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Tibet(Xizang and Qinghai Provinces) - China, 29 May –27 June 2005,
The mystical land of Tibet holds many attractions to westerners. Many come to visit the monasteries, its people, and the stark landscape. In June of 2005, I went there to see the birds of the Tibetan plateau. Traditional Tibet is now split among four Chinese governmental provinces. This trip report covers birding areas I visited the two largest Tibetan provinces – Xizang and Qinghai. These two provinces constitute most of traditional Tibet and hold nearly all of the birds associated with the Tibetan Plateau.
As far as I am concerned, there are two types of birding reports widely available on the web today. The most numerous is the birding tour report. It is written by the new generation of twitchers who buy their ticks by going on overpriced birding tours. Everything is organized for them. They are led to a birding site; the birds are found, shown and identified for them. Afterwards, trip reports are written which extol the skills of the tour leaders; contain a list of the sightings, photos and personal tales of endurance and triumphs. If this is your idea of birding and you like to be catered to, this trip report is not for you. You should look elsewhere on the web. The Internet is full of such tour reports on Qinghai and Tibet that serves to promote birding tours/leaders but lack site information.
The other type of birding report is written to share and pass on useful information to the birding community. I am writing this report with this hope in mind. This trip report is for the independent birder/s. Its main aim is to help individuals find and access birding sites in Tibet’s Xizang and Qinghai provinces. Contrary to what some prominent voices have stated publicly, the birding sites one needs to visit in order to see all of Tibet’s specialties are completely open to independent foreign travelers and have been since 2003.
My first visit to these two Tibetan provinces turned out somewhat differently than I had originally envisioned. My original plan was to first bird Qinghai for up to a month in May and June. I had hoped to visit many of the Qinghai’s birding sites and to see all the possible specialties there. Thereafter, if time permitted, to travel to Lhasa and to bird Xizang. However, my plans changed in mid May as I was traveling through Chengdu, Sichuan in an attempt to catch up with a few Wolong species I missed last year. I realized that it was easier, cheaper and it made more sense to first fly from Chengdu to Lhasa and leave Qinghai for end of the trip. The end result was that I found myself short of time in Qinghai and missed two key species. Even so, this birding trip exceeded my expectations.
I made no prior travel arrangements beforehand. All my transportation arrangements and accommodations were made directly by me and at the time when needed except where noted otherwise. In Lhasa there are many travel agencies that cater to foreigners, speak English and can help you with specific travel needs. In sharp contrast, Xining and the rest of Qinghai have few travel agencies or individuals that speak English. The Lonely Planet Travel Guides discuss this in more detail. In Xining and Nangqian, I briefly hired English-speaking locals as interpreters to help me with arrangements and permits.
Travel: I, traveling alone, used mostly public transport but a vehicle/driver rental might make sense for a small group. Regrettably, foreigners are not currently allowed to drive vehicles in China. As a result if you do not wish to use public transport to access a specific birding site, you will have to hire a vehicle with a driver. During my visit, a Toyota Landcruiser with a driver was rentable in Lhasa for $75 per day while in Xining and Qinghai they were asking $150 per day for the same arrangement. At one point, I hired a taxi for $75/day to birding sites near Koko Nor. In retrospect, it was a waste of money as those sites were birdable using public buses.
From Chengdu I flew on Air China to Lhasa. The Ticket was obtained for me by Sam’s Guesthouse (see Lonely Planet) in Chengdu. This is one of the few airfares in China that does not offer deep discounts. This one flight proved to be my single most expansive purchase in China at $250. In and around Lhasa, I used a rented mountain bike ($2/day) to get around. I traveled to Reting Monastery on the local bus and to Nam-tso (Lake) on a shared Landcruiser. From Lhasa, I traveled to Xining (38 hours) on a sleeper bus and train. As the railroad extension from Golmud to Lhasa is expected to be completed later this year, train or airlines are your other options for this leg. In Xining and Qinghai, my main mode of transport was the bus system. Locally I also found taxis and/or motorcycle taxis available everywhere and reasonably priced.
Accommodations: Although I carried a small tent and sleeping bag, I could have done without them. I never unpacked the tent and the only place I used my sleeping bag was at the Beizha Forest Headquarters. Four-star hotels are only found in Lhasa and Xining. Everywhere else you can find comfortable accommodations without much effort. For a single room (one/two beds), I never paid more then 50 Yuan ($6) and many times less. Bedding and Chinese Cable TV were always included and usually a hot shower. In several cases, as in Nangqian, the room did not have an attached bathroom but you are supplied with a hot water thermos and washbowl.
Over the years, I have developed the practice of setting up birding base camps. It is usually a conveniently located hotel where I can store my excess baggage and from which I make birding forays to nearby sites. In Lhasa, I used the Banak Shol Hotel for that purpose. It offered free baggage storage and free laundry service. It has an in-house travel agency (FIT) with a traveler’s bulletin board and well-recommended restaurant. A bike rental shop, fruit stands and Internet Café are less than one minute’s walk away. As a hotel, it has clearly seen better days but the prices are hard to beat. A dormitory style bed (4 per room) went for $3 and a single room for $5. Other more expensive and newer hotels in Lhasa such as the Yak or the Snowlands are also worth considering and offer similar services. In Xining, my base of operations was the Hong Guang Hotel. It is conveniently located on the Northeast corner of the Xining Railroad Station plaza. A single room went for $5 per day and they stored my baggage for a modest fee. The long-distance bus station, supermarket and Internet cafe are two minute’s walk away and local buses stop at the plaza. Furthermore, at this hotel you will find a free-lance guide/gofer who speaks English. During my visit, he was asking $20 per day for his services. He can help you visit local birding sites via public transport as well as with tickets (bus, train, plane) and permits.
Food: It is plentiful, cheap and easily available. It is served on trains and long-distance buses regularly stop at roadside restaurants. A restaurant meal cost $1 to $3. Every town that you will encounter will have restaurants and shops where you can pick up snacks and bottled water/soft drinks. The only place that you will find an English menu is in Lhasa. Everywhere else, it is a good idea to carry a list (written in Chinese) of your favored dishes. When visiting remote areas for extended time, taking some food with you would be advisable. One such area is Beizha Forest. From my point of view, preplanned meals are a bothersome distraction from birding. Being a typical overweight westerner, I look forward to losing weight on such trips. Usually my only large meal is dinner. A piece of fruit or bread for breakfast and some candy for lunch sustains me for the rest of the day and allows me to dedicate that time to birding.
Health: You should check out the appropriate sections in the various travel guides such as Lonely Planet’s Tibet for advice. The high altitude in some way will affect everyone arriving on the Tibetan plateau. Weakness, dizziness, disorientation and a lingering headache are mild inconveniences, which should eventually disappear. Acclimating yourself to the altitude will take time. It is advisable to spend a few days around Lhasa before you go to Nam-tso or places higher. Should you encounter serious health problems of any kind, be aware that modern medical help is only available in Lhasa or Xining and it is limited. Your only way back there would be by road and possibly days later. Having said that, I experienced no health problems on this trip.
Concerns and Costs: As reasons for joining an organized Tibetan birding tour, several trip reports used the following justification: inability to speak Chinese, lack of time, being ripped off by the locals and that the tour is cheaper than doing it on your own. My reply to such misinformation is – RUBBISH!
What to bring: Bring only the things that you can not do without and are willing to carry. My philosophy is that if it does not fit into a single large trail pack, it does not go. Even so, my trail pack usually weighs in at 30 kg. Bring layered clothing capable of protecting you from the heat, sun, cold, wind, rain and snow and a good pair of hiking shoes. A wide-brimmed hat, long sleeved shirt and pants will protect you from sunburns. Clothing is readily purchasable locally should you need additional. Common drug store items such as first aid, sun block, lip balm and pain relief may be hard, if not impossible, to find locally. I did not miss any birds because I decided not to bring a telescope/tripod. Not knowing what to expect, I packed a tent and sleeping bag instead and never used the tent.
Additionally, I bring along a daypack. Once I arrive at my birding base camp (hotel), I store my trail pack and all the spare items at the hotel. I only take along in the daypack all the items I will need to cover a particular destination. At frequent intervals (whether a day or a week), I than return to the base camp for resupply;,to do laundry and to prepare for the next birding site. It is unlikely that you will get lost in the barren landscape of the Tibetan Plateau. However carrying a compass, altimeter and GPS receiver will prove useful for orientation purposes. A basic GPS receiver can be purchased for about $100 and should have an altimeter build in. I have included GPS coordinates for many sites to help you find them. GPS accuracy can bring you within a few meters of your destinations. However, I have noted that on weak batteries accuracy can deteriorate greatly.
Information/References: Information is the single most important ingredient to a successful independent birding trip. Field identification guides, travel guides, language phrasebook/dictionary and trip reports should be brought into Tibet as finding them locally may be impossible. I found the following sources useful:
If you can get good road maps (in English and Chinese) outside China, get them. I could not find any accurate road maps in China. The map should have English/Chinese place names. You can always show the bus driver the Chinese symbol on the map for your destination. In Lhasa, you can purchase such tourist maps of Xizang at bookstores or tourist hotels. In Xining, I was only able to find a usable tourist map of Qinghai at the China International Travel Service (CITS) at the Qinghai Binguan (see Lonely Planet).
Unless otherwise noted, the birding sites listed below have for the last two years been completely open to independent foreign travelers. No travel permit or guides/handlers are required and you are free to travel there by whatever means you wish. You may need visitor permits to the special forest preserves. As conditions can and will change in the future, please check the following web sites:
XIZANG PROVINCE (TIBETAN AUTONOMOUS REGION)
LHASA, Xizang Province (see Sketch 1) – 3600-meter elevation
A few years back, foreigners wishing to travel to Lhasa needed a permit, a guide and had to join a organized group. That is no longer true. Your airline ticket is your permit and you are free to travel independently in the open areas of Xizang on the duration of your Chinese Visa. Travel arrangements to Lhasa should be made after you arrive in China. I had my ticket arranged through Sam’s Guesthouse in Chengdu. All they needed was a photocopy of your passport and you can fly to Lhasa on a day’s notice. Similar arrangements can be made from other Chinese cities such as Beijing, Xining, and Kunming. It is also possible to travel by bus (and soon by train) from Xining thru Golmud to Lhasa. When applying for your Chinese visa, do not list Lhasa as one your destination.
The airport is two hours (95 km) by road from Lhasa. An expensive taxi ride will allow you to make stops along the river and pick up a few waterbirds. A much cheaper option is to take the airport bus that meets arriving flights but you will not be able to make any birding stops along the way. The city of Lhasa itself offers little as far as birding. On its northwest side there is a fenced marsh, which holds a few waterbirds. Adjacent to the marsh are some cliffs that contain some landbirds and Wallcreeper. On the east side of Lhasa, highway 318 crosses the Lhasa River at kilometer marker 4632 and follows the river upstream. The first few kilometers above the bridge are worth checking for water and land birds. A pair of Ibisbills was present less than 2 kilometers upstream from the bridge. For the next 20 kilometers, highway 318 follows the Lhasa River valley upstream through agricultural lands and several towns. At km marker 4609.5, there is a junction and a bridge. Thereafter highway 318 runs close to the river and cliffs for some 5 kilometers to kilometer marker 4605 and a man-made marsh. This area, between the bridge and marsh, held Ibisbill, Wallcreeper, Black-winged Snowfinch and Brown Accenters.
RETING MONASTERY, Xizang Province (4200-meter elevation)
Located some 100 kilometer northeast of Lhasa on a narrow, rough dirt road. Several travel agencies in Lhasa offer a three-day Landcruiser tour package, which includes a half-day at Reting Monastery (Gompa). However, these tours may not allow you enough time to see your target birds there. If you are with others, hiring a Landcruiser with a driver to Reting may make sense. A Landcruiser will get you there in about 5 hours. The cheapest mode of travel there is the local bus (at $4). Some of the travel agencies deny this bus exists. Probably because they wish to sell you one their tours. This bus serves anyone and everyone living along the road. It carries people and produce and therefore takes 8 hours to get there. During my time there, it left the Eastern Suburban Bus Station in Lhasa at 07:30 on M,W,F,SA and arrived at Reting Monastery at 16:00. It overnighted at Reting and left for Lhasa at 07:30 the next day or on T,TH,SA,SU. The bus does not always overnight at the same location. One bus driver stayed at the monastery but another parked at one of the nearby villages. Find out the night before where your return bus is. The monastery has overnight accommodations for visitors at $5 per bed. You might want to bring along some fast food or snacks. During my visit, the monastery only offered bowls of instant noodles. Also bring some earplugs as the nightly howling of the resident dogs makes sleeping a challange. There are three small villages within one kilometer of Reting Monastery. I did not inquire but it should also be possible to make arrangements for accommodations and meals in one of these villages.
The monastery is known as a good place to see with ease all three Tibetan specialties. The ruins of the monastery are located on the cedar covered mountain slopes at 4200-meter elevation. The Giant Babax was common and easily seen around the monastery itself. My visit coincided with the later part of the dry season and the only water on the mountain at that time was about one kilometer above the monastery. There at 4520-meter elevation and at the edge of a spree field was a 10-meter long trickling stream. The Tibetan Eared-Pheasants and Prince Henry’s Laughingthrushes foraged around this area (30 deg 19.107’ N; 91 deg 30.624’ E). Other birds of interest seen above the monastery include: Lammergeier, White-browed Tit-Warbler, White-throated and Hodgson’s Redstarts.
In the valley below the monastery is a broad river with scrub on its banks. If you follow this river downstream for some seven kilometers, you will come to an area (30 deg 17.492’ N; 91 deg 26.806’ E) were the river, the road and the cliffs come close together. Here on the steep slopes, I also had Giant Babax, Prince Henery’s Laughingthrush and heard Tibetan Eared-Pheasants on the mountain top. On the cliffs there was a Wallcreeper and upstream on the river I had three different encounters with Ibisbills.
NAM-TSO (Sky Lake), Xizang Province (4700-meter elevation)
A popular tourist destination located some 200 kilometers north of Lhasa. Currently there is no public transport to Nam-tso. A bus can take you from Lhasa to Damxung but afterwards you will have to depend on your own means for the remaining 50 kilometers. A second option is to join up with other tourists and hire a Landcruiser to take you there. Most travel agencies in Lhasa advertise such Landcruiser trips to Nam-tso and Reting Monastery. Check the public bulletin boards outside the travel agencies for posting from independent travelers wishing to join up. A two-day Landcruiser (which can hold 5 passengers) trip usually goes for 1200 Yuan or $40 per person for five participants. From Danxung the road goes over the 5200-meter high Largen La Pass and down to Nam-tao, which is 4700 in elevation. Everyone is advised to be well acclimated (spend a few days in Lhasa) before coming here. Additionally, bring clothing to protect you from the wind, cold and snow that can fall at any time of the year. The tourist facilities are located on a peninsula that extends into the lake. Accommodations and food are plentiful there.
Nam-tso, being a typical Chinese tourist trap, is advertised as being many things to everyone. Its reality falls short and was a big disappointment to me. The nature reserve there is nothing more than a sign. The marsh at the base of the peninsula was full of hundreds and hundreds of goats and yaks but no cranes and few other birds during my visit. This area is strewn with the tents of local nomads, along with their lories, motorcycles and dogs. The local kids bug you for handouts. You even have to pay an area entrance fee before even seeing the lake.
There are three areas of interest to birders there. The cliffs and lakeshore near the tourist facilities have Bar-headed Geese, Brown-headed and Great Black-headed Gulls, Brown and Robin Accentors, Lammergeier and Blanford’s Snowfinch in the more open areas. The second area of interest is the marsh at the base of the peninsula and the lakeshore there. In this marsh, others have seen Black-necked Cranes. Great Crested Grebes, Red-crested Pochards and Tibetan Larks nest where the marsh meets the lakeshore. Largen La Pass, located some 20 kilometers along the road back to Damxung , is the third area to bird. Tibetan Sandgrouse, White-winged Redstart and White-winged Snowfinch are some of the high altitude birds of interest here. Nam-tso might prove to be a more productive site during the fall season when high altitude species flock and migrate down from the mountains to the lakeshore.
BEI SHAN, XINING, Qinghai Province
This mountain, located on the northern edge of the city of Xining, is easily accessed by taxi, motorcycle taxi or on foot. The mountain is behind the railroad station. A road goes up to the eastern peak where there are large, telecommunication towers. There are also steep, unmarked trails and goat tracks there that will get you to the canyons and to the top. A map of Xining should show you the easiest approach to the mountain. Previously stripped of all vegetation, the mountain is now being replanted to prevent mudslides.
This site is an easy and convenient location for three target species. Pale Rosefinch can be found on the slopes, half way up the mountain. Przevalski’s and Daurian Partridges are higher, along with the Common Pheasants. Eurasian Eagle Owls can be found in the crags of the large canyon.
LAOYE SHAN, DATONG, Qinghai Province (36 deg 56.117’ N; 101 deg 42.551’ E; 2700-meter elevation)
Located in the City of Datong, this mountaintop has a small patch of native forest. There are many buses between Xining and Datong. They leave from two different places in Xining. The most convenient departure point is the western wing of the Xining train station plaza. The first bus leaves the train plaza at 06:15 and arrives at Datong one hour later. The base of Laoye Shan, where there is a temple, is only a five-minute walk from the bus stop. One way to the mountaintop is to climb through the temple and continue up the endless steps to the telecommunication station. It will take about two hours to reach the trees. I would not recommend this climb if you are not acclimated, out-of-shape or have a fear of heights. A quicker way to reach the top is to hire a taxi or motorcycle. Then follow the paved road beyond the temple to the first level dirt road that goes clockwise to the back of the mountain. Follow this road as it continues up to the telecommunication station and the remnant patch of forest at the top.
In the past the target birds at the top were: White-cheeked and Snowy-browed (Chinese) Nuthatches, Hume’s and Gansu Leaf-warblers and Crested Tit-warbler. The back of the mountain was a reliable site for Chinese Bush Warbler. In my two visits here, I failed to find the White-cheeked Nuthatch, the Crested Tit-warbler and the Chinese Bush Warbler. In recent times, most birders forgo this site in favor of Dongxia Forest.
DONGXIA FOREST, Qinghai Province
For lack of time, I did not visit this site. I was told it is reachable by public transport but I do not have the specifics.
Recently this has become the favorite site north of Xining for the following
species: White-cheeked and Snowy-browed (Chinese) Nuthatches, Hume’s
and Gansu Leaf-warblers, Crested Tit-warbler.
BIRD ISLAND (Niao Dao), QINGHAI LAKE (Koko Nor), Qinghai Province
I was not able to visit here. In 2005, the bird flu epidemic devastated this site and the authorities closed the entire area to all visitors. Normally, this site is a top tourist destination. It is possible to join a one or two day tour here from Xining. Independently, you can take a bus from Xining to Heimahe and then a taxi/motorcycle to Bird Island. There is overnight accommodation here. See Lonely Planet for more details.
This area is mostly known for its nesting water birds and larks. Other trip reports list the following target species: Black-necked Crane, Whooper Swan, Bar-headed and Graylag Goose, Brown-headed and Great Black-headed Gulls, Mongolian and Hume’s larks. Some of these species can also be seen from Highway 109, south of the lake.
HEIMAHE AND RUBBER MOUNTAIN PASS, Qinghai Province
Heimahe (3400-meter elation), which is a small town on the southwest corner of Qinghai Lake, is accessible by bus from Xining. You can find accommodations, restaurants and local transport for hire here. Highway 109, originating in Beijing, continues from Xining along the southern shore of Lake Qinghai to Heimahe and on to Chaka, Golmud and eventually to Lhasa. There are many opportunities for picking up a ride along this road. The most interesting birding sites are the canyons west of Heimahe along Highway 109. Regrettably, my notes on these sites are incomplete and I do not have specific distances, but a true birder should not mind a little exploration. From Haimahe, Highway 109 goes west and climbs higher into the Rubber Mountains. The shrub-covered canyons are about 5 or 10 kilometers from Heimahe and a cheap motorcycle ride can get you there. The highest point of Highway 109 here is at Rubber Mountain Pass (kilometer marker 2198; 36 deg 45.310’ N, 99 deg 36.429’ E; 3817-meter elevation). A Chaka/Heimahe bound bus can drop you off there.
Although the most common bird on the open plains around the town of Heimahe is the Ground Tit, there are also several species of snowfinches and larks here. Higher up, the shrub covered canyons hold a few specialties such as White-browed Tit, White-backed Thrush, Robin Accentor, Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, Blue-fronted Redstarts, Przevalski’s Rosefinch and Ala Shan Redstart. I failed to see the Ala Shan Redstart in the three canyons I explored during the heat of the day. I had hoped to return later in my trip to specifically search further for this species. However, time did not allow it. White-winged Redstart and White-winged Snowfinch were present at Rubber Mountain Pass.
CHAKA FLATS, Qinghai Province (3400-meter elevation)
Chaka is a small desert town along Highway 109 and near Chaka Salt Lake. It can be reached by bus from Xining and has overnight accommodations and restaurants. From there, a hired taxi/motorcycle can take you to the birding areas. It can be very hot here.
The dry desert habitat here holds several specialties. The most sought-after are the Mongolian Ground-Jay and Pallas’s Sandgrouse. A pool of fresh water at kilometer marker 2238 was a good place to look for both. Other species of interest are: Desert and Isabelline Wheatears, Branford’s Snowfinch, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Mongolian and Desert Finches.
BIRDING SITES SOUTH OF XINING AND ALONG HIGHWAY 214
I found it easier to travel from Xining all the way to Nangqian and than later bird the remaining sites along highway 214 on the way back to Xining. See Sketch 2 for orientation. I will discuss these sites in the order I visited them.
NANGQIAN, Qinghai Province (3700-meter elevation)
This town, located 984 kilometers south of Xining along highway 214, can serve as a temporary base to explore several nearby birding sites. As there are no airports or railroads here, your only travel option is the highway. The road is sealed but may be in a state of reconstruction at various points. There is one daily bus from Xining that goes all the way to Nangqian. This sleeper bus ($20) leaves the long-distance bus station in Xining at 16:30 and arrives 26 hours later in Nangqian. Another option is to take one of the Xining-Yushu buses and overnight at Yushu. Then the next day take the Yushu-Nangqian bus. Nangqian is the end of all scheduled public transport. To reach points beyond or the nearby birding sites, you have to arrange your own transportation.
Nangqian, often described as “wild-west town”, stretches for about one kilometer along its main street. In the morning, pigs roam freely along the main street in search of food and most businesses do not open before 09:00. The best hotel, same as used by birding tours, is the BA MI SI FLATS. It is located in a compound on the east side of the main street, near its middle section. It has a restaurant but no indoor plumbing. A newer hotel with hot showers was being built further south on the main street. Other accommodations, restaurants and shops can be found throughout the town.
The Mekong River is on the outskirts of Nangqian. A walk along its shrub covered banks can yield a few species of interest such as: Ibisbill, White-backed Thrush and Daurian Jackdaws.
BEIZHA FOREST RESERVE, Qinghai Province (31 deg 52.967’ N; 96 deg 33.404’ E; 3900-meter elevation)
Located some 55 kilometers southeast of Nangqian. Although there is no scheduled public transport to this forest reserve, there is sporadic vehicle traffic along this road to Dou’r Monastery. If you have ample time, inquire locally at Nangqian about getting on one of the lorries that carry monks and supplies to the monastery. Otherwise, your options are rather limited: hire a ride or hitch and walk. The road near the reserve is rough and you have to wade a stream several time. As result, a 4-wheel drive vehicle or a motorcycle is best. It is also possible to hitch a ride from Nangqian along highway 214 to the road junction at kilometer 1017.5. Thereafter, leave highway 214 and take the road to the left. Follow this road up the valley, across the bridge and up the opposite slope to the next road junction. At this junction take the road to the right and stay to the right thereafter. You can walk the distance from highway 214 to the reserve in about three or four hours. Bring along a pair of cheap sandals for wading the stream. The Beizha Forest Reserve Headquarters is in a compound along the road where the road is gated.
It is unclear whether a visitor permit is necessary to this particular reserve. Everyone in Nangqian told me that no permit was necessary. With the help of a translator, I was able to locate forest officials in Nangqian who issued me an official looking piece of paper for that purpose. However, no one asked for it at the reserve and the reserve is along a public road to the Dou’r Monastery, which does not require any permits. As a rule, I would suggest that you try and get visitor permits for any of the special reserves you plan to visit in Qinghai and get them in the provincial capital city of Xining. The officials at the local offices/towns are afraid to initiate anything on their own and may tell you to go back to Xining for permits. This is especially true when they are dealing with foreigners.
If you are planning to stay at the Beizha Forest Reserve Headquarters, it might be wise to bring along a tent, sleeping bag and food for the duration. During my visit, they offered me basic accommodations ($5/night) at the headquarters. However their food is rather basic and limited. No one speaks English here. The headquarters may not be able to accommodate a large group. Another option is to spend a night at the Dou’r Monastery where there is accommodations and food. One of the rangers at the reserve headquarters had a motorcycle and could possibly be hired to drive you around or even back to Nangqian.
The primary birding area is the forest across the road/stream from the reserve headquarters and a kilometer downstream. Szecheny’s Partridge, White Eared-Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Crested Tit-Warbler and Giant Laughing-Thrush are found on these forested slopes. Tibetan Snowcocks have been reported higher in rocky areas. Tibetan Babax are found in the scrubby areas near the road above and below the reserve headquarters. This is one of the best sites for Redstarts with at least five species breading here.
For the Lammergeier, the Dou’r Monastery (4050-meter elevation) is only a 9.5 kilometers flight from the reserve headquarters. However it is about 20 kilometers if you continue beyond the forest headquarters along the winding but level road. Szecheny’s Partridge have been reported above the Monastery and Tibetan Partridges below it.
KANDA SHAN PASS, Qinghai Province (32 deg 20.422’ N; 96 deg 32.872’ E; 4340-meter elevation)
Located some 20 kilometers north of Nangqian. There should be two ways to approach the pass but I only know of the one I found. Get here any way you can, as there is no public transport here. Hiring someone with a motorcycle or 4-wheel drive vehicle is the quickest and most convenient. If you wish to arrive at the pass early in the morning, make your arrangement in Nangqian the day before. Few people get up early in Nangqian. It is also possible to get a ride north from Nangqian to the bridge over the Mekong at kilometer marker 970 and walk the remaining distance. The walk between the Bridge and the pass will take about four or five hours but you will see interesting birds along the way. Once you cross the bridge, take the dirt road that parallels the river down stream for some 5 kilometers. There you will find a road junction (32 deg 16.764’ N; 96 deg 29.072’ E) and red buildings. Take the left road that leads up and thru the canyon for some 5 kilometers. As you come out of the canyon, you will go by several permanent compounds where a motorcycle ride might be arranged back to Nangqian later. Continue to the next road junction (32 deg 18.730’ N; 96 deg 33.974’ E) and take the left road up to the Kanda Shan Pass. The other road at this junction appears to head for YI A LA Shan (5 km) where Tibetan Bunting has also been reported.
There are no accommodations or food in the pass. If you want to overnight here, bring shelter and food. During my visit, there were several nomad tents within two kilometers of the pass. If you find it necessary to spend the night here, it might be possible to stay with the nomads for a modest fee.
The special birds here are found in the pass and the scrub-covered slope above the road in the pass. This is where you should be able to find the Tibetan Bunting, Przevalski’s Rosefinch, White-tailed Rubythroat, Yellow-billed Chough and well as other more common species. Red-fronted Rosefinch has been reported here in the fall. On the way to the pass and in the canyon, you might see a Ibisbill or Tibetan Partridge.
NANGQIAN FOREST RESERVE (?), Qinghai Province
I have not visited this site nor do I know its exact location. I only mention it here because it would be remiss of me to exclude a site that is so prominently featured in other trip reports. Anyone wishing to go there should first discover its actual name. Through a translator, I spoke with Nangqian officials in two offices that oversee forest reserves and the PSB. They as well as many other locals who are in the-know-how have never heard of this reserve that is named after the town of Nangqian. In any of the three languages involved. It appears that this may be a ghost name intentionally created by a birding tour leader to mislead independent birders trying to access this public reserve. Thereafter other trip reports, written by his clients, continue to propagate this misinformation. If you plan to visit this site, I would suggest you sort all this out (including the forest permit) at the provincial forest offices in Xining.
Other trip reports suggest that this site is north of Nangqian and Kanda Shan Pass and away from the main roads. You may be able to stay in the shelter there but you need to bring your own food for the duration. This entire area is open to independent foreign travel but I would not make such a long journey without a visitor’s permit from the forest officials. The birds there seem to be similar to those found at Beizha Forest Reserve. Good luck!
BAYANKALA SHAN PASS, Qinghai Province (34 deg 7.880’ N; 97 deg 39.583’ E; 4820-meter elevation)
Located on highway 217 at kilometer marker 602. I skipped this site. One of the long-distance buses traveling along this highway can drop you off there. There is no accommodations or food there.
The Tibetan Rosefinch is the primary reason for visiting this site. However, this species can also be found at Er La Pass.
ER LA PASS, Qinghai Province (35 deg 29.867’ N; 99 deg 30.603’ E; 4500-meter elevation)
Located on highway 217 at kilometer marker 319. A long distance bus can drop you off here. There is no accommodation or food here. During my visit, however, there were several nomad tents just below the pass. In a pinch, it may be possible to get food and shelter with the nomads. This site and Bayankala Shan Pass are very remote and physically challenging. You should be well acclimated and prepared for severe weather conditions at any time of the year.
The primary birding areas are the pass, the mountain slopes and mountaintop. The mountaintop of most interest is to the left when heading toward Nangqian. A walk up its slopes should yield Tibetan Rosefinch, White-winged Snowfinch and among the rocky crags the Tibetan Snowcock. A 500-meter climb from the pass will bring you to flat top of the mountain. This flat toped mountain is the primary site for the Tibetan Sandgrouse.
GONGEHE, Qinghai Province (36 deg 14.333’ N; 100 deg 35.738’ E; 2700-meter elevation)
A desert town that is located on Highway 217 at kilometer marker 146. There is hourly bus service to and from Xining among other destinations. Numerous hotels and restaurants are found on the main street.
The birding site here is just outside of town and along highway 217. Walking south along the road, you will see several gullies at kilometer marker 149 and to the right of the road. These gullies and the slopes above hold the following possibilities: Little Whitethroat, Mongolian and Desert Finches, Streaked and Great Rosefinches, Rock Petronia and Little Owl.
29 May - Flew on Air China from Chengdu to Lhasa. Took airport bus to the city and checked into the Banak Shol Hotel by midday. Rented a mountain bike and explored the city and areas east of city. Weather - Lovely sunny and very warm day.
30 May - Explored Lhasa and points west on rented bike. Had a slight headache all day. Weather - Sunny and hot day.
31 May - No bus service to Reting Monastery today. Rented a mountain bike and explored birding possibilities along highway 318 east of Lhasa for some 30 kilometers. Weather - Sunny and hot day.
1 June - Stored luggage at hotel and took the 07:30 bus from Lhasa to Reting Monastery. Arrived at the Monastery at 16:00. Got my bearings and birded around the Monastery for rest of day. Weather - Sunny and warm all day.
2 June - Birded the cedar-covered slopes above Reting Monastery and the spree fields higher up. In the evening visited the valley upstream of the monastery. Weather - Sunny and warm all day.
3 June - Birded the slopes above Reting Monastery in morning. In afternoon explored the valley and riverbed downstream for some 10 kilometers. Weather - Overcast in morning, sunny and warm rest of day.
4 June - Took the 07:30 bus from Reting to Lhasa. After three flat tires and a very bumpy ride, arrived in Lhasa at 16:00. Checked back into my hotel. Visited numerous travel offices in Lhasa trying to arrange transport to Nam-tso. From posting on bulletin boards, I found 4 other travelers also wishing to visit Nam-tso. We hired a Toyota Landcruiser from one of the travel agencies for 1200 Yuan for the two-day journey. Weather - Sunny in morning but overcast and warm later.
5 June - The Landcruiser picked us up at 04:00 and we took off for Nam-tso. Because of road construction and travel limitations, we were not allowed to make stops along road section that goes through Largen La Pass. We arrived at Nam-tso about 09:00. For the remainder of the day, I explored the cliffs and lakeshore near the tourist facilities and the marsh at the base of the peninsula. Weather - During the previous night, it snowed throughout the higher elevations and as a result Largen La Pass and all areas higher than the lake were completely snow covered. During the day, it was sunny but windy and very cold.
6 June - In the morning, I went back to bird the goat and yak infested marsh. In the afternoon, we left Nam-tso and drove to Lhasa. Weather - The day was partly cloudy with intermittent sleet and temperatures hovered around freezing with only light wind.
7 June - Packed up, went to the Lhasa long distance station and took the 10:30 sleeper bus ($25) for Golmud. On the road for the rest of the day and night. Weather - Day was partly overcast and warm but it snowed/sleeted at night.
8 June - Arrived in Golmud at dawn and took a cab to Golmud train station. Only to learn that I just missed the morning Xining bound train. As the next train for Xining was not till 18:30, I walked around this desert town trying to find some birdable habitat but had no success. Took the evening train to Xining. Weather - Sunny and very hot day.
9 June - Arrived early morning in Xining and checked in at the Hong Guang Hotel. Remainder of the morning, I climbed around on the slopes of the Bei Shan Mountain behind the railroad station. By early afternoon, I returned to hotel to find an interpreter to help me make arrangements. In the late afternoon, I returned to Bei Shan but fail to find the two partridge species. Weather - Today was sunny and hot all day.
10 June - With the help of the interpreter, I used public transport to travel north of Xining to Nan Men Xia. There I birded the forested slopes for the remainder of the day. We returned to Xining by late evening and made arrangements for an all day taxi rental for the next two days. Weather - The morning and midday were sunny and hot. It rained locally for about 1 hour in the afternoon.
11 June - Taxi driver picked me up at 05:00 and we headed for Qinghai Lake and Bird Island. We made numerous birding stops alone highway 109. At Hemeihe, I discovered that the road leading to Bird Island is barricaded and guarded and that no one is allowed to enter because of the bird flu epidemic there. We instead proceed into the Rubber Mountains, visiting promising birding sites and by late afternoon we reached the scorching desert town of Chaka. For the remainder of day I birded around Chaka but fail to find Pallas’s Sandgrouse. Weather - The day was sunny and warm and especially hot at Chaka.
12 June - From dawn untill 10:00, I birded around the water hole at kilometer marker 2238, just outside Chaka. The Pallas’s Sandgrouse do not start to flyby until after 09:30. We than drove back toward Xining, making birding stops at various promising points. By 20:00 we are back at Xining. Weather - The day was sunny with Chaka very hot and other areas less so.
13 June – The morning I spent birding on Bei Shan and found both species of partridges. In the afternoon, I along with interpreter visited various officials and tourist agencies in Xining trying to get forest reserve information and permits. Everyone told me that none were needed and that I was free to travel around freely throughout most of the province. Weather - Today was sunny and hot all day.
14 June – The 06:15 bus from the train station plaza carries me to Datong. A two-hour climb up the steep, endless steps brings me to the summit of Laoye Shan. It is already late morning, very hot and I find few birds there. I descend by way of the back road and return to Xining by mid afternoon. After storing my luggage at the hotel, I take the 16:30 sleeper bus for Nangqian. Weather - Today was sunny and hot.
15 June - All day bus ride south to Nangqian that included a two-hour stopover at Yushu. After finding a hotel, I was fortunate enough to find someone who spoke excellent English, Tibetan and Chinese and agreed to serve as my interpreter tomorrow. Weather - Today was sunny and warm.
16 June - For several hours in the morning, I explored the shrub covered Mekong River banks outside Nangqian. Then with the interpreter, we visited numerous officials as well as local organizers in Nangqian to try and get information/permits to the forest reserves in the area. A hired motorcycle dropped me off at Beizha Forest Reserve Headquarters in the late afternoon. I made arrangements to stay at the reserve headquaters. They provided a room and a mattress and I used my own sleeping bag. Only after my ride departed, did I realize that the food I brought with me was still in the luggage compartment of his motorcycle. The food at the station was limited to flat bread and Yak cheese and that served as a filling dinner for next few days. For the rest of the day I birded the road near the forest HQ. Weather - The day was partly sunny and warm around Nangqian. At Beizha Hq it was overcast in the afternoon and it rained in the evening and at night.
17 June – Birded the slopes and forest above the Beizha Forest Reserve HQ. Weather - The morning was cold with a slight drizzle, midday was sunny and warm and it rained in the evening and at night.
18 June – Walked for some 40 kilometers and birded along the road from the reserve headquarters to the Dou’r Monastery and back. Weather - Morning was overcast and cold, midday sunny but cool and it rained in the evening and night.
19 June - Birded the slopes and forest above Beizha Forest Reserve Hq. Weather - With the exception of a two-hour period in the afternoon, it rained, drizzled or sleeted all day. Today’s high temperature was about 10 deg. C.
20 June - Packed up and started the walk back to Highway 214. During the five-hour leisurely walk, numerous rides were offered to me on motorcycles, a 4WD vehicle and even a horse. Birded for some time around the Black-lipped Pika colony and the slopes along Highway 214. Eventually, picked up a ride to Nangqian on a vehicle and arrived there in late afternoon. Weather - It was warm and partly cloudy most of day. It only rained for about one hour in the early afternoon.
21 June - Hired a motorcycle to take me to Kanda Shan Pass. Halfway there, it became clear that the driver did not know how to get there. With additional rides on a lorry and two other motorcycles, I reached the Kanda Shan by about 10:00. Birded Kanda Shan Pass and the shrub covered slopes above the pass for five hours. Then I walked down and birded back to the bridge crossing at kilometer marker 970, where I picked up a ride back to Nangqian. Weather - It was sunny and warm all day.
22 June - Went to Nangqian bus station to pick up the Xining bound bus. There I found out that for some unclear reason, I could not buy a ticket for Xining. Instead I was only able to get on a Yushu bound bus. A landslide blocking the road delayed our arrival in Yushu by some five hours. In Yushu the bus station was full of hundreds and hundreds of individuals trying desperately to arrange transportation. Everything was fully booked for days. It turned out that I was trying to leave the area during a Tibetan gold rush. It was not gold but a “grass worm” that brought hordes of people into the region to search for this seasonal Chinese traditional medicine. Spent the night in Yushu. Weather - It was sunny and warm until early evening, when it rained.
23 June - Arrived at bus station at 05:00 and found it packed like sardines with people trying to buy tickets on buses that were already fully booked for days ahead. An all day vigil at the bus station finally produced results in the evening. They put on 6 additional buses for Xining and I was able to buy an overpriced seat on one. Because of this bus situation, I decided to forgo a stop at Bayankala Pass. Weather - It was cool and it rained all morning and early afternoon. Thereafter the skies were heavily overcast.
24 June - The Xining bound bus dropped me off at Er La Pass about one hour before dawn. I birded the slopes and climbed to the mountain summit. I searched the flat top mountain for some four hours in hopes of seeing the Tibetan Sandgrouse but the weather made it fruitless. The only bird I saw during those four hours was a lone Lammergerier As the weather was getting worse and could possibly remain bad for days, I decided to write off the Sandgrouse and move on. A lift in a police car and in a bus got me to Gonghe by late afternoon. After checking into a hotel, I birded the gullies south of town in the evening. Weather - In Er La Pass, the weather deteriorated quickly from heavy overcast to foggy, windy and horizontal sleet. The temperature was below freezing and the biting wind made it disagreeable episode. At Gonghe, it was sunny and hot.
25 June - Birded the gullies south of Gonghe in the morning. Took the afternoon bus to Xining. Went to the Xining train station and bought a train ticket for Beijing on June 27. Weather - It was sunny and hot all day.
26 June - Took the morning bus to Datong and hired a motorcycle to take me up the back road to Laoye Shan. Bird the top and back of mountain till the afternoon. Returned back to Xining by late afternoon. Weather - It was sunny and hot all day.
27 June - Took the 11:30 train from Xining to Beijing.
28 June - Arrive Beijing at 12:30.
This list contains only the species that were observed or heard by me. Taxonomy & nomenclature follows Clements, J. F. (2000) Birds of the World: A Checklist and all subsequent revisions as updated in its web page: http://www.ibispub.com
Great Crested Grebe, Podiceps cristatus
8 on 5/6 and 70 on 6/6 at Nam-tso, many on nests
Chinese Pond-Heron, Ardeola bacchus
1 near Nangqian on 16/6
Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
1 near Dou’r Monastery on 18/6
Bar-headed Goose, Anser indicus
10 on 5/6 and 40 on 6/6 at Nam-tso; 40 on 11/6 and 30 on 12/6 at marshy area south of Koko Nor along Highway 109.
Ruddy Shelduck, Tadorna ferruginea
Common on rivers and lakes at high elevation
Eurasian Wigeon, Anas Penelope
3 at Nam-tso on 6/6
Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
20 on 30/5 and 4 on 31/5 at Lhasa marshes
Red-crested Pochard, Netta rufina
15 at Nam-tso on 6/6
Tufted Duck, Aythya fuligula
4 at Nam-tso on 6/6
Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
Common on large rivers such as Lhasa River and below Reting Monastery
Black Kite, Milvus migrans
Common at Reting Monastery with 7 on 2/6; singles along roadside near Nangqian; 1 at Chaka flats on 12/6
Lammergeier, Gypaetus barbatus
1 at Reting on 2/6; 1 at Nam-tso on 5/6; 1 along road on 7/6; 5 at Rubber Mt. on 11/6; recorded daily at Beizha with max of 4 on 18/6; 4 at Kanda Shan Pass on 21/6; 1 at Er La Pass on 24/6
Himalayan Griffon, Gyps himalayensis
Common in mountain areas, max count of 40 at a Reting ritual on 2/6.
Upland Buzzard, Buteo hemilasius
Common on the high open plains and especially so around Pika colonies.
Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos
1 at Reting on 3/6; 2 on 16/6, 1 on 18/6 and 19/6 at Beizha; 1 at Kanda Shan 21/6
Eurasian Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus
1 at Reting on 2/6; 1 at Nam tso on 5/6; 1 at Kanda Shan 21/6; 2 on 24/6 and 1 on 25/6 at Gonghe.
Saker Falcon, Falco cherrug
1 at Nam-tso on 6/6; 1 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 1 near Beizha on 20/6; 2 near Kanda Shan on 21/6. Look for this species around Black-lipped Pika colonies.
Tibetan Snowcock, Tetraogallus tibetanus
Only head on the mist shrouded slopes above Er La Pass on 24/6.
Szechenyi's Partridge, Tetraophasis szechenyii
4 on 17/6 and 9 on 19/6 at Beizha forest.
Przevalski's Partridge, Alectoris magna
A pair at Bei Shan on 13/6. I saw this and the following species at following location – 36 deg 38.803’ N; 101 deg 48.993’ E at an elevation of 2650-meter.
Daurian Partridge, Perdix dauurica
5 at Bei Shan on 13/6
Tibetan Partridge, Perdix hodgsoniae
2 near Beizha on 20/6, 9 on way to/from Kanda Shan Pass on 21/6.
White (Tibetan) Eared-Pheasant, Crossoptilon crossoptilon harmani
9 on 2/6 and 8 on 3/6 above Reting Monastery. Clements does not treat this race as a full species.
White Eared-Pheasant, Crossoptilon crossoptilon
8 on 17/6, 3 on 18/6 and 2 on 19/6 all at Beizha forest.
Ring-necked (Common) Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
4 on 9/6 and 5 on 13/6 at Bei Shan; 5 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 2 at Laoye Shan on 14/6.
Black-necked Crane, Grus nigricollis
A flyby of 10 on 5/6 in a marsh near Damxung; 2 on 12/6 at a marsh at km 2068 along highway 109.
Eurasian Coot, Fulica atra
4 in Lhasa marsh on 30/5; 5 on 5/6 and on 6/6 at Nam-tso.
Ibisbill, Ibidorhyncha struthersii
2 on 29/5 and 3 on 31/5 near Lhasa; 4 below Reting on 3/6; 1 outside of Nangqian on 16/6; 1 on way to Kanda Shan on 21/6.
Lesser Sandplover, Charadrius mongolus
6 on 5/6 and 3 on 6/6 at Nam-tso.
Common Redshank, Tringa tetanus
10 on 30/5 and 1 on 31/5 at Lhasa; 3 on 5/6 and 6/6 at Nam-tso; 1 at Chaka flats on 11/6; 2 at Gonghe on 25/6.
Great Black-headed Gull, Larus ichthyaetus
8 on 5/6 and 2 on 6/6 at Nam-tso; 10 along highway 109 on 11/6.
Brown-headed Gull, Larus brunnicephalus
Common on the Lhasa River and at Nam-tso.
Gull-billed Tern, Sterna nilotica
2 near Lhasa on 29/5.
Whiskered Tern, Chlidonias hybridus
5 at Nam-tso on 6/6.
Pallas's Sandgrouse, Syrrhaptes paradoxus
7 at km 2238 outside Chaka on 12/6. First flyby after 09:30.
Rock Pigeon, Columba livia
Common in large cities such as Lhasa, Golmud and Xining.
Hill Pigeon, Columba rupestris
Snow Pigeon, Columba leuconota
9 at Reting on 3/6; 6 at Beizha on 17/6; 20 at Kanda Shan 21/6.
Oriental Turtle-Dove, Streptopelia orientalis
4 at Lhasa on 31/5; 4 on 2/6 and 2 on 3/6 at Reting
Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Cuculus sparverioides
Heard only at Laoye Shan
Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus
Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Bubo bubo
2 at Bei Shan on 9/6.
Little Owl, Athene noctua
1 on 9/6 and 2 on 13/6 at Bei Shan; 1 near Heimahe on 12/6; 1 along the way to Beizha on 20/6; 1 on 24/6 and 25/6 at Gonghe.
Common Swift, Apus apus
30 on 9/6 and 20 on 13/6 at Bei Shan; 2 on 11/6 and on 12/6 at Chaka flats; 20 at Gonghe on 25/6.
Fork-tailed Swift, Apus pacificus
20 at Lhasa on 30/5; 6 at Reting on 3/6; 6 on 14/6 and 10 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan; 10 at Beizha on 17/6.
Eurasian Hoopoe, Upupa epops
Common around Lhasa, Reting, Nangqian and Gonghe.
Gray-faced Woodpecker, Picus canus
1 at Reting Monastery on 1/6.
Tibetan Lark, Melanocorypha maxima
2 on 5/6 and 20 on 6/6 at Nam-tso; 1 south of Koko Nor on 12/6
Greater Short-toed Lark, Calandrella brachydactyla
Common to Abundant in suitable habitat.
Lesser(Asian) Short-toed Lark, Calandrella rufescens cheleensis
2 at Chaka flats. Clements has recently lumped Asian Short-toed Lark into this species.
Oriental Skylark, Alauda gulgula
Common to abundant in agricultural areas throughout.
Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris
Common to abundant in open areas.
Pale Sand Martin, Riparia diluta
5 on 29/5 and 30 on 31/5 at Lhasa; 3 at Nam-tso on 6/6; 7 on 11/6 and 5 on 12/6 at Rubber Mt. Pass.
Eurasian Crag-Martin, Ptyonoprogne rupestris
Common around Lhasa cliffs; 2 at Reting on 3/6; 5 at Bei Shan 9/6; 2 at Beizha on 18/6; 1 at Gonghe at 25/6.
Red-rumped Swallow, Cecropis daurica
3 at Yushu on 22/6.
Asian Martin, Delichon dasypus
50 on 18/6 and 5 on 19/6 at Beizha.
White Wagtail, Motacilla alba
Common throughout especially near human habitation.
Citrine Wagtail, Motacilla citreola
2 at Chaka flats on 11/6; 2 on the way to Beizha on 20/6; 2 at Gonghe on 25/6.
Olive-backed Pipit, Anthus hodgsoni
2 on 17/6 and 1 on 19/6 at Beizha; 1 at Kanda Shan on 21/6.
Rosy Pipit, Anthus roseatus
1 near Rubber Mt. Pass on 11/6.
Goldcrest, Regulus regulus
1 between Beizha and Dou’r Monastery on 18/6.
White-throated Dipper, Cinclus cinclus
1 near Largen La Pass on 6/6; 2 between Beizha and Dou’r Monastery on 18/6.
Winter Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes
4 between Beizha and Dou’r Monastery on 18/6.
Robin Accentor, Prunella rubeculoides
7 on 5/6 and 5 on 6/6 at Nam-tso; 3 at Rubber Mt on 11/6.
Rufous-breasted Accentor, Prunella strophiata
2 at Reting on 2/6; 1 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 2 at Beizha on 19/6; 2 at Kanda Shan on 21/6; 1 at Laoye Shan on 26/6.
Brown Accentor, Prunella fulvescens
1 on 30/5 and 4 on 31/5 near Lhasa; 10 on 5/6 and 6/6 at Nam-tso; 3 at Bei Shan on 9/6; 5 at Kanda Shan on 21/6; 1 on 24/6 and 2 on 25/6 at Gonghe.
Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush, Monticola saxatilis
2 on 24/6 and 1 on 25/6 at Gonghe
Blue Rock-Thrush, Monticola solitarius
A pair near Lhasa on 30/5.
Eurasian Blackbird, Turdus merula
3 near Lhasa on 31/6; 1 on 1/6, 3 on 2/6 and 4 on 3/6 at Reting.
Chestnut Thrush, Turdus rubrocanus
2 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 8 at Laoye Shan on 26/6.
White-backed Thrush, Turdus kessleri
3 at Rubber Mt gullies on 11/6; 2 outside of Nangqian on 16/6; seen daily at Beizha with max of 10 on 20/6; 10 on the way to Kanda Shan Pass on 21/6.
White-browed Tit-Warbler, Leptopoecile sophiae
1 on 1/6 and on 2/6 at Reting; 1 on 14/6 and 5 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan; 10 on 17/6 and 19/6 at Beizha; 1 at Kanda Shan on 21/6.
Crested Tit-Warbler, Leptopoecile elegans
2 at Beizha forest on 17/6.
Tickell's Leaf-Warbler, Phylloscopus affinis
2 on 2/6 and 3 on 3/6 at Reting; 1 at Rubber Mt gullies on 11/6; 3 at Beizha on 17/6; 6 at Kanda Shan on 21/6.
Yellow-streaked Warbler, Phylloscopus armandii
4 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 8 on 14/6 and 20 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan; 1 on 18/6 and 19/6 at Beizha.
Buff-barred Warbler, Phylloscopus pulcher
3 between Beizha and Dou’r Monastery on 18/6.
Lemon-rumped Warbler, Phylloscopus proregulus
3 between Beizha and Dou’r Monastery on 18/6.
Gansu Leaf-Warbler, Phylloscopus kansuensis
4 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 1 on 14/6 and 2 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan.
Hume's Warbler, Phylloscopus humei
6 at Nam Men Xia on 10/6; 2 on 14/6 and 5 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan.
Greenish Warbler, Phylloscopus trochiloides
5 at Nam Men Xia on 10/6; 2 on 14/6 and 26/6 at Laoye Shan; common at Beizha.
Small Whitethroat, Sylvia minula
2 on 24/6 and 4 on 25/6 at Gonghe.
Siberian Flycatcher, Muscicapa sibirica
2 between Beizha and Dou’r Monastery on 18/6.
Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Ficedula hodgsonii
2 on 17/6, 2 on 18/6 and 1 on 19/6 at Beizha.
Siberian Rubythroat, Luscinia calliope
1 on 14/6 and 6 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan.
White-tailed Rubythroat, Luscinia pectoralis
3 in the shrub covered slope above Kanda Shan Pass on 21/6.
Black Redstart, Phoenicurus ochruros
Common in suitable habitat throughout.
Hodgson's Redstart, Phoenicurus hodgsoni
1 near Lhasa on 29/5; recorded daily at Reting with max of 4; seen daily at Beizha with max of 4; 2 at Kanda Shan on 21/6.
White-throated Redstart, Phoenicurus schisticeps
4 on 2/6 and 1 on 3/6 at Reting; 2 on 14/6 and 1 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan; recorded daily at Beizha with a max of 8 on 18/6.
White-winged Redstart, Phoenicurus erythrogaster
1 on 11/6 and on 12/6 at Rubber Mt Pass.
Blue-fronted Redstart, Phoenicurus frontalis
1 at Rubber Mt gullies on 11/6; recorded daily at Beizha with max of 5 on 17/6; 2 at Kanda Shan on 21/6.
White-capped Redstart, Chaimarrornis leucocephalus
1 in stream below Laoye Shan on 14/6; recorded daily at Beizha with max of 3 on 18/3; 1 on way to Kanda Shan on 21/6
Plumbeous Redstart, Rhyacornis fuliginosus
1 by stream below Laoye Shan on 14/6.
Siberian Stonechat, Saxicola maura
1 at Rubber Mts on 11/6; 1 by roadside south of Yushu on 15/6.
Pied Wheatear, Oenanthe pleschanka
2 on 9/6 and 13/6 at Bei Shan,
Desert Wheatear, Oenanthe deserti
1 on 11/6 and 2 on 12/6 at Chaka flats,
Isabelline Wheatear, Oenanthe isabellina
10 on 11/6 and 5 on 12/6 at Chaka flats; 10 near Heimahe on 12/6; 1 on 24/6 and 2 on 25/6 at Gonghe.
Pere David's Laughingthrush, Garrulax davidi
2 at Laoye Shan on 26/6.
Giant Laughingthrush, Garrulax maximus
7 on 17/6, 6 on 18/6 and 2 on 19/6 at Beizha forest.
Elliot's Laughingthrush, Garrulax elliotii
4 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 6 on 14/6 and 3 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan; recorded daily at Beizha with a max of 9 on 18/6.
Prince Henry's Laughingthrush, Garrulax henrici
5 on 2/6 and 6 on 3/6 at Reting; 1 along road back to Lhasa on 4/6.
Giant Babax, Babax waddelli
15 on 1/6, 10 on 2/6 and 12 on 3/6 at Reting; 1 along road back to Lhasa on 4/6.
Tibetan Babax, Babax koslowi
4 on 16/6, 8 on 17/6, 2 on 18/6 and 3 on 19/6 all at Beizha.
Songar Tit, Poecile songara
2 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 2 on 14/6 and 3 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan; 1 on 16/6, 8 on 18/6 and 3 on 19/6 at Beizha.
White-browed Tit, Poecile superciliosa
1 carrying food at Rubber Mt gullies on 11/6.
Rufous-vented Tit, Periparus rubidiventris
2 at Nam Men Xia on 10/6; 1 on 17/6, 2 on 18/6 and 3 on 19/6 at Beizha.
Gray-crested Tit, Lophophanes dichrous
1 on 18/6 and 19/6 at Beizha.
Great Tit, Parus major
4 on 1/6, 5 on 2/6 and 3 on 3/6 at Reting; 3 on 14/6 and 1 on 26/6 at Laoye Shan.
Ground Tit, Pseudopodoces humilis
Common to abundant in suitable habitat.
Snowy-browed Nuthatch, Sitta villosa
1 collecting food at Laoye Shan on 26/6.
Wallcreeper, Tichodroma muraria
1 on 30/5 and on 31/5 near Lhasa; 1 near Reting on 3/6.
Eurasian Treecreeper, Certhia familiaris
1 at Reting on 2/6.
Gray-backed Shrike, Lanius tephronotus
Common throughout with a max count of 15 around Lhasa on 31/6.
Eurasian Magpie, Pica pica
Mongolian Ground-Jay, Podoces hendersoni
2 on 11/6 about 1 kilometer west of Chaka along kwy 109; 3 on 12/6 near the fresh water pool at km 2238 on hwy 109.
Red-billed Chough, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Daurian Jackdaw, Corvus dauuricus
Recorded singles or pairs around Xining and south of Koko Nor; 3 outside Nangqian on 16/6; recorded daily at Beizha with a max of 10 on 19/6; 5 at Kanda Shan on 21/6.
Common Raven, Corvus corax
1 at Reting on 3/6; 3 on 5/6 and 2 on 6/6 at Nam-tso; 4 along roadside near Damxung on 7/6.
Russet Sparrow, Passer rutilans
5 near Lhasa on 29/5; 2 at Reting on 3/6.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus
Common around human habitation.
Rock Petronia, Petronia petronia
2 on 24/6 and 4 on 25/6 at Gonghe
White-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla nivalis
1 at Rubber Mt Pass on 12/6; 20 at Er La Pass on 24/6.
Black-winged Snowfinch, Montifringilla adamsi
1 near Lhasa on 31/6; 20 on 5/6 and 10 on 6/6 at Nam-tso; 1 on 11/6 and 12/6 below Rubber Mt Pass.
White-rumped Snowfinch, Montifringilla taczanowskii
4 at roadside south of Damxung on 6/6; 30 at pika colony on way to Beizha on 20/6.
Pere David's Snowfinch, Montifringilla davidiana
2 near Heimahe on 12/6.
Rufous-necked Snowfinch, Montifringilla ruficollis
5 below Rubber Mt Pass on 11/6; 3 at pika colony on way to Beizha on 20/6; 2 at Er La Pass on 24/6.
Blanford's Snowfinch, Montifringilla blanfordi
16 on 5/6 and 10 on 6/6 at Nam-tso; 4 at Chaka flats on 12/6.
Plain Mountain-Finch, Leucosticte nemoricola
3 on 11/6 and 12/6 below Rubber Mt Pass.
Black-headed Mountain-Finch, Leucosticte brandti
3 on 5/6 and 6 on 6/6 at Nam-tso; 5 at Er La Pass on 24/6.
Beautiful Rosefinch, Carpodacus pulcherrimus
4 on 2/6 and 5 on 3/6 at Reting; 5 at Rubber Mt gullies on 11/6; 3 at Beizha on 18/6.
Pink-rumped Rosefinch, Carpodacus eos
8 on 18/6 and 2 on 20/6 at Beizha; 2 at Kanda Shan on 21/6.
Pale Rosefinch, Carpodacus synoicus
7 on Bei Shan on 9/6.
White-browed Rosefinch, Carpodacus thura
2 at Reting on 2/6; 7 on 17/6, 10 on 18/6 and 19/6 at Beizha.
Tibetan Rosefinch, Carpodacus roborowskii
9 at Er La Pass on 24/6.
Oriental Greenfinch, Carduelis sinica
10 at Nan Men Xia on 10/6; 2 at Laoye Shan on 14/6; 2 on 24/6 and 25/6 at Gonghe.
Twite, Carduelis flavirostris
3 on 30/5 and 15 on 31/5 at Lhasa; 25 at Reting on 3/6; 10 at Bei Shan on 9/6; 3 on 11/6 and 5 on 12/6 near Chaka; 20 near Heimahe on 12/6; 2 at Gonghe on 25/6.
Gray-headed Bullfinch, Pyrrhula erythaca
1 between Beizha and Dou’r Monastery on 18/6; 2 at Laoye Shan on 26/6.
White-winged Grosbeak, Mycerobas carnipes
10 on 1/6, 20 on 2/6 and 15 on 3/6 at Reting; 2 on 17/6 and on 19/6 at Beizha; 1 at Laoye Shan on 26/6.
Mongolian Finch, Rhodopechys mongolica
3 on 24/6 and 25 on 25/6 at Gonghe.
Przewalski's Rosefinch, Urocynchramus pylzowi
A pair in the shrub above Kanda Shan Pass on 21/6.
Tibetan Bunting, Emberiza koslowi
A pair at Kanda Shan Pass on 21/6.
Godlewski's Bunting, Emberiza godlewskii
Recorded in small number daily near Lhasa, at Reting, Bei Shan, Beizha and Kanda Shan.
Meadow Bunting, Emberiza cioides
2 on 9/6 and 5 on 13/6 at Bei Shan
Black-faced Bunting, Emberiza spodocephala
2 on 24/6 and 1 on 25/6 at Gonghe.
THE LAST WORD
In this report, I have tried to supply enough information so that independent birders can find and bird these Tibetan sites and have an idea what to expect there. I tried not to dwell on details, as I believe that some exploration and personal discoveries are as important a part of birding as the actual twitch/tick. I hope that this report contains enough information to make your own visit to the Tibetan Plateau a rewarding experience.
If you find this trip report lacking in some way and have suggestions as to how to make improvements, I would like your input. Likewise should you have specific questions on this matter, you can contact me at my e-mail address – email@example.com. However as I travel for extended periods of time, do not expect immediate replies.
And finally a word of warning about certain foreign resident birders in China trying to monopolize the area for financial reasons. I remember an early time when information was shared freely among the birding community – whether independent birder, tour leader or professional ornithologist. More and more now, information seems to flow toward the money. Many tour leaders are eager to hear your information but reluctant to share theirs. While trying to obtain site information for this trip, I contacted a number of trip report authors for specifics. Many told me that they could not discuss site information because the particular tour leader would never forgive them and they depended on him in the future. This particular tour leader, who responded to my general RFI, flatly told me that it was not possible for independent birders to visit Tibet. He misrepresented the entire situation greatly in his favor and even portrayed me as a potential lawbreaker. This report proves that independent birders can bird Tibet and no laws were broken. The moral is simple. If someone, who has financial interests, offers you information/advise, take it with a grain of salt. Especially so if his initials are J. H. Forgive me for my ramblings but I don’t consider birding to be a business but a pleasure.