China To Participate In The Champions Of The Flyway 2017

If you’re a birder, you almost certainly won’t need an introduction to the Champions Of The Flyway.  For those of you who don’t know COTF, as it is known, it’s an annual birding festival in Eilat, Israel, to raise money for conservation, the centrepiece of which is a 24-hr bird race involving teams from all over the world.

This year I am delighted to announce that a team from China will participate for the first time.  I am honoured to be one of the “The Golden Pheasants” alongside my teammates, one of China’s top birders, Tong Menxiu, and travel writer and birder, Chen Ting.

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Shanghai-based Tong Menxiu has worked on Spoon-billed Sandpiper surveys and runs China Wild Tour, leading birding trips across China and beyond.
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Beijing-based Chen Ting (“Cecilia”) is one of China’s most popular travel writers and an excellent wildlife photographer.

The event, in which teams from all over the world are trying to see the largest possible number of birds in one day – 28 March – will support efforts to combat illegal hunting in Turkey.  

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The ‘playing field’ within which teams will try to see as many species of bird as possible in 24 hrs on 28 March.

Conservation is the driving force for COTF and each team will be raising funds for BirdLife International’s partner in Turkey, Doğa Derneği (DD).  DD works to ensure safe passage of migrants through the country, especially the Anatolia region, an important bottleneck for migrating birds. The projects that COTF will support include youth activities to train the younger generation to become birdwatchers instead of hunters, and education of newly arrived Syrian refugees on Anatolia’s nature and conservation.   I am sure everyone will agree these are worthy causes.

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Illegal hunting is a big threat to wild birds in many countries, from raptor persecution in the UK that still persists today to the cagebird trade in East Asia, and everywhere in between.  As well as celebrating the miracle of migration, COTF is designed to raise awareness of the illegal hunting threat, to put pressure on the criminals and to raise much-needed funds to support local groups on the ground trying to combat this illegal activity.

As readers of Birding Beijing will know, illegal hunting is a big problem in China, in particular along the east coast during spring and autumn migration, driven by the demand for exotic food and, to a lesser extent, the cagebird trade.  By engaging China in the COTF, we hope to help raise awareness about illegal hunting and the international conservation efforts to try to tackle it.  And, by linking COTF to China, maybe we can persuade the organisers to support conservation efforts in China in the future!

Each team has a dedicated page on the COTF website.  The Golden Pheasants’ is here.  It includes a link to the JustGiving site which is accepting donations.

It’s important that I make something very clear, to avoid any suspicion or misunderstanding.  The participants themselves, and/or corporate and government sponsors, are paying the costs of travelling to Israel and hotel accommodation.  So absolutely ALL the money collected will be donated to BirdLife, and will make a big difference to the preservation of many individual birds and species.  Every donation, whether it’s GBP 1, CNY 100 or USD 10,000, is hugely appreciated.  

We’ll be using social media in China and overseas to promote the event, provide real-time updates of our progress and to generate support.  Follow @BirdingBeijing on Twitter for team updates, @FlywayChampions for official event tweets and use the hashtag #COTF17 to see all relevant updates and discussions. If you’re on WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform, add “birdingbeijing” to keep up to date.

 

 

Harlequin Duck in Beijing

 

Urban birding often springs surprises.   Given Beijing’s geographic position, the spectacle of migration is particularly impressive and many unusual species can turn up in the city’s parks and gardens.  The Swinhoe’s Rail in the Temple of Heaven Park and Beijing’s first Tree Pipit in the UK Ambassador’s garden are examples of rare and scarce species appearing at unexpected locations.

On Friday evening, news broke of another urban surprise in the shape of a female Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus, 丑鸭, Chǒu yā) that had been photographed near Anzhenmen, close to the north 3rd ring road in central Beijing.  The photo, by local bird photographer 侯金生 (Hou Jinsheng), circulated fast on Chinese social media and very soon my Saturday plans, to accompany Paul Holt to a forested area in northern Beijing, changed to take in an early stop to look for the Harlequin.

We arrived around 30 minutes before dawn and quickly found the site, a tiny weir along a concrete-sided canal just a stone’s throw from the busy 3rd ring road at Anzhenmen.  It seemed an odd place for a largely coastal (at least in winter) duck but there was running water which, together with the weir, provided an artificial micro-habitat not completely unlike the Harlequin’s preferred breeding habitat of fast-flowing streams.

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The site of Beijing’s first HARLEQUIN, a first-winter female, near Anzhenmen.

In the darkness, a few Mallards took to the air as local early risers began their morning walks along the canal and a few White-cheeked Starlings and Azure-winged Magpies announced their departure from roosts with raucous calls.  Even though the sun was not yet up it was possible to see that the Harlequin was not at the weir.  We waited close by, using the time to speculate whether the bird had just arrived and had used this site as a temporary stopover before moving on, or had it been here all winter undetected?  Given the location, and lack of observer coverage, the latter was certainly a possibility.  We agreed to give it until around 0730 before heading north to the Labagou Forest Park, as we had originally planned.

Within a few minutes we were joined by some local birders, including Huang Hanchen, Zhao Min, Shen Yan, Guan Xiangyu and Zhang Xiao.  Their arrival delayed our departure as we caught up to chat about birds and all manner of issues, including the significance of the day – Lantern Festival, officially the last day of Chinese New Year.  The Lantern Festival is a family celebration, so most of the Chinese birders had limited time as they needed to visit relatives later in the day, some travelling to other Provinces.  Guan Xiangyu and Zhang Xiao were on their way to the train station to visit relatives at Hengshui, and reluctantly had to leave with the bird not having shown itself..

Just a few minutes later, at around 0730, Paul and I were renewing our discussion about when to leave the site. Hanchen and Paul suddenly spotted something floating on the water, emerging from the tunnel and heading towards the weir.  They initially thought it was a piece of litter but very quickly realised it was the Harlequin!  It had seemingly roosted deep inside the dark tunnel and had emerged to feed around 20 minutes after sunrise.  We watched in awe as it swam and fed amongst the weed for several minutes, often at extremely close quarters and seemingly oblivious to its growing fan base.  Amused locals stopped to see what the fuss was about and, on seeing the Harlequin, one commented “Oh, that small brown duck has been there for at least 20 days”!

Several times the Harlequin stopped to preen on the edge of the weir and, as the sun rose, it looked splendid in the early morning light.

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Beijing’s first HARLEQUIN showed extremely well in its surprisingly urban setting.

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If it’s true, and we have no reason to suspect it isn’t, the Harlequin’s lengthy stay of “at least 20 days” means that the unfortunate Guan Xiangyu and Zhang Xiao, who had to leave just minutes before the Harlequin’s emergence, will hopefully connect when they return to Beijing next week.

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The first birders on the scene. In the foreground, He Wenbo (left) and Zhao Min with the Harlequin on the water.

Harlequin is a difficult bird to see in China.  There are a few records from well-watched Beidaihe in neighbouring Hebei Province, and several in the northeast Provinces of Jilin, Inner Mongolia and Liaoning, so it was on the radar as a potential visitor to Beijing.  However, the urban location was a complete surprise.  As well as being the first record for Beijing, the Anzhenmen Harlequin is the 482nd species to be reliably recorded in the capital.  In a personal milestone for Paul Holt, the Harlequin was his 400th species in the Chinese capital since he first birded there around 28 years ago.  Congratulations to Paul!

In Chinese, Harlequin is  丑鸭 (pronounced “chǒu yā”).  The second character “鸭” is pronounced “yā”, meaning duck.  The first character “丑”, pronounced “chǒu” has several meanings..  one is “clown”, the intended meaning in the case of the Harlequin, but another is “ugly”, hence Harlequin is known as “the ugly duck”!  Despite its ugliness, it’s proving to be probably the most-photographed Harlequin in China.

What will be next?

Big thanks to Hou Jinsheng for circulating his original photo of the Harlequin and to Huang Hanchen for passing on the news.  Thanks also to Paul Holt for driving on Saturday morning.

Note on diet: according to HBW, the Harlequin’s diet consists of “molluscs (e.g. gastropods such as Littorina sitkana), crustaceans and, in spring and summer, insects and their larvae/pupae (e.g. blackflies Simulium); also other invertebrates (worms) and small fish; very little plant material recorded.”  The Beijing bird appeared to be feeding on weed but it’s possible it was sifting this material for tiny molluscs or invertebrates.

A Birder’s Guide To The Great Wall

Birders are well known the world over for shunning even the most impressive tourist attractions in favour of a few hours birding, especially if there are a few local specialities to be seen. However, unlike in many capital cities, Beijing offers the chance to record some special birds whilst simultaneously experiencing one of the most awe-inspiring tourist attractions in the world – The Great Wall (Chinese: 長城, pinyin: chángchéng).

One of the most frequent queries I receive here at Birding Beijing is whether it’s possible to combine a day’s birding with a visit to the Wall.  So I thought it high time I produced this “Birder’s Guide To The Great Wall.”

The first thing to say is that, whichever section you visit, the Great Wall is majestic and it’s entirely possible to forget about birding when walking along the ramparts enjoying the stunning views and trying to imagine the incredible effort that went in to building this monumental construction that stretches from China’s east coast in Liaoning, Hebei and Tianjin through Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Shaanxi to Ningxia and Gansu Provinces in the west. The first sections were completed around 200BC; if you are interested in the history of the Great Wall, there is a good piece here.

Overview

There are several sections of the Great Wall within easy reach of Beijing city.  The advantages of these sites are that the travel time is relatively short and getting there is relatively easy. The disadvantages are that they are mostly restored sections, meaning they are not the most authentic, and they are busy. And busy in China means BUSY (87,500 visitors were recorded at Badaling on one day during “Golden Week” in October 2014 – see here for some astonishing photos of what the crowds can be like at peak times). For those of you who simply want to say you’ve seen or visited the Great Wall and want to prioritise birding elsewhere, these are the sites for you.

For those of you who prefer a more authentic experience and like to have space to turn around without the risk of knocking out multiple tourists with your binoculars, one of the more remote sections might be a better choice. The advantages of these sites are that they are usually, at least partially, in original condition (i.e. unrestored) and attract fewer visitors. The disadvantages are that they are harder to get to, usually requiring multiple public buses or hiring a private car and driver (remember it’s not possible to rent a self-drive car in China without a Chinese Driving License), have fewer, if any, facilities and the travel time will likely be much longer.

Another option, especially for those who like to walk and hike, is to take a tour with Beijing Hikers – a wonderful, and cost-effective, way to see some of the wilder sections of the Great Wall.  A little more on this option is at the end.

Whichever option you choose, I can (almost) guarantee that you will not be disappointed with The Great Wall. It’s spectacular.

Now I can hear you saying “ok, ok… that’s enough about the Wall, but what about the birds?!” Well, as you might expect, the diversity of birds at the Great Wall is relatively low. However, it is possible to see some of Beijing’s specialities such as Beijing Babbler, Plain Laughingthrush, Chinese Nuthatch, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit and Meadow Bunting.  And, in winter, there is a chance of something special such as Siberian Accentor or Pallas’s Rosefinch. The species possible at each site are essentially the same, so there is no major benefit in visiting one site over another in terms of the species you are likely to see. However, that said, the busier sections with greater human disturbance are likely to produce fewer species.

Of course, the potential species will also depend on season and weather, and numbers of the migrant birds will vary from year to year.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher is a relatively common breeder in the mountains around Beijing.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher is a relatively common breeder in the mountains around Beijing.

Below is my number one recommendation for those birders with only one free day and who want to combine birding with a visit to the Great Wall. After that is a guide to each individual section of the Great Wall that details accessibility via public transport and by private car, travel time, entrance fees, comments on authenticity and the number of visitors and, finally, a list of potential birds.

Recommendation:

My recommendation for the birder with only one free day who wants to combine birding with visiting the Great Wall (provided the visit is between late March and late November) – is to visit Yeyahu Wetland Reserve combined with the Badaling section of the Great Wall.

Yeyahu is a an impressive wetland site and a national nature reserve with breeding species including Eastern Marsh Harrier, Amur Falcon, Chinese Penduline Tit, Yellow Bittern, Oriental Reed Warbler and, sometimes, Schrenck’s Bittern among others. A downloadable PDF guide, detailing the possible bird species and logistics of getting there and back, is available on this site. The drive to Yeyahu takes the visitor along the G6 Badaling Expressway, passing the most popular section of the Great Wall – Badaling. A day-trip to Yeyahu can be easily combined with a stop at Badaling, usually on the return journey, if using a private car. A longer stop can also add a visit to the nearby, less disturbed, Badaling Forest Park where more mountain species should be possible (e.g. Yellow-rumped and Green-backed Flycatchers, Asian Stubtail, Yellow-throated Bunting and, possibly, Chinese Tawny Owl). This day out combines great birding, particularly in spring and autumn, with a walk along the most famous Wall in the world. And although Badaling is perhaps not the most spectacular option for experiencing the Great Wall, one could argue that experiencing the crowds at Badaling, especially at a weekend, adds to the “China experience”.  Note that both the Yeyahu Nature Reserve and Badaling Forest Park are closed from late November to late March so, if visiting outside this window, one of the options below will be more appropriate.  The Great Wall sites are open all year round.

The impressive tower hide at Yeyahu National Wetland Park, one of Beijing’s best birding sites.
The impressive tower hide at Yeyahu National Wetland Park, one of Beijing’s best birding sites.

Detailed Options

For those visiting birders looking for options to visit the Great Wall and do some birding at the same time, the options below are the most convenient.  However, please note this list is not exhaustive and there are many additional places to access the Great Wall, some of which are completely wild with no infrastructure and no facilities. Unless one is fully prepared and an experienced hiker, ideally with some Chinese, I would caution against attempting to visit these sites and instead stick to one of the options below. Whichever option you decide, you’re sure to have an unforgettable day.

  1. Badaling (Chinese:八达岭; pinyin: Bādálǐng)

Accessibility

Badaling is the section of the Great Wall most easily accessible from central Beijing. It’s around 70km from the city but almost entirely along the G6 Badaling Expressway, making the journey straightforward and fast, traffic permitting.

By Public Bus:

Take public bus number 877 from Deshengmen (north 2nd ring road), about 10 minutes’ walking from Jishuitan subway station (Exit B2) on subway line 2. It is a non-stop bus taking about an hour, traffic permitting, and costing CNY 12 per person. The drop-off site is close to the cable car station and about 10 minutes walk to the entrance.  Please note that the last departure from Deshengmen is at 12:30.

Bus Operating Time:

From Deshemngmen: Apr. 1 to Nov. 15: 06:00-12:30; Nov. 16 – Mar. 31: 06:30-12:30
From Badaling: Apr. 1 to Nov. 15: 10:30-17:00; Nov. 16 – Mar. 31: 11:00-16:30

By Train:

Trains (number S2) depart from Huangtudian Railway Station, which is near the Huoying Station along subway line 8 and subway line 13. A single journey takes about 1.5 hours and the fare is CNY 6. Not surprisingly, one should alight at Badaling Railway Station; the entrance to the scenic area is a 15 to 20 minutes’ walk. Just follow the passenger flow or direction boards and one will get there easily.  There are free shuttle buses between S2 train station and cable car station.

By private car:

Take the G6 Badaling Expressway from Beijing city and follow signs. Journey time: around 1 hour without heavy traffic. Parking is available for a small fee.

Admission Fee: CNY 45 (Apr. 1 to Oct.31); CNY 40 (Nov.1 to Mar.31)
Cable Car: CNY 40 (single way); CNY 60 (round trip)
Opening Hours: 06:40 to 18:30

Authenticity

Badaling is a relatively complete section of the Wall but recently renovated, so not completely authentic. Nevertheless, it’s impressive and there are lots of facilities (restaurants, souvenir sellers etc).

Crowds

Due to its accessibility, Badaling is probably the busiest section of the Great Wall and numbers of visitors, especially at weekends and during holidays, can be astonishing.

Birds

A number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. In addition, at the foot of the Wall, where the buses drop and pick up passengers, it’s possible to walk uphill to a vegetated gully that can sometimes produce more species. A visit to the nearby Badaling Forest Park, with a series of quiet forested trails, will likely add more species to your total (see below for instructions on how to get there).

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

Getting from Badaling Great Wall to Badaling Forest Park

To get from Badaling Great Wall to Badaling Forest Park, you’ll need to head west from the Wall towards Badaling town, then turn left under the G6 expressway and head straight on the S216.  After a few hundred metres, you’ll come to a T-junction.  Turn left here and, soon after, you’ll head into a tunnel.  Immediately after exiting the tunnel, you’ll see an area of rough ground immediately on your right.  Park here and walk up the narrow road (almost back the way you came) to find the entrance to the Badaling Forest Park.  After paying the modest entrance fee, walk inside and enjoy one or more of the circular trails.

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Beijing Babbler
Beijing Babbler is a common resident in the hills around Beijing. Listen for its distinctive calls.

2.  Mutianyu (Chinese: 慕田峪; pinyin: Mùtiányù)

Accessibility

Mutianyu is a similar distance from central Beijing, also restored, significantly less crowded, and has greener and more scenic surroundings. Historically, most tour groups did not go here, so this is generally a better option than Badaling. The journey is not all along the Expressway, so it usually takes a little longer than to Badaling. Mutianyu has a cable car to get onto and off the wall (though walking via stairs is advisable for birders). If you are feeling adventurous, there is a toboggan ride down.

By public bus:

From Dongzhimen Bus Station (northeast 2nd ring road and subway line 2), you should take bus line 916 Express or 916 to Huairou North Avenue (Huairou Beidajie) Station. The 916 Express is recommended, costing just CNY 12 and takes 60-70 minutes. Then, transfer to bus line h23, h24, h35, or h36 to Mutianyu Roundabout.  From here, walk about 450 meters to the ticket office of the scenic area.

By private car:

Take the Jingcheng Expressway (G45) to the northeast of Beijing. Take exit 13 onto Beitai Road towards Kuangou. After 3.6km take the left turn to Miaocheng Road and then right onto Qiaoping Road towards Shengquan Mountain. Follow signs to Mutianyu Great Wall.

Alternative:

The Schoolhouse (a restaurant and accommodation company in Mutianyu) also offers a schoolbus at weekends that goes to and from the Kempinski Hotel in Liangmaqiao area of Beijing (northeast 3rd ring road) to their restaurant that is a 10-minute walk from the Wall.   It departs Beijing at 09:00 and the Schoolhouse at 16:30. The cost is CNY 110 for a one-way trip or CNY 132 for a same day round trip. Reservations must be made online at The Schoolhouse website.

Admission Fee: CNY 45, CNY 25 for students only with ID containing a photo. In addition, the cable car to the wall costs more than the wall entrance: CNY 65 for adults (one way), or CNY 80 for a round trip (CNY 45 for children). The total price is CNY 158 for admission, shuttle bus to the ski lift both ways, ski lift and toboggan ride.

Cable Car: CNY 40 (single trip), CNY 80 (round trip); children between 1.2 and 1.4m height CNY 40; children under 1.2m height FREE

Opening Hours: April to October: 8:00 to 17:00; November to March: 8:30 to 16:30

Authenticity

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is also restored but is in more beautiful surroundings with vast, albeit not original, forests.

Crowds

Although not as busy as Badaling, Mutianyu still attracts large numbers of visitors, especially at weekends and during holidays. However, by walking just a few hundred metres from the main thoroughfares, it’s usually possible to get away from the largest crowds. The walk up and down is far less popular than the cable car, and the birding can be good, so taking this route is advisable for birders.

Birds

As with Badaling, a number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. The walk up and down, instead of the cable car, is recommended and can produce some good birds. For example, during my most recent visit in early June 2016, it was relatively straightforward to see Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Russet Sparrow and Daurian Redstart and we were lucky with a pair of displaying Chinese Sparrowhawks.

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

Pallas’s Rosefinch is a scarce winter visitor to the hills around Beijing and is a possibility during any winter trip to the Great Wall.
Pallas’s Rosefinch is a scarce winter visitor to the hills around Beijing and is a possibility during any winter trip to the Great Wall.

3. Jinshanling (Chinese: 金山岭; pinyin: Jīnshānlǐng)

Accessibility:

The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is located in the mountainous area in Luanping County, 125 km northeast of Beijing. This section of the wall is connected with the spectacular Simatai section to the east and some distance to the west is the Mutianyu section. Although it is further out, meaning fewer visitors, the journey is almost entirely along expressway, the G45 Jingcheng Expressway, meaning the journey time is usually 2-2.5 hours each way, depending on traffic.

By public bus:

Take subway line 13 (Exit D) or subway line 15 (Exit C) to Wangjing West Station. From here it’s possible to take a tourist bus to Jinshanling. The bus departs at 8:00 and returns at 15:00. The bus fare is CNY 32. The trip takes about 2 to 2.5 hours each way.

Please note that the direct tourist bus only operates during peak travel season (April 1 to November 15) and departs when there are at least 20 passengers. Otherwise, you need to take an alternative route (see below).

Take a tourist coach from Wangjing West Subway Station to Luanping, and get off at Jinshanling Service Area. Duration is about 100 minutes and ticket price is CNY 32 per person. Then, take a free shuttle bus to either gate of the scenic area. You can also hike from the Service Area to the scenic area; the distance is about 2 kilometers.

Schedule              Onward Trip                     Return Trip

Coach                  7:00 to 16:30 every 40 mins     6:30 to 16:00 every 40 mins

Free Shuttle Bus  10:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:30       10:30, 11:30, 13:30, 15:00

By private car:

Take Jingcheng Expressway from Beijing (towards Chengde) for around 120km and take the exit signposted Jinshanling Great Wall.

Admission Fee: CNY 65 March 16th to November 15th, CNY 55 November 16th to March 15th.

Cable Car: CNY 40 for single trip

Opening Hours: 0800 to 1700

Authenticity

Jinshanling, although also restored in places, is more authentic and attracts fewer visitors given its distance from Beijing. It connects with the spectacular Simatai section and a hike from one to the other is simply awe-inspiring. At the time of writing, however, the Simatai section is under renovation and it’s forbidden to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. Even without that option, Jinshanling is still very impressive and my personal favourite of the easily accessible sections.

Crowds

Being further out than Badaling and Mutianyu, Jinshanling attracts fewer visitors and I have been there on a weekday with the Wall almost to myself. That’s unusual but it gives a sense of how much less visited this section is compared with Badaling or Mutianyu.

Birds

As with Badaling and Mutianyu, a number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. The calls of Beijing Babbler and Plain Laughingthrush will almost certainly attract your attention at various points along the Wall and doing some homework to learn the calls of these two talented vocalists will help to distinguish them in the field.

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

The pretty Meadow Bunting is a resident in the hills around Beijing and is commonly encountered during visits to the Great Wall.
The pretty Meadow Bunting is a resident in the hills around Beijing and is commonly encountered during visits to the Great Wall.

4. Other sites

In addition to the three main sites described above, there are many other, wilder, sections that will almost certainly provide the birder with more chance of connecting with the resident birds but will require either a convoluted series of buses or private transport to get there and back. Two of the better options are Gubeikou and Jiankou.

4.1  Gubeikou (Chinese: 古北口 , pinyin: Gǔběikǒu)

The Gubeikou section of the Great Wall has never been reconstructed. Hence, it is somewhat dilapidated but retains its original beauty and offers a more authentic experience. Even though they are crumbling, the wall and watchtowers are wonderful to hike and, with very few people around, the opportunity to see wildlife will be increased.

Accessibility

Gubeikou is located in the northeast of Miyun County, about 120 kilometers northeast of central Beijing.

By public bus:

Take bus 980 Express from Dongzhimen station to Miyun Bus Station; and then bus Mi 25 to Gubeikou. From there, you will need to hike up to the Great Wall.
Bus schedule:

Onward Trip       Return Trip                            Fare

980 Express         6:00- 20:00   4:30- 18:30        CNY 17

Mi 25                     6:10-18:20    6:20- 17:30        CNY 8

By private car:

Take the Jingcheng Expressway. After around 115km take the exit to Gubeikou. Park in the village and hike up to the Wall.

4.2  Jiankou (Chinese: 箭扣, pinyin: Jiànkòu)

The Jiankou section of the Great Wall is one of the wildest. It is also the most photographed section due to its precipitous peaks and attractive scenery. “Jiankou” means “arrow nock”, because the shape of the mountain is like an arrow, with the collapsed ridge opening as its arrow nock.

Accessibility

To reach Jiankou Great Wall you must go to Xizhazi Village or Wofo Mountain Villa.

Bus routes to the two destinations are initially the same; go to Dongzhimen Station (subway lines 2 or line 13), and then take bus 936 at Dongzhimen Wai Station. Get off at Yujiayuan Station, and then take one of the following:

To Xizhazi Village: transfer to bus H25 at Yujiayuan to Xizhazi Station.

To Wofo Mountain Villa: transfer to bus H36 at Yujiayuan to Xinying Station. Walk north to the mountain villa.

Bus schedule and prices:

Bus                      Price                    Operating Time

No.936                CNY 6                 From Dongzhimen Wai: 6:40 – 17:10

From Yujiayuan: 4:35 – 17:00

No. H25              CNY 4                 From Yujiayuan: 11:30, 16:30

From Xizhazi: 6:00, 13:15

No. H36              CNY 3                 From Yujiayuan: 6:20, 11:30, 17:40

From Xinying: 7:05, 12:15, 18:30

An alternative for birder/hiker hybrids

Another option, especially for those who like to hike, is to take a trip with Beijing Hikers.  Although this means you will be with a group (usually 5-20 people), the hikes take place at some spectacular and rarely visited sections of the Wall.  The pace is relaxed, meaning you have ample opportunity to stop and scan for birds, and the price is very reasonable when one considers the transport and provision of refreshments (much cheaper than hiring your own car and driver).  Beijing Hikers usually offer several alternative hikes on any given day and pick-ups are from the Liangmaqiao area (northeast 3rd ring road, easily accessed by metro line 10).  Beijing Hikers is run by lovely people and they have great guides.   As well as being superb hikes, they’re a lot of fun, too.  You can check out their website here.

Please note that this information is correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of writing. However, things change, so if you are aware of any errors or omissions, please contact Birding Beijing on birdingbeijing@gmail.com so that they can be corrected for the benefit of others.

This guide is also available as a PDF download from the “Site Guide” section of the Birding Beijing website.

Experience World Class Yellow Sea Migration And Support The Local Conservation Effort

Are you free in mid-April, want to experience the world-class migration along the Yellow Sea coast AND support the local conservation effort?  If so, keep reading…

A local NGO called Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China (SBSC) is organising a special eleven-day tour for birders to showcase the spectacular migration of the Yellow Sea, connecting with some very special birds, including Spooner, whilst contributing to the effort to preserve this globally important habitat.

For background, the East Asian Australasian Flyway is the greatest flyway on the planet, stretching from the Taimyr Peninsula and Alaska in the north through China, Japan and the Koreas to Australia and New Zealand in the south.  In total, the flyway passes through 22 countries and is used by more than 50 migratory species.  The Yellow Sea is of vital importance to these birds, comprising a series of stopover sites where they can refuel, rest and moult their flight feathers during these mind-boggling journeys.

shorebird-flock

As most readers will know, much of the important intertidal mudflats along this stretch of coast have been reclaimed, causing the populations of many shorebirds to decline, most prominently the ‘Critically Endangered’ Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Thankfully, there is a large conservation effort dedicated to saving what remains of the intertidal mudflats and, importantly, there are an increasing number of local organisations and NGOs leading this effort.  One such organisation is “Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China (SBSC)”, a Jiangsu-based NGO led by the impressive Li Jing.  Established in 2008, SBSC focus on conserving the biodiversity along the Jiangsu coast. The team conducts regular waterbird surveys, promotes birding and nature observation activities, introduces people to the unique marine culture and improves conservation awareness among local communities, including schools, fishermen unions and business.

SBSC is a key partner of the China Coastal Waterbird Census Group (CCWCG).  The Census Group was established in 2005, training birdwatchers in bird identification and counting methods.  Surveys have been conducted by volunteers every month since September 2005, and it is widely recognised as the most successful example of citizen science in China.

To help promote the area to international birders and raise money to support the conservation effort, Li Jing and her colleagues have arranged a special tour for birders this April.  Running from 11-21 April, the tour will start and finish in Shanghai and will take in Rudong, the most important site in the world for Spooner, as well as a day’s pelagic trip and visits to nearby sites in Wuyuan, Nanjing hills and Huangshan.  The mouthwatering list of species likely to be encountered includes Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher, Little Curlew, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Saunders’s Gull, Black-faced Spoonbill, Reed Parrotbill, Blue-crowned Laughingthrush, Masked Laughingthrush, Hwamei, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Short-tailed Parrotbill, Dusky Fulvetta, Chinese Bamboo Partridge and many others including Pied Falconet.

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The “Magic Wood” at Rudong can be buzzing with migrants in spring and autumn.

Participants will have the added bonus of being guided by the best – Li Jing, Chen Tengyi, Han Yongxiang and Shanghai’s finest, Zhang Lin.  These birders have been surveying this part of the coast for more than 10 years and discovered the importance of Rudong for Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Birders could not be in better hands!

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Li Jing, leader of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China NGO
zhang-lin
Zhang Lin, Shanghai’s leading birder and discoverer of Rudong as the most important stopover site for Spoon-billed Sandpiper
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Chen Tengyi, from Chongming Island and an accomplished bird-whistler, skills learned from former hunters.
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Han Yongxiang, a wildlife illustrator from Lianyungang

At the time of writing there are 6 places available on the trip and interested birders are invited to contact Li Jing via email at info@sbsinchina.com for more information.

It promises to be a wonderful experience and, as well as seeing some special birds, participants will be helping the local effort to save these globally important sites.

Cover photo of Spoon-billed Sandpiper by Chen Tengyi.

Snow Bunting – new for Beijing

After ten new species were added to Beijing’s avifauna in 2016, it’s getting harder and harder to find new records for China’s capital city.  However, it took only a week of 2017 before the latest addition was discovered.  On 7 January, photographer 曲利军 (Qu Lijun) snapped a group of birds at Bulaotun that he hadn’t seen before and posted the photographs to the China Birdwatching Society’s WeChat group.  The photos caused much excitement, showing the first documented record for Beijing of SNOW BUNTING.  And it wasn’t, as is so often in the case of new birds, a single vagrant but instead a flock of at least 10 birds!

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Unfortunately, the birds were not seen by visiting birders the following weekend, so they have most likely moved on.  But have they gone far?  Bulaotun is on the northern edge of Miyun Reservoir, much of which is now inaccessible.. so they could easily still be in the vicinity.  Fingers crossed they are seen by more birders before the winter is out.  In the meantime, congratulations to Lijun!

Thanks to Huang Hanchen for the tip-off and to Qu Lijun for permission to post the photos on Birding Beijing.

Rare 19th Century Bird Art Discovered In China

An astonishing collection of more than 800 original paintings of China’s birds has recently been discovered.  The exquisite artwork thought to be by French missionaries, including Pierre Marie Heude, was found by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) and dates from the late 19th century during the Qing Dynasty under emperor Guang Xu.

pierre_heude_sj
Pierre Marie Heude, a missionary to China in the late 19th century, is thought to be the artist.

Heude was born in 1836 at Fougères in the Department of Ille-et-Vilaine, France.  He became a Jesuit in 1856 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1867.  He was sent to China in 1868 and, during the following years, devoted his time to the studies of the natural history of Eastern Asia, traveling widely in China.

He initially focused his attention on molluscs but then turned his attention to mammals and birds.  He helped to set up a museum of natural history at Xujiahui in 1868, the first of its kind in China.

The newly-discovered paintings were displayed, for the first time, to invited guests at a special event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 8 January and there will be a public exhibition in Beijing on 28 March.  It is hoped that the paintings may then be displayed around the country and overseas.

A very exciting find… Some photos of a few of the paintings are below.

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Beijing Cuckoos Continue To Inspire

At the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), I have just spent three wonderful days at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens (XTBG) in southern Yunnan Province.  Although I have visited Yunnan several times, it was my first visit to this particular oasis of subtropical forest, said to be one of the largest botanical gardens in the world and located close to the borders with Laos and Myanmar.  The reason for my visit was to brief the Director, Dr Chen Jin, his staff and students about the Beijing Cuckoo Project.

Xishuangbanna Prefecture boasts rich biodiversity.  In addition to an abundance of plants, “Banna” as it is known, is home to the last few Asian Elephants in China.  And the Botanical Gardens alone have recorded more than 300 species of bird.  The area, home to the Dai minority, suffers from relentless hunting pressure and deforestation which has seen much of the original forest replaced by rubber plantations.  The remaining forest, home to such stunning species as Long-tailed Broadbill, Blue-naped Pitta, Crimson Sunbird, not to mention the range-restricted Limestone Wren-babbler, has thus become a conservation priority.

As with many conservation issues around the world, there is a desperate need for public engagement, especially with the local villages, to try to engender a greater appreciation for the unique natural heritage of the region.

That is why Dr Chen was so interested to hear about the Beijing Cuckoos and how the project has helped bring scientific discovery to the general public, helping to raise awareness of migratory birds beyond the usual scientific community.  After meeting Dr Chen I met with his officials for more detailed conversations about the potential to work together to develop public engagement projects for Xishuangbanna.  I am excited to say that we’ll be developing proposals over the next few weeks and months.  There are parallels with the Amur Falcon story in Nagaland and, just as tagging technology has been part of that conservation success story, there’s a tremendous opportunity to use similar technology to help engage and enthuse a new generation in this remote part of southwest China.  Watch this space!  Big thanks to Alice Hughes and Wang Sidi for facilitating the invitation and for making the arrangements.

Of course, given it was my first visit to XTBG, I was delighted to accept the offer of guided birding with three talented local birders – Wang Ximin, Gu Bojian and Zhao Jiangbo.  Highlights were a single ASIAN OPENBILL, only recently added to the avifauna of China, a flock of at least 15 LONG-TAILED BROADBILLS and, for me as a cuckoo-fan, the best of all – a pair of stunning VIOLET CUCKOOS.  Thank you so much guys!

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A male VIOLET CUCKOO at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens
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A female VIOLET CUCKOO.
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ASIAN OPENBILL STORK, a recent addition to China’s avifauna but now regular at Xishuangbanna Botanical Gardens.

Title image: (from left to right) Wang Ximin, Zhao Jiangbo and Gu Bojian, three brilliant young birders based at XTBG.