Great Expectations

Spike and I have just paid another visit to Wild Duck Lake. The previous two days had been very warm (top temperatures in Beijing of over 20 degrees Celsius) and with very little wind. Lack of wind is always a good thing at Wild Duck Lake but it pays to visit on the first windless day after a period of windy weather as the pollution can accumulate quickly. Unfortunately, Thursday morning was the third consecutive day of light winds and, as a result, the visibility was poor – we couldn’t even see the mountains to the north (probably only 3-4 kms away).

Nevertheless, we had quite a good day, surprisingly seeing 10 species of bird of prey despite the poor visibility and several new spring migrants (eg Little Ringed Plover, Garganey, Mandarin and Common Buzzard). The full species list is copied below to give you a ‘feel’ for the place. It is a reflection of the richness of this site, and the high expectations that we have developed hoping for that ‘something special’, that we left feeling a little disappointed. No Baer’s Pochard, Oriental Plover or Relict Gull yet! Reading through the species list again as I write this, I realise that I have absolutely no right to be disappointed at all – that is quite a day list!

One of the highlights was definitely the groups of thrushes – mainly Red-throated – that were feeding and flying around Ma Chang. Some of them were in stunning summer plumage – fantastic birds.


From the notebook:

0600 very little wind, cold at first (around 2 degrees C with a slight ground frost), warming up later to around 18 degrees C. Visibility poor due to pollution (mountains to the north not visible).

As the visibility was very poor, the wildfowl counts will not reflect the actual numbers (Tree Sparrow and Magpie too numerous to count).

Japanese Quail 2
Swan Goose 8
Bean Goose 6
Bewick’s Swan 1
Ruddy Shelduck c50
Mandarin 7
Gadwall c30
Falcated Duck c75
Eurasian Wigeon 2
Mallard c120
Chinese Spot-billed Duck 6
Shoveler 4
Pintail 2
Garganey 3
Common Teal c200
Common Pochard 25 (plus another group of 25, prob the same)
Tufted Duck 45
Goldeneye 22
Smew c150
Goosander c25
Great Crested Grebe c25
Little Grebe 4
Grey Heron 6
Kestrel 1
Merlin 1 – a small male
Osprey 1
Black-eared Kite 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier 1 (adult male)
Hen Harrier 4
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 2
Goshawk 1
Common Buzzard 1
Upland Buzzard 1, possibly the same seen again later
Coot 15
Common Crane 6
Grey-headed Lapwing 2
Northern Lapwing c40
Pacific Golden Plover 1 (still in winter plumage)
Little Ringed Plover 14
Kentish Plover c10
Common Snipe 3
Mongolian Gull 2 (1 ad and 1 3cy)
Black-headed Gull 56
Spotted Dove 1
Eurasian Collared Dove 4
Hoopoe 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
Chinese Grey Shrike 2
Carrion Crow 65
Great Tit 2
Marsh Tit 2
Eurasian Skylark c300
Asian Short-toed Lark c10
Chinese Hill Warbler 2
Plain (Pere David’s) Laughingthrush 2 (possibly 3) in the reedbed on the western edge of Yeyahu reserve. Apparent first site record.
Vinous-throated Parrotbill c40
White-cheeked Starling 12
Eurasian Starling 6
Black-throated Thrush 4
Red-throated Thrush 42 – many in stunning summer plumage, feeding on the ground around Ma Chang
Naumann’s Thrush 3
Dusky/Naumann’s intergrade 1 – a real stunner
Red-flanked Bluetail 8 – including one very blue adult male
Daurian Redstart 12
Siberian Accentor 1
White Wagtail c80
Water Pipit 3
Brambling c40
Oriental Greenfinch 3 – flyovers
Meadow Bunting 2
Yellow-throated Bunting 5
Pallas’s Reed Bunting c250

Botanical Gardens

This morning, despite the freezing temperatures, I donned my thermal underwear, thick socks, snow boots and parka for a foray into the Botanical Gardens and the ridge beyond. It was a gorgeous day, despite the -8 (ish) temperature, and I had a wonderful few hours. The journey there is best forgotten – taxi drivers in Beijing are variable at best and let’s just say that today, I had the misfortune to encounter a particularly clueless individual who not only took me the wrong way (twice) but also, at one point, stopped to have a cigarette – in the car – while I helplessly waited. One of the joys of Beijing.

Nevertheless, I arrived on site around 0730, not long after dawn, and I was soon enjoying very good views of thrushes – namely Dusky, Naumann’s, Dusky/Naumann’s intergrades, Red-throated, Black-throated and a wonderful presumed Red/Black-throated hybrid which exhibited a mixed red and black throat patch (mostly red upper-throat and black lower-throat). The birds were congregating at a small break in the ice to drink. The break had clearly been man-made, presumably by a bird-friendly soul, as the ice on the lakes was at least 3 inches thick.

After enjoying some close encounters, I decided to press on and up to the ridge in the hope of some buntings, laughingthrushes and accentors. On the way up I was a little surprised to see 2 Red-flanked Bluetails, somehow managing to eke out a living on the frozen banks of a stream and a group of 9 Chinese Grosbeaks was a delight to see. A party of 34 Chinese Bulbuls and a Chinese Nuthatch was the supporting cast as I followed the stream up to the hills. During a short refreshment break, a squirrel gave me a close encounter as it tried to find water, eventually managing to find a trickle under a boulder.

The last time I had walked up the ridge was in October, when the trees and shrubs were still largely in leaf, so today, with the trees almost bare, I enjoyed some very good views of normally tricky species to see – namely Chinese Hill Warbler and Pere David’s Laughingthrush. I saw at least 18 of the latter, many of which first attracted my attention by the sound of turning over dried leaves.. After the experience of Yunnan, where it was almost impossible to see any laughingthrushes despite hearing them all the time, this was a very welcome sight!

On the ridge itself, I stumbled across several groups of Siberian Accentor feeding on the edge of the track and a few posses of Yellow-bellied Tits rampaged through the evergreen shrubs. A single japonicus Common Buzzard proved to be 50 per cent of my raptor total for the day (the only other sighting being a male Sparrowhawk that caused havoc among the thrushes on the way down). Bramblings were constant companions and the odd Oriental Greenfinch called overhead.

On the journey down, I bumped into Jesper and his wife, Aiquin, enjoying a walk half-way up the ridge. After a short natter, I was back at the entrance gate and flagged down a taxi (luckily a competent driver) for the uneventful journey home. A thoroughly enjoyable morning..

A squirrel looking for water, Botanical Gardens, Beijing, 16 December 2010
The same squirrel doing its morning leg exercises
Laughingthrushes are much more cooperative when there are no leaves on the trees!
Red-throated Thrush, Botanical Gardens, Beijing, 16 December 2010
Black-throated Thrush, Botanical Gardens, Beijing, 16 December 2010
Siberian Accentor, one of many on the ridge above the Botanical Gardens