Yeyahu with Per Alström and Zhao Min

Birding in Beijing is brilliant at any time of year but, during spring migration, it’s hard to beat and there are so many highlights from Sunday’s trip to Yeyahu Nature Reserve with Per Alström and Zhao Min that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Birding with Per has many advantages, one of which is his encyclopaedic knowledge of China’s birds, especially pipits and wagtails.  So perhaps it should not be a surprise that an encounter with a mixed flock of more than 70 pipits and wagtails at Ma Chang produced Beijing’s second ever MEADOW PIPIT (草地鹨).  Initially found by Min and identified by Per, this bird was the undoubted rarity highlight but there were so many other great moments – the 21 ORIENTAL PLOVERS (东方鴴), displaying EASTERN MARSH HARRIERS (白腹鹞), GREATER SPOTTED (乌雕) and SHORT-TOED EAGLES (短趾雕), SAKER (猎隼), a flock of 90+ BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭), displaying ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK ((亚洲) 短趾百灵), a flock of 52 WHITE WAGTAILS (白鹡鸰) that included 3 subspecies – leucopsis, ocularis and baicalensis – and a flock of ‘eastern’ ROOKS (秃鼻乌鸦) – a possible future new species?

WHITE WAGTAIL ssp baicalensis, Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

WHITE WAGTAIL (白鹡鸰) ssp baicalensis, Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

We started at Ma Chang, a reliable spot for ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鴴) in early April.  It’s important to arrive here early as this site is extremely popular with horse-riders, motorised buggies and even people driving imitation tanks, so it’s hopeless as a birding destination at the weekend after around 0800.  We were fortunate to find a single ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鴴) with a flock of 30+ KENTISH PLOVERS (环颈鴴) and, later, we found a flock of 21 OPs in agricultural fields just east of the main site.  These birds – that winter in Australia – are special and one of the signs that Spring has arrived in Beijing.

ORIENTAL PLOVERS at Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

ORIENTAL PLOVERS (东方鴴) at Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

After enjoying the pipits, wagtails and plovers, as well as a beautiful male MERLIN (灰背隼) that buzzed us before sitting up on a stand of maize, we headed off to Yeyahu Nature Reserve.

This adult male MERLIN was a nice sighting at Ma Chang.

This adult male Merlin (灰背隼) was a nice sighting at Ma Chang.

At Yeyahu we enjoyed the spectacular sight of displaying EASTERN MARSH HARRIERS (白腹鹞), newly arrived and preparing to breed.  These are stunning raptors, the males in particular, and this adult male made a close pass when were in one of the tower hides..  awesome!

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER, Yeyahu, 6 April 2014.  Is there a more spectacular raptor anywhere?

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞), Yeyahu, 6 April 2014. Is there a more spectacular raptor anywhere?

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER 'buzzing' us at Yeyahu.

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞) ‘buzzing’ us at Yeyahu.

Two GREATER SPOTTED EAGLES (乌雕) added to our raptor list which, by the end of the day, had reached 10 species and bizarrely missing COMMON KESTREL (红隼)!

 

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE, Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (乌雕), Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014

In stunning spring weather (and clean air!) we enjoyed so many other highlights on a day that produced a total of 81 species.  Just before dusk we were treated to a magnificent flight of ducks that included MALLARD (綠頭鴨), SPOT-BILLED DUCK (斑嘴鴨), PINTAIL (针尾鸭), COMMON POCHARD (红头潜鸭), FERRUGINOUS DUCK (白眼潜鸭), SHOVELER (琵嘴鸭), GARGANEY (白眉鸭), COMMON TEAL (绿翅鸭) and, just as we had hoped, BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭).  A flock of at least 90 of the latter wheeled around in the fading light – a magnificent sight and a fitting end to a wonderful day at this world-class birding site.

BAIKAL TEAL. Part of a 90+ strong flock that wheeled around just before dusk.

BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭). Part of a 90+ strong flock that wheeled around just before dusk.

Big thanks to Per and Min for their company on a day that will live long in the memory…!

Per and Zhao Min at one of the hides at Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014.

Per and Min (being careful not to ‘stride’) at one of the hides at Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014.

 

Full species list below:

JAPANESE QUAIL   Coturnix japonica  鵪鶉   1

COMMON PHEASANT   Phasianus colchicus  雉雞  4

SWAN GOOSE   Anser cygnoides   VU  鴻雁  1

GREYLAG GOOSE   Anser anser 3

RUDDY SHELDUCK   Tadorna ferruginea  赤麻鴨  6

MANDARIN DUCK   Aix galericulata  鴛鴦  9

GADWALL   Anas strepera  赤膀鴨  94

FALCATED DUCK   Anas falcata  罗纹鸭  14

MALLARD   Anas platyrhynchos  綠頭鴨  500

CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCK   Anas zonorhyncha  斑嘴鴨  38

NORTHERN SHOVELER   Anas clypeata  琵嘴鸭  13

NORTHERN PINTAIL   Anas acuta  针尾鸭  6

GARGANEY   Anas querquedula  白眉鸭  4

BAIKAL TEAL   Anas formosa  花脸鸭  a flock of 90 plus a separate flock of 70, which could have been different birds.

EURASIAN TEAL   Anas crecca  绿翅鸭  350

RED-CRESTED POCHARD   Netta rufina  赤嘴潜鸭  1

COMMON POCHARD   Aythya ferina  红头潜鸭  3

FERRUGINOUS POCHARD   Aythya nyroca   NT  白眼潜鸭  8

TUFTED DUCK   Aythya fuligula  凤头潜鸭  4

COMMON GOLDENEYE   Bucephala clangula  鹊鸭  6

SMEW   Mergellus albellus  白秋沙鸭  24

LITTLE GREBE   Tachybaptus ruficollis  小鸊鷉  4

GREAT CRESTED GREBE   Podiceps cristatus  凤头鸊鷉  8

GREAT BITTERN   Botaurus stellaris  大麻鳽  1

GREY HERON   Ardea cinerea  苍鹭  16

PURPLE HERON   Ardea purpurea  草鹭  2

EASTERN GREAT EGRET   Ardea modesta  大白鹭  1

GREAT CORMORANT   Phalacrocorax carbo  普通鸬鹚  12

SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE   Circaetus gallicus  短趾雕  1

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER   Circus spilonotus  白腹鹞  7

HEN HARRIER   Circus cyaneus  白尾鹞  1 adult female

EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK   Accipiter nisus  雀鹰  2

NORTHERN GOSHAWK   Accipiter gentilis  苍鹰  2

EASTERN BUZZARD   Buteo japonicus  普通鵟  19

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE   Aquila clanga   VU  乌雕  2

MERLIN   Falco columbarius  灰背隼  1

SAKER FALCON   Falco cherrug   EN  猎隼  1

PEREGRINE FALCON   Falco peregrinus  游隼  1

COMMON COOT   Fulica atra  骨顶鸡(白骨顶)  44

BLACK-WINGED STILT   Himantopus himantopus  黑翅长脚鹬  4

NORTHERN LAPWING   Vanellus vanellus  凤头麦鸡  33

GREY-HEADED LAPWING   Vanellus cinereus  灰头麦鸡  1

LITTLE RINGED PLOVER   Charadrius dubius   金眶鴴  2

KENTISH PLOVER   Charadrius alexandrinus  环颈鴴  48

ORIENTAL PLOVER   Charadrius veredus  东方鴴  21

COMMON SNIPE   Gallinago gallinago  扇尾沙锥  9

BLACK-HEADED GULL   Chroicocephalus ridibundus  红嘴鸥  39

ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE   Streptopelia orientalis  山斑鸠  4

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE   Streptopelia decaocto  灰斑鸠  6

COMMON KINGFISHER   Alcedo atthis  普通翠鸟  2

EURASIAN HOOPOE   Upupa epops  戴胜  2

GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER   Dendrocopos major  大斑啄木鸟  1

GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER   Picus canus  灰头绿啄木鸟  1

AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE   Cyanopica cyanus  灰喜鹊  1

COMMON MAGPIE   Pica pica  喜鹊  30

DAURIAN JACKDAW   Coloeus dauuricus  达乌里寒鸦  400+

ROOK   Corvus frugilegus  秃鼻乌鸦  33

CARRION CROW   Corvus corone  小嘴乌鸦  2

MARSH TIT   Poecile palustris  沼泽山雀  1

JAPANESE TIT   Parus minor  大山雀  2

CHINESE PENDULINE TIT   Remiz consobrinus  中华攀雀  15

GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK   Calandrella brachydactyla  (大) 短趾百灵  8

ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK   Calandrella cheleensis  (亚洲) 短趾百灵  1

EURASIAN SKYLARK   Alauda arvensis  云雀  14

BARN SWALLOW   Hirundo rustica  家燕  8

VINOUS-THROATED PARROTBILL   Sinosuthora webbianus  棕头鸦雀  40

WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING   Spodiopsar cineraceus  灰椋鸟  26

COMMON STARLING   Sturnus vulgaris  紫翅椋鸟  1

RED-THROATED THRUSH   Turdus ruficollis  赤颈鸫  1

DAURIAN REDSTART   Phoenicurus auroreus  北红尾鸲  1

EURASIAN TREE SPARROW   Passer montanus  (树) 麻雀  150

CITRINE WAGTAIL   Motacilla citreola  黄头鹡鸰  1

WHITE WAGTAIL   Motacilla alba 白鹡鸰  63

RED-THROATED PIPIT   Anthus cervinus  红喉鹨  1

BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT   Anthus rubescens japonicus  黄腹鹨  18

WATER PIPIT   Anthus spinoletta  水鹨  20

MEADOW PIPIT   Anthus pratensis  1   *** the 2nd record for Beijing***

GREY-CAPPED GREENFINCH   Carduelis sinica  金翅 (雀)  4

LITTLE BUNTING   Emberiza pusilla  小鹀  1

PALLAS’S BUNTING   Emberiza pallasi  苇鹀  22

REED BUNTING   Emberiza schoeniclus  芦鹀  1

TOTAL NUMBER OF SPECIES 81

 

 

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Miyun Reservoir with Beijing Hikers

Beijing Hikers enjoying the afternoon birding session at Miyun on Saturday.

Beijing Hikers enjoying the afternoon birding session at Miyun on Saturday.

A few weeks ago, the folks at Beijing Hikers asked me if I would be interested in helping to lead a dedicated birding trip.  Of course, being only too pleased to share my knowledge of Beijing’s birds, I accepted and plans were fixed to visit Miyun Reservoir over the weekend of 29-30 March.

The itinerary for the group, consisting of a mixture of ex-pats and Chinese, was to leave central Beijing around noon, arriving at a village on the north side of the reservoir at 3pm ahead of a late afternoon birding session.  This would be followed by an overnight stay at a local guesthouse, a morning birding session at a different site on the reservoir, then lunch and an afternoon birding session in the hills before returning to Beijing.

I decided to travel up early to stake out the sites before meeting the group at the guest house at 3pm.

After the awful air pollution during the week, Saturday dawned as a stunning Spring day – the wind overnight had shifted the worst of the pollution, the sun was shining and the temperature was a very pleasant 15 degrees Celsius when I arrived at the Chao He bridge at 0930.  The bridge over the Chao He is a site for Ibisbill, although it is far from guaranteed.  There was no sign of this special bird but 8 GREY-HEADED LAPWINGS (灰头麦鸡) and 2 LONG-BILLED PLOVERS (长嘴剑鴴) provided some consolation.  A little further along the river I picked up my first GARGANEY (白眉鸭) of the year, several CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCKS (斑嘴鴨), GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER (灰头绿啄木鸟) and several leucopsis WHITE WAGTAILS (白鹡鸰).

I pushed on to Yonglecun, my favourite site at Miyun.  As I parked up and walked to the viewing point, I caught sight of two falcons acrobatically feeding on insects.  A scan with my binoculars revealed them to be LESSER KESTRELS (黄爪隼).. a very nice start!  It was here that I found Jan-Erik Nilsen already positioned on site and, shortly after, we enjoyed not two but seven LESSER KESTRELS (黄爪隼) as they fed high above us…  beautiful birds and showing much more blue-grey on the upperwing than their counterparts in Europe.

 

Adult male LESSER KESTREL, Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014

Adult male LESSER KESTREL (黄爪隼), Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014

 

The mountains around Miyun reservoir provide a stunning backdrop to a day’s birding and, with Spring in the air, it was a delight to be outside experiencing the beginning of migration season.  Jan-Erik decided to move on to check Houbajiazhuang while I headed into the village to meet the group.

After meeting and greeting everyone, and having dropped our bags at the guesthouse, we headed out to Yonglecun for a 3 to 4 hour late afternoon birding session.  With the sun slowly setting, the light was fantastic as we watched flocks of RUDDY SHELDUCK (赤麻鴨) going to roost..  Sightings of JAPANESE QUAIL (鵪鶉), CHINESE HILL BABBLER (山鹛), EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞), GARGANEY (白眉鸭), FALCATED DUCK (罗纹鸭), PALLAS’S REED BUNTING (苇鹀) and displaying GREAT CRESTED GREBES (凤头鸊鷉) provided a lot of interest and then, suddenly, a GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (乌雕) appeared and, as it dropped down towards a scrubby field, a female EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞) flew up and began to mob it…  and the harrier did not rest until the eagle was finally forced away..  a spectacular interaction..!

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE and EASTERN MARSH HARRIER, Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014.

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (乌雕) and EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞), Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014.

Bird activity increased as the sun began to set and we enjoyed several flocks of BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭) wheeling around distantly…  a wonderful sight.

BAIKAL TEAL at dusk, Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014.

BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭) at dusk, Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014.

Then, just as we were about to call it a day, the bird of the trip suddenly came into view, flying low across the reservoir in front of us, stopping briefly to hover, before carrying on south-west..  a PIED KINGFISHER (斑鱼狗)!  Wow….  This was the first time I had seen this species in Beijing; it’s a real Beijing “mega” with only a very few previous records (possibly as few as three).  A real surprise and a brilliant end to a great birding session.

Sunset at Miyun.  Stunning.

Sunset at Miyun. Stunning.

The girls enjoyed the PIED KINGFISHER sighting...  or was it the thought of dinner?

The girls enjoyed the PIED KINGFISHER sighting… or was it the thought of dinner?

Back at the guest house we enjoyed some great local home-cooked food and our hosts even prepared a camp fire for us..

Enjoying the camp fire after dinner...

Enjoying the camp fire after dinner…

The next morning, after a quick breakfast of coffee, bread and boiled eggs, we headed of to another spot on the reservoir for the morning’s birding.  We were hoping to see a laggard crane or two…  late March is usually the best time to see the migrant WHITE-NAPED CRANES (白枕鹤) at Miyun but, with the exceptionally warm weather, spring is early this year and the cranes passed through more than a week ago, stopping only for a day or two before continuing north on their way to the breeding grounds.  Our chances did not look good.

On arrival at Houbajiazhuang we scanned the area and, within just a few minutes, three cranes flew in and dropped onto the marsh.. fortunately they were in view, albeit distant, and with the telescope we were able to see that they were WHITE-NAPED CRANES (白枕鹤)!  Fantastic….  Everyone was able to enjoy this probable family party of cranes and it was a bonus when a further four WHITE-NAPEDs (白枕鹤) flew across in front of us in perfect light.  A group of 5 EURASIAN SPOONBILLS (白琵鹭) then dropped in close by, allowing the group to see both species in the same view.  TUFTED DUCK (凤头潜鸭), COMMON POCHARD (红头潜鸭), GOLDENEYE (鹊鸭), ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK ((亚洲) 短趾百灵) and MONGOLIAN GULL (黄脚(银)鸥) were all added to the list of species seen before we decided to head into the hills.

We drove on to the Jixiang Temple, near Bulaotun, stopping en route at the Chao He bridge.  The GREY-HEADED LAPWINGS (灰头麦鸡) and the LONG-BILLED PLOVERS (长嘴剑鴴) were still in situ but, again, there was no sign of the IBISBILL (鹮嘴鹬).

At the temple, we were immediately greeted by a small group of YELLOW-BELLIED TITS (黄腹山雀) and we soon caught up with EASTERN GREAT TIT (大山雀), SILVER-THROATED TIT (北长尾山雀/银喉长尾山雀), MARSH TIT (沼泽山雀), WILLOW TIT (褐头山雀), PLAIN LAUGHINGTHRUSH (山噪鹛), GODLEWSKI’S BUNTING (戈氏岩鹀) and we were fortunate to secure stunning views of CHINESE NUTHATCH (黑头鳾) with a pair excavating a nest hole.  A single EURASIAN JAY (松鸦), several of the spectacular RED-BILLED BLUE MAGPIES (红嘴蓝鹊), a couple of DAURIAN REDSTARTS (北红尾鸲) and small parties of BRAMBLING (燕雀) and ORIENTAL GREENFINCH (金翅 (雀)) added some colour to the morning before we headed off to lunch.

After being reinvigorated by a delicious local meal we decided to have one more short birding session before heading back to Beijing… we found a nice river valley on the west side of the reservoir and added MEADOW (三道眉草鹀) and LITTLE BUNTING (小鹀), RED-BILLED CHOUGH (红嘴山鸦) and HILL PIGEON (岩鸽) to our tally.

At about 4.30pm we called it a day and began the journey back to the city, having clocked up 73 species over the two days.

Before tallying up our total, we had a little fun competition to see who could guess the number of species we saw over the weekend.  These were the guesses (ignoring the organisers!):

Ying – 150

Jean-Pierre – 54

Patricia – 46

Tom – 60

Jean – 56

Sheila – 57

Nick – 53

Sissi – 55

Rich – 59

Fiona – 58

Julian – 52

So the winner is Tom with 60!  Congratulations…  sadly no prize, just huge kudos!  :)

A big thank you to Jun and Betsy from Beijing Hikers for making all the arrangements and to Julian, Fiona, Rich, Nick, Sissi, Sheila, Jean, Tom, Patricia, Jean-Pierre and Ying for making it such a fun trip…!

 

 

 

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Male Przevalski’s Redstart at Lingshan joined by a female!

On Saturday I visited Lingshan again (it’s become my favourite winter birding site!) with Wu Lan.  On arrival, we were of course keen to see whether the male PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲) was still on site.  We were greeted by a family who told us that it had moved on.. it had apparently been seen on Tuesday but a photographer had visited the site every day from Wednesday to Friday without success….

We decided (of course) to have a look anyway.  But after half an hour of staring at the sea buckthorn bushes in its favoured gully, we decided to move up to the peak and check for ASIAN ROSY FINCHES… (粉红腹岭雀). We drove up, enjoying a large group of PALLAS’S ROSEFINCHES (北朱雀) on the way (at least 50 were present) but, again, the top was birdless… no sign of any Rosy Finches…

We decided to walk down the old road, an open south-facing valley, scattered with sea buckthorn bushes.  We soon spotted our first GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS (红腹红尾鸲) and encountered the usual RED-THROATED THRUSHES (赤颈鸫) competing for the still significant stock of sea buckthorn berries.  We thought to ourselves that, if the GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS were still here, there must be a good chance that the PRZEVALSKI’S was still around, too..

As we made it to the bottom of the valley we stumbled across a stunning male CHINESE BEAUTIFUL ROSEFINCH (红眉朱雀) and it showed spectacularly well for several minutes, allowing prolonged views through the telescope to examine its wonderful pink plumage.

We hit the new road at the bottom of the valley and instead of walking back up along the new road (the usual routine), for some reason we decided to walk back up the valley to the car.   Now with the sun behind us, we followed the shrub-lined dyke as we headed north.  We soon encountered a female redstart and, with white-edged tertials and secondaries, this bird was not the expected female GULDENSTADT’S….  We stood still and it gradually showed itself.  I knew we had something good…  I suspected it was a female PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART and I took some photos as it fed amongst some birch scrub.

Female PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, 8 March 2014

First winter female PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, 8 March 2014

 

Female PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, 8 March 2014

Female PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, 8 March 2014

Female PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, 8 March 2014.  The 2nd record of PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART in Beijing this winter, the fourth ever and the first female.

Female PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, 8 March 2014. The 2nd record of PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART in Beijing this winter, the fourth ever and, we think, the first ever female.

It was cool to watch this bird catching insects and it was interesting to see that it was smaller and daintier than the more powerful female GULDENSTADT’S.  I knew I had photos that would make this bird identifiable and so, after a few minutes, we moved on, now more confident that the male (which Wu Lan had yet to see) was probably still around.

We drove back to the site of the male bird but, again, its favoured sea buckthorn bush was empty…  I decided to take a walk up the gully and around some scrub to check out the wider area..  and no sooner had I walked 5 metres, there it was – the male PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART.. !  I gestured to Wu Lan and she hurried over.  We enjoyed splendid views and we immediately called the Wang family (who had driven up to the top to look for the ASIAN ROSY FINCHES)…

A few minutes later the Wangs arrived and we enjoyed superb views as the redstart posed on prominent perches as it caught the first insects of the spring…  high-fives all round!

Male PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, 8 March 2014.

Male PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, 8 March 2014.

The Wang family, shortly after connecting with the male PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART..  smiles all round!

The Wang family, shortly after connecting with the male PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART.. smiles all round!

On my return to Beijing I immediately sent the photos of the female redstart to Paul Holt (currently in Yunnan), who has experience of female PRZEVALSKI’S and he quickly confirmed what we suspected – it was indeed a female PRZEVALSKI’S (thanks Paul!).  Amazingly, the second record of this species in Beijing this winter, the fourth ever and, we think, the first ever female.  Lingshan continues to surprise….  and if that wasn’t enough, we also heard (distantly) BROWN EARED PHEASANT (褐马鸡)…  another very tough bird to see (or hear) in the capital.

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New photos of the PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART at Lingshan

The PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲) is still at Lingshan and has been successfully ‘twitched’ by a few Chinese birders this week.  I have just received the photos below from ZHANG Yong, reproduced here with his kind permission.  Wow!

PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, 19 February 2014.  What a stunner!

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART, Lingshan, 19 February 2014. What a stunner!

PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, 19 February 2014.  Must be a candidate for the most beautiful Phoenicurus species?

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART, Lingshan, 19 February 2014. Must be a candidate for the most beautiful Phoenicurus species?

Y贺兰山红尾鸲吃沙棘_filtered

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART, Lingshan. The sea buckthorn berries are a big attraction for this bird.

ZHANG Yong also saw more than 300 ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀) at close quarters…

Some of the 300+ ASIAN ROSY FINCHES currently at Lingshan.

Some of the 300+ ASIAN ROSY FINCHES currently at Lingshan.

UPDATE: here is a short video of the redstart taken on Sunday 23 February.

And a couple more pictures taken at the weekend.  On several occasions it sang!

PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART at Lingshan, Sunday 23 February 2014.

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART at Lingshan, Sunday 23 February 2014.

Early on Sunday Lingshan was enveloped in freezing fog, resulting in some beautifully frosted backdrops to this special bird.

Early on Sunday Lingshan was enveloped in freezing fog, resulting in some beautifully frosted backdrops to this special bird.

 

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PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART in Beijing!

Saturday started out badly.  I had arranged to take visiting British birder, Alastair Henderson, and Li Xiaomai to Lingshan to look for GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS (红腹红尾鸲) and ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀).  As I left my apartment at 0550, the smog was awful (registering over 400 on the Air Quality Index; to put this into perspective, a reading below 25 is considered healthy by the World Health Organisation – see footnote below for a rough guide).  I knew that the air would be better in the mountains but, nevertheless, I wondered whether it would be a good day to be outside at all….

I shouldn’t have worried.  As we reached the base of Lingshan, the air was certainly clearer than in the city and, as we ascended the access road, it cleared further until we could see blue sky, the sun (hallelujah!) and the peak of Lingshan to the west.  It was a glorious day and, even in -9 temperatures, with very little wind it didn’t feel too cold.

As usual on trips to Lingshan, my first stop was a small gully a few hundred metres from the plateau of the road.  This small ‘valley’ holds a few sea buckthorn bushes and was the place I first found GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS (红腹红尾鸲) last winter.  It usually also plays host to many other species including thrushes, tits, accentors, buntings and rosefinches.

Almost immediately a bird flashed across the road and into a sea buckthorn bush in the gully.  I called out “redstart” and, with my binoculars trained on it as it began to devour some of the yellowy-orange berries, I could see it was not the expected GULDENSTADT’S  (红腹红尾鸲) but instead it was a stonking male PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲, also known as “Alashan Redstart)!!  I quickly extended the legs on my tripod and trained my telescope onto the bird, and it showed magnificently, allowing us to see its beautiful mix of orange, grey, black and white plumage.  Wow!

PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, Beijing, 15 February 2014.

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, Beijing, 15 February 2014.  Likely to be a first-winter male due to browner and more worn remiges when compared with the tertials.

PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, 15 February 2014.  As one Twitter follower described its plumage as a "like a redstart pretending to be a Chaffinch"..  I can see what he means...

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, 15 February 2014. As one Twitter follower described its plumage is “like a redstart pretending to be a Chaffinch”.. I can see what he means…

PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, 15 February 2014.

PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, 15 February 2014.

Alastair and Li Xiaomai just after watching the Przevalski's Redstart at Lingshan.

Alastair and Li Xiaomai just after watching the Przevalski’s Redstart at Lingshan.

After grabbing a few record photos with my camera, I sent a message via the Birding Beijing WeChat group to put out the news.  Within 10 minutes, a minibus full of Beijing Birdwatching Society members arrived…!  I knew the WeChat group was an efficient way of spreading news but that was ridiculous…. Beijing city is over 2 hours away!

The BBWS gang had, of course, coincidentally pre-arranged a trip there.  On the way up they saw us at the gully and stopped to say “hi”.  When I told them what we were watching, their jaws dropped!

Unfortunately, the redstart had disappeared as we chatted and, after explaining where the bird had been, Alastair, Xiaomai and I decided to go further up the mountain to look for the ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀) while the group waited for the PRZEVALSKI’S (贺兰山红尾鸲) to reappear.

We drove up the few hundred metres to the top and scanned the slopes where the finches had been last week.  But to no avail.  Not even an ALPINE ACCENTOR (领岩鹨).   

We decided to spend some more quality time with the PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲) and, as we descended, we passed the BBWS gang coming up..  they had connected splendidly with the redstart and several of the group delighted in showing me their fantastic photos which eclipsed mine by some margin!  They carried on to look for the rosy finches as we descended.

We were preparing our lunch (of pot noodles!) at the PRZEVALSKI’S site when my phone rang.  It was Zhang Shen, one of the BBWS guys.  I could hear camera shutters in the background as he told me that they had found a flock of “several hundred” ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀)…  wow!!  Balancing our pot noodles – now full of boiling hot water – we drove the few hundred metres to the top of the mountain to join the others.  And sure enough, there was a huge flock of ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀) wheeling around the peaks.  Unfortunately they were mobile and hardly settled for more than a few seconds at a time.  But they were definitely ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀)!  Thanks guys!!

After seeing the flock several times in flight but without seeing these special mountain finches on the ground, we reluctantly left to spend a little more time with the PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲) before heading back to Beijing.  As we watched the redstart at close quarters, it even began to sing – a sort of quiet subsong that reminded me a little of a EURASIAN SKYLARK (云雀)…  what an awesome bird.  And occasionally it interacted with one or two of the GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS (红腹红尾鸲), with the GULDENSTADT’s clearly dominant and chasing the PRZEVALSKI’S off the berries a few times while we were there.

A male GULDENSTADT'S REDSTART chasing away the PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART, Lingshan, 15 February 2014.

A male GULDENSTADT’S REDSTART (红腹红尾鸲) chasing away the PRZEVALSKI’S REDSTART (贺兰山红尾鸲), Lingshan, 15 February 2014.

I knew the PRZEVALSKI’S (贺兰山红尾鸲) was an excellent record.  It’s a China endemic that breeds in Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia Provinces and is very rare in the east.  I had a vague feeling that there had been just one previous record from the capital – a specimen collected more than 80 years ago.  Some initial research has revealed the following:

One was recorded at nearby Xiaolongmen in a winter survey 1992-1994, date unspecified (per Li Ming – reference: Sun X, Wang l, “Ecological analysis and classification of forest bird communities at XiaoLongMen, Beijing”, Chinese journal of ecology, 2001, 20(5):25-31 ).  However, the specimen from 20 December 1919, referred to in “The Birds of Hopei” (Shaw, 1936) was taken by Rev Wilder from the border between neighbouring Hebei Province and Shanxi Province, meaning that it is not a Beijing record. Shaw also states that Rev.Wilder observed one “in the mission of his compound of Tsung-hsien”.  “A Synopsis of the Avifauna of China” (Cheng Tso-hsin, 1987) describes Przevalski’s Redstart as “Accidentally in Tongxian of Beijing Municipality”.  Tongxian (which may be an alternative spelling of “Tsung-hsien”) is an area in the south-east part of Beijing Municipality.  It is not mountainous and seems a strange place for one to turn up!  More research needed..!  The Lingshan bird is therefore possibly the third record for Beijing and the first for at least 20 years.

Many thanks to Alastair, Xiaomai and to the BBWS gang for their company on the day – and in particular, to Zhang Shen for alerting us to the ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀)… It was great to see so many birders out and about in Beijing!

Footonote: The Air Quality Index (AQI) in Beijing and what the AQI “score” means.  Yesterday the AQI was over 400…! It should be noted, though, that the AQI will vary greatly according to location and, in the mountains to the west of Beijing, the AQI will very likely be significantly better than the city.

AQI Air Pollution
Level
Health Implications
0–50 Excellent No health implications.
51–100 Good Few hypersensitive individuals should reduce outdoor exercise.
101–150 Lightly Polluted Slight irritations may occur, individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise.
151–200 Moderately Polluted Slight irritations may occur, individuals with breathing or heart problems should reduce outdoor exercise.
201–300 Heavily Polluted Healthy people will be noticeably affected. People with breathing or heart problems will experience reduced endurance in activities. These individuals and elders should remain indoors and restrict activities.
300+ Severely Polluted Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities. There may be strong irritations and symptoms and may trigger other illnesses. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid out door activities.
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Asian Rosy Finches

After the snow in Beijing on Friday, my mind had been speculating as to whether new birds might turn up or, at the very least, whether the snow cover and cold snap might drive down some of the special mountain birds from the inaccessible peaks to more reachable terrain.  Lingshan was the place that I was itching to try, and so off I went…

Lingshan is Beijing’s highest mountain with its peak at 2,303 metres and, unlike many of Beijing’s mountains, it is accessible in winter by car (note: many mountain roads are closed in winter, nominally due to “fire risk”, at least so say the chain-smoking guards that throw their cigarette butts onto the grass and stop any cars driving up).   Getting to Lingshan is fairly straightforward by car – simply take the G109 west of Beijing and, after around the km105 post, take the right hand minor road signposted, not surprisingly, “Lingshan”.  It usually takes between 2 and 3 hours from central Beijing if leaving early morning before the traffic becomes too burdensome.

The access road at Lingshan, after the snow, was a little treacherous in places but passable with care.  The temperature was a nippy -6 when I left central Beijing, falling to -12 at the 6th ring road/G109 junction and falling further to -18 at Lingshan on arrival. However, with almost no wind, and stunning blue skies, it did not feel too cold.

Lingshan, on a beautiful crisp winter's morning.

Lingshan, on a beautiful crisp winter’s morning.

Another view from Lingshan.  With a dusting of snow the mountains in Beijing are stunning

Another view from Lingshan. With a dusting of snow the mountains in Beijing are stunning

On the way up the access road, I stopped several times to watch small flocks of birds, including many SIBERIAN ACCENTORS (棕眉山岩鹨), GODLEWSKI’S BUNTINGS (戈氏岩鹀) and, as I neared the top, PALLAS’S ROSEFINCHES (北朱雀). A large flock of REDPOLLS (白腰朱顶雀) was flying around but frustratingly only the odd one or two settled in view.  There must be an ARCTIC REDPOLL (极北朱顶雀) or two among them!  A handful (I counted 7) of GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS (红腹红尾鸲) were on their usual sea buckthorn bushes.

The first thing I wanted to do was to check the slopes just beyond the derelict buildings for ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀).  I stopped the car and scanned the slopes. Immediately I saw birds. My heart raced but relaxed again when I realised they were ALPINE ACCENTORS (领岩鹨). Nevertheless, a good start.

ALPINE ACCENTORS (领岩鹨) are in good supply on Lingshan this winter.

ALPINE ACCENTORS (领岩鹨) are in good supply on Lingshan this winter.

As I looked, I could see more and more and suddenly I saw a bird with a pale head. Unfortunately I was looking directly towards the sun, so I slowly got out of the car and walked around to the side of the slope to give me a better angle. And there it was – an ASIAN ROSY FINCH (粉红腹岭雀) ! feeding with the accentors. As I scanned, I found another, then another.. I counted 6. I watched, captivated, as they fed on the slope, gradually making their way up until they were feeding around my car! At this point I wistfully thought about my camera sitting on the passenger seat…  Suddenly, something spooked the whole flock and they rose up, wheeled around and settled a long way down the slope… I counted almost 100 birds in flight, at least 30 of which were ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (粉红腹岭雀). I took the opportunity to quickly make my way back to the car and settled inside with camera in hand as the flock gradually made its way up the slope again and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before several were around the car and I was able to capture some photos… All too quickly they moved across the road and to the upper slope before, again, wheeling down to the lower slopes….

ASIAN ROSY FINCH (presumed male).

ASIAN ROSY FINCH (presumed male).  What a bird!

ASIAN ROSY FINCH (presumed female)

ASIAN ROSY FINCH (presumed female)

ASIAN ROSY FINCH (presumed male and female)

ASIAN ROSY FINCH (presumed male and female)

ASIAN ROSY FINCHES, Lingshan.

ASIAN ROSY FINCHES, Lingshan.

"Just landed"...

“Just landed”…

Having only seen ASIAN ROSY FINCH (粉红腹岭雀) in flight once before (last winter at Lingshan), it was brilliant to see these stunning birds so well. Their plumage is beautiful with an array of purples, browns, blacks and greys.. I hope they hang around for anyone else who might be tempted to look for them. Even without the birds, Lingshan is a beautiful place, especially in winter. Definitely one of my favourite Beijing birding sites!

One of the male PALLAS'S ROSEFINCHES at Lingshan.  At least 30 are scattered around the higher slopes, preferring the birch scrub.

One of the male PALLAS’S ROSEFINCHES at Lingshan. At least 30 are scattered around the higher slopes, preferring the birch scrub.

A female or young male PALLAS'S ROSEFINCH, Lingshan.  I am not sure how to age/sex PALLAS'S ROSEFINCHES - any advice appreciated!

A female or young male PALLAS’S ROSEFINCH, Lingshan. I am not sure how to age/sex PALLAS’S ROSEFINCHES – any advice appreciated!

 

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CHIFFCHAFF – new for Beijing (or not)

Beijing doesn’t have a rarities committee and the most recent municipality bird list was published in 2011.  So keeping a handle on the birds recorded in the capital requires a combination of finding birds oneself, building as many links as possible with local birders and monitoring the websites that showcase the work of the burgeoning local community of bird photographers.

It was the latter that revealed the presence of what we initially thought was Beijing’s first CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺).  Early in the new year, friend Li Xiaomai spotted some images of a CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺), taken in the Olympic Forest Park, on the www.birdnet.cn website and alerted local birders.  The photographer was apparently waiting for the appearance of a WINTER WREN (鹪鹩) when a “warbler” popped into view and he, opportunistically, reeled off some photos and posted them on the Beijing section of the website.  Little did he know that he had snapped a major rarity!

With a new smartphone “chat group” recently set up in Beijing to share bird sightings, news of the presence of this CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺) spread fast and, the next morning, there was a massive (by Beijing standards) “twitch” for the bird involving 8 birders, both ex-pat and Chinese.

After hearing the bird call once early morning from a dense reedbed, there was no sign for the next few hours in an extensive search of the ‘wetland’ area, in which it was reported to be feeding the previous day.  Reluctantly, I decided to leave as I had lots to do, and I began to make my way out of the park to the metro station with friend, Jennifer Leung.  On the way out, almost at the end of the reedbed area, I spotted a small bird feeding low down on the edge of the reeds.  It looked promising and, quickly lifting my binoculars, I could see that it was the CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺).  Jennifer watched it as I called and messaged the other birders on site, who had by now dispersed over a wide area.  I then settled down to observe and photograph the bird as it fed, very obligingly, along the base of a small reedbed just a couple of metres away.

2014-01-07 tristis Chiffchaff

CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺, Phylloscopus collybita tristis), Olympic Forest Park, Beijing, 7 January 2014.

COMMON CHIFFCHAFF ssp tristis, Olympic Forest Park, Beijing, 6 January 2014.  At the time, thought to be the first record for the capital.

CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺, Phylloscopus collybita tristis), Olympic Forest Park. The first documented record for Beijing.

Although slightly blurred, this photo shows the greenish/yellow tinge under the shoulder.

Fortunately, two local birders Zhu Lei and Que Pinjia were on the scene quickly and secured excellent views but, disappointingly, the bird soon disappeared into a dense reedbed before the others arrived.  It was seen briefly later in the afternoon and has been seen on several days since.

As expected for a vagrant CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺) in eastern China, the bird was of the ‘tristis‘ subspecies.  The greyish brown plumage, jet-black legs and bill and the high-pitched and slightly down-slurred call were all typical of this race, considered by some to be a full species.

At the time we all thought that this bird was the first CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺) to be recorded in Beijing.  It does not appear on the municipality list by Liu Yang from 2011 and there are no reports on the Birdtalker database.  However, it has since come to light that one was seen in February 2008 at Baiwangshan (in the northwest of the city) by respected local birder, Wen Chen.  So the Olympic Forest Park bird is the second record for the capital.

With thanks to Paul Holt, here is a short summary of the status of CHIFFCHAFF (叽喳柳莺) in China:

“Chiffchaff wasn’t an unexpected addition to the Beijing list as there are at least three reports from coastal Hebei (one on Happy Island on 14 May 2002; one at Lighthouse Point, Beidaihe during 16-19 May 2006 & one in the Lotus Hills, Beidaihe on 10 May 2007).  Despite the timing of the Hebei records (May – when there are lots of birders in the Happy Island-Beidaihe area), winter has always been thought to be the most likely time this species would turn up in Beijing.  

There’s at least one winter record from Yancheng NNR in coastal Jiangsu Province and seven (?) records from Hong Kong (including one recently in “Long Valley”). This form of Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus collybita tristis, winters in India & it’s sometimes split as Siberian Chiffchaff P. tristis.  In China it’s restricted to breeding in the Altai Mountains of northern Xinjiang Province (north-west China) but is a locally common passage migrant through much of at least the western part of that province. Elsewhere it occurs as a fairly common migrant in western Qinghai where Jesper Hornskov (in an unpublished report on the Birds recorded at Golmud, Qinghai Province, China, 1980-1994) recorded 256 bird-days – just one spring record (23 March 1994) but fairly common between 25 September and 21 November, plus a late straggler on the 18 December 1990. Numbers varied year on year with 132 bird-days & a high count of 10 on the 3 November in 1991 compared to just 68 bird-days and a high count of eight on the 3 October in 1993.

There’s a record from Shandong Province in the new checklist and Common Chiffchaff has apparently also been recorded in Liaoning Province (it was included in Bai Qingquan’s unpublished List of the Birds of Liaoning, Jan. 2012), Henan Province (as it was included in an unpublished List of the Birds of Dongzhai NNR, Luoshan provided by researcher Du Zhiyong on 4 January 2010), Shaanxi Province (one at Yangxian on the 15 Dec 2003 [Phil Heath] was the first, and possibly still the only provincial record), another was photographed at Yandong Lake, Wuhan on 4 December 2009 (Zhang Shuyong in China Bird Watch 71, p32) – the first record for Hubei Province.  There’s a short article on this occurrence in the same issue. The Jiangsu record is of one that was seen at Yancheng NNR by Mark Beaman & a BirdQuest group sometime in the 1990s.”

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Birding with the Right Honourable Mr Kenneth Clarke MP

Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP and Paul Holt birding at Shidu.

Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP and Paul Holt birding at Shidu.

One of the advantages of living in Beijing is that many prominent figures visit.  Occasionally the visitors are birders and, as part of their visit, they are keen to see some of the special birds that can be found around the Chinese capital.  A few weeks ago the British Ambassador informed me about the latest prominent visitor, Rt. Hon. Ken Clarke MP (Senior Cabinet Minister and former Chancellor of the Exchequer), who would be visiting on a trade mission and, on the Sunday before his official engagements began, he was keen to see some birds.  Of course, I was only too delighted to accompany Ken and his wife Gillian on a birding trip and, after an exchange with the Minister’s office about possible destinations, we settled on Shidu, a spectacular gorge in the southwest of Beijing.  This is one of Beijing’s prime birding sites in winter, hosting a number of special, and relatively easy to see, species including, among others, BLACK STORK (黑鹳), CINEREOUS VULTURE (秃鹫) , BROWN DIPPER (褐河乌), LONG-BILLED PLOVER (长嘴剑鴴) and WALLCREEPER (红翅旋壁雀).

I arranged for Paul Holt, who had coincidentally birded with the Rt Honourable gentleman in India several years ago, to join us and so the four of us set off from the Ambassador’s Residence at 0730 for the 2-hour drive to Shidu.

It was a gorgeous winter’s day in Beijing with clear blue skies, no wind and a relatively mild temperature of -2 degrees Celsius that soon dipped to -5 degrees Celsius as we hit the mountains.

Our first stop was the famous “bridge 6″ where, for at least 3 years, a lone WALLCREEPER  (红翅旋壁雀) has been in residence.  This bird has learned to take advantage of the meal worms put out by the local photographers and often shows incredibly well.  Before we made the short walk to the Wallcreeper site we stood on the bridge to scan the river.  Immediately we saw two BLACK STORKS (黑鹳) at the top of a cliff, basking in the early morning sunlight.  Not a bad start!  Then I caught sight of two BROWN DIPPERS (褐河乌) which zipped through and were gone before our esteemed guest could see them.  And it was then, whilst scanning for the dippers, that I saw a lone snipe bobbing amongst the rocks of the river..  Training the telescope onto it Paul immediately identified it as a SOLITARY SNIPE (孤沙锥)..  wow.. a new bird for me and a new Beijing bird for Paul..  as well as being a completely new bird for Ken and Gillian.  An unexpected bonus!

SOLITARY SNIPE, Shidu.  My first ever and Paul's first in Beijing.  With its face pattern and 'bobbing' feeding behaviour, I described it as like a cross between a WOODCOCK and a JACK SNIPE!

SOLITARY SNIPE (孤沙锥), Shidu. My first ever and Paul’s first in Beijing. With its face pattern and ‘bobbing’ feeding behaviour, I described it as like a cross between a WOODCOCK and a JACK SNIPE!

The reappearance of the BROWN DIPPERS (褐河乌), along with the almost incidental sightings of two LONG-BILLED PLOVERS (长嘴剑鴴) and several blakistoni WATER PIPITS (水鹨), completed a spectacular start to the day…

After a short walk to the WALLCREEPER (红翅旋壁雀) site we stood, in the company of around 10 bird photographers, and waited for the star attraction to arrive.  Almost immediately we were treated to several fly-bys from the local HILL PIGEONS (岩鸽) and a pair of PLUMBEOUS WATER REDSTARTS (红尾水鸲) performed well along a small stream.

Male PLUMBEOUS REDSTART.  A common and obvious bird at Shidu.

Male PLUMBEOUS REDSTART (红尾水鸲). A common and obvious bird at Shidu.

Female PLUMBEOUS REDSTART, Shidu

Female PLUMBEOUS REDSTART (红尾水鸲), Shidu

Then, out of nowhere, the WALLCREEPER (红翅旋壁雀) arrived…  flying in to a ledge just a few metres above the awaiting photographers and proceeding to edge its way down to head height to take advantage of the meal worms laid out in strategic positions that enabled the paparazzi to snap the most aesthetically pleasing photos.  It was pretty special to see a WALLCREEPER (红翅旋壁雀) so close and we all enjoyed stunning views.

This WALLCREEPER is one of Shidu's special birds and this individual shows spectacularly well.

This WALLCREEPER (红翅旋壁雀) is one of Shidu’s special birds and this individual shows spectacularly well.

Immediately afterwards I was impressed to see Mr Clarke delve into his pocket, pull out his notebook and begin scribbling notes about his sightings..  a true birder!

Taking notes at the Wallcreeper site.  The Rt Hon gentleman is a true birder!

Taking notes at the Wallcreeper site. The Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP is a genuine birder and also suitably attired for a spot of birdwatching…

We moved on further up the valley and found a group of beautiful MANDARIN DUCKS (鴛鴦), including 4 splendid males, before heading up to the north of the gorge to look for one of Shidu’s other specialities – the CINEREOUS VULTURE (秃鹫).  We parked up at a pull-in that offered expansive views across the nearby mountains and took the opportunity to tuck in to our packed lunches as we waited.  A group of SILVER-THROATED TITS (北长尾山雀银喉长尾山雀) and a couple of GODLEWSKI’S BUNTINGS (戈氏岩鹀) kept us company until we spotted the first large raptor.  It was distant but, through the telescope there was no mistaking our first CINEREOUS VULTURE (秃鹫) of the day, soon followed by two more, this time much closer.  Awesome birds.  Two more, or the same, BLACK STORKS (黑鹳) patrolled the valley before turning around and heading south again, a SAKER (猎隼)  showed itself briefly above a distant ridge and an immature GOLDEN EAGLE (金雕) drifted overhead.  A set of sightings that would grace any birding location, let alone a site in one of the busiest capital cities in the world.

An immature GOLDEN EAGLE, always a joy to see, drifted overhead just before we headed back to the city.

An immature GOLDEN EAGLE (金雕), always a joy to see, drifted overhead just before we headed back to the city.

We reluctantly had to head back to ensure our Rt Honourable guest was back at the embassy in time for his pre-briefing.  A quick stop at bridge 7 on the journey home produced a stunning WHITE-CAPPED WATER REDSTART (白顶溪鸲) and another, unscheduled, stop delivered single UPLAND (大鵟) and EASTERN BUZZARDS (普通鵟) soaring together and being mobbed by two PEREGRINES (游隼) - a pretty good end to another great day’s birding in Beijing.

A big thank you to Ken, Gillian and Paul for being brilliant company throughout the day.  It was a real pleasure to spend time ‘in the field’ with you all…

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Birding Beijing on Prime Time TV!

Last September I spent a day filming at Yeyahu Nature Reserve with a TV crew from Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong-based TV channel with over 300 million viewers in China.  The result of the day was a 5-minute programme about birdwatching in Beijing that was broadcast at 7.55pm on 1 and 2 January.  You can see the programme by clicking this link.

Can you identify the species of raptor towards the end?

It was great fun to do and I want to send a big thank you to Phoenix TV for giving me the opportunity to promote birdwatching in China.  And Swarovski, that free advertising must be worth a new pair of binoculars and a ‘scope…?? ;)

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The Birds of Beijing And The Air They Fly In

That’s the title of the most recent podcast from Sinica, in which I had the pleasure of participating alongside Jon Kaiman, writer for The Guardian, and host Jeremy Goldkorn.  You can listen to the podcast – an enjoyable conversation about birds in Beijing and air pollution – by clicking here.

As is traditional, the participants make a recommendation at the end of the show and mine is “Birds and People“, a landmark book about the relationship between birds and people, including stories of cultural and from around the world.  My apologies to author, Mark Cocker, for referring to him as Mark Golley at the end (revealing my Norfolk roots!).

A big thank you to Jeremy and Sinica for inviting me to help spread the word about Beijing’s birdlife and the importance of protecting it.

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