“****! That looked like a BAER’S POCHARD!!!”

With apologies to my mum, that’s exactly what went through my head as I scanned a group of diving duck at Wild Duck Lake on Wednesday morning and came across a bird with a green-tinged head and pale flanks…  It immediately turned away so that I could only see it’s backside and there were agonising seconds of self-doubt before it turned side-on again to show me that it was, without a doubt, most definitely, a drake BAER’S POCHARD….  Wow.

Wednesday morning started off badly.  For more than half an hour I was stuck in traffic on the G6 caused by broken down lorries that failed to make the steep ascent over the Badaling Great Wall pass, meaning that I arrived at Ma Chang around 0645, about half an hour after dawn.  Already, many bird photographers were driving around in 4x4s searching for something to photograph..  and there were no birds on the ‘desert area’.  As usual, I went to the more isolated western end of the track, near a ‘spit’ of land on which several fishermen’s ‘tents’ or yurts are situated in the summer months.  I set up my telescope here and began to watch.  Visible migration was relatively slow with just Buff-bellied and a few Water Pipits accompanied by some Little Buntings and a few Skylarks.  An immature male Hen Harrier and a Saker both came through in the first half an hour (the latter with prey).  Initially, there were no duck to be seen but, later on, a large mixed flock flew in, presumably flushed by fishermen.  They settled some distance away but were viewable with a telescope from my position.  I began to scan through them and there were almost 300 Mallard, 82 Gadwall and 79 Spot-billed Duck dabbling against the far reedbed.  A little closer, in a line, was a large group of diving duck.  In this flock was a good number of Ferruginous Duck and, as I began to count them, I stumbled across a diving duck with pale flanks and a greenish tinge to the head.. However, just as I got onto it, it turned away.  I immediately thought ” ****!  That looked like a Baer’s Pochard”…  At this point I lost count of the Ferruginous Duck..  I watched the BAER’S POCHARD for a couple of minutes as it fed – with short dives – amongst the Ferruginous Ducks.  I then remembered that I was counting Ferruginous Ducks and, being someone who likes to finish what they have started, I began to count them again..  I got to about 12 before I saw the BAER’S POCHARD again..  and after lingering a few seconds, continued with the count.. I was working from left to right and, as I approached the far right of the flock, I saw a drake BAER’S POCHARD.  Thinking that it must have been the same one that had simply moved across unseen, I scanned back to the original position and, to my amazement, the original bird was still there!  So there were two drake BAER’S..!!  Gulp..

The second BAER’S was the last viewable bird in the flock – the rest were behind the reeds.  I realised that the angle from which I was observing the birds wasn’t great and that if I moved a little further west along the spit, I would be able to see more of the flock.  I moved the car and, sitting on the back seat with the back door open, I was able to use it as a wind break to help minimise wind shake.  Again, I went through the flock, this time a little closer and with much less wind shake.  I counted 38 Ferruginous Ducks, 18 Common Pochard, 3 Smew and an incredible 4 BAER’S POCHARD (the same two males, the latter of which enjoyed the company of two females).  This total is a minimum as there were still more birds in the flock that were not viewable..   I sent SMSs to a few people before settling down and just enjoying observing these birds..  Unfortunately they were too distant to photograph with my 400mm lens.  The picture below was taken with my 400mm lens to illustrate just how distant they were.

On 17 October 2012, there were at least 4 Baer’s Pochards here (beyond the 3rd set of nets)!

My telescope was on 40-50x during the observation but the light was excellent, with the sun directly behind me.

The BAER’S POCHARD is in a perilous state.  It’s status was recently amended to “Critically Endangered” reflecting the dramatic decline of this species.  In a worrying sign, the surveys by Chinese ornithologists on some of its traditional wintering grounds yielded no birds in winter 2011/12.  This is an extract from an internet posting by Wang Xin, Cao Lei, Lei Jinyu and Tony Fox:

“a special survey by Wuhan Birdwatching Society this winter (2011/12) did not find any Baer’s Pochard at all, even at Liangzi Lake (where the survey had found c. 130 individuals last year). Birdwatchers have also been to the upper part of Wuchang Lake in Anhui this winter where Cao Lei’s group have been finding more than 200 in recent years and found none there as well. In the Baiquan wetlands, in Wuhan, where the species was often found in the past, there are only reports of poisoned swans and geese because the water levels in winter 2011/12 are so low and people can get near to the waterbirds as never before.”

I also understand that a (partial) summer survey of its traditional breeding ground this year resulted in no confirmed sightings at all.  Amongst all this gloom, one positive development has been the discovery of two breeding sites, both holding very few pairs, a long way south of the known traditional breeding range.  Whether these birds represent a previously undiscovered population or whether breeding at these sites reflects an adaptation strategy to the deterioration of their preferred habitat further north is a question to which I don’t know the answer…  Whatever, it is clear that this bird is in serious trouble.  I hope to write something more in-depth on the plight of the Baer’s Pochard very soon.  Watch this space.

PS.  The four-letter word I used was “Gosh”.. :)
Full species list below.

Common Pheasant – 8
Bean Goose – 7
Ruddy Shelduck – 4
Gadwall – 82 @ Ma Chang plus 16 @ Yeyahu
Mallard – 280
Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 88
Eurasian Teal – 12
Common Pochard – 18
BAER’S POCHARD – 4 (two males, two females)
Ferruginous Duck – 39 (38 @ Ma Chang plus 1 @ Yeyahu) – possibly a record Beijing count.
Common Goldeneye – 6
Smew – 5 (2 @ Ma Chang, 3 @ Yeyahu)
Goosander – 3
Little Grebe – 18
Great Crested Grebe – 6
Black Stork – 2 over Yeyahu
Grey Heron – 1
Great Cormorant – 1
Common Kestrel – 1
Saker – 2
Hen Harrier – 2 (one imm male and one first winter)
Northern Goshawk – 2
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 3
Coot – 76
Common Crane – 15
Northern Lapwing – 1
Snipe sp (Swinhoe’s or Pin-tailed) – 1
Spotted Redshank – 2
Black-headed Gull – 93
Chinese Grey Shrike – 2
Azure-winged Magpie – 7
Common Magpie – lots
Daurian Jackdaw – 431
Carrion Crow – 1
Corvid sp (Rook/Carrion/Long-billed Crow) – 28
Great Tit – 1
Marsh Tit – 2
Skylark – 8
Chinese Hill Babbler – 2
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler – 7
Yellow-browed Warbler – 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 6
White-cheeked Starling – 4
Red-flanked Bluetail – 1
Daurian Redstart – 1
Tree Sparrow – lots
Buff-bellied Pipit – 44
Water Pipit – 4
Brambling – 14
Oriental Greenfinch – 1
Pine Bunting – 3
Little Bunting – 21
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 8

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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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8 Responses to “****! That looked like a BAER’S POCHARD!!!”

  1. Norm Farrell says:

    Unbaerably great news !! Good show !!!!

    Norm

  2. Ken Turnip says:

    I’m sure your mother will forgive you. After the depressing news recently on this species, it’s great to hear that there are still some around. Well done – Although I’d rather be out there doing it myself, I do enjoy birding vicariously through you!

  3. Sadly no Baer’s Pochard this weekend. However, visibility was very poor and not all areas could be covered, so they could still be on site. On Saturday morning I persuaded one of the local fishermen to take me out onto the lake but, despite seeing around 1,500 duck, I could find no Baer’s among them.

  4. Hi Terry, I’m a British birder (friend of Paul Holts) running Birdfinders birdwatching tour company and visit China every year (Beidaihe & Sichuan). I would like to say how much I enjoy reading your blog and am happy to support you in any way I can with any of your compaigns if you needs emails sent etc. I would also be happy to put a reciprocal link on our website. Best wishes for a Happy (and bird-filled!) New Year. Vaughan Ashby

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