The Tibetan Plateau extends into Sichuan and the Ruoergai Grasslands are found on its eastern edge. – This vast montane grassland and marsh is habitat to a unique avian ecosystem, where we find Tibetan specialties such as Black-necked Crane, Hume’s Ground Tit, White-browed Tit, Przevalski’s Finch, Tibetan Lark and Tibetan Grey Shrike. The grasslands also house large colonies of burrowing Pika, an abundant food source that is exploited by an array of raptors that include Saker Falcon, Upland Buzzard, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Steppe Eagle and Black-eared Kite, while their burrows are also used by nesting White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinch. Grassland mammals also make use of the plentiful food supply and we've spotted Tibetan Fox, Pallas's Cat, Chinese Mountain Cat and Tibetan Wolf.
With the large areas of grassland a vehicle becomes an important birding tool.
Tibetan Partridge, Black-necked Cranes, Upland Buzzard, Saker, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Cinereous Vulture, Hume’s Ground Tit, White-browed Tit, Azure-winged Magpie, Rufous-necked Snowfinch, White-rumped Snowfinch, Black-winged Snowfinch, Tibetan Grey Shrike, Tibetan Lark, Elwe’s Horned Lark, Przevalski’s Finch, Robin Accentor, Plain Laughingthrush, Kessler’s Thrush, Ferruginous Duck, Red Crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Bar-headed Goose, Lesser Sandplover, Brown-headed Gull, Pallas’s Gull, Rock Petronia, Eurasian Eagle Owl,
Hongyuan and Ruoergai Town (often called Zoige on maps) are the two bigger grassland towns that have decent accommodation choices.
Rouergai Town is 480km and 10 hours north of Chengdu and 4 hours west of Jiuzhaigou
Hongyuan is a little closer at 430km and 9 hours, while its 4 hours from the birding site of Mengbi and 8 hours from the western end of the Balang pass.
Oriental Sky Lark, Elwes Horned Lark, Twite, Hume’s Ground Tit and White-rumped and Rufous-necked Snowfinch are typical passerines for the drier flat grasslands. The snowfinches are localized to areas close to pika colonies. Upland Buzzard and Saker are often found on telegraph poles or pylons. Tibetan Grey Shrike, very local on this grassland, also hunt in this kind of habitat.
The bushier willow type scrub of the river plains is habitat for Plain Laughingthrush, Kessler’s Thrush and Azure-winged Magpie. On less exposed hill-sides and valleys, low scrub establishes suitable areas for Tibetan Partridge, White-browed Tit, Robin Accentor, Siberian Stonechat and Przevalski’s Finch (very local). Black-winged Snowfinch can be found closer to rocky ridgetops.
Black-necked Crane, a breeding bird in the area, is found on marshland together with Tibetan Lark (wetland edges), Citrine Wagtail (a black-backed ssp), Ruddy Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck, Redshank and Brown-headed Gull.
A larger body of water around 40km north of Ruoergai Town, that has been made into a tourist attraction, but still holds good numbers of birds. Here is the best area to find ducks, geese and waders, which include Red-crested Pochard, Bar-headed and Greylag Goose and breeding Lesser Sand Plover. This is also a good site for summer Pallas’s Gull.
Flower Lake is the only site in the area that is ticketed, and here you have to use a bus to shuttle you down to the lakeside
A good variety of hotels at both Rouergai Town and Hongyuan