Siberian Bush Warbler

On Saturday I joined leading China expert, Paul Holt, and visiting Chris Gooddie (of “The Jewel Hunter” fame) for a visit to Yeyahu Nature Reserve.  We were hoping to see some late migrants – birds such as Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler – and of course had in the back of our minds the chance of seeing the rare Streaked Reed Warbler, a possible of which I saw on Thursday at the same site.

After a 4am start and a predictably tortuous journey over the mountains past Badaling Great Wall (this route is notorious for breaking down lorries!), we arrived at the site by around 0615.  After seeing Two-barred Greenish Warbler, Yellow-throated Bunting and Chinese Pond Heron along the entrance track, we took the boardwalk through the reedbed.  The first stretch produced a high density of singing Oriental (Great) Reed Warblers along with a few Black-browed Reed Warblers, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers (most of which were picked up by Paul on call or a brief burst of song), a calling Yellow Bittern, a few Zitting Cisticolas and several Purple Herons (breeding in the reedbed in the south-west corner of the lake).  But the highlight was undoubtedly the Siberian Bush Warbler Bradypterus davidi (a split from Spotted Bush Warbler Bradypterus thoracicus) that was expertly identified by Paul after a very brief burst of song…  I have to say I would have almost certainly walked straight past it and, if I had heard it, I would probably have passed it off as an insect!  After a bit of patience and ‘pishing’, this bird showed well at very close range, albeit briefly… A very difficult bird to see and a scarce, albeit regular, migrant in the Beijing area (almost certainly overlooked due to its extreme skulky nature).  This experience reinforced to me the need to get learning all of the calls and songs of some of the more irregular and difficult to see birds in the Beijing area.  Unless one is familiar with the calls, identifying and seeing many of these “difficult enough at the best of times” birds becomes almost impossible.

The walk along the grove of trees alongside the lake produced a good variety of phylloscopus warblers including Arctic, Two-barred Greenish, Pallas’s, Dusky and Radde’s plus a female Siberian Blue Robin, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Black-faced Bunting, a pair of Chinese Hill Warblers and a pair of nest-building Chinese Penduline Tits.  On our second circuit we paused at a gap in the trees to scan the area of reedbeds and scrub to the north.  After watching a pair of Eastern Marsh Harriers, a handful of Amur Falcons, displaying Richard’s Pipits, Siberian Stonechat, Hobby and Kestrel, the surprise of the day emerged, in the form of a Short-toed Eagle that appeared from nowhere and dropped into a field a few hundred metres away..  Short-toed Eagle is a pretty rare bird in northern China, although records from recent years suggest that it is probably a scarce passage migrant with multiple annual records in Spring and, particularly, Autumn.

With the visibility shockingly poor (due to the air pollution mist), our chances of seeing more large raptors were pretty low, so we decided to make a brief visit to Ma Chang to check the reservoir before heading back to Beijing.  Ma Chang was a bit of a disappointment, largely due to the heavy disturbance involving cars, motorised buggies, horses, even coaches, driving all over the area adjacent to the reservoir… We did see a few Common Terns, Night Herons, Black-headed Gulls, the local Black-winged Stilts and a few Asian Short-toed Larks but there was little else on offer, so we knocked it on the head and headed back.  On the journey back, Chris regaled us with tales of various leech encounters during his Pitta quest..  the one that took the biscuit had to be the case of the leech on the eyeball (thankfully for him, not his!)…  OMG.

A very good day out and it’s always a pleasure to go birding with people as knowledgeable as Paul and Chris – I learned a lot.  Thanks guys!

You can see a short video of Chris tracking the Bush Warbler here…  The Bush Warbler’s call is very difficult to make out on the video (an up-slurred raspy sound), so you can hear a much clearer one on Xeno-Canto.

Birding in China: Guest Posts

I am always one for a new trend… and in the world of birding blogs there has been a recent move towards ‘multi-author blogs’ to pool effort, keep content fresh and provide more regular posts (because, let’s face it, we can’t all go out birding every day!).  In that spirit, I thought it might be fun to pull together a few birders scattered across this vast country in which I currently reside to write some ‘guest posts’ for the Birding Beijing blog.  All of those I have approached have responded enthusiastically (phew) and later today sees the publication of the first guest post from John Holmes, based in Hong Kong.  Having read it already (the advantage of being the publisher), I know you will enjoy it!