Snow Leopards in June

Its my 3rd trip to the Valley of the Cats in Yushu, Qinghai and its still so exciting! In June, Tibetan yak herders are busy harvesting the caterpillar fungus, their main source of income that will bring them income to last for whole year. I thought the chance of seeing the snow leopards would be slim since people walked everywhere on the mountains, but I was wrong. We had 2 separate sightings of SNOW LEOPARDS in different sites within 2 hours.

After 2 days of sunshine, the weather took a dramatic change and snowed heavily on the evening of day 2. We woke up to snow-capped mountains! Perhaps the Snow Leopards like the snow? After spotting one on a mountain strolling leisurely where we camped, a second snow leopard was seen hunting a blue sheep at another site! 2 sightings in 2 hours, how cool is that?!

snow leopard in June

2 separate sightings of snow leopards in 2 hours

Apart from snow leopards, mammals such as Glover’s Pika, White-lipped deers will not be missed in the valley of the Cats. Tibetan Buntings, Monal Partridge, White-eared pheasants and many other bird rarities can be seen here at 4500m!

As I have recently bought a drone, I took the opportunity to fly it in the Tibetan Plateau! The landscape is amazing as always, and its always nice to visit the yak herders who always welcome us to their homes! Once again, Yak butter tea, Yak yogurt and yak meat served! To read more about my previous sightings of Snow leopard, click here. 🙂

white-lipped deer


IBISBILL- the place to see it.

The Ibisbill has eluded me for 3 years after spending much fruitless time searching for this highly sought after wader. An elegant bird with a reddish down-curved bill and black face that resides in stony, shingle bed rivers and streams is hard to find! Whenever we passed through these habitats, we always stopped to scan, hoping to find an ibisbill after all its a new bird for me and I have yet to see it!
My luck came when Brian had high-altitude sickness and we retreated to a lower altitude area in Yushu, Qinghai. We arrived in Yushu town which was around 3200m and checked in to a hotel called YuShu Sun Lake Holiday Inn, 玉树太阳湖假日酒店.
After a much needed shower, we walked out of the hotel in search for food, and almost immediately, Terry heard and saw Ibisbill in the canal right in front of the hotel! Not one but two as we moved close to see them and they weren’t skittish at all!

Found in the canal in front of the Yushu hotel

Found in the canal in front of the Yushu hotel

Along with the ibisbills also resided a white-throated dipper!

white-throated-dipper in canal in Yushu

white-throated-dipper in canal in Yushu

The canal itself is extremely birdy with also robin accentors just roosting around in trees nearby! Hopefully, when i return in search of snow leopards, the ibisbills will still be there…in the canal. 🙂

Birds and animals on Erla Shan 鄂拉山

Following the itinerary given by Paul Holt, we arrived at 730am at the bottom of Erla Shan pass(鄂拉山) after a tedious 3 hour drive from GongHe. I was very much driven by the thought of the birds that I will see at the summit which is at 4800m!

It was good to start early as the mild wind and cluttered clouds made the walk enjoyable; with every step I took, I could hear my heart thumping hard. There is no trail to follow, but I found my way up stepping on stones, gravel and giving myself a little goal ,which big stone to stop and catch my breath.

Along the way, we had breathtaking views of the mountains and saw blue sheep, tibetan wolf and even Kam Dwarf hamsters! These cuties are endemics to Western China and Qinghai and can be found on high altitudes! It never occured to me that I’d see a hamster on a mountain…these little rodents made me smile, how cute is that? 🙂

kam dwarf hamster

Kam Dwarf Hamster found on Mountains- erla shan

It took me 1.5 hrs to get to the summit- though the base of Erla Shan was 4400m and only 400m to climb up the summit, it wasnt easy at all! But I was rewarded with the magnificent views of the mountains surrounding Erla Shan. And as I catch my breath,  very soon one of the star birds came close- Tibetan Rosefinch, 藏雀!

tibetan rosefinch-male

Tibetan Rosefinch on summit of Erla Shan. 藏雀

The weather at the summit changed dramatically- from sunny, it became misty and we were careful not to fall off the mountain as the visibility was very low. I wanted very much to see the Tibetan Sandgrouse but couldnt find them. :-/

Nonetheless, I saw other birds including the Plain Mountain Finch (林岭雀), Tibetan Lark (长嘴百灵), Brandt’s Mountain Finch (高山岭雀) and some sort of Gerbil!

It was a good climb and I’m glad I did it. We’re very lucky with the weather – as soon as we popped back into the car- thunder and lightning rolled in!

tibetian lark

Tibetan Lark at Erla Shan

plain mountain finch-female

Plain mountain finch seen on way up to the Erla Shan summit

brandt's mountain finch- female

Brandt’s mountain finch on summit


unknown colony of gerbil on base of Erla Shan

Pallas’s Cats in Qinghai, China 兔狲

As we drove along Qinghai lake, I was enthralled by the beautiful mountains and gorges, which is all part of the Tibetan Plateau. Adventurous and curious always, we decided to try an off beaten track and walk into the valley. A 2 hr walk into the valley was exhausting for me and my high altitude headache sets in as I’ve already climbed a hill the same morning (not easy over 3500m altitude)! I decided to call it a day despite Terry walked in further and saw a Tibetan Partridge!
We decided to head back to the same valley again the next day- this time we had water and food with us. It was a tranquil valley and i’ve kept my eyes wide open for a sighting of a fox or Tibetan wolf. But little did i know a much much rarer encounter awaited.
Terry: “Pallas’s Cats“!
I paused and thought to myself “pallas’s cats. Wait, its cats with an “S”, not one cat but in plural form”!
My eyes searched desperately towards where the scope was positioned..but i could only see stones! Looking through the scope could I only then see the Pallas’s cats– 2 juveniles!

first view of Pallas's cats

first view of Pallas’s cats

a pair of pallas's cats playing at their den

a pair of pallas’s cats playing at their den

juvenile pallas's cat in Qinghai

juvenile pallas’s cat in Qinghai

Not only did I have great views of the two juvenile Pallas’s cats, but also saw their mum came back to the den with a PIKA and one of the juveniles snatched the breakfast. How rare a sighting is that?? 😛 What’s more, its a new addition to my collection of Pallas’s birds and mammals edition!
We decided to move deeper into the valley for the Tibetan Partridge, leaving the cat family some privacy.

Pallas's cat heading back into den

Pallas’s cat heading back into den

It was an unforgettable moment and I felt so lucky to have such a great encounter. I seem to have some luck with cats- since my first cat encounter was the Amur Leopard Cat, three years ago- my post here! I hope I get to see the Snow Leopard cat soon which is in my bucket list.

And as for the Tibetan Partridge? I managed to see it after another hour of walk into the valley and hike up a hill. 😛

tibetan partridge in the valley with the Pallas's cats

tibetan partridge in the valley with the Pallas’s cats