Poachers Waste No Time After 1st China International Birding Festival

After the success of the 1st China International Birding Festival, it was with some sadness that I received a call from the Dalian Lushun Wild Bird Protection Association on Thursday evening.  Volunteers had been out that day and found more than 800 metres of illegal mist nets at Laotieshan, the site of the festival.  They sent me these shocking images.

2015-10-01 Nets at Laotieshan
Volunteers from the Dalian Lushun Wild Bird Protection Association, Laotieshan Nature Reserve staff and Forestry Police taking down illegal nets at Laotieshan on Thursday.
2015-10-01 dead woodcock, laotieshan
The removal of the illegal nets came too late for this Woodcock.
2015-10-01 releasing brown hawk owl, Laotieshan
However, this NORTHERN BOOBOOK was lucky. After untangling this beautiful bird from the net, the volunteers released it unharmed.
2015-10-01 releasing brown hawk owl, laotieshan2
Stressed but unharmed. Hopefully this NORTHERN BOOBOOK will have an uneventful migration to south-east Asia.

The group’s leader explained that, when the festival was in progress, the poachers had lain low, knowing that the discovery of mist nets during the event would have embarrassed the local government and almost certainly led to severe punishment.  However, now, with the spotlight turned away, the poachers were back in force.  Apparently 7-8 poachers regularly haunt the Laotieshan area and every autumn there is a running battle between the criminals and the local wild bird society, Laotieshan nature reserve staff and forestry police.

One piece of good news is that the local bird group has been engaging with the poachers to try to persuade them away from catching birds to becoming bird protectors.  One of them has already given up his nets and is now paid a small amount to look for, and take down, illegal nets.  Discussions with a second poacher are ongoing.

As is well-known, poachers make the best gamekeepers, so I have my fingers crossed that they are successful.  Whatever the result, it’s important to highlight the brilliant work of the Dalian Lushun Wild Bird Protection Group.  Heroes.

The 1st China International Birding Festival: A Major Success

After a whirlwind 48 hours, and the participation of almost 200 birders from all over China and overseas, the 1st China International Birding Festival has officially closed.  And what a success it was.

The centrepiece was a 24-hour “bird race” during which 49 teams of 4 (age range 10 to 71) competed to record as many species of bird as possible by visiting 5 pre-determined sites in the Laotieshan area.  Each team was allocated a volunteer student from the Dalian University of Foreign Languages, a local State Forestry Fire Prevention officer and provided with a car and driver.  And, after the opening ceremony in which the Vice Mayor of Dalian and other senior government officials participated, the race began at 4pm on Friday.

The formal opening ceremony of the 1st China International Birding Festival. A grand affair!
However, some were briefly distracted from the speeches when an ORIENTAL HONEY BUZZARD drifted overhead..
map of birding locations
The map of the birding locations for the 24-hour “bird race”. The birding sites are marked in red, A to E. The accommodation and event sites marked in green, F to H.

With China birding guru, Paul Holt, honourably serving as one of the team of judges, suddenly everyone else was in with a chance of victory!

Our team, including Marie Louise and two fabulous and enthusiastic young birders, Zhao Tianhao and Cheng Xi, decided to spend the first two hours of the race, and the last two hours of daylight, visiting the “Tiger Tail mudflats” where we connected with, among others, Chinese Egret, Osprey, Black-tailed and Black-headed Gull as well as Red-throated Pipit, Lanceolated Warbler and a stunning adult male Yellow-breasted Bunting in the scrub.

The “Ibisbill” team (from left to right): Zhao Tianhao, our forestry minder, TT, Marie Louise and Cheng Xi)

After the formal dinner in the evening, we arranged to meet at 0500 (half an our before dawn and the earliest the driver and forestry officer could start) to continue the race..

We first visited the saltpans from where we hoped to be lucky with Streaked Shearwater (possible, with luck, from the sea wall).  We did not see one but we did connect with some shorebirds, including Red-necked and Temminck’s Stints, Dunlin, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper and Pacific Golden Plover.  It was shortly after sifting through the waders that we finally saw something ‘streaked’, only it was not ‘shearing’ over the sea but hiding in a small reedbed.  Astonishingly, we connected with a STREAKED REED WARBLER, an almost mythical and now almost certainly extremely rare bird.  See here for some background about this species and the story of this observation.

After the excitement of the Streaked Reed Warbler sighting, we continued to increase our species list as we visited the other sites, including a wooded mountainside and a tidal estuary.  An encounter with two NORTHERN HOUSE MARTINS (scarce in NE China) was a nice bonus during our last hour.

IMG_5875 2
Zhao Tianhao suffered from an allergic reaction to the local scrub and took an emergency soaking to calm the itchiness!

As time wore on, our ‘guide’ slowly increased the pressure on us to get back to base – any team that was late, even by a minute, would be disqualified.  So, at 1520 we left the last site and headed back for the 20 minute journey to hand in our scoresheet.  In the car we made a final count – 71 species.  Not bad.  At the beginning of the race I had thought that 70 species would be a good score, so we were pretty pleased, even though we had, alarmingly, missed some common birds; we had seen no woodpeckers, no owls, no harriers, no Little Bunting (how did that happen?), no pheasant or quail and ‘Japanese’ was the only Tit species!

After handing in the entries the judges got to work and, following a late evening, the results were ready to be announced at the closing ceremony the following morning.

On arrival, we were ushered to a row of seats close to the front so we knew we had won an award.  We were delighted to receive two – “The Black-faced Spoonbill Award” for the rarest bird seen (the Streaked Reed Warbler was always going to be a shoe-in for that) and also the 3rd place team award (our 71 species was just 3 behind the winners – Tong Menxiu’s “China Wild Tour” team.

The “Ibisbills” team receiving the 3rd place award.
The China Wild Tour team receiving their award for 1st place.
The China Wild Tour team receiving their award for 1st place.

In addition, I was humbled and honoured to receive the judges’ “Birding Master” award…

It was a big surprise, and a huge honour, to be presented with the
It was a big surprise, and a huge honour, to be presented with the “Birding Master” award.

It was hugely encouraging to see big numbers of young Chinese birders participating and, during the 24-hour race we met with teams from as far afield as Yunnan, Guangdong and Fujian, as well as several teams from host province, Liaoning and the capital, Beijing.  Even better was the gender balance – there were just as many young women as men (it was never like that in the UK when I was a young birder!).

Huge thanks to the organisers, including the China Birdwatching Society, the Dalian local government, the Dalian University of Foreign Languages and all of the other volunteers… And a special thanks to my team mates – Marie Louise, Zhao Tianhao and Cheng Xi.

With participation from the highest levels of the Dalian government, including generous financial support for the event, I sensed a genuine enthusiasm for birding and an appreciation for wild birds, the scale of which I have never before witnessed in China. All around were banners stating “Protect our birds” and “Dalian – honoured to be hosting the 1st China International Birding Festival”.  During the race, many of the 49 teams took the time to explain to interested passers-by what they were doing and to show them wild birds..  And the bird race was covered by national and local TV as well as print media, including the most popular Chinese language newspaper, the People’s Daily.  So the event has helped to raise awareness among the general public, as well as enthusing a new generation of Chinese birders.  I was heartened when one young Chinese student volunteer approached me at the closing ceremony and said “This event has made me want to be a birder”.

Forget all the trophies handed out, the most important winner of all was Birding in China.

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics: Reply From IOC

Yesterday I received a reply from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to my correspondence outlining concerns about the proposed venue for the downhill ski slope for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.  Their letter can be seen here.  The background can be found here.

The IOC’s reply is, predictably, disappointing.  It repeats the claim that the location of the alpine skiing events will be “adjacent” to the national nature reserve.  This is true but only after the Chinese government has “adjusted” the boundaries!

The letter goes on to say that the Host City Contract, signed by Beijing, includes a section dedicated to protected natural areas which reads as follows:

“If a Bid City/ Host City/ OCOG proposes locating a venue, a facility, and/or infrastructure in or in close proximity to a protected natural and/or heritage area, a detailed assessment of environmental (flora, fauna, soil and water) and/or cultural heritage (landscape, amenity, built heritage, archaeology) constraints, potential impacts, risks and mitigation requirements must be undertaken.”

There is no evidence that any of this has happened.  And, even if it had, the IOC’s contract essentially gives license to cause damage to protected areas as long as “mitigation requirements” are undertaken.

The reply raises two questions.  First, what if the host city does not fulfil their obligations (as they clearly haven’t done in this case) and is therefore in breach of contract?

And second, is there any assessment, independent or otherwise, of the so-called “mitigation requirements” to assess their suitability and effectiveness?

Sadly, it looks as if the environmental concerns raised about the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are not unique.  The 2018 Winter Games will take place in South Korea and a “virgin 500-year old forest” has been felled to accommodate a ski slope, despite an online petition attracting more than 1.1 million signatures.  In the South Korean case, the organising committee says it plans to replace more than 1,000 trees after the Games and restore the natural habitat to its former state – a promise that forest experts say is practically impossible to keep.

In Beijing the government has promised to plant some trees to “offset” those felled to make way for the ski slope.  That may sound reasonable to Joe Public but conservationists and experts will know that cutting down a several hundred-year old tree and planting a new sapling is not a “like for like” replacement, especially when the former is part of a complex and biodiverse ecosystem.

In an age when we are losing our biodiversity at an alarming rate (some estimates suggest we have lost more than 50% of the world’s biodiversity in the last 50 years) it seems to me unforgivable to sacrifice highly biodiverse areas for the sake of a few days of sporting events.

If the IOC doesn’t take its environmental responsibilities and commitments seriously, I hope that the sponsors (many of whom are likely to be large international companies with reputations to protect) will insist on much stricter environmental criteria as a pre-requisite to supporting the Olympics.

In any case, isn’t it time for the IOC to begin to re-use facilities rather than look for a new host country every 4 years?

Battle Of Shunyi: Police Arrest Two Poachers!

After an evening of drama, tonight the Beijing police arrested two poachers on my local patch.  Returning home at about 5pm I decided to go to the roof of my apartment block to scan for illegal mist nets.  To my surprise there were two guys putting up nets in the same area as on Friday!  It was just a few days after I discovered, and took down, some illegal mist nets and told the poacher that if I saw him again I would send his photo to the police.  And yet here he was again, with a friend, in exactly the same spot.  He can’t say he wasn’t warned!

After a quick phonecall the police were on their way and, this time, they would catch the poachers red-handed.  One had a Japanese Sparrowhawk and, as I led the police to the spot, the poacher inadvertently walked straight towards us with his illegally caught bird of prey on his wrist.  He was so shocked to see us that he froze, allowing one of the officers to grab him by the scruff of the neck.  After a few choice words the poacher led the police to the mist nets and it was here that they apprehended, after a brief attempt to flea, the second poacher.  After taking photos for evidence and then taking down the nets, the police escorted the poachers to the local police station for questioning.  I don’t know what the outcome will be but being in possession of a bird of prey, a state protected species, is a serious offence.

And so, after several days of battling these poachers, it was gratifying to finally catch them.  I cannot praise the Shunyi State Forestry Police high enough.  They responded quickly, with enthusiasm, and effectively apprehended the poachers.  I am sure these guys will refrain from trapping wild birds for the foreseeable future.. and I hope their arrest will act as a deterrent for others, too.

The Beijing State Forestry Police apprehending one of the poachers.
The Beijing State Forestry Police apprehending one of the poachers.
Beijing police taking down the illegal mist nets.
Beijing police taking down the illegal mist nets.


Finding a first, whether it’s for the local patch or the country, is a magical feeling.  Last Friday Dutch birder, Ben Wielstra, found a small female flycatcher in the grounds of Tsinghua University, Beijing.  After recording the call, taking extensive notes and managing to grab a couple of photographs, it was identified as Beijing’s first SLATY-BLUE FLYCATCHER!  A brilliant find.  Here’s Ben’s story:

“On Friday 11 September 2015 I took what was supposed to be a brief stroll after lunch on the Tsinghua University Campus. Although there were not particularly many birds around, I had a good start with short but reasonable views of a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus tenellipes) foraging on the ground in ‘patch 2’. As ‘patch 3’ (next to my office) was not very birdy I decided to give ‘patch 7’ a try.

Not much appeared to be going on here as well, until I heard a call unfamiliar to me (which is in itself not exceptional, given my limited experience with the many (potential) Tsinghua species). The call stood out (I was still about 30 meters away) and was persistent. It was clear that it belonged to a chat-like bird given the high-pitched, ventriloquist ‘sjeee’ notes similar to e.g. Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros. These notes were followed by a series of harsh ‘tek’ sounds. The call came from a small patch of bamboo. I first took a quick recording and then started pishing to coax the bird into view.

The bird obliged and although it was quite ‘busy’ and mostly stayed hidden in the vegetation I managed to get my first views almost directly.

I had the interesting experience of having no clue what I was looking at. I did not bring my field guide and had no clear idea which species could potentially be encountered in Beijing. The bird had no obvious identifying features except that the colour was strikingly rufous and it appeared quite long tailed. It was soon clear that I was dealing with a small Ficedula flycatcher. The bird was notably smaller and more delicate than the Taiga Flycatchers F. albicilla, regular at Tsinghua this period. Size, colour and plainness also directly excluded the other migrant Ficedulas: Yellow-rumped F. zanthopygia, Chinese F. elisae and Mugimaki F. mugimaki (in the city, the latter two are rare and very rare respectively). I knew that Slaty-backed Flycatcher F. hodgsonii was on the Beijing list but I had no idea about its status except that it must be a very good record in the lowlands. At least I knew that females are drab so I tentatively pinned this ID on the bird. Although I got momentarily side-tracked by a cracking male Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope foraging in the same bamboo patch, I managed to get some decent views of the flycatcher. The bird was clearly not going anywhere so I decided to go back to the office (just a few minutes away) and check pictures and sound recordings on the internet to see if I could figure out what it was by myself.

Browsing Oriental Bird Images for Slaty-backed Flycatcher female/juvenile did not provide an obvious match (with birds showing an obvious pale wing bar). However, with Google I found some pictures that got pretty close. The calls available on Xeno-Canto did not match however. As I did not manage to reach a confident ID I called Terry Townshend. He confirmed that Slaty-backed is rare in Beijing (with only two records from the mountains, where it actually might breed). He suggested that another mega, female Narcissus Flycatcher F. narcissina, might show rufous tones, but no, that wasn’t it. This bird was too small.  I pulled my sound recordings from my recording device and sent them to Terry and Paul Holt. I could not reach Paul by phone. I put the news out on the Birding Beijing WeChat group that I had a weird flycatcher that ‘must be Slaty-backed’.  I also sent a message with more specific information to two Tsinghua University birders with whom I got in contact via the WeChat group: Huang Hanchen and Zhao Xiangyu.

Considering the obvious rarity of the mystery flycatcher I decided to give up on work for the day and head back to ‘patch 7’. When I reached the spot again the bird was still present (easily located based on call). The bird mostly sneaked around and could ‘disappear’ in the bamboo for quite some time (when it was silent). Terry suggested me to try and get a couple of photos. Although I am not a photographer (at all!), luckily I did carry a simple camera. Photographing a hyperactive little brown job fluttering around in dense undergrowth with a simple camera is not easy. Several times I managed to get a good view of the bird though. Only around 17:30 o’clock the bird took a brief excursion outside of the bamboo and sat in some (relatively) open vegetation, low in the crowns of some small trees. Here I finally managed to take a picture.

SLATY-BLUE FLYCATCHER, Tsinghua University Campus, 11 September 2015 (Ben Wielstra)

Soon after Hanchen and later Xiangyu arrived (I had no internet on my phone so did not know whether they would manage to come and help). Although I had lost the bird we soon heard it calling from the bamboo again. We got some good views again.  Hanchen and Xiangyu agreed that this was something weird, it was not just me!  Hanchen managed to take some pictures of the bird with a better camera, but because the bird was obscured they were not so sharp.

SLATY-BLUE FLYCATCHER, Tsinghua University Campus, 11 September 2015 (Huang Hanchen)
SLATY-BLUE FLYCATCHER, Tsinghua University Campus, 11 September 2015 (Huang Hanchen)

Around 18:00 the bird left the bamboo again and this time we lost it a while longer. We heard it calling from close-by in the park and, while we got distracted by a Thick-billed Warbler, the bird managed to slip into the bamboo again unseen. It was slowly getting dark so we decided the leave the bird be, hoping that it would still be there tomorrow.

Back in the office I could check my email and saw that Paul replied. The only quick message at that stage was that he was not sure of the ID yet and would get back to me. He did mention Slaty-blue Flycatcher F. tricolor as confusion species though. This was a species that I did not consider at all at this point. I searched Oriental Bird Images and BANG!, that was the bird! Next up was Xeno-Canto and BANG! again, that was the bird! Not only was it nice to finally ID the bird properly, Slaty-blue Flycatcher was an entirely new bird for Beijing! As Terry said, this species was not on the radar! It breeds a long way away from Beijing, with the closest subspecies diversa breeding in central China and wintering in south China and further south. Paul did manage to dig up two spring records from the coast, from Beidahe (9-12 May 1996) and from Happy Island (20 May 2003), so these flycatchers do get lost sometimes. Next morning several Tsinghua birders came to try and twitch the bird. Although this provided a nice opportunity to meet some people, unfortunately the bird itself was nowhere to be found.


The following description is based on what I saw in the field. I managed to take a single picture and Hanchen also got a few.

Size and Structure

A small flycatcher, smaller and more delicate than Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla. Small and fine bill. Long-tailed. Short primary projection (roundish wings).


Quite a featureless bird. Open face with pale eye ring and lores. Light, buffy throat (reminiscent of a young Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus). Rufous tone on upperparts, especially rump/tail. Rufous wingbar (edge of secondaries). Underparts lighter, more buffy than upperparts.

Naked parts

Legs flesh-coloured. Bill black. Eyes dark.


I have no idea how to age Slaty-blue Flycatcher. Perhaps a first year male would already have hints of blue in the plumage? The wingbar was (although only when I could see the bird well) pronounced (broad), perhaps this indicates a first year bird? The overall rich tones might suggest a young bird as well? I doubt there is any literature out there.


I have no literature at hand and do not know how many subspecies are recognized and how they are distributed. I base the following on Oriental Bird Images. Male plumages of the different subspecies look quite different (tricolor/minuta vs. diversa/cerviniventris). Time for a split? It seems to me that female-type birds also show differences. Subspecies tricolor and minuta seems colder and darker and the legs seem also darker. I don’t know how consistent this is. The warm/buffy appearance of the Tsinghua birds fits pictures of ssp. diversa, which is probably the most likely taxon to end up here anyway.


The bird generally stuck to a patch of bamboo. It mostly foraged low down (< 1m) and I even saw it hopping on the ground like a robin. It displayed the typical flycatcher behaviour of sitting still and dive-bombing unfortunate insects. In the dense undergrowth that made quite some noise. In the late afternoon, around 17:30 and 18:00 o’clock it moved out out of the bamboo and foraged a bit higher up (c. 2,5 m) in the lower crown of small trees, but both times it quickly returned to the bamboo. The bird could be coaxed out and enticed to call by pishing, but seemed to loose interest soon. When it was outside of the bamboo it perched on bare branches and was not particularly shy, it just didn’t seem to stay in the same place for long. The bird was tail-pumping but did this slowly. Once the birds came to check me out and sat at a height of about 2 m while preening.


The sound that initially attracted me to the bird was a number of typical chat ‘sjeee’ sounds followed by a series of ‘tek’ notes. In response to my pishing the bird called excitedly, but only made the ‘tek’ notes, not the ‘sjwee’ notes. The bird sometimes made a single or only several ‘tek’ notes. I made a couple of recordings which manage to capture the variation of the sounds produced.”

Ben Wielstra

Thanks to Huang Hanchen for the kind permission to use his photograph of the Slaty-blue Flycatcher.

The Battle of Shunyi: Local Police Act Fast To Tackle Wildlife Crime!

With autumn migration in full swing, poachers are out in force trying to trap species such as the Siberian Rubythroat or Bluethroat for the cage bird trade.  Encouragingly, the local police are acting fast and doing what they can to stop them!

When I moved to the Shunyi District of Beijing this Spring, I was lucky enough to find, very close to my apartment block, an area of scrub.  Scrub, as any birder will tell you, attracts birds and, during spring and autumn migration in Beijing, a LOT of birds.  Since early May I have recorded exactly 70 species in this little wild patch on the outskirts of one of the most populous capital cities in the world.  Right now it hosts Siberian Rubythroats, Thick-billed, Lanceolated, Pallas’s Grasshopper, Dusky and Yellow-browed Warblers, Stonechats and Brown Shrikes.

It is perhaps not a surprise that the area has also attracted the attention of poachers who illegally trap birds for the cage bird trade.  The last few days – peak migration season for some of the most sought-after species, such as Siberian Rubythroat and Bluethroat – has seen the beginning of a battle…  between me, the birder (and good guy, obviously), and the poachers (the bad guys).

Here are the events of the last few days:

First, three days ago, I discovered about 150m of mist nets with a MP3 player blaring out the song of Siberian Rubythroat.  In fact it was the song – which I assumed was coming from a wild bird, unusually singing in autumn – that first drew me to the precise spot.  As I climbed over a heavily weeded mound, there they were – mist nets, very carefully and professionally set up.

2015-09-09 Illegal nets in Shunyi
The poachers place their illegal mist nets along lines of cleared scrub, catching birds as they fly from one side of the clearing to the other.

At this point I couldn’t see anyone, although I suspected the poacher was nearby.  Without thinking, I immediately started to dismantle the nets, ripping them so they would be rendered useless and snapping the bamboo poles and chords..  After a few minutes the poacher appeared and shouted at me to leave the nets and to go.  I think he knew by the look in my eye and the expression on my face, that wasn’t going to happen.  I grabbed my camera and, despite him becoming incredibly camera-shy, I took a photo of him before continuing to dismantle the nets.  I told him that he was breaking the law and that I would call the police.  He suddenly became very cooperative, offered me a cigarette (refused) and even started to help me take down the nets.  After about 10-15 minutes I had destroyed all of the nets and poles.  I made it clear that if I saw him again, I would send his photo to the police.

2015-09-07 Illegal nets in Shunyi dismantled
Dismantled mist nets. These will never be used again to catch wild birds.
2015-09-07 poacher in shunyi
The camera-shy poacher in Shunyi.
2015-09-10 Siberian Rubythroat in illegal mist net
A SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT trapped in an illegal net. This one was lucky – after release, it flew off strongly.

The next morning, I was on site at first light to check the area.  There were no nets and no poacher.  I began to check the vicinity and immediately found a mist net, not far from the scene of the encounter the day before and, I suspect, abandoned by the same poacher.  There were 6 birds caught up, their struggles to free themselves only causing them to become more entangled.  There were 2 Siberian Rubythroats, a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, 2 Stonechats and a Richard’s Pipit.  My first priority was to release the birds and it took me 30 minutes of careful and concentrated effort to free them all.  One of the Rubythroats was particularly weak but, after resting on the ground for a few minutes, managed to fly into the scrub.  One of the Stonechats had a wounded leg but nevertheless was able to fly strongly.  The Richard’s Pipit flew up high, uttering it’s familiar “shreep” call before heading strongly southeast – a wonderful sight to see.  The Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, as anyone who has seen one will be familiar with, darted into deep cover never to be seen again.  After dismantling the net and breaking the poles and chords, I searched the rest of the area before heading home for breakfast.

Fast forward to this morning.  I was due to have a Chinese lesson at 0900, which would mean leaving my apartment at around 0800.  Before heading out, I decided to spend an hour or so on the roof of my apartment block to see whether there was any visible migration after the overnight rain.  With a few Richard’s Pipits and Yellow Wagtails moving, there were enough birds to hold my interest but nothing spectacular.  After about half an hour I realised that the height of the roof provided a great vantage point from which to scan the whole area for mist nets.  It wasn’t long before I could see about 300m of mist nets with four guys standing around and occasionally retrieving unfortunate birds as they flew into the invisible traps.  My heart sank.  A friend had provided me with the number of the local police and, after calling them, I was surprised and delighted with their response – they would come immediately!  My directions were not perfect (my Chinese is still not of a sufficient standard) so they asked me to meet them there to show them the spot.  I cycled and waited by the roadside, the poachers and nets out of sight the other side of a wall adjacent to the road.  It wasn’t long before one of the poachers appeared from behind the wall to fetch some water from his car.. As he walked past me, he looked at me suspiciously as I desperately tried to pretend (unsuccessfully, I think!) that the reason for me being there was that I had a problem with my bike..!  A few minutes later, two of the poachers emerged and drove away…  I suspected that they realised something was afoot.  Just a few seconds later the police arrived… but on climbing through the hole in the wall, the poachers were now nowhere to be seen – they had almost certainly been spooked and, as two of the poachers drove their cars to the other side of the scrubby area, another had taken out all of the birds and the poachers’ belongings via another entrance (the movement of cars seemed to suggest this).  Nevertheless, the police and I took down and destroyed all of the nets and the police took copies of the photos of the poachers’ vehicles I had taken with my iPhone.  Although the police must catch the poachers red-handed if they are to secure a prosecution, the evidence helps to build up a supporting case.

2015-09-11 Police examining nets in Shunyi
Shunyi Police were quickly on the scene and destroyed the nets.

So, although the poachers got away this morning, I feel hugely encouraged.  The Shunyi police were superb.  They responded quickly (on site within half an hour), they were supportive and the chief officer even gave me his personal mobile phone number and said to call him straight away if I find more nets or poachers.  I suspect the poachers were given a good scare, too, and I would be surprised if they returned to this area.  This was a model response by the police and they should be congratulated for taking wildlife crime seriously.  I will certainly be saying lots of good things about them on Chinese social media.

If further motivation was needed to stamp out this cruel practice, I was shocked to find the head of a Dusky Warbler underneath one of the nets.  The Dusky Warbler is insectivorous and is not a beautiful singer.  It is “by-catch” for the poachers who are targeting Siberian Rubythroats and Bluethroats. To see the way they trapped, killed and discarded this tiny bird, on its already hazardous migration from Siberia to southern China, was heartbreaking.  However, it makes me more determined to stand up for wild birds.

Tragic: The head of a Dusky Warbler. For the poachers, it's worthless and is simply discarded.
Tragic: The head of a Dusky Warbler. For the poachers, it’s worthless and is simply discarded.

The Battle of Shunyi rages but, with the police onside and the poachers on the run, it’s only a matter of time before the good guys win!

Happy Island In Early September?

It’s a big wrench for me to leave Beijing in migration season!  However, last week I was fortunate enough to spend 4 days on Happy Island (菩提岛 in Chinese) in the company of British birder, Nicholas Green.  Most birders – and tour companies – visit this legendary island off the coast of Hebei Province in May when birds are singing and in breeding plumage.  It is much less visited in the autumn, particularly in early autumn.

I made my first visit to Happy Island in late September 2010, shortly after arriving in Beijing, and boy has it changed.  The first thing I noticed on this visit was that it is no longer an island; a new causeway now links this birding mecca to the mainland.  Second, the “island”, has grown in size due to land reclamation.  Third, the accommodation is excellent – comfortable modern chalets with air conditioning, WiFi and hot water 24 hours per day.  Finally, there are some huge new buildings being erected with a new, much larger, temple and a massive building (for what purpose I am unsure) in the shape of a lotus leaf.

These changes might sound like a disaster but, actually, most of the good habitat remains, including the wood around the temple, now complete with wooden boardwalks.

A big target of mine was the now ultra-rare STREAKED REED WARBLER (细纹苇莺), which historically “swarmed” in the millet fields in late August and early September.  Sadly, despite scrutinising every ‘acro‘ I came across, I drew a blank.  However, it was a ‘birdy’ few days and we racked up a total of 125 species.  The full list can be downloaded here but highlights included:

– a flock of more than 50 DAURIAN STARLINGS (北椋鸟)
– three SCHRENCK’S BITTERNS (紫背苇鳽)
– a single drake STEJNEGER’S SCOTER (斑脸海番鸭)
– a single PECHORA PIPIT (北鹨)
– both LANCEOLATED (矛斑蝗莺) and PALLAS’S GRASSHOPPER WARBLERS (小蝗莺) posing for photographs
– 5 DOLLARBIRDS (三宝鸟) on the last full day; and
– a single LONG-TAILED SHRIKE (棕背伯劳), continuing the consolidation of this species’ northerly march
It was astonishing to think that we were the only birders on the island and there must be a possibility that there will be no more visiting until May next year!  I shudder to think what birds pass through unseen…
Here are a few photos from the visit.  Certainly whets the appetite for this autumn’s migration.
2015-09-05 Lanceolated Warbler, Happy Island
2015-09-03 Brown Shrike juvenile, Happy Island
2015-09-04 Grey Nightjar, Happy Island
2015-09-04 Cuckoo juvenile, Happy Island
2015-09-04 Schrenck's Bittern, Happy Island
SCHRENCK’S BITTERN in the ditch in Temple Wood.
2015-09-04 Stejneger's Scoter, Happy Island
And here are two videos – of one of the SCHRENCK’S BITTERNS (紫背苇鳽) and a GREY NIGHTJAR (普通夜鹰).  I love the SCHRENCK’S appearing to test the temperature of the water with his toes before taking a drink…