Shidu

With the Chinese New Year celebrations still ringing in our ears (the year of the Dragon was greeted with deafening fireworks!), we set off to explore an area known as Shidu in Fangshan County, south-west of Beijing.  This area of karst limestone hills is sometimes known as the “Guilin of the north” and we could see why..  spectacular rocky outcrops rise up from the valley through which the Juma river runs..  It’s an area well-known to Beijing birders as a regular wintering ground for Black Stork, Wallcreeper and Black Vulture, with supporting cast including Crested Kingfisher, Long-billed Plover and Red-billed Chough.

Today Libby and I drove there in our rented car in convoy with friends John and Sarah Gallagher and Sarah’s visiting friend, Vic.  The air was refreshingly clear – a combination of polluting industry closing down for Chinese New Year, fewer cars due to large parts of the Beijing population visiting relatives in other parts of China and a fresh northerly wind – and we enjoyed a stunning blue sky with excellent visibility all day.   We took a slightly ’round the houses’ route to get there (taking over 3 hours) but it was worth it.  A decent road winds its way through the gorge with a number of bridges crossing the river, many of which are excellent places to stop and view the stony riverbed.  Highlights included at least 4 Black Vultures soaring over the peaks, 4-5 Black Storks including 3 young birds, 2 Crested Kingfishers, a single White-tailed Eagle and 2 Upland Buzzards.  We didn’t have time to search out a Wallcreeper but the habitat looks ideal and I am sure, with a bit of time and patience, effort would be rewarded here.  Definitely worth a return visit sometime soon!

White-tailed Eagle, Shidu, Beijing
White-tailed Eagle, Shidu. A menacing shadow for any waterbird!
Steady...
One of today's Black Vultures at Shidu.

Wild Duck Lake, 6 November 2011

Apologies for the lack of updates in recent weeks – work has been rather all-consuming!  To be honest, it’s not been so bad to be indoors  –  a persistent high pressure system, combined with very slack winds, have seen a blanket of smog covering Beijing with poor visibility and, at times, appalling air quality.  The US Embassy ‘twitter feed’ is updated hourly and rates the pollution levels of PM2.5 (a particulate pollutant) and ozone.
This is the US Environment Protection Agency’s definition of PM2.5:
“Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small that individually they can only be detected with an electron microscope.
Many manmade and natural sources emit PM directly or emit other pollutants that react in the atmosphere to form PM. These solid and liquid particles come in a wide range of sizes.
Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.”
Sounds nice, eh?
There is a scale of descriptors ranging from “Good” to “Hazardous”.  Last week saw several days with the pollution at “hazardous” levels.  I am not exactly sure what “hazardous” means but at these levels, you can taste and smell the pollution when you step outside.  Not pleasant.
Of course, the Chinese media describes the smog as “fog” and on one dark day last week, it was laughable that the media was saying that there were “boundless blue skies over Beijing”…  Of course….
Fortunately, this smoggy period seems to be breaking now and on Sunday I visited Ma Chang/Wild Duck Lake with Libby and a couple of UK friends John and Sarah Gallagher.  They have been keen to accompany me on one of my birding trips for some time and so, with a window of decent weather and visibility, we grabbed the chance before the winter sets in.  We enjoyed a very good day.
The visibility was above average and, when the cloud broke in the afternoon, it turned into a gorgeous late autumn day….
0645-1530, 6 November 2011.
Cloud 8/8 and 5 degrees C at 0640 with very light north-easterly wind.  13 degrees C, cloud 3/8 and light north-easterly at 1500.  Visibility above average all day.
The highlight was my first Great Bustard in China (a flyover), 2 Black Storks, 6 White-naped Cranes, 58 Common CranesUpland Buzzard, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2Common Starlings.
Full species list (52 in total):
Common Pheasant 12
Bean Goose 115
Whooper Swan 1
Gadwall 5
Falcated Duck 4
Eurasian Wigeon 2
Mallard 48
Chinese Spot-billed Duck 10
Northern Pintail 42
Eurasian Teal 25
Tufted Duck 8
Common Goldeneye 2
Smew 10
Goosander 12
Little Grebe 23
Great Crested Grebe 8
Black-necked Grebe 2
Black Stork 2 (high west @ 1455)
Eurasian Bittern 1
Grey Heron 3
Eurasian Kestrel 2
Peregrine 2
Hen Harrier 4 (1 adult male, 1 immature male, and 2 females)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 3
Common (Eastern) Buzzard 1
Upland Buzzard 1
Great Bustard 1 in flight (flew west over Ma Chang @ 0910)
Common Coot 4
White-naped Crane 6
Common Crane 58, including 2 groups arriving from the mountains to the north (9 @1445 and 35 @1440)
Mongolian Gull 2
Black-headed Gull 68
Eurasian Collared Dove 14
Short-eared Owl 2
Common Kingfisher 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker 1
Chinese Grey Shrike 5
Azure-winged Magpie 1
Common Magpie lots
Carrion Crow 11
Great Tit 2
Asian Short-toed Lark 12
Eurasian Skylark 7
Chinese Bulbul 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill 100+ in a single flock
Common Starling 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow lots
Buff-bellied Pipit 3
Pine Bunting 2
Little Bunting 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting 23

Finally, we enjoyed excellent views of this yellow butterfly, the only butterfly we saw. It was a little sluggish, allowing close photography, in contrast to the many times when I have tried to photograph this species in the spring/summer..  I am not sure what the specific species is but it’s pretty common in the area. EDIT: Thanks to John Furse for identifying the butterfly as a Clouded Yellow.

Yellow butterfly sp, Yeyahu, 6 November 2011
Close up... I love those eyes!