Japanese Reed Bunting

When I first arrived in Beijing it took me almost two years to find my first Japanese Reed Bunting (Emberiza yessoensis, 红颈苇鹀).  It is a scarce, probably overlooked, winter visitor to the capital and it can be tricky to find in its favoured habitat of weedy scrub, usually close to water.  This habitat is also used in winter by the much more common, almost abundant, Pallas’s Reed Bunting (Emberiza pallasi, 苇鹀) and it’s this species that one must be careful to eliminate when looking for Japanese. As is the case with separating many similar species, call is a good indicator.  Japanese Reed Bunting utters a thin “tseep”, contrasting with the Pallas’s Reed Bunting’s chirpy sparrow-like call. Japanese Reed Buntings tend to feed on the ground in long grass and are usually skittish.  Often the first sight or sound is when one is accidentally disturbed.  When flushed, they tend to fly quite a long way before diving into long grass.  However, just occasionally, they sit up in the open, which is exactly what these two posers did last week during a walk with Steve Bale along the Wenyu He. Japanese Reed Buntings usually look ‘warmer’ in overall colouration than Pallas’s Reed Bunting.  The yellowy look, combined with the black ear coverts, are good indicators of Japanese Reed.  With orangey tones on the wing feathers, I think Japanese Reed Bunting is one of the most beautiful, if subtle, of the East Asian buntings and it’s always a delight to see.

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Japanese Reed Bunting (Emberiza yessoensis), Wenyu River, Beijing, March 2015.
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Japanese Reed Buntings, Wenyu River, Beijing, March 2015
Pallas's Reed Bunting, Ma Chang, April 2012
For comparison, here is a Pallas’s Reed Bunting at Ma Chang in April 2012.  Pallas’s is a variable species but always looks ‘colder’ overall, lacking any orange tones.

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