Arthur Patterson (1900) in The Zoologist, 4th series, Vol. IV. p. 534, under ‘The Birds of Great Yarmouth’ says: ‘During the invasion of this species in 1863 (when sixty were killed in Norfolk), several were obtained here. The North Denes and sand-hills were most frequented. The first Norfolk bird was found dead in the surf on May 23rd. A gunner named Nudd, on June 6th, shot a male out of a flock of nine. He mistook them for Plover, but described them to me as “running about like Rats.” On May 27th, 1876, a flock was observed on the Winterton sand-hills; and in May, 1888, a second invasion occurred, when over eleven hundred were seen in Norfolk, and one hundred and eighty-six were killed. A male and female were seen on the Denes as late as Dec. 2nd (vide Stevenson’s Birds of Norfolk, vol. i. pp. 376-404 ; also vol. iii. pp. 392-396).
Following the launch of the Ambassadors for Nature initiative in July 2022, work has been ongoing to put together resources and begin to implement the “Pledge for Nature” made by Ambassadors from 14 missions in Beijing.
In late September the first meeting of embassy gardeners took place, hosted by the Belgian Embassy and supported by ShanShui Conservation Center.
The page includes resources such as:
- a list of native plant and tree species;
- common wildlife to be found in central Beijing;
- guidance on building and erecting nest boxes for birds; and
- recommendations for embassy gardeners.
The page will be updated regularly, so please come back soon to see how the initiative is being taken forward.
Huge thanks to the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing and, in particular, Ambassador Clare Fearnley and Svar Barrington, for their energy and initiative.
If you are a member of a diplomatic mission in Beijing, or indeed from anywhere in the world. why not join us! See the page for contact details.
On Tuesday 27 September 2022, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) hosted a special seminar to publicise the results of the pilot Beijing Nocturnal Bird Migration Project.
Hosted by AIIB’s Vice President for Policy and Strategy, Sir Danny Alexander, and moderated by Tian Hua, the seminar included speakers from Peking University, the Beijing Municipal Government, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and embassies along the flyway, including Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. It was a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the miracle of bird migration that happens over Beijing as its residents sleep at night.
Every spring and autumn millions of birds fly over China’s capital city between breeding grounds in Siberia, Mongolia and north China and non-breeding grounds in south China, S & SE Asia, Australasia and even, in the case of Beijing’s Swifts and Common Cuckoos, to Africa. Some of these birds migrate during the day – for example, the larger soaring birds, such as birds of prey, cranes, storks etc that rely on thermals to assist their flight. However, the majority of birds (around 80%) – especially the smaller species – migrate at night. This is because there are fewer predators active during the dark hours, the weather tends to be cooler and more stable and some birds navigate using the night sky.
Many of these birds vocalise as they migrate – to keep in touch with each other as they fly and, towards the end of the night, attempting to initiate responses from their own kind on the ground, which could indicate a safe place to stop for the day. Using a simple sound recorder, it’s possible to gain an insight into the volume and diversity of birds flying over at night.
In autumn 2021, Birding Beijing, in collaboration with AIIB and Peking University, began a pilot project to record bird sounds at night from the roof of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. AIIB’s building is ideal – it’s 15 storeys high, not close to any major roads, free from aircraft noise and close to one of Beijing’s largest urban green spaces, the Olympic Forest Park. During the period 25 August to 2 November 2021 we programmed the recorder to record every night from sunset to sunrise, resulting in over 700 hours of recordings.
- 34,713 bird calls recorded
- Around 95% of calls identified to species or, in the case of buntings, flycatchers and thrushes, to family, with more than 60 species identified so far
- Most common calls were Olive-backed Pipit (12,411), Black-crowned Night Heron (5,358) and Eurasian Skylark (2,611).
- Five nights recorded over 2,000 calls (in order of volume`)
- 27/28 September (2,703 calls)
- 28/29 September (2,405 calls)
- 14/15 October (2,270 calls)
- 9/10 September (2,233 calls)
- 22/23 September (2,025 calls)
- The busiest hour-long file was 0502-0602 on 29 September with 1,012 calls
Rarities included possibly only Beijing’s 8th Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù and at least two Little Curlew Numenius minutus 小杓鹬 Xiǎo biāo yù (not annually recorded in Beijing).
The graph below shows the volume of bird calls recorded by date.
More detail about the results, including the species recorded, volume per species and date ranges, as well as example calls, can be found here.
Liu Shuangqi from Peking University briefed how the project is now expanding to six recording locations across the city in spring 2022 covering areas with varying light pollution to gain a insight into whether artificial light affects the calling rate of migratory birds.
Assistant Professor Hua Fangyuan provided some important context about the loss of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970, something scientists can estimate with some confidence given the strong datasets in the continent (13 datasets were used for the North American study, some of which stretch back more than 50 years). Those data are lacking in East Asia – in particular for migratory land birds – but what we do know, for example about shorebirds, is that bird populations here are likely to be on a similar trend. Long-term, standardised, monitoring is key.
So, what do the results of Beijing’s pilot project tell us?
First, that there is a high volume and diversity of birds migrating over Beijing, confirming that it is on a major ‘flyway’ or expressway for birds.
Second, that most of these migratory birds are species that pass through several countries, reinforcing that migratory birds do not belong to any single country – they are shared natural heritage and, with that, comes a shared responsibility to protect them and the places they need.
And third, if Beijing is to fulfil its responsibility to the flyway – to facilitate safe passage, the city must manage urban spaces in a way that helps birds to cross the hostile urban environment. Given the diversity of species migrating over Beijing (the top three by volume are a woodland bird, a wetland bird and a grassland bird), that means providing a diversity of habitats including natural forest, wetland and grassland.
After interventions from Peking University’s Professor Lu Zhi, embassies from flyway countries, a video message from Dr. Andrew Farnsworth of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and a lively Q&A with AIIB staff and invited guests, the event was wrapped up by AIIB’s General Counsel, Alberto Ninio, and culminated in the signing of a ‘letter of intent’ between AIIB and the Beijing Municipal Government.
AIIB and the Beijing Municipal Government agreed to cooperate on the nocturnal migration project and biodiversity conservation more broadly, including a commitment to use the data about the diversity and volume of migratory birds flying over China’s capital to inform land management policies in Beijing. This would ensure they help the city fulfil its role in the flyway – to facilitate safe passage of these migratory birds that are shared by so many countries.
After having trawled through 700 hours of recordings, to see the energy and commitment of the participants at this special seminar made it all worthwhile!
I was struck by the openness and willingness of the Beijing Municipal Government to take into account the data from this project in their land management policies. This is a big deal when one considers that the Beijing Forest and Parks Bureau manages around 75% of the capital’s landmass.
Huge thanks to AIIB, in particular Sir Danny Alexander, Alberto Ninio, Erik Berglof, Tian Hua, Li Zeyu and Yan Bo for allowing use of their roof and for their incredible support since the beginning of the project. It has been a delight to work with friends and colleagues from Peking University, especially Assistant Professor Hua Fangyuan, Professor Lu Zhi, Liu Shuangqi, Zhang Shen, Ren Xiaotong and Yang Xiaotong. The team at the Beijing Forest and Parks Bureau are a joy to work with and wonderful advocates for biodiversity in Beijing. Dr. Andrew Farnsworth and Benjamin Van Doren from Cornell Lab of Ornithology have been a great source of inspiration and encouragement. Finally, a thank you to the many birders who have helped with identifications of some of the calls, including Jonas Buddemeier, Geoff Carey, David Darrell-Lambert, James Eaton, Paul Holt, James Lidster, Magnus Robb, Seán Ronayne and Joost Van Bruggen, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.
More detail on the Beijing Nocturnal Migration Project, including results of the spring 2022 and the ongoing autumn 2022 projects, can be found here.
All photos here provided by AIIB.
In mid-June, during a period of easing of Covid-related travel restrictions, I was able to visit Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain. June is always a brilliant month to visit with breeding birds in full song and a vast array of insects, including some special butterflies.
The recording below is of the dawn chorus on the morning of 17 June 2022. It begins with the song of the White-bellied Redstart and includes Chinese Leaf, Claudia’s Leaf and Hume’s Warblers, Siberian Blue Robin, Chinese Thrush and many more. At a little over 17 minutes in total, it’s perfect for a tranquility break – put on your headphones, sit back and relax!
Last September Clare Fearnley, the New Zealand Ambassador to China, hosted a fantastic event called “Friends of the Flyway“, inviting Beijing-based ambassadors from the East Asian-Australasian Flyway countries to celebrate their shared natural heritage. It was a wonderful way to raise the profile of the Flyway and put migratory birds on the foreign policy agenda.
At that event there was a discussion about how embassies could do more to promote migratory birds and biodiversity in general. Recognising that diplomatic premises are important green spaces, one idea was to start an initiative to encourage embassies in Beijing to manage their green spaces in a more friendly way for nature. Clare loved the idea and with her usual enthusiasm and drive, pulled together a few contacts and experts to develop some draft terms of reference:
Embassies and their grounds can be important refuges for urban wildlife. In recognition of the global biodiversity crisis, the Global Biodiversity Framework due to be agreed at COP15 in 2022, and the importance of contributions from all sectors of society we, as ambassadors in Beijing, intend to support nature. Our Embassies will make choices that advance biodiversity. For example, we will seek to:
– Undertake an audit of the wildlife in the grounds of the embassy and other diplomatic premises at least once in each season of the year (this can take as little as one hour per season, ideally on the same date and at the same time to enable comparisons over time);
– Keep records of wildlife sightings by staff
– When planting, choose native species of tree, shrubs and other plants. We will also assess the plant species already on the embassy grounds and, where practical, over time remove non-native species
– Take at least two of the following measures to support wildlife:
o Reduce and, as far as possible, eliminate the use of pesticides;
o Allocate an area (for example, 10% of the overall area) that can be kept ‘wild’ with minimal management and erect signage explaining this to residents and visitors;
o Make and erect nest boxes for birds and/or insect hotels;
o Help to reduce the risk of bird collisions with glass by using bird-safe glass, ultraviolet patterns or other mitigation measures.
– Promote awareness among diplomatic staff about biodiversity, including information about urban wildlife that can be found in Beijing, and the actions the embassy is taking to support nature.
– Nominate a point of contact responsible for this initiative who can report to the network on the actions of the embassy, arrange the audits and report records of wildlife.
Fast forward to Wednesday 6 July and the New Zealand embassy hosted the first meeting of the “Ambassadors for Nature” initiative. Ambassadors and senior diplomats participated from Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Croatia, Finland, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Norway, Peru, Romania, Singapore, Slovenia, UK and the United Nations, alongside the Deputy Head of Beijing’s Forest and Parks Bureau (responsible for managing 70% of Beijing’s land), Professor Lu Zhi of Peking University and Professor Yolanda Van Heezik of Otago University and a group of young people from diplomatic families.
The energy in the room was palpable with wholehearted support for the initiative and a raft of positive suggestions about how to take it forward. Already sessions are being planned to provide training on how to conduct surveys of wildlife, tailored resources about the wildlife to be expected in Beijing city centre, and lists of native plant and tree species to guide diplomatic gardeners. The Beijing Municipal government offered to host a field trip for ambassadors to showcase Beijing’s biodiversity and WeChat groups have been set up to bring together contact points from each embassy, as well as plans to outreach to more embassies to encourage them to join.
There was even a suggestion that, once up and running, ambassadors could promote the initiative with their capitals to encourage ALL embassies and other diplomatic representations overseas to follow suit. Just imagine, for example, if all of the UK’s 160 embassies and high commissions overseas (as well as 186 consulates) committed to do the same. That would add up to quite a significant area of land!
It’s heartening to see this initiative getting off the ground and huge kudos must go to the New Zealand Embassy, especially Ambassador Clare Fearnley and Svar Barrington, for ensuring an idea discussed over coffee last year is coming to fruition – it is a terrific way for Ministries of Foreign Affairs to make a practical contribution towards the goals of the forthcoming Global Biodiversity Framework, due to be agreed by more than 190 countries at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting (COP15) in Montreal in December.
Early June is a fabulous time to listen to the dawn chorus. The vast majority of summer migrants have arrived and there’s no time to waste as males set up and defend a territory, attempt to attract a mate and raise a family in the short summer season.
This morning I was out at 0400 at my local lake, just 20 minutes walk from my apartment, to record the dawn chorus before the thunder of traffic became too much of an irritating soundtrack. On arrival, the air was already full of the loud, churring sounds of the Oriental Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus orientalis 东方大苇莺 Dōngfāng dà wěi yīng) and in the treetops surrounding the lake, the calls of Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus 大杜鹃 Dà dùjuān) and Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus 四声杜鹃 Sì shēng dùjuān) carried far and wide. The recently arrived Yellow Bitterns (Ixobrychus sinensis 黄苇鳽 Huáng wěi jiān) patrolled the airspace above the reedbeds with their floaty, almost owl-like, display flights and occasionally stopped to call from the reeds.
There are a few other species in this 15-minute recording, too. Can you name any? Headphones recommended!
The Dawn Chorus at Luoma Lake, Shunyi District, Beijing.
World Migratory Bird Day was on 14 May this year and the theme was light pollution. To mark the event, I authored an article for The Paulson Institute on the dangers of light pollution to migratory birds and it seems appropriate to publish it here on World Biodiversity Day.
There is now strong evidence that lighting attracts and disorientates migratory birds at night, causing many to seek shelter in our towns and cities. This exposes them to multiple threats, including collisions with glass.
The scale of deaths caused by collisions with glass is staggering. It is estimated that up to a billion migratory birds die each year in North America due to collisions with buildings. Although there are very few data from China, given many of its major cities are located close to the east coast, slap bang in the middle of one of the world’s busiest migratory expressways – the East Asian-Australasian Flyway – it is likely that the scale of the issue is similar here.
The good news is that this is one of the most avoidable sources of biodiversity loss. There are solutions from minimising light pollution at night, especially during peaks of migration, to using bird-safe glass in new buildings and retrofitting to existing buildings. There is much good practice emerging in North America, from ‘lights out’ programmes in many cities to legislation recently passed in New York to mandate the use of bird-safe glass in all new buildings and major renovations of old buildings.
Given China currently holds the presidency of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and is due to guide more than 190 countries to a new Global Biodiversity Framework, what better time for China’s cities to begin to address this issue.
I hope you enjoy the article and whether you live in a city on a flyway or experience bird collisions in your home, there is always something that you can do to help. Here are some great resources to help you get started:
Title image: Birds killed by collisions with glass at the World Trade Center Building in New York on September 14, 2021. The total count was 298 (269 dead and 29 injured taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre). Photo by Melissa Breyer.
Beijing’s wetlands come alive in spring as migratory birds, especially waterbirds, pass through on their way to breeding grounds further north. Some will even stay and breed in the capital.
A few days ago I was lucky to spend the last couple of hours of daylight on the edge of one of Beijing’s primary wetlands in Yanqing District. With the wind slowly dying as the sun set, the sounds came into their own. I set up my digital sound recorder and just sat back and relaxed. What treat!
You can enjoy just over 30 minutes of the recording below.
Amongst the chorus of Dark-spotted Frogs, I have picked out the following species: Common Pheasant, Garganey, Coot, Little Grebe, Black-winged Stilt, Wood Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank, Common Tern, Black-headed Gull, Oriental Magpie, Collared Dove, Zitting Cisticola, White-cheeked Starling, Buff-bellied Pipit, White Wagtail and Eastern Yellow Wagtail.
If you identify any more, please let me know!
Over the last few weeks I have been experimenting with watercolours to paint some of Beijing’s birds. It’s been a lot of fun to try different techniques and, although the results will not win any prizes, I’m beginning to put together a portfolio which, over time, will expand beyond birds to include other wildlife. If you are interested to see how they are turning out, please go to this dedicated page, which will be updated as and when new paintings are completed.
Each of the paintings has taken no more than 45 minutes, an ideal way to spend a break from work.
Title painting: Relict Gull Ichthyaetus relictus 遗鸥 Yí ōu
Raising awareness of the rich biodiversity in Beijing is a key step towards building the pride of Beijingers which, in turn, builds support for policies and measures to protect the incredible wildlife that can be found here.
In that context, it is great to see Danson Cheong of the Straits Times writing about Beijing’s Leopard Cats. Beijing is one of the few major capital cities in the world to host wild cats, so this species is a jewel in the crown of the capital and ought to be a key consideration when designing land management and habitat protection and restoration policies. The Leopard Cat loves tall grass, providing shelter and cover for it to hunt prey. This type of habitat is often cleared as it is deemed ‘untidy’, meaning that the Leopard Cat’s habitat in lowland Beijing is shrinking.
Enlightened land management policies could help to ensure that this incredible species has a bright future in China’s capital city, thriving alongside its human neighbours. The first step is to increase awareness.
Kudos to Professor Luo Shu-Jin for inviting Danson on a field trip as part of her team’s research programme, giving him the opportunity to experience the research work for himself and to gain a detailed understanding. Professor Luo’s study, including radio-tracking, will help build a much greater understanding of the habitat needs and movements of these poorly-known felids and, together with awareness-raising through articles such as this one, will go a long way to building more support for policies that protect this special cat.
You can read Danson’s article in the Straits Times here.
And click here for the dedicated page about Professor Luo ShuJin’s study of Beijing’s Leopard Cats.