Phalaropes are rare in Beijing. So when one flew in from the north and landed on the water just a few hundred metres from our watchpoint at Miyun Reservoir on Friday, Paul and I were pretty excited. Our first instinct was that it would probably be the more regular (but still rare) Red-necked Phalarope. However, as soon as we trained our telescopes onto the newly-arrived, and clearly tired, bird we suspected it was the much rarer GREY PHALAROPE (or RED PHALAROPE, Phalaropus fulicarius, 灰瓣蹼鷸). A closer view was required. So we slowly made our way towards the west from where we would have a closer view.
The best way to distinguish these two similar species in non-breeding plumage is the structure of the bill. On Red-necked it is long, fine and pointed, on Grey more robust and relatively blunt. For juveniles, there is also an important additional difference in moult timings. Juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes tends to retain their darker juvenile plumage into late autumn (well into October). Juvenile Grey Phalaropes moults earlier, often showing the typically grey mantle feathers by late August/September.
As can be seen in the photos and video below, the Miyun bird has quite an advanced moult with few retained juvenile scapulars and mantle feathers. It also showed a beautiful peachy wash to the neck, another good feature of juvenile Grey Phalarope.
Record images taken with iPhone and Swarovski ATX95.
Unfortunately, as we moved towards what would have been an even better viewing position, the bird vanished and despite extensive searching, it wasn’t seen again for the rest of the day. It was present for just one hour (from 1035-1140). After putting out the news, three birders from the city (Jennifer Leung, “Yu Yan” and Zhuang Weimin) came to Miyun to try to see it but unfortunately left without seeing this rare visitor. Despite missing the phalarope, there was plenty on offer to keep them entertained.
The phalarope – representing the second record for Beijing of this species (with fewer than 10 records in all of China!) – was the icing on the cake of a fantastic day at Miyun. The habitat there right now is the best I have ever seen – a relatively low water level offering superb habitat for shorebirds and – due to the very high water levels in the spring – very little maize cultivation near to the shore, meaning that most of the fields around the reservoir are full of wild vegetation – perfect for migrating buntings, pipits, rubythroats and who knows what else!?
Full list of species below. Big thanks to Paul Holt for taking extensive notes.
A reasonable day – until the early evening when there was a heavy thunderstorm. Cool in the early morning – 15˚C when we left Sanlitun in urban Beijing at 05h05 but just 9˚C when we reached Hou Ba Jia Zhuang at 06h20. The day’s peak was probably about 26˚C there. Reasonable long-range visibility – perhaps about 10 kilometres in the very early morning though this gradually reduced during the morning. There was a light northerly breeze in the early morning this switching around to a south-south-west by about 09h30. This wind gradually stiffened during the day. The skies darkened quite suddenly around 16h15 & it wasn’t long before we became aware of an approaching thunderstorm. It started to rain just as we were leaving at 17h00 & continued to do so, on & off & sometimes quite heavily, until we arrived back at about 19h00.
We recorded 91 species.
Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun Reservoir (40°30.3′N., 117°01.1’E.). 75 metres (06h20-17h00)
Taiga Bean Goose 8, a family party of tree (two adults & a juvenile) & another family party of five (two adults & three juveniles). An early date for so many.
Tundra Bean Goose 1. It was presumably the bird that’s now been present at this site for three weeks or so.
Greater White-fronted Goose 1 adult. An early date. Previous autumn reports of 1-6 (& once 31) birds span the period 1 October – 8 November while single reports in mid-June, August & September are thought to possibly relate to escapes.
Ruddy Shelduck 2
Falcated Duck 51
Eurasian Wigeon 1
Eastern Spot-billed Duck 20
Northern Shoveler 2
Baikal Teal 8
Eurasian Teal 135
Common Pheasant 17
Little Grebe 65
Great Crested Grebe 82
Black-necked Grebe 1 adult-winter (with bleached & extremely worn upperparts)
Black Stork 3 juveniles flew high to the west
Grey Heron 11
Great Egret 6
Little Egret 49
Osprey 1 adult
Short-toed Snake Eagle 3. At one stage all three were visible in the air together.
Japanese Sparrowhawk 2 separate juveniles flew south
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 11, all juveniles, flew south
Eastern Marsh Harrier 3
Hen Harrier 1 juvenile. Interestingly another ringtail was seen over the Wangjinglou raptor watch point today (per Jennifer Leung – though at least one other Hen Harrier had been seen there a few days previously this autumn). Although there are four reports, all from Wild Duck Lake, involving five birds in August – ‘present’ on 4/8/2009 (韩冬, 天天, 东方云雀, Mogan(音)(美)和他的妈妈 via BirdTalker); one on 14/8/2010 (Brian Ivon Jones via BirdTalker); one on 27/8/2005 [ZLi in 2006 CBR] and two on 27/8/2006 (天台, lidove, Tim via BirdTalker) and 28 reports totalling 55 bird-days in September most of these reports are believed, by the author, to be erroneous. Genuine autumn passage probably doesn’t commence until the end of September and peaks in the second half of October and first week of November. The two highest autumn counts were both in late October 2007 and involved 17 (13 ringtails and four adult males) at a pre-roost gathering at Miyun reservoir in the early evening of the 19/10/2007 (PH pers. obs.) and, just over one week later, 19 that were counted at Wild Duck Lake during 27-28/10/2007 (高校观鸟赛总记录 via BirdTalker).
Pied Harrier 4, three juveniles & an adult male
Black Kite 3, two juveniles & an adult
Eastern Buzzard 1. Totally absent in summer, autumn migration starts in early September. The average first date between 2003-2012 is the 13 September and there are reports of single birds in three of the last ten years during the first week of that month with the earliest being the 3rd September 2005 when one was ‘present’ at Wild Duck Lake [科目, 田竹, 舒晓楠, bmlee, cccp, midway, 王沁一家及福建鸟友青竹瘦. via BirdTalker). There’s typically a marked influx during the second half of that month with a pronounced peak between the 29th September and 14 October (a 16 day period that accounts for 70% of the total autumn bird-days) before declining to the end of October.
Brown-cheeked Rail 1 was heard. Previous early autumn Beijing records include- one at Shahe Reservoir, Changping on 19/9/2004 [LHY in 2004 CBR], four at Zhongguocanaoguanliz, Shunyi on 28/9/2008 (birdslover via BirdTalker) & one at Shahe reservoir on 19/8/2010 (Jan-Erik Nilsén)
Eurasian Coot 190
Pied Avocet 1
Grey-headed Lapwing 1
Pacific Golden Plover 23
Grey Plover 2
Common Snipe 15
Black-tailed Godwit 20 juveniles
Spotted Redshank 50. All of those seen well (30+ birds) were juveniles.
Common Greenshank 4 juveniles
Wood Sandpiper 4
Red-necked Stint 1
Temminck’s Stint 5
Curlew Sandpiper 5 juveniles
Ruff 1 juvenile male
GREY PHALAROPE 1 juvenile moulting to first-winter. Video recorded. The previous Beijing record was one that was photographed at Shahe reservoir, Changping on the 12 November 2010 (Guan Xiangyu et al.).
Black-headed Gull 140
Mongolian Gull 4, an adult & three juveniles
Common Tern 1 juvenile
Oriental Turtle Dove 1
Eurasian Collared Dove 2 together
Spotted Dove 2 together
Pacific Swift 1 flew south
Common Kingfisher 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Common Kestrel 5
Amur Falcon 6
Eurasian Hobby 2
Saker Falcon 2 separate juveniles flew purposefully south. The first at 07h40, the second at 12h47.
Peregrine Falcon 2, including a juvenile peregrinator or ‘Shaheen’
Brown Shrike 1
Chinese Grey Shrike 2
Red-billed Blue Magpie 4
Eurasian Magpie 25
Yellow-bellied Tit 2
Japanese Tit 6
Chinese Penduline Tit 1 was heard
Eurasian Skylark 8. A fairly typical first autumn date.
Light-vented Bulbul 1
Sand Martin 3
Barn Swallow 350, including perhaps as many as 10 saturata
Red-rumped Swallow 400
Dusky Warbler 5
Radde’s Warbler 5
Yellow-browed Warbler 5
Oriental Reed Warbler 1
Black-browed Reed Warbler 10
Baikal (David’s) Bush Warbler 1
Lanceolated Warbler 3, one seen & the other two only heard
Zitting Cisticola 4
Plain Laughingthrush 1 heard
Chinese Hill Babbler 2
white-eye sp. 1 was heard
White-cheeked Starling 1
Common Starling 1. Perhaps the second earliest autumn Beijing record? Jan-Erik Nilsen, saw one at Miyun on the 17 Sept. 2012 and this is the earliest ever autumn record from the Capital just pre-dating one at Wild Duck Lake (WDL) on either 23rd or 24th 2010 (report is unclear on exactly which date) by Brian Jones. These are the only two September reports that I know of for Beijing and they’re not followed until four at WDL on either 3rd or 4 October (2010) but it’s the middle of that month before Common Starling becomes anything like regular. Autumn passage peaks in the second half of October. Two at WDL on the 6 Nov (2011) is the latest autumn report from Beijing (& the only record from that month).
Siberian Rubythroat 7
Taiga Flycatcher 1
Daurian Redstart 1
Stejneger’s Stonechat 20
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 50
Eastern Yellow Wagtail 50, including 15 macronyx & one taivana
Grey Wagtail 3
White Wagtail 30, including 13 leucopsis & 15 ocularis
Richard’s Pipit 23
Blyth’s Pipit 3
Olive-backed Pipit 60
Red-throated Pipit 8
Brambling 1 was heard. Possibly the earliest ever autumn record from Beijing.. On the Hebei coast the first birds of the autumn are typically encountered in the last week of September but there appears to be just one previous Beijing record from that month, a single bird in Chaoyang Park on 23/9/2010 (Jan-Erik Nilsén). Autumn migration probably peaks in late October/early November.
Common Rosefinch 26
Meadow Bunting 2
Chestnut-eared Bunting 1
Little Bunting 75
Pallas’s Reed Bunting 15
Tolai Hare 1