The Appetiser

A walk around the Olympic Forest Park on Tuesday evening revealed that autumn passerine migration is beginning to get going…  First, I flushed a Richard’s Pipit from a path near the ‘underwater corridor’, then a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler flew across the path and dived into deep cover, showing the white tips to the outer tail feathers.  Just before dusk a snipe circled a couple of times before dropping like a stone into the edge of a reedbed.  I grabbed a few very poor images and I suspect it was a Pin-tailed Snipe or Swinhoe’s.  Its flight was subtly slower than Common Snipe, it lacked an obvious white trailing edge to the secondaries and the legs appeared to protrude relatively far beyond the tail.  Images below and opinions welcome.  Swinhoe’s and Pin-tailed Snipe are notoriously difficult to separate so best to go down in the book as a “Swintail”…!

"Swintail" Snipe, Olympic Forest Park
"Swintail" Snipe, Olympic Forest Park

There were also some dragonflies on the wing.  In addition to the usual Sympetrum kunckeli, these presumed Deielia phaon were patrolling the edge of the reedbed.

Deielia phaon (I think), Olympic Forest Park
Deielia phaon (I think), Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

The trickle of passerine migration certainly whets the appetite for what will be, I am sure, another brilliant autumn of migration here in north-eastern China.  I have just booked my flight to Dalian for late September, where we will have a group of birders covering the Laotieshan area for at least a couple of weeks this autumn.  After the fantastic Spring experience, I can’t wait to return to see if the autumn migration matches my expectations.

On the way back from the Olympic Park to the metro station, I enjoyed watching the local Beijingers using the public spaces built for the Olympics.  Great stuff!

Odonata

In the continuing sultry heat of Beijing in August it’s uncomfortable to spend much time in the field, even during the early morning or evening.  A sun hat and lots of water are essentials.  And so for my latest visit to the Olympic Forest Park, I packed a heavy 2-litre bottle of water with my camera gear and made my way to the Metro for the 40-minute journey to the south gate.  I was hoping to catch up with the breeding Yellow Bitterns and some more dragonflies.

The large reedbeds in the south-west of the park were now very tall and, in contrast to my last visit when the bitterns were constantly flying to and fro with food, it took me over an hour to catch sight of my first – a young bird – that made a short flight across one of the lakes.  My only other sightings were of two other young birds, leading me to suspect that the adults have already left the breeding grounds and are on their way south.

Other birds were few and far between.  The reedbeds that have, for the last couple of months, been full of the chattering of Oriental Reed Warblers, were eerily silent with just the odd sub-song from one or two of these birds and, as with the bitterns, noticeably less feeding activity.

In contrast to the birds, the dragonflies were seemingly more abundant than ever.  One particular species is very common at this site.  I think it is a Sympetrum sp, possibly Sympetrum kunckeli.  Photos of the male and female below.

Adult male Sympetrum kunckeli, Olympic Forest Park, Beijing
Adult male
Immature male (I think)

 

Immature male (I think!)
Female
Dragonfly hanky panky...

Wet Wet Wet

Apologies to those of you expecting a post about the 80s pop sensation led by Marti Pello (whatever happened to him?).

Anyway, yesterday afternoon, in the midst of some of the worst smog, I mean mist (you don’t get smog in Beijing, cough) since I have been in Beijing, I decided to spend a couple of hours at the Olympic Forest Park…  it was a decision I regretted almost as soon as I arrived on site..  Within about 15 minutes, and just as I had reached the more open area of the park, the skies darkened and the rumble of thunder began to reverberate all around.. The brief highlight, as I rounded the first lake, was this Kingfisher atop a pink lotus flower as it scanned for vulnerable fish below…

Common Kingfisher, Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

I rattled off a few images before the heavens opened..  and boy did they open.  Two hours later I was still sheltering under the overhang of a roof of a refreshments kiosk watching the floodwater rush by and Wishing I was Lucky.  As dusk approached there was no sign of any respite, so I made a run for the metro..  Needless to say, by the time I got to the station, I was soaked to the skin…!  At least the rain has cleared away much of the smog.. today is classified as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” rather than yesterday’s “Hazardous” by the US Embassy’s air quality Twitter feed (@BeijingAir)….

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.

Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

First thing this morning I made my first visit to the Olympic Forest Park in Beijing.  This relatively new park, as its name suggests, was created for the 2008 Olympic Games and has won awards for its design.  I was pleasantly surprised by how ‘bird-friendly’ it is.  There is some great habitat, including some large reedbeds, lakes, mature (ish) woodland and open areas, all of which are attracting birds.

Today, I explored the southern section prompted by a visiting birder, Claus Holzapfel, who had seen a Streaked Reed Warbler a few days ago.  I didn’t see any of these rare ‘acro‘ warblers but I chalked up an impressive list of species for a central Beijing location (see below).

The highlight for me was an enjoyable encounter with a confiding Yellow Bittern as it hunted in one of the lily-filled lakes.  It’s ungainly stance belied the effectiveness with which it stalked small fish and frogs.

Oriental Reed Warblers filled the air with their chattering and there were also a few Black-browed Reed Warblers competing to be heard and a few Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers skulking at the base of the reeds.  Indian and Eurasian Cuckoos were calling frequently and the song of the Black-naped Oriole was an occasional accompaniement.

In the more mature trees on the eastern side, a singing male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was a nice sight but I failed to find the Green-backed (Elisae’s) Flycatcher that Paul Holt had seen the previous day.

The Olympic Park is situated just north of the 4th ring road, north of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium and is served by metro stops as well as several bus routes, so it is easy to get to.  It opens at 6am and, this morning, there were relatively few people around and it was very easy to find quiet spots – not to be taken for granted in Beijing where most city parks are full of early morning exercisers for the first few hours of daylight.  For me, it’s the best birding site I’ve seen so far in Beijing city.  I’ll definitely be back!

Map of Beijing Olympic Forest Park
Yellow Bittern, Beijing Olympic Forest Park, 2 June 2011
Comical as it made its way across the lillies... would definitely qualify as a Monty Python 'silly walk'
Watching you watching me..
I enjoyed half an hour with this confiding bird today in the Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

Species List (in chronological order of first sighting):

Collared Dove (1)

Common Magpie (many)

Tree Sparrow (many)

Grey-capped Woodpecker (3)

Eastern Crowned Warbler (2)

Indian Cuckoo (4)

Chinese (Light-vented) Bulbul (7)

Oriental Reed Warbler (at least 30)

Eurasian Cuckoo (5)

Oriental Greenfinch (3)

Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler (3)

Night Heron (7)

Red-rumped Swallow (4)

Black-browed Reed Warbler (4)

Black Drongo (1)

Common Moorhen (6)

Common Swift (12)

Yellow Bittern (7)

Goldeneye (1) – a drake on the lake near the ‘underwater corridor’

Barn Swallow (3)

Little Egret (1) – flyover

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (1) – singing just north-east of Wali Lake

Marsh Tit (2)

Black-naped Oriole (3)

Dark-sided Flycatcher (1) – northeast of Wali Lake

Arctic Warbler (4)

Great Spotted Woodpecker (1)

Grey Heron (1)

Little Grebe (2)

Radde’s Warbler (2)

Azure-winged Magpie (6)

Spotted Dove (2)

Grey-headed Woodpecker (1)