After a few busy work weeks, it was cool (in -11 temperatures, coolness is assured) to get out to Wild Duck Lake on Saturday to see what the cold weather had brought in since my previous visit in late November. And it was even cooler to be in the company of Paul Holt, one of the world’s finest birders.. (I am constantly astounded by Paul’s super-human hearing – there are calls that he hears, geolocates and identifies before I have even registered a sound… and I would have certainly missed several species had he not been there).
On this occasion I hired a car for the weekend and so, early Saturday morning, I picked up Paul from near his home in south-east Beijing and we headed north-west to Wild Duck Lake. The traffic was unusually light so we arrived on site around 0715, just as the sun rose. Paul’s trusty thermometer told us that it was -11 degrees C but with a biting westerly wind, it felt colder. I was relieved that Paul had brought along his super-sized thermos for coffee and noodles..
We checked thoroughly the area at Ma Chang, including the ‘island’ to the north, where we enjoyed a close encounter with a very confiding Chinese Grey Shrike. As we were in the car the shrike seemed oblivious to our presence, and it posed beautifully for Paul to grab the images below with my camera out of the passenger window… Superb shots, Paul!
At the island, the angle made viewing difficult so we decided to venture onto the ice to gain a better position from which to check the swans and duck. I am always nervous about walking on ice and, with various creaks and groans coming from underneath our feet, my experience on Saturday did nothing to improve my confidence..! We could see the ice was at least a foot thick but, even so, I didn’t feel comfortable.. that was until we later saw a fisherman WITH HIS CAR on the ice… It was then that I had to admit that I was a wimp… :)
After checking the wildfowl and finding a single White-fronted in the Bean Goose flock, we enjoyed a very welcome pot noodle. To me, this was one of the most delicious meals imaginable after a few hours out in freezing temperatures.. I temporarily took off my gloves to eat and, despite holding a lovely warm tub of noodles, my hands were hurting with the cold.. and I knew it was still well below freezing when the condensation from the steam on the lid of my pot noodle froze solid..! Wild Duck Lake is quite a bit higher than Beijing – at about 580 metres (Beijing is only around 80 metres above sea-level) – so it was noticeably colder than in the city centre.
We drove to Yeyahu, entering via the ‘secret passageway’, and covered the area down to ‘eagle field’. No sign of any Black Bitterns this time or anything else outrageous.. but we did see a few wintering Chinese Penduline Tits, more Pallas’s Reed Buntings (common in winter), a Common Reed Bunting (anything but common at Wild Duck Lake), a couple of Hen Harriers, an Upland Buzzard and a very large and active flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills.. these birds have bags of character and roam the reedbeds in tight flocks, chattering away as they go.
After marvelling at the constitution of the local ice fishermen on the reservoir, we headed back to the car for the journey back to Beijing, enjoying a pre-roost movement of well over 100 Common Magpies..
Thanks to Paul for his company on a ‘bracing’ day out…
Full species list: