Merry Christmas from Birding Beijing

As a superb year for birding in the Chinese capital draws to a close, I bring exciting news that a group of Beijing birders is working on a “2013 Beijing Bird Report”, to include information about all known significant sightings.

Here are the six new records for Beijing in 2013 that we are aware of:

Black-winged Kite: 1 over the Baiwang Shan watch point on the 16 April (鶽鴞 小关 等等 via BirdTalker)

Sandhill Crane: 1 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 8 Dec. (ZHU Lei, WANG Yu-ting, JIN Yan-fei, MA Zhe, LEI Ming and JU Ming) was still present on the 15 Dec. (Jan-Erik Nilsén)

Bar-tailed Godwit: 1 at Miyun reservoir on the 13 April (Jan-Erik Nilsén) with eight at Shahe on the 22 June (Colm Moore)

Long-tailed Jaeger: 1 near adult photographed at Shahe on the 22 June (Colm Moore)

Western Yellow Wagtail: 1 male melanogisea (now subsumed in feldgegg) photographed at Shahe reservoir on the 12 May (Colm Moore)

Tree Pipit: 1 photographed in the British Ambassador’s Garden, Guanghua Lu, on the 13 May (Terry Townshend).

It’s likely to be a little while before we complete the annual review and, in the mean time, we are interested in any records for inclusion.  Please comment on this post if you have any contributions.

And so, all that remains for me to say in this last post of 2013 is “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” to all the readers of this blog.. and a big thank you to everyone who has contributed, commented and spread the word about birding in Beijing.  Here is a festive cartoon, courtesy of my very talented friend, Li Xiaomai…  enjoy!

cranes2

 

EDIT: It has since come to light that another new bird was seen in Beijing in 2013 – a SANDERLING was photographed at Ma Chang in September (awaiting further details).  So that’s 7 new birds in 2013!  

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An Unfortunate Vulture

On Saturday I visited Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, with 吴岚 (Wu Lan).  It’s a long drive – around 100km – but straightforward as it’s all along the G109.  Lingshan was the location of GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS (红腹红尾鸲) last winter and looking for this species was one of the aims of the visit.  Leaving well before dawn to miss the traffic, it was stunning to see the colours on the mountains change from a dark pink to a bright orange as the sun rose in the southeast..  Beijing’s mountains really are beautiful.

On the way we were fortunate to see a flock of 14 JAPANESE WAXWINGS (小太平鸟) by the roadside at Qingshui…

A lucky encounter: part of the flock of 14 JAPANESE WAXWINGS by the roadside at Qingshui

A lucky encounter: part of the flock of 14 JAPANESE WAXWINGS by the roadside at Qingshui

On arrival at Lingshan we quickly spotted a few GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS (红腹红尾鸲) on the sea buckthorn bushes near the peak.  Stunning birds, especially in flight, there were at least 10 present in the area.

The view from the top of Lingshan looking north.

The view from the top of Lingshan looking north east.

A male GULDENSTADT'S REDSTART enjoying the Sea Buckthorn berries at the top of Lingshan.

A male GULDENSTADT’S REDSTART enjoying the Sea Buckthorn berries at the top of Lingshan.

I love the deep orange colour of the underparts.

I love the deep orange colour of the underparts.

As well as the redstarts, there are also good numbers of PALLAS’S ROSEFINCHES (北朱雀) and DARK-THROATED THRUSHES (mostly RED-THROATED 赤颈鸫).  

2013-12-07 Pallas's Rosefinches

PALLAS’S ROSEFINCHES are superb little birds. And Lingshan is probably the best place to see them in Beijing.

There are good numbers of Dark-throated Thrushes at Lingshan.  This one is, I *think*, a young RED-THROATED but not 100% sure....

There are good numbers of Dark-throated Thrushes at Lingshan. This one is, I *think*, a young RED-THROATED (reddish tail) but not 100% sure…. could be some BLACK-THROATED influence.

We had only been on the mountain a short time when we saw a distressing sight – a CINEREOUS VULTURE (秃鹫) that was clearly injured..  It was hobbling uphill dragging its right wing along the ground.

Our first view of the injured CINEREOUS VULTURE..

Our first view of the injured CINEREOUS VULTURE..

The vulture had almost certainly collided with one of the support wires of this nearby communications tower.

The communications tower at Lingshan.  This unfortunate vulture had almost certainly collided with one of the support wires, badly breaking its wing.

The communications tower at Lingshan. This unfortunate vulture had almost certainly collided with one of the support wires, badly breaking its wing.

Having previously visited the Beijing Raptor Rescue Centre, they were the obvious people to call for advice and 张率 (Zhang Shuai), the head of the centre, said “please catch it and bring it in for treatment – if not, it will die tonight with an open wound in these temperatures.”  She ended the call with “Don’t worry – you will be able to out-run it.”

It sounded easy.  We just catch it, put it in the boot of the car and drive the 100km back to Beijing to the rescue centre.

At this point I regretted not carrying a large box in the back of the car and, with no prospect of finding one on top of a remote mountain, we decided that covering the bird with my thick down winter coat would be the best way to capture it and cover it for the journey back to Beijing.

We began the walk up the hill to where the we last saw the bird and, sure enough, we soon found it.  It was laying on its back with its legs kicking in the air.. clearly in some distress.

The vulture was clearly in distress as we approached it.

The vulture was clearly in distress as we approached it.

At this point, 吴岚 (Wu Lan) was brilliant.  She ran towards it and covered it with my coat before it had a chance to right itself and scramble away.

cinereous vulture with wu lan

吴岚 (Wu Lan) just after ‘capturing’ the vulture.

Wrapping it in my fleece and covering its head with Wu Lan’s hat, we were able to calm it and, after a couple of minutes, we lifted it (7kg as it turns out) and began to walk to the car.  It was heavy and we both took shifts in carrying it down the hill to the car.

Me carrying the vulture off the hill.

Me carrying the vulture off the hill.  At this point we were hopeful of the bird’s survival.

We wrapped it gently in my coat and placed it in the boot of the car… It was big enough to sit upright in the backseat with a seatbelt on but, with a broken wing, it was clearly best to be in a dark place to minimise the stress.  And so we began the journey back to Beijing, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.  The injury was clearly very bad, with part of the wing bone protruding and lots of blood.

It took around 2.5 hours to reach the raptor centre and, on arrival, the impressive 张率 (Zhang Shuai) was ready – she had already prepared the operating theatre – and the bird was immediately put under anaesthetic to allow a thorough inspection of the wound.

The Cinereous Vulture under anaesthetic.

The Cinereous Vulture under anaesthetic.

The wound was bad.

The wound was bad.  And the bird was injected with fluids to offset the blood loss and dehydration.

张率 (Zhang Shuai) got to work immediately and cleaned up the wound before taking an x-ray to assess the damage.

2013-12-07 Cinereous Vulture broken wing xray

The x-ray revealed the terrible extent of the injury – breaks on both wing-bones with bad splintering.

张率 (Zhang Shuai) looked at us with tears in her eyes.  We knew immediately what she was going to say.  The injuries were too bad to fix and, with a bird this size, a life in captivity would be miserable for a majestic bird that is used to ruling the skies over the mountains of northern China and Mongolia.  It was emotional for us all.  This poor bird had been doing exactly what it was meant to do – patrolling the skies over the mountains looking for food – when it had collided, badly, with an alien, and almost invisible, structure.   There was no option.  This magnificent bird had to be euthanised.

I can’t help thinking that if the support wires had been marked with flags or even painted a contrasting colour instead of the almost unnoticeable silver grey, this bird might have seen them and taken evasive action.  It seemed such an unnecessary, and desperately sad, death.

RIP.

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LEOPARD CAT in Beijing

On Friday 22 November, I spent the day at Miyun Reservoir with visiting Marie Louise Ng from Hong Kong.  It was a stunningly beautiful day – cold early on but spectacularly clear and with almost no wind.  It was one of those days that, as a resident of Beijing where the air can often be toxic, I absolutely adore.

Miyun Reservoir on a clear autumn day.  It's hard to believe one is in Beijing!

Miyun Reservoir on a clear autumn day. It’s hard to believe this is Beijing!

We visited two sites on the northern shore of the reservoir and, at the first, we were treated to spectacular flyovers of several hundred COMMON CRANES, with a handful of HOODED CRANES amongst them..  and skeins of BEAN GEESE flying from their roosting sites to the feeding grounds in the maize fields.  At least 4 JAPANESE REED BUNTINGS kept us company at our observation point.

After a couple of hours we decided to take a walk to some weedy fields in which I had peviously seen PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE.

As we headed over the brow of a small hill, there was movement in the grass and, quickly training my binoculars, I could see a cat walking slowly from right to left, less than 100 metres away.  My heart leapt.  It looked big and, immediately, with that thick bushy tail and spotted markings on its fur, I thought it must be a LEOPARD CAT.  Gripped by the presence of a very special mammal, we watched it as it made its way onto a dirt track.  With the sun behind us, it was now in full view and we were enjoying spectacular views (I am sure the low sun also played a role in delaying this beautiful animal’s detection of us).  We reached for our cameras and reeled off some photos as it suddenly broke into a trot and then melted into the vegetation to the north of the track.  We watched, captivated, as it made its way towards a small lake, eventually vanishing into the long grass with the local magpies agitated and noisy.

I turned to Marie with what must have been the biggest grin I have ever sported and said immediately “that’s my best wildlife experience of the year!”

LEOPARD CAT (Prionailurus bengalensis) of the ssp euptilurus/euptilura (aka AMUR LEOPARD CAT).  Note the dark stripes on the back of the head and the pale patches on the back of the ears, as well as the thick tail.

LEOPARD CAT (Prionailurus bengalensis) of the ssp euptilurus/euptilura (aka AMUR LEOPARD CAT). Note the dark stripes on the back of the head and the pale patches on the back of the ears, as well as the thick, striped, tail.

LEOPARD CAT, Miyun Reservoir, 22 November 2013.  Sightings, especially during the daytime, are very rare in the capital.

LEOPARD CAT, Miyun Reservoir, 22 November 2013. Sightings, especially during the daytime, are very rare in the capital.

At less than 100m range, and with the morning sun behind us, views were spectacular!

At less than 100m range, and with the morning sun behind us, views were spectacular!

Although Leopard Cat is probably not rare in the mountains around Beijing, sightings certainly are.  I am aware of just one other recent Beijing sighting – one seen at Yeyahu by Brian Jones on 11 October 2010.  The information below about the status of LEOPARD CAT in China is from Zhu Lei, for which many thanks.

=====

Gao (1987, in ‘Fauna Sinica. Mammalia. Vol. 8. Carnivora’) reports that there are 4 subspecies of Leopard Cat in China, euptilura (NE China, north of Yellow River), bengalensis (SW China), chinensis (N and S China) and hainana (endemic to Hainan Island). The ssp. euptilura has the largest body and lightest coat, also the very faint spot marking. The ssp. chinensis is darker, more distinctively spotted, and has 2 black dorsal stripes.

Chen et al. (2002, in ‘Mammals of Beijing’) points out that the ssp. of Leopard Cat in Beijing is euptilura, according to measurements and colour markings of specimens from Yanqing and Mentougou.

Xie and Smith (2008) recognise 5 ssp. in China, alleni (includes hainana, endemic to Hainan), bengalensis (SW Guangxi, SW Guizhou, Sichuan, S Xizang, Yunnan), chinensis (S Anhui, SW and E China, Taiwan), euptilura (north of Huaihe River, Beijing, NE China), scripta (N Yunnan, W Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi and SE Xizang, Chinese endemic ssp.).

Based on above reference and the pics you’ve sent, I think your cat definitely is ssp. euptilurus (light coat and very faint spotted).

=====

The ssp euptilurus or “Amur Leopard Cat” looks very different to the southern China and SE Asian subspecies (see images here for comparison) and, I understand, it’s a potential split into a separate species in its own right.  The taxonomy of Leopard Cat in China is poorly understood, so classification may be subject to change.

However man decides to classify this cat, it is a beautiful animal and we were privileged to spend a special minute or two in its company.. proving once again that Beijing is a superb place for birds and wildlife.

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Beijing’s Wild Bird Markets

The market at Fuchengmen is just one of Beijing's wild bird markets.  Apparently there are more than 6 in total.

This guy was ‘training’ Japanese Grosbeaks to chase seeds, blown into the air through a thin tube, and then return to their perch.  The market at Fuchengmen is just one of Beijing’s wild bird markets. Apparently there are more than 10 in total across the city.

How would you like 2 COMMON REDPOLLS for a pound?  Or maybe you’d prefer a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR for 3 pounds?  They are pretty, after all…  Actually, you look quite rich… maybe you fancy a MONGOLIAN LARK for 15 pounds? I know it’s expensive but boy, can they sing!

This is what the traders were offering on Sunday afternoon during a visit to the wild bird market at Fuchengmen, west Beijing.

Two friends – Yueheng and Xiaomai – very kindly offered to accompany freelance journalist, Debbie Bruno, and me to one of at least 10 wild bird markets in Beijing.  For me, the market was both shocking and revealing.  Shocking because it was operating openly inside the 2nd ring road of one of the world’s major capital cities.  And revealing because it taught me a lot about the culture and demographics of the traders, the trappers and the buyers.

In a 2-hour visit, I logged 28 species on sale in the bird market, including familiar species such as Bohemian Waxwing, Bluethroat, Marsh, Japanese, Yellow-bellied and Long-tailed Tits, Common Redpoll, Siberian Accentor, Siberian Rubythroat and Pallas’s Warbler.  I was wide-eyed.

A Pallas's Warbler in a cage.  Desperately sad, especially as this species is insectivorous and unlikely to survive long being fed seeds.

A Pallas’s Warbler.  In a cage. Desperately sad, especially as this species is insectivorous and unlikely to survive for long on a diet of seeds.

However, from speaking with Yueheng, this was a quiet day.  Yueheng and Xiaomai have been studying the birds in this market for more than 10 years and have logged more than 300 species (!), including Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Derbyan Parakeet, Oriental Pied Hornbill and Fairy Pitta.  Astonishing.

I wanted to find out how much these birds were selling for.  After speaking with a few of the sellers, this was the going rate on Sunday:

COMMON REDPOLL (one of the most common birds on offer in the market) – 2 for 10 Yuan (GBP 1)

PALLAS’S WARBLER – 40 Yuan each (GBP 4)

MONGOLIAN LARK – 150 Yuan (GBP 15) – they can sing (!), although there was almost certainly an element of “foreigner inflation” going on here…

CHINESE HILL BABBLER – 150 Yuan (GBP 15) – they can sing, too.

Common Redpolls were available - 2 for 10 Yuan (GBP 1) at Fuchengmen.

Common Redpolls were available – 2 for 10 Yuan (GBP 1) at Fuchengmen.

Given the costs of transporting live birds, the likelihood that many birds almost certainly die in transit, and the fact that business looked slow (I didn’t see a single transaction), this clearly wasn’t a lucrative business.   So I wanted to know whether selling wild birds was the main source of income for the traders.

Most traders had a small stock and were 'getting on'...

Most traders had a small stock and were ‘getting on’…

After discussing with Yueheng and Xiaomai, apparently, for most of the traders, it’s a supplementary income or even just a hobby – the majority had full-time jobs or were retired.  To me, this is encouraging as it means that, unlike the shorebird trapping in Guangdong, southern China, where many local villagers make their living from trapping birds for the restaurant trade, better enforcement of the law by the authorities in Beijing will likely face less resistance.

As we wandered around, it was interesting to see that the vast majority of the traders, and the interested buyers, were old men.  This gave me more encouragement as it suggested that the custom of owning caged birds is primarily an old man’s pursuit and, not being cruel, most old men will not be around much longer….

The scene at Fuchengmen.  Mostly smelly old men.

The scene at Fuchengmen. Mostly smelly old men.

It was heartbreaking to see so many wild birds being kept in tiny cages.  And those not in cages were tied to a perch using a chain around their neck.  The vast majority were clearly distressed, with many showing abnormal feather loss and/or repetitive behaviour as they bounced around their prison cells looking for a way out.

A Red Crossbill tied with a chain around its neck.  Can you think of anything more cruel?

A Red Crossbill tied with a chain around its neck. Can you think of anything more cruel?

A sad-looking BOHEMIAN WAXWING.  Must be wondering what it did to deserve this....

A sad-looking BOHEMIAN WAXWING. Must be wondering what it did to deserve this….

I asked some of the traders where the birds had been caught.  Most said “Beijing”, although some were from “Dong Bei” (north-east China) with a much smaller portion from southern China (Yellow-cheeked Tit and Red-faced Liocichla were some of the non-Beijing birds on sale).

As we walked around the market, Yueheng and Xiaomai told us some fascinating anecdotes.  Here are a few:

- apparently Marsh Tits from Henan and Shandong are worth much more than those from Beijing as they are thought to sing better!

- small birds, particularly those not known to sing or with beautiful plumage, can sell for as little as 3 Yuan for 2 (GBP 0.15 each)

- the authorities have been cracking down on raptor sales…  an old lady from Tai’an in Shandong Province had been busted selling JAPANESE SPARROWHAWK, SHORT-EARED OWL, PIED HARRIER and WHITE’S THRUSH.  The police confiscated the raptors but gave her back the WHITE’S THRUSH so she could sell it in the local market (!)

- many of the ‘consumers’ are Buddhists who want to buy and release birds for their own “gong de”, believing that these good deeds help to “cleanse” their soul.

The cagebird trade, although a cruel and outdated tradition, pales into insignificance when compared with habitat loss and the trapping for food that is so widespread in south China in terms of being major threats to wild bird populations.  Even so, I will do everything I can to support Yueheng and Xiaomai to raise awareness and encourage greater law enforcement in Beijing and beyond.  Trapping wild birds for the cage bird trade is simply unacceptable in a modern society.

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Pallas’s Sandgrouse

Many of my friends will know that one of my most-wanted birds in Beijing has been the Pallas’s Sandgrouse.  This is a species that breeds as close as Inner Mongolia and, just occasionally, irrupts in large numbers beyond its normal range.

It’s a bird that has been on my mind since my childhood when I first heard about major irruptions in the late 19th century that resulted in them being “everywhere” in winter 1889 at my original local patch of Winterton-on-Sea in Norfolk, England.   Sadly, irruptions on that scale appear to be a thing of the past and it is now a very rare species in the UK and Europe.  However, in Beijing, its appearance is a little more regular and in 2009-2010, the winter before I moved to China, there was a decent irruption in the capital with flocks of 100+ reported from Wild Duck Lake and even good numbers at sites inside the 6th ring road. Unfortunately, since then, they have been very few and far between – I am aware of just one record of a small flock at Miyun last winter (Jan-Erik Nilsen) that was never seen again.

I have been secretly (and openly!) hoping that this winter might prove to be THE winter and yesterday, Sunday 3 November, that hope turned to reality.

Having returned from Inner Mongolia on Saturday, where I had been attending a workshop with local government officials, nature reserve managers and local groups about JANKOWSKI’S BUNTING (a post about that will come soon!), I had arranged to go birding on Sunday with Ben Wielstra, visiting Catalan, Eugeni Capella Roca, and 吴岚 from the Beijing Birdwatching Society.  I left central Beijing at 0445, collecting the team on the way, and we arrived at a chilly Ma Chang at around 0645.

Two first year RELICT GULLS represented a superb beginning to the day.  These two young gulls were almost certainly the same two individuals that had been seen the weekend before and they were remarkably tame.

One of the two first calendar year RELICT GULLS at Ma Chang at dawn.

One of the two first calendar year RELICT GULLS at Ma Chang at dawn.

Unfortunately the water levels at Ma Chang are now so high that the best vantage points from which to view the wildfowl are now inaccessible, so after checking the ‘desert area’ for anything interesting, we were soon on our way to Yeyahu Nature Reserve to focus most of our day at this superb Beijing site.

On arrival there was a nice mixed flock of GADWALL and FALCATED DUCK on the lake with a lone BEWICK’S SWAN and we secured our first sightings of PALLAS’S REED BUNTING, CHINESE GREY SHRIKE and CHINESE PENDULINE TIT.

A scan of the grassland produced a ringtail HEN HARRIER and one of the tractors cutting the grass flushed a SHORT-EARED OWL.  Then a distant SAKER and an adult PEREGRINE passed by.  Pretty good!  We made our way to the new tower hide and spent some time there scanning for raptors and checking the flocks of duck that were occasionally flushed by the HEN HARRIER.  A single COMMON (EASTERN) BUZZARD and a flock of BEAN GEESE kept the interest going and soon we began to hear the sound of CRANES…  a sound that was almost omnipresent all day as more and more groups seemed to arrive high from the west… a wonderful sight and sound.

From the hide we caught sight of several very distant flocks of birds, the identification of which we couldn’t quite put our finger on..  they looked to have pointed wings, almost wader-like, and yet their size meant that the only species that came to mind was PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER..  but that identification didn’t fit – these birds didn’t fly like plovers – they were in an irregular, and reasonably tight, formation flying strongly north..  what were they??

They went down in the notebook as “possible plover sp” but we weren’t happy.  Several minutes later, Eugeni suddenly shouted out “SANDGROUSE!” and we all quickly got onto two birds streaming very fast past our vantage point, heading north.  Plump birds with a dark belly patch and a pointed tail…  Wow!  PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE – my most wanted Beijing bird!!!  They disappeared out of sight almost as soon as they had arrived and we looked at each other with broad smiles..  we might even have done a couple of “high-fives”!

PALLAS'S SANDGROUSE at Yeyahu NR, Sunday 3 November 2013.  A much-wanted bird....

PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE at Yeyahu NR, Sunday 3 November 2013. A much-wanted bird….

Another photo of two of the PALLAS'S SANDGROUSE that flew past the tower hide at Yeyahu NR.

Another photo of two of the PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE that flew past the tower hide at Yeyahu NR.

Little did we know that we would soon see some more… and as we made our way around the flooded fields towards the smaller observation tower, we saw another…  then another..  and from the tower itself we saw another 3.  The same or different? Not sure but they were definitely PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE.  Suddenly the penny dropped on the flocks we had seen earlier – surely they must have been PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE too…!  And we had even more reason to believe they were sandgrouse when we heard from a Chinese friend that over 200 had been seen around the same time over central Beijing..!  At the rate they flew, it would only have taken them a few minutes to reach the mountains at Badaling from central Beijing and the birds we saw could easily have been the same flocks.  Something is clearly going on with PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE this winter!

The team at Yeyahu NR, shortly after seeing our first PALLAS'S SANDGROUSE.  From left to right: Terry, Eugeni, Ben and Wu Lan.

The team at Yeyahu NR, shortly after seeing our first PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE. From left to right: Terry, Eugeni, Ben and Wu Lan.

Another nice encounter involved this SIBERIAN WEASEL, a reasonably common mammal in Beijing but rarely seen well in daylight.  This individual ran towards us, stopping occasionally to check us out, before disappearing into the reedbed..  a very cool animal…

Peekaboo...!  SIBERIAN WEASEL on the track at Yeyahu NR

Peekaboo…! SIBERIAN WEASEL on the track at Yeyahu NR

This SIBERIAN WEASEL was curious and seemed to be watching us as much as we were watching him..!

This SIBERIAN WEASEL was curious and seemed to be watching us as much as we were watching him..!

We decided to make a return visit to Ma Chang before heading home.  That was the place that held large flocks of sandgrouse during the 2009-2010 winter and we thought that maybe, just maybe, some had dropped in during the day.  We didn’t see any on our afternoon visit but we did stumble across a nice flock of HORNED LARKS, another scarce and irruptive visitor to Beijing.  A group of 3 was soon followed by a much larger group consisting of at least 53 birds..  wow.

HORNED LARKS, Ma Chang, 3 November 2013.  Always a beautiful sight, especially in the late afternoon sun.

HORNED LARKS, Ma Chang, 3 November 2013. Always a beautiful sight, especially in the late afternoon sun.

One of the HORNED LARKS at Ma Chang.  These birds looked very pale...  currently investigating likely subspecies.  The two on the Beijing list are 'flava' and 'brandti'.

One of the HORNED LARKS at Ma Chang. These birds looked very pale… currently investigating likely subspecies. The two on the Beijing list are ‘flava’ and ‘brandti’.

 

These beautiful larks wheeled around uttering their ‘tinkly’ call in the late afternoon sun…  a magnificent sight to end the day.  After a quick cup of coffee we headed back to Beijing, tired but elated…  what a day!

Big thanks to Ben, Eugeni and Wu Lan for their excellent company on this special day…

 

Full species list:

TUNDRA BEAN GOOSE Anser serrirostris 74 (Apparently 300 in the area, according to Yeyahu NR staff).

TUNDRA SWAN Cygnus columbianus 小天鹅  1 at Yeyahu NR

RUDDY SHELDUCK Tadorna ferruginea 赤麻鴨  8

GADWALL Anas strepera 赤膀鴨  108

FALCATED DUCK Anas falcata 罗纹鸭  14

MALLARD Anas platyrhynchos 綠頭鴨  122

CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCK Anas zonorhyncha 斑嘴鴨  29

NORTHERN SHOVELER Anas clypeata 琵嘴鸭  1

NORTHERN PINTAIL Anas acuta 针尾鸭  5

EURASIAN TEAL Anas crecca 绿翅鸭  14

COMMON GOLDENEYE Bucephala clangula 鹊鸭  1

SMEW Mergellus albellus 白秋沙鸭  83

LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis 小鸊鷉  4

GREAT CRESTED GREBE Podiceps cristatus 凤头鸊鷉  5

GREAT BITTERN Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽  2

HEN HARRIER Circus cyaneus 白尾鹞  4 (3 ‘ringtails’ and one adult male)

EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK Accipiter nisus 雀鹰 1

NORTHERN GOSHAWK Accipiter gentilis 苍鹰  2

EASTERN BUZZARD Buteo japonicus 普通鵟  1

MERLIN Falco columbarius 灰背隼  1 adult male

SAKER FALCON Falco cherrug EN 猎隼  1 one distant bird, probably this species

PEREGRINE FALCON Falco peregrinus 游隼  1

COMMON COOT Fulica atra 骨顶鸡(白骨顶)  17

COMMON CRANE Grus grus 灰鹤  109  We could hear cranes almost all day. Many seemed to be arriving. Very difficult to count but the biggest count at any one time consisted of a single group of 109 birds

BLACK-HEADED GULL Chroicocephalus ridibundus 红嘴鸥  1

RELICT GULL Ichthyaetus relictus VU 遗鸥  2 First calendar-year birds. Almost certainly the same as seen the previous weekend by multiple observers.

PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE Syrrhaptes paradoxus 毛腿沙鸡  5  The first picked up in flight by Eugeni at Yeyahu NR @c1130. Followed by 3 @c1315 and 2 singles later in the afternoon. Four distant large flocks totalling over 150 birds seen c1100 and c1230 were probably this species.

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE Streptopelia decaocto 灰斑鸠  18

SHORT-EARED OWL Asio flammeus 短耳鸮  1 Flushed by one of the bailers on the Kangxi Grassland

GREY-CAPPED PYGMY WOODPECKER Dendrocopos canicapillus 星头啄木鸟  1

CHINESE GREY SHRIKE Lanius s. sphenocercus 楔尾伯劳  4

AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE Cyanopica cyanus 灰喜鹊  6

COMMON MAGPIE Pica pica 喜鹊  35

RED-BILLED CHOUGH Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 红嘴山鸦  2 seen well flying north low over the reserve. My first at Yeyahu.

DAURIAN JACKDAW Coloeus dauuricus 达乌里寒鸦  55

JAPANESE TIT Parus minor 大山雀  2

CHINESE PENDULINE TIT Remiz consobrinus 中华攀雀  3

MONGOLIAN LARK Melanocorypha mongolica (蒙古) 百灵  One seen in flight and appeared to land in a reedbed at Yeyahu NR

EURASIAN SKYLARK Alauda arvensis 云雀 8

HORNED LARK Eremophila alpestris 角百灵  56.  A group of 3 with a hint of yellow in the face. Followed by a flock of 53, all at Ma Chang.

SILVER-THROATED TIT Aegithalos glaucogularis 北长尾山雀银喉长尾山雀 8

VINOUS-THROATED PARROTBILL Sinosuthora webbianus 棕头鸦雀  34

CHINESE HILL BABBLER Rhopophilus pekinensis 山鹛  2

COMMON STARLING Sturnus vulgaris 紫翅椋鸟  2 seen well in flight at Ma Chang

EURASIAN TREE SPARROW Passer montanus (树) 麻雀  100

SIBERIAN ACCENTOR Prunella montanella 棕眉山岩鹨 6

BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT Anthus rubescens japonicus 黄腹鹨  2

COMMON REDPOLL Carduelis flammea 白腰朱顶雀  2; one in flight calling over Yeyahu NR looked pale. Another seen by Eugeni flushed from scrub at Yeyahu NR. My first in Beijing!

LITTLE BUNTING Emberiza pusilla 小鹀  8

YELLOW-THROATED BUNTING Emberiza elegans 黄喉鹀  2

PALLAS’S BUNTING Emberiza pallasi 苇鹀  24

Total Number of Species – 51

 

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Baer’s Pochards back in Beijing!

On Saturday 12 October I visited Wild Duck Lake (both Ma Chang and Yeyahu NR) with Jesper Hornskov and Ben Wielstra.  As usual with this site in October, expectations were high as I set off at 0445 to pick up Ben, then Jesper, before heading over the mountains past Badaling Great Wall and on to Ma Chang.  

On arrival, the water level at Guanting Reservoir was the highest I have ever seen.  Consequently most of the viewing points that I have used in the past to observe the reservoir are no longer accessible, meaning that we had no opportunity to view the duck on the open water.  A couple of CHINESE GREY SHRIKES, a MERLIN, a few lingering juvenile AMUR FALCONS, some early BEAN GEESE and a flock of 23 MONGOLIAN LARKS kept us entertained at Ma Chang before we decided to hot-foot it over to Yeyahu Nature Reserve to spend some time at the new viewing tower.

2013-08-30 new tower hide at Yeyahu NR

The new viewing tower at Yeyahu NR. It offers an impressive vista over the entire reserve, and beyond, as well as providing a superb place from where to watch raptors.

As we made our way out of Ma Chang along the unpaved access track I caught sight of a raptor to the north of us, gliding west.  I slammed on the brakes (not as dramatic as it sounds when you are only moving at about 5mph) and glanced through my binoculars.  It was big.  An eagle.  I should say at this point that, only a few minutes before, I was chatting to Jesper and Ben about the potential for a STEPPE EAGLE.  I had seen GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE and IMPERIAL EAGLE at Wild Duck Lake before but never STEPPE.  As I looked through my binoculars, I could see a pale bar on the underwing and my heart raced – it looked like a first calendar year STEPPE EAGLE!  We all jumped out of the car and it began to circle, offering us superb views with the sun behind us.  I grabbed my camera and reeled off a few shots before just enjoying the bird as it gained height and eventually drifted off west.  Wow!  A new bird for me in Beijing.

2013-10-12 Steppe Eagle juv

First calendar year STEPPE EAGLE, Ma Chang, 12 October 2013.

Elated, and buoyed by our seemingly potent ability to talk up species at will, we began to chat about all sorts of obviously impossible targets for the day such as SWINHOE’S RAIL, STREAKED REED WARBLER, CRESTED SHELDUCK and, of course, BAER’S POCHARD.  

A few minutes later we arrived at Yeyahu NR and, after a celebratory cup of coffee, made our way into the reserve and headed for the new watchtower.  On the way we experienced a modest passage of raptors with NORTHERN GOSHAWK, EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK, COMMON (EASTERN) BUZZARD and, again after talking about a likely species, SHORT-TOED EAGLE.  It was turning into a very good day.

We reached the tower after about 20 minutes and set up stall, hoping that the early promise might continue.  A few more NORTHERN GOSHAWKS, COMMON (EASTERN) BUZZARDS, a HEN HARRIER and an additional SHORT-TOED EAGLE kept us interested and then another large eagle came into view from the east…  As it drifted closer, we could see it wasn’t the expected GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (regular at this time of year) but a STEPPE EAGLE!  Given the direction and timing, almost certainly a second individual.

As the day wore on, cloud cover increased and the raptor passage seemed to stop, so we decided to head for the newly flooded area in the hope of sighting some duck, including a target for Ben – BAIKAL TEAL.

We didn’t see any BAIKAL TEAL but we did see good numbers of MALLARD, SPOT-BILLED DUCK, GADWALL, FALCATED DUCK, RED-CRESTED POCHARD and a handful of FERRUGINOUS DUCK.  As we made our way along a track through the flooded area, we encountered some COMMON REED BUNTINGS.  I don’t see many COMMON REED BUNTINGS in Beijing (it’s a case of picking out a COMMON among all the PALLAS’S REED and LITTLE BUNTINGS – I can feel your sympathy) so I decided to hang back to take some photographs as Jesper and Ben headed to a small viewing area overlooking one of the ponds.

I had a frustrating time with the buntings but did manage some record photos.

COMMON REED BUNTING

COMMON REED BUNTING, Yeyahu NR, 12 October 2013.  It’s a bind to pick these out amongst all the PALLAS’S REED and LITTLE BUNTINGS..  sigh…

Just as I was about to leave the buntings to catch up with Jesper and Ben, a pair of Ferruginous Duck/Baer’s Pochards flew past and, as I had my camera set up, I reeled off a couple of photos as they plunged down onto one of the small pools in the reedbed.  I didn’t even look at the camera to check the images as I already felt I had been too long trying to photograph the buntings – and they would almost certainly be Ferruginous. However, as I caught up with Jesper and Ben, I mentioned that I had seen two Ferruginous/Baer’s-type ducks to which Jesper replied that they had seen three definite Ferruginous..  I (erroneously, as it turned out) assumed that I had seen two of the three birds they had seen, so I didn’t think any more of it…..  ***LESSON HERE***

From the watchpoint, we viewed a small area of the pool on which ‘my’ birds alighted and it was busy – lots of Gadwall, Falcated Duck and Mallard were moving around and flying in and out.  But no sign of the ‘Ferruginous/Baer’s types’.  As the light began to fade, we left and headed back to Beijing. 

At home, as I uploaded my photos from the day, I had a double-take when I saw the two images of the Ferruginous/Baer’s type duck I had seen.  One appeared to have a green tinge to the head and, structurally, they looked wrong for Ferruginous.  They were BAER’S POCHARDS!  

BAER'S POCHARDS, Yeyahu NR, Beijing, 12 October 2013

BAER’S POCHARDS, Yeyahu NR, Beijing, 12 October 2013

2013-10-12 Baer's Pochards2

Another image of the BAER’S POCHARDS from Yeyahu NR yesterday. Poor photos but the structure, colouration and underpart markings all fit with Baer’s.

Having known that Ben was particularly keen to see BAER’S POCHARD, I felt terrible.  If only I had looked at the photos at the time, I would have realised that there was a pair of BAER’S POCHARDS on that pool and we could have stayed longer in the hope that they reappeared.  But as it was, we left in ignorance and it was only when I got home that I realised.  Sorry Ben!  

The silver lining is that I will almost certainly take Ben to Wild Duck Lake again while he is in Beijing and I have even offered to take him to the breeding site in Hebei Province to hopefully see them there…   It’s a lesson learned.

In any case, it was another superb day at this brilliant site.  Is there a capital city in the world with birding as good as this?  If so, I want to know about it!

Full species list below.  Thanks to Jesper and Ben for their company on the day.

 

Common Pheasant  Phasanius colchicus  - 6+

Bean Goose  Anser fabalis serrirostris  - 15

Ruddy Shelduck  Tadorna ferruginea  - one (plus a couple of possibly captive ones…)

Gadwall  Anas strepera  - 60+

Falcated Duck  Anas falcata – 17+

Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos  - 400+

Chinese Spotbill  Anas zonorhyncha  - 75+ 

Northern Pintail  Anas acuta  - two

Common Teal  Anas crecca  - two

Red-crested Pochard  Netta rufina  - 14 (both males & females ‘scoped)

Common Pochard  Aythya ferina  - eight

Baer’s Pochard  Aythya baeri  - a pair photographed [TT]

Ferruginous Duck  Aythya nyroca  - three

Smew  Mergellus albellus  - four brownheads

Little Grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis  - nine

Great Crested Grebe  Podiceps cristatus  - three

Eurasian Bittern  Botaurus stellaris  - one (in flight, giving ‘pao!’ call)

Chinese Pond Heron  Ardeola bacchus  - one

Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea  - six

Little Egret  Egretta garzetta  - three

Great Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo  - two

Common Kestrel  Falco tinnunculus  - one

Amur Falcon  Falco amurensis  - 12+ (excellent views of several 1st c-y birds)

Merlin  Falco columbarius  - two (adult male; unaged female)

Eurasian Hobby  Falco subbuteo  - one

Short-toed Eagle  Circaetus gallicus  - two

Eastern Marsh Harrier  Circus spilonotus  - one 1st c-y (an unusually dark individual, with hardly any pale on crown, no noticeable pale rump, effectively no pale on forewing & an at most very faint breast band)

Hen Harrier  Circus cyaneus  - four 1st c-y

Eurasian Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus  - eight

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis – two

Common Buzzard  Buteo buteo japonicus  - 7+

Steppe Eagle  Aquila nipalensis  - 1-2 (a 1st c-y circling & gliding 10h42 as we were leaving Machang & probably another – in identical plumage, as far as we could tell – over YYH reserve at 12h20…)

Common Moorhen  Gallinula chloropus  - two

Common Coot  Fulica atra  - 16

Northern Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus  - 70

Pacific Golden Plover  Pluvialis fulva  - eight 1st c-y

Common Snipe  Gallinago gallinago  - one

Common Black-headed Gull  Larus ridibundus  - 15+

Oriental Turtle Dove  Streptopelia orientalis  - three

Eurasian Collared Dove  Streptopelia decaocto  - four

Great Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos major  - five

Chinese Grey Shrike  Lanius sphenocercus  - four (mostly showing very well…)

Azure-winged Magpie  Cyanopica cyanus  - two

Common Magpie  Pica pica  - 60+ (not counting birds en route!)

Daurian Jackdaw  Corvus dauuricus  - c390 (main event a flock of c325)

Rook  Corvus frugilegus  - one (up close, feeding in a field)

Eastern Great Tit  Parus minor  - three

Yellow-bellied Tit  Parus venustulus  - nine

Marsh Tit  Parus palustris

Chinese Penduline Tit  Remiz (pendulinus) consobrinus  - five (incl a juvenile sitting up nicely)

Long-tailed Tit  Aegithalos caudatus  - 5+ heard (presumably ssp vinaceus)

Mongolian Lark  Melanocorypha mongolica  - 23 (one flock taking off from harvested maize field,then flying around allowing nice views before dropping back down distantly)

Asian Short-toed Lark  Calandrella cheleensis  - two

Eurasian Skylark  Alauda arvensis  - 155+

Chinese Hill Warbler  Rhopophilus pekinensis  - three

Chinese Bulbul  Pycnonotus sinensis  - 13

Black-browed Reed Warbler  Acrocephalus bistrigiceps  - 17

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler  Phylloscopus proregulus  - five

Yellow-browed Warbler  Phylloscopus inornatus  - two

Vinous-throated Parrotbill  Paradoxornis webbianus  - 50+

Northern Wren  Troglodytes troglodytes  - one seen, didn’t call [BW]

White-cheeked Starling  Sturnus cineraceus  - c50

Eurasian Starling  Sturnus vulgaris  - four

Naumann’s Thrush  Turdus naumanni  - two

Northern Red-flanked Bluetail  Tarsiger cyanurus  - two

Daurian Redstart  Phoenicurus auroreus  - six

Eurasian Tree Sparrow  Passer montanus  - v

Siberian Accentor  Prunella montanella  - seven

White Wagtail  Motacilla alba  - five (two ocularis; three ‘?’)

Olive-backed Pipit  Anthus hodgsoni  - five

Buff-bellied Pipit  Anthus rubescens japonicus  - 70

Water Pipit  Anthus spinoletta blakistoni  - one

Brambling  Fringilla montifringilla  - 20

Oriental Greenfinch  Carduelis sinica  - 12

Eurasian Siskin  Carduelis spinus  - heard

Pine Bunting  Emberiza leucocephalos  - nine migr

Little Bunting  Emberiza pusilla  - 115+

Yellow-throated Bunting  Emberiza elegans  - five

Black-faced Bunting  Emberiza spodocephala  - eight

Pallas’s Reed Bunting  Emberiza pallasi  - 40+

Common Reed Bunting  Emberiza schoeniclus  - 11 (several seen well & heard calling)

 

Mammals:

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica  - one [JH]

 

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Ambassador, you’re spoiling us!

Continuing the theme of birds in city centre locations (see the previous post on my ‘garden’), this blog post is about a recent survey of the UK Ambassador’s garden.

In May this year the UK Ambassador invited me to survey his garden for birds.  Although not a birder, he is interested in the birds in his garden and has been known to interrupt internal meetings with the occasional – “Oh look, there’s a Woodpecker outside the window”.

After making arrangements with security, I planned to visit the garden each day for an hour to log the birds present during the height of Spring migration.  The May survey produced a few highlights and one major surprise – Beijing’s first TREE PIPIT (see “First for Beijing: Tree Pipit”).  It was always going to be fascinating to repeat the exercise in Autumn and so, in mid-September, I arranged to visit the garden each day for a week.

In total, 30 species were seen and the highlights included:

  • At least 4 RUFOUS-BELLIED WOODPECKERS (棕腹啄木鸟) on 10th (a record number seen together in Beijing)
  • 3 SIBERIAN THRUSHES (白眉地鸫) on 16th
  • Single WHITE’S THRUSHES (虎斑地鸫) on 11th, 12th and 16th
  • A single DAURIAN STARLING (北椋鸟) on 10th
  • ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟) heard on 16th
  • BLACK DRONGO (黑卷尾) on 11th
  • Single SIBERIAN RUBYTHROATS (红喉歌鸲 [红点颏]) on 12th, 13th and 16th
WHITE'S THRUSHES were seen on three dates during the mid-September survey.

WHITE’S THRUSHES were seen on three dates during the mid-September survey.

A total of 47 species have now been recorded in the Ambassador’s garden in Spring and Autumn, including some difficult-to-see species.  You can download the full report (including a systematic list of the species seen).  It just goes to show that Beijing is a great location during migration season.

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My Garden

I call it my garden but, as you can see from the photo below taken from our apartment on the 17th floor, it’s more of a communal green space.  Nevertheless, until the relatively recent arrival of Jennifer Leung, I am pretty sure I was the only birder covering it on a regular basis and, by regular, I mean maybe once a week during migration season.

My 'garden' as viewed from the apartment window.  A magnet for migrants.

My ‘garden’ as viewed from the apartment window. A magnet for migrants.

Anyway, the reason for posting a photo of my ‘garden’ is that yesterday, Wednesday 25th September 2013, I awoke early – too early – and thought I’d have a walk around before breakfast.  Late September in Beijing is a pretty special time for bird migration and, after a cold front passed a few days before the temperature had dropped significantly, particularly noticeable at night.  Of course this had prompted many birds to move and I was pretty confident of seeing some good birds on my early morning walk.  A few YELLOW-BELLIED TITS (黄腹山雀) were a nice start, soon followed by my first PALLAS’S WARBLER (黄腰柳莺) of the autumn (these little gems usually pass through around a month later than the similar YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER (黄眉柳莺) which has been a regular sight and sound in the garden since late August).  An ARCTIC WARBLER (极北柳莺), an OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT (树鹨) and the seemingly omnipresent TAIGA FLYCATCHERS (红喉姬鹟) kept the interest going.  I sat quietly on my favourite slope from where I can see the base of a small area of bamboo and, almost immediately, a bird flew in and landed less than 5 metres away in the canopy above my head..  Unfortunately it was mostly obscured but I could see a white flash on the closed wing.  I immediately thought it could be a DAURIAN REDSTART (北红尾鸲) , a relatively common migrant in central Beijing in late autumn, but something didn’t seem right.  I slowly moved to one side in an effort to view more of the bird and suddenly I could see this beautiful bird in full view..

White-throated Rock Thrush, Central Park, Beijing, 25 September 2013.  A fitting 50th species for this small green space.

White-throated Rock Thrush, Central Park, Beijing, 25 September 2013. A fitting 50th species for this small green space.

…wow, a WHITE-THROATED ROCK THRUSH (白喉矶鸫)!  No sooner had I registered that I was looking at my 50th species in this small green oasis in the middle of this city of 20 million-plus people, it began to sing!  Over the next half an hour or so, in between being flushed by, in chronological order, a litter picker, a dog-walker and a man ‘exercising’ by shouting at the top of his voice, I was able to take a series of photos, including one with a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (大斑啄木鸟) with which it seemed to be loosely associating.

2013-09-25 White-throated Rock Thrush3

White-throated Rock Thrush (male). A good looking bird….

White-throated Rock Thrush.  A beautiful bird and a real treat to see it so well in the 'garden'.

White-throated Rock Thrush. Beautiful plumage and a real treat to see this species so well in the ‘garden’.

White-throated Rock Thrush with Great Spotted Woodpecker.  An unlikely couple!

White-throated Rock Thrush with Great Spotted Woodpecker. An unlikely couple!

The parks in Beijing, in fact not just the parks but any green space, can turn up some real surprises in spring and autumn.  It’s not that these places are particularly maintained in any way to attract birds – in fact one could argue that with all the ‘grooming’, it’s the opposite – but a reflection of the fact that there are so many birds migrating through Beijing that even if a teeny weeny percentage of them choose to stop in the city, species that are ordinarily quite difficult to see appear in unexpected places.

The WHITE-THROATED ROCK THRUSH (白喉矶鸫) joins a stellar cast for this tiny green space including JAPANESE QUAIL (鵪鶉), BLYTH’S PIPIT (布莱氏鹨), EYEBROWED THRUSH (白眉鸫), SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT (红喉歌鸲), SIBERIAN BLUE ROBIN (蓝歌鸲), ASIAN STUBTAIL (鳞头树莺), BROWN SHRIKE (红尾伯劳), THICK-BILLED WARBLER (厚嘴苇莺) and YELLOW-THROATED BUNTING (黄喉鹀) to name a few.

Not for the first time, I thanked my lucky stars that I live in such a great place for birds!

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Shorebirding at Nanpu and more illegal trapping

At the Beijing birders meet-up we arranged for a group trip to Nanpu, near Tangshan in Hebei Province.  In total, 15 of us – both ex-pats and locals – spent the weekend at this world-class site and it was a superb trip – great fun with lots of birds!

2013-08-21 Birds

The backdrop may not be pretty but the birding is spectacular at Nanpu.

Perhaps the best single bird in terms of rarity was an ORIENTAL STORK that came in off the sea.  And amongst the other highlights were impressive numbers of shorebirds with 4,700 SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS and 2,325 DUNLIN, a single RUFF (rare here), five juvenile RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, at least six first-year SAUNDERS’S and up to 80 RELICT GULLS and decent numbers of passerines moving down the coast.  High counts included 54 BLACK-NAPED ORIOLES (including a single flock of 23 birds!), 100 DUSKY WARBLERS, 300 SIBERIAN STONECHATS, up to 150 RICHARD’S PIPITS, two BLYTH’S PIPITS, two PECHORA PIPITS and six YELLOW-BROWED BUNTINGS.

A typically thorough full report by Paul Holt can be downloaded here: Birding coastal Tangshan, Hebei 7 & 8 September 2013

Per shorebirding at Nanpu.

Per checking out the waders on a roadside pond at Nanpu.

This is "EVA" the Bar-tailed Godwit.  Colour-flagging of migratory shorebirds helps researchers to better understand the routes these birds take and the stopover sites they use which, in turn informs conservation measures.  You can read about EVA's history in the trip report.

This is “EVA” the Bar-tailed Godwit. Colour-flagging of migratory shorebirds helps researchers to better understand the routes these birds take and the stopover sites they use which, in turn informs conservation measures. You can read about EVA’s history in the trip report.

Juvenile Red-necked Stint.  Beautiful birds!

Juvenile Red-necked Stint. Beautiful birds!

Gull-billed Tern.

Gull-billed Tern.

It was hot at Nanpu and, fortunately, there is a small village where one can purchase ice creams!  I can thoroughly recommend the ‘traditional flavour’ ice lollies..  delicious (even though I am not sure of what exactly they taste!).  The locals here make their living from the mudflats, where they harvest the shellfish and shrimps.  Here are a few maintaining their nets.

Local ladies maintaining the shrimp nets

Local ladies maintaining the shrimp nets

And in the early mornings, our 0500 starts were made (slightly) easier by the delicious bao zi (steamed dumplings) that were on sale for the equivalent of 5p each…

Jan-Erik and Andrew browsing the local bao zi stall.

Jan-Erik and Andrew browsing the local bao zi stall.

At the coast, where passerine migration was most impressive, we unfortunately encountered more illegal bird trapping activity.  From the car, Paul heard a Yellow-breasted Bunting singing and we stopped to investigate.  We very quickly saw a line of mist nets in the grass close by.  The poacher had set up an elaborate line of nets accompanied by caged songbirds, clearly designed to lure in wild birds.  The caged birds included Common Rosefinch, Yellow-breasted and Yellow-browed Buntings – three species that were clearly moving at this time of year.

2013-09-07 YBBunting and mist nets

A male Common Rosefinch strategically placed to lure in wild birds.

A male Common Rosefinch strategically placed to lure in wild birds.

A distressed-looking male Yellow-breasted Bunting, now officially an endangered species after years of persecution.

A distressed-looking male Yellow-breasted Bunting, now officially an endangered species after years of persecution.

In the nets we found alive 2 Common Rosefinches plus Yellow-browed, Arctic and Dusky Warblers, which we promptly released. But it was too late for 4 Brown Shrikes which had fallen victim to this cruel practice.

The poacher soon arrived (claiming that the nets were his friend’s and not his – yeah right).  We told him firmly that this was illegal and that we would be taking photos and reporting him to the Hebei Forestry Administration.  He did not protest and actually helped us to dismantle and destroy the nets, snap the poles, release the caged birds and destroy the cages.  On return to Beijing I posted the photos on Sina Weibo (Chinese “Twitter”) asking for help in reporting this illegal activity.  Within 10 minutes, users on the microblogging service had translated my report into mandarin and submitted it to the Hebei Forestry Administration…  wow!  The power of social media.  Thanks guys!

Ironically, the next day we were ejected from this area by local security guards from the nearby oil terminal and police who claimed that it was a “nature reserve”.  So it’s ok to drill for oil and trap wild birds in a nature reserve but birding is a step too far…!  A big thank you to Lei Ming and friends for following up on my behalf with the Hebei Forestry Administration.

The trapper was surprisingly cooperative as we dismantled the nets and freed the trapped birds.

The trapper was surprisingly cooperative as we dismantled the nets and freed the trapped birds.  Here he frees a first year/ female Common Rosefinch

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Miyun Reservoir, 1 September 2013

September and October are probably my favourite months in Beijing.  The excessive heat of the summer diminishes and, given the autumnal breeze, combined with regular rain, the air quality is good, resulting in some fantastic clear days with superb visibility.  It’s a reminder that Beijing is a beautiful city and if ever an extra incentive was needed to clean up the capital’s air, being outside on autumnal days and seeing the mountains, with the ever-impressive Great Wall running along the spine of the northern ranges, must be it.

Of course September and October are also superb months for birding with migration in full swing.  Taking advantage of Dalian-based Tom Beeke’s presence in the capital for an ice-hockey tournament, Paul Holt and I took Tom for a day’s birding at Miyun Reservoir on Sunday.  And what a beautiful day it was.  With the temperature a fresh 14 degrees C early on (rising to 32 degrees C later), a stunning clear blue sky and visibility of at least 30-40km, it was a great day to be in the field.

We visited three sites around the reservoir and recorded an impressive 91 species, including two new birds for me in Beijing – LITTLE CURLEW (小杓鹬) and RUSSET SPARROW (山麻雀) – plus 2 SHORT-TOED EAGLES (短趾雕), several PIED HARRIERS (鹊鹞) and, best of all, a PEREGRINE (游隼) of the subspecies peregrinator – a resident of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and southern China.  We believe this is the first record of this subspecies in Beijing and the most northerly record in China – unless you know better?

Some images from the day and a full species list (courtesy of Paul Holt) below.

Paul Holt and Tom Beeke scanning Miyun Reservoir, 1 September 2013

Paul Holt (left) and Tom Beeke scanning Miyun Reservoir, 1 September 2013

One of two Short-toed Eagles seen at Miyun on 1 September.  This species is a regular passage migrant in Spring and Autumn in Beijing.

One of two Short-toed Eagles seen at Miyun on 1 September. This species is a regular passage migrant in Spring and Autumn in Beijing.

Little Curlew, Miyun Reservoir, 1 September 2013.  This bird made two great fly-bys, calling frequently.

Little Curlew, Miyun Reservoir, 1 September 2013. This bird made two great fly-bys, calling frequently.

Peregrine of the subspecies peregrinator.  Note the rufous underprts contrasting with the pale throat and upper breast.  In the field this bird was small and sported a very dark cap, all features consistent with this southern subspecies.  The first record for Beijing and, possibly, for northeast China.

Peregrine of the subspecies peregrinator. Note the rufous underparts contrasting with the pale throat and upper breast. In the field this bird was small and sported a very dark cap, all features consistent with this southern subspecies. The first record for Beijing and, probably, the most northerly record in China.

Another image of the "peregrinator" Peregrine.  Photo by Tom Beeke.

Another image of the “peregrinator” Peregrine. Photo by Tom Beeke.

Full Species List

Japanese Quail – 6 around Miyun reservoir

Common Pheasant- 5

Mandarin Duck – 3 around Miyun reservoir

Falcated Duck – 4, including an eclipse adult male, at Miyun reservoir.  Apparently the earliest autumn records from Beijing. The previous earliest were 25 and 36 birds at Miyun reservoir on the 11 and 12 September 2004 respectively (PH pers. obs.). These dates seem unusually late however and it’s likely that limited observer coverage of Miyun reservoir & WDL in late August is responsible as birds are regularly encountered on the Hebei and Tianjin coasts at that time.

Mallard – 8

Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 10

Garganey – 5

Eurasian Teal – 3

Little Grebe – 16

Great Crested Grebe – 54

Black Stork – 3 flew north over the Jingcheng expressway near Miyun town (kilometre post 62) at about 05h45.

Black-crowned Night Heron – 3

Little Heron – 2

Chinese Pond Heron – 11

Eastern Cattle Egret – 4

Grey Heron – 10

Purple Heron – 2 juveniles

Great Egret – 3

Little Egret – 17

Osprey – 1.  Probably the earliest autumn date for Beijing.

Crested (Oriental) Honey-buzzard – 1 flew south high over in the Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir.

Black Kite –  2 juveniles

Short-toed Snake Eagle – 2.  Both were photographed.

Eastern Marsh Harrier – 4

Pied Harrier – 6, including two adult males, an adult female and three juveniles

Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 10

Common Kestrel – 1

Amur Falcon – 81. 66 of these were seen from the Jingcheng expressway between Miyun town & Taishitun.  Surprisingly today’s total was one of the highest autumn bird-days totals for the whole of Beijing. The majority of Amur Falcons apparently move through Beijing during a short and intense autumn passage. Most years it’s the second week of September before there’s any significant movement and birds are widely encountered just one week later (by the middle of September) with peak migration apparently occurring in the third week. Note that this is significantly earlier than the peak occurs in coastal Tianjin and at Laotie Shan, southernmost Liaoning where the, significantly larger passage, doesn’t peak until mid-October. Note that significantly larger numbers have been seen in neighbouring Tianjin municipality during autumn passage (with 1350 counted at Beidagang, Dagang on 10 October 2007)

Peregrine Falcon – 2 juveniles near Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir on the 1/9/2013. The first bird that we saw was a ‘Shaheen’ Falcon Falco peregrinus peregrinator as it was slightly small and compact, even for a male, had a strong rufous suffusion to its lower underparts and underwing coverts that contrasted well with its whiter breast and cheeks. It was quite dark above with rather little contrast with the paler rump and had an extensive dark hood. In China peregrinator is a bird of the south and can be found, albeit locally, in Sichuan. The most northerly record in China until today had been an adult at Yangxian, Shaanxi on the 1 July 2013 (PH pers. obs.).

Common Moorhen – 5

Eurasian Coot – 8

Black-winged Stilt – 2

Snipe sp. –  3

Little Curlew – 1 was seen several times in flight, and photographed, near Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir. Little Curlew is rare in Beijing with perhaps just four or five previous reports – ‘present’ at Wild Duck Lake on the 22/3/2003 (赵欣如老师 黄伟 竹 cyan 以及另外三人 via BirdTalker). This report was accompanied by the statement that ‘needs to be affirmed since the time is too early’. Subsequently one was seen at Huairou Reservoir on 11/5/2004 [JHa in the 2004 CBR] and this sighting was noted as being the first record for the Capital by the bird report editors who apparently discounted  the 2003 report above; one at Miyun reservoir on the 18/10/2007 – it flew purposefully south, out and over the reservoir south of the Bulaotun Satellite Tracking Station at 15:25hrs (PH pers. obs.); three at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 4/5/2008 (PH pers. obs.) & one in Yuanmingyuan during the 14-17/8/2012 (see http:/www.birdnet.cn/showtopic-381567.aspx )

Green Sandpiper – 1

Wood Sandpiper – 2

Temminck’s Stint – 1

Black-headed Gull – 160

Mongolian Gull – 3, two adults and a second-calendar year, flew north at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir.  Apparently the earliest ever autumn record from Beijing

Gull-billed Tern – 4,  two adults and two first-winters.  One of only five autumn records from Beijing!

Common Tern – 3 adults. Two were minusensis & the other longipennis.

White-winged Black Tern – 1 juvenile

Oriental Turtle Dove – 11

Eurasian Collared Dove – 50

Spotted Dove – 2

Asian Koel – 1 singing bird was heard near Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir on the 1/9/2013. 2013 has been a record year for this species in Beijing – and today’s was the first ever September encounter.

Common Cuckoo – 3 around Miyun reservoir

Common Kingfisher – 3

Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 1 flew over the Jingcheng expressway near kilometre 62

Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1

Brown Shrike – 6

Chinese Grey Shrike – 3

Black-naped Oriole – 3

Black Drongo – 218.  Apparently a record day-count from the Capital. The only previous three-figure counts that I’m aware of from Beijing have been 200 at Wild Duck Lake on 21/8/2005 (LHT in the 2005 CBR) & 150 at Wild Duck Lake during 26-27/8/2010 (Brian Ivon Jones via BirdTalker)

Azure-winged Magpie – 1

Red-billed Blue Magpie – 1 was heard

Marsh Tit – 2 calling birds were heard near Yongle cun

Japanese Tit – 1 was heard

Chinese Penduline Tit – 1 heard near Yongle cun

Light-vented Bulbul – 22

Sand Martin – 28 flew south

Barn Swallow – 35 around Miyun reservoir.  Five of these, including one tytleri, were near Yongle cun with the other 30 in & around Hou Ba Jia Zhuang village.

Red-rumped Swallow – 150

Dusky Warbler – 7

Yellow-browed Warbler – 7

Oriental Reed Warbler – 2

Black-browed Reed Warbler – 2

Thick-billed Warbler – 5

Lanceolated Warbler – 3 separate birds were heard near Yongle cun

Zitting Cisticola – 21

Plain Laughingthrush – 2, a presumed pair, near Yongle cun

Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 52

Chinese Hill Babbler – 4, presumably a family party

Common Stonechat – 14

Asian Brown Flycatcher – 2

Taiga Flycatcher – 2

Russet Sparrow – 17 in a mixed flock with Eurasian Tree Sparrows near Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir.  One of very few double-figure day counts from Beijing and perhaps the first record for Miyun county? The number of Russet Sparrows being reported in Beijing appears to have declined in recent years (from high counts that included 50 at the Jumahe, Fangshan on the 4/12/2004 [QYX in 2004 CBR], 30 at Shidu, Fangshan on 30/12/2007 (蛐蛐儿黑鹳辛夷拙石 via BirdTalker) and 20 at Juili cun, Jiuduhe zhen, Huairou on the 11/9/2010 [dianchi via BirdTalker]). Note that Beijing has been the northern limit of this species’ Chinese breeding range for over a decade – this is despite recent records at Laotie Shan, Liaoning in May 2011 (Townshend and Millington 2011) & May 2013 (Terry Townshend pers. comm to PH) and on the Hebei coast suggest that the species is continuing to slowly expand its range.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow –  100

Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 50

Grey Wagtail – 2 singles flew south

White Wagtail – 9, including four leucopsis

Richard’s Pipit – 18

Olive-backed Pipit – 1

Red-throated Pipit – 1.  Apparently the joint earliest autumn record from Beijing – equalling the sighting of  five at Shahe Reservoir, Changping on 1/9/2008 (红嘴蓝鹊, 鹰之舞 via BirdTalker).

Grey-capped Greenfinch – 30

Common Rosefinch – 112.  17 of these were near Yongle cun with the other 95, including a single flock of about 80 birds, were near Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.  Apparently a record autumn count for Beijing.

Chinese Grosbeak – 3

Meadow Bunting – 1 was heard near Yongle cun

Yellow-breasted Bunting – 2 near Hou Ba Jia Zhuang

Black-faced Bunting – 4 at various sites

Pallas’s Bunting – 3

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