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Xinjiang Uygher Autonomous Region

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis ©Alister Benn Website

Landlocked Xinjiang, capital Urumqi, is a huge region with three big mountain ranges. These are: the Altai, shared with Russia in the north, the Tien Shan in the centre and the Kunlun-Altun Mountains in the south along the border with India and Pakistan.

Between these three mountain ranges are two deserts, with the feared Taklamakan desert in the south being the largest. There the enigmatic Xinjiang (formerly Biddulph’s) Ground Jay still clings to existence, although numbers are declining due to overgrazing and other environmental damage. In some semi-desert areas both Great Bustard and McQueen’s Bustard may still be found. The fringes of the Taklamakan Desert are a place of many ruins of ancient civilizations. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk is a very readable account of early 20th century archaeological discoveries by foreign adventurers in Xinjiang.

Xinjiang has a palearctic avifauna, with many species at the eastern ends of their ranges. European Bee-eater and European Roller are colourful examples. In the far west, at the town of Yili, the former Russian Consulate is now a hotel, set in a compound with mature trees. Here there are Turkestan Tits. In spring the song of Nightingales and Eurasian Cuckoo can be heard.

Heaven Lake in the Tien Shan (Heavenly Mountains) is a three-hour drive northeast of the capital. The pines around the lake hold Three-toed Woodpecker, Blue-capped and White-winged Redstarts, Black-throated Accentor and Fire-fronted Serin.

South of Urumqi, the oases around the city of Turpan are sites for Azure Tit, Little Owl and Barred Warbler.

The biggest nature reserve in China is the Arjinshan National Nature Reserve in the southeast of Xinjiang. It covers 46,000 sq km of steppe, desert and lakes. However, it is remote and undeveloped, with as yet no visitor facilities.

Xinjiang was the site of discovery of one of China’s most enigmatic birds. In 1929, near the Karakoram Pass, Dutchman J.A.Sillem shot two specimens of mountain finch that were originally considered to be an odd race of Plain Mountain Finch. In 1992 the specimens were reassessed in Holland and it was decided they should be upgraded to a full species. Live examples of “Sillem’s Mountain Finch” have not been seen in the wild since the original specimens were collected.

Xinjiang has a few active birders, some of whom recently found a significant population of the endangered White-headed Duck breeding on reservoirs near Urumqi.

No account of birding in Xinjiang would be complete without mention of Professor MA Ming, of the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography. As well as being a prolific author, Prof. MA is a very well-known and dedicated champion of birds and their habitats throughout this vast region.

Contributor

Useful Reading

* Field Guides & Bird Song

For a comprehensive list of recommended titles covering China as a whole - please see the China page of Fatbirder

A Checklist on the Distribution of the Birds in Xinjiang

by Ma Ming, 2011 Huayu Nature Book Trade Co.Ltd

ISBN: 9787030300461

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Trip Reports

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CloudBirders

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.

2013 [08 August] - Mark Beaman

Report PDF

…Our pre-tour foray into Xinjiang included two totally contrasting environments: the harsh Taklimakan Desert and the elm-lined Tarim River on the one hand and the spruce forests, alpine shrubbery and high mountain peaks of the Tian Shan (or Tien Shan) mountains on the other. As well as the endemic Biddulph’s (or Xinjiang) Ground Jay, we encountered…

2016 [07 July] - Mike Nelson - Tibetan Plateau and Xinjiang

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Along the way we picked up Eurasian Buzzard, Greyheaded Bullfinch, Willow Tit, Elliot’s and Pere David’s Laughingthrush, Yellow-streaked, Hume’s and Greenish Warblers, Goldcrest, Chinese and Przewalski’s Nuthatch, Crested Tit-Warbler, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Bluefronted and White-throated Redstart, Eurasian Siskin, Chinese White-browed Rosefinch and Rufous-breasted Accentor

China Bird Report

Report

For the most part these are just lists of birds seen on individual dates at locations across the whole of China - but none-the-less, useful… In Chinese and [mostly] English.

Organisations

Xinjiang Bird Watching Society

Information

Xinjiang Bird Watching Society, which was established in May 2004, is an NGO with about 40 core members concerning and protecting birds in Xinjiang. It is now under the Xinjiang Ecological Society. Photos and logs...

Reserves

Altun Mountain Nature Reserve

Information

Satellite View

Some of the animals living in great numbers are under the state protection such as wild yak, wild ass, antelope, black-necked crane and snow leopard…

Bogeda Peak National Nature Reserve

Information

Satellite View

According to the record, there are 24 species of animals, 50 species of birds, and 6 species of reptiles, fish and amphibians respectively…

Motuo Nature Reserve

Satellite View

The Reserve mainly protects its mountain forests and rare plants and animals…