Birding in Qinghai, China is an unforgettable experience. The Yellow, Yangtze, and Mekong rivers rise in the sparsely populated province, which lies almost entirely on the Tibetan Plateau. Qinghai is big—three times larger than the United Kingdom and slightly larger than Texas.
A list of our most prominent posts on Qinghai is below. Keep scrolling for even more posts. Reach us at email@example.com.
Mammals and Birds of the Tibetan Plateau: Our team drove 3977 km (2,471 mi.) in 15 days, starting and ending in Golmud, Qinghai. In mountains as high as 5100 m (16,730 ft.), we found 98 species of bird. Mammals were the big stars. I watched a Tibetan Fox catch and devour a vole, we found 46 Tibetan Antelope and a Tibetan Wolf in Antelope Valley, and we saw dozens of Tibetan Wild Ass.
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 PikaOchotona huangensis, Pallas’s CatFelis manul, LynxLynx lynx, Snow LeopardUncia uncial, WolfCanis lupus (21 individuals!), Tibetan FoxVulpes ferrilata, Mountain WeaselMustela altaica, Kiang (= Tibetan Wild Ass) Equus kiang, Wild BoarSus scrofa (a range extension!), Alpine Musk DeerMoschus chrysogaster, White-lipped DeerPrzewalskium albirostris in full rut, the ultra-rare Przevalski’s GazelleProcapra przewalskii, Wild YakBos grunniens, ArgaliOvis ammon, Tibetan AntelopePanthalops hodgsonii, and Blue SheepPseudois nayaur.
Among the highlights/my personal favourites/most interesting records were:
Szechenyi’s Monal-PartridgeTetraophasis 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 SnowcockTetraogallus 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 PartridgePerdix 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 PheasantIthaginis cruentus
A covey of no fewer than 24 scoped out on a bare slope near Nangqian on 16th.
White Eared PheasantCrossoptilon crossoptilon
470 bird-days. Noted near Nangqian on three dates, incl a shocking 355 in a day!
Blue Eared PheasantCrossoptilon 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.
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!
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 GoshawkAccipiter gentilis
Seven bird-days. Noted on four dates—not a local speciality, granted, but typically a species hard to get prolonged looks at …
Steppe EagleAquila 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 CraneGrus 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!
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 SnipeGallinago solitaria
A single individual was seen up close at Nine Ibisbills Spot on 12th!
Pallas’s SandgrouseSyrrhaptes paradoxus
A single distant flock of 38 was all we managed …
Eurasian Eagle-OwlBubo bubo ssp
One scoped in desert poplars on 22nd—its presence outraged the resident pair of Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus.
Grey NightjarCaprimulgus jokata
One along the Mekong on 16th.
Tibetan Grey ShrikeLanius 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 TitPoecile 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 TitPanurus 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 LarkMelanocorypha 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 BabblerRhopophilus 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 BabaxBabax 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 FulvettaAlcippe 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 RedstartPhoenicurus 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 SnowfinchMontifringilla 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 AccentorPrunella 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 FinchUrocynchramus 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 RosefinchCarpodacus punicea
Four bird-days. Unexpectedly—due to the lateness of the season—noted near Nangqian on three dates.
Pine BuntingEmberiza 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 GrouseTetrastes severtzovi, Przevalski’s Alectoris magna and Daurian PartridgePerdix dauurica, Bar-headed GooseAnser indicus, Chinese SpotbillAnas zonorhyncha, Black StorkCiconia nigra, Chinese Pond HeronArdeola bacchus, MerlinFalco columbarius, Oriental Honey BuzzardPernis ptilorhynchus, Black VultureAegypius monachus, Western Marsh HarrierCircus aeruginosus, Himalayan and Upland BuzzardButeo burmanicus and B. hemilasius, Eastern Imperial EagleAquila heliaca, Demoiselle CraneAnthropoides virgo, Eurasian WoodcockScolopax rusticola, Great Black-headed (= Pallas’s) and Brown-headed GullLarus ichtyaetus and L. brunnicephalus, Snow PigeonColumba leuconota, Chinese Pied WoodpeckerDendrocopus cabanisi, Chinese Grey ShrikeLanius sphenocercus, Henderson’s Ground JayPodoces hendersoni, Hume’s GroundpeckerPseudopodoces humilis, Sichuan TitPoecile weigoldicus, Asian House MartinDelichon dasypus, Stoliczka’s Tit-warblerLeptopoecile sophiae, Elwe’s Horned LarkEremophila elwesi, Gansu Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus kansuensis, Giant LaughingthrushGarrulax maximus, Chinese NuthatchSitta villosa, Hodgson’s TreecreeperCerthia hodgsoni, Kessler’s ThrushTurdus kessleri, Northern Red-Flanked BluetailTarsiger cyanurus, White-throated RedstartPhoenicurus schisticeps, TibetanMontifringilla adamsi, White-rumpedOnychostruthus taczanowskii, and Rufous-necked and Blanford’s SnowfinchPyrgilauda ruficollis and P. blanfordi, Robin, Rufous-browed, and Brown AccentorPrunella rubeculoides, P. strophiata and P. fulvescens, Citrine WagtailMotacilla citreola, Brandt’s Mountain FinchLeucosticte brandti, Pink-rumped, Chinese White-browed, Eastern Great and Caucasian Great RosefinchCarpodacus waltoni, C. dubius, C. rubicilloides and C. rubicilla, White-winged GrosbeakMycerobas carniceps, and Godlewski’s and Little BuntingEmberiza godlewskii and E. pusilla.
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.
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)
Greylag GooseAnser anser Bar-headed GooseA. indicus Mute SwanCygnus olor Common ShelduckTadorna tadorna Ruddy ShelduckT. ferruginea MallardAnas platyrhynchos Northern ShovelerSpatula clypeata GarganeyS. querquedula Red-crested PochardNetta rufina Common PochardAythya ferina Ferruginous DuckA. nyroca Tufted DuckA. fuligula Common GoldeneyeBucephala clangula Common MerganserMergus merganser Przevalski’s PartridgeAlectoris magna Tibetan SnowcockTetraogallus tibetanus Common PheasantPhasianus colchicus White Eared PheasantCrossoptilon crossoptilon Tibetan PartridgePerdix hodgsoniae Great Crested GrebePodiceps cristatus Black-necked GrebeP. nigricollis Black StorkCiconia nigra Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo Grey HeronArdea cinerea Great EgretA. alba Eastern Cattle EgretBubulcus coromandus Bearded VultureGypaetus barbatus Himalayan VultureGyps himalayensis Steppe EagleAquila nipalensis Golden EagleA. chrysaetos Eurasian SparrowhawkAccipiter nisus Northern GoshawkA. gentilis Black KiteMilvus migrans Upland BuzzardButeo hemilasius Himalayan BuzzardB. burmanicus Water RailRallus aquaticus Eurasian CootFulica atra Black-necked CraneGrus nigricollis Black-winged StiltHimantopus himantopus Pied AvocetRecurvirostra avosetta IbisbillIbidorhyncha struthersii Grey PloverPluvialis squatarola Lesser Sand PloverCharadrius mongolus Kentish PloverC. alexandrinus Little Ringed PloverC. dubius WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus Black-tailed GodwitLimosa limosa Ruddy TurnstoneArenaria interpres Curlew SandpiperCalidris ferruginea Temminck’s StintC. temminckii Little StintC. minuta Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos Common GreenshankTringa nebularia Wood SandpiperT. glareola Common RedshankT. totanus Brown-headed GullChroicocephalus brunnicephalus Pallas’s GullIchthyaetus ichthyaetus Common TernSterna hirundo Tibetan SandgrouseSyrrhaptes tibetanus Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove)Columba livia Hill PigeonC. rupestris Snow PigeonC. leuconota Oriental Turtle DoveStreptopelia orientalis Eurasian Collared DoveS. decaocto Spotted DoveSpilopelia chinensis Common CuckooCuculus canorus Eurasian Eagle-OwlBubo bubo Little OwlAthene noctua Common SwiftApus apus Salim Ali’s SwiftA. salimalii Eurasian HoopoeUpupa epops Eurasian WryneckJynx torquilla Crimson-breasted WoodpeckerDryobates cathpharius Black WoodpeckerDryocopus martius Grey-headed WoodpeckerPicus canus Common KestrelFalco tinnunculus Eurasian HobbyF. subbuteo Saker FalconF. cherrug Long-tailed MinivetPericrocotus ethologus Tiger ShrikeLanius tigrinus Isabelline ShrikeL. isabellinus Grey-backed ShrikeL. tephronotus Chinese Grey ShrikeL. sphenocercus giganteus Black DrongoDicrurus macrocercus Azure-winged MagpieCyanopica cyanus Black-rumped MagpiePica bottanensis Henderson’s Ground JayPodoces hendersoni Red-billed ChoughPyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax Alpine ChoughP. graculus Daurian JackdawColoeus dauuricus Carrion CrowCorvus corone Large-billed CrowC. macrorhynchos Northern RavenC. corax Horned LarkEremophila alpestris Greater Short-toed LarkCalandrella brachydactyla Hume’s Short-toed LarkC. acutirostris Tibetan LarkMelanocorypha maxima Mongolian LarkM. mongolica Asian Short-toed LarkAlaudala cheleensis Oriental SkylarkA. gulgula Crested LarkGalerida cristata Pale MartinRiparia diluta Eurasian Crag MartinPtyonoprogne rupestris Barn SwallowHirundo rustica Red-rumped SwallowCecropis daurica Asian House MartinDelichon dasypus Rufous-vented TitPeriparus rubidiventris Grey Crested TitLophophanes dichrous White-browed TitPoecile superciliosus Willow TitP. montanus affinis Sichuan TitP. weigoldicus Ground TitPseudopodoces humilis Japanese TitParus minor White-browed Tit-WarblerLeptopoecile sophiae Dusky WarblerPhylloscopus fuscatus Alpine Leaf WarblerP. occisinensis Yellow-streaked WarblerP. armandii Buff-barred WarblerP. pulcher Gansu Leaf WarblerP. kansuensis Lemon-rumped WarblerP. chloronotus Sichuan Leaf WarblerP. forresti Greenish WarblerP. trochiloides Large-billed Leaf WarblerP. magnirostris Desert WhitethroatSylvia minula Tarim BabblerRhopophilus albosuperciliaris Giant LaughingthrushIanthocincla maxima Plain LaughingthrushPterorhinus davidi Tibetan BabaxP. koslowi Elliot’s LaughingthrushTrochalopteron elliotii Eurasian WrenTroglodytes troglodytes Chinese NuthatchSitta villosa WallcreeperTichodroma muraria Eurasian TreecreeperCerthia familiaris GrandalaGrandala coelicolor Chestnut ThrushTurdus rubrocanus Kessler’s ThrushT. kessleri Chinese ThrushT. mupinensis Dark-sided FlycatcherMuscicapa sibirica Chinese RubythroatCalliope tschebaiewi Siberian RubythroatCalliope calliope Slaty-backed FlycatcherFicedula hodgsonii Blue-fronted RedstartPhoenicurus frontalis Plumbeous Water RedstartP. fuliginosus White-capped RedstartP. leucocephalus Przevalski’s RedstartP. alaschanicus Hodgson’s RedstartP. hodgsoni White-throated RedstartP. schisticeps Güldenstädt’s RedstartP. erythrogastrus Black RedstartP. ochruros Common Rock ThrushMonticola saxatilis Siberian StonechatSaxicola maurus Desert WheatearOenanthe deserti Isabelline WheatearO. isabellina White-throated DipperCinclus cinclus Brown DipperC. pallasii Eurasian Tree SparrowPasser montanus Rock SparrowPetronia petronia Tibetan SnowfinchMontifringilla henrici Black-winged SnowfinchM. adamsi White-rumped SnowfinchOnychostruthus taczanowskii Pere David’s SnowfinchPyrgilauda davidiana Rufous-necked SnowfinchP. ruficollis Blanford’s SnowfinchP. blanfordi Alpine AccentorPrunella collaris Robin AccentorP. rubeculoides Rufous-breasted AccentorP. strophiata Brown AccentorP. fulvescens Maroon-backed AccentorP. immaculata Citrine WagtailMotacilla citreola Grey WagtailM. cinerea White WagtailM. alba Richard’s PipitAnthus richardi Rosy PipitA. roseatus Olive-backed PipitA. hodgsoni Water PipitA. spinoletta Przevalski’s FinchUrocynchramus pylzowi Plain Mountain FinchLeucosticte nemoricola Brandt’s Mountain FinchL. brandti Grey-headed BullfinchPyrrhula erythaca Blanford’s RosefinchAgraphospiza rubescens Common RosefinchCarpodacus erythrinus Himalayan Beautiful RosefinchC. pulcherrimus Pink-rumped RosefinchC. waltoni Chinese White-browed RosefinchC. dubius Tibetan RosefinchC. roborowskii Streaked RosefinchC. rubicilloides Great RosefinchC. rubicilla Red-fronted RosefinchC. puniceus Grey-capped GreenfinchChloris sinica TwiteLinaria flavirostris White-winged GrosbeakMycerobas carnipes Pine BuntingEmberiza leucocephalos fronto Tibetan BuntingE. koslowi Godlewski’s BuntingE. godlewskii
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.
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:
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
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
1 Black Drongo, another interesting record for Qinghai
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
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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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)
“Qinghai, June-August 2016” contains an introduction and six parts. This is Part 1.
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.