Qinghai tour highlights and need help with Pika/Vole/Hamster IDs


My wife and I returned from a 4-week trip to Qinghai including a 2-day Tangjiahe add-on. August is not an ideal month to travel in Qinghai but we still scored a lot of amazing mammals (and the scenery is sensational and very lush and green). Thanks is due to Coke Smith whose wonderful Qinghai/Kekexili report inspired me to do this trip (and it was very useful for trip planning).


Mammal highlights:

Pallas’s Cat (prolonged views of a female with two kittens!!! But I messed up the photos (aaargh), but will include the record shots in the trip report)

Argali (superb males, scope only) and Wild Yaks in Yeniugou (Wild Yak Valley), mammals (except Tibetan gazelles) in Yeniugou were far from the road at this time of year.

White-lipped Deer including some stunning males

Gansu and McNeill’s Red Deer


Alpine Musk Deer!!

Wolf (2 sightings)

Przwalski’s Gazelle

Tibetan Antelope

In Tangjiahe we got: tufted deer, takin, Chinese serow, Chinese goral, and wild boar

Only disappointment was not seeing any mustelids alive (only roadkills).

Full trip report will folllow (and the Sichuan report from April is almost ready).


I have also attached some photos of a dead pika and mystery voles/hamsters.

The roadkill pika appears to be a Chinese red pika. Can anyone shed a light on this? Photo from the Huzhu Beishan north of Xining. There was a rocky area with cavities in the rocks where we saw the dead pika.


The vole/hamster photos

These animals lived together with plateau pikas but were much smaller. The area was a depression/valley with a mosaic of moist grassland, proper wetland areas and drier grassland. They lived one the edge of the valley so not in the lowest/wettest parts, but it was still quite muddy. Initially we even thought they might be juvenile plateau pikas but studying the pictures I noticed they actually have tails! Animals were seen between Qumarleb/Qumalai and Budongquan (about 120 km east of Budongquan). The ones that seem to fit best are Smokey Vole, Irene’s Mountain Vole and Blyth’s Mountain Vole.

For the first two the habitat and the pelage colour fits quite well, but they were seen a little outside the range of the IUCN maps but that may reflect a lack of data. Blyth’s Mountain Vole is the only one for which Mammals of China mentions it lives in colonies. I saw at least 5 different animals together, but maybe it was just a family group. However, the colour of the dorsal pelage should be pale yellowish brown for Blyth’s?

Other options in this region are Stoliczka’s Mountain Vole (seems to like more arid areas) and Lacustrine Vole (dorsal pelage should be “distinctly yellow”). I don’t think it is a hamster but maybe I am wrong.

Thanks for any help on the IDs!




DSC_2257 vole DSC_2256 Mountain Vole DSC_3754 dead pika DSC_2261 voles DSC_2260 vole DSC_2259 vole DSC_2258 vole


  • Mike Hoit

    Hi Sjef
    I also visited Qinghai in August, and had an equally excellent time mammalwatching & birding. I was extremely pleased to get Alpine Musk-Deer as well – even the tour members less interested in mammals were impressed with that one!
    Like you, I’ve had some trouble with rodents that we recorded. In fact, I believe I saw the same mystery ones as you, based on your description of the site. Initially, we saw the individual pictured below; based on Xmith & Xie’s field guide, I tentatively identified it as Przewalski’s Steppe Vole (Eolagurus przewalskii), due to size and bulk, ear size, tail length and the white furry feet, which seem to show the fringe of white stiff hairs.
    Further down the slope was a group of greyer animals which others saw for longer than I did, which I assumed was the same species – clearly I was wrong!

    Our guide has been in touch with local experts who are of the opinion that ‘our’ animal is Grey Dwarf Hamster (Cricetulus migratorius), which seems way out of whack with the literature. It seems that this is a really thorny issue, as we had great views of rodents at Er La which we put down as Tibetan Dwarf Hamster in spite of a few pelage differences from the field guide; however, at Bayankala (at a similar altitude, further south) we had equally good scope views of animals which all matched the literature perfectly for that species – so I’m rather bamboozled by what’s going on! the small rodents at these sites have been identified as various species over the years, but I think they can only be hamsters based on size & structure.
    The roadkill pika is definitely Chinese Red though (we also saw one at Huzhu Beishan) – at least that one’s easy!
    all the best


  • sjefo

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks very much for the interesting comments. Let me check that Przewalski’s Steppe Vole. I didn’t consider that one for the shortlist. Not sure why now.

    The IUCN map shows a tiny area for Grey Dwarf Hamster west of Yushu, so it is not impossible that that is what you saw. All these rodents are so under-researched.

    I will have a closer look at your pictures tonight.

    best wishes,


  • Jon Hall

    Hi Sjef, I showed this post to a Russian academic – Andrey Lissovsky – who seems to be a real expert on rodents of this region and is also extremely helpful. He said …

    1. For sure its a Chinese Red Pika.

    2. The voles are not Smokey Voles, and are most probably Blyth’s Vole, a species that lives alongside Plateau Pika usually.

    The animals in the photo have muzzles that look like Blyth’s too. However its hard to be certain because these animals in your photos all appear to be very young. Do you have any more photos of older animals? If you only saw a few animals then they are Blyth’s Vole. But if you saw a lot of animals, which all looked like this … then he doesn’t know.


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