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BEST OF THE TIBETAN PLATEAU

Birding the Roof of the World

Birdquest’s Best of the Tibetan Plateau birding tour is a real adventure as we travel across ‘The Roof of the World’. We will explore the montane forests of northeastern Qinghai with their Przevalski’s Nuthatches and Gansu Leaf Warblers, the mountains of southeastern Qinghai, home to Szechenyi’s Monal Partridge, White Eared Pheasant, Ibisbill, Kozlov’s Babax, Roborovski's and Great Rosefinches, and Kozlov's Bunting, 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 high plateau near the Kunlun range for Tibetan Sandgrouse, Tibetan Antelope, Kiang and Wild Yak.

Thursday 8th June — Wednesday 21st June 2017
(14 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 northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau, called Qinghai by the Chinese, has been under Chinese rule for around 300 years. 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. Qinghai is a peaceful area and lacks the problems of Xizang, or southern and western Tibet, so our travel plans here are not subject to the same scrutiny or uncertainty.

For the birdwatcher, as for the traveller, the Tibetan Plateau 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 wonderful journey we will explore areas only rarely visited by western ornithologists and we have an excellent chance of finding the great majority 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.

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 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, White Eared Pheasant, Giant Laughingthrush, Chinese Fulvetta, Sichuan and White-browed Tits, and Great and Red-breasted (or Red-fronted) Rosefinches.

Returning northwards, we strike off northwestwards through some of the wildest parts of the Tibetan Plateau, crossing the vast Kekexili Nature Reserve on our way to the Kunlun Mountains. This will 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. This is also the best area for Tibetan Sandgrouse and there must surely be a slim chance of discovering a new location for the recently rediscovered Sillem’s Mountain Finch!

From Golmud we will re-enter the modern world after seeming to live on another planet for much of our journey.

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) and one night at a very basic guesthouse. Road transport will be by small coach. 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) and there is no longer any need to make a tough uphill hike for Tibetan Sandgrouse and Tibetan Rosefinch as we have found new areas where they can be seen with far less effort. 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.

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.

Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.

Tour Price: £3390, €4000, $4440 Xining/Golmud.

Price includes all transportation, 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.

Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.

Single Room Supplement: £377, €445, $494.

Deposit: £350, €450, $550.

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.

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)

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)

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)

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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