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Qinghai Province

Tibetan Rosefinch Carpodacus robrowskii ©Craig Brelsford Website

Qinghai Province is mainly the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau. The capital, Xining, lies at a pleasantly cool 2,200m in a broad, intensely cultivated valley. The hills immediately to the north of the city are a site for Pale Rosefinch and Plain Laughingthrush. Laoye Shan, a hill overlooking the town of Datong, is about 60km north of Xining. At Laoye Shan can be seen both White-browed and Crested Tit Warblers, White-winged Grosbeaks and Robin Accentor.

The road to the Tibetan plateau goes west from Xining, and over a pass where the Sun and Moon Pagodas are prominent tourist attractions. Tibetan Ground Tit, Little Owl and Plain Mountain Finch forage on the hillsides below the prayer flags. Two hours drive further west and Qinghai Lake - the legendary Koko Nor - comes into view. The area was criss-crossed by Russian explorers in the late19th century, including by Nikolai Przevalski, who passed by in 1872. Tibetan plateau specialties such as White-browed Tit, Alashan Redstart and Pink-tailed Bunting can be found in the hills southwest of Qinghai Lake. The breeding birds at the edges of the lake are a draw for coachloads of domestic tourists near the town of Shinahe. At “Bird Island” nearby they throw bread for both Pallas’s and Brown-headed Gulls. In May, hundreds of Bar-headed Geese breed in the area. There was a bad outbreak of avian flu here in May 2005, when many of the geese perished.

Although roads have improved much in recent years this is still a wild and unforgiving environment, much of it lying above 3,000m elevation. Some high passes are 4,500m or above and blocked by snow for much of the year. One such pass is Er La, where the endemic Tibetan Rosefinch can be seen. Although most of the Yak one sees are domesticated, Qinghai’s open grasslands are also home to the Asiatic Wild Ass. Tibetan Gazelles may be seen as well as the foxes and occasional wolf that preys upon them.

Two days drive southwest from Qinghai Lake along Route 314 will bring the keen birder to the busy town of Yushu (Jyekundo in Tibetan). Ibisbills may be seen in the river near the town. Another Russian explorer, Pyotr Koslov visited here in 1900. Further south, where the plateau breaks up into the valleys that have been carved out by the headwaters of the Yellow, Yangtse and Salween Rivers, Koslov discovered two distinctive species that still bear his name – a bunting and a babax. Both may still be found near the otherwise unremarkable town of Nanqian.

Further west in Qinghai Province is its’ second city Golmud, a desert town north of the Kunlun Shan, the “Mountains of Darkness”. The road between Doulan and Golmud passes through miles of desert, but this is a good area to see Mongolian (formerly Henderson’s) Ground Jay.

Qinghai is a rough but uniquely charming place that lingers in a birders’ mind long after the return home.


Useful Information

Provincial Bird

Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis


Abbreviations Key: See the appropriate Continent Page (or Country Page of those used on country sub-divisions)

Eling Lake Reserve


Satellite View

The largest freshwater lake in the Yellow River catchment with high hydrological values, regulating run-offs, retaining sediments, maintaining water quality, and preventing flooding. At over 4,200 meters on semi-arid plateau, the lake is an important habitat for the globally endangered Grus nigricollis

Kekexili Nature Reserve


Satellite View

Located in the boundaries of Zhiduo County and Qumalai County of Qinghai Province, Kekexili Nature Reserve covers an area of 4.5 million hectares…

Qinghai Lake


Satellite View

Qinghai Lake is the largest saltwater lake in China, and is also located on the "Roof of the World," the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. The lake itself lies at 3,600m elevation. The surrounding area is made up of beautiful rolling grasslands and filled with Ethnic Tibetans. Most pre-arranged tours will stop at Bird Island (niăo dăo)…

Qinghai Lake Nature Reserve


Satellite View

The main protection targets are rare birds and plateau wetland ecosystem…

Zhaling Lake Nature Reserve


Satellite View

unique plateau freshwater wetland at high altitude (4,273m asl) with marsh meadow and alpine vegetations, with the second largest lake in the sources of the Yellow River…

Guides & Tour Operators

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China Birding Tour

Tour Operator

China Birding is a travel company based in China, Chengdu and Tibet.We do tailor made itineraries for any bird watchers who have an interest in the birds of China: Qinghaai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet. We have the experience. We can do tour arrangements for individuals or for for birding travel companys visiting China. We can arrange all your hotels, travel and guiding…

Oriental Bird Club

Tour Operator

Next trip planned for 2016


Tour Operator

Northern China: Manchuria and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau…

Trip Reports

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Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2006 [08 August] - Remco Hofland


…Highlights incl 25 Lammergeiers and 9 Sakers; Chinese (Severtzov’s) Grouse, Szechenyi's Monal-Partridge, Blood Pheasant, Tibetan & White Eared-Pheasant, Temminck's Tragopan; Black-necked Crane, Ibisbill, Pallas’s Sandgrouse…

2008 [07 July] - Bjorn Anderson


pdf - … Later in the afternoon I walked the desert further west towards Caka in search of Henderson’s Ground-Jay and Snowfinch. I also spent some time looking for Pallas’s Sandgrouse, although I decided to leave the area at 17.00 before they normally start flying about…

2013 [07 July] - Peter Collaerts

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During our ride to the south, we had bad weather all the time. We did not stop on many places. On our ride back to the north, we stopped at the marshes near Madoi. Here we found Lesser Sand Plover and a couple of Black-necked Cranes…

2013 [07 July] - Rob Hutchinson

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…Soon after our first of many Gansu leaf Warblers appeared giving fantastic close views of this highly range-restricted Phylloscopus. Claudia’s, Hume’s and Chinese Leaf Warblers joined the action, before it was the turn of the nuthatches; first up a smart Przevalski’s Nuthatch came in closely to investigate us, then a short while later a rather dour Chinese Nuthatch struggled to compete despite giving even closer views…

2013 [08 August] - Jesper Hornskov

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Annotated list…

2014 [08 August] - Henk Hendriks

PDF Report

...It did not take long before we scored our first target, Reed Parrotbill. It took a little longer and after observing many Yellow Bitterns, we finally observed a Von Schrenck’s Bittern. Whiskered Tern was common and we regularly observed Oriental Reed Warbler at the reedy edges of the lake. A small flock of Asian Azurewinged Magpies gave good views...

2014 [08 August] - Sjef Ollers

PDF Report