Another First for Beijing!

When Jan-Erik Nilsen contacted me to say he had seen a first winter Glaucous Gull at Yeyahu last Saturday, I knew it was an excellent inland record.  What I didn’t know – before consulting Paul Holt – was that it was a first for Beijing.  Congratulations Jan-Erik!  This record represents the second new gull for Beijing this year, following my first winter Little Gull at the same site in September.

I did not expect the GG to still be there on Friday – the first day I could make it to Wild Duck Lake – but fortunately, after scanning the gulls and duck and just before I decided to walk away, the Gluacous Gull flew in and settled in the middle of the lake.  Fantastic.  A real brute of a gull sporting classic uniformly pale ground colour plumage and the typical pinkish bill with an obvious black tip.  Nice.  There can’t be many images of Glaucous Gulls with poplar trees and a smoking chimney stack in the background!  Yeyahu is never a great site for gulls but it does occasionally pull in the odd unlikely individual.  The most common gull by far is Black-headed but Common Gull, Mongolian Gull, Relict Gull, Brown-headed Gull, Heuglin’s Gull, Little Gull and now Glaucous Gull have all been recorded.

First winter Glaucous Gull, Yeyahu Lake, Beijing, 18 November 2011
First winter Glaucous Gull, Yeyahu Lake, Beijing, 18 November 2011

Another highlight was my first Crested Lark in China.  I found this bird along a track that I don’t usually inspect.  It’s a little further west than I usually walk and, subsequently, the site could possibly be in Hebei Province rather than Beijing Municipality.  A close look at Google Earth required..!  In any case, it’s now a quality bird in the Beijing area..  formerly quite common, its numbers have crashed in the last 20 years and it’s now a difficult bird to find.

Crested Lark, Wild Duck Lake, 18 November 2011

Coming third in my list of highlights (usually these would be much higher but there was stiff competition this week!) included two flocks of Baikal Teal totalling 73 birds, including some stunning drakes, and a roost of 3 Long-eared Owls.

Baikal Teal, Yeyahu, Beijing, 18 November 2011
Long-eared Owl, Yeyahu, 18 November 2011
Long-eared Owl, Yeyahu, 18 November 2011. LEOs' camouflage is very effective. If it wasn't for the orange eyes, they would be very difficult to pick up against the branches....

Full species list:

Common Pheasant (18)

Bean Goose (246)

Whooper Swan (12)

Mandarin (1)

Gadwall (72)

Falcated Duck (2)

Wigeon (4)

Mallard (18)

Chinese Spot-billed Duck (6)

Baikal Teal (67)

Goldeneye (3)

Smew (12)

Goosander (57)

Little Grebe (8)

Grey Heron (8)

Kestrel (2)

Peregrine (1)

Hen Harrier (2)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (2)

Common (Eastern) Buzzard (1)

Upland Buzzard (2)

Coot (2)

Common Crane (267)

Common Greenshank (1)

Common Gull (3) – two first winters and one second winter

Glaucous Gull (1) – a first winter, probably for its 7th day (first reported by Jan-Erik Nilson on Saturday 12 November

Mongolian Gull (2) – both first winters

Black-headed Gull (75)

Collared Dove (6)

Long-eared Owl (3) – roosting together at Yeyahu

Great Spotted Woodpecker (2)

Grey-headed Woodpecker (1)

Chinese Grey Shrike (2)

Azure-winged Magpie – 12

Common Magpie – lots

Carrion Crow (5)

Great Tit (3)

Chinese Penduline Tit (2) – both presumed first winters (very pale and washed out)

Asian Short-toed Lark (4)

Crested Lark (1) – along the track west of Ma Chang

Eurasian Skylark (8)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (40)

Tree Sparrow – lots

Siberian Accentor (1)

Pine Bunting (4)

Pallas’s Bunting (46)

Japanese Reed Bunting (1 possible) – not seen well enough to be sure.

Wild Duck Lake, 9 October 2011

I visited Wild Duck Lake on Sunday with Peter Cawley.  The weather was far from ideal and we endured thick fog, with visibility down to around 20-25 metres, for the first few hours.  The fog gradually dispersed from around 1000am and, by 3pm, it was a glorious day..  nevertheless, we definitely missed out at what felt like a very ‘birdy’ Ma Chang and, rather unnervingly, almost got lost in the ‘desert’ area… (thanks to the GPS on my phone, we found the right path).

Temp around 15 degrees C at 0600 with thick fog and no wind.  From 1000am a very light NE breeze.  Temp around 22 degrees C mid-afternoon.

Highlights: a single Short-toed Eagle, Pied, Eastern Marsh and Hen Harriers, 30 Common Buzzards, Goshawk, 2 Mongolian Larks and a Wren (only my second at Wild Duck Lake).

Long Eared Owl, Wild Duck Lake, 9 October 2011

Full species list:

Japanese Quail – 1

Common Pheasant – 6

Bean Goose – 3

Mandarin – 1

Gadwall – 1

Mallard – 26

Spot-billed Duck – 5

Eurasian Teal – 4

Little Grebe – 15

Great Crested Grebe – 7

Black-crowned Night Heron – 45

Grey Heron – 2

Purple Heron – 1

Short-toed Eagle – 1

Eastern Marsh Harrier – 1

Hen Harrier – 2

Pied Harrier – 1 adult male

Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1

Northern Goshawk – 1

Common Buzzard – 30 (including 28 migrating in one 10-minute spell late morning)

Common Moorhen – 1

Common Coot – 5

Northern Lapwing – 1

Common Snipe – 3

Green Sandpiper – 1

Oriental Turtle Dove – 2

Collared Dove – 8

Long-eared Owl – 1

Grey-headed Woodpecker – 1

Chinese Grey Shrike – 3 (2 heard only in the fog)

Azure-winged Magpie – 1

Common Magpie – 24

Daurian Jackdaw – 1 adult flew east

Carrion Crow – 8

Great Tit – 3

Marsh Tit – 1

Mongolian Lark – 2.  An early date and hopefully the precursor to a good winter for this species.

Eurasian Skylark – 8

Lark sp (possibly Greater Short-toed) – 4

Zitting Cisticola – 2

Chinese Hill Warbler – 3

Chinese Bulbul – 13

Black-browed Reed Warbler – 9

Oriental Reed Warbler – 1 probable chattering at Ma Chang in thick fog.

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler – 1

Dusky Warbler – 1

Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 60

White-eye sp – 1

Wren – 1.  A very dark individual.

Thrush sp – 1

Bluethroat – 1

Red-flanked Bluetail – 1

Daurian Redstart – 5

Siberian Stonechat – 1

Tree Sparrow – 80+

White Wagtail – 17 (ssps ocularis, leucopsis and baicalensis)

Buff-bellied Pipit – 5

Water Pipit – 1 probable

Chestnut-eared Bunting – 1

Little Bunting – 77

Yellow-throated Bunting – 5

Black-faced Bunting – 14

Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 7

Meanwhile, at Laotieshan, Paul Holt continues to see huge numbers of Amur Falcons (over 1,800 yesterday evening in a pre-roost gathering – the highest autumn count anywhere in China), good numbers of Greater Spotted Eagles (at least 7 and up to 17 yesterday) and Goshawk (64), over 250 Common (Eastern) Buzzards and has also added Japanese Reed Bunting to the species list.

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!