Back in February 2012 I saw my first Water Rail in China… Remarkably it was a Western Water Rail and not the expected Eastern Water Rail (now a separate species – “Brown-cheeked Rail”).
In a sign of just how difficult it is to see Brown-cheeked Rail in Beijing, it was only this Spring that I saw my first, more than 2 years since that Western in the Olympic Forest Park.
So it was a big surprise to see a minimum of 4 Brown-cheeked Rails at Miyun last week. It was reassuring that the first one I saw was noticeably different to Western. It was darker overall, caused by the larger dark centres to the feathers on the upperparts, the face was darker, almost with a mask, the undertail coverts were heavily marked and there was a brownish wash on the breast, all combining to give Brown-cheeked Rail a distinctive appearance.
Here is some video of one of the four present.
And here are some stills of both Brown-cheeked and Western Water Rail for comparison:
Finally, this is a recording of the call of one the Miyun birds… quite different to the usual ‘squeal’ from Western Water Rail that I am used to from home.
Easy, eh? Although Western is a (probably regular) vagrant to eastern China, it’s unlikely that Brown-cheeked will ever make it to the Western Palearctic as its breeding range is restricted to eastern China, far southeast Russia, Japan and the Koreas. The range of the subspecies of Western and Eastern (part of the 2010 paper by Tavares, de Kroon and Baker indicating that they are separate species) can be seen here.