Lingshan is a spectacular place. I first visited Beijing’s highest mountain in March 2013 and since then, over multiple visits, I have enjoyed some brilliant birding at this bitterly cold, barren and inhospitable site. It seems to be a reliable winter location for difficult-to-see birds such as PALLAS’S ROSEFINCH, GULDENSTADT’S REDSTART and of course, most recently, it hosted both male and females of the stunning PRZEWALSKI’S REDSTART.
Last weekend, I made only my second summer visit. And how different it looks. Since my most recent visit in March, the mountain has been transformed with birdsong seemingly bursting from every tree and shrub on the now vivid green slopes and hillsides.
The woods are alive with CLAUDIA’S LEAF, CHINESE LEAF, EASTERN CROWNED and YELLOW-STREAKED WARBLERS. And the more open areas are frequented by CHINESE BEAUTIFUL ROSEFINCHES and DAURIAN REDSTARTS with RED-BILLED CHOUGHS wheeling overhead.
A walk along the buckthorn-filled valley that, in winter, hosts GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS and good numbers of dark-throated thrushes, revealed that these bushes are now the home of singing YELLOW-STREAKED and CHINESE LEAF WARBLERS. A short way down, we suddenly heard a different song – short, powerful and rich – that reminded me a little of the COMMON NIGHTINGALES we had recently seen in Xinjiang. Of course it wasn’t a nightingale… it was a MANCHURIAN BUSH WARBLER (Cettia canturians) – a scarce bird in Beijing and the first I had seen in the capital. It sang constantly, often from an exposed perch, allowing me to record some video…
After finding some basic, but very cheap (GBP 8 per room), accommodation, we walked along the access road after dark to listen for owls. We heard only a possible distant ORIENTAL SCOPS OWL but, at two different sites, also heard GREY NIGHTJARS pounding out their mechanical ‘knocking’ sound. A highlight was also a rare (for Beijing) view of the spectacular night sky and, by checking out the planets with a birding telescope, we were able to identify Saturn, complete with rings. Wow!
In the morning we awoke early to experience the dawn chorus and, again, walking along the main access road, we encountered CHINESE THRUSH, YELLOW-RUMPED FLYCATCHER, SONGAR (WILLOW) and YELLOW-BELLIED TITS, EURASIAN NUTHATCH, CHINESE BEAUTIFUL ROSEFINCH, RUSSET SPARROW and both MEADOW and GODLEWSKI’S BUNTINGS, in addition to the usual chorus of phylloscopus warblers.
I am sure that, with a little more time and by covering more of the area, some more surprises would be found… after all, this is the site where Jan-Erik Nilsen recorded (two years running!) an initially unfamiliar song that, after investigation, turned out to be a PLAIN-TAILED (ALSTROM’S) WARBLER, a bird that, on current knowledge of it’s range, should not be in Beijing. And with so few birders visiting, the opportunity for discovery is vast. I’ll be back!
The status of Manchurian Bush Warbler in Beijing (with hat-tip to Paul Holt):
This species is scarce, with just 16 records in total, averaging just 1-2 records annually in recent years. Six of these are from May, including one from Lingshan in May 2004. It has also been recorded in summer (July 2005 and June 2008) at nearby Baicaopan, possibly suggesting that it is a scarce breeder in the mountains around Beijing. There is an autumn record from Kangxi Grassland (near Yanqing) on 16 October 2010 and one was photographed in the campus of Peking University in late October 2012.