Asian Rosy Finch at Lingshan

After Jan-Erik’s report of a flock of 40+ ASIAN ROSY FINCHES at Lingshan on Sunday 10 March, I returned to this fantastic winter site to try my luck.  After the 2.5 hr drive from Beijing, we arrived at the peak at around 0800.  It was a fantastic morning with -7 temperatures and light low cloud causing a beautiful frost.

Lingshan in the early morning frost.
Lingshan in the early morning frost.

The cloud burned off quickly to leave a stunning vista that was reminiscent of a Christmas card.  With almost no wind, it was a super day to be on the mountain.

First stop was the slope where Jan-Erik had seen the finches on Sunday.  We scanned this and each nearby slope carefully but to no avail.  The lack of wind meant that bird calls could be heard at large distances and I was confident that given we couldn’t hear them, the Asian Rosy Finches were not around, at least not in the immediate vicinity.  After trying a few other nearby slopes we decided to have a change of scene and to move on to the site where the GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS had been to see if they were still there.  They were.  We counted at least 17 (including 9 females sitting together at one point) and we enjoyed these birds for half an hour or more as they regularly dropped down to the berries.  There were two more further up the road, making at least 19 in total.  A very healthy count.  A stunning male Black-throated Thrush, along with a few Red-throated, were enjoying the same bounty.

Guldenstadt's Redstart (male), Lingshan.  This bird is a first winter male (brownish tips to the primaries).
Guldenstadt’s Redstart (male), Lingshan. This bird is a first winter male (brownish tips to the primaries).
Guldenstadt's Redstart (female), Lingshan.
Guldenstadt’s Redstart (female), Lingshan.
Guldenstadt's Redstart (male).  Take-off shows the extensive white wing patches (hence the alternative name of "White-winged Redstart").
Guldenstadt’s Redstart (male). Take-off shows the extensive white wing patches (hence the alternative name of “White-winged Redstart”).

We returned to the top to the area around the derelict buildings and were gob-smacked to see a CINEREOUS VULTURE perched on a boulder close by the track, much to the annoyance of the resident Large-billed Crows, which it positively dwarfed!  Wow…  What a beast!

Cinereous Vulture, Lingshan.  This bird was constantly harassed by the Large-billed Crows. At one point, one even jumped onto its back!
Cinereous Vulture, Lingshan. This bird was constantly harassed by the Large-billed Crows. At one point, one even jumped onto its back!

Again we scanned the slopes with no luck and decided to stop by one of the ridges to have some noodles for lunch…  I was beginning to feel that it just wouldn’t be our day and that maybe the Asian Rosy Finches had moved on.  However, just as we finished the most delicious pot noodles (they taste so good when you’ve been outside all morning!), I could hear a bird heading our way uttering a finch-like call that I did not recognise..  I got on to it and saw it was accompanied by a second, and watched both through my binoculars, unfortunately in bad light, as they passed us.  From the silhouette I could see they were largish finches with an almost lark-like flight.  Sturdy birds relative to Pallas’s Rosefinch.  I suspected they were ASIAN ROSY FINCHES but wasn’t 100% sure.  Fortunately, I kept my binoculars on them and they turned and headed back towards us, this time heading right overhead.  I grabbed the camera and took a couple of record flight images as they passed.  They headed east and then banked north, eventually being lost to view behind a rocky outcrop.  I looked at the images on the camera and, although they won’t win any prizes, I thought that there was probably enough detail to identify them as Asian Rosy Finches.  This was confirmed when I looked at them on my computer screen…  Result!

Asian Rosy Finch in flight.  The markings on the undertail coverts, forked tail and head colouration all help to confirm the id.
Asian Rosy Finch in flight. The markings on the undertail coverts, forked tail and head colouration all help to confirm the id.
Asian Rosy Finch, Lingshan.  Patience rewarded.
Asian Rosy Finch, Lingshan. Patience rewarded.

An adult Golden Eagle passed at head height shortly afterwards and, a few minutes later, a party of 6 Red-billed Chough.  It was still a stunning day and a real wrench to eventually tear ourselves away from the mountain top.  A couple of Racoon Dogs (apparently recently released) were also hanging around the derelict buildings but there was no sign of any Pallas’s Rosefinches.

This Racoon Dog, apparently deliberately released last weekend, was holed up in a drainage channel.
This Racoon Dog, apparently deliberately released last weekend, was holed up in a drainage channel.

Comment: Lingshan may well be a regular winter site for Asian Rosy Finch.  A flock of 200+ was reported from there two winters ago (6 March 2010, the report from which also lists 8 GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS) and there have now been 3 sightings this winter – a single on 2 February (per Birdtalker), Jan-Erik’s flock of 40+ on Sunday and our 2 birds this week.  Of course this winter has been an excellent one for northern species, so Asian Rosy Finch may be part of an unusual irruption but they could also be annual given not many birders visit there.  We just don’t know!  That’s one of the beauties of birding in Beijing…

Full Species List:
Whooper Swan – 8 flying west over Zhaitang reservoir
Mandarin – 6 (5 males and a female) along the Yong Ting River (seen from car)
Goosander – 1 female on Zhaitang reservoir
Little Grebe – 1 on the Yong Ting River (seen from car)
Grey Heron – 2 standing on the frozen Zhaitang reservoir
Cinereous Vulture – 1 perched on a boulder by the road near the derelict buildings at the top of Lingshan
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1 at the top of Lingshan
Golden Eagle – 1 adult flew past the top of Lingshan
Hill Pigeon – 9
Spotted Dove – 2
Chinese Grey Shrike – 2 seen from the car along G109 (both checked for Great Grey)
Jay – 2
Red-billed Blue Magpie – 4
Common Magpie – lots
Nutcracker – 1 heard
Red-billed Chough – 7
Daurian Jackdaw – 1 along G109
Large-billed Crow – at least 30 at the top of Lingshan
Waxwing sp – a flock of 30 seen near the 6th West Ring Road
Eastern Great (Japanese) Tit – 2
Songar (Willow) Tit – 2
Silver-throated Tit – 3 at the top of Lingshan
Chinese Hill Babbler – one crossed the G109 in front of the car
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – a flock crossed the G109 in front of the car
Nuthatch sp – 1 calling incessantly at the top of Lingshan
Black-throated Thrush – 2 at least (including a stunning adult male with the GULDENSTADT’S REDSTARTS)
Red-throated Thrush – 14 at least on berries at the top of Lingshan
Naumann’s Thrush – 2 seen from the car along the G109
GULDENSTADT’S REDSTART – at least 19 (at least 17 on berry bushes at the bend just below the summit and 2 on berry bushes opposite the radio mast)
Tree Sparrow – 1 at the top of Lingshan; many seen from the car along the G109
Brambling – 3 at the top of Lingshan with the redstarts
Oriental Greenfinch – 4 at the top of Lingshan
ASIAN ROSY FINCH – 2 flew over the road about 300m beyond the derelict buildings
Godlewski’s Bunting – 20+ along the road near the summit
Meadow Bunting – 6 including at least 3 singing males

6 thoughts on “Asian Rosy Finch at Lingshan”

  1. Great report and sharp-shooting on those Rosy Finches Terry! In our first two surveys at Beidaihe we had singles of both Asian Rosy Finch and Guldenstadt’s Redstart, the latter of which I dipped on (and it still hurts!) so it’s nice to read that you are finding perhaps reliable sites for these scarce winterers.

    1. Thanks Dave. Asian Rosy Finch and Guldenstadt’s Redstart at Beidaihe must have been unusual records – what time of year was that? Who knows what else is lurking in Beijing’s mountains.. there are several others nearby that I am keen to try but that’ll probably have to wait until next winter.

    1. Thanks Dave.. that site is a great resource! Must have been something to be at Beidaihe in the 1980s.. I think it’s changed a little since then (Kwaile Dao – Happy Island – isn’t an island anymore, for a start!).

  2. Nice photos Terry. It’s not that easy to get the flight shots. Berries will be a good reason for the birds to hang around this area. I don’t see berries in Shanghai later than January. Good no of birds for a single day.

    1. Thanks Dev.. I was lucky with the flight shots as the birds were kind enough to double back and fly over my head! Yes, still a lot of berries at the top of Lingshan and the redstarts love them.. I don’t think the rosy finches feed on berries as they prefer the rocky slopes but maybe they sneak up for a berry or two when people aren’t looking! 🙂

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