The Reting monastery was left in the afternoon on 6 October, and we headed for the city of Dam Chong. The night was spent there, a really cold night in fact, and we turned our noses towards the famous Nam Tso ("Sky Lake") in the morning. A really nice and cooperative adult Lammergeier posed just 50 meters from the road some kilometers west of Dam Chong. Once again we had to experience a rather bumpy road, but with stunning scenery when driving over a mountain pass reaching 5120 masl. On these elevations we saw lots of snowfinches, including both the Tibetan and White-winged Snowfinch. Also very present were Horned Larks, being common all through the day.
Male and female White-winged Redstarts at Nam Tso lake.
When closing up to the Nam Tso there was a huge wetland along the road. I really had good hopes of spotting the Black-necked Crane, but intense binocular scanning did not give any positive results. The lake Nam Tso did not really offer any numbers of birds, but several Great Crested Grebes were feeding outside the shoreline. However, on land there were more feathered animals to watch. The most numerous were Horned Larks, Tibetan Snowfinches and Plain Mountain Finches. We tried hard to identify some eastern larks within the parties of Greater Short-toed Larks, but unfortunately with no luck. While watching four soaring Upland Buzzards above the hills, a female plumaged Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush showed well - a nice addition to the list. Also more common than before on this trip were White-winged Redstarts (pictures above), being common all over the Nam Tso area.
On our return from Nam Tso we checked the large wetaland again. Ruddy Shelducks were common, and we also spotted our first group of Bar-headed Geese. Further scanning produced the awaited Black-necked Crane. Five birds were feeding in the middle of the wetland, on a distance of several kilometers from us. When closing up a bit one of the cranes turned out to be a Common Crane - a good bird in this area. Our forth species of snowfinch was also identified here, the Rufous-necked Snowfinch.
Today was mainly spent in the car, travelling back to Lhasa. We counted the birds at the wetlands outside Dam Chong before the return in the morning. There were lots of nomads here, and thousands of Yaks. Ruddy Shelducks were the most common species, but several Common Buzzards and Common Kestrels were hunting for Pikas. A nice male Hen Harrier hunting near the marshes was our only new species today. A total of 19 Black-necked Cranes were feeding among the Yaks, and a couple of family groups of the Hume's Groundpecker were around.
Total list from these days: Bar-headed Goose (8), Ruddy Shelduck (150), Hill Pigeon (common), Oriental Turtle Dove (20), Black-necked Crane (23), Common Crane (1), Great Black-headed Gull (12), Lammergeier (15), Himalayan Griffon Vulture (25), Hen Harrier (1), Eurasian Sparrow Hawk (1), Common Buzzard (10), Upland Buzzard (5), Common Kestrel (common), Great-crested Grebe (15), Black-billed Magpie (20), Humes Groundpecker (13+), Red-billed Chough (50), Common Raven (6), Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush (1), White-winged Redstart (30), Black Redstart (3), Common Stonechat (5), Eurasian Crag Martin (20), Winter Wren (2), Greater Short-toed Lark (30), Oriental Skylark (25), Horned Lark (150+), Eurasian Tree Sparrow (common), White-winged Snowfinch (25), Tibetan Snowfinch (100+), Rufous-necked Snowfinch (10), White Wagtail (45), Himalayan Accentor (1), Robin Accentor (45), Brown Accentor (15), Twite (50), Plain Mountain Finch (55), White-browed Rosefinch (2), Beautiful Rosefinch (10) and Great Rosefinch (20).
The day in the reting monastery started up pretty early, with the enchanting sounds from a Giant Babax (picture) group. When looking through my window I saw at least five birds running around in the open outside. While watching these birds a Tickell's Warbler sat down in the shrub outside my room, and gave views down to half a meter! Anyway, I was really eager to get some shots of the skylky endemic Babax, and the photo equipment was prepared. I went out and got my share of photos. Surprisingly, they were slightly confiding birds, in opposition to the experience from the Garma valley.
When working in the forest of tall junipers we had lots of passerines. Different Finches and Accentors were the most numerous. Finally we managed to ID an adult male White-browed Rosefinch, the age making identification quite easy. The first Rufous-breasted Accentor of the trip gave brief views while flying back and forth between some of the lower vegetation. Good numbers of the enormous White-winged Grosbeak were seen feeding on on the ground. Eating seeds from juniper, together with several species of Rosefinches. Also more numerous then ever before on this trip were the Red-billed Choughs, with at least 80 birds keeping close to the monastery. The Yellow-billed Chough (first of the trip) was also present, with about twenty birds.
Total list from today: Tibetan Partridge (1), Hoopoe (common), Hill Pigeon (70+), Oriental Turtle Dove (8), Great Black-headed Gull (2), Himalayan Griffon Vulture (20), Common Buzzard (5), Common Kestrel (10), Black-billed Magpie (10), Hume?s Groundpecker (5), Red-billed Chough (80), Yellow-billed Chough (20), Common Raven (5), White-throated Dipper (1), Eurasian Blackbird (35), Hodgson?s Redstart (3), White-throated Redstart (10), White-winged Redstart (10), White-capped Water Redstart (5), Common Stonechat (3), Great Tit (15), Eurasian Crag Martin (5), Tickell?s Leaf Warbler (5), Goldcrest (3), Brown-cheeked Laughingthrush (10), Giant Babax (15), Eurasian Tree Sparrow (common), White Wagtail (15), Olive-backed Pipit (5), Robin Accentor (31), Rufous-breasted Accentor (1), Brown Accentor (9), Twite (25), Common Rosefinch (3), Beautiful Rosefinch (10), White-browed Rosefinch (1), Great and Streaked Rosefinch (20) and White-winged Grosbeak (35).
A new 4-wheel drive car was rented for our next trip. We left Lhasa early in the morning and headed for Kartse in Lundroop. This is an artificial lake with good amounts of waterbirds. Many familiar species of ducks were around, with the Eurasian Teal as the most numerous. Six Spot-billed Ducks mixing with a party of Ruddy Shelducks were actually new on my life list. A single Ruff feeding along the water-edge was the first record in the lake for Tsering. We spent several hours at the lake, and did also experience the heaviest hail-storm I ever witnessed. The landscape was suddenly all white of large hails, but went back to normal after a couple of hours of sunshine. The fields around Kartse were filled with larks and wagtails. We got our first Greater Short-toed Larks of the trip, a party of sixteen birds, but they only gave brief views. The Oriental Skylark was very common, as was Citrine Wagtails.
On our way further north, towards the Reting monastery, we also found two individuals of the stunning Tibetan Lark and a huge group of more than 50 Himalayan Griffon Vultures. We entered the monastery during the late evening, had a chat with the monks, ate dinner, drank butter tea and went to sleep (with dreams of many good birds in this new habitat, which is filled with fifteen meter high juniper).
Total list from today: Ruddy Shelduck (50), Mallard (10), Spot-billed Duck (6), Northern Shoveler (10), Northern Pintail (20), Gadwall (50), Eurasian Wigeon (5), Garganey (10), Common Teal (450), Common Pochard (2), Goosander (7), Hoopoe (common), Hill Pigeon (common), Oriental Turtle Dove (10), Common Moorhen (1), Northern Lapwing (6), Ruff (1), Common Redshank (3), Common Geenshank (20), Wood Sandpiper (2), Great Black-headed Gull (5), Brown-headed Gull (2), Himalayan Griffon Vulture (65+), Lammergeier (4), Common Buzzard (4), Common Kestrel (25), Great Crested Grebe (15), Black-necked Grebe (1), Grey-backed Shrike (3), Black-billed Magpie (10), Hume?s Groundpecker (5), Common Raven (6), White-throated Dipper (2), Black Redstart (4), White-winged Redstart (10), White-capped Water Redstart (4), Common Stonechat (5), Great Tit (5), Eurasian Crag Martin (25), Barn Swallow (1), Asian House Martin (5), Tibetan Lark (2), Greater Short-toed Lark (16), Oriental Skylark (150+), Horned Lark (50), Eurasian Tree Sparrow (common), White Wagtail (45), Citrine Wagtail (90+), Brown Accentor (5), Twite (300+) and unidentified small and large Rosefinches (many?).
Finally! We went up to the Garma valley in the afternoon on 29th, and spend several hours driving to our destination. The last 15 km. or so was not really a road for cars, so a good four wheel drive was essential. This valley consists of several small villages, and we were headed for the upper and inner one called Tugcha, about 80 km. northeast of Lhasa. The Zoological institute of the University of Tibet made a field-station up here last year, and this was our home for the next days. The station is at an altitude of 4300 m.a.s.l. We arrived pretty late, so there was no time for birding. On our way up the valley we managed to get views of a stunning White-capped Water Redstart.
After a bad nights sleep (with rain poring down through the roof making all sleeping bags and everything completely useless at the time) we woke up to the thrilling calls of Great Rosefinches, Tibetan Snowcock and Robin Accentors. Good numbers of several species of rosefinches, Twites and Common Stonechats (all white rumped) were roving around the station. Tibetan Partridges were calling nearby and the first Lammergeiers of the trip flew around in the light fog. This was an absolute eldorado! The rosefinches were hard to identify. Almost all birds were in female plumage, and they were in mixed groups and always restless. I photographed some, so post-identification may be possible. We identified at least some Great and Streaked Rosefinches (the larger species), and some Beautiful Rosefinches. But there were lots of "strange looking" beautiful ones, so hopefully we'll manage to identify some more later on.
Day number two we ascended about 350 meters on foot (puh!) to get views of two of our target species, namely the Tibetan Eared Pheasant and Giant Babax. In a small valley filled with dense juniper we managed to get both. This was also the only place we saw White-winged Grosbeaks, Blue-fronted and White-fronted Redstarts. Evenly distributed in the slopes was the Brown-cheeked Laughingthrush, singing from inside these dense bushes. On our way up we had a flock of 43 soaring Himalayan Griffon Vultures. What a sight!
Total list from these days: Tibetan Snowcock (1), Tibetan Partridge (15), Tibetan Eared Pheasant (5), Hill Pigeon (100+), Oriental Turtle Dove (10), Black-eared Kite (1), Lammergeier (5), Himalayan Griffon Vulture (50), Common Buzzard (2), Common Kestrel (4), Saker Falcon (1), Grey-backed Shrike (5), Black-billed Magpie (15), Hume's Groundpecker - Ground Tit (5), Red-billed Chough (6+), Common Raven (4), White-throated Dipper (4), Eurasian Blackbird (5), White-throated Redstart (3), White-winged Redstart (4), Blue-fronted Redstart (1), White-capped Water Redstart (2), Common Stonechat (40+), Great Tit (10), Eurasian Crag Martin (50), Asian House Martin (40), Dusky Warbler (3), Tickell's Leaf Warbler (10), Brown-cheeked Laughingthrush (15), Giant Babax (4), Oriental Skylark (5), Horned Lark (15), Eurasian Tree Sparrow (common near villages), White Wagtail (35), Citrine Wagtail (3), Olive-backed Pipit (10), Rosy Pipit (45), Water Pipit (3), Robin Accentor (50+), Brown Accentor (5), Twite (150+), Beautiful Rosefinch (apparently common), Streaked Rosefinch (just a few identified), Great Rosefinch (common), Collared Grosbeak (5) and Godlewski's Bunting (15).
Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) Gypaetus barbatus, Streaked Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilloides, Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus and Tibetan Woolly Hare Lepus oiostolus.
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