China: Qinghai and Tibet - Birding Tour
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Tibet is spectacular. Birding here requires a journey through immense ice-clad mountains, rolling golden-green plains, and vast aquamarine lakes. Scattered monasteries are home to whirling prayer-wheels and chanting monks who still conduct sky-burials. For many birders, the main motivation to visit is the Przevalski's Pinktail, a taxonomic oddity that is now widely recognized as being in its own family. Qinghai is one of the few regions where this enigmatic bird is regularly seen. Our visit coincides with breeding, so we expect vocal and displaying birds at our reliable stake-outs.
The tour begins in Xining, where we bird the Rubber Mountains and the spectacular Koko Nor, a huge highland lake dotted with Bar-headed Geese and Greater Black-headed Gulls. Stately Black-necked Cranes and immaculate Mongolian Larks dwell in the marshy fringes. The surrounding plains and rocky outcrops hold Hume’s Lark and up to six species of snowfinch. Robin and Brown accentors are surprisingly common, and scrub covered hillsides hide the endemic White-browed Tit and pastel-painted White-browed Tit-Warbler. We crest the Rubber Mountains, perhaps seeing a Lammergeier or Golden Eagle gliding majestically overhead, and descend into the dry Gobi-like scrub surrounding Chaka. Here Tibetan horseman roam, and stark salt lakes lie in the shadow of towering Himalayan peaks. Our time will be spent searching for Henderson’s Ground-Jay, a gregarious, cursorial corvid with a striking black-and-white wing pattern. While striding through this cold desert we also hope to find Pallas’ Sandgrouse and Mongolian and Desert Finches.
Craggy valleys hold a small population of Alashan Redstart, a scarce north-central China endemic. Amongst a spectacular collection of gamebirds we hope for the endemic Prezwalski’s Partridge and scarce and beautiful Tibetan Partridge. Passing Heimehe, we head south to the forbidding Er-La Pass. At 14,765ft (4500m) high, this is an unforgiving place. We’ll hike up to 15,750ft (4800m) to seek out Plain and Brandt’s mountain-finches, White-winged Redstart, Roborovski’s Rosefinch, Tibetan Snowcock, and Tibetan Sandgrouse. These crags support Blue Sheep and Tibetan Gazelle, and a decade ago a birding tour even saw a Snow Leopard here. We return to Xining and flock-filled, forested hills. Amongst a huge selection of leaf-warblers we will be on the lookout for Gansu Leaf-warbler, Crested Tit-warbler, Songar Tit, and Snowy-browed and Chinese Nuthatches.
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Length: 11 Days (16 Days w/ Ext.)
Starting City: Xining
Ending City: Xining
Physical Difficulty: Moderate