A few weeks ago, the folks at Beijing Hikers asked me if I would be interested in helping to lead a dedicated birding trip. Of course, being only too pleased to share my knowledge of Beijing’s birds, I accepted and plans were fixed to visit Miyun Reservoir over the weekend of 29-30 March.
The itinerary for the group, consisting of a mixture of ex-pats and Chinese, was to leave central Beijing around noon, arriving at a village on the north side of the reservoir at 3pm ahead of a late afternoon birding session. This would be followed by an overnight stay at a local guesthouse, a morning birding session at a different site on the reservoir, then lunch and an afternoon birding session in the hills before returning to Beijing.
I decided to travel up early to stake out the sites before meeting the group at the guest house at 3pm.
After the awful air pollution during the week, Saturday dawned as a stunning Spring day – the wind overnight had shifted the worst of the pollution, the sun was shining and the temperature was a very pleasant 15 degrees Celsius when I arrived at the Chao He bridge at 0930. The bridge over the Chao He is a site for Ibisbill, although it is far from guaranteed. There was no sign of this special bird but 8 GREY-HEADED LAPWINGS (灰头麦鸡) and 2 LONG-BILLED PLOVERS (长嘴剑鴴) provided some consolation. A little further along the river I picked up my first GARGANEY (白眉鸭) of the year, several CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCKS (斑嘴鴨), GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER (灰头绿啄木鸟) and several leucopsis WHITE WAGTAILS (白鹡鸰).
I pushed on to Yonglecun, my favourite site at Miyun. As I parked up and walked to the viewing point, I caught sight of two falcons acrobatically feeding on insects. A scan with my binoculars revealed them to be LESSER KESTRELS (黄爪隼).. a very nice start! It was here that I found Jan-Erik Nilsen already positioned on site and, shortly after, we enjoyed not two but seven LESSER KESTRELS (黄爪隼) as they fed high above us… beautiful birds and showing much more blue-grey on the upperwing than their counterparts in Europe.
The mountains around Miyun reservoir provide a stunning backdrop to a day’s birding and, with Spring in the air, it was a delight to be outside experiencing the beginning of migration season. Jan-Erik decided to move on to check Houbajiazhuang while I headed into the village to meet the group.
After meeting and greeting everyone, and having dropped our bags at the guesthouse, we headed out to Yonglecun for a 3 to 4 hour late afternoon birding session. With the sun slowly setting, the light was fantastic as we watched flocks of RUDDY SHELDUCK (赤麻鴨) going to roost.. Sightings of JAPANESE QUAIL (鵪鶉), CHINESE HILL BABBLER (山鹛), EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞), GARGANEY (白眉鸭), FALCATED DUCK (罗纹鸭), PALLAS’S REED BUNTING (苇鹀) and displaying GREAT CRESTED GREBES (凤头鸊鷉) provided a lot of interest and then, suddenly, a GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (乌雕) appeared and, as it dropped down towards a scrubby field, a female EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞) flew up and began to mob it… and the harrier did not rest until the eagle was finally forced away.. a spectacular interaction..!
Bird activity increased as the sun began to set and we enjoyed several flocks of BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭) wheeling around distantly… a wonderful sight.
Then, just as we were about to call it a day, the bird of the trip suddenly came into view, flying low across the reservoir in front of us, stopping briefly to hover, before carrying on south-west.. a PIED KINGFISHER (斑鱼狗)! Wow…. This was the first time I had seen this species in Beijing; it’s a real Beijing “mega” with only a very few previous records (possibly as few as three). A real surprise and a brilliant end to a great birding session.
Back at the guest house we enjoyed some great local home-cooked food and our hosts even prepared a camp fire for us..
The next morning, after a quick breakfast of coffee, bread and boiled eggs, we headed of to another spot on the reservoir for the morning’s birding. We were hoping to see a laggard crane or two… late March is usually the best time to see the migrant WHITE-NAPED CRANES (白枕鹤) at Miyun but, with the exceptionally warm weather, spring is early this year and the cranes passed through more than a week ago, stopping only for a day or two before continuing north on their way to the breeding grounds. Our chances did not look good.
On arrival at Houbajiazhuang we scanned the area and, within just a few minutes, three cranes flew in and dropped onto the marsh.. fortunately they were in view, albeit distant, and with the telescope we were able to see that they were WHITE-NAPED CRANES (白枕鹤)! Fantastic…. Everyone was able to enjoy this probable family party of cranes and it was a bonus when a further four WHITE-NAPEDs (白枕鹤) flew across in front of us in perfect light. A group of 5 EURASIAN SPOONBILLS (白琵鹭) then dropped in close by, allowing the group to see both species in the same view. TUFTED DUCK (凤头潜鸭), COMMON POCHARD (红头潜鸭), GOLDENEYE (鹊鸭), ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK ((亚洲) 短趾百灵) and MONGOLIAN GULL (黄脚(银)鸥) were all added to the list of species seen before we decided to head into the hills.
We drove on to the Jixiang Temple, near Bulaotun, stopping en route at the Chao He bridge. The GREY-HEADED LAPWINGS (灰头麦鸡) and the LONG-BILLED PLOVERS (长嘴剑鴴) were still in situ but, again, there was no sign of the IBISBILL (鹮嘴鹬).
At the temple, we were immediately greeted by a small group of YELLOW-BELLIED TITS (黄腹山雀) and we soon caught up with EASTERN GREAT TIT (大山雀), SILVER-THROATED TIT (北长尾山雀/银喉长尾山雀), MARSH TIT (沼泽山雀), WILLOW TIT (褐头山雀), PLAIN LAUGHINGTHRUSH (山噪鹛), GODLEWSKI’S BUNTING (戈氏岩鹀) and we were fortunate to secure stunning views of CHINESE NUTHATCH (黑头鳾) with a pair excavating a nest hole. A single EURASIAN JAY (松鸦), several of the spectacular RED-BILLED BLUE MAGPIES (红嘴蓝鹊), a couple of DAURIAN REDSTARTS (北红尾鸲) and small parties of BRAMBLING (燕雀) and ORIENTAL GREENFINCH (金翅 (雀)) added some colour to the morning before we headed off to lunch.
After being reinvigorated by a delicious local meal we decided to have one more short birding session before heading back to Beijing… we found a nice river valley on the west side of the reservoir and added MEADOW (三道眉草鹀) and LITTLE BUNTING (小鹀), RED-BILLED CHOUGH (红嘴山鸦) and HILL PIGEON (岩鸽) to our tally.
At about 4.30pm we called it a day and began the journey back to the city, having clocked up 73 species over the two days.
Before tallying up our total, we had a little fun competition to see who could guess the number of species we saw over the weekend. These were the guesses (ignoring the organisers!):
Ying – 150
Jean-Pierre – 54
Patricia – 46
Tom – 60
Jean – 56
Sheila – 57
Nick – 53
Sissi – 55
Rich – 59
Fiona – 58
Julian – 52
So the winner is Tom with 60! Congratulations… sadly no prize, just huge kudos! 🙂
A big thank you to Jun and Betsy from Beijing Hikers for making all the arrangements and to Julian, Fiona, Rich, Nick, Sissi, Sheila, Jean, Tom, Patricia, Jean-Pierre and Ying for making it such a fun trip…!