The STREAKED REED WARBLER is a bird that is almost certainly in serious trouble. There are very few recent records from anywhere in the world. Nobody knows where it breeds, nobody has ever recorded its song and its only known wintering grounds in the Philippines have been “developed” ( I do hate that word!) with no recent sightings.
So it was with great excitement that a sighting was reported in Beijing last week. After some inquiries, it emerged that it had been seen briefly, but well, on 15 June by an experienced and well-respected local birder at a site near Yanqing (a town about 60km northwest of Beijing). After obtaining precise site details, I was soon winging my way along the G6 expressway in the company of Paul Holt and Zhao Chao. Hopes were high – there was a good chance that a bird in mid-June would be holding territory and, potentially, singing…
After an hour and a half we were on site and began to search the abandoned fish pond where the bird had been seen just a couple of days before.
We arrived a couple of hours before dusk and planned to stay until dark and, if necessary, stay over in a local hotel and try again the following dawn.
It was a beautiful, still evening and there were several ORIENTAL REED WARBLERS chuntering loudly from the reeds. We slowly made our way around the pond, carefully trying to filter out the racket from these large acros in the hope of picking out what we expected would be the quieter song of their smaller, rarer cousin. During the next two hours we heard at least 2 RUDDY-BREASTED CRAKES, INDIAN and COMMON CUCKOOS, BLACK-NAPED ORIOLE, BLACK DRONGO, MOORHEN and BROWN SHRIKE but sadly there was no sign of any smaller reed warblers.
Well after dark we headed into town, checked into a local hotel and grabbed some dinner, speculating about our chances the following morning.
At 0415 we were checked out and on our way to the fishpond, full of optimism. If the STREAKED REED WARBLER was still there, surely it would sing or show early morning…?
On arrival, the RUDDY-BREASTED CRAKES were struggling to be heard above the chorus of the ‘churring’ and ‘chacking’ ORIENTAL REED WARBLERS and, again, we slowly walked around the raised bank that surrounded the reed-filled pond, desperately scanning and listening for anything that might be our target bird. Time and again a warbler appeared on a reed stem and, after raising our binoculars, without fail it proved to be (another!) ORIENTAL REED WARBLER.
After three hours we finally admitted defeat and decided to head back to Beijing… if the STREAKED REED WARBLER was still on site it was extremely good at hiding!
The most likely explanation was that it had been a late passage bird.
And so this rare species continues to elude me. But I won’t have long to wait to resume the search… it’s thought to be an early return migrant with peak passage in the Beijing/Hebei coast area said to be from the last week of August to mid-September, according to LaTouche. So, yet again, I’ll be checking those reedbeds and patches of sedge in the hope that, one day, I’ll connect with this most enigmatic of birds.
Of course, from a conservation perspective, it’s extremely difficult to do anything to help this bird. It’s a long distance migrant whose current breeding and wintering grounds are unknown. Recording its song would be a huge first step – at least that would help anyone travelling to northeast China and southeast Russia to locate singing birds and discover breeding sites, potentially enabling some studies to be made of the habitat requirements and hopefully identifying some of the reasons for the staggering decline in its population. But with so few being seen in the last few years, is it already too late?
Big thanks to Tong Menxiu and Chen Liang for their help in finding out details of this sighting and to Zhao Chao and Paul Holt for their company on a fun search…!
See here for more detail about the status of STREAKED REED WARBLER.
3 thoughts on “Streaked Reed Warbler in Beijing!”
Wauw Terry, I hope you will track it down somewhere some time. I heard in June 2008 from Geoff Carey (while twitching Chinese Crested Terns at Matsu, Taiwan) that an unknown Belgium birder photografed a singing bird just across the Chinese border in SE Russia (Ussuriland?). He and Paul Leader where planning searches in the closeby Chinese marshes in the years coming but after that I lost contact and do not know if they eventually did. The species seems to be seen on and of at the known wintering sites in the Phillipines (I remember an article in Birding Asia not that long afo by Phill Round). Hopefully it is still surviving. To my opinion, claiming it in these days can only been taken really serious with good enough photo’s.
Thanks Max. I don’t think Paul Leader and co ever found Streaked Reed Warbler (I think they went to the area of the sighting in Russia without success). Sightings anywhere are now few and far between. It is a secretive species, and one that likely breeds in a very poorly birded area, so these factor gives me hope that it still survives somewhere. Fingers crossed.