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ULTIMATE TIBET & XINJIANG

Birding the Roof of the World

Birdquest’s Ultimate Tibet & Xinjiang birding tour is a real adventure as we travel across ‘The Roof of the World’ and into the adjacent Tarim Basin of Xinjiang. Our Ultimate Tibet & Xinjiang tour is unsurpassed in its coverage of Tibetan Plateau and Tarim Basin (Xinjiang) endemics, not to mention numerous other regional specialities. We will explore the montane forests of Northeast Qinghai with their Przevalski’s Nuthatches and Gansu Leaf Warblers, the famous Koko Nor, Chaka Salt Lake and Tibetan grasslands and scrublands for the enigmatic Przevalski’s or Pink-tailed Finch (now elevated to monotypic family level), Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Henderson’s Ground Jay, Groundpecker, Przevalski’s Partridge, Przevalski’s Redstart and a suite of snowfinches, and the mountains of Southeast Qinghai, home to Szechenyi’s Monal Partridge, Tibetan Snowcock, White Eared Pheasant, Ibisbill, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Kozlov’s Babax, Roborovski's and Great Rosefinches, and Kozlov's Bunting. During the pre-tour extension we explore the Lhasa region for the fabulous Potala Palace and Tibetan Eared Pheasant, Lord Derby’s Parakeet, Giant Babax and Prince Henri’s Laughingthrush. During the post-tour extension 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 Bush-dweller, not to mention Tibetan Antelope and Wild Yak! What a great birding journey this is!

Sunday 10th June — Thursday 21st June 2018
(12 days)


Lhasa Extension: Friday 8th June — Sunday 10th June (3 days)

Chang Tang, Kunlun & Xinjiang Extension: Thursday 21st June — Saturday 30th June (10 days)

Leader: Hannu Jännes

Group Size Limit: 9

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.

Independent for much of the last two thousand years, the modern political entity known as Tibet (which excludes the northeastern part of the plateau, called Qinghai by the Chinese, which has been under Chinese rule for around 300 years) was incorporated into China in 1951 and now faces an uncertain future as Han Chinese immigrants flood in, altering the ethnic balance year by year. The Tibetans are a resilient people, however, and even today their unique culture is still strong, resisting assimilation. Buddhist monasteries have reopened since the end of the ‘Cultural Revolution’, when many were completely destroyed by the nihilistic Red Guards, and prayer flags once more flutter in the breeze around villages, nomad encampments and mountain passes.

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 Lhasa and much of the Tibetan Plateau has been opened to visitors. During this epic journey we will explore areas only rarely visited by western ornithologists and we have an excellent chance of finding all of the Tibetan Plateau’s endemic birds, including the biggest attraction of all, the strange Przevalski’s or Pink-tailed Finch, the sole member of the family Urocynchramidae. You simply have to visit the Tibetan Plateau these days if you are wanting to see all the world’s bird families.

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.

We shall begin our travels at Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, from where we will visit several localities in the surrounding region in search of such specialities as Gansu Leaf Warbler, Crested Tit-Warbler, Chinese and Przevalski’s Nuthatches, and Pale Rosefinch.

From the Xining region we climb up onto the Tibetan Plateau itself. First we explore the dry steppe country and eroded hills in search of Tibetan and Mongolian Larks, the strange Hume’s Groundpecker (know thought to be an aberrant tit rather than a corvid), Rufous-necked, White-rumped, Père David’s (or Small) and Tibetan (or Adams’s) Snowfinches, and Mongolian Finch. We will also explore the margins of the famous Koko Nor, one of the largest lakes in Asia, and an important breeding area for the endangered Black-necked Crane, Bar-headed Geese, Pallas’s and Brown-headed Gulls, and other waterbirds.

Next we explore the dry country around the Chaka salt lake and the rugged mountains that surround it, home to a superb selection of specialities including Przevalski’s (or Rusty-necklaced) and Daurian Partridges, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Przevalski’s (or Ala Shan) Redstart, Smoky Warbler, Henderson’s Ground Jay, Blanford’s (or Plain-backed) Snowfinch and in particular the enigmatic Przevalski’s (or Pink-tailed) Finch, which is now treated as a monotypic family.

From the north of Qinghai we head for the far southeast, enjoying a feast of scenery en route. At high passes we will search for Tibetan Sandgrouse, Güldenstädt’s (or White-winged) Redstart, Prince Henri’s Snowfinch, Brandt’s Mountain Finch and the little-known Roborovski’s (or Tibetan) Rosefinch amongst some truly awesome scenery, while at lower altitudes the steppes in this area still hold numerous Upland Buzzards and good numbers of Sakers.

Still further to the south, two more of Asia’s greatest rivers, the Yangtze and the Mekong, flow within 100 kilometres of each other through deep, arid gorges. On the spectacular mountain slopes and in the juniper and spruce forests we will look for two of Asia’s least known birds, Kozlov’s (or Tibetan) Babax and Kozlov’s (or Tibetan) Bunting, as well as other specialities such as Szechenyi’s Monal (or Buff-throated) Partridge, Tibetan Snowcock, White Eared Pheasant, Giant Laughingthrush, Chinese Fulvetta, Sichuan and White-browed Tits, and Great and Red-breasted (or Red-fronted) Rosefinches.

During the optional pre-tour extension we visit the famous city of Lhasa and its surroundings. The long-forbidden city of Lhasa is dominated by the immense Potala Palace. As well as visiting this greatest of all monuments to Tibetan Buddhism, we will also explore the more atmospheric Jokhang Temple, which is a magnet for pilgrims from all over the Tibetan Plateau and beyond.

The Lhasa region is home to some special Tibetan Plateau endemics. Here we will explore a valley in the mountains where the scrub and meadows hold Giant Babax, Prince Henri’s (or Brown-cheeked) Laughingthrush, Tibetan Blackbird and the beautiful Tibetan Eared Pheasant. We will also visit an area of maturing woodland that hosts a population of the beautiful Lord Derby’s Parakeet.

During the optional post-tour extension, which is a real birding adventure,we strike off northwestwards 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 Bush-dweller, as well as White-winged Woodpecker, Desert Whitethroat and Saxaul Sparrow.

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

Chang Tang, Kunlun & Xinjiang-only Option: It is possible to take just this special section of the tour as a stand-alone tour.

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). During the post-tour extension 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 during the post-tour extension). 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). The vast majority of the Tibetan Plateau endemics can nowadays be seen without major physical effort, but a few still require optional fairly demanding hikes. There is one such on the main tour and one or two during the post-tour extension.

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 very good.

Can be taken together with: SICHUAN & NORTHERN YUNNAN

These are provisional prices

Tour Price: £3090, €3650, $4050 Xining/Yushu. Lhasa Pre-tour Extension: £900, €1060, $1180 (starting in Lhasa). Chang Tang, Kunlun & Xinjiang Post-Tour Extension: £2590, €3060, $3390 (ending in Golmud).

Price includes all transportation (including the Lhasa-Xining flight), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Single Room Supplement: £330, €389, $432. Pre-tour Extension: £150, €177, $197. Post-Tour Extension: £210, €248, $275 (excluding the camping nights).

Deposit: £400, €480, $520. Pre-tour Extension: £100, €120, $130. Post-Tour Extension: £300, €360, $390.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

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)

One of the tour highlights is the handsome Kozlov’s (or Tibetan) Bunting, a species endemic to eastern Tibet, which was   rediscovered in SE Qinghai in 1986, after absence of nearly 25 years, by two Birdquest leaders! (Hannu Jännes)

One of the tour highlights is the handsome Kozlov’s (or Tibetan) Bunting, a species endemic to eastern Tibet, which was rediscovered in SE Qinghai in 1986, after absence of nearly 25 years, by two Birdquest leaders! (Hannu Jännes)

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)

The pretty Przevalski's (or Alashan) Redstart, endemic to the NE edge of the Tibetan plateau, is definitely the hardest to reach of the eight or so redstarts we encounter on this trip (Hannu Jännes)

The pretty Przevalski's (or Alashan) Redstart, endemic to the NE edge of the Tibetan plateau, is definitely the hardest to reach of the eight or so redstarts we encounter on this trip (Hannu Jännes)

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 stunning Tibetan Eared Pheasant is one of three species of eared pheasants we see on this unforgettable tour  (Mark Beaman)

The stunning Tibetan Eared Pheasant is one of three species of eared pheasants we see on this unforgettable tour (Mark Beaman)

This is a tour with exceptional scenery. Here a view over the mighty Mekong near Nangqian in south-eastern Qinghai (Hannu Jännes)

This is a tour with exceptional scenery. Here a view over the mighty Mekong near Nangqian in south-eastern Qinghai (Hannu Jännes)

And just one of the many spectacular mountain passes we cross...

And just one of the many spectacular mountain passes we cross...

The big attraction on a Tibet tour, the strange Przevalski's or Pink-tailed Finch, now a monotypic family  (Mark Beaman)

The big attraction on a Tibet tour, the strange Przevalski's or Pink-tailed Finch, now a monotypic family (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)

The robust Red-breasted (or Red-fronted) Rosefinch is one of the ten or more species of rosefinch possible on this tour (Hannu Jännes)

The robust Red-breasted (or Red-fronted) Rosefinch is one of the ten or more species of rosefinch possible on this tour (Hannu Jännes)

Great Spotted Rosefinch is another key speciality  (Mark Beaman)

Great Spotted Rosefinch is another key speciality (Mark Beaman)

The lovely Streaked Rosefinch  (Mark Beaman)

The lovely Streaked Rosefinch (Mark Beaman)

White-capped Water Redstart is common along the many fast flowing rivers (Hannu Jännes)

White-capped Water Redstart is common along the many fast flowing rivers (Hannu Jännes)

Prince Henri's (or Brown-cheeked) Laughingthrush is one of a number of southeast Tibetan endemics we will search for (Hannu Jännes)

Prince Henri's (or Brown-cheeked) Laughingthrush is one of a number of southeast Tibetan endemics we will search for (Hannu Jännes)

Giant Babax is another  (Mark Beaman)

Giant Babax is another (Mark Beaman)

Lord Derby's Parakeet, yet another speciality of southeast Tibet, has been seen by very few birders  (Mark Beaman)

Lord Derby's Parakeet, yet another speciality of southeast Tibet, has been seen by very few birders (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)

Snow Pigeon is one of the specialities of the 'gorge country' in southeastern Qinghai (Hannu Jännes)

Snow Pigeon is one of the specialities of the 'gorge country' in southeastern Qinghai (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)

A series of species of pikas, including this cute Glover's Pika, can be seen on this trip (Hannu Jännes)

A series of species of pikas, including this cute Glover's Pika, can be seen on this trip (Hannu Jännes)

This kind of alpine scrub above 4000 meters is typical habitat for the uncommon Kozlov's (or Tibetan) Bunting (Hannu Jännes)

This kind of alpine scrub above 4000 meters is typical habitat for the uncommon Kozlov's (or Tibetan) Bunting (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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