‘Eastern’ Nightingales

A recent article on Birding Frontiers about ‘Eastern’ Nightingales by Oscar Campbell prompted me to examine the Nightingales (ssp golzii) I saw in northern Xinjiang Province, China.  In the small town where we stayed, about 250km north of Urumqi – in a former military area, called simply “130” – the Common Nightingale is probably the second most common bird (after Tree Sparrow) and uncharacteristically showy.  There were at least 4 singing males in the hotel garden.  Here is a video compilation, showing some of the tail movement referred to in the Birding Frontiers article.

To my eyes, these birds looked paler than the ones I used to see in the UK and with less rufous tails… but I must admit that I never saw the UK birds as well as these show-offs!

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Black Woodpecker

I have just returned from a week with Marie Louise Ng in China’s largest province – Xinjiang – in the far north west.  Xinjiang is vast, covering an area greater than France, Spain and Portugal combined.  And with just a handful of birders.  It’s almost certainly THE place to visit to add new species to the China list and with an avifauna list resembling that of Europe, it’s a superb place to see some species that can be found nowhere else in China.  For a European like me, a visit to this stunningly beautiful province offers an opportunity to re-acquaint oneself with some familiar birds, such as Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Nightingale, House Sparrow and a whole lot more.  We recorded over 160 species.

A full report will appear here soon.

With very little hunting, many of the birds in Xinjiang are much more approachable than I have become accustomed to in eastern China.  As a taster, here is a video of BLACK WOODPECKER….  this male devoured ants just a few metres away, seemingly oblivious to our presence.


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Possible hybrid Baer’s Pochard x Ferruginous Duck

One of the threats to the BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭) is hybridisation with the closely related, and range expanding, FERRUGINOUS DUCK (白眼潜鸭).  At the Baer’s Pochard breeding site in Hebei Province, Ferruginous Duck is a common breeder; I counted more than 60 on site last weekend versus 24 Baer’s.

Another drake, superficially resembling a drake Baer’s, sported a chestnut cap and slightly less white on the flanks than one would expect for a pure Baer’s.  It was associating with a group of Ferruginous Ducks and I recorded the video clip below.  The chestnut cap is particularly noticeable towards the end of the clip.

I hope to visit the site a few more times over the coming weeks and will look out for more evidence of hybridisation and, hopefully, evidence of breeding Baer’s too.

EDIT: It has been suggested by folks at WWT, who have been catching and taking DNA samples from captive birds, that the drake in the video clip may be a first summer male.  Personally, the colour of the cap, resembling the chestnut brown of Ferruginous and not the darker brown typical of Baer’s, makes me think there is some Ferruginous influence but I’ll go back soon and try to get more photos!



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Baer’s Pochards

BAER’S POCHARD (Aythya baeri, 青头潜鸭) was once abundant in east Asia..  now it is listed as “Critically Endangered” due to an, as yet unexplained, calamitous population decline.  The only known breeding site is not in the far northeast of China or in Russia (previously understood to be the species stronghold) but instead in Hebei Province, not far from Beijing.

Yesterday I visited the site and found at least 24 of these beautiful ducks on site, most of which seem paired up and ready to breed.  Worryingly, at least two birds appeared to be hybrids with the closely-related Ferruginous Duck, a common breeder at the same site.

I recorded this video compilation of a male displaying to a (seemingly uninterested) female…  It was almost comical seeing him try in vain to attract her attention.  Let’s hope she is more interested soon – we need them to make babies!

I am in discussions with the Beijing Birdwatching Society about submitting a grant application to the Oriental Bird Club conservation fund to set up a project to monitor Baer’s Pochard at this site…  We know almost nothing about this bird and its habitat requirements.. so fingers crossed we secure some resources.

Video recorded using an iPhone 5 with the Swarovski ATS95 telescope and iPhone adaptor.


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Amur Falcons are back!

The journey of the AMUR FALCON is one of the most remarkable in the avian world, migrating from the Amur region in NE China and SE Russia across China, India and, eventually, to East Africa.  An incredible journey fuelled by an even more amazing migration – of dragonflies – across the Indian Ocean.

Many of these beautiful falcons pass through Beijing each spring and autumn and a few even breed in the capital.  Whenever I encounter them for the first time each spring, I feel in awe of the almost unbelievable journeys these birds take and I feel reassured that, despite all the pressures on our wildlife, the Amur Falcons are back!

On Saturday, in the company of Paul Holt and David Mansfield, I visited Huairou and Miyun Reservoirs and, at the latter site, we enjoyed a mixed flock of AMUR FALCONS and LESSER KESTRELS giving a magnificent display as they hunted over some freshly ploughed fields…  simply stunning.

AMUR FALCON (female), Miyun Reservoir, 3 May 2014

AMUR FALCON (female), Miyun Reservoir, 3 May 2014

One of the adult male LESSER KESTRELS at Miyun, 3 May 2014

One of the adult male LESSER KESTRELS at Miyun, 3 May 2014

LESSER KESTREL, adult male, Miyun 3 May 2014.  Beautiful.

LESSER KESTREL, adult male, Miyun 3 May 2014. Beautiful.

Adult male LESSER KESTREL.  Note the pale, almost unmarked underwing.

Adult male LESSER KESTREL. Note the pale, almost unmarked underwing.

Here is a short video compilation of a few of the Amur Falcons.


For a time, in the afternoon, it was very windy… and dark clouds gathered over Miyun.  Just as the weather was its most threatening, in dropped a DALMATIAN PELICAN..!  As it battled against the wind, I was able to capture it on video….

This is the 7th DALMATIAN PELICAN in Beijing this spring and my personal first this year.  Always a delight to see.

We ended the day on 104 species – a pretty good total but missing some usually easy to see birds such as Spotted Dove.  In Beijing in May, it should be possible to see 120-130 species in a day with a bit of effort and luck!

A day that will live long in the memory!

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Black Brant (黑雁) – first for Beijing

BRENT GOOSE (Branta bernicla, 黑雁) is a rare bird in China.  So when one was found at Huairou Reservoir (about 60km from the centre of the capital) by Beijing birder Ms Hou Xiaoru on Thursday 24 April, it caused something of a ‘twitch’ with several groups of birders paying it a visit over the following few days.  And, as I write this, the bird is still present!

The form of Brent Goose found in east Asia is the subspecies nigricans or “Black Brant”.  An initial trawl for China records shows it to be very rare with just four previous records in the China Bird Report database, Birdtalker:

29 December 2001: Rongcheng, Shandong Province

8 June 2007: Pikou, Liaoning Province

18-19 April 2008: Zhuanghe, Liaoning Province

29-30 January 2010: Danjiangkou, Hubei Province

Thanks to Zhu Lei for information about an additional record of 203 birds in Shandong Province in November 1998.

Birdtalker is not comprehensive, so there are almost certainly additional records in China but the scarcity of recent sightings in this database demonstrates that this is an astonishing record for Beijing and big congratulations must go to Hou Xiaoru for finding it and spreading the news!  I believe it is species number 457 for the capital.

Here is a photo and a short video of the bird taken yesterday, 30 April 2014 using an i-Phone 5 and the Swarovski ATS95 at 70x magnification (simply awesome kit!).

Beijing's first BRENT GOOSE, of the ssp nigricans or "Black Brant", Huairou Reservoir, 30 April 2014.

Beijing’s first BRENT GOOSE (黑雁), of the ssp nigricans or “Black Brant”, Huairou Reservoir, 30 April 2014.



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The Birding Baroness

After accompanying the Conservative Minister, Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP, on a birding trip during his visit to Beijing last winter, it seemed only right to balance Birding Beijing’s political affiliation!  And so, on Sunday, I took visiting (Labour) Baroness Bryony Worthington on a trip to Yeyahu Nature Reserve as part of her visit to China.

Bryony is Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change and, if the elections go Labour’s way in May 2015, she could be part of the ministerial team in charge of the UK’s energy and climate change policies.

Among her many talents, Bryony is an expert in emissions trading and the main purpose of her visit was to engage with officials from the seven pilot emissions trading schemes in China to help develop advice to the Chinese government about the design of their national emissions trading scheme, due to be implemented sometime before 2020 and a key pillar of China’s climate change policy.

Her busy programme involved meetings in Beijing and Shanghai and, with just one ‘free’ day on Sunday and knowing I was a keen birder, she asked if I would take her birding… Of course, I was only too happy to say yes!  The obvious choice of location was Yeyahu Nature Reserve – one of my favourite Beijing birding sites and, in Spring, host to a diverse range of China’s birds.  In the company of friend and colleague Wu Qian and her husband, Calvin, we set off at 0600 from central Beijing and arrived at a sunny, warm and clear Yeyahu just before 0800.

Baroness Worthington 'scoping a pair of Chinese Spot-billed Duck

Baroness Worthington ‘scoping a pair of Chinese Spot-billed Duck

To add a bit of extra fun to the day we had a sweepstake on the number of species we would see..  Guesses ranged from a conservative 40 (Wu Qian) to an over-optimistic 65 (Terry) with Bryony guessing 49 and Calvin 60.

On a beautiful spring morning we started off well with several Chinese Penduline Tits, Pallas’s Reed Buntings and displaying Eastern Marsh Harriers.  A booming Bittern and a flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills provided more entertainment as we made our way around the reserve….  After the 3,000 (!) visitors present the last time I was there (during Qing Ming Festival), the reserve seemed strangely quiet for a sunday but that was no bad thing!

We made our way to the new watchtower and, as the day warmed up, we enjoyed more raptors including 2 Greater Spotted Eagles, a single Short-toed Eagle, Eastern Buzzard, Goshawk and several Black Kites before we tucked into our picnic..

Enjoying a picnic in the watchtower at Yeyahu NR.

Enjoying a picnic in the watchtower at Yeyahu NR. From left to right: Wu Qian, Calvin and the Baroness.

Bryony was impressed with the reserve and the number of birds it was possible to see in the capital.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was time to count up the species seen.  The final total was 54 so, rather embarrassingly for me, the Baroness as a first-time China birder, won the sweepstake..!

On Tuesday morning I accompanied the Baroness to a meeting with Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee in the National Peoples Congress..  This is the committee responsible for drafting and passing China’s environmental legislation. It’s a busy time for the committee, with much environmental legislation under development.  See here for analysis of the strengthening of China’s Environment Protection Law just last week.  Included in their legislative programme for this year is a review of the protected species list.. The current list is more than 20 years old and woefully out of date.  For example, it doesn’t include Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Jankowski’s Bunting or Baer’s Pochard, species that are in desperate trouble and at risk of extinction.

I took the opportunity to brief Lu Hao on the work being carried out by BirdLife, the Beijing Birdwatching Society and local groups to try to save Jankowski’s Bunting and presented him with the BirdLife special edition newsletter.  He confirmed that Jankowski’s Bunting would be added to the revised list and invited me to submit views on which other species should be on the list.

Baroness Worthington presents Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee with a copy of the BirdLife International special edition newsletter about Jankowski's Bunting.

Baroness Worthington presents Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee with a copy of the BirdLife International special edition newsletter about Jankowski’s Bunting.

Extra legal protection by itself will not save Jankowski’s Bunting from extinction.  However, it’s an important step and, as China works to strengthen enforcement of its environmental legislation (the amendments last week to China’s environmental law made huge progress in that regard), ensuring that the legal protection of China’s birds is as strong and unambiguous as possible will help to create the foundation for a stronger conservation movement in China.

Many thanks to Baroness Worthington for her support for the Jankowski’s Bunting campaign and also to Chairman Lu Hao for his work to strengthen China’s environmental laws and their enforcement.  He is a very important man!




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Pelicans in Beijing!

As I was having a short Easter break in Singapore, it was predictably a superb weekend of birding in Beijing..!  The main highlight was the appearance of at least 6 DALMATIAN PELICANS (卷羽鹈鹕) at Shahe Reservoir.

Shahe is a regular spot for Irish birding legend, Colm Moore, and he has found some excellent birds at this city reservoir over the last few years, including Black-headed Wagtail, Bar-tailed Godwit, Long-tailed Skua, a recent Black-tailed Gull and many more.

The site is also visited by some Chinese birders including Chen Yanxin and it was both of these guys who found 3 DALMATIAN PELICANS (卷羽鹈鹕) on the reservoir early Saturday morning.  Colm also saw an additional 3 flyover DALMATIAN PELICANS (卷羽鹈鹕), bringing the total seen to at least 6.

Shahe suffers from regular disturbance by fishermen and a whole range of other leisure activities, especially at weekends, so it’s certainly a site that should be visited early morning if at all possible.  And this was evidenced by the fact that the pelicans flew off north west around 1000am before many local birders could reach the site.

Here are some photos by Chen Yanxin.

DALMATIAN PELICANS at Shahe.  Two adults (with bright bills) and one subadult. Photo by Chen Yanxin.

DALMATIAN PELICANS (卷羽鹈鹕) at Shahe. Two adults (with bright bills) and one subadult. Photo by Chen Yanxin.

DALMATIAN PELICAN, Shahe Reservoir, 19 April 2014

DALMATIAN PELICAN (卷羽鹈鹕), Shahe Reservoir, 19 April 2014.  Photo by Chen Yanxin.

DALMATIAN PELICANS at Shahe Reservoir, 19 April 2014

DALMATIAN PELICANS (卷羽鹈鹕) at Shahe Reservoir, 19 April 2014

Shahe in the early morning mist..  hard to believe this is Beijing!  Photo by Chen Yanxin.

Shahe in the early morning mist.. hard to believe this is Beijing! Photo by Chen Yanxin.

Colm Moore (left) chats to a fellow birder at Shahe...

Colm Moore (left) chats to a fellow birder at Shahe…

Although increasing in parts of Europe, DALMATIAN PELICAN (卷羽鹈鹕) is classified as “Vulnerable” by Birdlife International due to the sharp decline in the Asian population.  In the region, these birds breed in western Mongolia and some winter on the southeast coast of China.  It is a rare migrant in Beijing, usually in Spring, as it makes its way from the wintering grounds to the breeding areas.

Congratulations to Colm and Chen Yanxin for seeing, and photographing so well, these special birds..!

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Yeyahu with Per Alström and Zhao Min

Birding in Beijing is brilliant at any time of year but, during spring migration, it’s hard to beat and there are so many highlights from Sunday’s trip to Yeyahu Nature Reserve with Per Alström and Zhao Min that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Birding with Per has many advantages, one of which is his encyclopaedic knowledge of China’s birds, especially pipits and wagtails.  So perhaps it should not be a surprise that an encounter with a mixed flock of more than 70 pipits and wagtails at Ma Chang produced Beijing’s second ever MEADOW PIPIT (草地鹨).  Initially found by Min and identified by Per, this bird was the undoubted rarity highlight but there were so many other great moments – the 21 ORIENTAL PLOVERS (东方鴴), displaying EASTERN MARSH HARRIERS (白腹鹞), GREATER SPOTTED (乌雕) and SHORT-TOED EAGLES (短趾雕), SAKER (猎隼), a flock of 90+ BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭), displaying ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK ((亚洲) 短趾百灵), a flock of 52 WHITE WAGTAILS (白鹡鸰) that included 3 subspecies – leucopsis, ocularis and baicalensis – and a flock of ‘eastern’ ROOKS (秃鼻乌鸦) – a possible future new species?

WHITE WAGTAIL ssp baicalensis, Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

WHITE WAGTAIL (白鹡鸰) ssp baicalensis, Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

We started at Ma Chang, a reliable spot for ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鴴) in early April.  It’s important to arrive here early as this site is extremely popular with horse-riders, motorised buggies and even people driving imitation tanks, so it’s hopeless as a birding destination at the weekend after around 0800.  We were fortunate to find a single ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鴴) with a flock of 30+ KENTISH PLOVERS (环颈鴴) and, later, we found a flock of 21 OPs in agricultural fields just east of the main site.  These birds – that winter in Australia – are special and one of the signs that Spring has arrived in Beijing.

ORIENTAL PLOVERS at Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

ORIENTAL PLOVERS (东方鴴) at Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

After enjoying the pipits, wagtails and plovers, as well as a beautiful male MERLIN (灰背隼) that buzzed us before sitting up on a stand of maize, we headed off to Yeyahu Nature Reserve.

This adult male MERLIN was a nice sighting at Ma Chang.

This adult male Merlin (灰背隼) was a nice sighting at Ma Chang.

At Yeyahu we enjoyed the spectacular sight of displaying EASTERN MARSH HARRIERS (白腹鹞), newly arrived and preparing to breed.  These are stunning raptors, the males in particular, and this adult male made a close pass when were in one of the tower hides..  awesome!

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER, Yeyahu, 6 April 2014.  Is there a more spectacular raptor anywhere?

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞), Yeyahu, 6 April 2014. Is there a more spectacular raptor anywhere?

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER 'buzzing' us at Yeyahu.

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞) ‘buzzing’ us at Yeyahu.

Two GREATER SPOTTED EAGLES (乌雕) added to our raptor list which, by the end of the day, had reached 10 species and bizarrely missing COMMON KESTREL (红隼)!


GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE, Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (乌雕), Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014

In stunning spring weather (and clean air!) we enjoyed so many other highlights on a day that produced a total of 81 species.  Just before dusk we were treated to a magnificent flight of ducks that included MALLARD (綠頭鴨), SPOT-BILLED DUCK (斑嘴鴨), PINTAIL (针尾鸭), COMMON POCHARD (红头潜鸭), FERRUGINOUS DUCK (白眼潜鸭), SHOVELER (琵嘴鸭), GARGANEY (白眉鸭), COMMON TEAL (绿翅鸭) and, just as we had hoped, BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭).  A flock of at least 90 of the latter wheeled around in the fading light – a magnificent sight and a fitting end to a wonderful day at this world-class birding site.

BAIKAL TEAL. Part of a 90+ strong flock that wheeled around just before dusk.

BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭). Part of a 90+ strong flock that wheeled around just before dusk.

Big thanks to Per and Min for their company on a day that will live long in the memory…!

Per and Zhao Min at one of the hides at Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014.

Per and Min (being careful not to ‘stride’) at one of the hides at Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014.


Full species list below:

JAPANESE QUAIL   Coturnix japonica  鵪鶉   1

COMMON PHEASANT   Phasianus colchicus  雉雞  4

SWAN GOOSE   Anser cygnoides   VU  鴻雁  1

GREYLAG GOOSE   Anser anser 3

RUDDY SHELDUCK   Tadorna ferruginea  赤麻鴨  6

MANDARIN DUCK   Aix galericulata  鴛鴦  9

GADWALL   Anas strepera  赤膀鴨  94

FALCATED DUCK   Anas falcata  罗纹鸭  14

MALLARD   Anas platyrhynchos  綠頭鴨  500

CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCK   Anas zonorhyncha  斑嘴鴨  38

NORTHERN SHOVELER   Anas clypeata  琵嘴鸭  13

NORTHERN PINTAIL   Anas acuta  针尾鸭  6

GARGANEY   Anas querquedula  白眉鸭  4

BAIKAL TEAL   Anas formosa  花脸鸭  a flock of 90 plus a separate flock of 70, which could have been different birds.

EURASIAN TEAL   Anas crecca  绿翅鸭  350

RED-CRESTED POCHARD   Netta rufina  赤嘴潜鸭  1

COMMON POCHARD   Aythya ferina  红头潜鸭  3

FERRUGINOUS POCHARD   Aythya nyroca   NT  白眼潜鸭  8

TUFTED DUCK   Aythya fuligula  凤头潜鸭  4

COMMON GOLDENEYE   Bucephala clangula  鹊鸭  6

SMEW   Mergellus albellus  白秋沙鸭  24

LITTLE GREBE   Tachybaptus ruficollis  小鸊鷉  4

GREAT CRESTED GREBE   Podiceps cristatus  凤头鸊鷉  8

GREAT BITTERN   Botaurus stellaris  大麻鳽  1

GREY HERON   Ardea cinerea  苍鹭  16

PURPLE HERON   Ardea purpurea  草鹭  2

EASTERN GREAT EGRET   Ardea modesta  大白鹭  1

GREAT CORMORANT   Phalacrocorax carbo  普通鸬鹚  12

SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE   Circaetus gallicus  短趾雕  1

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER   Circus spilonotus  白腹鹞  7

HEN HARRIER   Circus cyaneus  白尾鹞  1 adult female

EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK   Accipiter nisus  雀鹰  2

NORTHERN GOSHAWK   Accipiter gentilis  苍鹰  2

EASTERN BUZZARD   Buteo japonicus  普通鵟  19

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE   Aquila clanga   VU  乌雕  2

MERLIN   Falco columbarius  灰背隼  1

SAKER FALCON   Falco cherrug   EN  猎隼  1

PEREGRINE FALCON   Falco peregrinus  游隼  1

COMMON COOT   Fulica atra  骨顶鸡(白骨顶)  44

BLACK-WINGED STILT   Himantopus himantopus  黑翅长脚鹬  4

NORTHERN LAPWING   Vanellus vanellus  凤头麦鸡  33

GREY-HEADED LAPWING   Vanellus cinereus  灰头麦鸡  1

LITTLE RINGED PLOVER   Charadrius dubius   金眶鴴  2

KENTISH PLOVER   Charadrius alexandrinus  环颈鴴  48

ORIENTAL PLOVER   Charadrius veredus  东方鴴  21

COMMON SNIPE   Gallinago gallinago  扇尾沙锥  9

BLACK-HEADED GULL   Chroicocephalus ridibundus  红嘴鸥  39

ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE   Streptopelia orientalis  山斑鸠  4

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE   Streptopelia decaocto  灰斑鸠  6

COMMON KINGFISHER   Alcedo atthis  普通翠鸟  2

EURASIAN HOOPOE   Upupa epops  戴胜  2

GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER   Dendrocopos major  大斑啄木鸟  1

GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER   Picus canus  灰头绿啄木鸟  1

AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE   Cyanopica cyanus  灰喜鹊  1

COMMON MAGPIE   Pica pica  喜鹊  30

DAURIAN JACKDAW   Coloeus dauuricus  达乌里寒鸦  400+

ROOK   Corvus frugilegus  秃鼻乌鸦  33

CARRION CROW   Corvus corone  小嘴乌鸦  2

MARSH TIT   Poecile palustris  沼泽山雀  1

JAPANESE TIT   Parus minor  大山雀  2

CHINESE PENDULINE TIT   Remiz consobrinus  中华攀雀  15

GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK   Calandrella brachydactyla  (大) 短趾百灵  8

ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK   Calandrella cheleensis  (亚洲) 短趾百灵  1

EURASIAN SKYLARK   Alauda arvensis  云雀  14

BARN SWALLOW   Hirundo rustica  家燕  8

VINOUS-THROATED PARROTBILL   Sinosuthora webbianus  棕头鸦雀  40

WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING   Spodiopsar cineraceus  灰椋鸟  26

COMMON STARLING   Sturnus vulgaris  紫翅椋鸟  1

RED-THROATED THRUSH   Turdus ruficollis  赤颈鸫  1

DAURIAN REDSTART   Phoenicurus auroreus  北红尾鸲  1

EURASIAN TREE SPARROW   Passer montanus  (树) 麻雀  150

CITRINE WAGTAIL   Motacilla citreola  黄头鹡鸰  1

WHITE WAGTAIL   Motacilla alba 白鹡鸰  63

RED-THROATED PIPIT   Anthus cervinus  红喉鹨  1

BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT   Anthus rubescens japonicus  黄腹鹨  18

WATER PIPIT   Anthus spinoletta  水鹨  20

MEADOW PIPIT   Anthus pratensis  1   *** the 2nd record for Beijing***

GREY-CAPPED GREENFINCH   Carduelis sinica  金翅 (雀)  4

LITTLE BUNTING   Emberiza pusilla  小鹀  1

PALLAS’S BUNTING   Emberiza pallasi  苇鹀  22

REED BUNTING   Emberiza schoeniclus  芦鹀  1




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Miyun Reservoir with Beijing Hikers

Beijing Hikers enjoying the afternoon birding session at Miyun on Saturday.

Beijing Hikers enjoying the afternoon birding session at Miyun on Saturday.

A few weeks ago, the folks at Beijing Hikers asked me if I would be interested in helping to lead a dedicated birding trip.  Of course, being only too pleased to share my knowledge of Beijing’s birds, I accepted and plans were fixed to visit Miyun Reservoir over the weekend of 29-30 March.

The itinerary for the group, consisting of a mixture of ex-pats and Chinese, was to leave central Beijing around noon, arriving at a village on the north side of the reservoir at 3pm ahead of a late afternoon birding session.  This would be followed by an overnight stay at a local guesthouse, a morning birding session at a different site on the reservoir, then lunch and an afternoon birding session in the hills before returning to Beijing.

I decided to travel up early to stake out the sites before meeting the group at the guest house at 3pm.

After the awful air pollution during the week, Saturday dawned as a stunning Spring day – the wind overnight had shifted the worst of the pollution, the sun was shining and the temperature was a very pleasant 15 degrees Celsius when I arrived at the Chao He bridge at 0930.  The bridge over the Chao He is a site for Ibisbill, although it is far from guaranteed.  There was no sign of this special bird but 8 GREY-HEADED LAPWINGS (灰头麦鸡) and 2 LONG-BILLED PLOVERS (长嘴剑鴴) provided some consolation.  A little further along the river I picked up my first GARGANEY (白眉鸭) of the year, several CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCKS (斑嘴鴨), GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER (灰头绿啄木鸟) and several leucopsis WHITE WAGTAILS (白鹡鸰).

I pushed on to Yonglecun, my favourite site at Miyun.  As I parked up and walked to the viewing point, I caught sight of two falcons acrobatically feeding on insects.  A scan with my binoculars revealed them to be LESSER KESTRELS (黄爪隼).. a very nice start!  It was here that I found Jan-Erik Nilsen already positioned on site and, shortly after, we enjoyed not two but seven LESSER KESTRELS (黄爪隼) as they fed high above us…  beautiful birds and showing much more blue-grey on the upperwing than their counterparts in Europe.


Adult male LESSER KESTREL, Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014

Adult male LESSER KESTREL (黄爪隼), Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014


The mountains around Miyun reservoir provide a stunning backdrop to a day’s birding and, with Spring in the air, it was a delight to be outside experiencing the beginning of migration season.  Jan-Erik decided to move on to check Houbajiazhuang while I headed into the village to meet the group.

After meeting and greeting everyone, and having dropped our bags at the guesthouse, we headed out to Yonglecun for a 3 to 4 hour late afternoon birding session.  With the sun slowly setting, the light was fantastic as we watched flocks of RUDDY SHELDUCK (赤麻鴨) going to roost..  Sightings of JAPANESE QUAIL (鵪鶉), CHINESE HILL BABBLER (山鹛), EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞), GARGANEY (白眉鸭), FALCATED DUCK (罗纹鸭), PALLAS’S REED BUNTING (苇鹀) and displaying GREAT CRESTED GREBES (凤头鸊鷉) provided a lot of interest and then, suddenly, a GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (乌雕) appeared and, as it dropped down towards a scrubby field, a female EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞) flew up and began to mob it…  and the harrier did not rest until the eagle was finally forced away..  a spectacular interaction..!


GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (乌雕) and EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞), Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014.

Bird activity increased as the sun began to set and we enjoyed several flocks of BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭) wheeling around distantly…  a wonderful sight.

BAIKAL TEAL at dusk, Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014.

BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭) at dusk, Miyun Reservoir, 29 March 2014.

Then, just as we were about to call it a day, the bird of the trip suddenly came into view, flying low across the reservoir in front of us, stopping briefly to hover, before carrying on south-west..  a PIED KINGFISHER (斑鱼狗)!  Wow….  This was the first time I had seen this species in Beijing; it’s a real Beijing “mega” with only a very few previous records (possibly as few as three).  A real surprise and a brilliant end to a great birding session.

Sunset at Miyun.  Stunning.

Sunset at Miyun. Stunning.

The girls enjoyed the PIED KINGFISHER sighting...  or was it the thought of dinner?

The girls enjoyed the PIED KINGFISHER sighting… or was it the thought of dinner?

Back at the guest house we enjoyed some great local home-cooked food and our hosts even prepared a camp fire for us..

Enjoying the camp fire after dinner...

Enjoying the camp fire after dinner…

The next morning, after a quick breakfast of coffee, bread and boiled eggs, we headed of to another spot on the reservoir for the morning’s birding.  We were hoping to see a laggard crane or two…  late March is usually the best time to see the migrant WHITE-NAPED CRANES (白枕鹤) at Miyun but, with the exceptionally warm weather, spring is early this year and the cranes passed through more than a week ago, stopping only for a day or two before continuing north on their way to the breeding grounds.  Our chances did not look good.

On arrival at Houbajiazhuang we scanned the area and, within just a few minutes, three cranes flew in and dropped onto the marsh.. fortunately they were in view, albeit distant, and with the telescope we were able to see that they were WHITE-NAPED CRANES (白枕鹤)!  Fantastic….  Everyone was able to enjoy this probable family party of cranes and it was a bonus when a further four WHITE-NAPEDs (白枕鹤) flew across in front of us in perfect light.  A group of 5 EURASIAN SPOONBILLS (白琵鹭) then dropped in close by, allowing the group to see both species in the same view.  TUFTED DUCK (凤头潜鸭), COMMON POCHARD (红头潜鸭), GOLDENEYE (鹊鸭), ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK ((亚洲) 短趾百灵) and MONGOLIAN GULL (黄脚(银)鸥) were all added to the list of species seen before we decided to head into the hills.

We drove on to the Jixiang Temple, near Bulaotun, stopping en route at the Chao He bridge.  The GREY-HEADED LAPWINGS (灰头麦鸡) and the LONG-BILLED PLOVERS (长嘴剑鴴) were still in situ but, again, there was no sign of the IBISBILL (鹮嘴鹬).

At the temple, we were immediately greeted by a small group of YELLOW-BELLIED TITS (黄腹山雀) and we soon caught up with EASTERN GREAT TIT (大山雀), SILVER-THROATED TIT (北长尾山雀/银喉长尾山雀), MARSH TIT (沼泽山雀), WILLOW TIT (褐头山雀), PLAIN LAUGHINGTHRUSH (山噪鹛), GODLEWSKI’S BUNTING (戈氏岩鹀) and we were fortunate to secure stunning views of CHINESE NUTHATCH (黑头鳾) with a pair excavating a nest hole.  A single EURASIAN JAY (松鸦), several of the spectacular RED-BILLED BLUE MAGPIES (红嘴蓝鹊), a couple of DAURIAN REDSTARTS (北红尾鸲) and small parties of BRAMBLING (燕雀) and ORIENTAL GREENFINCH (金翅 (雀)) added some colour to the morning before we headed off to lunch.

After being reinvigorated by a delicious local meal we decided to have one more short birding session before heading back to Beijing… we found a nice river valley on the west side of the reservoir and added MEADOW (三道眉草鹀) and LITTLE BUNTING (小鹀), RED-BILLED CHOUGH (红嘴山鸦) and HILL PIGEON (岩鸽) to our tally.

At about 4.30pm we called it a day and began the journey back to the city, having clocked up 73 species over the two days.

Before tallying up our total, we had a little fun competition to see who could guess the number of species we saw over the weekend.  These were the guesses (ignoring the organisers!):

Ying – 150

Jean-Pierre – 54

Patricia – 46

Tom – 60

Jean – 56

Sheila – 57

Nick – 53

Sissi – 55

Rich – 59

Fiona – 58

Julian – 52

So the winner is Tom with 60!  Congratulations…  sadly no prize, just huge kudos!  :)

A big thank you to Jun and Betsy from Beijing Hikers for making all the arrangements and to Julian, Fiona, Rich, Nick, Sissi, Sheila, Jean, Tom, Patricia, Jean-Pierre and Ying for making it such a fun trip…!




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