The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia (and its islands)

KUNLUN & TARIM EXPEDITION, WEST CHINA – A Quest for Sillem’s Rosefinch, Wild Yak, Biddulph’s Ground Jay and so much more

Monday 23rd June – Saturday 5th July 2025

Leaders: Mark Beaman and a local guide

13 Days Group Size Limit 7


Birdquest’s Kunlun & Tarim expedition is a true adventure as we travel across one of the wildest parts of the Tibetan Plateau to the stunning Kunlun Range, then across the expanses of the Zaidam Depression until we reach the Tarim Basin at the edge of the Taklimakan Desert. This expedition is not only about very special birds but also about very special mammals, amazing landscapes and an extraordinary journey through the very heart of Asia that you will surely talk about for the rest of your days!

Our prime bird targets during the expedition are four very special endemics: the fabled Sillem’s Rosefinch (formerly Sillem’s Mountain Finch), Biddulph’s (or Xinjiang) Ground Jay, Tarim Babbler and the sought-after Tibetan Sandgrouse in an area it can be seen without physical effort!

We will also see some other great birds during the expedition, notably including Black-necked Crane, White-winged Woodpecker, Tibetan Lark, the strange Ground Tit (or Groundpecker), Saxaul Sparrow, Rufous-necked, Blanford’s, White-rumped, Tibetan and Black-winged Snowfinches, and Great Rosefinch. A wonderful selection of species.

During this adventurous expedition, we will also be seeking out some fantastic mammals and we should have great experiences with them. Likely encounters include Wild Yak (in their last stronghold!), lots of Chiru (Tibetan Antelope), Argali, White-lipped (or Thorold’s) Deer, Kiang (or Tibetan Wild Ass), Tibetan Gazelle, Grey Wolf and Tibetan Fox, not to mention the hares, marmots and pikas. There is even a good chance of Pallas’s Cat! We have even seen Brown Bear on past visits and we can even dream of encountering a Snow Leopard.

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, by the Pamirs to the west, by the remote Kunlun range to the north and by lower but still lofty ranges to the east, the Tibetan Plateau for long escaped the tides of history.

Early summer (and summer only comes very late to the Tibetan plateau, in late June) is a superb time to go birding and mammal watching 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 mountain and high plateau scenery on this journey is simply awesome!

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 this expedition is no longer as difficult as it once was, although it is surely more demanding than the average bird tour. This is a unique journey which we only repeat at infrequent intervals, so if you have always yearned to see Sillem’s Rosefinch, Wild Yak and other wonderful creatures, now is your chance!

Our expedition begins at the city of Yushu in the southeast of the Tibetan Plateau. Once a small place only reached after three days of driving from Xining (this was in the era before the arrival of the modern expressway!), nowadays it is a big place and even has multiple flights a day from Xining, Chengdu and elsewhere!

From Yushu, 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 wild and little-known Kunlun Mountains.

Here, we will be visiting the area where during 2014 and 2018 we became the first (and still the only) bird tour company to see the near-mythical Sillem’s Rosefinch! This is also a great area for seeing the sought-after Tibetan Sandgrouse, and mercifully on flat plains without any need to climb a mountain!

The Chang Tang and Kunlun will surely be the best part of the tour for mammals, with Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass), Tibetan Gazelle, Tibetan Fox and even Tibetan Antelopes (Chiru) being positively common. We can also expect Grey Wolf and Wild Yak, the latter perhaps in good numbers as this is one of the last areas in its range with a viable population. We have even seen the wonderful Pallas’s Cat and Brown Bear in this magnificent area!

From the Kunlun, we make our way westwards across the Zaidam (or Qaidam) 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 Great Rosefinches are common, to the edge of the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang Province 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.

What a truly great adventure this is!

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

In 2025 only, this special expedition can be combined with our CHINA’S TIBETAN PLATEAU tour which targets every Tibetan Plateau endemic bar Sillem’s Rosefinch!

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of good or medium standard, but there are a few nights in simple hotels (although all rooms have private bathrooms). There will be four nights in basic guesthouse accommodation at ‘Wild Yak Valley’. Road transport will be by a mix of 4×4 vehicles and minibus/passenger van. Nowadays many roads in the region are good, or at least of reasonable quality, but we still have to use rough dirt roads and tracks in some places.

Walking: The walking effort during the expedition is mostly easy or moderate but seeing Sillem’s Rosefinch requires a rather demanding hike owing to the high altitude. The latter hike is not steep but is at over 4500m so very slow walking and lots of stops are the order of the day!

Climate: Rather variable. Temperatures range from warm (even hot in the middle of the day in the Tarim Basin) to cool or sometimes cold. At this season there is a mixture of dry and sunny weather interspersed with overcast conditions. There will surely be some rain, hail or snow showers.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during the expedition are good.


  • Travelling across the highest landmass on the surface of our planet, and taking in its unparalled majesty!
  • The wonderfully strange, bounding Ground Tit (or Groundpecker). A monotypic bird family to come?
  • Black-necked Cranes feeding quietly in remote marshlands
  • The ever-wilder and more spectacular scenery as we penetrate further onto the Tibetan Plateau
  • Drinking special tea, with dried fruits and a big lump of crystalline sugar, in a tiny Hui-muslim restaurant a million miles from nowhere
  • Tracking down Tibetan Sandgrouse near the dramatic Kunlun Range, with no need to hike up a mountain in order to see one!
  • Enjoying smart Tibetan (or Roborovski's) Rosefinches feeding quietly within a few metres!
  • Watching Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass) and the endangered Chiru (Tibetan Antelope) in the wilderness
  • Coming across the impressive Wild Yak in its last stronghold
  • A high chance of multiple Grey Wolf and Tibetan Fox sightings
  • Hoping for the 'scowling' Pallas's Cat!
  • Encountering the fabled Sillem's Rosefinch (formerly Sillem's Mountain Finch), lost for so many years, amidst extraordinary mountainscapes.
  • Getting to grips with Mongolian (or Henderson's) Ground Jays in the plains
  • The amazing contrast, after the High Tibetan Plateau, of crossing the Zaidam Depression and reaching the edge of the Tarim Basin
  • Great Rosefinches feeding by the roadside
  • Watching Biddulph's Ground Jays at the roadside and skulking Tarim Babblers
  • White-winged Woodpeckers and Saxaul Sparrows adding to the appeal of the Tarim


  • Day 1: Afternoon tour start at Yushu in southern Qinghai province.
  • Day 2: Drive across the Tibetan Plateau to Quamarleb (or Qumarlai).
  • Day 3: Drive through the wilds via Kekexili Nature Reserve to Budongquan.
  • Day 4: Budongquan area, then drive to Yeniugou (Wild Yak Valley) in the Kunlun Range.
  • Days 5-7: Exploring Yeniugou (Wild Yak Valley) region in the Kunlun.
  • Day 8: Descend from the Kunlun Range to Golmud.
  • Day 9: Drive across the Zaidam Depression to Mangya.
  • Day 10: Continue to Ruoqiang, a Mongolian-inhabited town in the Tarim basin.
  • Day 11: Tarim Basin in Ruoqiang region.
  • Day 12: Tarim Basin, then return to Mangya.
  • Day 13: Return to Golmud. Evening tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)

2025: confirmed £3580, $4590, €4170, AUD6930. Yushu/Golmud.

Single Supplement: 2025: £240, $320, €290, AUD480.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

There is very limited accommodation in Wild Yak Valley. There is no charge for single occupancy here, if available at the time.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.


Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Day 1  The expedition starts this afternoon at Yushu, a small city in the southwest of China’s Qinghai province, where we will spend the night.

Airport transfers will be provided.

(There are daily flights into Yushu from Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, which has connecting flights from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other gateway cities. We can easily book domestic flights for you on request, even if you are not obtaining your international tickets through us. Negotiating Chinese airports is easy. Almost everyone speaks at least some English and the signage is bilingual and good. All announcements are bilingual.)

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Day 2  Today we will head off into dramatic landscapes as we travel northwards through gorges and over mountain passes on our way to the remote town of Qumarleb (also known as Qumalai) for an overnight stay. Luckily for us, it has a surprisingly comfortable hotel.

We will surely encounter some impressive Great Rosefinches today during a number of roadside birding stops, as well as many other Tibetan Plateau species.

Additional species we are likely to encounter include Himalayan Vulture, Upland Buzzard, Salim Ali’s Swift, the magnificent Saker Falcon (now in decline almost everywhere owing to illegal egg and chick stealing for Arab falconers), Red-billed Chough, Northern Raven, Horned Lark, Hume’s Short-toed Lark, Pale Martin, Eurasian Crag Martin, Black Redstart, White-rumped, Rufous-necked and Blanford’s Snowfinches, White Wagtail and Twite.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Day 3  We continue northwestwards, if anything into even wilder country than the day before en route to the remote settlement of Budongquan for an overnight stay.

We will be crossing the immense Kekexili Nature Reserve, a truly wonderful area for wild mammals. If anyone ever tells you that the Chinese have killed everything off, well they would have to ‘eat their hat’ if they saw Kekexili!

Here we can expect to see large numbers of Kiangs and Tibetan Gazelles, and as we approach the remote hamlet of Budongquan, where we will overnight, good numbers of the rare and endangered rare Tibetan Antelope or Chiru, much-persecuted for its splendid horns and soft hide. There is a good chance of Grey Wolf in this wild area and a good chance of encountering White-lipped (or Thorold’s) Deer. The broad-faced Tibetan Fox is positively common and Plateau Pikas are numerous. There is a first chance for Wild Yak and a real chance for Pallas’s Cat.

Marshy areas hold Black-necked Cranes, Tibetan Larks, Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Great Crested Grebe, Black Stork, Eurasian Coot, Common Redshank, Brown-headed Gull, Common Tern and Citrine Wagtail of the distinctive form calcarata that may represent a distinct species.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition:  Day 4  We have yet more dramatic scenery to look forward to this morning as we admire the awesome snow- and ice-clad peak of Yuzhu Feng (6178m, 20,269ft), one of the highest peaks of the Kunlun range.

After we cross the Kunlun pass we enter the dramatic Yeniugou (‘Wild Yak Valley’) where we will stay for four nights in its upper reaches.

We will have time for some birding and mammal stops along the way, with excellent chances for Tibetan Sandgrouse, Tibetan Sand Plover and other species mentioned for the next two days.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Days 5-7  We have some truly dramatic scenery to look forward to as we search for the fabled Sillem’s Mountain Finch in its remote fastness. The Kunlun mountains are extraordinarily scenic, with the highest peaks in the region rising to well over 5000m (16,400ft).

Our reason for exploring this remote location is quite simple: the chance to be amongst the first birders to see the almost unknown Sillem’s Mountain Finch, Carpodacus sillemi, a species that was overlooked when the first specimens were collected by a Dutch expedition that visited the area north of the Karakorum Range in the first part of the 20th century (they were misidentified as Brandt’s Mountain Finch, Leucosticte brandti, until C. S. Roselaar worked out that they represented a new species for science, either a new Leucosticte or perhaps even a new Koslowia (at that time a genus that was used only for the Tibetan (or Roborovski’s) Rosefinch. After that nothing, until 2012 when Yann Muzika rediscovered the species by chance while on a trekking expedition in southwestern Qinghai in 2012!

More recently, Sillem’s Mountain Finch has been reallocated to the genus Carpodacus, into which Koslowia was subsumed, and renamed Sillem’s Rosefinch.

The area where Yann rediscovered the species is decidedly remote, and he again found the species present in 2013. We relocated it in the same area during our pioneering expeditions of June 2014 and June 2018.

The poorly-known Tibetan (or Roborovski’s) Rosefinch is positively common in this high-altitude habitat in the Kunlun and at this time of year, we are likely to find the deep-pink males and sandy-grey females feeding their young.

Tibetan Sandgrouse (the least known member of its family) is straightforward to find in this area and requires no uphill hike in order to do so. Indeed we have even seen them at the roadside!

Other Tibetan Plateau speciality birds present in the area include Tibetan Snowcock and Tibetan (or Prince Henri’s), Black-winged and Pere David’s (or Small) Snowfinches.

Other species include Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Guldenstadt’s (or White-winged) Redstart, Brown Accentor and Brandt’s Mountain Finch.

Mammals are absolutely fantastic in this area, most unusually for Asia. We should encounter Kiangs (or Tibetan Wild Asses) and Tibetan Gazelles, and also the rare Tibetan Antelope or Chiru, much-persecuted for its splendid horns and ultra-soft wool (this species has only recently recolonized the ‘Sillem’s area’). Wild Yak is another star attraction (we have a very high chance of seeing good numbers here). There is even a chance of both Brown Bear and Pallas’s Cat, both of which were seen during our past expeditions! There is even a slim chance for Snow Leopard, as they still occur in the area. Red Fox, Himalayan Marmot, Woolly Hare and Large-eared Pika round out a panoply of great critters.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Day 8  After some final birding in the Kunlun range we will descend to Golmud for an overnight stay.

Golmud is a small city at the southern edge of the vast, arid Qaidam (or Zaidam) Depression in northern Qinghai province. The Qaidam is considered part of the Tibetan Plateau but is its lowest region.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Day 9  We set out early and head westwards today on good, fast roads across the vast, sandy Qaidam (or Zaidam) Depression that is scooped out of the northern flank of the Tibetan Plateau. Mongolian (or Henderson’s) Ground Jays are quite common in the Zaidam and can sometimes be seen running across the road, while Cinereous Vulture is also likely.

We will make a number of birding stops along the way to Mangya, where we will spend the night.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Day 10  Not long after leaving Mangya, we reach the dramatic Altun mountains. Here, ‘Margelanic’ Whitethroat (sometimes treated as a full species but usually considered a subspecies of Desert Whitethroat) is common, as is Great Rosefinch. Mongolian Finch is also to be found in these arid mountains.

Our final destination is the town of Ruoqiang, situated at the edge of the Tarim Basin, where we will spend two nights.

Ruoqiang is a small town in an autonomous Mongol district, inhabited by people of Mongol descent and Han Chinese. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Days 11  Today we will explore the southeastern edge of the Tarim Basin. This region was the focus of a number of Russian and British attempts to win the favours of the local rulers during the period of the ‘Great Game’. One of the members of the ‘British Yarkand Expedition’ was George Henderson, of ground jay fame, and his exploits are recorded in the book ‘Lahore to Yarkand’ by Henderson and Hume.

Here we will find Biddulph’s Ground Jay, a species endemic to the Tarim Basin and also the endemic Tarim Babbler, finally recognized to be a sylviine babbler rather than a warbler and now treated as a distinct species rather than a subspecies of the very-different-looking and sounding Beijing Babbler.

Other interesting birds found in the area include Long-legged Buzzard, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, the range-restricted White-winged Woodpecker, Isabelline Shrike, Turkestan Short-toed Lark, Desert Whitethroat, the localized and range-restricted Saxaul Sparrow and Desert Finch.

Additional species we may come across in the Tarim Basin include Northern Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Little Bittern, Great Cormorant, Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-headed and ‘Mongolian’ Gulls, Little Tern, Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Little Owl, Common Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Kestrel, Indian Golden Oriole, Eurasian Magpie, Oriental Skylark, Bearded Reedling, Barn Swallow, Barred Warbler, Isabelline and Desert Wheatears, Citrine Wagtail and ‘Masked’ Wagtail (the personata form of White Wagtail).

Mammals are not conspicuous but we may encounter Goitred Gazelle.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Day 12  After some more birding in the Tarim Basin we will return to Mangya for an overnight stay.

Kunlun Range & Tarim Basin Expedition: Day 13  We head back across the Zaidam to the city of Golmud. After an early dinner to celebrate our adventure together, we will head for the airport where our expedition ends.

(There are daily evening flights between Golmud and Xining with onward connections to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other gateway cities. We can easily book domestic flights for you on request, even if you are not obtaining your international tickets through us.)


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Other China and region birding tours by Birdquest include: