Merry Christmas from Birding Beijing!

Japanese Waxwing, Summer Palace, Beijing

Just a short post to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a bird-filled 2012.

Here is a photo of a Japanese Waxwing taken during last winter’s ‘invasion’ of Beijing by these wonderful birds.  This image is one of my favourites.

Libby and I are going to Palawan in the Philippines for a few days (it’ll be nice to take a break from the Beijing winter), so look out for a post about that in early January!

In the meantime, if you want to follow Santa’s progress, you can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSanta for live updates.  I hope you’ve all been good… ho ho ho!

Jingshan Park

Just north of the Forbidden City lies a very popular park with an artificial hill (sometimes known as Coal Hill). The hill was constructed in the Ming Dynasty entirely from soil excavated in forming the moats of the Imperial Palace and nearby canals. Why was it built? According to the dictates of Feng Shui, it is favourable to site a residence to the south of a nearby hill (and it is also practical, gaining protection from chilly northern winds). The imperial palaces in the other capitals of previous dynasties were situated to the south of a hill. When the capital was moved to Beijing, no such hill existed north of the Forbidden City, so one was constructed. Typical China!

The hill is especially impressive when one considers that all of this material was moved only by manual labour and animal power. Apparently, in 1644, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty hanged himself here…

Anyway, on that cheery note, about the birds. Earlier this week I received a tip-off that there was a ‘very large’ flock of Waxwings present. So on Friday morning I spent an hour there. As usual in any Chinese public park, there were lots of people – shouting, singing, dancing, exercising, doing Tai Chi, running backwards, playing musical instruments and playing “keepy-uppy” with a sort of large shuttlecock. After wandering around the perimeter I stumbled across the Waxwing flock feeding on junipers and regularly going down to drink from a leaky hosepipe. Given the hosepipes were spraying water everywhere, there was, unusually, a small area without people. I risked a drenching to get a closer look and it soon became apparent that there were at least 50 Waxwings in the group, including some Japanese. Twice a Sparrowhawk wreaked havoc by appearing out of nowhere in its attempts to catch one (unsuccessfully) and each time this happened, the whole flock took to the air, where it became apparent that my estimate was most definitely an underestimate! In the air, I guessed at around 250 birds. Soon they returned and I enjoyed good views as these very vocal birds began to feed again.

The water also attracted other birds in the park including a nice Dusky Thrush, several Naumann’s Thrushes and a Red-throated Thrush as well as Oriental Greenfinches and a couple of Large-billed Crows. A pleasant, if slightly wet, hour…

I quite like this 'arty' image of waxwings in formation...

Two Bohemian Waxwings in 'bomber formation'

Japanese Waxwing, Jingshan Park, 8 April 2011

One of the charismatic and curious Large-billed Crows in Jingshan Park

Going Japanese

After a tip-off from Jesper about some Japanese Waxwings in the Summer Palace, I spent a couple of hours there on Saturday afternoon.  Eventually, after dodging the crowds to get to the north-west corner of the park, I discovered a mixed flock of Waxwings in a quiet corner.  Unusually, Japanese outnumbered Bohemian by about 4 to 1.  They were very loyal to a couple of ‘leylandii’-type trees, to which they frequently flew down to feed before flying up to some tall poplars to preen, rest and eat a little of the snow that had fallen overnight.

Despite the very overcast conditions, I was able to capture a few pleasing images.

Japanese Waxwings, Summer Palace, Beijing, 26 February 2011. Note the pale belly, bright pink tip to the tail and fiery-orange undertail coverts.
The black on the back of the crest can be seen well on the bottom left bird.

Japanese Waxwing take-off


Japanese Waxwing: close up of the wing and tail patterns

Waxwings part deux

An early morning return to Ritan Park to check out the waxwings proved worthwhile with the sighting of a single Japanese Waxwing among at least 35 Bohemians. Unfortunately, my camera lens is temporarily out of order due to losing the screws on the main body of the lens (apparently a reasonably common occurrence with Canon lenses) so, despite the perfect light and them showing typically very well, I wasn’t able to take any photos… It made a nice change to just enjoy them (even so, the replacement screws cannot arrive soon enough!!).

Japanese Waxwings

After a tip-off from Brian Jones and Jesper Hornskov, I spent two hours at the Botanical Gardens early this morning. My target was Japanese Waxwing, a small flock of which had been seen cohorting with a similar number of Bohemian Waxwings. On arrival at 0730 I could see and hear a flock of Waxwings just a few metres from the entrance gate. As I approached I could see at least 10 Chinese photographers lined up waiting for the birds to fly down from their lofty perch to feed on the ornamental berry bushes. There is a fast-growing middle class in China and they have money, lots of it. A few of them have taken up bird photography (it is more common to see a photographer than a birder) and, consequently, there are some serious lenses around. However, as with the cars (20,000 new ones on the streets of Beijing every week), most of the ‘drivers’ are new and have yet to do their apprenticeship…

So, as soon as a Waxwing dropped into one of the berry bushes, they all strode forward competing with each other to get the best shot and, without exception, flushed the birds back up to their treetop perch…! After a few attempts at feeding, the Waxwings clearly got the message and flew off to another part of the gardens. I decided to have a walk around and look for thrushes and it wasn’t long before I came across a hosepipe that had been set down to water some newly planted trees. Given the freezing overnight temperatures, this was the only running water around, and there were good numbers of birds coming down to drink.. Bramblings, Chinese Bulbuls, White-cheeked Starlings, Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes, the odd Red- and Black-throated Thrush plus, to my delight, the Waxwings. I sat quietly for about half an hour and enjoyed excellent views before the troupe of Chinese photographers discovered the spot and, with the subtlety of a Sumo wrestler doing a pirouette, scared everything in sight! With the light deteriorating, I called it a day and was back in the flat and working by 1030.

Several of the thrushes looked like intergrades between Dusky and Naumann’s – see the last photo below for a good example.

The biggest Chinese twitch I have seen
Japanese Waxwing, one of at least 8 seen this morning
Japanese Waxwing (with Bramblings) - a very striking bird
White-cheeked Starlings
Naumann's Thrush
Naumann's Thrush
Dusky Thrush
Dusky/Naumann's intergrade - note the mixture of red and black markings on the underside