During a 2-day visit to Lingshan in late June, we decided to explore a nearby valley along the Yongding River (Yongdinghe). It’s a spectacularly pretty gorge with quality birds such as Chukar, Red-billed Chough, Koklass Pheasant and Golden Eagle, and was also the site of the BROWN ACCENTOR a couple of winters ago.
BLUE ROCK THRUSHES (of the orange/chestnut-bellied philippensis race) were a nice surprise along with super views of Red-billed Chough, Crag Martins and a pair of Golden Eagles. But the biggest surprise was catching sight of what I instinctively thought was a swift… Unfortunately, as soon as I trained my binoculars on it, it disappeared behind a ridge and was gone. For several minutes, I scanned in vain and I began to doubt myself… had I really seen a swift? Was it just a Crag Martin seen very poorly at a strange angle? Then, as suddenly as it disappeared, it reappeared, this time in good light and, even better, in the company of 5 other swifts… And, with gleaming white rumps, they were clearly all PACIFIC SWIFTS.
I hadn’t heard of PACIFIC SWIFTS breeding in Beijing. I have seen them on passage in spring and autumn but never in mid-summer. I watched them for several minutes and they occasionally engaged in ‘screaming’ and, several times, flew up to some ledges on a sheer cliff face… it appeared as though they were breeding…
On return, I discussed the swifts with Paul Holt who told me that breeding has never been proved in Beijing before, although there have been several mid-summer reports from the mountains. The big question is whether the Yongdinghe birds are of the usually more southerly distributed subspecies kanoi or the usually more northerly distributed pacificus.
It will take much better photos than the one above to determine that!