Wild Duck Lake, 17 December 2011

After a few busy work weeks, it was cool (in -11 temperatures, coolness is assured) to get out to Wild Duck Lake on Saturday to see what the cold weather had brought in since my previous visit in late November.  And it was even cooler to be in the company of Paul Holt, one of the world’s finest birders.. (I am constantly astounded by Paul’s super-human hearing – there are calls that he hears, geolocates and identifies before I have even registered a sound…  and I would have certainly missed several species had he not been there).

On this occasion I hired a car for the weekend and so, early Saturday morning,  I picked up Paul from near his home in south-east Beijing and we headed north-west to Wild Duck Lake.  The traffic was unusually light so we arrived on site around 0715, just as the sun rose.  Paul’s trusty thermometer told us that it was -11 degrees C but with a biting westerly wind, it felt colder.  I was relieved that Paul had brought along his super-sized thermos for coffee and noodles..

We checked thoroughly the area at Ma Chang, including the ‘island’ to the north, where we enjoyed a close encounter with a very confiding Chinese Grey Shrike.  As we were in the car the shrike seemed oblivious to our presence, and it posed beautifully for Paul to grab the images below with my camera out of the passenger window…  Superb shots, Paul!

Chinese Grey Shrike, Ma Chang, 17 December 2011 (image by Paul Holt)
Chinese Grey Shrike, Ma Chang, 17 December 2011 (Paul Holt)

At the island, the angle made viewing difficult so we decided to venture onto the ice to gain a better position from which to check the swans and duck.  I am always nervous about walking on ice and, with various creaks and groans coming from underneath our feet, my experience on Saturday did nothing to improve my confidence..!  We could see the ice was at least a foot thick but, even so, I didn’t feel comfortable..  that was until we later saw a fisherman WITH HIS CAR on the ice…  It was then that I had to admit that I was a wimp… :)

After checking the wildfowl and finding a single White-fronted in the Bean Goose flock, we enjoyed a very welcome pot noodle.  To me, this was one of the most delicious meals imaginable after a few hours out in freezing temperatures..  I temporarily took off my gloves to eat and, despite holding a lovely warm tub of noodles, my hands were hurting with the cold..  and I knew it was still well below freezing when the condensation from the steam on the lid of my pot noodle froze solid..!  Wild Duck Lake is quite a bit higher than Beijing – at about 580 metres (Beijing is only around 80 metres above sea-level) – so it was noticeably colder than in the city centre.

We drove to Yeyahu, entering via the ‘secret passageway’, and covered the area down to ‘eagle field’.  No sign of any Black Bitterns this time or anything else outrageous..  but we did see a few wintering Chinese Penduline Tits, more Pallas’s Reed Buntings (common in winter), a Common Reed Bunting (anything but common at Wild Duck Lake), a couple of Hen Harriers, an Upland Buzzard and a very large and active flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills..  these birds have bags of character and roam the reedbeds in tight flocks, chattering away as they go.

After marvelling at the constitution of the local ice fishermen on the reservoir, we headed back to the car for the journey back to Beijing, enjoying a pre-roost movement of well over 100 Common Magpies..

Thanks to Paul for his company on a ‘bracing’ day out…

Ice Fishing at Wild Duck Lake: digging the hole
Ice Fishing at Wild Duck Lake.. a popular activity! Note the car....
No gloves! These guys are hardy souls...

Full species list:

Common Pheasant – 20
Bean Goose – 610 roosting and preening on the ice
Greater White-fronted Goose – at least one (adult) with the Bean Geese flock
Whooper Swan – 27
Ruddy Shelduck – 2 in flight
Mallard – 150
Baikal Teal – 6 in flight with Mallard flock
Eurasian Kestrel – 2
Hen Harrier – 4 (3 ringtails and one sub-adult male)
Goshawk – 1 smart adult male hunting at Ma Chang
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 1
Upland Buzzard – 2 (1 juvenile and one older bird)
Common Crane – 120
Oriental Turtle Dove – 4
Collared Dove – 13
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1 heard
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 1
Chinese Grey Shrike – 4 (including one very confiding individual at Ma Chang)
Common Magpie – 200+.  Not many seen during the day but an impressive late afternoon pre-roost movement of at least 100 birds
Great Tit – 9
Chinese Penduline Tit – 4 (3 at Yeyahu and one heard at Ma Chang)
Asian Short-toed Lark – 40 in one flock
Eurasian Skylark – 35 (incl a flock of 25 at Yeyahu)
Chinese Hill Babbler – 3
Chinese/Light-vented Bulbul – 8
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 130 at Yeyahu
White-cheeked Starling – 12
Dusky/Naumann’s Thrush – 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – lots
Water Pipit – 1 heard at Ma Chang
Pine Bunting – 8, all flyovers
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – at least 95.  Common.
Common Reed Bunting – 1 in the reedbed at Yeyahu with Great Tits.

Ice fishing

A few images from my most recent visit to Ma Chang/Yeyahu (Wild Duck Lake) just before Christmas.  The reservoir is well and truly frozen over now and the locals are taking advantage to engage in a spot of ice-fishing.

Ice fishing at Ma Chang/Yayahu with the spectacular mountain backdrop
Ice fishing

Brian Jones recalled an incident last year when he saw a White-tailed Eagle catch a Ruddy Shelduck on the same reservoir, only to see one of the locals race onto the ice and steal the prey before the eagle could take off with its quarry. Not sure what Ruddy Shelducks taste like but that eagle must have been seriously peeved!

Here are a couple more images of the juvenile Upland Buzzard that proved so confiding. I am hoping to get out there again in the next couple of weeks – will be interesting to see if it is still around.

Juvenile Upland Buzzard, Yeyahu, 18 December 2010
Juvenile Upland Buzzard, Yeyahu, 18 December 2010
Upland Buzzard, Yeyahu, 18 December 2010. Note the white flashes on the upperwing.

and one of the Japanese Quails.. trying to capture on film one of these birds as it darts away low and fast is a skill I have yet to master..!

Typical view of a Japanese Quail...