Pallas’s Rosefinch

Pallas's Rosefinch (adult male), Beijing, 17 February 2013.  A stunning bird.
Pallas’s Rosefinch (adult male), Beijing, 17 February 2013. A stunning bird.

The Pallas’s Rosefinch (Carpodacus roseus) is a difficult bird to see anywhere.  Although it has quite a large range, its breeding grounds – the mountains of eastern Russia and northern Mongolia – are relatively inaccessible and remote.  And the wintering sites (northern China, Japan, Korea) are not necessarily reliable on a year by year basis.

Beijing in winter has traditionally been one of the best places to see this species but, in recent years, the numbers wintering around the Chinese capital appear to have declined for unknown reasons (possibly due to milder winters).

This winter, the coldest in China for over 20 years and with above average snowfall in northern China, has bucked the trend and there are good numbers of Pallas’s Rosefinch wintering in the hills around the capital, providing a good opportunity to get to grips with this species.  Singles and small groups have been reported from a number of locations around Beijing, including the Olympic Forest Park, Badaling Great Wall and Shisanling.  However, it is the ridge above the Botanical Gardens in the northwest of the city that has proved to be a real hotspot this winter.  Jesper Hornskov walks this area frequently and he first reported sightings of this bird from October with numbers gradually building to a high count of over 70 in January.

On Sunday I visited the Botanical Gardens with Beijing-based Per Alström, Jennifer Leung and visiting Dutch birder, Ben Wielstra.  After birding through the gardens, and completing the steep ascent to the ridge, we rested for a short coffee break during which we were fortunate to encounter two stunning male Pallas’s Rosefinches – the target bird of our walk.  After enjoying spectacular views we walked a 2-3km stretch of the ridge before returning via the same route.  Although it’s difficult to make an accurate assessment of the number of birds present, we left with the view that we had seen over 40 birds along that particular 2-3 km stretch, including at least 3 adult males.

Adult males are difficult to beat..  they are resplendent in their raspberry-coloured plumage, silvery-white bills and steely-black legs.  Females and immatures are much drabber, often displaying streaky brownish plumage with a hint of orange or pink and a pinkish rump.

If you are in Beijing over the next few weeks I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the Botanical Gardens to see these birds.  But be quick – they are likely to head back north sometime in mid- to late-March and who knows when they will next be so accessible in the Chinese capital?

Full species list from the walk below.  My thanks go to Per, Jennifer and Ben for their excellent company.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 2
Northern Goshawk – 1
Eastern Buzzard – 1 seen twice over the ridge
Oriental Turtle Dove – 3
Spotted Dove – 1
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 2
Azure-winged Magpie – 35+
Red-billed Blue Magpie – 5
Common Magpie – 13
Carrion Crow – 2
Large-billed Crow – 12
Great (Japanese) Tit – 6
Yellow-bellied Tit – 28
Marsh Tit – 4
Silver-throated Tit – 2 in the gardens late afternoon
Chinese Hill Babbler – 4 on the way down (after going most of the day without seeing any)
Chinese Bulbul – 1 heard
Pere David’s Laughingthrush – 12
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 2 groups of 15+ each
Goldcrest – 6
Chinese Nuthatch – 1
Crested Myna – 1
White-cheeked Starling – 1
Red-throated Thrush – 1
Naumann’s Thrush – 11
Tree Sparrow – many in the gardens
Siberian Accentor – 6, including 2 seen exceptionally well around the noodle place
Brambling – over 1,000, often wheeling around in large flocks
Oriental Greenfinch – 7
Siskin – 5 (PA only)
Pallas’s Rosefinch – at least 40 (3 adult males and the remainder females or immature males).  The first two (both adult males) showed exceptionally well.
Hawfinch – 2
Godlewski’s Bunting – 5
Tristram’s Bunting – 3
Yellow-throated Bunting – 4
Red Squirrel – 5
Pere David’s Rock Squirrel – 1

10 thoughts on “Pallas’s Rosefinch”

  1. A well deserved post for a beautiful species. The no of Chinese Bulbuls doesn’t sound like China. 😉 Terry, when you say Silver-throated Tit, is it the white-headed ssp(caudatus)? Also, the Pere David’s laughingthrush, is it the nominate species? As per BF Opus(Referred from Clements) chinganicus n experrectus are supposed to be merged with nominate species.

    1. Hi Dev. Yes, it was unusual not to see more Chinese (Light-vented) Bulbuls.. Silver-throated Tit is the local form of Long-tailed Tit which, until recently, was considered a subspecies. The scientific name is Aegithalos glaucogularis. The northern white-headed form ssp caudatus is very rare in Beijing with possibly only one or two records (including one on Christmas Day in 2012!). The Pere David’s Laughingthrush is the nominate form. I am not sure of the other subspecies of this bird as I think there is some disagreement about how many ssp there are.. Hope that helps! T

    1. Hi Andrew. Thanks for the comment. Chinese (Light-vented) Bulbuls are spreading north, too.. having recently colonised parts of northern China, so they are doing well as a species!

  2. Wonderful find! Imagine me a raspberry-colo(u)red, silvery-white, steely-black, Quetzal-green envious !!


  3. Greetings from Korea … have been following your wonderful blog for a while. It has been a fantastic winter for Pallas’s Rosefinch in RoK as well. The largest number I’ve encountered so far was on an island close to the west coast of Korean mainland (near Incheon) … about 100+ observed in 7 separate groups during a 6 hour survey of the island. The males as always were an absolute treat for the eyes! Best wishes for 2013 and happy birding.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Subho! Very pleased to hear that you have enjoyed these birds in RoK, too.. 100+ is a very good number. Please do let us know about any other interesting sightings in RoK – it’s always good to hear what’s going on ‘across the water’ and to compare with what we are seeing here in Beijing. Good birding! Terry

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