Friday, 20 September 2013

Across the Roof of the World!

We left Nangqian early at 5 am. Today, was mainly a  travel day. We had to cover over 400 kms over some not too good roads. Extensive road works slowed us down a lot and it turned out to be a long day in the vehicles.

 Our vehicles.

Our trusty drivers - who were great!

 Inside a Tibetan tea house, 
by the roadside.

Some of the boys not looking too impressed
 by what is on offer!

The dangers of a very long road!

 After a couple of hours drive we stopped at a high pass - very cold! Compensation was in the form of three species of Rosefinch. Himalayan Griffons were up early, soaring over the crags. We were to see over 80 birds today, on our travels.

 Adult Himalayan Griffon Vulture

An immature bird.

We pressed on over the pass and found ourselves once more, in high altitude grassland dotted with large lakes. Upland Buzzards were common and a few Sakers were also seen. A young Eastern Imperial Eagle was a good sighting, but a bit too distant to take a photograph.


Saker - still common here.
Around the marshes and lakes Black-necked Cranes were breeding. They always seemed to keep their distance though and photography through the heat haze was difficult. Good numbers seen flying overhead though.

The wetter areas of the plateau 
teemed with waterfowl.

A stunning Bar-headed Goose

 Ruddy Shelducks are common 
on the high plateau areas

A really great bird!

Black-necked Cranes

Common Terns of the local Tibetan race were also much in evidence over the lakes and marshes. 
The Tibetan race (?) of Northern Raven was also quite common. It really is a bit of a beast!

A bit of a surprise was the continued sightings of Common Cuckoos. They were active and calling, some no doubt, breeding locally (but what is the species they are paratasing)? Others being migrants and moving even further north. Before I came on this trip, I wasn't aware that this species bred so far east. Everywhere we have been, there have been Common Cuckoos on the move.

Common Cuckoo

Oriental Skylarks; Hume's Short-toed Larks and Hume's Groundpeckers were on the grasslands, together with large numbers of White-rumped Snowfinches. Rufous-necked Snowfinches being on the more rocky areas, near mountain passes etc.

 Hume's Short-toed Lark

 Hume's Groundpecker

A very strange bird! What family is it?

 White-rumped Snowfinch

Rufous-necked Snowfinch

Plateau Pikas were everywhere and a Mountain Weasel which preys upon them. A distant Grey Wolf was also seen.
Plateau Pika

The very quick, Pika eater!

The whole day had been at altitudes of between 4,100 -4400m and these were the flat bits! Mountain passes reached a dizzyingly high 4,797 m!

One of the many high passes we drove over today.

A flat bit at 4,797m!

The next day were left early and stopped at an abandoned village. It had been abandoned because the ground had been undercut by the river and slowly, it was falling into the river bed.

 People still return for an occasional visit.

3 Grey Wolves were on a distant hillside and provided some excitement in the cold early morning air.

These Tibetan Wolves are really huge
 & shaggy!

We moved on through wild and largely empty landscapes. Large mammals were much in evidence: Tibetan Gazelle numbering over 450.

Tibetan Gazelle

While Tibetan Wild Ass reached
 a staggering 270 animals.

 Rare Tibetan Antelope were also seen - this is a difficult and hard to see species. They formerly were found in large herds. The following photo is an old one, taken from a photo library, depicting a large herd migrating. Numbers are much reduced today, mainly because of hunting.

Male Tibetan Antelope

The day had warmed up nicely and we stopped in a stony plateau area where Jesper had seen Tibetan Sandgrouse previously. Now, this was more like it. Flat, no hills to climb! Brilliant! I wandered off and within minutes heard sandgrouse flying over and they landed not too far away! I spent a very enjoyable hour trying to photograph them amid this arid plain.

 The holy grail! In close up!

By now the sky had darkened and the temperature had dropped (weather changes very fast at these altitudes) and we all headed back to the vehicles just in time, before the sleet struck.
Yet again, the whole day had been above 4,000 m, with one pass reaching over 4,800m. Everyone was tired, we enjoyed an early night. The hotel was good: hot water and a proper mattress! Absolute bliss! We luxuriated in our one lay-in of the trip and I felt great the next day. It was wonderful to feel clean again!

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