Güldenstädt’s Redstart

Guldenstadt's Redstart (male), Lingshan.
Guldenstadt’s Redstart (male), Lingshan.

Güldenstädt’s Redstart (Phoenicurus erythrogastrus), also sometimes known as White-winged Redstart, is the world’s largest redstart.  It breeds at high altitudes from 3,600–5,200 m in alpine meadows and rock-fields, moving to slightly lower altitudes in winter.  Apparently, the northernmost population, in the mountains around Lake Baikal, migrate furthest and sometimes reach northeastern China.

I had heard that this bird occasionally showed up in Beijing in winter.  However, I wasn’t aware of any regular sites and so it wasn’t really on my radar.

However, during the visit to the Mentougou District to see the BROWN ACCENTOR last week, I realised that we were relatively close to Lingshan, a mountain (Beijing’s highest peak) near the border with Hebei Province.  I had heard about this site but never visited.  We decided to take the opportunity to have a quick look and, although we didn’t have much time – only an hour at the top – I was very pleased we did.  The road to the peak was a little treacherous, but passable, and as the landscape opened up as we neared the top it was obvious that the area had potential.  This potential was realised almost immediately when we spotted some redstarts atop some berry bushes by the side of the road.  Although superficially looking similar to the common Daurian Redstart, it would be highly unlikely to find Daurian Redstarts at the top of a mountain in winter…and these birds looked BIG!  We got out of the car to investigate and, as soon as one of the males flew, showing a huge white wing patch, it was clear that this was a different redstart sp – Güldenstädt’s Redstart – a high altitude specialist.  Wow.  There were many birds present and we counted at least 17, a mixture of males and females.  We think this is a record Beijing count.  We enjoyed these birds for a good 30 minutes, and also saw several Black- and Red-throated Thrushes sharing the same shrubs, before reluctantly leaving for the journey back to Beijing.

The males are spectacular in flight, displaying an eye-catching white panel in the wings (hence the alternative name "White-winged Redstart").
The males are spectacular in flight, displaying an eye-catching white panel in the wings (hence the alternative name “White-winged Redstart”).

My report of these birds to Beijing birders caused something of a stir and, on Saturday, I returned to the spot with Per Alström and Jennifer Leung and we were joined by Swedish birder, Anders Magnussen, who had driven from Tainjin (!) and three cars full of Beijing birders led by Zhu Lei.

A sociable visit to a cold Lingshan on Saturday to see the Guldenstadt's Redstarts.
A sociable visit to a cold Lingshan on Saturday to see the Guldenstadt’s Redstarts.

This second visit, with more time to explore the area and more pairs of eyes, proved even more productive with an astonishing 28+ redstarts counted (Anders, who arrived before us, estimated at least 40) plus at least 60 PALLAS’S ROSEFINCHES, a single BOHEMIAN WAXWING and at least 50 dark-throated thrushes (mostly Red-throated).

Three of the 60+ Pallas's Rosefinches at Lingshan.  These are females or immature males.
Three of the 60+ Pallas’s Rosefinches at Lingshan. These are females or immature males.

We also enjoyed good views of Songar Tit, 3 Cinereous Vultures and an Upland Buzzard.  We dipped on the hoped for ASIAN ROSY FINCH, 200 of which were seen at this location a few winters ago.. but that didn’t detract from a very productive day.  My thanks to Per, Jennifer, Anders, Zhu Lei and friends for their good company!

12 thoughts on “Güldenstädt’s Redstart”

  1. How exciting to “take the opportunity for a quick look” and come away with 17 (and eventually 28+) individuals of a species you never even anticipated. You must be buzzing. Can’t believe you blogged about the accentor before mentioning this revelation! Congratulations on an excellent find. I wonder if it is an annual occurrence or a one-off.

  2. Thank you, Ken! I thought they each deserved a separate blog entry… and we saw the BA first…! I suspect these birds winter annually in small numbers in the mountains around Beijing but this winter, with colder than usual temperatures and greater than average snowfall, seems to have been a good one for birds that are usually scarce. I’ll definitely visit next winter to look for them… very cool birds…

    1. Thanks John. I think it was more of a lucky find! Either way, it suggests there are probably more goodies out there somewhere… just waiting to be found!

  3. Fun reading about your lucky finds, Terry.

    Very much liked the picture in your Brown Accentor post of the Yong Ting River – so much so that I made the (rarely used) color option of my printer and made myself a copy. It’s a shade different than the real thing, but worthy of a place on the wall above my desk. A beautiful composition with all those warm tones that belie winter’s temperatures.

    For all of which, many thanks.


    1. Norm.. very pleased you liked the photo.. If you ever come to Beijing, I would be delighted to take you there.. the mountains to the west of Beijing are stunning.. a great place for a walk, even without the birds.

  4. Well, Well, Well. Another exciting post. Birding Beijing brings its best from the capital. The winter is almost over and still you are making big discoveries just like the Siberian crane from last winter.

    1. Thanks Dev.. I think we know so little about China’s birds, even in Beijing, that there are plenty of opportunities for discovery. Which is what makes birding such a fun and rewarding hobby… I am sure that we are just scratching the surface! Cheers, Terry

  5. I like your blog and I’ve learned much also bird life in BJ from it. I will have a business trip in BJ in March, would you please recommend some convenient birding places so that I could go alone? If possible, I will rent a car, thanks a lot 🙂

    1. Hi Davis. Wild Duck Lake or Miyun are probably the best overall sites in late March. Good numbers of geese, cranes, ducks and the chance of something rare. Both require your own transport as they are around 100km from Beijing city and getting there by public transport is tricky. Within the city, try the Botanical Gardens, Shahe Reservoir or the Wenyu River. Check out the “Guide to Birding in Beijing page” on the blog for some idea of the locations of the best sites. Send me an email if you need more help. T

  6. Hi Terry, great stuff! Do you have any data/sources (literature, reports) of other observations of Güldenstädt’s Redstart from NE China? Did you record any “unusual” behaviour in these birds? When I lived in Khovd, at the foot of the Mongolian Altai Mountains, I saw GR regularly on migration. They breed higher up in these mountains, and turned up at Khovd (at 1400 m a.s.l.), which lies within the desert-steppe zone, in plantations, mainly of sea-buckthorn. My personal max. there was 370 (!) on 7 October 2007. The birds performed spectacular “high flights”, similar to the behaviour found in Bearded Tits.

  7. Hi Axel. I know of one record from Beidaihe, Hebei Province and Brazil says that some females (!) winter in Hebei. As far as I know they are scarce winter visitors to the mountains west of Beijing. The GRs at Lingshan were feeding on the berries of sea buckthorn, too. I didn’t witness any “high flights” but they seemed quite sociable and often up to ten birds would be perched together on the tops of the bushes. Hopefully the next couple of winters will help to determine if they are regular at this site or whether this winter’s birds were part of an unusual irruption.

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