It’s time to reveal a secret.
There is a world-class birding site, visited by very few birders, just an hour from downtown Beijing.
Its name is Miyun Reservoir.
Historically, most birders visiting Beijing have headed to the coast to visit the well-known birding spots of Beidaihe and Kuaile Dao (Happy Island). This is understandable when one considers the observations made there between 1910-1917 by British Consul John D D La Touche, by Dane Axel Hemmingsen in the 1940s and by Dr Martin Williams, among others, in the mid-1980s. These pioneers put northern China, and in particular the coastal town of Beidaihe, on the birding map.
And these locations have dominated the northern China birding scene ever since, with international tour companies visiting annually in May to offer their clients “up close and personal” experience of some of East Asia’s specialities, including the sought after ‘Sibes’ that cause so much excitement when they turn up as vagrants in western Europe or North America.
However, it is increasingly clear that the phenomenal migration along the East Asian flyway is not only concentrated on the coast. It is happening on a broad front and Beijing, China’s bustling capital, is slap bang in the middle of this birding superhighway.
Until recently, coverage of Beijing’s birds can most generously be described as ‘sparse’. Even now, with a growing young Chinese birding community, it is no more than partial. And yet, when one considers the diversity of species (more than 460 species have been recorded in the capital), together with the numbers, it is clear that Beijing is up there with the best birding sites in China. And, within Beijing, there is one location that stands out right now – Miyun Reservoir. The evidence? How about this:
– More than 50,000 Little Buntings in one morning on 26 September 2014
– More than 8,000 Horned Larks on 15 October 2014
– 7 species of goose: Bar-headed, (Taiga and Tundra) Bean, Greater and Lesser White-fronted, Greylag and Swan
– 7 species of crane recorded in the last two years: Common, Demoiselle, Hooded, Red-crowned, Sandhill, Siberian and White-naped.
– A raptor list that includes Amur Falcon, Lesser and Common Kestrels, Hobby, Saker, Peregrine, Chinese, Eurasian and Japanese Sparrowhawks, Goshawk, Booted, Golden, Greater Spotted, Eastern Imperial, Short-toed and White-tailed Eagles, Osprey, Grey-faced, ‘Eastern’, Oriental Honey and Rough-legged Buzzards, Cinereous Vulture, Black and Black-winged Kites, Eastern Marsh, Hen and Pied Harriers.
– Red-throated and Black-throated Loon, Baikal and Eurasian Teal, Baer’s and Common Pochards, Falcated, Ferruginous, Spot-billed and Tufted Ducks, Gadwall, Mallard, Pintail and Wigeon, Greater Scaup and White-winged (Stejneger’s) Scoter.
For an inland location, the shorebird list is impressive, too. Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Northern and Grey-headed Lapwings, Jack, Common and “Swintail” Snipe, Asian Dowitcher, Bar- and Black-tailed Godwits, Eurasian, Far Eastern and Little Curlews, Whimbrel, Common and Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Common, Curlew, Green, Marsh, Pectoral, Sharp-tailed, Terek and Wood Sandpipers, Long-toed, Red-necked and Temminck’s Stints, Ruff, Dunlin, Grey, Kentish, Little Ringed, Oriental and Pacific Golden Plovers, Greater Sandplover, Turnstone, Red Knot, Grey and Red-necked Phalarope and Oriental Pratincole have all been recorded.
And how about this for a bunting list: Black-faced, Chestnut, Chestnut-eared, Common Reed, Godlewski’s, Japanese Reed, Lapland, Little, Meadow, Pallas’s Reed, Pine, Rustic, Tristram’s, Yellow-breasted, Yellow-browed and Yellow-throated.
Not to mention the cuckoos, shrikes, gulls, terns, pipits, wagtails etc
It is not unusual in spring, especially in May, to record more than 100 species in a day. This year Paul Holt achieved that in March! And Jan-Erik Nilsen, a Beijing-based Swedish birder, recorded 123 species last week.
As a general birding location, it is probably THE best in the capital.
It’s so good, we can’t keep it a secret any longer. There is now a downloadable PDF guide to Miyun Reservoir, including travel directions and a species list.
OK, that’s enough.. It’s mid-May and I have to be somewhere.. no prizes for guessing where!