Baer’s Pochards back in Beijing!

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.

2013-08-30 new tower hide at Yeyahu NR
The new viewing tower at Yeyahu NR. It offers an impressive vista over the entire reserve, and beyond, as well as providing a superb place from where to watch raptors.

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.

2013-10-12 Steppe Eagle juv
First calendar year STEPPE EAGLE, Ma Chang, 12 October 2013.

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.

COMMON REED BUNTING
COMMON REED BUNTING, Yeyahu NR, 12 October 2013.  It’s a bind to pick these out amongst all the PALLAS’S REED and LITTLE BUNTINGS..  sigh…

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!  

BAER'S POCHARDS, Yeyahu NR, Beijing, 12 October 2013
BAER’S POCHARDS, Yeyahu NR, Beijing, 12 October 2013
2013-10-12 Baer's Pochards2
Another image of the BAER’S POCHARDS from Yeyahu NR yesterday. Poor photos but the structure, colouration and underpart markings all fit with Baer’s.

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 Pheasant  Phasanius colchicus  – 6+

Bean Goose  Anser fabalis serrirostris  – 15

Ruddy Shelduck  Tadorna ferruginea  – one (plus a couple of possibly captive ones…)

Gadwall  Anas strepera  – 60+

Falcated Duck  Anas falcata – 17+

Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos  – 400+

Chinese Spotbill  Anas zonorhyncha  – 75+ 

Northern Pintail  Anas acuta  – two

Common Teal  Anas crecca  – two

Red-crested Pochard  Netta rufina  – 14 (both males & females ‘scoped)

Common Pochard  Aythya ferina  – eight

Baer’s Pochard  Aythya baeri  – a pair photographed [TT]

Ferruginous Duck  Aythya nyroca  – three

Smew  Mergellus albellus  – four brownheads

Little Grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis  – nine

Great Crested Grebe  Podiceps cristatus  – three

Eurasian Bittern  Botaurus stellaris  – one (in flight, giving ‘pao!’ call)

Chinese Pond Heron  Ardeola bacchus  – one

Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea  – six

Little Egret  Egretta garzetta  – three

Great Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo  – two

Common Kestrel  Falco tinnunculus  – one

Amur Falcon  Falco amurensis  – 12+ (excellent views of several 1st c-y birds)

Merlin  Falco columbarius  – two (adult male; unaged female)

Eurasian Hobby  Falco subbuteo  – one

Short-toed Eagle  Circaetus gallicus  – two

Eastern Marsh Harrier  Circus 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 Harrier  Circus cyaneus  – four 1st c-y

Eurasian Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus  – eight

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis – two

Common Buzzard  Buteo buteo japonicus  – 7+

Steppe Eagle  Aquila 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 Moorhen  Gallinula chloropus  – two

Common Coot  Fulica atra  – 16

Northern Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus  – 70

Pacific Golden Plover  Pluvialis fulva  – eight 1st c-y

Common Snipe  Gallinago gallinago  – one

Common Black-headed Gull  Larus ridibundus  – 15+

Oriental Turtle Dove  Streptopelia orientalis  – three

Eurasian Collared Dove  Streptopelia decaocto  – four

Great Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos major  – five

Chinese Grey Shrike  Lanius sphenocercus  – four (mostly showing very well…)

Azure-winged Magpie  Cyanopica cyanus  – two

Common Magpie  Pica pica  – 60+ (not counting birds en route!)

Daurian Jackdaw  Corvus dauuricus  – c390 (main event a flock of c325)

Rook  Corvus frugilegus  – one (up close, feeding in a field)

Eastern Great Tit  Parus minor  – three

Yellow-bellied Tit  Parus venustulus  – nine

Marsh Tit  Parus palustris

Chinese Penduline Tit  Remiz (pendulinus) consobrinus  – five (incl a juvenile sitting up nicely)

Long-tailed Tit  Aegithalos caudatus  – 5+ heard (presumably ssp vinaceus)

Mongolian Lark  Melanocorypha mongolica  – 23 (one flock taking off from harvested maize field,then flying around allowing nice views before dropping back down distantly)

Asian Short-toed Lark  Calandrella cheleensis  – two

Eurasian Skylark  Alauda arvensis  – 155+

Chinese Hill Warbler  Rhopophilus pekinensis  – three

Chinese Bulbul  Pycnonotus sinensis  – 13

Black-browed Reed Warbler  Acrocephalus bistrigiceps  – 17

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler  Phylloscopus proregulus  – five

Yellow-browed Warbler  Phylloscopus inornatus  – two

Vinous-throated Parrotbill  Paradoxornis webbianus  – 50+

Northern Wren  Troglodytes troglodytes  – one seen, didn’t call [BW]

White-cheeked Starling  Sturnus cineraceus  – c50

Eurasian Starling  Sturnus vulgaris  – four

Naumann’s Thrush  Turdus naumanni  – two

Northern Red-flanked Bluetail  Tarsiger cyanurus  – two

Daurian Redstart  Phoenicurus auroreus  – six

Eurasian Tree Sparrow  Passer montanus  – v

Siberian Accentor  Prunella montanella  – seven

White Wagtail  Motacilla alba  – five (two ocularis; three ‘?’)

Olive-backed Pipit  Anthus hodgsoni  – five

Buff-bellied Pipit  Anthus rubescens japonicus  – 70

Water Pipit  Anthus spinoletta blakistoni  – one

Brambling  Fringilla montifringilla  – 20

Oriental Greenfinch  Carduelis sinica  – 12

Eurasian Siskin  Carduelis spinus  – heard

Pine Bunting  Emberiza leucocephalos  – nine migr

Little Bunting  Emberiza pusilla  – 115+

Yellow-throated Bunting  Emberiza elegans  – five

Black-faced Bunting  Emberiza spodocephala  – eight

Pallas’s Reed Bunting  Emberiza pallasi  – 40+

Common Reed Bunting  Emberiza schoeniclus  – 11 (several seen well & heard calling)

 

Mammals:

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica  – one [JH]

 

Owl eats Owl

On Saturday I accompanied visiting Swedish birder, Anders Magnusson, to Wild Duck Lake (Ma Chang/Yeyahu Nature Reserve) for a day’s birding. Thankfully the forecast strong winds were absent as we were dropped off at Ma Chang at 0730 in -12 degrees C. My ‘michelin man’ outfit including ‘man tights’ (and they are very manly, honest), thermal underwear, 4 layers of t-shirts and fleece plus a long, down-filled coat, two pairs of gloves, woolly hat and thermal snow boots meant I was snug as a bug with only my nose really feeling the cold.

A few Common Cranes were a good start, including one that seemed to completely retract its legs when flying (either that or it had no legs at all – unlikely given that it had obviously been able to take off). Soon we were enjoying a ringtail Hen Harrier and over 200 Bean Geese. A scan of the reservoir revealed a small patch of open water near the far bank, on which swam 20-30 more Bean Geese and around 10 Goosander. Asian Short-toed Larks and Lapland Buntings occasionally flew overhead and, as we began the walk towards Yeyahu a Peregrine engaged in a (unsuccessful) hunt for a feral pigeon. Shortly afterwards, an immature White-tailed Eagle appeared from the west and spooked a flock of around 250 Ruddy Shelducks that were standing on the far side of the ice. Nice.

We worked our way across the open area, enjoying 2 Upland Buzzards (one of which flew alongside a Hen Harrier and looked absolutely huge in comparison) and Pallas’s Reed Buntings seemed to be in every shrub. We flushed a few Common Skylarks as they fed on the ground and, as we approached Yeyahu, 2 male Hen Harriers (one adult and one sub-adult) quartered the reeds. Here we also heard and saw briefly the first of two Chinese Hill Warblers. After a welcome coffee stop (which tasted soooo good) we pushed on towards the lake and, in an area of only a few square metres, we flushed 16 Japanese Quail which scattered in different directions (clearly a deliberate strategy to confuse predators). The reedbed held good numbers of Pallas’s Reed Buntings and, after a bit of work, we managed to identify a single ‘tik’-ing Rustic Bunting in amongst them and then, after a bit of persistence, were treated to good but brief views of the second Chinese Hill Warbler after we heard it calling several times. A fly-by Saker was a bonus.

By now it was 11am and, as is usual at this site, suddenly the wind got up, making the temperature feel another 5-10 degrees colder (wind chill was probably around -20 to -25). At the lake, the brief search for Chinese Penduline Tit proved fruitless, probably due to the fresh wind, but we did see one of the eastern races of Common Reed Bunting (with distinctly pale mantle stripes compared with the nominate race).  After scrutinising it for a while (ruling out Japanese Reed Bunting) we headed north to the lookout tower, choosing the more sheltered side of the trees. Here we discovered a fresh eagle owl kill – of another owl (probably a Short-eared Owl but comments welcome on the feathers below). There were owl feathers covering an area of a couple of square metres with a huge pellet alongside. The site was within 100 metres of where we saw an Eagle Owl in December, so this is probably evidence of the same bird wintering here.

A bit further along Anders spotted a Siberian Accentor (a new bird for him) and, on close examination, there proved to be 2 birds foraging in the lee of the bank. Nice. Before we entered the open area towards the tower we flushed a Grey-headed Woodpecker which flew a long way and out of sight and stumbled across a small flock of Meadow Buntings which showed very well for a few minutes before disappearing over the bank. The walk to the tower produced another 4 Japanese Quails. A scan of the open area from the tower did not produce the hoped for Great Bustard (one was reported two weeks ago) and, given the cold wind, we did not stay up there very long – just long enough to take a couple of images of the ice fishermen. Clearly they are now more confident about the ice thickness given they are driving their vehicles onto the lake…

The walk back to the entrance to the reserve was uneventful and we were met by our driver who took us to the bus station for the journey back to Beijing. A thoroughly enjoyable day out!

Hen Harrier at Yeyahu, 22 January 2011
The scene of the Eagle Owl kill
Eagle Owl pellet
One of the victim's (primary?) feathers - Short-eared Owl?
Ice fishing at Yeyahu
Ice fishing - a cold and lonely pursuit!