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Tibetan Plateau and Xinjiang:

2nd - 21st June 2019


Leader: Mike Nelson

Max group size: 8

The Tibetan Plateau is truly the ‘Roof of the World’ and during our epic journey from Qinghai in the northeastern part of the plateau to the historic city of Lhasa, we will be visiting areas only rarely explored by western birders, with an excellent chance of finding of finding all the birds endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. Amidst extraordinary scenery we will seek out Przevalski’s Finch, Ala Shan Redstart, Ground Tit, Henderson’s Ground Jay, Roborovski’s Rosefinch, Kozlov’s Bunting, Kozlov’s Babax, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Szecheny’s Partridge, Gansu Leaf Warbler and many equally mouthwatering species. As we enter the ‘Tibetan autonomous region’ we will look for some very restricted specialities; Tibetan Eared-Pheasant, Prince Henri’s Laughingthrush, Giant Babax and even travel to easternmost Tibet in search of the range-restricted, pine-loving Lord Derby’s Parakeet.

Ending in Xinjiang, the westernmot province of China, will go in search of Biddulph's Ground Jay, endemic to the Taklamakan Desert, along with a fine supporting cast of Tarim Babbler, Desert Whitethroat, White-winged Woodpecker, Saxual Sparrow and Azure Tit. A day in the Tian Shan we could also encounter several Central Asian specialities including Eversmann's and Blue-capped Redstart, Black-throated Accentor, Red-mantled Rosefinch and Red-fronted Serin.

Day 1:
International arrivals into Xining for a two-night stay. NOTE: tour may begin in Xinjiang, details will be confirmed at a later date.

Day 2:
We will spend the morning birding at Dong Xia (2600-2900m) to the north of Xining. The area is host to several species with restricted ranges which are unlikely to be found elsewhere on the tour. The most significant is Gansu Leaf Warbler which has a small breeding range concentrated in this area of Qinghai and adjacent Gansu province. Other species which we will be looking out for include Przevalski’s and Chinese Nuthatch, a localized race of Himalayan Bluetail, and the delightful Crested Tit-Warbler. In the afternoon we will return to Xining and visit the eroded hills on the outskirts of the city in search of Pale Rosefinch, Meadow Bunting and Pied Wheatear. Night in Xining.

Day 3:
This morning we head up onto the Tibetan plateau to the vast Koko Nor lake and adjacent lagoons and marshes at 3200m. We should expect an excellent variety of water-birds here including Bar-headed Goose, Great Black-headed Gull and perhaps our first Black-necked Cranes. Surrounding grasslands will hold our first exciting plateau birds such Ground Tit, Mongolian Lark, Hume’s Short-toed Lark, Tibetan Lark and perhaps Pere David’s Snowfinch. From here we continue across a semi-desert landscape to the town of Chaka for the three-night stay.

Days 4-5:
We have two full days to explore the Chaka area where several target birds await. Scrubby hillsides in the area (3600–3950m) are home to Ala Shan Redstart, Przevalski’s Partridge and Przevalski’s Finch (formerly considered a rosefinch) which will be a prime target for many now that it is placed in its own family, Urocynchramidae. Other species likely to be encountered in these areas are Guldenstadt’s Redstart and White-browed Tit as well as a fine selection of snowfinches, larks and the ubiquitous Ground Tit. Areas of semi-desert areas near Chaka are home to Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Blanford’s Snowfinch, Mongolian Finch, Desert Finch, Asian Short-toed Lark and most importantly Henderson’s Ground Jay.

Day 6:
After final early morning birding around Chaka if required, we drive to the town of Gonghe for an overnight stay. In the afternoon we will explore the dry, rocky surrounds of Gonghe which is prime habitat for Mongolian Finch and ‘Margelanic’ Lesser Whitethroat. Night at Gonghe.

Day 7:
We leave early this morning for the drive south to Er La where a couple of exciting specialities await. Our exploration of Er La Pass and the stony plateau to the south-east of there at 4600-4900m will target the enigmatic Roborovski’s Rosefinch and the elusive Tibetan Sandgrouse, here at one of its few readily accessible sites. We will also be on the lookout for other high altitude specialties including Tibetan Snowcock, Guldenstadt’s Redstart, Brandt’s Mountain Finch and Henri’s Snowfinch. In the late afternoon we will continue south for an overnight stay in Maduo.

Day 8:
Today is a long travelling day as we make our way from Maduo to Nangqian, passing through vast rolling grasslands broken by occasional mountain ranges, then through spectacular gorges beyond Yushe.
During the journey we can expect to see many Upland Buzzard and Saker which thrive on the abundant Plateau Pikas. We can also expect to see the spectacular Black-necked Crane today plus groups of Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass) and small numbers of Tibetan Gazelles, while mountain rivers south of Yushe might have produce our first sightings of Ibisbill. Night in Nangqian.

Day 9:
Our destination today is Kanda Shan Pass (4600-5000m) which is well known as one of the most accessible location to search for Kozlov’s Bunting. Birding around the grassy slopes above the pass we will hope to locate this rare bunting which was something of an enigma before finally being seen regularly in the past two decades. Other species of interest here might include Himalayan Rubythroat, Stolicka’s Tit Warbler, Yellow-billed Chough and electric-blue Grandala. Night in Nangqian.

Day 10:
Today we make a day-trip to nearby Beizha Forest where we will be searching for specialities such as Szecheny’s Monal Partridge, White Eared-Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Crested Tit-Warbler and Giant Laughingthrush on the sparsely forested slopes, whereas Kozlov’s Babax prefers scrubbier areas. Night in Nangqian.

Day 11:
Today is a travel day as we make our way across the plateau for an overnight stay in Qumalai.

Day 12:
We continue across the plateau today to join with the main Qinghai-Tibet highway at Budongquan. Here we can stop to look again for Tibetan Sandgrouse at another site if we haven’t already seen them at Er La. Mammals are conspicuous along this road, and along with large numbers of Kiang and Tibetan Gazelle we hope to encounter small groups of Tibetan Antelope along with an outside possibility of wild Yak.
Continuing on north-west we eventually reach Golmud in the late evening to jump on the Lhasa-bound sleeper train, departing at midnight.

Day 13:
Speeding south of the remoter areas of the high plateau during the morning from the comforts of our cabins before reaching the autonomous region of Tibet and arriving into Lhasa in the mid-afternoon, in time for an afternoon walk around the magnificent Potala Palace. Although Lhasa is rapidly expanding and modernising under Chinese rule, the Potala Palace still stands as a potent symbol of Buddhist Tibet and is an experience not to be missed. We will probably also encounter our first Tibetan Blackbirds! Night in Lhasa.

Day 14:
This morning we visit a nearby monastery in our quest for one of the main targets on this tour; Tibetan Eared-Pheasant. The nearby bushes and village area are packed full of birds; Prince Henri’s Laughingthrush is common, as are Tibetan Blackbird, Streaked Rosefinch, Severtzov’s Tit Warbler, Brown Accentor, Tibetan Partridge, Red-billed Chough and we should also see family parties of Giant Babax. From here we head eastwards for an overnight stay in Gongbujiangda.

Days 15-16:
Continue eastwards beyond Nyinchi. This area is littered with thick coniferous forest as the sub-tropical valleys ascend from Assam in North-east India. It is this habitat that has brought us to eastern Tibet as it is the core range of one of the rarest, least-known and range-restricted parrots in the world, Lord Derby’s Parakeet. Vigilant scanning will be required as we make regular stops in the hope of finding parakeets perched or flying-by. The areas will also have yet more endemic Prince Henri’s Laughingthrushes and we if have the opportunity to bird at lower elevations there is a chance of a few eastern Himalayan species, notably Ludlow’s Fulvetta, Collared Grosbeak and the scarce Green-crowned Warbler. Nights will be in a Tibetan family run guesthouse with shared bathroom facilities. Nights in Nyinchi.

Day 17:
Mid-morning departure from Nyinchi to Chengdu, then onward to Urumqi to begin our Xinjiang adventure. Night in Urumqi.

Days 18-20:
Flying in and out of Xinjiang, the westernmot province of China, going in search of Biddulph's Ground Jay, endemic to the Taklamakan Desert, along with a fine supporting cast of Tarim Babbler, Desert Whitethroat, White-winged Woodpecker, Saxual Sparrow and Azure Tit. A day in the Tian Shan we could also encounter several Central Asian specialities including Eversmann's and Blue-capped Redstart, Black-throated Accentor, Red-mantled Rosefinch and Red-fronted Serin. Nights in Urumqi and Korla.

Please note this itinerary is open to change, even during the tour, depending on the current political situation.

Tour Photo Albums

Tibetan Plateau and Xinjiang, July 2018

Tibetan Plateau and Xinjiang, July 2017

Qinghai and Tibet, July 2013

Qinghai and Xinjiang (+Shanxi & Shaanxi), June - July 2012