Siberian Cranes at Yeyahu!

This morning I received an email from An Yi, a Denmark-based birder who has been in Beijing visiting family.  Yi visited Yeyahu NR on Wednesday 27 March and was lucky enough to see some cranes…  but not just any cranes..  she saw 2 SIBERIAN CRANES together with some WHITE-NAPED CRANES.  On top of that, she secured some fantastic images….  With her kind permission, I am reproducing them below.  As far as I know, this is only the 2nd record of SIBERIAN CRANE at Yeyahu NR and the 4th in Beijing (following one at Yeyahu NR in March 2008,  between 1 and 8 at Miyun in March/April 2012 and one at Miyun in March 2013).  Congratulations to Yi and many thanks for allowing me to reproduce the images here.  A fantastic record.

Siberian Cranes (Grus leucogenarus), Yeyahu NR, 27 March 2013
Siberian Cranes (Leucogenarus leucogenarus), Yeyahu NR, 27 March 2013.  The bird on the right is an immature.
Siberian Crane with White-naped Crane, Yeyahu NR, 27 March 2013
Siberian Crane (Leucogenarus leucogenarus), right, with White-naped Crane (Grus vipio), Yeyahu NR, 27 March 2013
White-naped Cranes (Grus vipio), Yeyahu NR, 27 March 2013
White-naped Cranes (Grus vipio), Yeyahu NR, 27 March 2013

Siberian Crane still at Miyun!

On Sunday I visited Miyun Reservoir with a few friends from the embassy, a language student and a Dutch birder visiting Beijing.  We enjoyed a good day and recorded 71 species.  The most significant record was the immature SIBERIAN CRANE that is still on site in company with a dwindling group of White-naped and Common Cranes.  It is now over a month since Paul Holt and I first discovered this bird, originally in the company of 2 adults.

A single Short-toed Eagle, a stunning male Pied Harrier, a fishing Osprey and excellent views of Japanese Quail were other highlights of another good day at this site.  With sunny weather and very light winds, it was a lovely day to be out and about… and great fun to be in the company of such a wonderful group of people!!

They will all become birders – it’s inevitable.  Resistance is futile.

Aron, John and Sarah behaving completely naturally...
John, Sarah, Eva and Aron taking the 'chilled approach' to birding.. while Nick wonders if his count of Great Crested Grebe is statistically significant.
Ben and the girls scanning for cranes at Miyun Reservoir as Nick looks on.
Full species list:
1. Japanese Quail – 3
2. Common Pheasant – 7
3. Swan Goose – 1
4. Bean Goose – 5
5. Ruddy Shelduck – 29
6. Gadwall – 8
7. Mallard – 12
8. Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 14
9. Shoveler – 18
10. Eurasian Teal – 12
11. Common Pochard – 2
12. Little Grebe – 4
13. Great Crested Grebe – 10
14. Black Stork – 1
15. Spoonbill sp – 7
16. Eurasian Bittern (heard only)
17. Grey Heron – 8
18. Great Egret – 6
19. Little Egret – 7
20. Kestrel – 2
21. Merlin – 1 adult male whizzed past us at the second site
22. Osprey – seen very well; hovered and caught a fish
23. Short-toed Eagle – 1
24. Eastern Marsh Harrier – 3
25. Pied Harrier – 2 (including one adult male)
26. Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1
27. Goshawk – 1
28. Coot – 12
29. SIBERIAN CRANE – 1 (immature)
30. White-naped Crane – 4
31. Common Crane – 3
32. Black-winged Stilt – 78
33. Avocet – 2
34. Northern Lapwing – 34
35. Little Ringed Plover – 22 (including some spectacular close views of 3 birds interacting)
36. Common Snipe – 8 (using their characteristic ‘drilling’ feeding technique)
37. Black-tailed Godwit – 7
38. Common Redshank – 4
39. Wood Sandpiper – 12
40. Oriental Pratincole – 42
41. Mongolian Gull – 1 2cy probably this species
42. Black-headed Gull – 57
43. Common Tern – 4
44. Little Tern – 2
45. Oriental Turtle Dove – 4
46. Collared Dove – 3
47. Common Kingfisher – 2
48. Hoopoe – 1
49. Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1 seen from the car between the first and second sites
50. Grey-headed Woodpecker – 2 heard from the car
51. Azure-winged Magpie – several seen from the car
52. Red-billed Blue Magpie – 5 (including two that flew right overhead calling near the parking spot at the first site)
53. Common Magpie – too many
54. Carrion Crow – 2
55. Large-billed Crow – 1
56. Great Tit – several heard from the car
57. Barn Swallow – 6
58. Red-rumped Swallow – 4 seen from the car
59. Zitting Cisticola – 1 heard
60. Chinese Bulbul – 1 heard near the parking spot at the first site
61. Vinous-throated Parrotbill – several heard at the first and second sites
62. White-cheeked Starling – c10 seen from the car
63. Daurian Redstart – 3
64. Tree Sparrow – lots
65. Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 3
66. White Wagtail – 3 (subspecies ‘leucopsis’)
67. Olive-backed Pipit – 1
68. Red-throated Pipit – 1 possible heard
69. Buff-bellied Pipit – c100 (in a mixed flock that included some Water Pipits)
70. Water Pipit – c20
71. Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 8

Miyun Reservoir, Sunday 15 April 2012

On Sunday, I visited Miyun Reservoir, north-east of Beijing city.  After a murky start, the weather just got better and better and the views of the mountains by mid-morning were spectacular.  The birding was pretty good, too.
Highlights:
- a single immature SIBERIAN CRANE (with 17 White-naped and 9 Common Cranes)
- Short-toed Eagle
- Osprey
- Saker
- A late afternoon movement of at least 13 Eastern Marsh Harriers all heading northwest.
- 19 Spoonbills (17 were definite Eurasian)
- 21 Oriental Pratincoles
- Black Stork
Some images from the day:
Miyun Reservoir viewed from the north-west.
Eastern Marsh Harrier (adult male), Miyun Reservoir, 15 April 2012
Eastern Marsh Harrier (immature female?), Miyun Reservoir, 15 April 2012
Grey-headed Lapwing, Miyun, 15 April 2012
Saker (adult), Miyun, 15 April 2012
Full Species List:
Japanese Quail – 1
Common Pheasant – 9
Bean Goose – 8
Whooper Swan – 2
Ruddy Shelduck – 101
Gadwall – 12
Falcated Duck – 2
Mallard – 8
Spot-billed Duck – 10
Shoveler – 4
Garganey – 28
Eurasian Teal – 162
Common Pochard – 6
Ferruginous Duck – 10 (in a single flock)
Little Grebe – 8
Great Crested Grebe – 18
Black Stork – 1
Eurasian Spoonbill/Spoonbill sp – 19 (17 confirmed as Eurasian, 2 sleeping)
Night Heron – 1
Grey Heron – 11
Great Egret – 3
Little Egret – 18
Kestrel – 1
Saker – a pale individual (see photo).  The head pattern, lack of barring underneath and wing shape are all typical Saker.  Made one pass before heading west.
Osprey – 1
Short-toed Eagle - 1 (over the reservoir, flushing everything – even the cranes – and then continued north)
Eastern Marsh Harrier – at least 13 passed through mid- to late afternoon, all on a north-westerly heading.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 2
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 1
Upland Buzzard – 1
Coot – 35
Siberian Crane – 1 immature remaining, loosely associating with the White-naped and Common Cranes
White-naped Crane – 17
Common Crane – 9
Black-winged Stilt – 10
Grey-headed Lapwing – 1
Northern Lapwing – 51
Plover sp (Pacific Golden or Oriental) – one high north
Little Ringed Plover – 4
Eurasian Curlew – 1
Green Sandpiper – 2
Temminck’s Stint – 2
Oriental Pratincole – 21 flew through west in one noisy flock
Mongolian Gull – 6 (2 adults and 4 2cy)
Black-headed Gull – 58
Oriental Turtle Dove – 6
Collared Dove – 4
Common Kingfisher – 2
Hoopoe – 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 2
Azure-winged Magpie – 31
Red-billed Blue Magpie – 1
Common Magpie – too many
Corvid sp – 2 circled very high (probably Carrion Crow)
Chinese Penduline Tit – 1 heard
Barn Swallow – 38
Red-rumped Swallow – 2
Skylark – 2
Zitting Cisticola – 1
Chinese Bulbul – 2
White-cheeked Starling – 12
Red-throated Thrush – 12
Tree Sparrow – lots
White Wagtail – 6 (4 ocularis and 2 leucopsis)
Buff-bellied Pipit – 14
Little Bunting – 18
Yellow-throated Bunting – 1
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 2

International Siberian Crane Festival, Faku County, Liaoning Province

Last week, together with Tom Beeke in Dalian and Tian Yang (Leyton), a Dalian-based birding friend, I received an invitation to participate in the International Siberian Crane Festival in Faku County, near Shenyang in Liaoning Province.  The invitation came from Professor Zhou from Shenyang University who we had both met last autumn whilst watching waders along the Liaoning coast.  Apparently my sighting of 3 Siberian Cranes in Beijing in March (the second record for the capital) qualified me as a Siberian Crane expert….

By juggling work commitments we were both able to participate and we enjoyed one of those special Chinese experiences…

Faku County hosts a network of 16 freshwater lakes which, together, form a very important stopover site for a host of wildfowl and, in particular, the ‘critically endangered’ Siberian Crane.   The world population of this species is thought to be around 3,000 individuals and declining.  About ten days ago, 2,000 were counted at this important site.  The day before our visit on Tuesday, 821 were seen.  Clearly, this is a hugely important site for the Siberian Crane but it is not currently included in the list of priority sites for this species in China (so far, five wetland sites have been identified as critical, including the Poyang Lake Basin, where up to 98% of the world’s population of Siberian Cranes over-winter; the other four sites are national level nature reserves – Zhalong, Xianghai, Keerqin, and Momoge Nature Reserves – that protect important migratory habitat used by the Siberian Crane in northeastern China).

As is often the case in rapidly developing China, the site is under threat.  To help raise awareness, Professor Zhou set up an International Siberian Crane Festival and invited the most important local politicians, decision-makers and local people to attend.  The deputy Mayor of Shenyang, the Party Secretary of Faku County and his deputy all participated.  Professor Zhou also invited a panel of experts from Beijing including the China head of Wetlands International and a Deputy Director from the Forestry Ministry.  Tom and I were invited to provide an international perspective.

Our day began at 0500 with a visit to the site to do a spot of birdwatching before the official proceedings began.  Unfortunately, due to a delay in leaving the hotel (too much baijio for some?) we missed the main crane post-roost flight but, luckily (for Tom at least as he had never seen Siberian Crane!), a couple of stragglers remained and we were able to watch them feed, albeit at distance.  We also saw good numbers of Greater White-fronted Geese, some Swan Geese, Bean Geese, Baikal Teal and Grey-headed Lapwing.  After a tour of the main reservoir we were driven to a raised viewing area which was being prepared for the festival.

The festival began at 0930 with a formal opening ceremony at the wetland itself which, despite the weather (strong winds and dust storms) saw a hugely impressive local turnout.  It appeared to be the biggest event to happen in this community for a long time with hundreds of local people present.  The police were there in numbers to coordinate the crowds.

Early morning preparations for the opening ceremony of the International Siberian Crane Festival, Faku County, Liaoning Province
A couple of bemused locals look on
Some of the local women enjoying the opening ceremony..
Local girls added some glamour to proceedings but were struggling to keep smiling in the dust storms...
As the time for the opening ceremony approached, the crowd began to build.
The police took time out from their crowd control duties to check out Professor Zhou's photos on the display boards.
This local farmer insisted on having his photo taken and was proud to welcome foreigners to his village for the International Siberian Crane Festival
The stage is set for the grand opening ceremony...

After the formal opening ceremony, during which Tom and I were asked to stand on the stage (!) while 4 dignitaries spoke, we were driven to the local government offices where we participated in a roundtable workshop with the Party chiefs, local residents and media.  The workshop began with presentations by Wetlands International, the Forestry Ministry and Professor Zhou, all aimed at explaining the significance of this site and the potential for the local area to achieve provincial, national and international recognition (via Ramsar status) and to secure associated financing.  Tom and I were then invited to provide international perspectives and we both spoke about the potential economic value of eco-tourism, the importance of valuing natural capital in economic decision-making, including the ecosystem services provided by wetlands, and the experience of our respective countries in terms of wildlife tourism.  It was heartening to hear the Party Secretary (the top official in Faku County) promise, at the end of the event, to review the County’s development strategy on the basis of what he had heard and he even invited us to be formal advisers to his County (one for the CV!).  After some interviews with the media (including Liaoning TV and Radio, CCTV, Tianjin News and others), we were provided with an official lunch with the obligatory toasts of the local baijio before heading back home.    Tom and I were both very grateful for the warmth of the welcome we received and the memory of this event, and our visit to Faku, will stay with us for a very long time.  A big thank you to Leyton for his interpretation service.

Professor Zhou is to be congratulated: he is clearly working extremely hard to try to protect this area and is making every effort to persuade the local Party chiefs that it is in their long term interest to secure the future of these wetlands and the birds that depend on them.  I would like to wish him every success and, in my new capacity as environmental advisor to Faku County, I stand ready to assist in any way I can!

By the way, did you know that the oldest documented crane that ever lived was a Siberian Crane named “Wolf”, who died at the age of 83?  Amazing!

Siberian Crane

Today was one of those amazing days that makes birding such an enthralling hobby.  I accompanied Paul Holt on a visit to Huairou and Miyun Reservoirs, sites that I had not – for some unknown reason – visited before.  The highlights were undoubtedly the cranes.  Top of the list comes the 3 Siberian Cranes (2 adults and an immature) that we believe constitute only the second record for Beijing.  But perhaps more significant was the count of 256 White-naped Cranes, around 10 per cent of the known wintering population in China at one location on Spring passage.  Add in 620 Common Cranes and it was a real crane bonanza.  The other unexpected bird of the day was a single Oriental Stork, a real rarity in Beijing.

Highlights:

- second record of Siberian Crane in Beijing (2 adults and an immature)

- second highest (possibly highest) count of White-naped Cranes in Beijing

- seventh record of Oriental Stork in Beijing

- earliest Garganey and Common Shelduck in Beijing

- second earliest Fork-tailed Swift in Beijing

Siberian Cranes, Miyun Reservoir, 19 March 2012
White-naped Crane, Miyun Reservoir, 19 March 2012. We saw around 10 per cent of the Chinese wintering population today at this important staging post.
Common Cranes, Miyun Reservoir, 19 March 2012
Oriental Stork, Miyun Reservoir, 19 March 2012

 

Detailed species list from Miyun Reservoir (courtesy of Paul Holt):

Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun Reservoir. (40°30.3’N., 117°01.1’E.). Alt. 75 metres. (07h15-11h00).

 

Xin Zhuang Qiao (bridge over the Chao He), Miyun. (40°35.11’N., 117°07.95’E.). Alt. 115 metres. (11h30-12h50)

 

Miyun Reservoir – south of Bulaotun satellite tracking station, Miyun. (40°31.75’N., 116°57.77’E.). Alt. 75 metres. (13h20-17h05)

 

Japanese Quail                  2 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Pheasant                  7 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Swan Goose                  20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Tundra Bean Goose                  10 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Taiga or Tundra Bean Goose                  ca.400 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Tundra Swan                  4 adults at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Whooper Swan 168 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 146 birds were also counted at Bulaotun in the late afternoon – but some or possibly even all of these could have been among those seen at HBJZ earlier in the day.

Ruddy Shelduck 796 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Most of these (780 birds) were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang with just one being seen on the Chaohe near Taishitun & 15 at Bulaotun.

Gadwall                  5 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Falcated Duck                  12 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Mallard                  ca.600 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Almost all of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.

Chinese Spot-billed Duck                  14 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Almost all of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.

Northern Pintail                  5 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Baikal Teal                  20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Teal                  150 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Pochard                  20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Ferruginous Pochard                  2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Tufted Duck                  2 males at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Goldeneye                  13 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Smew                  51 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Merganser 80 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. These involved 65 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, three in the Chaohe near the Xin Zhuang bridge, Taishitun & 12 at Bulaotun.

Little Grebe 7 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Two of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang & the other five in the Chaohe near Taishitun.

Great Crested Grebe                  18 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Black Stork                  1 flew high near Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Oriental Stork                  1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Oriental Stork is rare in Beijing – the other records that I’m aware of are –

1875

A small flock was seen near the city in summer 1875 (Wilder and Hubbard 1924, Wilder 1940b)

1924

1 collected in April 1924, probably south of the city in Nanhaizi (Nan Hai Tzu) hunting park (Wilder and Hubbard 1924, Wilder 1940b).

1955

1 specimen from Tongxian county on 8 June 1955 (Cai 1987). Mid-summer records must be exceptional!

1964

1 specimen from  Niulanshan, Shunyi on 22 January 1964 (Cai 1987). Mid-winter records are probably also exceptional.

1999

14 on a flooded area in Shunyi, January 1999 (Qian Fawen in litt. 1999 to BirdLife International [2001]

2004

1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang Miyun reservoir on the 1/10/2004. It was circling high up with a party of 5 Black Storks and would have been an early date even on the Hebei coast.

2009

3 at WDL on 21/3/2009 (Brian Ivon Jones, Spike Millington & Richard Carden – BIJ in litt. to PH on 20 March 2012)

Grey Heron 12 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Seven of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, one besides the Chaohe near Taishitun & the other four near Bulaotun.

Great Egret                  2 besides the Chaohe when viewed from the Xin Zhuang bridge near Taishitun, Miyun on the 19/3/2012.

Great Cormorant                  1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

White-tailed Eagle                  1 juvenile at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk                  2 singles near Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Kestrel 3 near Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Two were seen just south of Miyun reservoir dam while the third was at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.

Great Bustard                  3 distant birds at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Coot                  108 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Siberian Crane 3, a family party with two adults and a first year, at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. First seen at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang in the late morning what were undoubtedly these same three birds were later seen at Bulaotun. Rare in Beijing – the only previous sighting from Beijing was of a bird at Wild Duck Lake in March 2008. Terry suggested that the easterly winds of the previous weekend might have drifted this bird, and the White-naped Cranes, inland from the Hebei coast.

White-naped Crane 256 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 240 had been counted at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang earlier in the day but these were probably part of the group later seen at Bulaotun. Possibly only the second three figure count for Beijing  – but not the largest as 500 birds were reported at Miyun reservoir  one day later that our sighting in 2011 (fide “Xiaoming” in a BirdForum posting of 20 March 2011)

Common Crane 620 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 100 had been estimated at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang earlier in the day but these were probably part of the group later seen at Bulaotun.

Northern Lapwing                  6 around Miyun reservoir (four at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang & two at Bulaotun) on the 19/3/2012.

Long-billed Plover                  1 besides the Chao river when viewed from the Xin Zhuang bridge near Taishitun, Miyun on the 19/3/2012.

Kentish Plover                  2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Black-headed Gull                  61 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Mongolian Gull                  2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Oriental Turtle Dove                  2 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Collared Dove                  1 near Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Chinese Grey Shrike                  1 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Black-billed Magpie                  80 around Miyun reservoir & Miyun town on the 19/3/2012.

Carrion Crow                  4 flew north high over Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir at 16h45 on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Skylark                  2 singles at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

White-cheeked Starling                  2 in Hou Ba Jia Zhuang village, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Starling                  1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow                  Present but not counted around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

White Wagtail 14 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. These included 12 besides the Chaohe when viewed from the Xin Zhuang Bridge. Seven birds were seen well enough to racially assign & they were all leucopsis.

Meadow Bunting                  3 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Pallas’s Bunting                  8 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.