Baer’s Pochard at Ma Chang

An adult drake BAER'S POCHARD at Ma Chang.  A welcome sighting of this now Critically Endangered species.
An adult drake BAER’S POCHARD at Ma Chang. A welcome sighting of this now Critically Endangered species.

On Sunday I visited Ma Chang, Wild Duck Lake.  April and May are superb months to visit this special Beijing site.  With migration in full swing, it’s fascinating to see the departure of the winter visitors, the arrival of summer visitors and the passage of migrants on their way to breeding grounds further north…  Already many of the winter birds have departed – I didn’t see a single crane of any species on Sunday – but many others are just beginning to arrive. Oriental Plovers – a Ma Chang speciality – are coming through in good numbers now and it’s a great time, too, for wildfowl and some of the early raptors.

The excitement of my visit on Sunday was heightened by the news that a BAER’S POCHARD was found on Friday by local birders Zhu Lei and Zhang Shen (thanks guys!).  This bird is classified as “Critically Endangered” and, I understand, a survey of its traditional wintering grounds in China produced fewer than 50 birds this winter.  Look out for a forthcoming article in Birding Asia about the dramatic decline of this species.

On arrival I was delighted to see some ORIENTAL PLOVERS on site.  I counted 14 and, after watching them briefly, I made my way to the first site for checking duck.  Viewing wildfowl is not straightforward at Ma Chang; there are many areas that are not viewable and the precise location of the birds depends on many factors, such as the wind direction and speed and the activity on the lake of the local fishermen.  I have two favourite locations – one at the spit by some yurts (also a good place for visible migration) and one on the ‘island’ to the north.  On Sunday, both sites were notably empty of duck.  I was beginning to think that it wasn’t going to be my day and that the duck must be hiding somewhere out of sight.  Then I saw a small flock of Tufted Duck (not a common bird in Beijing) fly in and go down behind some reeds.  I could see that there was a track that ran close by, so I made my way to the general area and found a good place to view the duck.

Unusually, there was no northwesterly wind blowing into my face, so the conditions were good.  I soon realised that it wasn’t just the Tufted Duck present.  There were some Ferruginous Duck (a species with which BAER’S POCHARD often associates), Shoveler, Common Pochard, Smew, Falcated Duck, Gadwall, Wigeon and Mallard all present.  A careful scan revealed no sign of the Baer’s but I knew there were some duck asleep in the reeds, including some Ferruginous Duck and some others that were obscured..  I settled in, hoping that one of the sleeping duck out of sight might be the Baer’s.

After 45 minutes of enjoyable birding, including a nice flock of passing Swan Geese, a small passage of Buff-bellied Pipits and an early male Citrine Wagtail, I began another scan and, sure enough, in amongst the Ferruginous Duck was a stunning drake BAER’S POCHARD.

I watched the BAER’S for the next hour as it proceeded to display. Unfortunately there were no female BAER’S but that didn’t seem to matter..  this lonely male threw its head back, stretched its neck high and bowed to several female Ferruginous Ducks and a slightly startled-looking female Common Pochard… I guess when your situation is as desperate as the Baer’s Pochard, you can’t afford to be fussy!

The drake BAER'S POCHARD (left) with Falcated Duck, Coot, Gadwall and Tufted Duck
The drake BAER’S POCHARD (left) with Falcated Duck, Coot, Gadwall and Tufted Duck

It was heartening to see this bird but, at the same time, sobering to think that it is likely to make its way north alone and, when it arrives at its favoured lake, there may be no females with which to breed.  The situation for this bird is precarious.  Encouragingly I have heard of two separate sightings from Liaoning Province in the last few days – one male and one female.  Let’s hope it’s a good breeding season for this species.

After an hour or so, I reluctantly pulled myself away to explore the rest of Ma Chang.  The Oriental Plover flock had increased to an astonishing 55 birds, with 4-5 adult males sporting gleaming white heads.

Oriental Plover (male), Ma Chang.
Oriental Plover (male), Ma Chang.
Oriental Plover, Ma Chang.
Oriental Plover, Ma Chang.

Flocks of Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers were mixed in, many of which were displaying and calling frequently.

Little Ringed Plover, Ma Chang
Little Ringed Plover, Ma Chang
Kentish Plover, Ma Chang
Kentish Plover, Ma Chang

At one point, as I was watching the flock, all of the birds suddenly took flight.  I suspected a raptor and, sure enough, a quick scan with the binoculars revealed a superb male LESSER KESTREL..  wow!  A nice way to end a brilliant birding session at Ma Chang.

Lesser Kestrel (male), Ma Chang.
Lesser Kestrel (male), Ma Chang.

Full Species List (62 species):

Japanese Quail – 2
Common Pheasant – 12
Swan Goose – 28
Bean Goose – 6
Ruddy Shelduck – 42
Gadwall – 78
Falcated Duck – 225
Eurasian Wigeon – 19
Mallard – 67
Spot-billed Duck – 6
Northern Shoveler – 4
Eurasian Teal – 18
Common Pochard – 12
BAER’S POCHARD – 1 drake displaying to both female Ferruginous Duck and Common Pochard. Employed three ‘displays’ – one involved stretching the neck high, the second throwing the head back and the third leaning the head forward and ‘puffing up’ the back of the neck.
Ferruginous Duck – 17
Tufted Duck – 7
Goldeneye – 5
Smew – 12
Goosander – 4
Little Grebe – 8
Great Crested Grebe – 14
Great Bittern – 1 booming
Grey Heron – 7
Great Cormorant – 1
LESSER KESTREL – 1 male drifted northwest with occasional hovering spells (flushed the Oriental Plovers at one point)
Eurasian Kestrel – 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier – 3 (one adult male and two adult females)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1
Northern Goshawk – 3
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 2
Common Coot – 32
Black-winged Stilt – 16
Northern Lapwing – 63
Little Ringed Plover – 14
Kentish Plover – 33
Oriental Plover – 55 – the number seemed to increase as the day wore on with just 14 present early morning. Some disturbance from bird photographers and horses but they were not unduly perturbed.
Common Snipe – 1
Common Gull – 11
Mongolian Gull – 2 adults flew high west calling
Black-headed Gull – 18
Oriental Turtle Dove – 4
Collared Dove – 3
Common Kingfisher – 2
Hoopoe – 4
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 1
Chinese Grey Shrike – 2
Azure-winged Magpie – 6
Common Magpie – lots
Daurian Jackdaw – 10
Corvid sp – 15
Carrion Crow – 3
Bohemian Waxwing – 4 flew south
Asian Short-toed Lark – 5
Eurasian Skylark – 4
White-cheeked Starling – 5
Daurian Redstart – 4
Tree Sparrow – lots
Citrine Wagtail – one male
White Wagtail – 4
Buff-bellied Pipit – 26
Water Pipit – 9
Pallas’s Bunting – 28
Mammals:

Tolai Hare – 1

10 thoughts on “Baer’s Pochard at Ma Chang”

  1. Fantastic session. I think I saw my first BP in Nepal at the Kosi Dam back in the 90s and it was a star bird then! Sad to see it in such a parlous state.

    1. Thanks Andrew. BP must be extremely rare in Nepal nowadays… Two were reported in Liaoning Province, China, in recent days (near Shenyang). This is the prime time to see them on Spring migration in northeast China and hopefully more will be found. T

  2. I just wondering that is there any conservation organization working on any real action on saving the precarious BP? Or we just sit aside and witness another extinction…

    1. Hi Robbi. Firstly, thanks for the message about this bird on Friday.. a brilliant find! I understand that the UK’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, in collaboration with WWF China, is collating all records and putting together some sort of action plan to try to save this species. I think the priority is for surveys and studies to find out the requirements of this species and why it is declining so rapidly. As usual, the major stumbling block is money. Hopefully we can all help to raise awareness and encourage birders all over China to look out for this species. Cheers, Terry

  3. Wow, an excellent day! Your pics of the oriental plover and lesser kes are great (both birds I don’t recognize very well yet). Thanks for sharing your outing.

    I agree it is a very sobering sight to see the solo male “seeking available female” with none there….

  4. That’s a bird for a weekend birding, Terry. Very much delighted to hear about the sighting of the Baer’s. Nice shots of the Plovers especially the white-headed Oriental Plover.

  5. Let’s hope he’s able to gather a small flock of Baer’s Pochard around him before they head off north or that he at least manages to find a mate when he reaches the breeding grounds. I hope it doesn’t reach the point where there are so few that they hybridise themselves out of existence.

    Some great birds there. The plovers in particular look exquisite. Must add Beijing in spring to my bucket list! Thanks as ever for posting.
    K

    1. Thanks Ken… hear hear! The OPs are my favourite China bird.. and a real signature bird for Ma Chang. You’d be very welcome to Beijing and I’d be very happy to take you there!

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