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CHANG TANG, KUNLUN & XINJIANG

A True Birding Adventure

China Birding Tours: our Chang Tang, Kunlun & Xinjiang birding tour is a real adventure as we explore the high Chang Tang, the remote Kunlun Mountains and the Taklimakan Desert of Xinjiang for the almost unknown Sillem’s Mountain Finch, Tibetan Sandgrouse (easy here), Biddulph’s Ground Jay and Tarim Babbler, not to mention Tibetan Antelope and Wild Yak! What a great birding journey this is!

Wednesday 20th June — Saturday 30th June 2018
(11 days)


Leader: Hannu Jännes

Group Size Limit: 10

Tour Category: Mostly moderate walking and mostly comfortable but sometimes basic accommodations

The enigmatic and endemic Roborovski's (or Tibetan) Rosefinch is at home in the inhospitable terrain above 4,500 meters (Hannu Jännes)

The enigmatic and endemic Roborovski's (or Tibetan) Rosefinch is at home in the inhospitable terrain above 4,500 meters (Hannu Jännes)

A vast high tableland, out of which rise great mountain ranges, the Tibetan Plateau is truly the ‘Roof of the World’. Here there are towns, villages and grazing lands at heights greater than those of the summits of the Alps! Defended since the dawn of human civilization by the great wall of the Himalayas to the south and by lower but still lofty ranges to west, east and north, the Tibetan Plateau for long escaped the tides of history.

For the birdwatcher, as for the traveller, Tibet’s appeal lies in the sheer inaccessibility of its marvels. Closed to outsiders for many centuries, it is only in recent times that much of the Tibetan Plateau has been opened to visitors. During this epic journey we will explore areas only rarely visited by western ornithologists.

Early summer is a superb time to go birding in this region, as the weather is at its mildest, breeding birds are in full song, wildflowers are at their peak and the grasslands are a dazzling shade of green, contrasting with the icy summits of the highest mountain ranges. Indeed the incredible mountain and high plateau scenery on this journey is probably the most outstanding of any Birdquest tour!

We shall tread in the footsteps of such early investigators of the Tibetan Plateau’s avifauna as Przevalski, Kozlov and Roborovski. These Russian explorers penetrated far across the plateau during expeditions sponsored by the czars, expeditions which had valid scientific purposes but which were doubtless also part of the ‘Great Game’ played out between the Russian and British Empires north of the borders of India during the nineteenth century.

Nowadays, while still a real adventure, huge improvements in the infrastructure, both roads and accommodations, mean that a visit to the Tibetan Plateau is no longer as difficult as it once was, so one can bird on ‘The Roof of the World’ without having to put up with nearly so much in the way of discomfort, although it is still a place that is much more demanding than the average bird tour destination. This is a unique journey, so if you have always yearned to see the extraordinary scenery of the Tibetan Plateau and its special birds then this is truly a tour not to be missed.

Our itinerary focuses on the endemic birds and other regional specialities of the Tibetan Plateau and the adjacent Tarim Basin of Xinjiang (featuring in particular the virtually unknown Sillem’s Mountain Finch, the poorly-known Biddulph’s or Xinjiang Ground Jay and the strange Tarim Bush-dweller) and is unsurpassed in its coverage.

During our journey, which is a real birding adventure, we strike off northwestwards from the city of Yushu through some of the wildest parts of the Tibetan Plateau, at the edge of the huge Chang Tang plains, crossing the vast Kekexili Nature Reserve on our way to the Kunlun Mountains.

In the wild and little-known Kunlun Mountains we will be visiting the area where in 2014 we became the first (and still the only) bird tour company to see the near-mythical Sillem’s Mountain Finch!

This is also a great area for seeing Tibetan Sandgrouse and the Chang Tang plains and the Kunlun will surely be the best part of the tour for mammals, with Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass), Tibetan Gazelle and even Tibetan Antelopes (Chiru) being positively common. There are even high chances for Grey Wolf and Wild Yak. We have even seen the wonderful Pallas’s Cat in this magnificent area!

From the Kunlun we make our way westwards across the Qaidam (or Zaidam) Depression, a huge tongue of desert country extending deep into the Tibetan Plateau. Beyond this fascinating landscape we briefly leave the plateau behind, dropping down through the Altun Shan, where Margelanic Whitethroats and Great Rosefinches are common, to the edge of the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang, where we will explore the southern edge of the Taklimakan Desert in search of the endemic Biddulph’s (or Xinjiang) Ground Jay and the distinctive endemic Tarim Babbler, as well as White-winged Woodpecker, Desert Whitethroat and Saxaul Sparrow.

Birdquest pioneered birding tours to the Tibetan Plateau as far back as 1984.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of good or medium standard, but there are some nights in fairly simple hotels (although all rooms have private bathrooms). There will be one night at a very basic guesthouse and three nights of very simple camping. Road transport will be by small coach (and partly by 4x4 vehicle). Nowadays many roads in the region are good, or at least of reasonable quality, but we still have to use rough dirt roads in some places.

Walking & Altitude: Much of this tour is at altitudes between 3000-4800m (9800-15,750ft). For those in good health there should be no major problems acclimatizing. The walking effort on our current itinerary is mostly moderate in nature (because of the high altitude), but there will be one or two optional fairly demanding hikes.

Climate: Rather variable. Temperatures range from warm (sometimes even hot in the middle of the day in the southeast of the Tibetan Plateau and in Xinjiang) to distinctly cold. At this season there is a mixture of dry and sunny weather interspersed with overcast conditions and rain, hail or snow showers.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are good.

Can be taken together with: TIBET

Tour Price: £2750, €3130, $3600 Yushu/Golmud. Single Room Supplement: £210, €239, $275. Deposit: £300, €360, $390. Includes an extra hotel night at Yushu.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

The single room supplement excludes the three camping nights.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.150.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

The fabled, almost unknown, Sillem's Mountain Finch was only rediscovered on the Tibetan Plateau in 2012 and was first observed by Birdquest during our successful 2014 expedition. This is a male.  (Mark Beaman)

The fabled, almost unknown, Sillem's Mountain Finch was only rediscovered on the Tibetan Plateau in 2012 and was first observed by Birdquest during our successful 2014 expedition. This is a male. (Mark Beaman)

The female Sillem's is surprisingly like a smaller version of the female Roborovski's Rosefinch, suggesting the species may be more closely related to the latter rather than the true mountain finches (genus Leucosticte).  (Mark Beaman)

The female Sillem's is surprisingly like a smaller version of the female Roborovski's Rosefinch, suggesting the species may be more closely related to the latter rather than the true mountain finches (genus Leucosticte). (Mark Beaman)

The magnificent Black-necked Crane is one of the star birds of the plateau  (Mark Beaman)

The magnificent Black-necked Crane is one of the star birds of the plateau (Mark Beaman)

Tibetan Sandgrouse can be seen close to the roadside in western Qinghai, without the need for demanding hikes   (Mark Beaman)

Tibetan Sandgrouse can be seen close to the roadside in western Qinghai, without the need for demanding hikes (Mark Beaman)

The strange Groundpecker or Ground Tit surely merits its own monotypic family rather than being subsumed in the Paridae (True Tits)

The strange Groundpecker or Ground Tit surely merits its own monotypic family rather than being subsumed in the Paridae (True Tits)

Great Rosefinch is another key speciality  (Mark Beaman)

Great Rosefinch is another key speciality (Mark Beaman)

Sakers can be relatively easy to see and approachable in areas where there are plenty of pikas for food. The local form is the distinctive milvipes, a potential split (Hannu Jännes)

Sakers can be relatively easy to see and approachable in areas where there are plenty of pikas for food. The local form is the distinctive milvipes, a potential split (Hannu Jännes)

The huge, almost eagle-sized Upland Buzzard is also largely dependent on pikas for food  (Mark Beaman)

The huge, almost eagle-sized Upland Buzzard is also largely dependent on pikas for food (Mark Beaman)

The magnificent Eurasian Eagle Owl is not the easiest bird to find on this trip... (Hannu Jännes)

The magnificent Eurasian Eagle Owl is not the easiest bird to find on this trip... (Hannu Jännes)

...whereas the cute Little Owl is a relatively common roadside bird (Hannu Jännes)

...whereas the cute Little Owl is a relatively common roadside bird (Hannu Jännes)

Small groups of the handsome Tibetan Wild Ass (or Kiang) are usually seen on the vast plains of the Tibetan plateau (Hannu Jännes)

Small groups of the handsome Tibetan Wild Ass (or Kiang) are usually seen on the vast plains of the Tibetan plateau (Hannu Jännes)

Himalayan Marmots are common, often noisy and sometimes remarkably tame inhabitants of the grassy alpine slopes (Hannu Jännes)

Himalayan Marmots are common, often noisy and sometimes remarkably tame inhabitants of the grassy alpine slopes (Hannu Jännes)

The handsome Blanford's (or Plain-backed) Snowfinch is just one of five snowfinch species that we see on this tour  (Mark Beaman)

The handsome Blanford's (or Plain-backed) Snowfinch is just one of five snowfinch species that we see on this tour (Mark Beaman)

Tibetan (or Adams's) Snowfinch is the plainest of the bunch

Tibetan (or Adams's) Snowfinch is the plainest of the bunch

Prince Henri's Snowfinch is a denizen of high mountain areas on the plateau  (Mark Beaman)

Prince Henri's Snowfinch is a denizen of high mountain areas on the plateau (Mark Beaman)

Biddulph's (or Xinjiang) Ground Jay, endemic to the Taklimakan Desert, is the big draw on our side trip into Xinjiang  (Mark Beaman)

Biddulph's (or Xinjiang) Ground Jay, endemic to the Taklimakan Desert, is the big draw on our side trip into Xinjiang (Mark Beaman)

While Henderson's (or Mongolian) Ground Jay inhabits arid habitats in the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau  (Mark Beaman)

While Henderson's (or Mongolian) Ground Jay inhabits arid habitats in the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau (Mark Beaman)

Tibetan Snowcocks are not usually as approachable as this!  (Mark Beaman)

Tibetan Snowcocks are not usually as approachable as this! (Mark Beaman)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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