of Shanghai, shanghaibirding.com has extensive coverage of other areas of China, among them

Yunnan
Xinjiang
Sichuan
Northeast China

Featured image: Highlights from northern Qinghai. Clockwise from top left: poplar forest, Mountain Weasel, neon lights of Xining, and Eurasian Eagle-Owl. (Craig Brelsford)
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