Birding Beijing with the British Embassy

On Saturday I led a tour of Yeyahu NR with a group from the British Embassy in Beijing.  It was a fun day out that will hopefully inspire a new generation of birders and we also raised GBP 75 to help save the Jankowski’s Bunting!

Given that the embassy bus wasn’t going to leave Beijing city centre until 0900, Libby and I plus good friends, Sarah and John Gallagher, decided to travel up early morning under our own steam and meet the group when they arrived late morning (hopefully having scouted out a few birds!).

The four of us arrived around 0800 and we enjoyed a very ‘birdy’ few hours.  The weather was clear and sunny, allowing stunning views of the mountains to the north and south.. The only downside was a strong north-westerly wind that was blowing straight from the Mongolian steppe, making it feel cold.

Despite the wind, it was clear that migration was happening all around us.  Flocks of Brambling regularly wheeled overhead, interspersed with groups of Skylark, Little Bunting, Daurian Jackdaws and Olive-backed and Buff-bellied Pipits.  A young Hen Harrier gave us exceptional views as it hugged the leeward side of a hedge and then a flock of at least 17 calling Hawfinches flew low over the treetops…  my first sighting of this chunky finch at Wild Duck Lake.  A little further on we stumbled across 2 Siberian Accentors – my first of the autumn and hopefully a sign that numbers will be back to normal this year after being pretty scarce in the capital last winter.

We stuck to the sheltered side of the hedge and had planned to make it as far as the tower hide at the edge of the reservoir before heading back to the car park to meet the embassy bus. However, our progress was slow given the number of birds we were seeing and we ended up circling back long before the tower.  Just as we turned, a large flock of Daurian Jackdaws came low over the fields, almost flying in between us as they headed fast south-west.  Stunning.

Highlights of the return included a young Saker patrolling one of the lakes on which domesticated ducks have been released.. causing a panic.. and a Tolai Hare flushed by Sarah as we walked through a grassy field.

The embassy bus had, not unusually for a Saturday morning, been caught in heavy traffic on the G6, the main highway from Beijing to Badaling (one of the most popular stretched of the Great Wall) and it wasn’t until 1130 that they arrived.

The British Embassy minibus arriving at Yeyahu NR. With Libby and chief spotter, Joe Wild.

First priority was to find a sheltered spot for the picnic lunch..  It was pleasant out of the wind so we chose a spot on the eastern side of a row of poplar trees with a wide vista of the mountains and open fields..

Picnic time at Yeyahu with the British Embassy group

The picnic lunch also provided an opportunity for the youngsters in the group to get to grips with birding optics for the first time… It was clear early on that Joe was going to be chief spotter!  Here he is looking at a group of Common Cranes that flew in from the east during lunch.

Joe using a telescope for the first time..

Sam lamented the weight of my Nikon binoculars…!

After lunch we split into two groups – one staying by the lake to feed the domesticated ducks and one that would follow me on a walk to the reservoir to look for wild birds.

To add a bit of extra fun to the day, we had arranged a competition to guess how many species we would see on the day.  Guesses cost 20 Yuan each (GBP 2) with the winner receiving a copy of “Birds of East Asia” by Mark Brazil (easily the best field guide for birds in the Chinese capital).  The proceeds would go to BirdLife International’s JustGiving page to help save Jankowski’s Bunting.

With only a couple of hours at Yeyahu in the middle of the day, and with a strong wind, I was expecting a relatively low total.  Guesses ranged from 15 to 50.  We saw 22, with the best of the bunch a flock of Common Cranes that arrived from the east and a Short-toed Eagle hunting briefly near the entrance to the reserve.

A fun day out and money raised for a good cause.  Thanks to everyone involved, especially Feian Downing and Jon Baines from the embassy who made the logistical arrangements.

Finally, I should add that the British Embassy in Beijing has an association with birds.  Former Ambassador (1997-2002) Sir Anthony Galsworthy was a keen birder and regularly set up mist nets in the garden of his residence to trap and ring birds..  I am trying to get hold of his records.. would be fascinating to see what he caught in his central Beijing garden!

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About Terry Townshend

I am a British birder living and birding in Beijing from August 2010 until 2015. Through this blog I hope I can convey a sense of what it is like to live in this thriving, confident and contrasting city and the birdlife that can be found in its environs. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it! Terry Townshend, Beijing September 2010
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