Wild Duck Lake, 6 November 2011

Apologies for the lack of updates in recent weeks – work has been rather all-consuming!  To be honest, it’s not been so bad to be indoors  –  a persistent high pressure system, combined with very slack winds, have seen a blanket of smog covering Beijing with poor visibility and, at times, appalling air quality.  The US Embassy ‘twitter feed’ is updated hourly and rates the pollution levels of PM2.5 (a particulate pollutant) and ozone.
This is the US Environment Protection Agency’s definition of PM2.5:
“Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small that individually they can only be detected with an electron microscope.
Many manmade and natural sources emit PM directly or emit other pollutants that react in the atmosphere to form PM. These solid and liquid particles come in a wide range of sizes.
Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.”
Sounds nice, eh?
There is a scale of descriptors ranging from “Good” to “Hazardous”.  Last week saw several days with the pollution at “hazardous” levels.  I am not exactly sure what “hazardous” means but at these levels, you can taste and smell the pollution when you step outside.  Not pleasant.
Of course, the Chinese media describes the smog as “fog” and on one dark day last week, it was laughable that the media was saying that there were “boundless blue skies over Beijing”…  Of course….
Fortunately, this smoggy period seems to be breaking now and on Sunday I visited Ma Chang/Wild Duck Lake with Libby and a couple of UK friends John and Sarah Gallagher.  They have been keen to accompany me on one of my birding trips for some time and so, with a window of decent weather and visibility, we grabbed the chance before the winter sets in.  We enjoyed a very good day.
The visibility was above average and, when the cloud broke in the afternoon, it turned into a gorgeous late autumn day….
0645-1530, 6 November 2011.
Cloud 8/8 and 5 degrees C at 0640 with very light north-easterly wind.  13 degrees C, cloud 3/8 and light north-easterly at 1500.  Visibility above average all day.
The highlight was my first Great Bustard in China (a flyover), 2 Black Storks, 6 White-naped Cranes, 58 Common CranesUpland Buzzard, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2Common Starlings.
Full species list (52 in total):
Common Pheasant 12
Bean Goose 115
Whooper Swan 1
Gadwall 5
Falcated Duck 4
Eurasian Wigeon 2
Mallard 48
Chinese Spot-billed Duck 10
Northern Pintail 42
Eurasian Teal 25
Tufted Duck 8
Common Goldeneye 2
Smew 10
Goosander 12
Little Grebe 23
Great Crested Grebe 8
Black-necked Grebe 2
Black Stork 2 (high west @ 1455)
Eurasian Bittern 1
Grey Heron 3
Eurasian Kestrel 2
Peregrine 2
Hen Harrier 4 (1 adult male, 1 immature male, and 2 females)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 3
Common (Eastern) Buzzard 1
Upland Buzzard 1
Great Bustard 1 in flight (flew west over Ma Chang @ 0910)
Common Coot 4
White-naped Crane 6
Common Crane 58, including 2 groups arriving from the mountains to the north (9 @1445 and 35 @1440)
Mongolian Gull 2
Black-headed Gull 68
Eurasian Collared Dove 14
Short-eared Owl 2
Common Kingfisher 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker 1
Chinese Grey Shrike 5
Azure-winged Magpie 1
Common Magpie lots
Carrion Crow 11
Great Tit 2
Asian Short-toed Lark 12
Eurasian Skylark 7
Chinese Bulbul 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill 100+ in a single flock
Common Starling 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow lots
Buff-bellied Pipit 3
Pine Bunting 2
Little Bunting 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting 23

Finally, we enjoyed excellent views of this yellow butterfly, the only butterfly we saw. It was a little sluggish, allowing close photography, in contrast to the many times when I have tried to photograph this species in the spring/summer..  I am not sure what the specific species is but it’s pretty common in the area. EDIT: Thanks to John Furse for identifying the butterfly as a Clouded Yellow.

Yellow butterfly sp, Yeyahu, 6 November 2011
Close up... I love those eyes!

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.

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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