Northern Boobook

Northern Boobok, Beijing, 4 June 2013.  Taken using my Canon EOS 7D on ISO 6400 and handheld!
Northern Boobok, Beijing, 4 June 2013. Taken using my Canon EOS 7D and 400mm lens on ISO 6400 and handheld!

After a tip-off, Paul Holt, Alice Carfrae and I spent yesterday evening looking for an owl…  not just any owl but a Northern Boobook (formerly known as Brown Hawk Owl but now ‘split’ into a species in its own right).  We arrived on site at 6pm and, after a short walk, we soon heard and saw, spectacularly well, this lovely owl: the first time I have ever seen this uncommon species.  Unfortunately it was an overcast evening, meaning the light was poor for photography, but it was also very still, enabling us to hear it well.

Although we only saw one bird, it was clear that there were two birds present, probably a pair, with the other bird (a female?) calling at a slightly different pitch.

We were then told about a nearby breeding pair of Oriental Scops Owl and, sure enough, after a 5-minute walk, we were watching and listening to one of these small owls in the company of a few uncomfortably large, low flying bats.  Although Oriental Scops Owl is a migrant in good numbers through Beijing, we didn’t know it bred….

There is so little we know about the birds in the capital, let alone the rest of China….!

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)