On Saturday 12 October I visited Wild Duck Lake (both Ma Chang and Yeyahu NR) with Jesper Hornskov and Ben Wielstra. As usual with this site in October, expectations were high as I set off at 0445 to pick up Ben, then Jesper, before heading over the mountains past Badaling Great Wall and on to Ma Chang.
On arrival, the water level at Guanting Reservoir was the highest I have ever seen. Consequently most of the viewing points that I have used in the past to observe the reservoir are no longer accessible, meaning that we had no opportunity to view the duck on the open water. A couple of CHINESE GREY SHRIKES, a MERLIN, a few lingering juvenile AMUR FALCONS, some early BEAN GEESE and a flock of 23 MONGOLIAN LARKS kept us entertained at Ma Chang before we decided to hot-foot it over to Yeyahu Nature Reserve to spend some time at the new viewing tower.
As we made our way out of Ma Chang along the unpaved access track I caught sight of a raptor to the north of us, gliding west. I slammed on the brakes (not as dramatic as it sounds when you are only moving at about 5mph) and glanced through my binoculars. It was big. An eagle. I should say at this point that, only a few minutes before, I was chatting to Jesper and Ben about the potential for a STEPPE EAGLE. I had seen GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE and IMPERIAL EAGLE at Wild Duck Lake before but never STEPPE. As I looked through my binoculars, I could see a pale bar on the underwing and my heart raced – it looked like a first calendar year STEPPE EAGLE! We all jumped out of the car and it began to circle, offering us superb views with the sun behind us. I grabbed my camera and reeled off a few shots before just enjoying the bird as it gained height and eventually drifted off west. Wow! A new bird for me in Beijing.
Elated, and buoyed by our seemingly potent ability to talk up species at will, we began to chat about all sorts of obviously impossible targets for the day such as SWINHOE’S RAIL, STREAKED REED WARBLER, CRESTED SHELDUCK and, of course, BAER’S POCHARD.
A few minutes later we arrived at Yeyahu NR and, after a celebratory cup of coffee, made our way into the reserve and headed for the new watchtower. On the way we experienced a modest passage of raptors with NORTHERN GOSHAWK, EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK, COMMON (EASTERN) BUZZARD and, again after talking about a likely species, SHORT-TOED EAGLE. It was turning into a very good day.
We reached the tower after about 20 minutes and set up stall, hoping that the early promise might continue. A few more NORTHERN GOSHAWKS, COMMON (EASTERN) BUZZARDS, a HEN HARRIER and an additional SHORT-TOED EAGLE kept us interested and then another large eagle came into view from the east… As it drifted closer, we could see it wasn’t the expected GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (regular at this time of year) but a STEPPE EAGLE! Given the direction and timing, almost certainly a second individual.
As the day wore on, cloud cover increased and the raptor passage seemed to stop, so we decided to head for the newly flooded area in the hope of sighting some duck, including a target for Ben – BAIKAL TEAL.
We didn’t see any BAIKAL TEAL but we did see good numbers of MALLARD, SPOT-BILLED DUCK, GADWALL, FALCATED DUCK, RED-CRESTED POCHARD and a handful of FERRUGINOUS DUCK. As we made our way along a track through the flooded area, we encountered some COMMON REED BUNTINGS. I don’t see many COMMON REED BUNTINGS in Beijing (it’s a case of picking out a COMMON among all the PALLAS’S REED and LITTLE BUNTINGS – I can feel your sympathy) so I decided to hang back to take some photographs as Jesper and Ben headed to a small viewing area overlooking one of the ponds.
I had a frustrating time with the buntings but did manage some record photos.
Just as I was about to leave the buntings to catch up with Jesper and Ben, a pair of Ferruginous Duck/Baer’s Pochards flew past and, as I had my camera set up, I reeled off a couple of photos as they plunged down onto one of the small pools in the reedbed. I didn’t even look at the camera to check the images as I already felt I had been too long trying to photograph the buntings – and they would almost certainly be Ferruginous. However, as I caught up with Jesper and Ben, I mentioned that I had seen two Ferruginous/Baer’s-type ducks to which Jesper replied that they had seen three definite Ferruginous.. I (erroneously, as it turned out) assumed that I had seen two of the three birds they had seen, so I didn’t think any more of it….. ***LESSON HERE***
From the watchpoint, we viewed a small area of the pool on which ‘my’ birds alighted and it was busy – lots of Gadwall, Falcated Duck and Mallard were moving around and flying in and out. But no sign of the ‘Ferruginous/Baer’s types’. As the light began to fade, we left and headed back to Beijing.
At home, as I uploaded my photos from the day, I had a double-take when I saw the two images of the Ferruginous/Baer’s type duck I had seen. One appeared to have a green tinge to the head and, structurally, they looked wrong for Ferruginous. They were BAER’S POCHARDS!
Having known that Ben was particularly keen to see BAER’S POCHARD, I felt terrible. If only I had looked at the photos at the time, I would have realised that there was a pair of BAER’S POCHARDS on that pool and we could have stayed longer in the hope that they reappeared. But as it was, we left in ignorance and it was only when I got home that I realised. Sorry Ben!
The silver lining is that I will almost certainly take Ben to Wild Duck Lake again while he is in Beijing and I have even offered to take him to the breeding site in Hebei Province to hopefully see them there… It’s a lesson learned.
In any case, it was another superb day at this brilliant site. Is there a capital city in the world with birding as good as this? If so, I want to know about it!
Full species list below. Thanks to Jesper and Ben for their company on the day.
Common Pheasant Phasanius colchicus – 6+
Bean Goose Anser fabalis serrirostris – 15
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea – one (plus a couple of possibly captive ones…)
Gadwall Anas strepera – 60+
Falcated Duck Anas falcata – 17+
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos – 400+
Chinese Spotbill Anas zonorhyncha – 75+
Northern Pintail Anas acuta – two
Common Teal Anas crecca – two
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina – 14 (both males & females ‘scoped)
Common Pochard Aythya ferina – eight
Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri – a pair photographed [TT]
Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca – three
Smew Mergellus albellus – four brownheads
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis – nine
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus – three
Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris – one (in flight, giving ‘pao!’ call)
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus – one
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea – six
Little Egret Egretta garzetta – three
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo – two
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus – one
Amur Falcon Falco amurensis – 12+ (excellent views of several 1st c-y birds)
Merlin Falco columbarius – two (adult male; unaged female)
Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo – one
Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus – two
Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus – one 1st c-y (an unusually dark individual, with hardly any pale on crown, no noticeable pale rump, effectively no pale on forewing & an at most very faint breast band)
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus – four 1st c-y
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus – eight
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis – two
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo japonicus – 7+
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis – 1-2 (a 1st c-y circling & gliding 10h42 as we were leaving Machang & probably another – in identical plumage, as far as we could tell – over YYH reserve at 12h20…)
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus – two
Common Coot Fulica atra – 16
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus – 70
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva – eight 1st c-y
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago – one
Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus – 15+
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis – three
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto – four
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major – five
Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus – four (mostly showing very well…)
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus – two
Common Magpie Pica pica – 60+ (not counting birds en route!)
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus – c390 (main event a flock of c325)
Rook Corvus frugilegus – one (up close, feeding in a field)
Eastern Great Tit Parus minor – three
Yellow-bellied Tit Parus venustulus – nine
Marsh Tit Parus palustris
Chinese Penduline Tit Remiz (pendulinus) consobrinus – five (incl a juvenile sitting up nicely)
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus – 5+ heard (presumably ssp vinaceus)
Mongolian Lark Melanocorypha mongolica – 23 (one flock taking off from harvested maize field,then flying around allowing nice views before dropping back down distantly)
Asian Short-toed Lark Calandrella cheleensis – two
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis – 155+
Chinese Hill Warbler Rhopophilus pekinensis – three
Chinese Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis – 13
Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps – 17
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus – five
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus – two
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis webbianus – 50+
Northern Wren Troglodytes troglodytes – one seen, didn’t call [BW]
White-cheeked Starling Sturnus cineraceus – c50
Eurasian Starling Sturnus vulgaris – four
Naumann’s Thrush Turdus naumanni – two
Northern Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus – two
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus – six
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus – v
Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella – seven
White Wagtail Motacilla alba – five (two ocularis; three ‘?’)
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni – five
Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens japonicus – 70
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta blakistoni – one
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla – 20
Oriental Greenfinch Carduelis sinica – 12
Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus – heard
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos – nine migr
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla – 115+
Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans – five
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala – eight
Pallas’s Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi – 40+
Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus – 11 (several seen well & heard calling)
Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica – one [JH]