Xinjiang Province (Chinese Turkestan)
24 days

The extreme northwestern part of China, also known as Chinese Turkestan, is perhaps the least known ornithologically of all of China. Kazakhstan lies to the northwest, Siberia to the north, Mongolia to the Northeast and Tibet to the south. It shares birds with all these areas, but especially those of the other parts of Turkestan (Central Asia, now known as Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, etc.) to the west. It is a rugged land of desert, steppe, forest, some superb wetlands and jagged mountains. There are few people in this part of China, resulting in extensive stretches of good habitat for birds. If you are looking for the road less traveled, it would be difficult to find a better candidate.

We will fly to Urumqi from Beijing, beginning our adventure with a drive south to Korla, which lies at the edge of the great Taklimakan Desert of the Tarim Basin, near the Tarim River. After surveying some of the desert birds, as well as some nice wetlands, we will move west through two ranges of the mighty Tien Shan mountains. Between the two ranges lies the long, broad, cultivated Ili River valley which will add additional species. Our westward swing will take us close to the Kazakhstan border before we head north for our trip through and around the edge of the Gurbantünggür Desert in the Junggar Basin, including a couple of days in the Altai Mountains near Siberia to the north and Mongolia to the east. We will add a nice batch of wetland, steppe, desert, and montane birds on this section of the trip before returning to Urumqi and Beijing.

We will make a special effort to find the Xinjiang (Biddulph's) Ground-Jay, Xinjiang's only endemic species, and we have an excellent chance of seeing it. Other likely birds of interest are:  Little and Great Bitterns, Red-crested Pochard, Lammergeier, Himalayan and Eurasian Griffons, Monk Vulture, Steppe Eagle, Booted Eagle, Himalayan Snowcock, Chukar, Common Quail, Common and Demoiselle Cranes, Corn Crake, Yellow-legged Gull, Great Gull, Pallas's and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Little Owl, European Bee-eater, European Roller, White-winged and Black Woodpeckers, Calandra and Bimaculated Larks, Red-backed and Rufous-tailed Shrikes, Lesser and Steppe Grey Shrikes, White-throated Dipper, Rufous-streaked and Black-throated Accentors, Common Nightingale, White-tailed Rubythroat, Rufous-backed and Blue-capped Redstarts, Pied Wheatear, Chinese Babbler, Bearded Parrotbill, Cetti's, Grasshopper, Rusty-rumped, and Savi's Warblers, Booted and Syke's Warblers, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Barred Warbler, Songar, Turkestan and Azure Tits, Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Pine, Grey-hooded, Ortolan, and Red-headed Buntings, Chaffinch, Fire-fronted Serin, Mongolian and Desert Finches, Saxaul Sparrow, Rosy Starling and Mongolian Ground-Jay.

The tour is only moderately physically demanding and anyone in good health and fair physical shape will be fine. The tour involves some long drives and long days which are tiring. The maximum elevation will be about 3,300 m. (11,000 ft.). A moderate amount of steep slope walking will be done (very slowly). It will be quite hot on our four days on the edge of the Tarim Basin, and cool in the Tien Shan and Altai Mountains. Accommodation ranges from excellent in Beijing and Urumqi, to okay to poor (i.e. modest to very basic) on the tour. Food is fair.




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 of 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.



The TARIM RIVER BASIN (4 days) near Korla has quite varied terrain, ranging from rolling sand dunes, to wooded areas, a shallow lake, reedbeds and irrigated cultivation. The Xinjiang Ground-Jay is here in the sand dunes and while it is usually difficult to find, we have an excellent chance of seeing it. We are also likely to see: Little and Great Bitterns, Common Shelduck, Red-crested and Ferruginous Pochards, Common Redshank, Yellow-legged, Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls, Whiskered, White-winged, Common, and Little Terns, Pallas's Sandgrouse, European Turtle-Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Laughing Dove, Common Cuckoo, Little Owl, Eurasian Hoopoe, White-winged Woodpecker, Asian Lark, Yellow and Yellow-hooded Wagtails, Rufous-tailed Shrike, Bluethroat, Isabelline and Desert Wheatears, Chinese Babbler, Bearded Parrotbill, Paddyfield Warbler, Great Reed-Warbler, Syke's Warbler, Small Whitethroat, Barred Warbler, Red-headed and Reed Buntings, and Saxaul Sparrow. With luck we could see Booted Eagle, Pied Avocet, European Nightjar, or Caspian Reed-Warbler. The White Wagtails here are sometimes split off as Masked Wagtail (M. personata).

En route to the Tarim Basin, we may see Black Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Kestrel, Rock (wild ones) and Hill Pigeons, Common Swift, Northern House-Martin, Northern and Pied Wheatears, Grey-hooded Bunting, Mongolian Finch, and Common Raven.

The TIEN SHAN MOUNTAINS (3 days) will offer us a wide range of altitudes up to 3,300 m. (11,000 ft.) and habitats, including spruce forest, wetlands, tree-line scrub, alpine meadows, and snow-lined scree slopes. Likely birds are: Black Stork, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, Himalayan Snowcock, Chukar, Common and Demoiselle Cranes, Oriental Turtle-Dove, Eurasian Skylark, Horned Lark, Eurasian Crag-Martin, Brown Tree-Pipit, Water Pipit, White-throated Dipper, Rufous-streaked and Black-throated Accentors, White-tailed Rubythroat, Rufous-backed, Blue-capped and Black Redstarts, Rufous-tailed Rockthrush, Eurasian Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Grasshopper and Hume's Warblers, Greater Whitethroat, Goldcrest, Songar, Coal and Azure Tits, Fire-fronted Serin, European Goldfinch, European Linnet, Plain Mountain-Finch, Desert Finch, Common Rosefinch, Spotted Nutcracker, Red-billed Chough, and Carrion Crow.

With luck, we might see Black Grouse, Pallid Scops-Owl, Eurasian Eagle-Owl, Boreal Owl, Three-toed Woodpecker, White-winged Redstart, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Wallcreeper, Black-headed Mountain-Finch, Great Rosefinch, Red Crossbill, White-winged Snowfinch, or Yellow-billed Chough.

The ILI RIVER VALLEY (4 days) is a long, broad, heavily cultivated river valley with some large wetlands, grasslands and dry rocky side valleys.  Here we'll look for a host of interesting birds: Oriental Honey-Kite (maybe), Short-toed Eagle (maybe), Western Marsh-Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, Common Quail, Water Rail (maybe), Corn Crake, Northern Lapwing, Collared Pratincole (maybe), Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Stock Pigeon, Common Wood-Pigeon, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Calandra Lark, Tawny Pipit, Lesser Grey Shrike, Common  Nightingale, Common Stonechat, Cetti's, Rusty-rumped and Savi's Warblers, Turkestan Tit, Rock Petronia, Corn and Meadow Buntings, Rosy Starling, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Eurasian Jackdaw, and Rook.

Our JUNGGAR BASIN (6 days) circuit will take us through desert, steppe and several superb wetlands. We'll see some marvelous wind-carved red sandstone along our route. Likely birds are: Great Crested Grebe, Ganganey, Steppe Eagle, Great Gull, Black Tern, Bimaculated and Crested Larks, Sand Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Steppe Grey Shrike, Booted Warbler, Desert Warbler, and Mongolian Ground-Jay. With luck, we might see Eurasian White Pelican, Mute Swan, Pallas's Fish-Eagle, Saker Falcon, Great or Houbara Bustard, or Eurasian Oystercatcher. This route is little traveled and poorly known birdwise. It will be great fun to explore it.

The ALTAI MOUNTAINS (2 days) of extreme northern Xinjiang extend into nearby Kazakhstan, Siberia and Mongolia. Our visit here will give us a look at a new set of mostly European birds. Likely are: Eurasian Griffon, White-backed and Black Woodpeckers, Red-backed Shrike, Common Redstart, Black-throated Thrush, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Blyth's Reed-Warbler, Eurasian Chiffchaff, Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Treecreeper, Yellowhammer, Pine, Rock, and Ortolan Buntings, Common Chaffinch, Eurasian Siskin, Twite, Red Crossbill, and Eurasian Bullfinch. With luck we might see: Smew, Monk Vulture, Hen and Montagu's Harriers, Northern Goshawk, Oriental Cuckoo, Eurasian Wryneck, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Meadow Pipit, Orange-flanked Bush-Robin, Lesser Whitethroat, Long-tailed Tit, White-crowned Penduline-Tit, Yellow-breasted Bunting, and Brambling. With a lot of luck, we might see one of the following: Pallid Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle, Altai Falcon, Western Capercaillie, Hazel Grouse, Altai Snowcock, Grey Partridge, Ural Owl, Great Grey Owl, Siberian Rubythroat, Wood Warbler or Asian Rosy Finch.


Arrive Beijing. Overnight Sino-Swiss Hotel.
Fly Beijing/Urumqi via XO9104 (0920/1310). Overnight Holiday Inn Urumqi.
19 days
Fly Urumqi/Xining via XO9101 (1035/1310). Overnight Xining at Qinghai Hotel.
Depart Beijing.


AIR FARE: The tour begins and ends in Beijing. We'll be purchasing your internal China tickets in Beijing to ensure keeping the group together. Please plan to arrive in Beijing a day or two early 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 10.

LAND PRICE INCLUDES:  Land price includes all ground transportation, transfers, double occupancy hotel rooms, all meals, guides, tips, fees, 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: Prices are based on tariffs in effect for this trip. 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.

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. Good quality hotel with private bath will be supplied in Beijing and Urumqi. Accommodation will be basic elsewhere, ranging from comfortable to primitive.

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.

MEALS: All meals will be provided, i.e., breakfast, table d'hote lunch and dinner.

TOUR ESCORT: The leader of your tour, Ben King, will be with you during the entire tour from the time you reach Beijing until your departure from Urumqi.

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 any of 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.