Last summer, when I first met Colm Moore and his partner Zhao Qi at the first informal Beijing birders’ meet-up, I was struck by their warm, polite and above all modest manner. A truly lovely couple. Of course I already knew Colm through reputation. Here was a guy who had already found some astonishing birds at his local patch at Shahe – a small urban reservoir in Beijing – including Beijing’s first skua (a stunning Long-tailed) and Black-headed Wagtail (ssp feldeggi) supported by a host of other excellent records such as White-winged Scoter.
Most birders dream of finding a national first. It’s something I have never come close to… but Colm has form, having found Portugal’s first records of Pallas’s Reed Bunting and, I believe, American Herring Gull. And so it should have come as no surprise that it was he who was behind an astonishing find, again at Shahe, on 4 May… Here is Colm’s tale of that red-letter day…
“Streak-throated Swallow: a taxon apparently new to the Chinese avifauna; Colm Moore and Zhao Qi.
Dawn on 4th May 2014 broke clear and anticyclonic at Shahe, allowing a substantial northwards movement of hirundines to occur. Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica were in the majority but with up to forty Sand Martins Riparia riparia present as well. By mid-morning this passage had been almost entirely inhibited by a strengthening northerly gale and hundreds of Barn Swallows were sheltering in the lee of the Poplar grove at the western end of the reservoir. A smaller hirundine that had puzzled us earlier in the morning now reappeared in flight and finally, after some hours, allowed closer examination. Over 100 photographs were taken of the bird in bright sunlight, both in flight and while perched on the sandy waste ground, facing into the wind. At about 1300hrs the storm abated temporarily and the Barn Swallows drifted away northwards, along with their erstwhile companion. Puzzled by this diminutive hirundine and unable to identify the species, we decided to draw on Paul Holt’s encyclopaedic knowledge and sent him some images. However, with Paul in the field, it was almost a month before he opened them. He instantly recognised it as a STREAK-THROATED SWALLOW, a south Asian species, and called for more images.
Paul eventually saw the entire series of photographs and verified his initial identification of the Shahe hirundine.
The species is a monotypic taxon. It occurs from Oman in the west, through Pakistan and India to Nepal and Bangladesh in the east, occurring as a vagrant in Sri Lanka, the Arabian Gulf and Egypt. Just a month before the Shahe record, one was seen in Kuwait. Though burdened with a plethora of English names, its taxonomic position is fairly stable. The taxon is placed in the Petrochelidon clade rather than in Hirundo. Its scientific name, as of 2013 (Ibis, 155:898-907, October 2013), is Petrochelidon fluvicola, retaining the specific name fluvicola ever since Blyth first named it in 1855. Though subject to vagrancy, the species has apparently never been recorded in China, even in Yunnan where south and east Asian species might be expected to overlap in range. It is the first record for Beijing. Though vagrants may travel alone, often their proximate cause of arrival is the presence of sister species on passage; in the Shahe case this would be Barn Swallow or Sand Martin. According to the literature, the species may be increasing in population in south Asia and is listed as “of least concern” in the IUCN Redlist.”
Here are some of Colm’s photos….
Big congratulations to Colm and Zhao Qi.. a truly astonishing record. I definitely owe you a beer at the next Beijing birders meet-up…