Summer lovin’

With summer upon us, Beijing is now hot and humid.  As well as the heat, July and August are also the months that see the highest rainfall in the capital, mostly from the frequent spectacular thunderstorms.  Air conditioning units are humming all over the city and one can sense the pace of life slowing, just a little, as its people cope with the energy-sapping heat.   It is uncomfortable to be in the field for any length of time now and this, coupled with the relative quiet birding around the capital at this time of year, has meant that I have not been out as much as normal.

On Sunday, I decided to change that by checking out Yeyahu to see how the breeding birds were doing and to look for butterflies and dragonflies.  It was a murky day but as the bus from Beijing made its way over the mountains near Badaling Great Wall, it began to clear a little..  Liyan, my trusty driver, met me at Yanqing and, 15 minutes later, I was at Yeyahu Nature Reserve.  My plan was to spend the afternoon and evening on site and catch the last bus back to Beijing..  but that was immediately scuppered when I discovered that the last bus back was at the very early time of 1830.  Instead I decided to catch the last train at 2130, so I arranged for Liyan to pick me up at 8.30pm, giving me 5 hours on site.

There was a constant threat of thunderstorms – distant rumbles were a feature of the day – but thankfully I managed to avoid the main storms that seemed to keep to the mountains.  And, despite the heat and humidity, I enjoyed the walk around the reserve.  As usual, there were a lot of Beijing’s city-dwellers enjoying the boardwalk on the lake but, true to form, none of them took the trails around the wider reserve, leaving me to enjoy the greater part of the reserve on my own.  Activity was generally slow, as expected, but it was very cool to see evidence of breeding Amur Falcons and Eastern Marsh Harriers.  I saw two adult male Amurs taking food to a small copse to the north of the reserve and there were two recently-fledged juvenile Eastern Marsh Harriers wheeling around waiting for the parents to bring food.  I watched two food passes by the adult male harrier; both juveniles became very excited, calling constantly as the male approached, before the male rose, waited for the juveniles to take up position below and then dropped the catch.  The first, possibly a small rodent, was expertly caught in mid-air by one of the young birds but the second, what looked like a young Moorhen, was missed and fell into the reedbed, whereby both juveniles swooped in, squabbling over their evening meal.  Fun to watch.  Chinese Penduline Tits were feeding young in their spectacular nest and young Great Crested and Little Grebes were begging from their parents on the lake.  A pair of Common Terns (of the subspecies longipennis) patrolled the ponds and they were joined briefly by a Whiskered Tern and then a White-winged Tern, before the latter disappeared off to the west towards the reservoir.

The reedbeds were noticeably quieter than in June with just a handful of Oriental Reed Warblers making half-hearted efforts at singing; the constant to-ing and fro-ing of the adults carrying food was clearly the priority now.  At least 4 pairs of Purple Herons appeared to be feeding young in the large reedbed to the west and I encountered a family party of Chinese Hill Warblers to the north.  Several pairs of Richard’s Pipits were feeding young in the grassland to the north of the lake and a few Zitting Cisticolas called frequently.  A pair of Black Drongos chirped and made forays to catch flying insects from their base in a willow hedgerow and both Night and Chinese Pond Herons busied themselves carrying food back and forth.

There were good numbers of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies on the wing.  I had deliberately taken my macro lens to try to photograph some of them but, being a complete novice with these insects, I cannot identify any of them!  There isn’t a field guide for this part of the world, so putting a name to these beasts isn’t easy.  There is a good website – Asia Dragonfly – with a comprehensive library of photographs.  But it’s still very difficult!

Here are a few photos of the local specialties…  any help with identification much appreciated…

Photo 1: possibly Orthetrum albistylum specisum
Photo 2: same as above
Photo 3: a beautiful dragonfly... Possibly Crocothemis servilia?
Photo 4: probably a Sympetrum sp?
Photo 5: Cercion plagiosum
Photo 6: probably a female Cercion plagiosum?
Photo 7: some sort of chaser.. maybe Deilia phaon?
Photo 8: Antlion sp
Photo 9: beetle sp. I couldn't resist taking a photo of this impressive little bug. You can even see my reflection is his shiny body armour!

I hung around until dusk, hoping for a calling crake or watercock but no luck…  probably a bit late in the season for them to be calling frequently.  My last birds of the day were a calling Eurasian Cuckoo and a Grey-headed Woodpecker that I flushed from the path.  As the mosquitos began to bite, I made my way to the entrance of the reserve to rendez-vous with Liyan.  The last train was delayed so I did not get back to Beijing until after midnight but for only 7 Yuan (70 pence), I couldn’t really complain too much about the journey!

Cinnamon Bittern

I spent Monday evening at the Olympic Forest Park in Beijing, primarily to look for dragonflies but also on the off-chance that there could be an interesting crake or rail calling at dusk.  The park officially allows last entry at 8pm and everyone is required to be out by 9pm.  With sunset around 7.45pm, this offers an opportunity to check for crespuscular activity.  Unfortunately there were no crakes or rails heard (apart from the local Moorhens) but, whilst photographing a local dragonfly, I caught sight of a bittern flying from a large reedbed.  It was much richer and darker coloured than the resident Yellow Bitterns, with uniform rich brown upperparts.  As it dived into the reeds nearby, I realised it could only be one species – a Cinnamon Bittern.  A new bird for me and, I believe, a pretty scarce species in Beijing.  Unfortunately, as I had my macro lens on my camera, I couldn’t obtain any photos and, despite waiting in the same area until dusk, I did not see it again.

Anyway, I managed a few images of one the common dragonflies… I have no idea what species this is, so if anyone knows, please comment on here.  Also, I saw a ladybird sp that looked suspiciously like a Harlequin Ladybird.  Again, I have no idea what species are present in the Beijing area, so any help much appreciated..!

On the way out of the park, I rescued a toad that had got itself stuck trying to cross a newly painted cycle lane.  I was alerted to the toad’s plight by a young boy who could see it struggling but was afraid to cross the wet paint.  Fortunately, my longer reach allowed me to free it without stepping onto the horrible thick red paint and it soon walked off into the long grass, seemingly no worse for wear.

Dragonfly sp, Olympic Forest Park, Beijing
Ladybird sp, Olympic Forest Park, Beijing
Yellow Bittern at dusk. I saw at least 8 of these charismatic birds this evening.