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.