Tibet had always been one of my dream destinations and I was especially keen to go before the Chinese complete their systematic cultural genocide of the region whilst the western world does nothing about it. However to do it justice and to stand any chance of seeing all the specialalities you need a minimum of a three weeks and taking this amount of time off from work is always a problem. However in February of this year Mike Leven asked if I would be interested in joining a 4 weeks trip he was organising in August and it just so happened that work was looking a bit thin on the ground during that period and so I was able to persuade my employers to let me have 4 weeks unpaid leave. I signed up and looked forward to the trip.
Unless you have plenty of time, can speak Chinese and don't mind being ripped off then the only way of birding this remote region is by getting somebody to organise it for you who knows the score. As this was a once in a lifetime trip we decided to use the best and contacted Jesper Hornskov and arranged a tailor made tour to suit our requirements. Jesper has lived in China for over 15 years with many of these spent in Qinghai. His knowledge of the region’s birds is immense and he has organised many trips to Qinghai and Tibet during the last 7 years - ours was the fourth one he had organised this year. There were four of us from Hong Kong, but as we needed a minimum of six participants, Jesper found two other people: Tony from the UK, who I had travelled with in Thailand 20 years ago, and Jorgen from Sweden who had been working in Beijing and included the trip as part of his overland journey to Iran then on to Sweden. For once all the logistics were left to somebody else and all I had to do was turn up. The itinerary was tailor made to our requirements with advice from Jesper. We spent a few days around Xining acclimatizing before heading south to the Tibet/Qinghai border. We returned the same way so that we had the chance, if required, to pick up any target birds we may have missed on our way down. We then headed west towards Golmud exploring the wetlands around the vast Koko Nor lake and the dry desert on route. At Golmud we headed south to Lhasa and then spent the last few days exploring areas close to the city. We decided to drive the 1100 km to Lhasa instead of flying because it had been a number of years since any birders had done this and we thought the trip south could be interesting for both bird and mammals. We used two Land Cruisers for the first part of the trip, which were essential as some of the tracks we traversed were very rough to say the least. As the road between Koko Nor and Lhasa was in good condition and we had two additional members joining the party, Jorgen’s wife and our PRC minder, we used a 20 seater bus for the final stage of the journey. In the Lhasa area we reverted back to Land Cruisers. In total we covered 4700 km.
Apart from Jesper and the drivers, a "minder" — a representative of the travel agency that Jesper uses - also accompanied us for the entire trip. This proved very effective as it left Jesper free to bird with us whilst accommodation, food and the beaurocratic hassles which are inevitable in the remoter parts of China were sorted out.
From a birding perspective, August was not the best time of year to go for two reasons. Many of the birds were in moult so we were not seeing them at their best and also they had stopped singing and hence birds were harder to locate. This made the going tough at times and extra effort was required to ensure we saw all the endemics. In this we suceeded, although the Sandgrouse gave us a scare! On the other hand, late summer is probably the time of year when a trip is least likely to be disrupted by bad weather and we did pick up a few migrants, though most of these were widespread east Asian species.
Accommodation and Food
All the accommodation and food was arranged by Jesper. In Xining, Golmud and Lhasa we stayed in good hotels but once we headed away from the main towns the standard of accommodation varied from basic hotels to truck stops to staying in the forest station HQ at Nang Qian where we slept in our sleeping bags on wooden beds. However all the rooms were clean although this could not always be said for the ablution facilities. Hot showers were a rarity but there was always a large flask of hot water in the rooms for washing.
As we left early each day, breakfast was a picnic affair of bread, eggs, and whatever else was available on the previous evening. For lunch we either stopped in a roadside restaurant for a bowl of noodles or, if we were to be away from the car all day, we would take some snack food with us. In the evenings we would eat in a restaurant close to the accommodation. The only exception to this was at Nang Qian forest where the nearest settlement was miles away so we took all our food with us and the drivers cooked each night. The standard of food on the whole was good. It was typical Chinese fare and varied depending on what was available at the time but there was always a good supply of Yak meat. We all took a good supply of snack bars and chocolate with us to supplement our diet.
The weather was not what I had expected and I certainly didn't think we would be hiking through fresh snow. Personally I thought we would see clear blue skies everyday, however this was not the case for the first three weeks. The weather was in fact very variable during our stay and we encountered either rain or snow almost daily. Typically the days would start off cloudy and then brighten up during the day and then quite often it would rain in the evening. We lost one day’s birding due to snow, a howling gale and horizontal sleet but luckily it was largely a driving day so we just limited the number of roadside stops. The last week in the Lhasa area was much more like I had anticipated with bright blue skies. Temperatures during the stay ranged from -1 to 28’ but the wind chill made it feel much colder at times. However, despite the rather damp weather, when the sun came out it was very strong and we burnt easily.
We were probably a bit unlucky with the weather as 2004 was much wetter than normal in Tibet and Northern China however we had a enough of a buffer built into our itinerary to cater for this situation
Nothing can prepare you for the effects of the altitude. We spent most of the four weeks above 3700 m and a good number of days above 4200 m. Although we designed the itinerary to allow us time to adjust, we all suffered to varying degrees. During our first ascent of Er La Pass early in the trip we were all glad to descend as we were all feeling pretty lousy. Most of us got used to it but quite often at night I would find myself struggling for breath and as for trying to run if somebody found a good bird, forget it, as you end up a heaving wreck on the ground desperately trying to breathe whilst the bird casually moves on.
The sun and very dry atmosphere caused us the main problems; we all got a bit burnt at times and also our lips cracked badly and became very sore. This was especially a problem for the people who are used to the very humid Hong Kong climate.
None of us got really sick. There were a few cases of upset stomachs due to the sun, altitude and food but the symptoms were mild and it did not really effect anybody’s birding although at times energy levels were a bit low.
A Field Guide to the Birds of China — John MacKinnon and Karen Phillipps - although it contains many errors it’s the only guide in English that illustrates the majority of the birds.
A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent — Krys Kazmierczak — was useful as a back-up.
The Mammals of China — Sheng Helin, Noriyuki Ohtaishi and Lu Huoji — this covers all the larger mammals but only a selection of the smaller ones such as the pikas.
Saturday 14th August
Met up with Tung, Mike and John at the Lok Ma Chau Border Crossing at 09.00, crossed into China and caught a taxi to Shenzhen Airport about an hour away.
Caught the 11.35 flight to Xi'an where we met Jorgen and changed planes for the short hop to Xining. As we approached the airport it was announced that it was only 14 and raining, not what we were hoping for. We were met at the airport by the two Land Cruisers and taken the 30 min drive to the hotel. By now it was 18.00 so after checking in we found somewhere to eat and discussed our expectations for the trip over a few beers.
Sunday 15th August
As Jesper and Tony were not arriving until midday we arranged to bird an area close to Xining first thing. Set out from the hotel at 06.00 for the short drive to the hills to the north of Xining called Beishan. Arrived just as it was getting light and slowly made our way up the road towards the summit. At first the weather was dull with some low cloud drifting in now and then but it brightened up as the day progressed. It was not long before we found a number of Sinai Rosefinches in a small gully by the side of the road quickly followed by Meadow Buntings in the low scrub. This was only site where we were likely to see these two species. The party then split with two of us chasing what we believed to be a partridge calling in the mist and the others carried on to the summit. Jorgen’s and my perserverance paid off and we eventually saw both Przevalski's Partridge and Daurian Partridge in a non-cultivated gully near the summit.
At lunch time both groups made their way back to the cars and we all headed back into town to meet up with Jesper and Tony. Had a late lunch then headed back up to the summit again - this time in brilliant sunshine - and explored the area where the partriges had been seen in the morning. It was not long before we saw both species again. As dusk approached we slowly headed back down and returned to the hotel and had an early night.
Monday 16th August
Set off from the hotel at 05.00 to Dongxia Forest Reserve about an hour’s drive north of Xining. The forest reserve is a large ridge covered with spruce trees with some buckthorn-filled glades. We arrived just as it was getting light, had breakfast and then explored the scrubby buckthorn slopes around the picnic sites about 1 km from the entrance gate. As the sun slowly rose and began to warm the slope the birds started to become active and it was not long before we heard the main target species, Gansu Leaf Warbler, which eventually gave excellent views. We also obtained great views of Southern Spotted Bush Warbler. As the sun got higher we moved into the spruce forest and exploration of the larger trees soon produced both Chinese and Przevalski's Nuthatches, the latter sitting right on top of a tree and calling. The rest of the day was spent along a track which followed the contour of the ridge along which we stopped at various areas of buckthorn picking up a number of new species along the way. By 15.00 with thunder rumbling around us we returned to the cars and headed back to Xining for an early shower and to pack for an early start in the morning.
Tuesday 17th August
Left the hotel at 06.00 and drove to Laoye Shan a buckthorn-covered hill overlooking a valley full of smoke-belching factories. As the morning progressed the smog drifted up the hill and you could taste the pollution in the back of your throat. The few birch trees intermingled with the buckthorn had already been killed by it. Despite this, the area contained a few good birds. We explored the buckthorn hillside and adjacent cultivated fields and eventually managed to tape in a Chinese Bush Warbler from the fields below the buckthorn. On the hillside opposite we had good views of a family party of Daurian Partridge and Common Pheasants. We returned to the cars for coffee and then sent them a couple km’s down the hill, following them on foot. This produced our only Chinese Song Thrush and Chestnut Thrush, both of which were elusive. Returned to the cars and made our way to the town of Gonghe stopping en route for lunch and also made a brief roadside stop at the top of the pass as we climbed to 3300 m. We arrived at Gonghe at 17.00, checked into our hotel and then headed a few km out of town to a small wadi which we explored together with the surrounding fields. A small flock of Mongolian Trumpeter Finches were found feeding in the wadi and a good selection of birds were found in the adjacent fields. At dusk we headed back to the hotel for a quick meal before retiring early as we had a big day ahead of us tomorrow.
Wednesday 18 August
Left the hotel at 05.30 and headed south, initially climbing until we reached about 4000 m, then continuing across the wide open steppe of the Tibetan Plateau. Just as it was getting light we made a short stop at a small roadside pool which proved very productive with both Blanford’s and Pere David’s Snowfinches being recorded, together with the first of the many Hume’s Groundpeckers that we were to encounter during the trip. We carried on for another couple of hours then stopped at a small river valley with some rocky crags and had breakfast. The area produced a large selection of species including both Eastern Great and Caucasian Great Rosefinches, two species of accentor as well as Tibetan Snowfinch.
We carried on a bit further and at about midday we reached the top of Er La Pass at 4500 m where we parked and prepared ourselves for the 300 m ascent to the top of the plateau to the left of the pass. As we left the cars a small party of Roborovski’s Rosefinches was found but unfortunately no males. We slowly made our way to the top of the plateau with frequent stops to regain our breath. It took about a hour to climb and after resting at the top we began to explore the plateau and surrounding slopes for Tibetan Sandgrouse. Although we covered a large area all we could find was a family party of Tibetan Snowcocks and three Blue Sheep. After four hours of searching the altitude began to take its toll and we slowly trudged down, somewhat disappointed, back to the cars encountering White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinches en route. Exhausted, we slowly drove further south and a short roadside stop by a large wetland at dusk produced three Black-necked Cranes and about 50 Bar-headed Geese. We carried on further south and checked into a truck stop in the small village of Huashixia. We were all tired and hungry and although we had seen six species of snowfinch that day I am certain we would have exchanged a couple of them for one sandgrouse.
Thursday 19 August
Woke at 05.30 to find three inches of snow on the ground and horizontal sleet falling. Not very promising. Set off slowly on the 400 km journey further south initially climbing until we reached a plateau at 4500 m and then spent the next few hours driving across it. Visibility was poor and the going was slow as the latter part of the road was undergoing extensive repairs and this led to a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride. Not long after reaching the plateau a Wolf was found very close to the road and we got great views of it as it ran off through the snow. We then spent the next 6 hours driving stopping occasionally but the driving sleet prevented us from seeing much. As it appeared that the weather was not going to improve we decided to press on and basically spent the rest of the day driving south making a brief stop at Bayankala Pass where we found a a pair of Roborovski’s Rosefinches including a splendid male. From the pass we started to descend to the Yangtze River and as we did so the weather improved and the sun came out. We eventually arrived at Yushu. a small bustling town. at 19.00 and checked into a hotel with hot water. Great!
Friday 20th August
Our late arrival at Yushu due to yesterday’s poor weather meant that we had not had time to stock up on provisons for the next four days so we decided to spend the day birding in the vicinity of the town whilst our minder went shopping. We left the hotel at 06.00 and headed south for about an hour and stopped at the top of the pass which marks the Mekong - Yangzte watershed at 4500 m, where a scrubby hillside produced White-browed Tit and Himalayan Rubythroat. We then carried on for another 15 km and stopped adjacent to another scrubby hillside, this time with high rocky crags where we saw our first Red-breasted Rosefinch. We continued for a further few km's and then headed up the hillside to an area where Jesper had seen Koslov’s Bunting before but despite five hours of searching we could find no sign of any. We did, however, see nearly 100 Blue Sheep on the surrounding peaks but extensive scanning of the ridges produced no Snow Leopards. Yet again we trudged down a hill disappointed. We returned to Yushu for a hot shower and to prepare for the next stage of the trip that involved staying at the forest station for four nights.
Saturday 21 August
Woke to persistant rain and low cloud. Left Yushu at 06.00 full of provisions and headed south stopping briefly again at the Mekong - Yangzte watershed where four Bar-headed Geese were found, obviously resting on their way south. We continued on south and eventually turned off onto a dirt track towards Nang Qian Forest Reserve. A short distance along the track we encountered a pair of Tibetan Grey Shrikes perched on a fence. This distinctive form, which is a prime candidate for splitting, spends the summer on the high mountains but due to the inclement weather being experienced at the time they must have descended to lower altitude. We then bumped along for 100 km as we made our way south along a river valley on occasions having to winch out one or other of the Land Cruisers as they got stuck in the mud. As the day progressed the weather improved and eventually the sun came out. A few brief roadside stops were made en route, the final one producing a party of Koslov's Babax.
At 19.00 we eventually arrived, somewhat jaded and bone-shaken at the forest station which was to be our base for the next four nights.
Sunday 22nd August
Had breakfast at 06.00 and left the forest station just as it was getting light. Walked upstream along the road and crossed the river on rickety suspension bridge, skirted a village, and slowly headed up a wooded valley. As the sun began to rise, Giant Laughingthrushes were calling from a number of locations and eventually we obtained great views of this stunning bird. After about an hour’s slow walk up the valley a Severtzov’s Grouse was found in the undergrowth. It remained frozen whilst we all got good views. As we climbed steadily up the valley the spruce trees thinned out and as we reached the edge of the tree line Jesper heard a Crimson-browed Finch calling and it was not long before we found it perched out on top of a spruce tree in the bright sunshine.
The spruce trees eventually gave way to low alpine-type scrub where a female White-bellied Redstart was seen carry food. We stopped for lunch on a ridge overlooking two valleys and as we rested a group of Szechenyi’s Monal Partridges were heard calling in the valley below. We scanned the valley for a time but with no luck. Just as we decided to walk down into the valley from where the calls were coming from, another party of partriges began calling in the valley we had just walked up. We spent a few hours scanning the area hoping to pick them up but to no avail so we decided to walk over to the area where we had last heard the calls. We contoured along the valley and as we approached the area two birds were flushed from a tree but were only seen by three members of the group. Despite an extensive search they could not be relocated. By now it was getting late and rain had set in and so the unlucky ones trudged down the valley whilst the others sprang down. Back at the forest station we had an excellent meal prepared by the drivers supplemented by a few beers and retired early.
Monday 23 August
Set off at 07.00 in light rain. Again we walked upstream to the bridge, crossed, and then followed the river downstream until we reached the second valley after the village. We were all feeling the effects of yesterday’s long walk and a couple of the group was suffering from upset stomachs so progress was slow. Spent the morning exploring the lower part of the valley findingThree-banded Rosefinch within the first hour. Mike decided not to climb any higher and spent the rest of the day exploring the river valley where he saw a Blood Pheasant in a field with a party of Blue Hill Pigeons. The rest of the group slowly climbed the left hand fork of the valley and by late afternoon reached a spruce-covered ridge at 4600 m which we explored but birding was slow. As the sun came out a group of monal partridges could be heard calling in the valley below. We slowly made our way down and en route a few members of the party saw the only Maroon-backed Accentors of the trip. In the area where we thought the calls had been coming from we played the tape but there was no response. Disheartened we proceeded down the valley and started the long trek back. As we rounded a bend a group of five Szechenyi’s Monal Partridges were seen walking up the slope. They stopped in cover and began calling again and a few of us chased after them and eventually got great views of a bird sitting in a tree. Despite being in the field for 13 hours we made our way back with a spring in our step arriving well after dark.
Tuesday 24th August
As we were all feeling the exertions of the previous two days we decided not to climb today but to spend the morning exploring the lower elevations of the forest. The group split into two with Mike and Tung going to the valley that we explored yesterday to trap some birds whist the rest of us walked along the river downstream for 4 km before exploring a wooded gorge. Trapping was not particularly productive, however they did catch a Three-banded Rosefinch and both groups had good views of Northern Goshawks. We all returned to the forest station in the early afternoon, had lunch, then split up again with some of the group returning to the valley we visited on the first day whist the others drove 15 km downstream to the main forest station exploring the forest along the route. We all returned at dusk and packed ready for an early departure tomorrow.
Wednesday 25th August
Left the forest station at 07.00 just as it was getting light and headed up the track for 20 km before crossing the river and heading west on an even rougher track making a few roadside stops along the way. After about four hours the track started to climb to the top of Kanda Shan Pass. We stopped just after the top of the pass and explored the surrounding hillside and very soon found a group of Kozlov’s Buntings which proved very obliging and photogenic.
We then spent the next couple of hours taking in the spectacular scenery and scanning the craggy peaks in the vain hope of spotting a Snow Lepoard. Eventually we managed to drag ourselves away and we started the descent, passing through Kanda Shan Gorge, and eventually arrived on the banks of the Mekong River, where we encountered our first tarmac road for five days. We then headed to Nang Qian, a wild west type of town, which was going to be our base for the next couple of days. We checked into a hotel and then had the luxury of a hot shower - the first for many days - in the public bath house. As darkness fell the whole of the surrounding mountains were illuminated by lightning as the area was hit by a spectacular thunderstorm.
Thursday 26th August
Departed Nang Qian at 06.00 and backtracked along yesterday’s route until we reached a valley in the Kanda Shan Gorge about an hour away. Had breakfast by the cars then headed up into the valley of low juniper trees and scrub, first having to traverse a fast-flowing stream which required the removal of our shoes and socks: the icy cold water certainly woke us all up. As the sun slowly rose a party of White-eared Pheasants was discovered sitting on a large rock on the hillside. They sat around for about an hour basking in the morning sun. We moved further up the valley and, whilst we waited for the sun’s rays to reach the valley floor, a small party of Blood Pheasants were found foraging in the undergrowth. The two target species now having been seen, we had all day and decided to climb higher and try the rocky crags at the top of the valley on the off chance of seeing Grandala as we were on the edge of their range. We spent the rest of the day walking up the valley stopping every now and then and scanning the crags but to no avail. Descended to the cars in the late afternoon and slowly made our way back to Nang Qian, stopping en route to take in views of the Mekong River. A great relaxing day. We saw some good birds in some of the best weather we had encountered so far.
Friday 27th August
Today we set off on the long haul north. As we were going to have a couple of days at high altitude we decided to take it easy and after leaving the hotel at 07.00 spent the morning driving slowly north towards Yushu making numerous roadside stops. After yesterday’s sunshine it had become cold again and some of the surrounding peaks were covered in a light dusting of snow. One of the roadside stops produced a large party of Daurian Jackdaws feeding on a rubbish tip adjacent to a small village. These were the first we had seen on the ground. By lunch time we had reached the scrubby hillside with crags outside Yushu where we had stopped previously in the trip. We had lunch by the car and then decided, as we had covered the rocky crags before, to explore the adjacent river in the rather vain hope of finding a Solitary Snipe, a species whose occurrence in region is not fully understood. After a few km’s, much to our surprise, Mike suddenly indicated that he had found one feeding in the open. We had all expected that the only way we would find one was by flushing but here was one feeding in the middle of the small river.
Jesper was particularly happy as this was the first one he had seen for many years and by far the best views. Buoyed by this unexpected find we continued on to Yushu, arriving at 15.00 and spent the rest of the day shopping, resting and catching up with the outside world.
Saturday 28th August
Left Yushu at 06.00 and continued the long drive north. After we crossed the Yangtze we started to climb towards the plateau and after about an hour’s drive, about halfway up to the plateau, we stopped and headed up to a scrubby ridge on foot which involved a steep 300 m climb. Just as we reached the ridge we found a family party of Przevalski’s Rosefinches including a male. We contoured along the edge of the ridge getting great views of Himalayan Rubythroats before descending to the cars and continuing on our northbound journey. It was tough going due to the road works and after five hours of being bumped around we were all glad when the road improved and our progress speeded up. We eventually reached Madou wetlands a little latter than anticipated but still had enough time to explore the area before dark, adding a number of waterbirds to the trip list. We continued on to Madou, our destination for the night.
Sunday 29th August
We were due to leave Maduo at 07.30, however one of the vehicles was low on diesel and the only official filling station in Madou had run out. There was a delay whilst the driver went off in search of an alternative source. Eventually he was able to get enough to take us to the next settlement and so we set off making frequent stops and scanning the surrounding plateau for birds and mammals. One such stop produced excellent views of a female Wolf carrying a marmot. As we only had a small distance to cover today we stopped for an extended lunch at a roadside restaurant and all had a big bowl of noddles. At about 16.00 we reached a pass at 4500 m and before descending to Wenquan, our destination, we decided to explore the surrounding hills as Jesper had seen a Snow Lepoard here a number of years ago. Also, it would help us acclimatize for tomorrow’s repeat ascent of Er La. After about an hour’s walking we came across one of the sights of the trip: a Pallas's Cat with six kittens. We watched as the kittens played with a live pica which the adult had brought to the den. A stunning sight and something we thought we would never see again. As it was now getting late we reluctantly returned to the cars and drove the short distance to Wenquan where we were to stay for the night and prepared ourselves for our second assault on Er La Pass for Tibetan Sandgrouse.
Monday 30th August
Woke to low cloud and light rain and in the distance we could see that Er La Pass our destination for this morning had a light dusting of snow. Set off from the truck stop and drove the short distance to the top of the pass at 4500 m. Had a light breakfast and then commenced the 300 m ascent through the light snow to the top of the plateau. The cloud lifted as we reached the top and we began to explore the same slopes as we had covered on the way south but it became evident that yet again there were no sandgrouse there. Unperturbed we continued to explore slopes further afield but there was still no sign although a party of Pacific Golden Plovers made a few hearts temporarily miss a beat. After six hours of searching we eventually gave up and began the long trudge down to the cars. We continued north to Gonghe stopping at the same small pool en route that we had stopped at on the way out where we again had Blanford’s and Pere Davids Snowfinches — this was the only site where we were to see the latter species. At Gonghe we checked into a half-decent hotel with hot water. Dinner was a subdued affair that night with the group reflecting on the fact that there was a distinct possibility that we had missed one of the major Tibetan endemics.
Tuesday 31st August
Set off from Gonghe at0 6.30, just as it was getting light and drove to the eastern shore of the vast Koko Nor lake. At the edge of the lake there was a marshy area and here we encountered a large selection of waders and ducks. We explored the shoreline then followed the edge of a large marshy inlet for a few km’s. This area and the surrounding fields adding numerous species to the trip list including our first Mongolian Larks. We returned to the cars for lunch and then, as it was time to say goodbye to the two trusty Land Cruisers, we transferred our gear to a 20 seater bus which was very comfortable and a welcome change. We continued west along the southern shore of Koko Nor and checked into a truck stop at Heima He, our accommodation for the night, then spent the last few hours of daylight exploring the shoreline and adjacent fields just outside the town.
Wednesday 1st September
We left the truck stop at 06.00 and continued west in overcast conditions towards the Zaidam Basin. After about two hours we left the cultivated land behind us and reached the arid desert beside the Chaka Salt Lake. There we stopped, but, just as we were getting out of the bus, much to our amazement it started to rain. I was always taught that it didn’t rain in the desert. As it didn't look like it was going to stop soon we decided to have breakfast then explore a small area of poplars that we had passed a few km's back down the road. We spent an hour or so exploring the area but saw very little and as it was brightening up we returned to where we had stopped for breakfast and started to explore the desert. It was not long before we found a party of Henderson’s Ground Jays - an incredible bird that ran along the ground like a courser.
We spread out and continued to search the area for Pallas's Sandgrouse but after a few hours covering a substantial area it was obvious that they were not there. We decided to give it a break, so drove to a large area of poplars and agricultural fields surrounding a former prison camp and spent a few hours exploring them pulling in a few migrants, including two species of flycatcher, as well as several Isabelline Shrikes of the localised tsaidamensis race. We then carried on west and checked into our accommodation for the night in Chaka, had a late lunch, then headed further west out of town for about ten km’s to a small wetland surrounded by dry hills. We spent the last few hours there, first exploring the wetland, which contained a surprising number of waders, before spreading out and thrashing the surrounding desert for Pallas’s Sandgrouse. Again, despite an extensive search, the only sighting was a flock of four birds seen by John flying low over the area just as the light was fading. Although not a new bird for me, I was a bit disappointed as it would have been nice to see them in their natural habitat rather than in a field in the UK. Returned to our hotel in Chaka for a late dinner.
Thursday 2nd September
Left Chaka at 06.00 and headed west climbing into the Doulon Mountains. After about two hours we turned off the main road and headed up a dirt track to a mountain range which at a distance looked barren, but as we got closer we could see that the tops and a few of the valley’s contained scattered juniper trees. We parked as close as we could get and then walked into a valley sparsely populated with small juniper trees. Not long after entering the valley we found the main target bird of the day: Przevalski's Redstart.
We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon leisurely exploring this unique area. By 15.00, bird activity had decreased and so we returned to the bus and again headed west for about 50 km to the town of Doulon where we checked into a hotel with hot water and showers. A few of us explored the large stands of poplar trees which surrounded the hotel. We then had dinner and retired for the night.
Friday 3rd September
Departed Doulon at 07.00 and continued our westward journey through the mountains. After an hour and a half we stopped for breakfast at a small poplar plantation where we saw a selection of migrants including an Asian Brown Flycatcher - a potential first for Qinghai. We continued on west and dropped into the Zaidam Basin, at 2900 m the lowest we had been for two weeks, driving along the straightest road I had traversed through the basin with only the odd shout of Henderson’s Ground Jay breaking the monotony. By mid- morning we had reached a more fertile area that we decided to explore. The area produced a good number of Margellanic Desert Lesser Whitethroats and a few Chinese Hill Warblers as well as Goitred Gazelles. Again we pushed on westwards through the Zaidam Basin, stopping for lunch at a small settlement. As we ate our lunch we watched Henderson’s Ground Jays feeding out of the restaurant’s dogs’ bowl. The final 150 km push westwards took us through the most barren landscape I had ever seen, devoid of all vegetation. We eventually arrived in Golmud, a huge new town in the middle of nowhere, at 18.00 and checked into a spiffy hotel where Michelle, Jorgen’s wife joined us for the final stage of the journey and enjoyed a slap up meal and a few beers.
Saturday 4th September
Departed Golmud at 06.00 and commenced the 1100 km journey to Lhasa. The road ran parallel to the new Golmud to Lhasa railway, a spectatular engineering feat marred by the fact that it has only been built for political purposes. Initially we headed up a barren valley practically devoid of birds. However after reaching the Kunlun Pass at 4700 m we hit the greener plateau and very soon we started to see Tibetan Gazelle’s and Tibetan Wild Asses. We continued on and after a couple of hours we came across our first Tibetan Antelope, quickly followed by some more including one male with large horns. We then stopped at Km 2984, an area where Tibetan Sandgrouse had been seen before. The area looked quite promising as the vegetation was similar to Er La pass, but despite an extensive search none were located. However, due to the atypical weather conditions this year, the area was relatively wet and this may have been the reason. We pressed on towards Tuotuo He our destination for the night, the journey taking longer than expected due to the deterioration in the weather with hail, thunder and rain. Eventually we arrived at 21.00 and found some surprisingly comfortable accommodation in the back streets of the town.
Sunday 5th September
We left at Tuotuo He at 06.00 and continued south. After about 40 mins the bus required a technical break and so we disembarked and scanned the surrounding hills and to our surprise we found an adult Pallas's Cat with two kittens playing in the morning sunshine close to the road. After our previous encounter this was something we thought we would never see again. With the bus’s technical difficulties solved we continued on south and after an hour we stopped to view some wild asses. As we made ourselves coffee, Jesper continued scanning the river valley and whilst doing so picked up six Tibetan Sandgrouse flying along the far side of the valley. He shouted out and there was a desperate scramble as we tried to pick them up but they were just too far away. He eventually lost them but thought they may have landed. We jumped into the bus and drove a couple of km's up the road, parked and then walked to the edge of the wide braided river valley. Just as we arrived on the edge of the river Jesper thought he heard them calling and a couple of the group saw a group of birds land on the far side which looked like sandgrouse but they were at least two km away. The problem was that they were on one side of the river valley and we were on the other, separated by two km’s of braided river. The only option was to wade across the various branches of the river. There then began some heroic efforts as we waded across the icy water, quite often waist deep. This took some time as we hunted out the shallower areas of water and eventually only John and myself made it to the far side. We thrashed the area where we thought they had landed but could not find them. Disappointed we started to head back and much to John’s surprise he found six Tibetan Sandgrouse about 15 m in front of him. We both obtained great views as they sat on a shingle area. We tried to attract the attention of the other members of the party but, although they realised we had seen them, they were to far away to see them themselves. The only option we had was to flush them so they could see them in flight. This we did and we then headed back across the various parts of the river to the bus. When we arrived back we found out that Jorgen had found a pair with three chicks on a small island in the river as he made his way back. He summoned Mike over with the quote of the trip: "Are you ready for this?" Back at the bus we all agreed that we had found "enlightenment" due to this unexpected encounter. By now it was late and we had to press on southwards as we had a very long way to go. On route we made a brief stop at Tanggula Pass, at 5231 m the highest elevation we were to achieve on this trip. Continuing on we drove late into the night and eventually arrived at Dangxiong at two in the morning.
Monday 6th September
Following our late night, we decided to have a lie in and didn't leave until 10.00 though some of the group explored the river valley near to the town. Before we set off we aquired our PRC minder who was to accompany us for the remainder of the trip to ensure we only saw what we were meant to and didn't mention the dreaded name (DL). Now there were 11 of us. We set off south for the final 160 km drive to Lhasa making a couple of roadside stops en route. As we entered the outskirts of city we were horrified to find it just like any other Chinese city. What had happened to this mythical destination? We checked into a spiffy 3-star hotel and then some of us decided to explore the city. As we headed to the Tibetan Quarter we found the old Lhasa which far exceeded my expectations as it had not been trashed by the Chinese as much as one had been led to believe. Dinner that night was in a Tibetan- themed restuarant where we had our first western type food, Yak Burgers, for over three weeks.
Tuesday 7th September
We left the hotel at 6.30am in two Land Cruisers and drove initially along a good road but then a dirt track to a valley. We parked at a small farm, had breakfast, then began to walk up the valley between the steep buckthorn- covered slopes. It was not long before we encountered our first two target species Great Babax and Prince Henri’s Laughingthrush. We continued upwards and as we looked down the valley we saw the final target species of the trip - Elwes Pheasant - foraging around the cars!
We got good ‘scope views as they were joined by a party of Tibetan Partridges. As the area was very birdy we carried on up the valley seeing more of the target species and eventually connecting with 22 more pheasants. Slowly made our way down to the cars then headed back to Lhasa making a short roadside stop by the river. We arrived back at 17.00 and spent the evening taking in the delights of the old Tibetan quarter.
Wednesday 8th September
As we had now seen all our target species we planned a relaxing day at Ganden Monasterty about an hour’s drive from Lhasa. Left the hotel at 06.30 and drove east for 40 min having breakfast at a large marsh adjacent to the river adding Russet Sparrow to the trip list. We turned off the main road and headed up a steep winding road towards the Monastery picking up a monk en route. Well, we needed our merit points. We made a brief roadside stop and eventually arrived at the monastry. We then walked the pilgrims’ route around the hill the monastery was located on. Although we didn't see anything special, the views of the valley below were spectactular and we had a tour of the monastery before returning to Lhasa where we spent the last part of the afternoon and evening enjoying the delights of the Tibetan Quarter again.
Thursday 9th September
As this was the last day of the trip we devoted it to sight-seeing in Lhasa. In my opinion, the Potala ranks as one of the must stunning buildings in the world alongside Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal. The day of sight-seeing was well worth it and I challenge anybody who witnesses the Pilgrims prostrating themselves repeatedly not to have sypmathy with their cause. Our final night was spent watching a traditional Tibetan Show and sampling yak butter tea and Tibetan barley wine at the Mad Yak Resturant.
Friday 10th September
We left the hotel at 06.00 for the long drive to the airport. As we were leaving on a different flight to Jesper and Tony, we said our goodbyes and caught the 09.00 flight to Chengdu where we had a five hour layover before catching our onward flight to Shhenzen. We crossed the border back into Hong Kong at 20.00, 27 days after we left.
Systematic List of Birds
The following list includes all the species seen or heard by all members of the group.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis?
Six SE side of Koko Nor 31st August. Great Crested GrebePodiceps cristatus
Twenty-five wetlands near Madou 28th August and 150 SE side of Koko Nor 31st August. Black-necked GrebeP. nigricollis
Thirty SE side of Koko Nor 31st August. Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo
Three Madou wetlands 28th August, 100 Koko Nor 31st August. Great EgretEgretta alba
One on small a wetland between Madou and Wenquan 29th August. Grey HeronArdea cinerea
Twenty-six Koko Nor 31st August. Whooper SwanCygnus cygnus
Five SE side of Koko Nor 31st August. Greylag GooseAnser anser
One SE side of Koko Nor 31st August Bar-headed GooseA. indicus
Seen in wetland areas on the high plateau area between Gonghe and Yushu and at Koko Nor. Maximum count was 990 at Madou wetlands on 28th August. Ruddy ShelduckTadorna ferruginea
Seen in wetland areas on the high plateau area between Gonghe and Yushu, Golmud and Lhasa and at Koko Nor. Maximum count was 300 at Koko Nor on 31st August. Common ShelduckT. tadorna
Six Koko Nor 31st August. Eurasian WigeonAnas penelope
Fifteen at Madou wetlands 28th August, 5 Koko Nor 31st August and 3 near Chaka 1st September. GadwallA. strepera
Five at Madou wetlands 28th August and 3 Koko Nor 31st August. Common TealA. crecca
Fifty-five at Madou wetlands 28th August, 45 Koko Nor 31st August and 35 near Chaka 1st September. MallardA. platyrhynchos
Two near Nang Qian 26th August, 15 Madou wetlands 28th August, 8 Koko Nor 31st August and up to 15 seen daily on the Lhasa River 7/8th September. Northern PintailA. acuta
Twenty at Madou wetlands 28th August, 25 Koko Nor 31st August and 3 near Chaka, 1st September. GarganeyA. querquedula
Seventy at Madou wetlands 28th August, 22 Koko Nor 31st August, 6 near Chaka 1st September and 1 Lhasa River 8th September. Northern ShovelerA. clypeata
Four at Madou wetlands 28th August, 4 Koko Nor 31st August and 4 near Chaka 1st September. Red-crested PochardNetta rufina
Three hundred and fifty Koko Nor 31st August. Common PochardAythya ferina
Seven Koko Nor 31st August. Ferruginous DuckA. nyroca
Five Koko Nor 31st August. Tufted DuckA. fuligula
One near Nang Qian 26th August, 15 Madou wetlands 28th August and 250 Koko Nor 31st August. Common GoldeneyeBucephala clanga
Eighteen Koko Nor 31st August. GoosanderMergus merganser
Small numbers seen on many braided rivers on the high plateau areas. Daily maximum 15 Lhasa River 7th September. Osprey Pandion haliaetus
One flying upriver between Nang Qian Forest and Kanda Shan Pass 25th August. Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus
One Dongxai 16th August. Black KiteMilvus migrans
Ones and twos seen throughout the trip in various habitats Daily maximum of 7 between Dong Xiang and Lhasa 6th September. Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus
Seen in most rocky crags areas. Daily maximum of 7 between Nang Qian and Yushu 27th August. Himalayan GriffonGyps himalayensis
The second commonest bird of prey seen almost daily. Up to 60 were seen feeding on two carcases between Tuotuo He and Dang Xiong 5th September. Black VultureAegypius monachus
One between Madou and Wen Quan 29th August and 3 in valley between Chaka and Dulan 2nd September. Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis
One adult and 2 juvs at Nang Qian Forest Reserve 23rd August and 5 at the same location 24th August. Eurasian SparrowhawkAccipiter nisus
Up to 2 seen daily at and around Nang Qian forest reserve 21 - 27th August. Common BuzzardButeo buteo
Seen on 10 days. Replaced Upland Buzzard in the Lower areas away from the high plateau. Daily maximum of 10 Nang Qian Forest Reserve 24th August. Upland BuzzardB. hemilasius
A common roadside bird in the high plateau areas. Daily maximum of 122 on the drive between Gonghe and Hua Xhi Sha 18th August. Golden EagleA. chrysaetos
Seen in most most rocky crags areas. Daily maximum of 5 on the drive between Yushu and Nang Qian Forest Reserve 19th August. Eurasian KestrelFalco tinnunculus
Small numbers seen in a wide varirity of habitats. Daily maximum of 7 on the drive between Laoyeshan and Gonghe 17th August. Eurasian HobbyF. subbuteo
One Beishan 15 August, 2 Dongxai 16 August, 2 seen daily Nang Qian Forest Reserve and singles seen daily between Koko Nor and Dulan 31st August - 2nd September. SakerF. cherrug
Seen daily in the high Plateau areas between Gonghe and Yushe and Golmud and Lhasa. Daily maximum of 9 between Yushu and Madou on 28th August. Severtzov's GrouseBonasia sewerzowi
Singles Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22nd and 23rd August. Szechenyi's Monal PartridgeTetraophasis szechenyii
Only recorded at Nang Qian Forest Reserve where 7 heard and 2 seen on the 22nd, 5 seen and 3 heard on the 23rd and heard on the 24th August. Tibetan SnowcockTetraogallus tibetanus
A pair with 5 chicks Er La Pass 18th August. Heard at the mountain south of Yushu on the 20th and 21st August. Ten Er La Pass 30th August and 4 in Valley outside Lhasa 7th September. Przevalski's PartridgeAlectoris magna
Ten Beishan 15th August. Daurian PartridgePerdix dauurica
Twenty Beishan 15th August, 25 Dongxia 16th August, 10 between Chaka and Dulan 2nd September. Tibetan PartridgeP. hodgsoniae
First seen in hills near Yushu, seen daily at Nang Qian Forest Reserve and the Lhasa area. Daily maximum 40 in valley outside Lhasa 7th September. Blood PheasantIthaginis cruentus
At Nang Qian Forest Reserve 2 heard 22nd August with one seen in a field with Blue Hill Pigeons on the 23rd and 1 heard. Nine Kandashan Gorge 26th August White Eared PheasantCrossoptilon crossoptilon
One seen in flight Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22nd August, 12 adults and 2 young Kanda Shan Gorge 26th August. That at Nang Qian was probably of the nominate race but the birds at Kanda Shan were of either the race dolani or drouynii — some (presumably males) were almost entirely white whilst others were largely pale grey with white bellies. Elwe's Eared PheasantC. harmani
A total of 44 including 2 chicks in two separate parties in valley near Lhasa 7th September. Common PheasantPhasanius colchicus
Forty Beishan 15 August, 3 Dangxia 16th August, 20 Laoyeshan 17th August and 3 Koko Nor 31st August. All males seen were of a dark race with a conspicuous grey rump and no neck collar: probably sueschanensis. Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Three Gonghe Wadi 17th August and 1 heard Lhasa River 8th September. Coot Fulica atra
Three hundred and ten Koko Nor 31st August and 8 Lhasa River 8th September. Black-necked CraneGrus nigricollis
Seen in marshy areas on the high plateau between Gonghe and Yushu and also at Koko Nor. Daily maximum of 8 adults and 3 Juviniles at Madou wetlands on 28th August. IbisbillIbidorhyncha struthersii
Small numbers seen on braided rivers near near Yushu and Lhasa with a maximum of 9 on 19th August in the Yushu area. Black-winged StiltHimantopus himantopus
Four Madou Wetland 28th August and 8 Koko Nor 31st August. Pied AvocetRecurvirostra avosetta
One Koko Nor 31st August and 2 near Chaka 1st September. Little Ringed PloverCharadrius dubius
One on a pool between Madou and Wen Quan 29th August, 4 Koko Nor 31st August and 4 near Chaka 1st September. Kentish PloverC. alexandrinus
Small numbers seen on various wetlands with the exception of Koko Nor where 200 were seen on the 31st August. Mongolian PloverC. mongolus
Four Madou Wetland 28th August, 3 between Madou and Wen Quan on 29th August, 10 Koko Nor 31st August and 2 near Chaka on the 1st September. Pacific Golden PloverPluvialis fulva
One near Er La 18th August, 10 seen flying over Er La Pass on 30th August quickened a few hearts, 125 Koko Nor 31st August, 9 near Chaka on the 1st September and 1 between Tuo Tuo He and Dang Xiong 5th September. Northern LapwingVanellus vanellus
Ten Koko Nor 31st August. Grey Headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus
Two Koko Nor 31st August. Red-necked StintCalidris ruficollis
One Koko Nor 31st August. Little StintC. minuta
Three Madou wetlands 28th August and 5 Koko Nor 31st August. Temminck's StintC. temminckii
Sixty Madou wetlands 28th August, 1 on roadside pool between Madou and Wen Quan 29th August, 3 on roadside pool between Wen Quan and Gonghe 30th August, 125 Koko Nor 31st August, 25 near Chaka 1st September and 1 on roadside pool between Tuo Tuo He and Dang Xiong 5th September. Long-toed StintC. subminuta
Seven Koko Nor 31st August. Sharp-tailed SandpiperC. acuminata
Five Koko Nor 31st August. DunlinCalidris alpina
One Madou Wetland 28 August. Curlew SandpiperC. ferruginea
Thirteen Koko Nor 31August and 4 near Chaka 1st September. RuffPhilomachus pugnax
One Koko Nor 31stAugust and 24 near Chaka 1st September. Common SnipeGallinago gallinago
Ten Koko Nor 31st August. Pintail SnipeG. stenura
Six Gonghe Wadi 17th August, singles at Madou Wetland 28th August and near Gonghe 30 August, 5 Koko Nor 31st August and singles near Chaka 1st September and Lhasa River 8th September. Swinhoe's SnipeG. megala
Four Gonghe Wadi 17th August, 1 Koko Nor 31st August. Solitary SnipeG. solitaria
One feeding on the river adjacent to the road about an hour south of Yushu 27th August was an unexpected find. Black-tailed GodwitLimosa limosa
Ten Koko Nor 31st August and 11 near Chaka 1st September. Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Sixty Koko Nor 31st August. Eurasian CurlewN. arquata
Three Koko Nor 31st August. Spotted RedshankTringa erythropus
Six Koko Nor 31st August. Common RedshankT. totanus
Seen at most wetland sites and occasionally on the large braided rivers. Maximum daily count 60 Koko Nor 31st August. Marsh SandpiperT. stagnatilis
Two Madou wetlands 28th August, 20 Koko Nor 31st August. Greenshank T. nebularia
One Madou wetlands 28th August, 2 Koko Nor 31st August, 1 near Chaka 1st September and 1 on river at Dong Xiang 6th September. Green SandpiperT. ochropus
Occasionally seen on small pools with a maximum of 4 at Koko Nor on 31stAugust. Wood SandpiperT. glareola
Small numbers seen at most wetland sites. Maximum daily count was of 25 at Koko Nor on 31st August. Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Four Gonghe 18th August, 10 Koko Nor 31st August and 1 near Chaka 1st September. Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos
Small numbers seen at most wetlands and large braided rivers. Maximum daily count of 3. Red-necked PhalaropePhalaropus lobatus
One near Chaka 1st September. Great Black-headed Gull Larus ichthyaetus
Good numbers encountered along most large braided rivers especially in theLhasa area, maximum 250 Koko Nor 31st August. Yellow Legged Herring GullLarus cachinnans
Three Koko Nor 31st August appeared to be mongolicus. Black-headed GullL. ridibundus
Two Koko Nor 31st August. Brown-headed GullL. brunnicephalus
Up to 20 seen daily on the drive from Nang Qian and Gonghe 27 — 29th August, 25 Koko Nor 31st August and 2 on river near Dang Xiang 6th September. Common TernSterna hirundo
Up to 40 encountered on most large rivers throughout the trip, maximum 70 at Koko Nor 31st August. Whiskered TernChlidonias hybridus
Fifty Koko Nor 31st August. White-winged Black TernC. leucopterus
One on wetland near Yushu 21st August, 2 Madou Wetland 28th August and 40 Koko Nor 31st August. Pallas's SandgrouseSyrrhaptes paradoxus
Four seen flying over by only one lucky observer at dusk near Chaka 1st September. Tibetan SandgrouseS. tibetanus
A total of 9 adults and 3 chicks in a large braided river valley 5th September was one of the highlights of the trip. Blue Hill PigeonColumba rupestris
Seen every day apart from 2. Maximum 170 Chaka area 1st September. Snow PigeonC. leuconota
Three at crags south of Yushu 20th August, up to 6 seen daily Kanda Pass area 25 — 27th August. Collared DoveStreptopelia decaocto
Three Gonghe 17th August, 3 in poplar grove near Chaka 1st September, 8 in poplar Grove at Dulan 2nd September. Red Turtle DoveS. tranquebarica
One in poplar Grove at Koko Nor 2nd September and 4 in poplar Grove between Dulan and Golmud 4thSeptember. Oriental Turtle DoveS. orientalis
Two Dang Xia 16th August and 10 Laoyeshan 17th August. Small numbers seen daily at Nang Qian Forest Reserve and in trees by the Lhasa River. Common CuckooCuculus canorus
Small number of juveniles seen in a variety of habitats in the early part of the trip. Surprisingly none were seen in the Lhasa river area. Little OwlAthene noctua
Up to 4 seen daily mainly in the drier northern area. Common SwiftApus apus
Only seen at Beishan, Dang Xia, Laoyeshanand, Gonghe and near Chaka with a maximum of 20th on the 17thAugust. Fork-tailed SwiftA. pacificus
Replaced Common Swift south of Gonghe, being seen daily in Nang Qian area. South of Golmud only seen at the Potala where the rumps were stained red from the painted walls. HoopoeUpopa epops
Good numbers every day apart from 2 in all types of habitats Wryneck Jynx torquilla
One in poplar grove between Gonghe and Koko Nor, 1 desert scrub between Dulon and Golmud 3rd September. Grey-headed WoodpeckerPicus canus
One Kanda Pass Gorge 26th August. Black WoodpeckerDryocupus martius
Up to 4 seen daily Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22-24th August. Three-toed WoodpeckerPicoides tridactylus
Up to 6 see daily Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22-24th August. All were the very dark Tibetan race funebris which must be a good potential split. Long-billed Calandra LarkMelanocorypha maxima
A total of 20 seen on the drive between Hua Xhi Sha and Bayankala Pass 19th August, 3 Madou wetland 28th August, 1 Er La Pass 30th August, 20 Koko Nor 31st August and 1 on route to Lhasa 5th September. Mongolian LarkM. mongolica
Five Koko Nor 31st August and 3 near Chaka 1st September. Hume's Short-toed LarkCalandrella acutirostris
Large flocks encountered in the plateau areas and around Koko Nor. Quite often seen migrating south. Maximum of 640 moving south between Tuo Tuo He and Dang Xiong 5thSeptember. Asian Short-toed LarkC. (rufescens) cheleensis
Only seen for certain near Chaka with 8 on 1st September and 6 in the very dry desert between Dulon and Golmud 3rd September. A bird at Tangula Pass on the 5th September was unexpected. Oriental SkylarkAlauda gulgula
Common and seen virtually daily with the exception of the Nang Qian Forest area. Horned LarkEremophila alpestris
Recorded in good numbers in all the high plateau locations and desert regions of Qinghai. Pale Sand MartinRiparia (riparia) diluta
This distinctive race, which is a potential split, was recorded around Yushu, on the high plateau between Yushu and Gonghe and at Koko Nor where 200 where seen on the 31st August. Crag MartinHirundo rupestris
Seen in most suitable locations throughout the areas visited with a maximum of 27 between Yushe and Nang Qian Forest 21st August. Barn SwallowH. rustica
Two perched on wires at Madou Truck Stop 29th August and 6 at Koko Nor on the 31st August were the only records. Red-rumped SwallowH. daurica
Up to 48 daily in the Yushe area 19 — 21st August with 61 being seen in the same area on the 27thAugust. Asian House MartinDelichon dasypus
Seen daily south of Gonghe with a maximum of 160 on the 19th August. The only other records were of 6 and 1 near Lhasa on the 7th and 8th August respectively. Richard's PipitAnthus richardi
Only recorded in the drier areas of Qinghai with the highest count of 15 near Gonghe on17 August. Blyth's PipitA. godlewskii
Passage birds recorded in a variaty of locations. Mainly seen flying over calling. Maximun daily count of 40 in the Madou area on 28th August. Olive-backed PipitA. hodgsoni
Scattered records of up to 10 birds, mainly migrants, throughout the trip. A maximum of 16 were seen near Lhasa on 8thSpetember. Rosy PipitA. roseatus
Only seen at the highest elevations: 6 on 20th and 3 on 21st August at the top of the Yanksi/Mekong watershed, 7 at Kanda Shan Pass 25th August and 3 at high pass just south of Madou 28th August. Citrine WagtailM. citreola
Goodnumbers recorded at all wetland sites including braided river valleys. A maximum of 65 were seen near Chaka on 1st September. Grey WagtailM. cinerea
Recorded on 5 days: All single birds except 3 at poplar grove near Chaka on 1st September. White WagtailM. alba
The only bird recorded every day, quite often in high numbers. Maximum daily count of a total of 73 between Yushu and Nang Qian 21st August. M.a. leucopsis were seen throughout, presumably breeding in the north and migrants elsewhere; whilst M.a. alboides was recorded in Southeast Qinghai and around Lhasa. White-throated DipperCinclus cinclus
Recorded on 5 days on fast flowing rivers between Gonghe and Yushe. The race involved was przewalski; both light and dark morph individuals were seen. Winter WrenTroglodytes troglodytes
Only recorded at Nang Qian Forest where seen daily between 22 and 24th August with a maximum of 7 on the 23rd August which included a family party. Maroon-backed AccentorPrunella immaculata
One seen and 1 heard by some members of the group in the second valley at Nang Qian 23rd August. Rufous-browed AccentorP. strophiata
First recorded at Dongxai with 8 on 16th August. Up to 10 seen daily at Nang Qian Forest, 3 at Kanda Sha Gorge 28th August , 4 near Lasha 7th September and 1 Ganden 8th September. Brown AccentorP. fulvescens
Recorded in scattered locations of suitable habitat throughout the trip mainly in the high plateau areas and in the mountains around Lhasa. Robin AccentorP. rubeculoides
Recorded in a variety of locations being commonest at the higher elevations. Maximum daily total of 10 south of Yushu 20th August Alpine AccentorP. collaris
Five whilst exploring the mountain south of Yushu 20th August and 1 Er La Pass 30th August. Siberian RubythroatLuscinia calliope
Five heard Dongxai 16th August and 5 heard at Laoye Shan 17th August. Himalayan RubythroatL. pectoralis
Eight of these stunning-looking birds in low scrub on the Yangtze/Mekong watershed 20th August and 5 on the ridge north of Yushu 28th August. Red-flanked BluetailTarsiger cyanurus
Ten Dongxai 16th August and up to 10 daily at Nang Qian Forest 22 — 24th August. Przevalski's RedstartPhoenicurus alashanicus
A total of 12 including juveniles in a valley with scattered juniper trees between Chaka and Doulon 2ndSeptember. Black RedstartP. ochruros
The commonest Redstart. Seen virtually daily except in the Naing Qian Forest Reserve where it was replaced by Hodgson’s Redstart. Hodgson's RedstartP. hodgsoni
Replaced Black Redstart south of Yushu where seen daily with a maximum of a total of 53 on the drive from Yushe to Nang Qian Forest Reserve Blue-fronted RedstartP. frontalis
First recorded at Dongxai 16th August, then seen daily south of Er La Pass with a maximum of 15 on the 23rd August at Nang Qian Forest. Seen on two subsequent occasions in juniper forest between Chaka and Doulon and en route to Lhasa. White-throated RedstartP. schisticeps
Recorded in similar locations to Blue-fronted Redstart but prefered areas with taller trees. Maximum daily count 22 at Dongxia 16th August. Daurian RedstartP. auroreus
Only seen at Beishan where 3 on 15th August. Guldenstadt's RedstartP. erythrogaster
Only seen on the higher passes above 4200 m. Maximum count 7 Er La Pass 30th August. River ChatChaimarrornis leucocephalus
Encountered on small fast flowing streams especially common in the Nang Qian Forest area and Kanda Shan Gorge. Maximum daily total 18 along the river at Nang Qian Forest Reserve 25th August. Also recorded at Lhasa. White-bellied RedstartHodgsonius phoenicuroides
Heard at Laoye Shan 17th August and 1 female seen with food in the alpine scrub above the tree line Nang Qian Forest 22nd August. Common StonechatSaxicola torquata
Recorded on six days mainly in the braided river valleys on the high plateaus and Lhasa area. Maximum daily count 9 between Yushu and Madou 28th August. All were of the race przewalskii. Isabelline WheatearOenanthe isabellina
Only seen in the dry desert west of Koko Nor with a maximum of 10 on 3rd September. Pied WheatearO. pleschanka
Twenty Beishan 15th August and 5 at Laoye Shan 17th August were the only records. Desert WheatearO. deserti
Only seen in the very dry barren desert areas west of Koko Nor. Maximum daily count 25 in the Chaka area 1st September. Rufous-tailed Rock ThrushMonticola saxatilis
Four Beishan 15th August was the only record. Eurasian BlackbirdT. merula
One in poplar grove near Lhasa 6th September and 3 in valley near Lhasa 7th September. These were of the race maximus and appeared to be intermediate between western races and the Chinese race mandarinus, though closer to the latter. Chestnut ThrushT. rubrocanus
One elusive adult at Laoye Shan 17th August. Kessler's ThrushT. kessleri
Only seen south of Gonghe and near Lhasa. A maximum daily count of 74 seen between Yushu and Nang Qian Forest. Chinese Song ThrushT. mupinensis
Unexpectedly 1 seen at Laoye Shan 17th August. Southern Spotted Bush WarblerBradypterus thoracicus przevalskii
Two seen and 1 heard Dongaxi 16th August and 2 heard Laoye Shan 17th August. It is likely that the Sino-Himalayan races of this species (kashmirensis, thoracicus and prezevalskii) will be split from the long distance migrant and northern breeding forms suschkini and davidi. Chinese Bush WarblerB. tacsanowskius
One coaxed out of a rape crop at Laoye Shan 17th August. Chinese Hill WarblerRhopophilus pekinensis
Four in desert scrub between Doulon and Golmud 3rd September. Pallas’s Grasshopper WarblerLocustella certhiola
One migrant in desert scrub between Doulon and Golmud 3rd September. Blyth’s Reed WarblerAcrocephalus dumetorum
One at the braided river valley between Tuotuo He and Dang Xiong 5thSeptember was probably the first Qinghai record. Desert Lesser WhitethroatSylvia minula margelanica
Two Gonghe Wadi 17th August, 2 in poplar grove near Chaka 1st September and 19 in desert scrub between Doulan and Golmud 3rd September. This distinctive form is a likely split from S. m. minula. Greenish WarblerP. trochiloides
First recorded at Dongaxi with 12 on the16th August. Recorded daily in forest and areas of larger trees south of Yushu. Buff- throated Warbler Phylloscopus subaffinis
Two seen briefly on scrubby ridge north of Yushu 28th August. Buff-barred Leaf WarblerP. pulcher
Up to 15 seen daily Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22 — 24th August. Lemon-rumped WarblerP. chloronotus
Only seen in Nang Qian Forest area between 22 — 26th August with a maximum of 40 on 23rd August. Gansu Leaf WarblerP. kansuensis
Eleven Dongaxi 16 August and 1 heard Laoye Shan 17th August. Chinese Leaf WarblerP. yunnanensis
Two Dongaxi 16th August. Hume's Leaf WarblerP. humei mandelli
Recorded at Beisham, Dongaxi and Laoye Shan and twice in poplar groves between Chaka and Golmud. The only other place seen was Nang Qian ForestReserve where up to 20 were seen on the 24th August. Yellow-streaked WarblerP. armandii
Recorded at Beisham, Dongaxi, Laoyeshanin and Nang Qian
Area where up to 12 were seen on the 24th August. Dusky WarblerP. fuscatus
Two sightings of single birds at Yangtze/Mekong watershed on 20 August and between Yushu and Madou on 28th August. Tickell's Leaf WarblerP.affinis
The commonest Phylloscopus warbler found in nearly all forest and scrubby areas. Maximum daily count was 53 at Ganden near Lasha on 8th September. GoldcrestRegulus regulus
Ten Dongxia 16th August and up to 21 daily at Nang Qian Forest 22 — 24th August. Stoliczka's Tit-warblerLeptopoecile sophiae
Found in most areas of forest and scrub though more often heard than seen. Maximum daily count of 12 in juniper valley west of Chaka 2nd September. Crested Tit-warblerL. elegans
Only seen at Dongxia, where 14 on 16th August and Nang Qian Forest Reserve where we recorded a maximum of 30 between 22 — 24th August, favouring the mature spruce forest. Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta
One seen briefly in poplar grove near Chaka 1st September. Sooty FlycatcherMuscicapa sibirica
Up to 5 seen daily Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22- 24th August. Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica
One, thought to be a first for Qinghai in poplar grove between Doulon and Golmud 3rd September. Yellow-rumped FlycatcherFicedula zanthopygia
One migrant in poplar grove between Dulon and Chaka 3rd September. Red-throated Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla
Two migrants in poplar grove near Chaka 1st September and 4 migrants in poplar grove near Dulon 2nd September. Slaty-backed FlycatcherFicedula hodgsonii
Only seen at Nang Qian Forest Reserve where 5 on 23rd August and 3 on 24th August. Spot-breasted Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus erythrocnemis
Up to 4 heard daily but seen on only one occasion Nang Qian Forest 21 — 24th August. Giant BabaxBabax waddelli
Only seen in scrubby valley outside Lhasa where 12 on 7th September. Kozlov's BabaxB. koslowi
Recorded daily at Nang Qian Forest Reserve and Kanda Shan Gorge 21 — 26th August with a maximum daily count of 7 at the latter site. Pere David's LaughingthrushGarrulax davidi
Only seen in the Xining area where up to 20 were recorded on 15th August at Beishan. Giant LaughingthrushG. maximus
This stunning-looking laugher was recorded daily at Nang Qian Forest Reserve and Kanda Shan Gorge 21 —26th August where it was more often heard than seen. Elliot's LaughingthrushG. elliotii
Seen in the Xining area, Nang Qian Forest Reserve and Kanda Shan Gorge. Maximum daily count of 65 on 24th August. Prince Henri's LaughingthrushG. henrici
Only seen in the Lhasa area with 25 on 7th September in valley outside Lhasa and 20 on 8th September at Ganden. Chinese FulvettaAlcippe striaticollis
Up to 4 seen daily Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22 — 24th August. White-browed TitParus superciliosus
Favoured scrubby ridges in the higher altitude areas. Maximum daily count of 10 in juniper valley west of Chaka 2nd September. Songar TitP. songarus
Seen mainly in the mature spruce forest areas of Dongxai and Nang Qian Forest Reserve with a maximum daily count of 21 at the former site on 16th August. Grey Crested TitP. dichrous
Only seen at Nang Qian Forest Reserve and Kanda Shan Gorge. Maximum daily count 7 in the second valley at Nang Qian on 23rd August. Rufous-vented TitP. rubidiventris
Only seen in the mature spruce forest of Dongxia and Nang Qian Forest Reserve where quite common with up to 60 being seen daily. Great TitP. major
Four Beishan 15th August, 3 Dongaxi 16th August and 10 in Valley near Lhasa 7th September were the only records. Chinese NuthatchSitta villosa
Only seen at Dongxai where 9 were seen on 16th August. Przevalski's NuthatchS. leucopsis przewalskii
Six Dongxai 16th August and recorded on two days at Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22 —23rd August. WallcreeperTichodroma muraria
Five on crags south of Yushu 20th August, with 1 in same location 24th August. Two Kanda Shan Pass 25th August and 2 on the Ganden Monestry Walls 8th September Common TreecreeperCerthia familiaris
Seven Dongxai 16th August and up to 4 daily at Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22 — 24th August. Isabelline ShrikeL. isabellinus
Only recorded in the dry desert areas between Heimake and Golmud where the race tsaidamensis was quite common in the isolated poplar groves. Grey-backed ShrikeL. tephronotus
Seen almost daily in most areas of scub and scattered trees, however was replaced by Isabelline Shrike in the dry desert areas. A total of 57 were seen on the drive from Yushu to Nang Qian Forest Reserve. Tibetan Grey ShrikeL. (sphenocercus) giganteus
Two adjacent to the road between Yushu and Nang Qian Forest Reserve 21st August and 1 in the juniper valley west of Chaka 2nd September were the only sightings of this distinctive race and potential split. Azure-winged MagpieCyanopica cyanus
One en route from Dongxai 16th August Common MagpiePica pica
A total of 3 between Laoye Shan and Gonghe 17th August of the race sericea (that found in Hong Kong).Tibetan Magpie P. (pica) bottanensis replaced sericea in the south of the region. First recorded on the drive from Yushu to Nang Qian Forest Reserve with a total of 46 on the 21st August. Recorded daily at the reserve and also seen daily in the Lhasa area. This distinctive form is another potential split. Henderson's Ground JayPodoces hendersoni
First recorded in the dry desert between Heimahe and Chaka with 11 on 1 September. A total of 20 seen between Doulan and Golmud 3rd September including 3 eating from the restaurant’s dogs’ bowl. Hume's Ground-peckerPseudopodoces humilis
Good numbers recorded virtually every day with the exception of Nang Qian Forest and sites around Xining. Maximum daily count was a total of 106 between Yushu and Nang Qian Forest 21st August. Yellow-billed ChoughPyrrhocorax graculus
14 south of Yushu on 20th August, 14 Kanada Shan Pass 25th August with 2 in Kanda Shan Gorge on 26th August and 2 en route to Yushu on the 27th August. Red-billed ChoughP. pyrrhocorax
Seen every day apart from 2. A large flock of over 100 birds seen flying over Kanda Shan Gorge 26th August was the highest daily count. Daurian JackdawCorvus dauuricus
Two flyovers on the 21st August south of Yushu, 1 flyover on the 25th August at Kanda Shan Gorge and 60 feeding on rubbish in small village between Nang Qian and Yushu 27th August. RookC. frugilegus
Four seen flying over from the car between Laoye Shan and Gonghe 17th August Carrion CrowC. corone
Twelve at Dongxai 16th August was the only record. Large-billed CrowC. macrorhynchos
Seventy Dongaxi 16th August and up to 6 daily in the Nang Qian Forest Reserve and Kanda Shan Gorge areas 21 — 27th August. Common RavenC. corax
Seen in the higher altitude areas. Up to 60 were seen in the vicinity of the carcasses between Tuotuo He and Dang Xiong 5th September. Rose-coloured StarlingSturnus roseus
Nine juveniles in small poplar grove between Dulan and Golmud 3rd September. Russet SparrowPasser rutilans
Six in reeds Lhasa River near Ganden 8th September. Tree SparrowP. montanus
Seen daily with the exception of Nang Qian Forest Reserve. Rock SparrowPetronia petronia
Recorded between Gonghe and Nang Qian between 18 —21st August. Up to 30 seen between Dulan and Golmud 3rd September. Blanford's SnowfinchPyrgilauda blanfordi
Seen at small pool south of Gonghe on both visits. Also recorded south of Golmud with on the 4 on the 5th September near Tuotuo He. Rufous-necked SnowfinchP. ruficollis
Recorded daily between Gonghe and Yushu on the high plateau. Also recordedbetween Golmud and Lhasa again on the high plateau. Pere David's SnowfinchP. davidiana
Only seen twice: 2 at the small pool south of Gonghe 18th August and 6 at the same location on the 30th August White-rumped SnowfinchP. taczanowskii
Seen daily in the high plateau areas between Gonghe and Yushu and Golmud and Lhasa. Maximum daily count 80 between Madou and Wen Quan 29th August. Tibetan SnowfinchMontifringilla adamsii
Only recorded in small gorge between Gonghe and Er La Pass 18th August, at mountain south of Yushu 20 August and the same location on the 27th August. Prince Henri’s SnowfinchM. nivalis henrici
Only recorded at the highest elevations of Er La Pass and Bayankala Pass where up to 40 recorded. Another potential split. Oriental GreenfinchCarduelis sinica
Four. Beishan 15th August, 3 Dongxai 16th August and 2 en route Laoye Shan — Gonghe 17th August. Eurasian SiskinC. spinus
Seven Dongxai 16th August. TwiteC. flavirostris
Recorded almost daily on the high plateau between Gonghe and Yushu and Golmud and Lhasa with occasional sightings elsewhere. Maximum daily count 30 by river at Dang Xiong 6th September. Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra
Ten Dongxai 16th August, 15 Nang Qian Forest Reserve 24th August. Plain Mountain FinchLeucosticte nemoricola
Seen daily on the high plateau between Gonghe and Yushu and at Kanda Shan Gorge. A flock of 100 were seen high above the tree line at Nang Quian Forest Reserve on the 22nd August. Brandt's Mountain FinchL. brandti
A bird of the highest elevations. Recorded at Er La Pass, Bayankala Pass and the Yangzte/Mekong Watershed. All these areas are above 4500 m. Highest count 30 Bayankala Pass 25th August. Mongolian Trumpeter FinchBucanetes mongolicus
Twelve at Gonghe Wadi 17th August and 2 at the small pool between Gonghe and Er La Pass 18th August. Common RosefinchCarpodacus erythrinus
Seen at scattered locations mainly in areas of tall trees. Commonest at Naing Qian Forest Reserve with 35 on the 24th August. Beautiful RosefinchC. pulcherrimus
Again recorded at scattered locations south of Gonghe. Appeared to prefer the scrubby ridges rather than forest; highest count being 25 on scrubby ridge north of Yushu 28th August. Also recorded in the juniper valley west of Chaka on 2nd September. Pink-rumped RosefinchC. eos
Basically recorded in the Nang Qian Forest area and Kanda Shan Gorge in the taller trees. Maximum daily count 35 Nang Qian Forest Reserve 24th August. Also recorded in the Lhasa area. Sinai RosefinchC. synoicus
Twenty Beishan 15th August. Three-banded RosefinchC. trifasciatus
Only seen at Nang Qian Forest with 5 on the 23rd August and 3 on the 24th August. White-browed RosefinchC. thura
Fifteen Dongxai 16th August, seen daily Nang Qian Forest Reserve with a maximum of 30 on 23rd August. Also seen at Kanda Shan Gorge and juniper Valley west of Chaka. Eastern Great RosefinchC. rubicilloides
Recorded almost daily south of Gonghe and also in the Lhasa area where up to 13 where seen at Ganden. Caucasian Great RosefinchC. rubicilla
Only recorded 4 times: 3 in gorge between Gonghe and Er La Pass 18th August, 1 in hills south of Yushu 20th August and again 27th August and 1 between Madou and Wen Quan 29th August. Red-breasted RosefinchC. puniceus
Only seen twice: 13 at the craggy hill south of Yushu 20th August and 1 Kanda Shan Pass area 25th August. Roborovski's RosefinchKozlowia roborowskii
A bird of the highest altitudes: 9 at Er La Pass on 18th August and 6 at the same location 29th August and 5 at Byankala Pass on 19th August. Both localities are above 4500m. Crimson-browed FinchPinicola subhimachalus
Up to 6 seen daily at Nang Qian Forest Reserve 22 — 24th August. Przevalski's RosefinchUrocynchramus pylzowi
Eight seen on scrubby ridge north of Yushu 28th August. Grey-headed BullfinchPyrrhula erythaca
One heard Dongxia 16th August, up to 22 seen daily at Nang Qian Forest Reserve 21 — 24th August. White-winged GrosbeakMycerobas carniceps
One Dangxia 16th August, up to 6 daily Nang Qian Forest Reserve, 2 Kanda Shan Gorge 26th August, 6 juniper valley west of Chaka 2nd September and 2 at valley near Lhasa 7th September. Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola
One flying over Lhasa River near Ganden 9th September. Black-faced BuntingEmberiza spodocephala
One Gonghe Wadi 17th August. Kozlov's BuntingE. koslowi
Only seen at the top of Kanda Shan Pass where up to 15 birds including juveniles showed well and proved very photogenic 25th August. Pine BuntingE. leucocephalos
One at roadside pool south of Gonghe 18th August, 5 in juniper valley west of Chaka 2nd September. Godlewski's Rock BuntingE. godlewskii
Seen daily south of Gonghe and also in the Lasha area. Maximum daily count 26 between Yushe and Nang Qian Forest Reserve 21st August Meadow BuntingE. cioides
Only recorded at Beishan with10 on 15th August.
Systematic List of Mammals
Tibetan Stump-tailed MacaqueMacaca thibetana
Seen or heard daily Nang Qian Forest reserve 22 — 24thAugust. Wolf Canis lupus
A male seen close to the road on a snowy plateau between Hua Xhi Sha and Yushe on 19th August and a female seen near Madou 29thAugust. Red FoxVulpes vulpes
1 Nang Qian Forest Reserve 24th August, 1 in juniper valley west of Chaka 2nd September, and 1 between Dulon and Golmud 3rd September. Tibetan FoxV. ferrilata
Recorded in the high platea areas on 6 separate days with a maximum on the 29th August between Madou and Wen Quan. Alpine Weasel M. altaica
Singles recorded on 6 sepertae days in a variety of locations. Pallas's CatFelis manul
One adult and six kittens at high pass south of Wen Quan 29th August and 1 adult with 2 kittens on hill by roadside between Tuotuo He and Dang Xiong 5th September. Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass) Equus kiang
Seen on the high plateau between Gonghe and Yushe and between Golmud and Lhasa. Maximum daily count 104 between Madou and Wien Quan 29th August. Alpine Musk Deer?Moschus sifanicus
One seen on a scrubby ridge north of Yushu on 28th August. Red DeerCervus elaphus
Seven south of Yushe 20th August and 1 Nang Qian Forest Reserve 23rd August. Tibetan Gazelle Procapra picticaudata
Common on the high plateau areas between Gonghe and Yushe and between Golmud and Lhasa with a maximum of 194 between Madou and Wien Quan 29th August. Goitred Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa
Four seen in the Zaidam desert on 3rd September. Tibetan AntelopePantholops hodgsoni
A total of 156 individuals of this endangered species was seen on the high plateau south of the Kunlun Pass on 4th September. Most were females and juveniles but we had good views of one adult male. Blue SheepPseudois nayaur
Seen on high rocky crags on 5 dates with a maximum of 84 at Er La Pass on the 30th August. Siberian ChipmunkEutamias sibiricus
Two at Beishan on 15th August. Daurian Ground SquirrelCitellus dauricus
Four at Beishan on 15th August. Himalayan MarmotMarmota himalayana
Common: seen in good numbers almost daily. Stoliczka’s Mountain VoleAlticola stoliczkanus
About 20 seen at 4500 m on the plateau south of Wenquan on 29th August. Black-lipped PikaOchotona curzoniae
Very common on the high plateau areas where large numbers were seen daily. Cape HareLepus capensis
One at Beishan 15th August and 2 near Koko Nor 31st August. Woolly HareL. oiostolus
Small numbers seen at most sites above c. 3000 m, peak count of at least 20 near Lhasa on 7th September.