The dawn chorus in urban Beijing

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.

Light pollution and bird collisions

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:

American Bird Conservancy

FLAP

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.

The sound of a Beijing wetland at dusk

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!

Wildlife Watercolours

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

Beijing’s Leopard Cats featured in Straits Times

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. 

Typical habitat of the Leopard Cat in Beijing. This habitat is also important for many bird species, providing cover and food in all seasons.

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.

Interview with Dr John MacKinnon by Han Xuesong about the updated Guide to the Birds of China

It’s more than twenty years since the publication of Dr. John MacKinnon’s seminal “A Field Guide to the Birds of China”.  From the moment it was released in 2000, it has been THE book on the birds of China and, given it was published in both English and Chinese, the “MacKinnon guide” as it has come to be known, was the gateway into birding for thousands of young Chinese.  

Of course, over time, the guide has begun to show its age.  There have been many new species added to the China list, a huge number of taxonomic changes and we now have much greater knowledge about the distribution of China’s birds (although there is still much to learn!). 

And so finally, after much encouragement, John caved in to pressure to update his book. And today, after more than two decades, the birding community in China is excited about the forthcoming release of the new edition.

In the interview below, young Chinese birder 韩雪松 (Han Xuesong) interviews John about the impact of his original book, the changes we can expect in the new version, how it remains a legacy for his main artist – the late Karen Phillipps – and finally, how we can get our hands on a copy of our own.  

 

Here are two good ways to order, with a discount, in the UK:

Direct from Oxford University Press using discount code “ASPROMP8” to save 30%.  Or order from Wild Sounds and Books in the UK, using code “RBABOTW” (Rare Bird `Alert book of the week) to obtain a discount and know that 5% of all sales goes to BirdLife International.

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2021

This is a summary of the rare, scarce and notable birds in Beijing in 2021.  Although I have included all information to which I have access, this summary is certainly not comprehensive. In particular, the number of previous records for species stated below is based on publicly available records, and may not be fully accurate.  If you know of any errors or additions, please comment at the end of this post or contact me directly via email/WeChat so that they can be corrected or added.  

Overall Highlights:

  • New records include Beijing’s 1st SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER Ardenna tenuirostris 短尾鹱 Duǎn wěi hù, KAMCHATKA WARBLER Phylloscopus examinandus 堪察加柳莺 Kān chá jiā liǔ yīng and GREY-CROWNED WARBLER Phylloscopus tephrocephalus 灰冠鹟莺 Huī guān wēng yīng, and the 1st and 2nd records of BLUE-FRONTED REDSTART Phoenicurus frontalis 蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú
  • The 1st record of CHESTNUT-CHEEKED STARLING 紫背椋鸟 Zǐ bèi liáng niǎo (of questionable origin)
  • The 1st and 2nd documented records of Vega Gull Larus vegae 西伯利亚银鸥 Xībólìyǎ yín ōu.  Note that Vega Gull (L.vegae) and Mongolian Gull (L.v.mongolicus) are treated as the same species by Chinese taxonomic authorities.
  • The 2nd record of SANDHILL CRANE Grus canadensis 沙丘鹤 Shāqiū hè
  • The 2nd record of WOOD WARBLER Phylloscopus sibilatrix 林柳莺 Lín liǔ-yīng
  • Possibly only the 2nd record of BROWN-HEADED THRUSH Turdus chrysolaus 赤胸鸫 Chì xiōng dōng
  • Possibly only the 2nd, 3rd and 4th records of PALE SAND MARTIN Riparia diluta (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn)
  • The 3rd NORTHERN WHEATEAR Oenanthe oenanthe 穗䳭 Suì jí
  • The 3rd and 4th records of BLACK BITTERN Dupetor flavicollis 黑鳽 Hēi yán
  • The 3rd, 4th and 5th records of BESRA Accipiter virgatus 松雀鹰 Sōng què yīng
  • The 4th REDWING Turdus iliacus 白眉歌鸫 Báiméi gē dōng
  • The 4th record of COMMON RINGED PLOVER Charadrius hiaticula (剑鸻 Jiàn héng)
  • The 5th record of RED-CROWNED CRANE Grus japonensis 丹顶鹤 Dān dǐng hè
  • The 5th record of BONELLI’S EAGLE Aquila fasciata 白腹隼雕 Bái fù sǔn diāo
  • The 5th record of GREAT WHITE PELICAN Pelecanus onocrotalus 白鹈鹕 Bái tí hú
  • The 5th, 6th and 7th records of GREY-TAILED TATTLER Tringa brevipes 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi [piào] yù
  • A WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER Halcyon smyrnensis 白胸翡翠 Bái xiōng fěicuì in the Olympic Forest Park, a rare vagrant with very few recent records.

A month by month summary of the birding highlights from Beijing in 2021 is below, in chronological order. It is worth noting that Beijing does not yet have a committee to assess the accuracy of records, and some of the reports outlined in this summary without photos, audio or descriptions, are taken at face value. It’s possible that some may be reviewed if and when a committee is created.

A big THANK YOU to the thousands of birders who have shared news of sightings throughout the year, whether via WeChat, email, eBird, Birdreport.cn or any other means. There is no doubt that sharing bird news has helped many people to see new and unusual species for the first time, building the knowledge base among birders in Beijing and, importantly, enthusing more people about the natural world.  Particular thanks to Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou, Wei Zichen, “Oriental Stork”, Gao Xiaoyan and Colm Moore for providing written accounts of their spectacular finds this year (see links in text), to Paul Holt for providing comments and additional information on a draft of this post, to 大好 for providing additional records, to Wei Chunzhi for assistance, and to the photographers – including Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou, 大好 DaHao, Guan Xueyan, “Oriental Stork”, Gao Xiaoyan, Dave Guo, Colm Moore, Su Peng and 清子Zoey – for granting permission to use their images to illustrate this summary.

For highlights of the latest bird news in Beijing click here.  And for a basic summary of the Status of the Birds of Beijing, click here.  Contributions, corrections and additions always welcome!

Here’s wishing everyone a healthy, happy, rewarding and bird-filled 2022.

Birding Highlights of 2021 Month by Month

January 2021  2021年1月

Early January saw a few wintering rarities and scarcities from late 2020 staying into the new year, including two ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD Buteo lagopus 毛脚鵟 Máo jiǎo kuáng at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 1st (黑眼豆豆), a WESTERN WATER RAIL Rallus aquaticus 西方秧鸡 Xī fāng yāng jī at Shahe Reservoir on 2nd (麦克曹), remaining until 7 March at least, two BROWN-EARED BULBUL Microscelis amaurotis 栗耳短脚鹎 Lì ěr duǎn jiǎo bēi in Yuyuantan Park (无名浪客), up to ten  JANKOWSKI’S BUNTING Emberiza jankowskii 栗斑腹鹀 Lì bān fù wú at Ming Tombs Reservoir, with the last report of three seen on 20 March, a MEADOW PIPIT Anthus pratensis 草地鹨 Cǎodì liù that remained until 22 March, also at Ming Tombs Reservoir, and a YELLOWHAMMER  Emberiza citrinella 黄鹀 Huáng wú seen on and off at the same site. 

Eleven DAURIAN PARTRIDGE Perdix dauurica 斑翅山鹑 Bān chì shān chún were seen at Lingshan on 2nd (大牙齿 458, XiaoPT et al.), a notable record given the recent decline in the number of reports of this species in the capital.  There was a NORTHERN LONG-TAILED TIT Aegithalos caudatus 北长尾山雀 Běi cháng wěi shān què in Chaoyang Park on the 4 & 5 January while another was at Nanhaizi on 9th (李云帆). The third of the month stayed longer, remaining in Yuanmingyuan Park from the 31 January to 26 February. 

On 8th, a NORTHERN LAPWING Vanellus vanellus 凤头麦鸡 Fèng tóu mài jī at Yuxinzhuang, Tongzhou (ameramer) was a rare winter record.  On 10th there was the first of what turned out to be a series of records of SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER Mergus squamatus 中华秋沙鸭 Zhōng huá qiū shā yā from the Summer Palace (via Liu Aitao and Zhang Xiaoling) with up to 1,000 COMMON MERGANSER Mergus merganser 普通秋沙鸭 Pǔ tōng qiū shā yā and a single RED-BREASTED MERGANSER Mergus serrator 红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā.  On 11th there were three RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX Leiothrix lutea (红嘴相思鸟, Hóng zuǐ xiāngsī niǎo) of unknown origin in the Botanical Gardens (Wang Qihan) and, on 12th, the count of COMMON MERGANSER Mergus merganser 普通秋沙鸭 Pǔ tōng qiū shā yā at the Summer Palace reached an estimated 1,200 (_星畔_).  Possibly only Beijing’s 2nd BROWN-HEADED THRUSH Turdus chrysolaus 赤胸鸫 Chì xiōng dōng was reported from the Olympic Forest Park on the 13th (稻草大魔王).

The overwintering LESSER WHITETHROAT Sylvia curruca 白喉林莺 Báihóu lín yīng was seen again on 14th and 15th January in the Agricultural Exhibition Center Park (niaotu and 麦克曹 respectively) and remained until at least 16th March. On 16th January, a female SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER Mergus squamatus 中华秋沙鸭 Zhōng huá qiū shā yā was found along the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), staying on and off until at least 14 February. 

The female Scaly-sided Merganser found along the Wenyu River on 16 January 2021.  Photo by Terry Townshend.

A second YELLOWHAMMER  Emberiza citrinella 黄鹀 Huáng wú was reported from Cuihu Wetland on 21st (夜色阑珊) and the next day at least ten BROWN-EARED PHEASANT Crossoptilon mantchuricum, 褐马鸡 Hè mǎ jī were recorded at Da’anshan Forest Station (restricted access) (Zhang Shen, XiaoPT, 大牙齿 458 et al.).  A COLLARED CROW Corvus torquatus 白颈鸦 Bái jǐng yā, apparently with a damaged wing, at Yongdingzhen on 25th January (Wang Xiaobo) remained until 30th at least.

On 30th, an instructive Buteo sp. showing some characteristics of Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus) was found along the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend). After excellent photographs were obtained by 没着落 (Méi zhuóluò) and Wang Yibin, the ‘file’ was sent to world raptor expert, Dick Forsman, who suggested it was most likely an intergrade between Eastern Buzzard (Buteo japonicus) and Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus).

The month ended with the excellent find of a ROSY PIPIT Anthus roseatus 粉红胸鹨 Fěnhóng xiōng liù along the Wenyu River on 31st (Liu Aitao), possibly the first winter record of this species in Beijing.

This Rosy Pipit 粉红胸鹨 was a great find by Liu Aitao on 31 January along the Wenyu River, possibly the first winter record of this species in Beijing.  Photo by Liu Aitao.

February 2021  2021年2月

On 7th there was a GREATER SCAUP Aythya marila 斑背潜鸭 Bān bèi qián yā at the Tongzhou-Dayunhe Forest Park (netfish) and a JAPANESE GROSBEAK at Jingzhongdu Park, Fengtai (小小小小鱼).  On 8th an exceptionally early LITTLE RINGED PLOVER was at the Qingshui River (Catherine Dong).  11th saw reports of a very early PACIFIC SWIFT and a RUFOUS-BELLIED WOODPECKER from Liangshui River, Tongzhou (ericblue).  A MUTE SWAN Cygnus olor 疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é was reported from the Liangshui River on 14th (京通燕雀), the same day that a spectacular count of 842 LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis 小鸊鷉 Xiǎo pì tī was reported from the Yunhe near the Yulinzhuang Bridge, Tongzhou (通州大好).  On 18th a REDWING Turdus iliacus 白眉歌鸫 Báiméi gē dōng was found at the Institute of Botany (Wang Qihan), remaining until 24th at least, only the fourth Beijing record.  Two BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā), were at the Summer Palace on 22nd (天书) with another at Yuanmingyuan the next day (应武), increasing to two on 24th and 25th.  The first BARN SWALLOWS (家燕 Jiāyàn) of the year were reported from the Summer Palace on 24th (Hang Ye).  A NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) was at Yangtaishan Rosefields on the 26th (Wang Xiaobo).

March 2021  2021年3月

A report of 560 SWAN GOOSE (鸿雁 Hóngyàn) at Cuihu Wetland Park on 3rd was possibly a record count for Beijing (夜色阑珊) but are they wild?  On the same day, a MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) was at the Yongding River, Junzhuang Village (D逍遥法外) and an adult PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) was at Shahe Reservoir (Anonymous).  On 6th there were two PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (hermitress geng) and a female BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā) at Dayunhe Forest Park (Qiuyang Zheng), with two of the latter remaining in Yuanmingyuan (SANGSANG).  The 7th will live long in the memory for 大好 as he photographed Beijing’s second SANDHILL CRANE (沙丘鹤 Shāqiū hè) at Miyun Reservoir. 

The Sandhill Crane 沙丘鹤, with Common Cranes, at Miyun Reservoir on 7 March 2021. Photo by 大好.

On 8th there was a fantastic count by Colm Moore of 25+ taimyrensis LESSER BLACK-BACKED (SIBERIAN) GULL (乌灰银鸥 Wū huī yín ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (5 ads, 15+ first-winter types and 5 sub-adults, probably 2nd winter) and another BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā青头潜鸭) at Nanhaizi (amal amer).  On 12th there were four MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) at the Liangshui River (Zongzhuang Sanderling Liu).  On 14th a RED-NECKED GREBE (赤颈䴙䴘 Chì jǐng pì tī) was reported from Nanhaizi (SANGSANG) and news broke of a SIBERIAN CRANE (白鹤 Báihè) that had been satellite-tracked (but not seen) over Beijing (Zhou Haixiang via Liu Yang).  Four LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (小白额雁 Xiǎo bái é yàn) were at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 16th (Colm  Moore), remaining until 19 April, and two MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) were at Shahe Reservoir on the same day (niaotu).  On 18th, two BROWN-EARED PHEASANT (褐马鸡 Hè mǎ jī) and a WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER (白背啄木鸟 Bái bèi zhuó mù niǎo) were at Xiaolongmen (XiaoPT, 大牙齿 458 et al.) and, on 19th the first COMMON SWIFT (普通楼燕 Pǔtōng lóu yàn) of the year was reported from Baiwangshan (atz088).  On 20th, Beijing’s first documented record of Vega Gull was an excellent find by Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou and Wei Zichen at Shahe Reservoir.  Note that the Chinese taxonomic authority treats Vega Gull (Larus vegae) and the much more frequent Mongolian Gull (Larus vegae mongolicus) as the same species. 

An image of the Vega Gull at Shahe Reservoir on 20 March 2021. For more images and background, see here. Photo by Lou Fangzhou.

Also on 20th, four EURASIAN CURLEW (白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù) were at Ma Chang (Zongzhuang Sanderling Liu, Liu Chunhong and Xu Shi).  On 21st there was a EURASIAN TREECREEPER (旋木雀 Xuán mù què) at Xiaolongmen (Jun Yang et al.) and an unusual lowland record of a RED-BILLED CHOUGH (红嘴山鸦 Hóng zuǐ shān yā) from the Olympic Forest Park (Xu Jun).  On 24th three BLACK-TAILED GULL (黑尾鸥 Hēi wěi ōu) were at Shahe Reservoir (Guan Xueyan et al.) – see photo here. At least one had been present since the 20th with four reported there on the 22nd; two remained until 29th and one into early April.  On 28th there was a NORTHERN WHEATEAR (穗䳭 Suì jí) at the DaShi River (关翔宇,丫丫鱼(万伟)和北京飞羽的志愿者们) and a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí) at Yeyahu (yaohongbo).  On 29th a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) was at Baiwangshan (via 黑眼豆豆).  The month ended with five ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鸻 Dōngfāng héng) at the Liangshui River, Tongzhou (D逍遥法外) on 31st, a rare record away from the most frequented site of Ma Chang.

April 2021  2021年4月

April began with the unlikely occurrence of a SOOTY TIT 银脸长尾山雀 Yín liǎn cháng wěishān què in the Temple of Heaven Park (麦克曹) on 1st.  Given that this species is considered resident and has a distribution in the mountains of Central China, plus the location of Temple of Heaven, it is most likely this individual was an escape or deliberate release. 

One of the star birds of the year was a BONELLI’S EAGLE (白腹隼雕 Bái fù sǔn diāo) photographed at Baiwangshan on 4th (一缕清风, Zhou Chun, Bu Xinchen et al.), possibly only the fifth record for the capital.  Also on 4th an alba WHITE WAGTAIL (白鹡鸰 Bái jí líng) was at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), remaining until 6th at least.  On 10th, a pale morph BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) was at Shahe Reservoir (Zhang Weimin).  On 11th there was a LESSER KESTREL (黄爪隼 Huáng zhǎo sǔn) at Baiwangshan and an ORIENTAL STORK (东方白鹳 Dōngfāng bái guàn) at Shahe Reservoir (both records by 天书). On 13th there were three BOOTED EAGLES (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (amal amer et al.).  On 14th there was a BESRA (松雀鹰 Sōng què yīng) at the same site (atz088) and a rare spring record of STEPPE EAGLE (草原雕 Cǎoyuán diāo草原雕 Cǎoyuán diāo) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore).  There was another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan on 15th (atz088) and yet another at Shahe Reservoir the following day (Guan Xueyan), when there was also a COLLARED CROW (白颈鸦 Bái jǐng yā) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Anonymous).  A COMMON RINGED PLOVER (剑鸻 Jiàn héng) on 17th was a great find by Colm Moore and, on the same day, there was a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) in the Temple of Heaven Park (amal amer et al.) and another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (Ge Mengshuai et al.).  The 24th produced a BAILLON’S CRAKE (小田鸡 Xiǎo tiánjī) at HuoYing (Wang Xiaobo) which stayed until at least 3 May.  There were two (female) SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER (中华秋沙鸭 Zhōnghuá qiū shā yā) at Shahe Reservoir on 26th (amal amer et al.) and, on 29th, both NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN (Bái fù máo jiǎo yàn) and ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN (烟腹毛脚燕 Yān fù máo jiǎo yàn) were reported from Baiwangshan (果茶2020, 山阴秋雁 and atz088, 云飞扬, 一缕清风, taizhoudragon et al. respectively).  Also on 29th a LITTLE STINT (小滨鹬 Xiǎo bīn yù) was at Ma Chang (amal amer and Terry Townshend) and a PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) was at Shahe Reservoir (天书).  The month ended with a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) in the Olympic Forest Park on 30th (Catherine Dong).

May 2021  2021年5月

May began with a bang when two PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) were photographed at Shahe Reservoir (Dave Guo).  This species is hard to identify in the field and is presumably an often overlooked passage migrant. 

One of two Pale Sand Martins 淡色沙燕 at Shahe Reservoir on 1 May.  Photo by Dave Guo.

Also on 1 May were two BOOTED EAGLES (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (云飞扬), a remarkable eight GREEN-BACKED FLYCATCHER`S (Lǜ bèi jī wēng) reported from Temple of Heaven Park (jmj) and a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at Yangtian Village, Tongzhou (通州大好).  On 2nd, there was another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Yeyahu (alphah) and GREY-BACKED THRUSHES (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Hóu shí yá, Mentougou (无名浪客) and Yuyuantan Park (sunliemily).  On 4th a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) was seen at Baiwangshan (Zhou Tingting), there was a NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN (白腹毛脚燕 Bái fù máo jiǎo yàn) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore) and a rare lowland record of a male PLUMBEOUS WATER REDSTART (红尾水鸲 Hóng wěi shuǐ qú) at Peking University campus (Dave Guo et al.).  On 6th another PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) was seen well at close quarters at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), there were two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) at Shahe Reservoir (Jun Shuai), and there was a rare lowland record of an ALSTRÖM’S WARBLER (淡尾鹟莺 Dàn wěi wēng yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (David Mou) with an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at the same site (Zhang Xiaoling).  On 8th there was at least one, and up to three, PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) at the Chaobai River (Terry Townshend), a GREATER PAINTED SNIPE (彩鹬 Cǎi yù) at Shahe Reservoir (Dave Guo) and a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Nanhaizi (Liu Zhiheng).  On 9th there was another lowland ALSTRÖM’S WARBLER (淡尾鹟莺 Dàn wěi wēng yīng) and an EYEBEROWED THRUSH (白眉鸫 Báiméi dōng) at Temple of Heaven Park (Liu Chunhong et al.), an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo), an EYEBROWED THRUSH (白眉鸫 Báiméi dōng) and a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at the ChaoBai River (Catherine Dong and DaHao) and two more BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Yeyahu (Lin Yiwei and Ge Mengshuai). The 10th produced the first and second of the year’s five MUGIMAKI FLYCATCHER (鸲姬鹟 Qú jī wēng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (蛐蛐) and in Tongzhou (大好), with two GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at the former site. 

Male Mugimaki Flycatcher 鸲姬鹟 in the Temple of Heaven Park, 10 May 2021. Photo by Su Peng.

On 11th, RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were in the Olympic Forest Park (Grady Singleton) and at Peking University campus (Dave Guo).  On 12th there was a SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) at Shahe Reservoir (Stefan Andrew) and RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were still at Peking University campus and at Liuyin Park (Shu Zhu via amal amer).  The 13th produced possibly only Beijing’s third BLACK BITTERN (黑鳽 Hēi yán) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore) with a female SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) at the same site and a male SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) was in the Temple of Heaven Park (天书).  On 14th a male SLATY-BACKED FLYCATCHER (锈胸蓝姬鹟 Xiù xiōng lán jī wēng) was found in the Olympic Forest Park (Terry Townshend) with an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at the same site. 

The male Slaty-backed Flycatcher 锈胸蓝姬鹟 in the Olympic Forest Park on 14 May 2021 (Terry Townshend)

Also on 14th, the male SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) was still in the Temple of Heaven Park, where it had been joined by a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) (茶 茶丸), with both remaining until 16th at least. On 15th there was a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Zichen Zhou) and at Ma Chang there was a single RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù), two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) and a TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) (Wang Xiaobo). On 16th the two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) and a TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) at Ma Chang were joined by a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER (尖尾滨鹬 Jiān wěi bīn yù) (Zheng Qiuyang).  A CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was a nice find at HuoYing (Wang Xiaobo) on 17th and Beijing’s first GREY-CROWNED WARBLER Phylloscopus tephrocephalus 灰冠鹟莺 Huī guān wēng yīng was photographed in Yuanmingyuan Park 17 May 2021 (Song Huiqiang et al. via Paul Holt). A PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) was at Peking University campus on 18th (Dave Guo), and a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí) was at Baiwangshan on 19th (Yi Lin).  On 20th there was a LESSER CUCKOO (小杜鹃 Xiǎo dùjuān), a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) (flying north) and an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore).  On 22nd a SCHRENCK’S BITTERN (紫背苇鳽 Zǐ bèi wěi jiān) was at DaYunHe Forest Park (Wang Xiaobo), one of few reports of this species in 2021.  Also on 22nd, a report of three BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) at Wanshou Anshan, Mentougou (Oriental Stork) and a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Li Xingyu).  On 23rd, a wonderful flock of 20 ASIAN DOWITCHER (半蹼鹬 Bàn pǔ yù) was found at Shahe Reservoir (云天) and an ORIENTAL CUCKOO (北方中杜鹃 Zhōng dùjuān) was at Cuihu Wetland Park (Ge Mengshui).  On 26th a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí), was at DaShiHe (大牙齿 458) and, the following day, the second BLACK BITTERN (黑鳽 Hēi yán) of the year, and possibly only Beijing’s fourth, was reported from Ruilinwan Hot Spring Resort (独行虾 Bird.soong).  On 29th there were three (two female and one male) ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER (Terpsiphone paradisi 寿带 Shòu dài) in the Olympic Forest Park (David Mou et al.) and a BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) was sound recorded at the same site (Lu Zhuofei).  Also on 29th, a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) was at the DaYunHe Forest Park (Wang Xiaobo).  On 30th a CINNAMON BITTERN (栗苇鳽 Lì wěi jiān) was in the Olympic Forest Park (天书) where it remained into June.  A PHEASANT-TAILED JACANA (Hydrophasianus chirurgus 水雉 Shuǐ zhì) was a nice find at Shahe Reservoir on 31st (niaotu, pksunking, atz088, Wang Xiaobo et al.).  In addition, a male Chestnut-cheeked Starling 紫背椋鸟 Zǐ bèi liáng niǎo of unknown origin was photographed in Yuanmingyuan sometime in May by an unknown observer.

June 2021  2021年6月

The 1st was a red letter day for Colm Moore as he found a KAMCHATKA WARBLER (堪察加柳莺 Kān chá jiā liǔ yīng) at Ming Tombs Reservoir, well-documented by his recording of the song and calls. The first record of this species in Beijing.

A ‘wing-flicking’ Phylloscopus, possibly the P. examinandus, from 1 June 2021 at Ming Tombs Reservoir. Photo by Colm Moore.

Also on 1st a CHINESE BUSH WARBLER ((中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was at Shahe Reservoir (Wang Xiaobo).  On 2nd the CINNAMON BITTERN (栗苇鳽 Lì wěi jiān) was joined by a BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (楼燕12138).  On 3rd there was another SCHRENCK’S BITTERN (紫背苇鳽 Zǐ bèi wěi jiān), this time at Peking University campus, and on the same day a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was in the Botanical Gardens (Grady Singleton) and another CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was at the Wenyu River with a BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) (Terry Townshend).  Another BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) was at HuoYing on 5th (Wang Xiaobo).  On 8th a BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) was reported from Miaofengshan (alphah) and on 9th came the remarkable news of a SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER (短尾鹱 Duǎn wěi hù) picked up exhausted the previous day at Tuancheng Lake near the Summer Palace, the first record for Beijing.  On 10th a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was seen flying south early evening at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend).  清子Zoey and friends found a GREY-TAILED TATTLER (灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi [piào] yù) in the Olympic Forest Park on 13th, perhaps only the fifth record for Beijing, and on the same day a TIGER SHRIKE (虎纹伯劳 Hǔ wén bóláo), was found in Fengtai District (Oriental Stork), with a pair seen later.  Subsequently breeding was confirmed. A COMMON RINGED PLOVER (剑鸻 Jiàn héng) was reported from Ma Chang on 16th (Wang Qihan).  

The Grey-tailed Tattler 灰尾漂鹬 in the Olympic Forest Park on 13 June. Photo by 清子Zoey.

July 2021  2021年7月

On 11th there were two interesting records from Lingshan by Cory Gao with an unusual summer record of LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCH (长尾雀 Cháng wěi què) and a spectacular record of a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng).  Also on 11th there was a LESSER COUCAL (小鸦鹃 Xiǎo yā juān), at Miyun Reservoir (Wang Xiaobo), which remained until 13th at least (amal amer, Liu Aitao et al.), when three YELLOW-LEGGED BUTTONQUAIL (黄脚三趾鹑 Huáng jiǎo sān zhǐ chún) were at the same site.  Four RED KNOT (红腹滨鹬 Hóng fù bīn yù) were a nice find at Ma Chang on 18th (Zhao Xiaojian) and, on 19th, there was another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the Jiadaowan Grand Canyon Scenic Area, Miyun (te te).  Two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) were at Ma Chang on 22nd (amal amer and Terry Townshend).  On 24th Wang Qihan found a GREAT WHITE PELICAN (白鹈鹕 Bái tí hú) at Shahe Reservoir.  This immature bird (2cy?) stayed until 26th at least and, although in good condition, fully winged, un-ringed and wary, some birders questioned its origin, pointing to the fact that this species is widely bred in captivity in China, with almost all breeders not marking captive birds through ringing or colour-banding. 

The Great White Pelican 白鹈鹕 at Shahe Reservoir. Photo by Su Peng.

A TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) was at ChaoBaiHe on 28th (Terry Townshend) with even better records of shorebirds the following day at Ma Chang when Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou and 大牙齿 458 found the second GREY-TAILED TATTLER (灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù) of the year, and possibly only Beijing’s sixth overall, a RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù), and a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù).  The GREY-TAILED TATTLER 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù and RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù) were still at Ma Chang on 30th when they were joined by two EURASIAN CURLEW (白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù), a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER (尖尾滨鹬 Jiān wěi bīn yù) and two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) (Anonymous).

August 2021  2021年8月

A BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) was at Lingshan on 17th (Liu Aitao et al.) and on 21st a WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER (白胸翡翠 Bái xiōng fěicuì) was found in the Olympic Forest Park by Guan Xueyan, a very rare vagrant in Beijing.  On 25th there was a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù) at Ma Chang (Li Zhaonan et al.) with a PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at the same site on 27th (Lu Zhuofei).  An AMUR PARADISE FLYCATCHER (寿带 Shòu dài) was at Shahe Reservoir on 28th (Cinclus cinclus et al.) and, on 30th, another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was at the Changping City Riverside Forest Park (amal amer et al.).  The month ended with a BESRA at Changping City Riverside Forest Park on 31st (amal amer et al.).

September 2021  2021年9月

On 1st there were two DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (Xing Jiahua).  On 2nd there was another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at Baiwangshan (Lang Dongchen) and, even better, a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) at Miaofengshan (Colm Moore).  On 3rd there was a BAILLON’S CRAKE (小田鸡 Xiǎo tiánjī) at the Binhe Forest Park (Zheng Qiuyang and Yan Shen) and, on 4th, a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) was at Shahe Reservoir (Oriental Stork et al.), remaining until 6th at least.  Also on 6th there was a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (via David Mou). On 7th there were two juvenile BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù) and a juvenile DUNLIN (黑腹滨鹬 Hēi fù bīn yù) at Ma Chang (amal amer and Terry Townshend).  On 10th there was a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore).  On 13th there were two CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) at Changping City Riverside Forest Park (Jun Shuai) and, the next day, there were two more at Ming Tombs Reservoir, where there were also two PECHORA PIPIT (北鹨 Běi liù) (Colm Moore).  Also on 14th there was a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) at Peking University campus (Sincera et al.), a 1cy BROWN-HEADED GULL (棕头鸥 Zōng tóu ōu) at Ma Chang (Terry Townshend) and only Beijing’s second ever WOOD WARBLER Phylloscopus sibilatrix 林柳莺 Lín liǔ-yīng was trapped and ringed at Hanshiqiao, Shunyi District (Li Zhaonan et al. via Paul Holt).  On 19th Beijing’s 7th GREY-TAILED TATTLER 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù, and the 3rd of the year, was recorded at night from the roof of the AIIB building at 0123 hrs (Terry Townshend et al.). On 21st there were two ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN (烟腹毛脚燕 Yān fù máo jiǎo yàn) at Baiwangshan (Cinclus cinclus) and the following day there was a BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) in the Olympic Forest Park (amal amer , Su Peng et al.).  A SWINHOE’S RAIL Coturnicops exquisitus 花田鸡 Huā tián jī was a great find by 大好 at the ChaoBai River on 25th.

Video grab of the Swinhoe’s Rail 花田鸡 at the ChaoBaiHe on 25 September (大好).

October 2021  2021年10月

On 4th there were four PECHORA PIPIT (北鹨 Běi liù) at the Wenyu River (Stefan Andrew).  On 5th there was a 1cy NORTHERN HAWK CUCKOO at the Temple of Heaven Park (Cinclus cinclus), apparently present for several days and remaining until 10th at least.  Also on 5th there was a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend) and two juvenile BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) at Shahe Reservoir (Chen Xier and Xiaowu).  One of the BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) was still at Shahe on 7th, when one was also in Yuyuantan Park (Jia Yu).  Also on 7th, there were three RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at Tsinghua University campus (Hama King).  On 10th there was a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) in the Temple of Heaven Park (铭俊 黄).  RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were at Jingshan Park on 13th (via Frank Gao) and at Tsinghua University campus on 15th (Tz Hsuan Tseng).  A juvenile RED-NECKED GREBE (赤颈䴙䴘, Chì jǐng pì tī) was at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 16th (Colm Moore) and, on the following day, there was no sign of the Red-necked but a SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) was on site instead, with the latter remaining until 21st at least  (amal amer and Cinclus cinclus). 

The Red-necked Grebe 赤颈䴙䴘 at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 16 October 2021. Photo by Colm Moore.

On 18th there was a GREATER SCAUP (斑背潜鸭 Bān bèi qián yā) at Huairou Reservoir (amal amer et al.) and two RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (悟空天下), increasing to four on 21st (Su Peng, amal amer and Qian Dan’an). Also on 21st there was a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (红胸姬鹟 Hóng xiōng jī wēng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (安妮).  On 24th there was a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Tsinghua University campus (Tz Hsuan Tseng) and a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) at the DaShi River (Stefan Andrew).  On 28th there was a NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) at Lingshan (大牙齿 458, and Liu Aitao).  Finally, on 30th there was a JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) at the Agricultural Exhibition Center (Stefan Andrew).

November 2021  2021年11月

On 3rd there was a confiding SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) at Yuanmingyuan (Ge Mengshuai) and another NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) at Yangtaishan Rosefields (Miaofengshan) (Jun Shuai), with two there the following day (Colm Moore).  On 6th there was a very late female COMMON STONECHAT Saxicola maurus (stejnegeri) 黑喉石䳭 Hēi hóu shí jí in the Olympic Forest Park (Catherine Dong).  On 7th there was an ORIENTAL STORK (东方白鹳 Dōngfāng bái guàn) at Kangxi Grassland (Luo Shujin et al.).  On 13th there was a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Cinclus cinclus et al.) and two SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) at the Summer Palace (Richard Zhang).  On 15th the RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (红胸姬鹟 Hóng xiōng jī wēng) was still at the Temple of Heaven Park (Zhou Zichen and Jun Shuai), where it was joined by two PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng). On 21st there were two RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at the DaYunHe Golf Course, Tongzhou (Catherine Dong) and a NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) near Baihuashan (Terry Townshend et al.). On 23rd a COMMON GULL of the ssp kamtschatschensis (“Kamchatka Gull”), was at Ming Tombs Reservoir, a nice find by Colm Moore.  On 24th there was a BROWN-EARED BULBUL (栗耳短脚鹎 Lì ěr duǎn jiǎo bēi) in Yuyuantan Park (Zichen Zhou) and two RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX (红嘴相思鸟, Hóng zuǐ xiāngsī niǎo) of unknown origin were in the Botanical Gardens (peng su et al.).  The 27th was a magical day for 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé, known by his social media moniker of “Oriental Stork”) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyán) when they found a female BLUE-FRONTED REDSTART (蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú) at Shahe Reservoir (Oriental Stork et al.), the first record of this species in Beijing.  This spectacular find remained until 30th at least. 

The female Blue-fronted Redstart 蓝额红尾鸲 at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) on 27 November 2021. The first record of this species for Beijing. Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán.
Another image of the female Blue-fronted Redstart 蓝额红尾鸲 at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) on 27 November 2021. This photo by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé).

Also on 27th there was a LONG-TAILED DUCK (长尾鸭 Cháng wěi yā) at Miyun Reservoir (Lou Fangzhou).  On 28th a third-winter Vega Gull Larus vegae 西伯利亚银鸥 Xībólìyǎ yín ōu was at Shahe Reservoir (Terry Townshend), identified by a combination of the heavy streaking on the crown, neck and breast and, structurally, with a more rounded head, smaller size and relatively short-winged look compared with mongolicus.

December 2021  2021年12月

On 4th there were two RED-CROWNED CRANE (丹顶鹤 Dān dǐng hè) at Ma Chang (刘双祺 刘星语 田思译 黄明攀 布昕辰 et al.), remaining until 6th at least.  One sported an engraved red colour ring, fitted on the breeding grounds at Zhalong Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province.

The pair of Red-crowned Cranes 丹顶鹤 at Kangxi Grassland. Photo by Su Peng.

On 5th there was a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at the Summer Palace (天书).  Remarkably on 7th a female BLUE-FRONTED REDSTART (蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú) was seen in the Botanical Gardens (98号电车 – WeChat name).  The bird from Shahe Reservoir relocating or a different individual?  Also on 7th there were two (one adult and one 1cy) PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (Colm Moore and Terry Townshend) and a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at Green Bank Park, Yongding River (Jun Shuai). On 10th there were two LONG-TAILED DUCK (长尾鸭 Cháng wěi yā) at Huairou Reservoir (Cinclus cinclus and amal amer).  On 14th there was a BEARDED VULTURE (胡兀鹫 Hú wù jiù) at Yanhecheng, Mentougou District (关雪燕 Guan Xueyan et al.). The third record for Beijing.  

The 1cy Bearded Vulture 胡兀鹫 at Yanhecheng, Mentougou District, on 15 December 2021.  Photo by 关雪燕 Guan Xueyan.

On 16th a JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) was reported from Nanhaizi (Vandy L) and a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) was still at the Summer Palace (辰 吕) on 17th.  On 25th six JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) were reported from 东方太阳城/Oriental Sun City (Bonnie Jiang) and on the same day a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) was photographed in the Olympic Forest Park (云天).

Finally, a major highlight in the Beijing birding year was the publication of the “Birds of Beijing”, put together by a team of authors led by Professor Zhao Xinru.  It includes text and images on 508 species and is available for order via WeiDian on WeChat at this link. It should be on the bookshelf of every birder in Beijing and, indeed, wouldn’t it be great if a copy was in every school and every family home?! When the book is available for international buyers (coming soon), the link will be added here.

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Title image: the female Blue-fronted Redstart at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) 27 November 2021.  The first record of this species for Beijing.  (Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán).

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For summaries from previous years, click the links below.

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2020

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2019

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2018

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2017

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2016

 

 

Discussions on New Guidelines for Land Management in Beijing

Last Friday I was invited by the Beijing Municipal government to participate in a meeting to discuss new draft guidelines for improving land management for biodiversity in Beijing.  The draft included some positive language such as setting aside areas to remain ‘wild’ in parks, promoting ‘wildlife corridors’ to connect areas of habitat, the use of more native plant species and discouraging monocultures, and promoting education and awareness through on-site interpretation.

Academics from Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences put forward comments and suggestions.  I was able to make some points about the responsibility of Beijing to provide a balance of habitats to help provide safe passage for the millions of migratory birds that pass the capital each spring and autumn, and to highlight those resident species that appeared to be struggling in Beijing – namely grassland species, including larks and partridges.  A focus on protecting and restoring wetlands and grassland, in addition to tree planting and forest cover, would help significantly.

To assess whether policies were making a difference, I suggested an audit of the capital’s wildlife was needed, with robust monitoring in order to establish which species were doing well and which weren’t, to identify trends early to help prioritise conservation actions, and to assess whether changes in land management practices were having the desired effect. 

We also discussed the policy of early winter cutting of vegetation (to reduce fire risk) and covering with plastic netting (to prevent dust).  Although this may help to reduce fire and dust, this had the double negative of depriving wildlife, including wintering birds such as buntings and accentors, of winter food and shelter, and also putting micro-plastics into the soil.  Alternatives, such as cutting fire-breaks, rather than cutting all vegetation, and using biodegradable netting when netting was needed, were raised.

The meeting lasted three hours and ended with the Beijing Municipal government agreeing to produce another draft of the guidelines to reflect the discussion. 

Everyone agreed that it would take time to change land management policies that had been in place for decades, and that education of the many workers would be vital to explain what was needed and why.  Pilots would be useful to demonstrate what was possible.  However, despite the note of caution on time, the commitment from the government to do better for wildlife was clear.

The fact that this meeting happened at all is a good sign of the intent on the part of the government to improve their land management for wildlife. We now await the next iteration of the draft guidelines, to be produced in the next few weeks.

Beijing’s first Blue-fronted Redstart: A finder’s account by 13-year old student, Huò Shèngzhé

Finding a first record is a highlight for any birder.  Finding a first for your capital city when you are aged 13 and 15 is the stuff dreams are made of.  That’s what happened on 27 November 2021 to 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé, 13 yrs old, known by his social media moniker of “Oriental Stork”) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyán, 15 yrs old) when these two enthusiastic young birders found a female Blue-fronted Redstart (蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú) at Shahe Reservoir, the first record of this species in Beijing.

Below is 霍圣哲 Huò Shèngzhé’s account of that special day.   Excitement and enthusiasm shine through, as does a maturity beyond his years.  I hope you enjoy reading his account as much as I did.

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Finding a Blue-fronted Redstart in Beijing, by 霍圣哲 Huò Shèngzhé.

Our trip to Shahe Reservoir was made simple because Xiaogao and I needed to lead a small birding trip for the school nature club.  We were completely tired out after shouting at everybody to stop talking and get going for more than half a day, but we still made it to 35 species by the time the club activity ended, including quite a large flock of Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus 文须雀 Wén xū què), a few Chinese Penduline Tits (Remiz consobrinus 中华攀雀 Zhōnghuá pān què) uttering their usual “peeeeeel” call, and a Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān) hiding in reeds, only to take off as the seventh graders came chatting along.

We both wanted to see more species to make up for the day, so we decided to check the east bank of the reservoir. The sun, high up in the sky, had no effect on the chilly weather.  The waterfall thundered in the background, and an egret flashed pure white as it went gliding softly over the water’s surface. Daurian Jackdaws (Coloeus dauuricus  达乌里寒鸦 Dá wū lǐ hán yā) soared across the clear blue sky in loose flocks. Silvery bells chimed as a few Silver-throated Bushtits (Aegithalos glaucogularis 银喉长尾山雀 Yín hóu cháng wěi shān què) jumped around in the branches, and a couple of Japanese Tits (Parus minor 大山雀 Dà shānquè) tagged along, glancing curiously down at us.  Just before we climbed into the car, Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo 普通鸬鹚 Pǔtōng lú cí) flew in tens, maybe hundreds, over our heads, creating an endless river of feathers and wings. We were delighted as our checklist finally reached 40 species.

Our plan was to follow the Wenyu river and have a little explore.  As the car went speeding down the road, I suddenly remembered a place off the road I found last autumn. There were quite a lot of birds, I recalled. So for no particular reason, I suggested we have a peek.

We followed a trail down from the road. The call of Little (Emberiza pusilla 小鹀 Xiǎo wú), Black-faced (Emberiza spodocephala灰头鹀 Huī tóu wú) and Pallas’s Reed Buntings (Emberiza spodocephala 灰头鹀 Huī tóu wú) flickered through the air. Between the trees stood a few patches of shrubs, closely huddling against each other helplessly. It was getting late, the sky cast a beautiful shade of red over the scene. A flock of bushtits leapt noisily in the trees.  As we got closer, suddenly I picked out a different sound from the endless chime of bushtits. ”twirrrl”. I tensed instantly. The call reminded me of a wind up sound, similar to the call of a Taiga Flycatcher (Ficedula albicilla 红喉姬鹟 Hóng hóu jī wēng), but a little different. Maybe it was my ears playing tricks on me, I thought. But then, after a few steps, ”twirrrl” – there it was again! Xiaogao heard it too. It was coming from the bushes!

Something wasn’t right. I thought I had heard the sound before, somewhere, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. We slowed, shared eye contact, then slowly with eyes narrowed and ears peeled, we advanced toward where the sound was coming from. At that moment, time slowed all around us. The noisy hymn of the bushtits seemed to have stopped abruptly. Everything was so quiet. I was getting excited, I could feel my heart racing, thumping against my chest. What could that be?

Another couple of “twirrls”. They echoed through the air. Just then, as we got in front of the patch of thick shrubbery, a flash of red and brown came shooting out from the branches, made a sudden turn in mid-air, as if startled to see us, then dived down into a different bush like a rocket.

The first though that came to me was that this was a Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus 北红尾鸲 Běi hóng wěi qú), but that was almost impossible given to the way it called. We crouched in front of the bush into which our target had dived. ”twirrrl”. Under the thick branches, a Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus 红胁蓝尾鸲 Hóng xié lán wěi qú) was cocking its head up at us. We stared in disblief. A bluetail?How come?But when the sound came again, the bluetail didn’t move its bill…so it wasn’t the bluetail that we heard. Then, a shadow appeared in the shrubs, a few meters away from the bluetail. It flapped its wings, made a dive toward the ground, then hopped up to another branch. So, there it was! That’s when I realised that I had left my camera back in the car, and I would definitely need the camera to get a photo, so I told Xiaogao, who had taken his camera with him, to stay put, try to get a photo, while I teared up the track back to our car where I had left my camera.

I was panting heavily when I got back to the bush, camera at the ready. I was relieved to see Xiaogao crouching on the ground, shutter clicking away. I silently praised that he had gotten an identifiable picture. Xiaogao crept out from the bush, dried leaves in his hair, his poor white pants – our school uniform – were covered with mud. He showed me a blurred picture of a very strange looking redstart. Unlike the common Daurian Redstart, this one had practically no large white patches on its wings, and the body plumage was slightly darker. Xiaogao had no idea about which species. I scowled. Its odd features…I was almost sure that this wasn’t the first time I had seen this species, but I simply couldn’t point my finger on exactly what it was. Whatever the species, we realised this was probably something that was pretty rare. And our task now was to get as much evidence as we could about this bird to help with later identification.

I made a few recordings of its mysterious call and then, for the rest of the day, we crept around the bushes, straining to get some better photos. Believe me, we had a pretty hard time. The bird was really alert, so every time we tried to get close, it fluttered away and disappeared into another set of bushes. Plus, it hid itself really deep in the branches, constantly changing its position, so it was nearly impossible to focus the camera, much less taking a clear photo. Finally, we managed to secure a couple of clear pictures of the bird.

By now, the sun was sinking and the clouds above us reflecting a fiery red glow. We straightened our arms and legs, sore from crouching on the ground, our trousers mud-soaked with grass hanging down. Sweat dripped from our cheeks, despite the cold weather. “twirrrl” – our redstart made another jeer at us from somewhere deep in the branches. We stole another glance at the bushes, then left with half a dozen barely identifiable photographs, and a thousand questions.

On the way back, I kept wondering about this bird. Can it actually be something really rare? Images of people finding rare species kept popping into my head, the eBird rare bird alert, followed by birders from all over the city rushing toward a single spot to catch a glimpse of the bird, a tiny patch of shrubbery surrounded by layers of people.  Thousands of possibilities soared around in my mind.

Maybe it’s a Daurian Redstart after all, I thought, after flipping through articles about redstart identification, and listening to lots of recordings on Xeno-canto with no result. After dinner, I had no choice but to put my pictures and the recording, along with Xiaogao’s, on We-chat, asking for help from other birders.

The first image of the mystery redstart by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán, circulated to birders on 27 November 2021 (Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán).
One of the first images of the mystery redstart circulated to birders on 27 November 2021 (Photo by 霍圣哲 Huò Shèngzhé)

The original sound recording circulated to birders on 27 November 2021 (霍圣哲 Huò Shèngzhé).

 

Anything but Daurian, I prayed!

People started giving their opinions, with some saying Daurian, some suggesting Alashan Redstart (Phoenicurus alaschanicus 贺兰山红尾鸲 Hèlánshān hóng wěi qú), a major rarity in Beijing.  Some mentioned that the call was similar to Blue-fronted (Phoenicurus frontalis 蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú), which had never before appeared in Beijing. Hope planted itself in my mind. I started to get restless, flicking up the screen of my phone every few minutes, checking for the latest news. Meanwhile, more and more people, including Terry Townshend, suggested Blue-fronted Redstart. My heart pounded furiously, excitement twirling in my brain. I have seen the Blue-fronted Redstart fewer than half a dozen times in Yunnan. It’s really hard to imagine it turning up in Beijing. Then, the remark came from Mr.Holt: “perfect Blue-Fronted.” At the same time, Terry returned from Xeno-canto, the sound recording website, and told me the call matched Blue–fronted Redstart!

At first, there was only numbness. I could feel my heart pounding, my eyes glued to the screen. After God knows how long, my heart erupted with joy, and I nearly fainted with excitement. My gosh, a Blue-fronted Redstart, the first sighting of this bird in the whole damn capital. Now, I and Xiaogao are finders of a new record for Beijing!

For half an hour, I was overwhelmed with disbelief and pride. The good thing was, I cooled down shortly after that. After a short discussion with Xiaogao, we reached an agreement that the location of this bird should be kept secret. I don’t know what others would think about our decision, but I do remember what happened to the Robin in Beijing Zoo, and the poor Great Bustards in Tongzhou. I, surely, wouldn’t want anything like that to happen again, especially not to this new record for Beijing.

The assembled crowd waiting for the European Robin at the Beijing Zoo in January 2019, referred to by Huò Shèngzhé above (Photo by Terry Townshend).

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts raced around my mind, thoughts about our decision, and about how I could possibly find a bird which is a new record for Beijing. It’s pretty accidental but, at the same time, not exactly random. Unlike some other birdwatchers in Beijing, I and Xiaogao have our own style. I seldom go “twitching”, which means to go and see a rare bird the second after the location is released. Throughout this whole year, I hadn’t visited many hotspots, hadn’t put most of my attention simply on boosting my own life list. Instead, I  focused all my might on my own birding patch, trying my best to find birds on my own, first–hand. Sometimes, seeing birds you have seen a million times can seem boring, but if you keep up long enough, there are always surprises. If I hadn’t thought of the place I found last autumn, if I simply had taken a hike through the well-known birding areas, then leave like so many other birders do, this bird would have never been found.

Maybe that’s what the birding community in Beijing needs: fewer trips to hotspots for target species or good photos, fewer people birding simply for their life lists, just a little more attention to the common-looking overgrown fields which aren’t so far away from your house, and maybe new sightings for Beijing will be popping out from everywhere!

霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé, known by the moniker “Oriental Stork” on social media).

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The co-finders:

霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé), also known as “Oriental Stork”, birding at his local patch in west Beijing.
高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyán), the co-finder of Beijing’s first Blue-fronted Redstart, at Ma Chang in Beijing.

Title image: the female Blue-fronted Redstart at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) 27 November 2021.  The first record of this species for Beijing.  (Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán).

Leopard Cat Research Field Trip with Peking University

Earlier this week I was invited to join Peking University’s Leopard Cat research team on a field trip to their study site.  Led by Professor Luo Shu-Jin, the team has been studying the capital’s wild cats for three years, and has recently stepped up its research by fitting tracking collars.  The collars, so far fitted to three females, are showing for the first time the movements of these secretive felines.  Early results have revealed that the three females are primarily nocturnal, have rather distinct territories and swim often.  The closest relative to the Leopard Cat is the Fishing Cat of South Asia, so perhaps we should not be surprised they are not averse to taking a dip.

This week’s trip to the field site was to check and maintain infrared cameras and to set up a trap with the hope of catching and collaring a male.  In large cats such as the Snow Leopard, it is the male that has a relatively large territory within which several females may hold smaller territories.  It will be fascinating to see whether this is the case for Beijing’s Leopard Cats.

Checking the trap before installation at the study site.

The trap includes a trigger that, via the phone network, will inform the team as soon as the trap is sprung.  The team is on call 24 hours per day so that they can react quickly and minimise the time that any captured animal is in captivity.  

Professor Luo and her team setting up the trap at the study site. The aim is to catch and collar a male, following the fitting of collars to three females, in order to compare movements and territories.
The trap after it has been ‘camouflaged’.

It was an honour for me to join the team for the day and to learn so much about their work.  Beijing is one of the few major capital cities that supports a population of wild cats, so understanding better their ecology, including their habitat requirements, will help to inform land management policies in Beijing with a view to securing the future of this special animal in the Chinese capital.  

To keep up to date with the research team’s progress, please check this dedicated page.

Title image: the Peking University Leopard Cat Research Team.