The following morning we left at 6am after a poor night’s sleep and drove for maybe an hour and a half to Dong Xia – a pine clad series of hills for our first taste of Qinghai birding. The only birds of note on the drive being Little Owl, numerous Common Pheasants and a Grey-backed Shrike. Upon arrival we drove up to an open area and parked the coach, and whilst our crew were preparing breakfast we walked down to the edge of the forest. One of our first birds was a Chinese Nuthatch that appeared right beside us and showed well, and was quickly followed by a Chinese White-browed Rosefinch. Goldcrest, Sichuan Tit and a Siberian Bluetail. This latter species is basically Northern Red-flanked Bluetail but is vocally distinctive and also looks a little different and is a potential future split. With the lure of coffee back at the coach we returned and enjoyed a nice breakfast, but birds kept appearing to distract us.
One of my favourite birds, Spotted Bush-warbler, began calling uphill and with a little prompting flew right down and into the bushes next to us. It showed superbly well and was very, very bold, giving views down to 2 metres! After a few more mouthfuls a pair of White-throated Redstarts appeared nearby, then an Elliot’s Laughingthrush hopped out onto the road, a pair of White-winged Grosbeaks appeared and another Siberian Bluetail was seen.
Once breakfast was over we began walking along a nice little trail that passed through the pine forest and scrub-covered hills. Almost immediately we picked up our first Gansu Leaf-warbler and then found them to be extremely common in this area. Other warblers here were Hume’s Leaf-warbler (mandellii) and Yellow-streaked Warbler, both of which proved to be very confiding. Everyone particularly appreciated several views of male Siberian Rubythroats singing from their exposed song perches, and we probably saw 4 different males in total. We had just finished watching one fine male rubythroat when a lovely male White-browed (Severtzov's) Tit-warbler flew across the path in front of us and we were able to watch a pair taking food into a bush on the hillside above us.
And then having just said how skulky White-bellied Redstarts are, would you believe one just hops on top of a bush and sings back at us for several minutes. Amazing! Finally, after quite a search we were able to find a superb Przewalski’s Nuthatch singing form the top of a pine tree, and manage to call it in for much closer views. There was also a couple of Plain Laughingthrushes feeding beside the path as well.
Other species seen this morning included Himalayan Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Oriental Turtle Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Himalayan Wagtail, Chestnut Thrush, Rufous-vented and Japanese Tit.
So we left here and drove back towards Xining, stopping at a small restaurant for our first of many excellent meals. Afterwards, we drove back to the airport as our luggage had finally arrived (looking forward to clean pants!) and then we set off to Huzhu Beishan, a drive of a couple of hours. The road wound its way through beautiful valleys with tall mountains either side and eventually we reached a certain point from where we could scan the tree and bush-covered hillsides all around us. Virtually the first bird Mr Todd put his bins on was a Blue Eared-Pheasant, and then there was a second bird. Unbelievable! We were able to watch them at leisure through the scope for ages until a crowd gathered around us wanting their photos taken with us big noses! Kevin found a second pair (of pheasants) a short while later, and further scanning revealed both Chestnut & Kessler’s Thrushes as well.
All that remained was to drive a further 30kms to a really good hotel, where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. Just as well as the weather had closed in and a dark sky led to heavy rain by the time we reached there at 6pm.