Tour Reports
Reports By Years: 2016
2016 26 Sep to 19 Oct by Rockjumper Tibet and Beidaihe

Trip report compiled by Tour Leader: Rich Lindie

Tour Summary Since everyone in the group had arranged to arrive at least a full day early, we decided not to waste the opportunity to do a little bonus birding in Chengdu. Not wanting to overdo it, however, we decided upon a late breakfast, followed by a stroll around Huan Hua Xi Park. The very well-maintained and tranquil gardens are crisscrossed by a wealth of pathways, waterways and bridges, making it the perfect place for a relaxed birding session. Indeed, we ended up spending our entire day there, seeing not only our main target - Ashy-throated Parrotbill, but also a great selection of other birds, including several we would not see again on the trip - Vinous-throated Parrotbills, Red-billed and Whitecheeked Starlings, a flock of Swhinhoe's Minivets, Blyth's Leaf Warblers, Oriental Magpie-Robins, countless White-browed Laughingthrushes, Taiga Flycatchers, Red-billed Leiothrix, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Chinese Blackbird and Rufous-capped Babbler all putting in appearances. In between our sessions in the park, we also enjoyed a scrumptious lunch and several interesting encounters with park-going locals. On day two of our adventure, we once again enjoyed a lie in, this time due to the scheduled time of our flight to Lhasa, though the day did not pass without birding. A few stops between the Lhasa airport and our hotel produced Ruddy Shelduck, Citrine Wagtail, Japanese Tit and both Pallas's and Brown-headed Gulls, followed by a stroll around our hotel gardens which added Grey-backed Shrike, Tibetan Blackbird, Oriental Turtle Dove and a handful of Hill Pigeons to the trip list. Dinner included Yak meat in several forms. We spent our first full day in Lhasa strolling around the various cultural sights in and around the town itself. This not only allowed us to acclimate a little further before embarking on more strenuous birding activities, it also provided us with an early introduction to Tibetan life and the significance of Lhasa within the greater region that we would be traveling through for the next couple of weeks. We started the day with a walk around the luscious grounds of the Summer Palace, exploring the full variety of architectural and historical wonders that the fairly large complex has to offer. In addition to the colorful sights, of course, we grabbed a few new birds here and there, including our first Browncheeked and Plain Laughingthrushes and several Tickell's Leaf Warblers, before retiring to a busy lunch spot in the center of the market town, followed by a break at our hotel during the early part of the afternoon. We then moved on to take in the views of the very impressive Potala Palace before wandering several bustling but fascinating alleyways to the Jokhang Temple for a final delve into the region's troubled yet fascinating history. Our Tibetan birding adventure began in earnest on our second day in Lhasa, with a full day's birding in the valleys below the Xiongshe Nunnery. The day began with a little rain but that did nothing to mar our enthusiasm nor our success, and it wasn't long before we had laid eyes on such great birds as Tibetan Partridge, Tibetan Snowcock, Great Rosefinch and Streaked Rosefinch (all of which showed very well). A short while later, and a little further up the hill from our first birding stop, we then laid eyes on a group of 14 fabulous Tibetan Eared Pheasants, right beside the road. Around the nunnery itself, we rapidly got onto some confiding Giant Babax, some more Tibetan Eared Pheasants and a White-winged Grosbeak. Then it was on to a local tea house for a taste of that most famous of Tibetan drinks - Yak butter tea, followed by a spiced-up bowl of Yak and noodles. Swinging by the beautiful interior of the nunnery itself, some of the group caught up with us as we birded along the road below, finding little of interest in the relative heat of the day. Then, back down at our first stop, we hit the jackpot with several species, including Hodgson's and White-throated Redstarts, White-browed Tit-Warbler and Pink-rumped Rosefinch! For dinner, we abandoned Tibetan dishes for a much more flavorful selection of Chinese dishes, for what was undoubtedly the best meal to date at that point!

RBL China – Best of Trip Report 2016 3 Some of us walked around town for our final morning in Lhasa, in a vain attempt to find Derbyan Parakeets. We then gathered as a group and made the multi-step journey to Xining for the main tour, very much satisfied with our birding and cultural exploits in Lhasa but excited for the next leg. We began the following day with an early morning departure, followed by a brief roadside stop for noodles, and then a drive up into the cold forests of Dongxia. There, we spent the entire morning wandering a short section of track, finding all of our target birds and more. First of the main targets to fall was a Gansu Leaf Warbler that showed and sang beautifully, followed shortly by Chestnut Thrush, Chinese White-browed Rosefinch, Elliot's Laughingthrush, Rufous-vented Tit, Hodgson's Treecreeper, and then our second major target - Chinese Nuthatch. It didn't take long for us to find our final major target thereafter, with a stellar (albeit fairly brief) appearance from a Przevalski's Nuthatch. A well-deserved lunch in town came next, before we embarked on a slow journey east, to 12 Corner Pass. Initially quite daunted with the task of tracking down our main quarry in such an expanse of steep mountainsides (and surrounded by National Day celebrators by the hundred), a call from our local guide soon calmed our fears, only to see us arrive on site too late and in a sleet storm! A few anxious moments once again ensued but it wasn't long until they were relocated for all to enjoy - all seven in one small fruiting bush! The drive down the hill to our hotel then provided us with some insight into just how far some Chinese brides will go to get that perfect shot. Our full day in the Huzhu Beishan area had its fair share of ups and downs - seeing us traverse two steep valleys, and a few small streams, to boot. Unfortunately, our efforts were mostly unrewarded with no sight nor sound of either Chinese Grouse or Chestnut-throated Partridge. We didn't choke completely, however, grabbing a few looks at Grey-headed Bullfinch and Grey Crested Tit for good measure.

Ashy-thoated Parrotbil by Merilyn Browne

RBL China – Best of Trip Report 2016 4 Success at last - not just one but at least two Chinese Grouse! That's the story of our final morning in the Huzhu Beishan area. Unfortunately, things went a little downhill thereafter. That is, when we

were actually able to move downhill - plagued by traffic jams, the mountain passes around Huzhu Beishan and the shore-side roads of Koko Nor were nothing short of a nightmare. Then, to top it all off, we arrived in Heimahe with no empty beds left in our hotel! Thankfully, it didn't take too long to find ourselves another, along with a place to eat, right around the corner. On the birding front, we did however manage to see more than just the grouse in the end, securing great views of three species of snowfinch (Pere David's, White-rumped and Rufous-necked), a pair of Black-necked Crane and several of that feathered little icon of the plateau, Ground Tit! Not bad for a day spent mostly inside the van! Although traffic wasn't a major issue on our second day on the plateau, the day did end up being quite arduous. Firstly, we had to cover quite a bit of steep ground in search of Przevalski's Finch, and secondly, we found ourselves having to walk pretty far to get to the shores of Lake Koko Nor. Maybe it wasn't that far but on both occasions, the strong icy winds made every steep feel that much harder. Nevertheless, the finch we did see, and exceptionally well at that! A new family for everyone in the group, perhaps the main target for just about everyone in the group, and a great little bird to boot. On the lake shore, more than a few Tibetan Larks were reward for our effort, whilst three more Blacknecked Cranes and a handful of other wetland birds were nice to see. Post our tramping sessions, we made our way directly to Chaka, where a short afternoon rest preceded a walk around some of the nearby salt plains for Mongolian Lark. For some, our fist morning in the Chaka area held more arduous treks in store, while others were able to enjoy a more leisurely day than before. All together before the split, however, we all enjoyed prolonged views of a very vocal and cooperative covey of Przevalski's Partridges and a small flock of Pine Buntings for better measure. The combined sightings list for after the split included Przevalski's Redstart, Bearded Vulture (a magnificent perched adult), Chinese Grey Shrike and Eurasian Sparrowhawk. A short lunch, followed by a well-deserved break then saw us back in the

Ground Tit by Rich Lindie

RBL China – Best of Trip Report 2016 5 salt plains where we finally picked up Henderson's Ground Jay but had to settle for a lone Blandford's Snowfinch instead of hoped-for Pallas's Sandgrouse. Despite high spirits that evening, we weren't tempted to join the karaoke in our hotel restaurant, instead opting for a private room for relative peace and quiet! Once again we 'humped it' up another valley the following morning. Our target: another classy bird named after Przevalski - this time a redstart. In fact, with that in the bag not long after our arrival, we had secured great views of all the birds named after the Russian explorer himself, barring one - a parrotbill found primarily in Sichuan. Thereafter, we strolled further up into the juniper-clad valley, admiring a posing Himalayan Marmot, our second handsome Bearded Vulture, a couple of Redthroated Thrushes and several Himalayan Vultures. On the way back down the valley, however, the redstarts really stole the show - several very smart males were hunting actively in one small gully, often perching in the same or nearby trees, offering incredible views and photographic opportunities - a fitting performance from the morning's star bird. The drive back to Chaka produced only distant views of an unidentifiable Gazelle but that detracted none from the spectacular scenery and wonderfully traffic-less roads! Our afternoon began as all our previous ones in the Chaka area though our long marches through the plains would come to a much more rewarding end. To tee things off, we finally tracked down some smart adult Blanford's Snowfinches that cooperated very nicely. Then, our main quarry and the source of a great deal of effort and anxiety, Pallas's Sandgrouse FINALLY put in an appearance - flying low over our heads as we were admiring yet more Blanford's Snowfinches. Unfortunately, not everyone saw the sandgrouse so celebrations were halted and we anxiously made our way back to the bus to wait until the last moments of daylight. Just as we were distracted by another catch-up - a trio of Rock Sparrows (seen coming into roost in an abandoned building nearby) - a large flock of sandgrouse were spotted cruising over the grasslands toward the Chaka Salt Lake. Urgent screaming ensued, followed by great elation by all, especially those who had missed the first sighting!

Przevalski's Finch by Rich Lindie

RBL China – Best of Trip Report 2016 6 A slightly later-than-usual start and a leisurely breakfast the next morning prepared us for the long journey to Wenquan. Along the way, we made a handful of stops, beginning with an exciting roadside sighting of two Wolves and a small herd of Tibetan Gazelle. Following that, we strolled around the hills near Gonghe, turning up nothing of particular interest, before settling in for another interesting lunch. Leaving Gonghe, we passed through yet more vast plains filled with Zhos and sheep, before arriving at Er La Pass where we enjoyed two great sightings of Tibetan Fox, several sightings of Saker Falcon and Upland Buzzard, as well as our first Tibetan Snowfinches. We also had a chance to size up the walk that lay ahead the following day. Bright and early the following morning, we popped into a local feeding station once again, before bidding farewell to lackluster Wenquan and its dusty streets, for a climb to lofty heights above. Those of us that chose to do so then shortly found ourselves starting the arduous trek up the mountainside before the sun had even begun to cast its light upon the pass below, making for a pretty frigid and icy first few minutes. Halfway up, however, we broke into the sun's gaze and soon thereafter found ourselves on top of the small plateau above, in what was surely the most stunning view of the trip for all involved - snow-capped mountains for as far as the eye could see in some directions, flanked by mighty valleys and hills in others. Indeed, had it not been for the combination of great vistas and some of the wonderful bird sightings we had, the morning would have been a complete bust - in light of us dipping our main target, Tibetan Sandgrouse. Nonetheless, chief among the great bird sightings that we did have, several encounters with Saker Falcon and Bearded Vulture at eye level saw no contenders. Back down at the pass, things were equally bleak on the target front, with strong winds dashing our chances of finding Tibetan Rosefinch before we even had the time to try. As a result, a quick roadside lunch and some good looks at a few male Guldenstadt's Redstarts sealed off the end of our day in the Er La Pass area. Not, mind you, after an excellent sighting of a Himalayan Marmot doing its best impression of a Pallas's Cat. A brief spot of birding on the outskirts of Gonghe produced little of interest the following day, and

Tibetan Lark by Rich Lindie

RBL China – Best of Trip Report 2016 7 so it was a couple of hours before lunch when we arrived once again on the eastern shores of Koko Nor. This time, however, we weren't plagued by traffic and with plenty of time to explore the lakeside up-close. Pleased to find good numbers of waterfowl on our first stop, it wasn't long before we had added several species to the list, including Bar-headed Goose, Red-crested Pochard, Tufted Duck and Northern Pintail, while nearby a White-browed Tit-Warbler sat uncharacteristically still on a power cable nearby! An interesting lunch and an apparently equally interesting bathroom was to follow in a nearby town, followed not long after by a rather event-less drive to Xining, where a visit to Bei Shan was thwarted by a ring of newly-manned boom gates - despite our driver's best voluminous efforts. The journey from Xining to Beidaihe the next day began early and took almost the entire remainder of the day to complete. Blissfully, it went without hiccup and we found ourselves overlooking the bustling mudflats, in town, with enough daylight to enjoy the sight of several new species, including at least two Relict Gulls. Another cold and breezy morning greeted us on our first day in Beidaihe. Nevertheless, eager to see what migrants might be about, we ventured into the hotel gardens for a pre-breakfast walk and our first taste of some flat terrain in a while! With little more than a few Dusky Warblers, Red-flanked Bluetails and some 415s, however, it wasn't long until we abandoned the cold for a breakfast of fried eggs, coffee, fish nuggets and a plate of French fries. Post breakfast, we strolled the length of Beidaihe Wetland Park, finding our first Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, several Pallas's Leaf Warblers, Yellow-browed Warblers, a Two-barred Warbler, more Redflanked Bluetails, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker. Also of interest during our walk was the sighting of an obvious pairing of a Swan Goose and a Greylag, and an encounter with a local news crew.

Rufous-necked Snowfinch by Rich Lindie

RBL China – Best of Trip Report 2016 8 An enormous and delicious lunch nearby then fueled us for another visit to the town's mudflats where little new was found. We finally headed back to Wetland Park where a large flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbill was the only sighting of much significance. The following day, the drive from Beidaihe to Happy Island was punctuated by several stops and uturns but nothing of much interest on the birding front. On the island itself, however, we were pleased to find a lot of activity, albeit that most birds were rather skittish. Of those that we did see well, a Little Bunting, Chinese Penduline Tit and Black-browed Warbler were highlights, making our afternoon stroll around the northern end of the island a worthwhile excursion. Over the following four days on the island we explored well beyond the northern corner - in fact, covering just about every path and roadway throughout the island. Most birds were just as shy as those seen on our first day but time and effort paid off, and by the time we left the island on our fifth and final morning, we had all accumulated a nice selection of life-birds and great sightings. Highlights among these included Saunders's Gull, streams of Amur Falcons, Falcated Duck, several species of bunting, Japanese Quail, Dusky Thrush and Chinese Penduline Tit. Of course, one must not forget the culinary and music highlights of our time on the island. Our time in Beijing began with a much-longer-than-expected journey from Happy Island to the

nation’s capital, and a short visit to the city's botanical gardens later that day. The highlight, however, was a morning exploring part of the Great Wall and our sightings of Beijing Babbler along the way. For part of the group, a second visit to the botanical gardens also provided some of the most enjoyable birding had during the entire eastern leg of the tour, and a fitting way to end one of the most enjoyable tours I have participated in - due almost entirely to the great company I had all the way through!


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