Greater Spotted Eagles and more..

On Saturday I made my usual visit to Wild Duck Lake.  Starting at Ma Chang, it was soon obvious that there were no Oriental Plovers on site..  It’s been an incredible spring for this bird and a joy to see so many pass through Ma Chang but I guess the run of seeing these birds had to end sometime.  After daydreaming a bit about where they are now and wishing them well for a successful breeding season, I focused on the birds that were here – a few Richard’s Pipits, singing Asian Short-toed Larks, Little Ringed Plovers and flock after flock of Little Buntings…  many of which were singing.  A great sight and sound.

Little Bunting singing. Flocks of these gorgeous birds were a feature of Saturday at Ma Chang.

The excursion out to the yurts, as on Tuesday, produced lots of pipits and wagtails, with Eastern Yellow Wagtail the most numerous.  I saw both macronyx and tschutschensis subspecies.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail ssp tschutschensis, Ma Chang, 5 May 2012

There were a few Citrine Wagtails around, including this stunning male which posed on a fence post..

Citrine Wagtail (male), Ma Chang, 5 May 2012

The pipits were mostly Red-throated and one, in particular, was very red – almost a Red-breasted Pipit!

Red-throated Pipit (presumed male), Ma Chang, 5 May 2012

A few Little Terns were patrolling the reservoir with many Common Terns (of the ssp longipennis) and a pair of Whiskered Terns but wildfowl was very thin on the ground (no Ruddy Shelduck for the first time this year).  The walk back produced a ‘Swintailed” Snipe which I flushed from a dry-ish verge.  The call was very distinctive – dryer and less ‘squelchy’ than Common Snipe – and the bird lacked the warm tones of Common Snipe in flight.  Swinhoe’s and Pin-tailed Snipe are currently unidentifiable in the field unless one can see well and count the tail feathers..  hence the term “Swin-tailed” Snipe.

A check of the reservoir proper produced single pairs of Ferruginous Duck and Garganey and a group of Oriental Pratincoles arrived noisily from the east.  A male Eastern Marsh Harrier spooked both the few remaining Pallas’s Reed Buntings and the newly arrived Siberian Stonechats.  The walk back produced a splendid singing male Black-faced Bunting, Chinese Blackbird (my first at this site), several Pallas’s Warblers and a handful of Red-throated Flycatchers.

As the day warmed up, I sensed it was going to be a good raptor day and, as I arrived at Yeyahu, it was with anticipation that I headed out to ‘eagle field’.  Sure enough, after only a few minutes, I caught sight of an eagle and, setting up the telescope, I was able to confirm its identity as a Greater Spotted.  Nice.  Then a second bird appeared and the two interacted for a while before heading east.  As I watched them fly purposefully towards the mountains, I saw a group of white, long-necked birds soaring high…  spoonbills!  There was no chance of identifying them to species but they were probably Eurasian (Black-faced is extremely rare in Beijing).

As I continued to walk towards the reservoir, I was constantly flushing groups of Little Buntings.. they were everywhere.  I was frequently scanning the skies for more raptors and very soon I was watching another Greater Spotted Eagle.. this time quite a ragged older bird.  Setting up the telescope, I soon found a large bird through the eyepiece but, as it banked, I realised it was rather white and was clearly a different bird – Oriental Stork!!  That’s a rare bird in Beijing, especially in May.  As I was watching it, the Greater Spotted Eagle came into the same ‘scope view and, although distant, I watched these two birds soaring on the same thermal for a couple of minutes before the stork headed east.

Oriental Stork with Greater Spotted Eagle, Yeyahu NR, 5 May 2012
One of the three Greater Spotted Eagles, Yeyahu NR, 5 May 2012
Greater Spotted Eagle with apparent pale leading edge to the underwing. I haven’t seen this plumage characteristic on Gtr Spotted Eagles before. Yeyahu NR, 5 May 2012

Not long after these sightings, I looked up again (my neck was beginning to ache at this point!) and saw another bird soaring high.. this time a Black Stork..!  It followed the same line as the Oriental White Stork from before and soon disappeared to the east…  next stop Beidaihe!

A couple of Japanese Quails were singing as I approached the tower at the reservoir edge and it was here that I was surprised to find a group of 10 Ferruginous Ducks…  this duck used to be rare in Beijing but in recent years numbers have increased..  this flock could represent the highest Beijing count.

On the walk back I took a water break (it was hot) and sat overlooking the fields.  After a couple of minutes, three Tolai Hares appeared and started to chase each other around.. sometimes leaping into the air.. it was a spectacular show.  Then an Eastern Marsh Harrier appeared and the hares went crazy.. they kept leaping vertically into the air!  I though that they may have young in the fields and wanted to distract the harrier but I’m not sure..  Just as the harrier drifted away, the hares resumed their chasing and it was then that I noticed a Greater Spotted Eagle hanging in the air high above them.  Suddenly it dropped like a stone….  For a second I thought I would witness the eagle taking a hare right in front of me but, around 10-15 metres from the ground, the eagle pulled out of the dive and banked away..  maybe it saw me?  Even so, it was a spectacular dive and the hares didn’t suspect a thing!  I think the hares’ eyesight must be quite poor.. they frequently ran close to me and, only when I moved or made a noise did they notice me..

Tolai Hare checking me out, Yeyahu NR, 5 May 2012.

At this point, time was getting on, so I reluctantly left the hares to it and made my way back to the car for the drive back to Beijing.  Yet another good day.

 

 

 

 

Total species list (85 in total):

Japanese Quail – 3 (2 heard singing and 1 seen in flight)

Common Pheasant – 8
Mandarin – 1
Gadwall – 4
Falcated Duck – 2 on the reservoir north of Yeyahu NR
Mallard – 4
Spot-billed Duck – 6
Garganey – 2 at Ma Chang
Eurasian Teal – 6
Ferruginous Duck – 12, including one group of 10 on the reservoir north of Yeyahu NR
Little Grebe – 10
Great Crested Grebe – 12
Black Stork – 1 circling and then headed east at 1315
Oriental Stork – 1 circling with Greater Spotted Eagle at 1130 before heading east
Spoonbill sp – 5 circling high over Yeyahu NR at 1115
Great Bittern – 3 heard booming
Night Heron – 8
Chinese Pond Heron – 2
Grey Heron – 1
Purple Heron – 4
Common Kestrel – 2
Amur Falcon – 3
Hobby – 3
Black-eared Kite – 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier – 5
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 2
Greater Spotted Eagle – 3 (all photographed)
Moorhen – 3
Coot – 8
Black-winged Stilt – 39
Northern Lapwing – 14
Grey-headed Lapwing – 5
Little Ringed Plover – 12
‘Swintailed’ Snipe – 2
Common Snipe – 1
Whimbrel – 1
Common Greenshank – 2
Wood Sandpiper – 18
Common Sandpiper – 8
Oriental Pratincole – 6
Black-headed Gull – 78
Common Tern – 44
Little Tern – 8
Whiskered Tern – 2
Collared Dove – 4
Common Kingfisher – 6
Hoopoe – 2
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1
Azure-winged Magpie – 6
Common Magpie – too many
Corvid sp – 23 (probably Carrion Crow)
Great Tit – 2
Marsh Tit – 2
Chinese Penduline Tit – 6
Barn Swallow – 6
Red-rumped Swallow – 6
Asian Short-toed Lark – 8
Eurasian Skylark – 2
Zitting Cisticola – 14
Chinese Bulbul – 4
Dusky Warbler – 3
Radde’s Warbler – 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler – 4 (singing)
Yellow-browed Warbler – 8 (singing)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 14
White-cheeked Starling – 7
Chinese Blackbird – 1 male singing in the plantation north of Ma Chang.
Bluethroat – 2 (1 at Ma Chang, 1 at Yeyahu NR)
Siberian Rubythroat – 1 in the small bushes at Ma Chang
Siberian Stonechat – 20
Taiga Flycatcher – 15
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – lots
Forest Wagtail – 1 singing along the entrance track to Ma Chang
Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 242 (mostly tschutschensis and macronyx)
Citrine Wagtail – 5
White Wagtail – 4 (leucopsis)
Richard’s Pipit – 8
Blyth’s Pipit – 1 probably this species
Olive-backed Pipit – 2
Red-throated Pipit – 5 (including one with a red breast!)
Oriental Greenfinch – 2
Little Bunting – 535
Black-faced Bunting – 14
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 18

Blyth’s Pipits and more…

On Tuesday I spent the day at Miyun Reservoir with Paul Holt (fresh back from leading tours to Bhutan and Taiwan).  We started at Houbajia Zhuangcun on the eastern side (the best place to view any cranes lingering in the area) and then visited the north-west side near Bulaotun where the water levels are providing some good habitat for waders.

Our first surprise was on the walk down to the reservoir from the village at Houbajia Zhuangcun as every field seemed to be full of pipits.  It was immediately obvious that there were many Richard’s Pipits around along with good numbers of Buff-bellied and Red-throated with the occasional Olive-backed flying overhead.  No sooner as Paul said he thought there must be a Blyth’s on site, we turned a corner and flushed four largish pipits that called as they took to the air revealing themselves to be Blyth’s!  They circled and landed again, allowing us to secure some wonderful views of these scarce pipits on the deck.  Seeing them alongside Richard’s Pipits was very instructive and, although I would hesitate to identify a silent Blyth’s unless I had extremely good views, Paul was able to give me some very good insights into how to separate Blyth’s from Richard’s on the ground.  The shorter bill, more heavily streaked mantle, shorter tail and, of course, the shape of the dark centres to the tertials if seen well enough, are all features to look for but, for me, the most obvious difference is structural, particularly noticeable in flight.  Blyth’s look noticeably shorter-tailed in flight and can even recall a smaller pipit at times.  We spent a long time watching these pipits and it probably took us an hour and a half to get to the reservoir, a walk that usually takes about 10 minutes!

I only managed a couple of images of Blyth’s in flight…  I won’t apologise for spending most of my time studying them through my telescope rather than stalking them for photographs!  Below is a comparison of Blyth’s and Richard’s.

Blyth’s (upper) and Richard’s (lower) Pipits in flight. In this direct comparison, one can see the slightly shorter tail and shorter bill of Blyth’s. The much-superior Richard’s Pipit image is by Graham Catley.

Of course, call is one of the ways to separate these two; you can hear the calls of Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipits on Xeno Canto Asia.  The Pipit frenzy also included good numbers of Red-throated and Buff-bellied and I was able to capture these images of these good-looking species.

Buff-bellied Pipit ssp japonicus in breeding plumage, Miyun Reservoir, 1 May 2012
Red-throated Pipit, Miyun Reservoir, 1 May 2012

In the damper fields near to the reservoir we encountered several Eastern Yellow Wagtails, mostly of the subspecies macronyx, and a few stunning Citrine Wagtails, including one with a very dark back (on close inspection it was a very dark grey back with some black speckling), recalling the subspecies calcarata.  Possibly an intergrade?  A male Bluethroat then appeared and began to sing from an exposed perch in a small reedbed.

As we were enjoying the pipits and wagtails, a corvid flew by us and headed south..  with the naked eye it looked as if it had a pale neck and a quick lift of the binoculars confirmed it was a Collared Crow!  This species is now rare in Beijing and yet, after seeing my first only two days before, here I was watching a second!  It was Paul’s first sighting in the capital for around 10 years…  It is almost certainly a different individual to that seen by Colm Moore and me at the Ming Tombs, so maybe there has been a mini-influx.  It reappeared a few minutes later in the company of a pair of Carrion Crows.

Collared Crow, Miyun Reservoir, 1 May 2012
Collared Crow with Carrion Crow, Miyun Reservoir, 1 May 2012.

When we eventually reached the reservoir, we checked the stubbly area frequented by cranes this winter and counted 5 White-naped Cranes and 4 Common Cranes but there was no sign of the single immature Siberian Crane that had been present from mid-March.  After an hour or so watching from here we moved on to the north-western side to check out the wader site near Bulaotun.  As we arrived, we were greeted with huge numbers of Little Buntings… they were everywhere: in the fields, in the bushes, on the tracks and, occasionally, if spooked by a raptor or a local farmer, the air would be filled with clouds of Little Buntings.. an awesome sight.  Many were singing, providing a wonderful soundtrack as we scanned through the flocks.  A single male Yellow-breasted Bunting was with the group and it, too, sang on occasion.  We estimated around 700 Little Buntings along one hedgerow but the real number on site was certainly much higher – many were hidden feeding in the crops.

A short recording of the cacophony can be heard here:

Little Buntings

Waders on site included over 150 Black-winged Stilts, 80+  Wood Sandpipers, 30+ Common Snipe, a few Marsh Sandpipers, a couple of Spotted Redshank, a single Common Redshank, 10 Common Sandpipers, 6 Black-tailed Godwits and 30 Little Ringed Plovers. 2 Eurasian Spoonbills, 6 Great Egrets and 2 Little Egrets added a splash of white and an Osprey, several Eastern Marsh Harriers, a couple of Common Kestrels and a handful of Amur Falcons provided the raptor interest.

A quick look at another site at Bulaotun rewarded us with a stunning male Pied Harrier, a single Hobby (chasing Little Buntings), 5 Greater Short-toed Larks, 14 Siberian Stonechats and 20 Oriental Pratincoles.

Oriental Pratincole, Miyun Reservoir, 1 May 2012. Note lack of a white trailing edge to the wing (the best feature with which to distinguish Oriental from Collared Pratincole).

It was another fantastic day’s birding in the Chinese capital and I am indebted to Paul for his pipit masterclass…!