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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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…