31 days


Tibet, the very word conjures up images of one of the most exotic, forbidding and inhospitable places on earth. Impossible to visit at all until a few years ago, it is now feasible to travel rather widely there. Our tour will consist of driving right across the Tibetan Plateau from the northeast corner down the eastern side, ending up in Lhasa. We'll start with a couple of days on the northeastern edge of the plateau near Xining, both for the special birds there and to begin our acclimatization. Then we'll spend several days in the Koko Nor/Qaidam Basin areas in pursuit of their endemic species. Then we'll move on to a special endemic area near the headwaters of several of the great Asian rivers, the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, and Salween. Finally, we'll drive south and west, through the great forests of SE Tibet, enroute to Lhasa.

The Tibetan Plateau has often been called "The Roof of the World," an appropriate appellation, since it is the largest raised land mass on the face of the earth. It was formed millions of years ago when the Indo-Australian tectonic plate rammed into the Eurasian plate and was subducted under it, forcing the part of the Eurasian plate above it to rise. Even today, the Indian plate, now split off from the Australian tectonic plate, continues to move inexorably underneath Eurasia in a northeasterly direction.

Our birding will concentrate on finding the Tibetan endemic species and those species that are not readily found anywhere else. The tour is designed to give us a good chance of seeing all the Tibetan Plateau's endemic species such as: Tibetan Snowcock, Buff-throated Partridge (Szechenyi's Monal-Partridge), Rusty-necklaced and Tibetan Partridges, White and Tibetan Eared Pheasants, Black-necked Crane, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Derbyan Parakeet, Tibetan Lark, Ala Shan (Przevalski's) Redstart, White-backed Thrush, Giant and Tibetan (Koslov's) Babaxes, Giant and Brown-cheeked (Prince Henri's) Laughingthrushes, Gansu Leaf-Warbler, White-browed and Crested Tit-Warblers, Tibetan Ground-Tit (Hume's Ground-Jay or Groundpecker), White-browed Tit, Tibetan (Koslov's) Bunting, Pink-tailed, Pink-bellied, Streaked, Red-fronted and Tibetan (Roborowski's) Rosefinches, and 6 snowfinches (White-winged, Black-winged, White-rumped, Small, Rufous-necked, and Plain-backed). We're likely to see: Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Upland Buzzard, Saker Falcon, Daurian Partridge, Ibisbill, Great (Great Black-headed) Gull, Pallas's Sandgrouse, Snow Pigeon, Mongolian, Hume's and Asian Larks, Pale Martin (Riparia diluta, split from Sand Martin), Tibetan Shrike (maybe), Robin and Brown Accentors, White-tailed Rubythroat, White-throated, White-winged (Güldenstadt's) and White-bellied Redstarts, Grandala (maybe), Isabelline, Desert and  Pied Wheatears, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Beautiful Sibia, Spotted and Chinese Bush-Warblers, Chinese Leaf-Warbler, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Vivid Niltava, Black-browed Tit, Snowy-browed and White-cheeked Nuthatches, Wallcreeper, Pine Bunting, Black-headed Mountain-Finch, Mongolian and Desert Finches, Pale and Great Rosefinches, Rock Petronia, and Mongolian Ground-Jay. We may also see some interesting mammals, including: Tibetan Wild Ass, Wolf, Tibetan Gazelle, White-lipped Deer, and Blue Sheep. There is always the remote possibility of seeing a Snow Leopard. We saw a Pallas's Cat on one trip.

This is the most physically demanding tour we offer. Most days will be cool, sunny and pleasant, but some days will be raw with cold weather, wind, ice, rain, mud, and snow likely. We'll have over three weeks at altitudes over 3,300 m. (11,000 ft.), with birding up to 4,800 m. (15,850 ft.). You'll need a signed statement from your doctor stating that you're physically capable of managing the trip. Only basic medical facilities exist away from Xining and Lhasa and all participants must accept the implications of this. Accommodation will be basic through most of the trip, with several grim places. Food will be basic. Yes, it is a physically difficult trip, which is why so few have done or will ever do it. The rewards are some uniquely fascinating birds and some of the most magnificent scenery on the face of the earth.




BEN KING, president of KingBird Tours, has led 144 tours in Asia and is one of the most experienced bird-tour leaders on that continent. He has observed over 2,100 species of birds in Asia. He has written A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia and Checklist to the Birds of Eurasia and is now researching A Field Guide to the Birds of China. He has seen more species of China's birds than any other ornithologist (all but 11 of the 1,220 species--99% of the fauna). He has spent nearly three years birding in many parts of China (including leading 26 tours to various parts of China), and is thoroughly familiar with its avifauna. His knowledge of the birds, their habits and where they are found assures you of the best possible birding experience in China.



XINING (2 days) is on the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau at 2,300 m. (7,600 ft.) elevation. In the eroded hills on the edge of the city and a couple of nice relict spruce/birch forest patches north of Xining, we'll look for: Black Stork (maybe), Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Hobby, Rusty-necklaced and Daurian Partridges, Common Pheasant, Hill Pigeon, Common and Fork-tailed Swifts, Eurasian Hoopoe, Oriental Skylark, Eurasian Crag-Martin, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Siberian Rubythroat, Orange-flanked Bush-Robin, Black and White-bellied Redstarts, Pied Wheatear, Rufous-tailed Rockthrush, White-backed Thrush, Plain (maybe) and Elliot's Laughingthrushes, Spotted and Chinese Bush-Warblers, Yellow-streaked, Gansu Leaf-, Chinese Leaf-, Hume's and Greenish Warblers, Goldcrest, Crested Tit-Warbler, Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Songar and Rufous-vented Tits, Snowy-browed and White-cheeked Nuthatches, Wallcreeper, Pine, Chestnut-lined (Godlewski's) and Meadow Buntings, Grey-capped Greenfinch, Mongolian Finch, Pale and White-browed Rosefinches, Grey-headed Bullfinch, Red-billed Chough, Daurian Jackdaw, Rook, and Carrion Crow.

KOKO NOR (Qinghai Hu) (1 day) at 3,275 m. (10,750 ft.) is one of China's largest lakes and a great birding area where we can expect: Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, Whooper Swan, Greylag and Bar-headed Geese, Ruddy and Common Shelducks, Yellow-nib Duck, Red-crested, Common, and Ferruginous Pochards, Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Upland Buzzard, Tibetan Partridge, Black-necked and Demoiselle (maybe) Cranes, Northern Lapwing, Great and Brown-headed Gulls, Eurasian Eagle-Owl (maybe), Little Owl, Tibetan, Mongolian, Hume's and Horned Larks, Sand and Pale Martins, Yellow-hooded Wagtail, Robin and Brown Accentors, White-tailed Rubythroat, Ala Shan and White-winged Redstarts, Isabelline Wheatear, Dusky Warbler, Tickell's Leaf-Warbler, Small Whitethroat (maybe), White-browed Tit-Warbler, Tibetan Ground-Tit, White-browed Tit, Black-faced Bunting, Twite, Pink-tailed and Beautiful Rosefinches, and Black-winged, White-rumped, Small and Rufous-necked Snowfinches.

The QAIDAM BASIN (2 days) at 3,240 m. (10,660 ft.) is a large desert. We visit the eastern part of it near Chaka and Dulan. The basin and the surrounding hills are good for: Rusty-necklaced Partridge, Pallas's Sandgrouse, Asian Lark, Rufous-tailed Shrike, Desert Wheatear, Desert Finch (maybe), Rock Petronia, Plain-backed Snowfinch, and Mongolian Ground-Jay.

BAI ZHA FOREST RESERVE (2 days) and KANDA SHAN (2 days) are situated in SE Qinghai Province near Nangqian. This area has been designated a special endemic area by Birdlife International. There and at various sites along the road (8 days), we'll search for: Northern Goshawk, Saker Falcon, Tibetan Snowcock, Buff-throated Partridge, White Eared Pheasant, Ibisbill, Tibetan Sandgrouse, Snow Pigeon, Asian House-Martin, Tibetan Shrike (maybe), White-throated Dipper, Alpine Accentor, Hodgson's, Blue-fronted and White-throated Redstarts, Grandala (maybe), White-capped Redstart, Tibetan Babax, Giant Laughingthrush, Lemon-rumped Warbler, Grey-crested Tit, Tibetan Bunting, Plain and Black-headed Mountain-Finches, Pink-bellied, Streaked, Red-fronted and Tibetan Rosefinches, White-winged Grosbeak, Russet Sparrow, White-winged Snowfinch, Yellow-billed Chough, and Common Raven. This is the best part of the trip for large mammals, such as Blue Sheep, Tibetan Gazelle, Tibetan Wild Ass, Wolf, and White-lipped Deer. Snow Leopard is possible. We saw Pallas's Cat on one trip.

SE TIBET(6 days). We'll see some fascinating country in our drive from Qamdo to Lhasa. As the area is little explored by birders, we're likely to make some interesting discoveries.  We'll pass fairly close to the great bend of the Tsangpo River. There are still some good forests in SE Tibet. We are likely to see: Speckled Wood-Pigeon, Derbyan Parakeet, Great Barbet, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Red-rumped Swallow, Long-tailed and Short-billed Minivets, Indian Blue Robin, Daurian Redstart, White-collared Blackbird, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Striated Laughingthrush, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous-winged and Streak-throated Fulvettas, Beautiful Sibia, Whiskered Yuhina, Large-billed, Blyth's and White-tailed Leaf-Warblers, Golden-spectacled, Olive-crowned (Seicercus whistleri), and Black-faced Warblers, Dark-sided and Ferruginous Flycatchers, Rufous-bellied and Vivid Niltavas, Black-browed Tit, Chestnut-vented Nuthatch, Gould's and Green-tailed Sunbirds, Chestnut-flanked White-eye, Eurasian Jay, and Spotted Nutcracker. With luck we could see some of the following: Besra, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Blood Pheasant, Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo, Lesser Cuckoo, Crimson-breasted and Darjeeling Woodpeckers, Nepal House-Martin, Maroon-backed Accentor, Plain-backed and Chestnut Thrushes, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Green and Black-eared Shrike-Babblers, Streak-throated Barwing, Red-tailed Minla, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Grey-cheeked Warbler, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Black-headed Greenfinch, Three-banded Rosefinch, Crimson-browed and Scarlet Finches, Brown Bullfinch, Collared and Spot-winged Grosbeaks, Gold-naped Finch, and Gold-billed Magpie.

The LHASA (3 days) area contains an interesting monastery that is a good site for Tibetan Eared Pheasant, Eurasian Blackbird, Giant Babax, Brown-cheeked Laughingthrush, and Great Rosefinch. We'll spend a full day in Lhasa soaking up the Potala and the Jokhang Temple.



Arrive Beijing. Overnight Sino-Swiss Hotel.
Fly Beijing/Xining. Late afternoon birding near Xining. Overnight Qinghai Hotel.
26 days
On tour.
Fly Lhasa/Chengdu and Chengdu/Beijing. Overnight Sino-Swiss Hotel.
Depart Beijing.



AIR CONSIDERATIONS: The tour begins and ends in Beijing. We'll be purchasing your internal China flights in Beijing in order to keep the group together. Please arrive a day or two early in Beijing to ensure timely arrival and allow some time to get over jet lag.

LAND PRICE/NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS: Land price is based on the number of participants. The maximum number of participants is 12.

LAND PRICE INCLUDES: Land price includes all ground transportation, transfers, double occupancy hotel rooms, all meals, guides, tips, fees, permits and airport taxes in China. NOT INCLUDED are airport taxes outside China, passports, visas, excess baggage charges, forwarding of baggage, souvenirs, laundry, personal tips, alcoholic beverages, room service charges, items not on menu of included meals, personal items, fees for vaccinations, sightseeing not included on itinerary, insurance of any kind, telephone calls, cable or telex charges, medical examinations or treatment, and meal or other charges incurred which are not part of the itinerary (caused by any unforeseen delay beyond our control).

LAND AND AIR RATES: All prices are based on rates in effect for this tour. If there are price changes, they will be passed along to tour members. KingBird Tours' planning, promotional and operating costs are included in all tour rates.

TRANSPORTATION: Surface transportation is by Toyota Land Cruiser or similar vehicle.

ACCOMMODATION: Based on two persons sharing a twin-bedded room. Single rooms will not be available everywhere. We'll supply roommates if possible, but if none is available, the single supplement will be charged. First-class hotel with private bath will be supplied in Beijing, Xining, and Lhasa. Accommodation will be basic to comfortable elsewhere, with several primitive places.

ITINERARY: KingBird Tours reserves the right to make any necessary changes in the itinerary. Note that our Chinese hosts may make alterations in the itinerary that are beyond the control of KingBird Tours.

TOUR ESCORT: Ben King will be with you from Beijing to Beijing.

GRATUITIES: Tipping is illegal in China. ONLY books, pamphlets, or other non-political written material may be given. Consult your trip leader if you wish to reward the Chinese who assist us.

MEDICAL and HEALTH: All applicants should be in good health and in good physical condition. If in doubt about your ability to manage the trip, consult your physician. The trip leader has the right to disqualify anyone at any time during the trip if he believes it is medically necessary. Refunds are not given under such circumstances.

BAGGAGE: International flight baggage allowance from USA to Beijing is two pieces with a maximum total dimension (length, width, height of both pieces added up) of 106 inches. Note that most USA-based airlines now allow only 23 kg. (50 lbs.) / bag—there will be a surcharge for any excess up to 32 kg. (70 lbs). On many foreign airlines,each bag may weigh up to 32 kg. (70 lbs.). However, internal flights in China allow a maximum of 20 kg. (44 lbs.). They are likely to weigh your luggage carefully but are less zealous with groups and hand baggage. You will be responsible for any excess baggage charges. There is currently no problem with 2 hand-carries in China. Air carrier's liability for baggage loss is limited and therefore baggage insurance is recommended and available at nominal rates. N.B. Checked luggage is now X-rayed at most airports in China. Keep film either in a lead-lined bag or in your hand-carry bag and take it out to avoid X-rays.

SMOKING RULES: 1) NO smoking in vehicles. 2) NO smoking at meal tables. 3) NO smoking in bedrooms if your roommate does not smoke. 4) The smoker is expected to see that his smoke does not move toward other tour members at all times. 5) Anyone smoking will be last in line on single file paths or trails.