Dalian – Day Three

Day Three at Dalian was the day that Laotieshan began to deliver in style.  In one 5-minute period between 0810 and 0815 we saw a White-throated Needletail, a Japanese Waxwing and a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker all fly in off the sea and head inland… followed very closely by a Merlin!  Wow..

The day began at 0530 at the lighthouse and, as on the first full day, we began by birding the track that runs north-east below the lighthouse.  On the entrance track we found a Rufous-tailed Robin and, almost immediately afterwards, flushed a Grey Nightjar.  Then, just before we began to walk north-east we disturbed a thrush from the verge and, after it flew a short distance, we could see it was a superb Grey-backed Thrush.  Not a bad start!

The track below the lighthouse was in shade and it was relatively quiet with just a Siberian Blue Robin, a couple of Asian Brown Flycatchers, an Ashy Minivet and a few Meadow and Tristram’s Buntings.  The sun hits this area between 0730 and 0800 so we discussed whether, on balance, it was probably better to cover another area first thing and then return here later in the morning.  After our experience in the hours that followed, we will almost certainly heed this thought when we return to Laotieshan from our northern wader sojourn on Saturday.

The reason is that we discovered a fantastic clearing on the ridge from where to watch visible migration and, between 0830 and 1030, we saw an additional 2 White-throated Needletails (off the sea and past me at head height!) and 3 House Martins (scarce in northern China), one of which was definitely a Northern House Martin and the other two not identified as either Northern or Asian.  The supporting cast included 47 Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swifts, 18 Amur Falcons, 700+ Barn Swallows, 70+ Red-rumped Swallows, 15 Sand Martins, a single Merlin, 8 Hobbies, 3 Eurasian Sparrowhawks, a single Chestnut Bunting, 6 White-eyes (not identified to species) and 3 Chinese Pond Herons.  On the slope we found two more White-throated Rock Thrushes (in a different location to yesterday) and on the way down I flushed an Oriental Scops Owl which perched briefly before flying off into dense cover.

It was with a heavy heart that we left Laotieshan at 1100 to travel to Dalian to meet up with Tom Beeke to cover the Jinshitan Fish Ponds in the afternoon ahead of our big wader day on Saturday (at Pikou).  After meeting up with Tom, the Fish Ponds produced a stunning Sharp-tailed Sandpiper which Tom had found previously as well as 2 distant Chinese Egrets, 28 Pacific Golden Plover in stunning summer plumage, a large and close-knit flock of 65 large white-headed gulls seemingly migrating west (probably Vega but I need to check the images) as well as 3 Oriental Honey Buzzards, Chinese Penduline Tits, Oriental Reed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola etc etc..

After fantastic home-made pizza with Tom and his family, we arrived at our Jinshitan hotel at about 8.30pm and I’m writing this before I hit my bed and try to get as much sleep as possible before our 0430 start tomorrow, so apologies if this reads a little awkwardly!

White-throated Needletail, Laotieshan, 13 May 2011. Needletails are powerful flyers with a very different flying action to that of Fork-tailed Swifts
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Jinshitan, 13 May 2011. A very smart wader.
Oriental Scops Owl, Laotieshan, 13 May 2011

Full species list (in chronological order):

Laotieshan (0530-1100)

Amur Falcon (18)

Brown Shrike (14)

Great Tit (4)

Rufous-tailed Robin (1)

Grey Nightjar (1)

Grey Wagtail (3)

Grey-backed Thrush (1)

Chinese Bulbul (5)

Pallas’s Warbler (5)

Taiga Flycatcher (2)

Yellow-browed Warbler (12)

Oriental Greenfinch (6)

Richard’s Pipit (5)

Olive-backed Pipit (18) – most very early morning

Dusky Warbler (4)

Fork-tailed Swift (55)

Ashy Minivet (3)

Siberian Stonechat (2)

Tristram’s Bunting (2)

Barn Swallow (coming in off the sea at the rate of 350+ per hour)

Red-rumped Swallow (in off the sea at a rate of c35 per hour)

Asian Brown Flycatcher (2)

Radde’s Warbler (9)

Siberian Blue Robin (3)

Black-tailed Gull (150+ offshore)

Heuglin’s Gull ssp taimyrensis (1)

Yellow Wagtail (1)

Chinese Pond Heron (3)

Meadow Bunting (5)

Siberian Rubythroat (1)

Hobby (8)

White-throated Rock Thrush (2)

Common Pheasant (1)

White-throated Needletail (3) – in off sea (1 at 0810 and 2 at 1030)

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (1) – in off sea and continued north

Japanese Waxwing (1) – in off sea and continued north

Merlin (1)

Chestnut Bunting (1)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (3)

Chinese Hill Warbler (2)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (1)

Sand Martin (15)

Northern House Martin (1)

House Martin sp (either Asian or Northern)  (2)

White-eye sp (6)

Oriental Scops Owl (1)

Black Drongo (2) – at the point, feeding actively and almost certainly fresh in.

Jinshitan Fish Ponds (1530-1900)

Chinese Spot-billed Duck (4)

Chinese Egret (2)

Hobby (2)

White Wagtail (2)

Whimbrel (2)

Siberian Stonechat (3)

Yellow Wagtail (3) including one of the subspecies taivana)

Sand Martin (5)

Zitting Cisticola (1)

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (1)

Common Sandpiper (1)

Greenshank (12)

Black-winged Stilt (2)

Pacific Golden Plover (28)

Marsh Sandpiper (1)

Peregrine (1)

Eastern Marsh Harrier (2)

Chinese Penduline Tit (3)

Large white-headed gull sp (65) – all in one flock at 1635 moving west

Gadwall (2)

Black-browed Reed Warbler (1)

Amur Falcon (2)

Oriental Reed Warbler (1)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (3)

Magpie (5)

Fork-tailed Swift (8)

Grey Heron (2)

Barn Swallow (34)

Little Ringed Plover (2)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (12)

Grey Wagtail (1)

Kestrel (1)

Dalian

A short trip to Dalian over the Spring Festival holiday was simply brilliant. I nipped over with Spike Millington and met up with Dalian-based Canadian, Tom Beeke. Tom is a top man – he met us at the airport, arranged our hotel and took us to all the best spots in the area. His enthusiasm and knowledge of the local birds made for a thoroughly enjoyable trip. Highlights included finding a Pallas’s Gull (Great Black-headed Gull) in exactly the same spot where one was found last winter, 3 wing-tagged Mongolian Gulls, good numbers of both Pallas’s and Long-tailed Rosefinch, 9 Oriental White Storks, 4 Varied Tits (stunners) and an unusual winter record of Yellow-browed Bunting.

The trip started at Jinzhou dump for gulls. There is a small landfill site here and, although on arrival the gull numbers were quite low, they steadily built throughout the day. The vast majority were Mongolian Gulls (Larus mongolicus) with c230 individuals. Also present were Vega Gulls, Heuglin’s Gull (tamyrensis?), a few Common and Black-headed Gulls plus at least one Slaty-backed (a first winter) and a probable first winter Glaucous-winged Gull. Other species on the estuary included Mallard, Spot-billed Duck, White-tailed Eagle (at least 5 individuals) and 9 Oriental White Storks. However, the highlight was finding an adult Pallas’s (Great Black-headed Gull) that flew into the estuary in the mid-afternoon. A brilliant and unmistakable bird.

Andreas Buchheim had asked me to look out for wing-tagged mongolicus and it wasn’t long before I found three – “AB56″, “AF50″ and “AF63″. The ringing data shows that two were ringed at a colony in Lake Baikal (almost 2,000km away) and the third was ringed at Khokh Nuur in Mongolia (almost 1,300km from Dalian). It’s always great to see ringed or tagged birds and find out a bit about their history. Tom will now look out for more this winter.

On the second day we decided to visit the southernmost point of the peninsula at Laotieshan (about an hour and a half from Dalian). Tom had never visited in winter, so it was a bit of an unknown quantity. We might see lots of birds or nothing at all. On the way we jammed in on a flock of Bohemian Waxwings at Lushun – Tom’s first record in the Dalian area. On arrival at Laotieshan, the habitat around the point looked brilliant for migration and Tom recalled his ‘big day’ here in October last year – thousands of raptors and huge numbers of passerines passing through with Tom the only birder! In mid-winter, as expected, it was a bit quieter but, nevertheless, we did see some good birds. A nice male Long-tailed Rosefinch was a good start and a Chinese Hill Warbler checked us out while Tom lured it in with a remarkable imitation of its call. A roving tit flock in a small wood produced Tom’s second record of Yellow-bellied Tit among the Coal and Great Tits and Siberian Accentors and Yellow-throated Buntings appeared at regular intervals. A few Naumann’s Thrushes added a splash of colour and a single Hawfinch was the first of 27 we were to see that day (including a single flock of 26). After a lunch of delicious dumplings, the afternoon started brilliantly when a trail we took just north of the peninsula produced 4 Pallas’s Rosefinches – a key target bird – and a few metres further along we enjoyed a nice male Yellow-browed Bunting – an unusual winter record. A Peregrine and a Kestrel provided the raptor interest and we encountered more Long-tailed Rosefinches, Siberian Accentors, Meadow and Yellow-throated Buntings.

Our final day was spent on Tom’s local patch at Jinshitan and we visited several sites including a reservoir, the country park, the small fishing harbour and, best of all, the golf club. The first site of the day – the reservoir – produced both Pallas’s and Long-tailed Rosefinches, a brief Goshawk, Yellow-throated, Pallas’s Reed, Meadow and Rustic Buntings plus Coal Tit, Siberian Accentor, Japanese Quail and a beautiful male Hen Harrier. The country park and the fishing harbour were both quiet but on the way to lunch we enjoyed a very cooperative Rough-legged Buzzard that we originally thought might be an Upland due to the large whitish patch on the upperwing. Post-lunch we visited the golf course and it was here, in a lovely little wooded valley, that we encountered another target bird – Varied Tit. These birds are stunners and we enjoyed very good and prolonged views of 2 of these little gems in a mixed tit flock. Wow! A Treecreeper struggled to gain our attention, even though it’s a difficult bird to see in the Beijing area, and the supporting cast here included Chinese Hill Warblers, Pallas’s and Long-tailed Rosefinches and more Siberian Accentors. Two more Varied Tits were seen briefly alongside the road (definitely different birds due to their blotchy plumage) and a walk around the more open parts of the course produced more Long-tailed Rosefinches, several of which posed nicely for photographs before we reluctantly headed off to the airport for the flight home.

Big thanks to Tom for making all the arrangements and accompanying us on a brilliant trip.

Already making plans to revisit in migration season – the peninsula at Laotieshan looks simply awesome for migrants.

Long-tailed Rosefinch (male), Jinshitan, Dalian
Long-tailed Rosefinch (female), Jinshitan, Dalian
Varied Tit, Jinshitan Golf Course, Dalian
Varied Tit, Jinshitan Golf Course, Jinshitan, Dalian - one of 4 seen at this site.
Oriental White Stork with prey, being pursued by gulls, Jinzhou dump, Dalian
Chinese Hill Warbler, Laotieshan
Siberian Accentor, Jinshitan, Dalian
Rubbish record shot of the Pallas's Gull
Birding at Jinzhou dump (oh, the glamour...)
Hmmm.....