This autumn is set to go down in Beijing birding history as the best ever (so far!). As well as the Holy Trinity of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Swinhoe’s Rail and Streaked Reed Warbler, there has been a stunning supporting cast.
Yesterday at Miyun Reservoir, there were two more additions to the seemingly never ending list of rarities to be found in Beijing this autumn.
First, regular Beijing visitor, Dutch birder Ben Wielstra, picked up a BLACK-WINGED KITE loitering over the Chao He valley to the north and then, around lunchtime, whilst scanning through a group of distant GREAT CRESTED GREBES in the hope of finding a RED-NECKED GREBE, I spotted a loon. As soon as I had described to the others where it was, it was flushed by a fishing boat and took flight.. We all managed to get onto it and, as it flew, we were hastily discussing whether it was the more likely PACIFIC or BLACK-THROATED or the much rarer RED-THROATED. Despite the distance, Paul Holt was already suspecting it was a RED-THROATED and, fortunately, it flew towards us and landed in a bay much closer, but still some distance away. As soon as it landed it was immediately clear it was a RED-THROATED LOON, a species that with which I am very familiar as a winter visitor offshore from my home village of Winterton-on-Sea in Norfolk. Wow! Once again, the Swarovski kit of the ATX95 plus iPhone and adaptor proved its worth in being able to document a distant record that, without doubt, would have been impossible with my traditional set up of a Canon 400mm lens.
There are two previous records of RED-THROATED LOON from Beijing. The first was a dead female picked up “north of the river” in Tongzhou, remarkably on the same date of 22 October, in 1932. The second was a sight record at the same site from 10-12 April 1933. So this is the first record of RED-THROATED LOON in the capital for more than 80 years!
Big thanks to Paul for the intelligence on the records from the 1930s.
This week I visited Nanpu with Jennifer Leung and Ben Wielstra. This site, on the Hebei coast just 2.5 hours from Beijing, offers world class shorebirding. With tens of thousands of waders, thousands of marsh terns and some rare East Asian specialities such as RELICT and SAUNDERS’S GULLS and ASIAN DOWITCHER, this site is hard to beat. Throw in some visible migration and the passerine migrant magnet of the tiny “Magic Wood” and it’s a wonderful place to spend a few days birding.
Here is a sample of just how many birds are on show here at this time of the year…
White-winged Terns at Nanpu
One of the most abundant shorebirds is the SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER which can be found on the settling pools, the banks of tidal creeks and on the mudflats themselves. Of the 1000s seen over the visit, we saw only two juveniles. This one is an adult.
The spectacle of 1000s of waders arriving at the mudflats, as the mud becomes exposed on the falling tide, is superb… I counted 834 GREAT KNOT on the 14th and, at a different site, over 700 on 15th.. including a couple of colour-flagged birds with individual engravings.
Here is a short video of some of the GREAT KNOT shortly after they arrived at the first exposed mud. The sharp-eyed will notice one of the birds is colour-flagged with a combination of black over white on the upper right leg.
One of the GREAT KNOT sported a yellow flag with the letters “UWE”. On return to Beijing I reported it to the Aussie shorebirders and, within minutes, I had received a reply with the individual history of this bird. Our sighting was the first of this individual outside Australia…
Banding of “UWE”
06/03/2011 Boiler Point, Roebuck Bay, Broome(-18.00, 122.37)Australia 06313620 (UWE) Aged 2+
03/10/2011 Boiler Point, Roebuck Bay, Broome(17.00, 122.00)Australia Chris Hassell & Clare Morton
12/10/2011 Boiler Point, Roebuck Bay, Broome (17.00, 122.00) Australia Chris Hassell & Clare Morton
13/10/2011 Boiler Point, Roebuck Bay, Broome(17.00, 122.00)Australia Chris Hassell & Clare Morton
01/11/2011 Minton’s Straight(-17.98, 122.35)Australia Chris Hassell & Clare Morton
16/12/2011 Boiler Point, Roebuck Bay, Broome(17.00, 122.00)Australia Chris Hassell
18/12/2011 Boiler Point, Roebuck Bay, Broome(17.00, 122.00)Australia Chris Hassell
19/02/2013 Boiler Point, Roebuck Bay, Broome(17.00, 122.00)Australia Chris Hassell
20/12/2013 Minton’s Straight(-17.98, 122.35)Australia Chris Hassell
14/08/2014 Nan Pu, Bohai Bay(39.04, 118.36)China (mainland) Terry Townshend, Jennifer Leung & Ben Wielstra
Among the large numbers of GREAT KNOT were some RED KNOT and this photo shows the two species together, allowing a direct comparison. Note the size difference plus the difference in underpart markings, bill length and shape.
One of Nanpu’s specialities is the RELICT GULL. Although it’s primarily a wintering location, a few non-breeders remain all year round and it’s possible to see this species at any time of the year. Right now, the breeding birds are returning to the coast, along with a few first year juveniles. We saw at least three of this year’s young amongst more than 100 of these beautiful gulls. Here is an adult just beginning to moult out of breeding plumage:
Although Nanpu is primarily a shorebird site, its location on the east China coast means it is also an excellent place to witness visible migration. Even though our visit was in mid-August, we witnessed a nice passage of RICHARD’S PIPITS and YELLOW WAGTAILS and the “Magic Wood” – a tiny patch of trees and shrubs in the middle of the vast open area of ponds – hosted at least 8 EASTERN CROWNED and 6 ARCTIC WARBLERS as well as YELLOW-RUMPED, ASIAN BROWN, GREY-STREAKED and DARK-SIDED FLYCATCHERS. I can only imagine what this newly discovered ‘oasis’ will be like in September and October.
A nice surprise was this adult male DAURIAN STARLING, a scarce passage migrant in the Beijing/Hebei area.
And an even bigger surprise was an unseasonal PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE that flew backwards and forwards just inland from the sea wall and settled on some rough ground between some ‘nodding donkeys’. Bizarre.
All in all it was a brilliant few days. The full species list is below. Big thanks to Jennifer and Ben for their great company… itching to get back already!
Common Pheasant – 1 juvenile near the seawall on 15th
Common Shelduck – 1 juvenile on 14th
Spot-billed Duck – 6
Little Grebe – 3 on the pond at the sea wall by the police building
Black-crowned Night Heron – 4 in “Magic Wood” on 14th
Chinese Pond Heron – 1 in flight on 13th and 1 on 15th
Grey Heron – 6
Little Egret – 14
Chinese Egret – 2 on 14th near the bridge where the tidal channel runs into the sea and one on 15th
Great Cormorant – 287 flew in to roost on the ponds at 1745 on 14th
Common Kestrel – 2 (both females)
Amur Falcon – 2 (both adult females)
Black-winged Stilt – not counted but 1000s
Pied Avocet – not counted but 1000s
Grey Plover – 27 on 15th
Little Ringed Plover – c75
Kentish Plover – c500
Lesser Sand Plover – 1 in summer plumage from the bridge at the seawall
Greater Sand Plover – 2 adults in winter plumage on the ponds
Asian Dowitcher – at least 15, including 5 feeding on the falling tide on 15th
Black-tailed Godwit – c700 on 14th
Bar-tailed Godwit – c80
Whimbrel – 23
Eurasian Curlew – 14
Far Eastern Curlew – 29
Spotted Redshank – not counted but estimate of several hundred
Common Redshank – much less common than Spotted bt still 50+
Marsh Sandpiper – 1000s
Common Greenshank – 18
Green Sandpiper – 2
Wood Sandpiper -
Grey-tailed Tattler – 3
Terek Sandpiper – 8
Common Sandpiper – 16
Ruddy Turnstone – 14
Great Knot – 832 counted on 14th from the bridge. 700+ counted on morning of 15th from east of the oil terminal causeway…
Red Knot – at least 30 in total
Red-necked Stint – c40 (never found a substantial concentration of stints)
Temminck’s Stint – 1
Long-toed Stint – 5
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper – 1000s
Curlew Sandpiper – 20
Dunlin – 8
Broad-billed Sandpiper – 3
Ruff – 1 ad male
Red-necked Phalarope – 1 adult (male?)
Black-tailed Gull – 160
Mongolian Gull – 2 adults
Relict Gull – 105 counted on 14th
Black-headed Gull – c300-400
Saunders’s Gull – 6
Common Tern -
Little Tern – 38
Gull-billed Tern – 18
White-winged Tern – 1000s
Pallas’s Sandgrouse – 1 flew back and forth over the marshy area adjacent to the sea wall (viewed from the dirt track). Landed on the rough ground amongst the ‘nodding donkeys’ but not seen on the deck.
Oriental Turtle Dove – 3 around Nanpu
Spotted Dove – 1 in Nanpu
Pacific Swift – 11 flew west along the sea wall on 15th
Common Kingfisher – 1 heard at “Magic Wood”
Brown Shrike – 17 along the roadside
Black Drongo – 1 at the “ice cream” village
Azure-winged Magpie – 4 around Nanpu
Common Magpie – 12 along the roadside
Sand Martin – 12 along the seawall on 15th
Barn Swallow – 1000s
Red-rumped Swallow – 46 counted but many more present
Zitting Cisticola – 6 along the sea wall on 15th
Chinese Bulbul – 3
Thick-billed Warbler – 2 (one in “Magic Wood” on 14th and one along the seawall on 15th)
Arctic Warbler – at least 6 in “Magic Wood” on 14th
Eastern Crowned Warbler – at least 8 in “Magic Wood” on 14th
Reed Parrotbill – 6
White-eye sp – one migrated along the sea wall, seen from the bridge, on 14th
Daurian Starling – one adult male along the roadside with White-cheeked Starlings on 14th
White-cheeked Starling – 8
Dark-sided Flycatcher – 1 adult and 1 juvenile probably this species at “Magic Wood”
Grey-streaked Flycatcher – 1 adult at “Magic Wood”
Asian Brown Flycatcher – 1 adult at “Magic Wood”
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher – an adult male and an adult female at “Magic Wood” on 15th
Tree Sparrow – not counted but numerous
Yellow Wagtail – 12 on 14th and 15 on 15th
Grey Wagtail – 2 by the sea wall seen from the bridge on 14th
White Wagtail – 2
Richard’s Pipit – 28 on 14th from the bridge and 41 on 15th from the dirt track – all migrating
Blyth’s Pipit – 2 possibly this species migrating (a call similar to Richard’s plus an extra “chip”)
Yellow-breasted Bunting – two possibly this species (yellowish buntings) migrating on 14th
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.
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”!
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!
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…
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 PheasantPhasanius colchicus – 6+
Bean GooseAnser fabalis serrirostris – 15
Ruddy ShelduckTadorna ferruginea – one (plus a couple of possibly captive ones…)
Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri – a pair photographed [TT]
Ferruginous DuckAythya nyroca – three
Smew Mergellus albellus – four brownheads
Little GrebeTachybaptus ruficollis – nine
Great Crested GrebePodiceps cristatus – three
Eurasian BitternBotaurus stellaris – one (in flight, giving ‘pao!’ call)
Chinese Pond HeronArdeola bacchus – one
Grey HeronArdea cinerea – six
Little EgretEgretta garzetta – three
Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo – two
Common KestrelFalco tinnunculus – one
Amur FalconFalco amurensis – 12+ (excellent views of several 1st c-y birds)
Merlin Falco columbarius – two (adult male; unaged female)
Eurasian HobbyFalco subbuteo – one
Short-toed EagleCircaetus gallicus – two
Eastern Marsh HarrierCircus 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 HarrierCircus cyaneus – four 1st c-y
Eurasian SparrowhawkAccipiter nisus – eight
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis – two
Common BuzzardButeo buteo japonicus – 7+
Steppe EagleAquila 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 MoorhenGallinula chloropus – two
Common CootFulica atra – 16
Northern LapwingVanellus vanellus – 70
Pacific Golden PloverPluvialis fulva – eight 1st c-y
Common SnipeGallinago gallinago – one
Common Black-headed GullLarus ridibundus – 15+
Oriental Turtle DoveStreptopelia orientalis – three
Eurasian Collared DoveStreptopelia decaocto – four
Great Spotted WoodpeckerDendrocopos major – five
Chinese Grey ShrikeLanius sphenocercus – four (mostly showing very well…)
Azure-winged MagpieCyanopica cyanus – two
Common MagpiePica pica – 60+ (not counting birds en route!)
Daurian JackdawCorvus dauuricus – c390 (main event a flock of c325)
Rook Corvus frugilegus – one (up close, feeding in a field)
Eastern Great TitParus minor – three
Yellow-bellied TitParus venustulus – nine
Marsh TitParus palustris
Chinese Penduline TitRemiz (pendulinus) consobrinus – five (incl a juvenile sitting up nicely)
The Pallas’s Rosefinch (Carpodacus roseus) is a difficult bird to see anywhere. Although it has quite a large range, its breeding grounds – the mountains of eastern Russia and northern Mongolia – are relatively inaccessible and remote. And the wintering sites (northern China, Japan, Korea) are not necessarily reliable on a year by year basis.
Beijing in winter has traditionally been one of the best places to see this species but, in recent years, the numbers wintering around the Chinese capital appear to have declined for unknown reasons (possibly due to milder winters).
This winter, the coldest in China for over 20 years and with above average snowfall in northern China, has bucked the trend and there are good numbers of Pallas’s Rosefinch wintering in the hills around the capital, providing a good opportunity to get to grips with this species. Singles and small groups have been reported from a number of locations around Beijing, including the Olympic Forest Park, Badaling Great Wall and Shisanling. However, it is the ridge above the Botanical Gardens in the northwest of the city that has proved to be a real hotspot this winter. Jesper Hornskov walks this area frequently and he first reported sightings of this bird from October with numbers gradually building to a high count of over 70 in January.
On Sunday I visited the Botanical Gardens with Beijing-based Per Alström, Jennifer Leung and visiting Dutch birder, Ben Wielstra. After birding through the gardens, and completing the steep ascent to the ridge, we rested for a short coffee break during which we were fortunate to encounter two stunning male Pallas’s Rosefinches – the target bird of our walk. After enjoying spectacular views we walked a 2-3km stretch of the ridge before returning via the same route. Although it’s difficult to make an accurate assessment of the number of birds present, we left with the view that we had seen over 40 birds along that particular 2-3 km stretch, including at least 3 adult males.
Adult males are difficult to beat.. they are resplendent in their raspberry-coloured plumage, silvery-white bills and steely-black legs. Females and immatures are much drabber, often displaying streaky brownish plumage with a hint of orange or pink and a pinkish rump.
If you are in Beijing over the next few weeks I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the Botanical Gardens to see these birds. But be quick – they are likely to head back north sometime in mid- to late-March and who knows when they will next be so accessible in the Chinese capital?
Full species list from the walk below. My thanks go to Per, Jennifer and Ben for their excellent company.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 2
Northern Goshawk – 1
Eastern Buzzard – 1 seen twice over the ridge
Oriental Turtle Dove – 3
Spotted Dove – 1
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 2
Azure-winged Magpie – 35+
Red-billed Blue Magpie – 5
Common Magpie – 13
Carrion Crow – 2
Large-billed Crow – 12
Great (Japanese) Tit – 6
Yellow-bellied Tit – 28
Marsh Tit – 4
Silver-throated Tit – 2 in the gardens late afternoon
Chinese Hill Babbler – 4 on the way down (after going most of the day without seeing any)
Chinese Bulbul – 1 heard
Pere David’s Laughingthrush – 12
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 2 groups of 15+ each
Goldcrest – 6
Chinese Nuthatch – 1
Crested Myna – 1
White-cheeked Starling – 1
Red-throated Thrush – 1
Naumann’s Thrush – 11
Tree Sparrow – many in the gardens
Siberian Accentor – 6, including 2 seen exceptionally well around the noodle place
Brambling – over 1,000, often wheeling around in large flocks
Oriental Greenfinch – 7
Siskin – 5 (PA only)
Pallas’s Rosefinch – at least 40 (3 adult males and the remainder females or immature males). The first two (both adult males) showed exceptionally well.
Yesterday I accompanied visiting British birder John Gerson and Dutch birder Ben Wielstra to Wild Duck Lake. We started at Ma Chang where we were lucky enough to find 2 Oriental Plovers, 5 Greater Sand Plovers and a Mongolian Lark before the Genghis Khan wannabees began to gallop all over the area. A flyover Merlin was a nice bonus.
After enjoying these birds we moved to the edge of the reservoir and, alongside the track, we enjoyed spectacular views of Citrine and ‘Eastern’ Yellow Wagtails, Buff-belled Pipits and Pallas’s Buntings. One of the ‘Eastern’ Yellow Wags looked to me like it might have been of the ssp tschutschensis. What do you think?
Fly-by Pied Harriers and Oriental Pratincoles were nice additions to our day list before we headed to the ‘island’ to check out the wildfowl that was sheltering from the increasingly strong wind. Keeping the telescope steady was a challenge but, with perseverance, we made out some Falcated Duck bobbing up and down.
Some passing Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swifts, a group of 5 Spoonbills (probably Eurasian) and our first Purple Heron added to our tally before we headed off to Yeyahu, as much to find a little shelter from the dust clouds than anything else!
At Yeyahu we were treated to sensational views of Eastern Marsh Harrier and enjoyed prolonged views of a Greater Spotted Eagle as it hung in the air over the southern boundary of the reserve. A Black-eared Kite flushed the heron-infested reedbed in the south-west corner to reveal at least 17 Purple Herons with a sprinkling of Greys mixed in. A lunch stop here also produced a Chinese Penduline Tit (heard only), Zitting Cisticola and a few Siberian Stonechats as well as a now almost expected Short-toed Eagle hunting over the scrubby area between Ma Chang and Yeyahu.
Perhaps the star bird of the day revealed itself on the walk down to the observation tower at Yeyahu. As we walked the sheltered side of the treeline we encountered a large flock of Little Buntings – at least 70 birds – and, as were checking them for any other buntings, we caught sight of a larger bird flit ahead of us and land in a dense thicket. After a little maneovering, we were able to see it was a shrike and, a very striking one at that. It sported a beautifully rich orange cap and showed a dark grey tail without any rufous at all. It also showed some nice scaling on the breast. It could only be one species – Bull-headed Shrike. This was a new bird for John and Ben and also my first record of this species in Beijing (I have seen it in Liaoning, at Laotieshan, and also at Rudong, near Shanghai). We enjoyed prolonged, if partly obscured views, and I was able to capture a couple of record images before we left it to resume its presumed hunting of the Little Buntings.. Very nice!
Ben recorded this cool video of the shrike using a compact camera through my telescope!
After frustratingly tantalising views of a Chinese Hill Warbler (a bird that Ben, in particular, wanted to see), and contrastingly stunning views of an Osprey, we headed to the small reedy pools to try for Baikal Teal. Unfortunately they seemed to have moved on but we did see nice groups of Garganey and added Red-crested Pochard to our species list for the day.
Big thanks to John and Ben for their excellent company throughout the day. It was a lot of fun to be in the field with these guys.
A humourous interlude at the end was provided by one of the reserve staff who was rounding up domesticated ducks using his motorcyle. He was soon joined by another local on his bicycle and, after a few mishaps that saw a few stragglers make a break for it across the next field, they eventually managed to herd them all onto a freshly dug lake…
Full species list (not including domestic duck):
Common Pheasant – 7
Bean Goose – 6
Common Shelduck – 6
Ruddy Shelduck – 23
Mandarin – 3
Gadwall – 18
Falcated Duck – 4
Eurasian Wigeon – 4
Mallard – 14
Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 16
Shoveler – 2
Pintail – 4
Garganey – 11
Eurasian Teal – 16
Red-crested Pochard – 2
Common Pochard – 8
Ferruginous Duck – 2
Tufted Duck – 9
Smew – 16
Goosander – 4
Little Grebe – 18
Great Crested Grebe – 16
Spoonbill sp – 6
Eurasian Bittern – 1 seen plus 2-3 heard
Grey Heron – 12
Purple Heron – 19
Great Egret – 2
Eurasian Kestrel – 2
Merlin – 1
Hobby – 2 (plus one on the drive home)
Osprey – 2
Black-eared Kite – 4 to 6
Short-toed Eagle – 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier – 5
Pied Harrier – 3
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 3
Greater Spotted Eagle – 1 (poss 2)
Common Moorhen – 1 (heard)
Common Coot – 12
Black-winged Stilt – 47
Lapwing – 14
Little Ringed Plover – 9
Kentish Plover – 6
Greater Sand Plover – 5
Oriental Plover – 2
Common Greenshank – 2
Common Sandpiper – 3
Oriental Pratincole – 19
Black-headed Gull – 69
Common Tern – 12
Little Tern – 2
Oriental Turtle Dove – 2
Eurasian Collared Dove – 4 (from car)
Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift – 10
Common Swift – 1
Common Kingfisher – 8
Hoopoe – 2
Bull-headed Shrike – 1
Azure-winged Magpie – 8
Common Magpie – too many
Rook – 1 (from car)
Large-billed Crow – 1 (from car)
Great Tit – 2
Marsh Tit – 2
Chinese Penduline Tit – 1 (heard)
Sand Martin – 3
Barn Swallow – 22
Red-rumped Swallow – 5
Mongolian Lark – 1
Greater Short-toed Lark – 63
Asian Short-toed Lark – 10
Eurasian Skylark – 1
Zitting Cisticola – 3
Chinese Hill Warbler – 1
Vinous-thraoted Parrotbill – c50
White-cheeked Starling – 6
Daurian Redstart – 1
Siberian Stonechat – 7
Tree Sparrow – lots
Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 12 (including ssp taivana and tschutschensis)
On Sunday I visited Miyun Reservoir with a few friends from the embassy, a language student and a Dutch birder visiting Beijing. We enjoyed a good day and recorded 71 species. The most significant record was the immature SIBERIAN CRANE that is still on site in company with a dwindling group of White-naped and Common Cranes. It is now over a month since Paul Holt and I first discovered this bird, originally in the company of 2 adults.
A single Short-toed Eagle, a stunning male Pied Harrier, a fishing Osprey and excellent views of Japanese Quail were other highlights of another good day at this site. With sunny weather and very light winds, it was a lovely day to be out and about… and great fun to be in the company of such a wonderful group of people!!
They will all become birders – it’s inevitable. Resistance is futile.
Full species list:
1. Japanese Quail – 3
2. Common Pheasant – 7
3. Swan Goose – 1
4. Bean Goose – 5
5. Ruddy Shelduck – 29
6. Gadwall – 8
7. Mallard – 12
8. Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 14
9. Shoveler – 18
10. Eurasian Teal – 12
11. Common Pochard – 2
12. Little Grebe – 4
13. Great Crested Grebe – 10
14. Black Stork – 1
15. Spoonbill sp – 7
16. Eurasian Bittern (heard only)
17. Grey Heron – 8
18. Great Egret – 6
19. Little Egret – 7
20. Kestrel – 2
21. Merlin – 1 adult male whizzed past us at the second site
22. Osprey – seen very well; hovered and caught a fish
23. Short-toed Eagle – 1
24. Eastern Marsh Harrier – 3
25. Pied Harrier – 2 (including one adult male)
26. Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1
27. Goshawk – 1
28. Coot – 12
29. SIBERIAN CRANE – 1 (immature)
30. White-naped Crane – 4
31. Common Crane – 3
32. Black-winged Stilt – 78
33. Avocet – 2
34. Northern Lapwing – 34
35. Little Ringed Plover – 22 (including some spectacular close views of 3 birds interacting)
36. Common Snipe – 8 (using their characteristic ‘drilling’ feeding technique)
37. Black-tailed Godwit – 7
38. Common Redshank – 4
39. Wood Sandpiper – 12
40. Oriental Pratincole – 42
41. Mongolian Gull – 1 2cy probably this species
42. Black-headed Gull – 57
43. Common Tern – 4
44. Little Tern – 2
45. Oriental Turtle Dove – 4
46. Collared Dove – 3
47. Common Kingfisher – 2
48. Hoopoe – 1
49. Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1 seen from the car between the first and second sites
50. Grey-headed Woodpecker – 2 heard from the car
51. Azure-winged Magpie – several seen from the car
52. Red-billed Blue Magpie – 5 (including two that flew right overhead calling near the parking spot at the first site)
53. Common Magpie – too many
54. Carrion Crow – 2
55. Large-billed Crow – 1
56. Great Tit – several heard from the car
57. Barn Swallow – 6
58. Red-rumped Swallow – 4 seen from the car
59. Zitting Cisticola – 1 heard
60. Chinese Bulbul – 1 heard near the parking spot at the first site
61. Vinous-throated Parrotbill – several heard at the first and second sites
62. White-cheeked Starling – c10 seen from the car
63. Daurian Redstart – 3
64. Tree Sparrow – lots
65. Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 3
66. White Wagtail – 3 (subspecies ‘leucopsis’)
67. Olive-backed Pipit – 1
68. Red-throated Pipit – 1 possible heard
69. Buff-bellied Pipit – c100 (in a mixed flock that included some Water Pipits)