On Friday 22 November, I spent the day at Miyun Reservoir with visiting Marie Louise Ng from Hong Kong. It was a stunningly beautiful day – cold early on but spectacularly clear and with almost no wind. It was one of those days that, as a resident of Beijing where the air can often be toxic, I absolutely adore.
We visited two sites on the northern shore of the reservoir and, at the first, we were treated to spectacular flyovers of several hundred COMMON CRANES, with a handful of HOODED CRANES amongst them.. and skeins of BEAN GEESE flying from their roosting sites to the feeding grounds in the maize fields. At least 4 JAPANESE REED BUNTINGS kept us company at our observation point.
After a couple of hours we decided to take a walk to some weedy fields in which I had peviously seen PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE.
As we headed over the brow of a small hill, there was movement in the grass and, quickly training my binoculars, I could see a cat walking slowly from right to left, less than 100 metres away. My heart leapt. It looked big and, immediately, with that thick bushy tail and spotted markings on its fur, I thought it must be a LEOPARD CAT. Gripped by the presence of a very special mammal, we watched it as it made its way onto a dirt track. With the sun behind us, it was now in full view and we were enjoying spectacular views (I am sure the low sun also played a role in delaying this beautiful animal’s detection of us). We reached for our cameras and reeled off some photos as it suddenly broke into a trot and then melted into the vegetation to the north of the track. We watched, captivated, as it made its way towards a small lake, eventually vanishing into the long grass with the local magpies agitated and noisy.
I turned to Marie with what must have been the biggest grin I have ever sported and said immediately “that’s my best wildlife experience of the year!”
Although Leopard Cat is probably not rare in the mountains around Beijing, sightings certainly are. I am aware of just one other recent Beijing sighting – one seen at Yeyahu by Brian Jones on 11 October 2010. The information below about the status of LEOPARD CAT in China is from Zhu Lei, for which many thanks.
Gao (1987, in ‘Fauna Sinica. Mammalia. Vol. 8. Carnivora’) reports that there are 4 subspecies of Leopard Cat in China, euptilura (NE China, north of Yellow River), bengalensis (SW China), chinensis (N and S China) and hainana (endemic to Hainan Island). The ssp. euptilura has the largest body and lightest coat, also the very faint spot marking. The ssp. chinensis is darker, more distinctively spotted, and has 2 black dorsal stripes.
Chen et al. (2002, in ‘Mammals of Beijing’) points out that the ssp. of Leopard Cat in Beijing is euptilura, according to measurements and colour markings of specimens from Yanqing and Mentougou.
Xie and Smith (2008) recognise 5 ssp. in China, alleni (includes hainana, endemic to Hainan), bengalensis (SW Guangxi, SW Guizhou, Sichuan, S Xizang, Yunnan), chinensis (S Anhui, SW and E China, Taiwan), euptilura (north of Huaihe River, Beijing, NE China), scripta (N Yunnan, W Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi and SE Xizang, Chinese endemic ssp.).
Based on above reference and the pics you’ve sent, I think your cat definitely is ssp. euptilurus (light coat and very faint spotted).
The ssp euptilurus or “Amur Leopard Cat” looks very different to the southern China and SE Asian subspecies (see images here for comparison) and, I understand, it’s a potential split into a separate species in its own right. The taxonomy of Leopard Cat in China is poorly understood, so classification may be subject to change.
However man decides to classify this cat, it is a beautiful animal and we were privileged to spend a special minute or two in its company.. proving once again that Beijing is a superb place for birds and wildlife.