Thursday 5th June – Friday 27th June
For anyone with a sense of adventure, it is with an almost mystical regard that they look towards the Tibetan Plateau and the list of mouth-watering species that resides there. This high altitude region has long held a certain fascination for birders and now, with ‘new’ areas opening up, we are pleased to present our take on the region. Our birding on ‘The Roof of the World’ as the Tibetan plateau is widely known, begins around the mountains close to Xining before moving slowly up onto the Tibetan Plateau. Here we will search for Pink-tailed Finch, a species recently placed into its own family, as well as Tibetan Snowcock, Henderson’s Ground-jay, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Kozlov’s Bunting, 6 species of Snowfinch, and a whole host of endemic, scarce and localised species. However, this very special tour will then get really adventurous as we head to the ‘new frontier’ of Xinjiang in the far northwest of China, in search of a number of central Asian specialities. Our ultimate goal will be the endemic Biddulph’s Ground-jay that inhabits the Takla Makan Desert and is a species very few western birders have ever laid eyes on. This area could also yield White-winged Woodpecker, Saxaul Sparrow and Desert Finch, whilst a huge lake is usually full of birds. We will also explore the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains for Azure Tit, Eversmann’s Redstart, Red-mantled Rosefinch, Black-throated Accentor and a few surprises along the way are almost guaranteed!
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DAYS 1- 2 UK/Europe – Xining - 5th to 6th June
Following an overnight flight from UK to Xining via Beijing, we will transfer a short distance to a nearby hotel for an overnight stay.
DAY 3 XINING – DONG XIA - HUZU BEI SHAN
An early start with a packed breakfast will see us on the arid slopes of Northern Hill at Xining where we
begin our birding searching for Daurian Partridge, Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush, Pied Wheatear, Pere David’s Laughingthrush, Brown Accentor, Twite, Pale (Sinai) Rosefinch, and both Godlewski’s and Meadow Bunting. Once we have finished here we will drive just under two hours to Dongxia Forest Park and look for our main target, the range-restricted Gansu Leaf-warbler. There are many other great birds to look for such as Eurasian Hobby, Przevalski’s and Chinese Nuthatches, Oriental Skylark, Olive-backed Pipit, Grey-backed Shrike, Chestnut Thrush, Chinese Song Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Stonechat, Crested Tit-Warbler, Hume’s and Yellow-streaked Warblers, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Sichuan and Rufous-vented Tits, Asian Azure-winged Magpie, Daurian Jackdaw, Eastern Rook, Large-billed Crow, Grey-capped Greenfinch, Common Rosefinch, Grey-headed Bullfinch and Black-faced Bunting. Later in the afternoon we will carry on to Huzhu Bei Shan for a 2-night stay.
DAY 4 HUZU BEI SHAN
We will depart very early from our hotel and then spend the rest of the day birding around the forested mountains, high pass and conifer-cloaked valleys not far from the border between Qinghai and Gansu provinces. Our primary targets are a couple of superb Chinese endemics, the beautiful Blue Eared-Pheasant and the very shy Chinese Grouse, both of which will take some time to find. This great area also holds Blood Pheasant, Black Woodpecker, White-throated and Hodgson’s Redstarts, Chinese and Large-billed Leaf-warblers, Chestnut Thrush, Spotted Bush-warbler and Grey-headed Bullfinch amongst others. It is interesting to note that the Northern Red-flanked Bluetails in this area are a little different and are a potential future split. Night at Huzhu Bei Shan.
DAY 5 KOR KOR LAKE - HEIMAHE
We can spend the first few hours of the day at Huzhu Bei Shan before heading higher up to the edge of the Tibetan Plateau where we shall find ourselves amidst a vast, open landscape of grassy plains and low, rolling hills. Common species to see in this habitat include Black-eared Kite, Hill Pigeon, more than likely our first Mongolian Lark, Horned Lark, Richard’s Pipit, Hume’s Ground-tit and the first of many White-rumped Snowfinches. Our destination is the huge Kor Kor Lake (3200m), one of the largest lakes in Asia and should have plenty of time to explore the eastern edge for such goodies as Black-necked Crane, Hume’s Short-toed Lark, Tibetan Lark, Pale Martin, and both Pere David’s and Blanford’s Snowfinches. There will be numerous other species such as Black-necked Grebe, Greylag and Bar-headed Geese, plenty of familiar wildfowl, Chinese Spot-billed and Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochard, Kentish Plover and other waders, Pallas’s and Brown-headed Gulls, Yellow Wagtail and Isabelline Wheatear. Overnight at Heimahe.
DAY 6 RUBBER MOUNTAIN - CHAKA
We will take a packed breakfast with us this morning and drive west to Rubber Mountain (3700m) wherewe will search for one of the most important species of the entire tour, Pink-tailed Finch which is a species in a family all of its own! Also amidst the slopes and valleys of this area we hope to see Mongolian, Crested, Horned and Hume’s Short-toed Larks, Wallcreeper, Blue-fronted Redstart, Hume’s Ground-tit, Alpine Leaf-warbler, Smoky Warbler, White-browned Tit, Rufous-necked, White-rumped and Tibetan Snowfinches, Mongolian Finch and Robin Accentor. From here we will drive some 80 kilometres west to Chaka where we will stay for three nights.
DAYS 7 - 8 CHAKA
We will make early starts each morning and head further west to the mountains near Chaka (up to 3950m) in search of the endemic Przevalski’s Partridge and the stunning endemic Ala Shan Redstart, both of which are endemic to this corner of China. There should also be Tibetan Snowcock present here and occasionally Himalayan Snowcock has been seen as well. The habitat at lower elevations contrasts starkly with the surrounding mountains, as we will find ourselves in a semi-desert environment searching for Pallas’s Sandgrouse and the amazing Henderson’s Ground-jay. Other species here include Xinjiang and Tibetan Grey Shrikes, Wallcreeper, White-winged Grosbeak, Mongolian Finch, Blanford’s Snowfinch and Pine Bunting.
DAY 9 CHAKA - WENQUAN
This morning we will head south to Wenquan, which will enable us to pick up any species we still need for our lists so far. This is a truly spectacular route as the road eventually crosses the awe-inspiring Er La Pass at 4500m and we will find ourselves surrounded by a majestic panorama of snow-capped mountains. There should be a little time to check out the vicinity for Guldenstadt’s Redstart and others before heading to our guesthouse. Night at Wenquan.
DAY 10 ER LA PASS
Today is a very special one as we will be birding amidst the spectacular scenery at Er La Pass for two very important birds: Tibetan Sandgrouse and Roborovski’s (Tibetan) Rosefinch. It will be a long, slow hike up to 4850m to the top and the scree-slope area to look for these very special birds, but there’s plenty of other good species here as well. We may well also find Tibetan Snowcock, Guldenstadt’s Redstart, Prince Henri’s Snowfinch, and both Brandt’s and Plain Mountain Finches in the vicinity. In the afternoon we will drive a few hours to Maduo for an overnight stay, but will pass through good habitat for a number of species including Hill Pigeon, Little Owl, Eurasian Wryneck, Salim Ali’s Swift, Mongolian Lark, Desert Wheatear, Rock Sparrow, Pere David’s, Rufous-necked and Tibetan Snowfinches, Mongolian and Desert Finches, and both Pine and Black-faced Bunting. There should also be some Blue Sheep here as well. Night at Maduo.
DAY 11 ER LA PASS - YUSHE
We continue our journey in a southwesterly direction to Yushu, searching along the way for Spotted Great Rosefinch, before crossing a seemingly endless expanse of grassland/steppe where raptors are numerous. We should see many Upland Buzzards, Black-eared Kites, Himalayan Griffons, Lammergeier and Saker. We will take time to search the rivers and marshes of the Huang He for Ibisbill and there’s also a chance of Pallas’s Fish-eagle as well and there’s plenty of other birds here such as Ruddy Shelducks, Lesser Sandplover, tibetana Common Terns, Tibetan Lark, Tibetan Wagtail, Asian House-martin, and many others. One secret high pass often holds Siberian Rubythroat and Streaked Rosefinch as well, before we descend to the town of Yushe for the night.
DAYS 12 - 13 YUSHE - NANGQIAN - KANDE SHAN
Today we drive to Nangqian, passing through yet more incredible scenery and this will give us the opportunity to explore a scenic gorge that has been a reliable spot for Ibisbill, if we still need it! We may well pass family groups of Black-necked Cranes during our journey today, as well as Saker, Upland Buzzard, Kessler’s Thrush, possibly Great Rosefinch and there’s a decent chance of seeing Kiang or Tibetan Wild Ass. We will spend the following day around Kande Shan Pass (4600 – 4800m) and gorge for the important Tibetan Plateau endemics, Kozlov’s (Tibetan) Bunting and Kozlov’s Babax. Other possibilities here and in some nearby sheltered forested valleys include Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Snowcock, Golden Eagle, Himalayan griffon Vulture, Lammergeier, Grandala, as well as Snow Pigeon, Wallcreeper, White-capped Redstart, Alpine Leaf-warbler, Greenish Warbler, White-browed Tit, Red-fronted, Chinese Beautiful and Streaked Rosefinches, and both Alpine and Robin Accentors. Lower down in the valley we can search for Eurasian Eagle-owl, Elliot’s Laughingthrush, weigoldi Dusky Warbler, Crested Tit-warbler, White-browed Tit-warbler, Streaked and Pink-rumped Rosefinches and White-winged Grosbeak. Nights at Nangqian.
DAYS 14 - 15 BEIZHA FOREST
We will spend two full days at Beizha Forest (3900m), which will mean switching to four-wheel drive cars to negotiate the rough terrain. Here we will primarily look for Szechney’s Monal Partridge and Kozlov’s Babax, but other quality birds include Blood Pheasant, White Eared-Pheasant, Salim Ali’s Swift, Himalayan Bluetail, Giant Laughingthrush, Sichuan Leaf-warbler, Three-banded and Streaked Rosefinches, Tibetan Siskin and both Brown and Maroon-backed Accentors. There’s a fine supporting cast here also, with Three-toed, Grey-headed and Black Woodpeckers, Rosy Pipit, White-tailed Rubythroat, White-bellied Redstart, Long-tailed Thrush, Slaty-backed Flycatcher and Grey-crested, Sichuan and Japanese Tit, Hodgson’s Treecreeper, Black-streaked Scimitar-babbler, Chinese Fulvetta, Hume’s Warbler, White-winged Grosbeak, Tibetan Siskin, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Chinese White-browed Rosefinch and Maroon-backed Accentor amongst others.
DAY 16 BEIZHA - MADUO
Mainly a long travelling day as we drive back to Maduo for an overnight stay, but with a few birding stops along the way if we see something worth investigating. It could also be an interesting day for mammals with Tibetan Fox, Tibetan Antelope and Kiang as we drive across the wide open plains of the Tibetan Plateau. Night at Maduo.
DAY 17 GONGHE
Today we head towards Gonghe (2850m) which will give us a further opportunity to catch up with any species we still need from Er La Pass again. The town and surrounding area itself can be good for a few species such as Eurasian Wryneck, Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush, Eurasian Hoopoe, Tibetan Wagtail, Asian Azure-winged Magpie, Mongolian Finch, Black-faced Bunting, as well as the interesting Margelanic Whitethroat. Night at Gonghe.
DAY 18 GONGHE - XINING/LANZHOU - URUMQI
Today our adventure takes a new twist as we will travel to Lanzhou and go where few birders have had the fortune to go, as we take an internal flight to Urumqi and stay the night in a local hotel.
DAYS 19 - 20 URUMQI - TAKLA MAKAN DESERT
Following an early start we will drive to Lantai and our route will take us through some interesting rock formations and habitats where we can see Long-legged Buzzard, European Bee-eater, Isabelline Shrike, Pied Wheatear, Barred Warbler and others. The next day we will have a packed breakfast along the Tarim River and in the surrounding saxaul-scrub we will look for a couple of Central Asian specialities, White-winged Woodpecker and Saxaul Sparrow. But we will need to head further into the Takla Makan desert for our ultimate quarry, the Chinese endemic Biddulph’s Ground Jay. This is a species very few western birders have had the privilege to see and this will definitely be the major highlight of our tour. Other species present include Black Stork, Small Whitethroat, Sykes’s and Asian Desert Warblers, Spanish Sparrow and Desert Finch. Nights at Lantai.
DAY 21 TAKLA MAKAN DESERT - URUMQI
Our drive back to Urumqi today will take us alongside a network of pools and marshes that are usually full of birds. Flocks of Whiskered and White-winged Terns in their spectacular breeding finery are usually present, whilst the reedbeds hold Bearded Reedling, Paddyfield and Great Reed Warblers, and there is an outstanding chance of finding something unusual. Night in Urumqi.
DAY 22 TIEN SHAN MOUNTAINS
Our last full day will see us exploring the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains where possibilities include Oriental Turtle Dove, Eversmann’s and Blue-capped Redstarts, Azure Tit, Common Crossbill, Red-fronted Serin, Oriental Greenfinch, Spotted Nutcracker, Black-throated Accentor and Red-mantled Rosefinches amongst others.
DAY 23 URUMQI – UK/EUROPE – END OF TOUR - 27th June
International flights back to the UK/Europe and conclusion of the tour.
Leaders: Nick Bray and local guide.
Ground Price: £4250.00 – Xining/Urumqi
Airfare: £890 (approx) - UK/UK
Single supplement: £450.00
Group size: Minimum for tour to go ahead 5 and maximum 10 with 2 leaders.
Included in cost: Accommodation in twin rooms mostly en-suite, all meals including picnic lunches, bottled water, snacks, transport throughout in air-conditioned vehicles, internal flight (Xining – Urumqi), all park entrance fees, and services of local guides and leaders.
Not included: International airfare, insurance, visa fee, departure tax, excess luggage charges, drinks, tips, and items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: Ranges from simple to good – please remember we are visiting areas way off the regular tourist circuit. We endeavour to stay in the best available accommodation close to the birding sites to cut out any unnecessary long drives before reaching the best birding areas each day.
Tour Code: This is a long and relatively adventurous tour where early starts can be expected every day and several late finishes may well occur. Most of our birding walks will be at an altitude of over 3,500m (11,000 feet) in Qinghai and the Tibetan Plateau and we will go up to a maximum height of 4,850m. When at such altitudes we will try to walk at a slow pace and limit any excessive uphill walking, but please note that this is a strenuous tour and at a few key sites there are no paths and we will walk over uneven ground. There are also a few days of very long drives on this tour, with just a few birding stops en-route which you get on any tour to this region. The weather will be variable with the possibility of some rain and even snow in Qinghai, and at the higher elevations it could well be freezing when we begin birding early in the morning. This is definitely a tour for birders who have an above average level of fitness, a keen sense of adventure and can accept that we will be visiting areas that few western birders have ever been.
Please note all photos copyright of Tang Jun unless otherwise stated.
2014 Tour Report - click here.
2014 Photo Gallery - click here.
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