Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, is probably my favourite birding site in the capital. It’s one of those sites where, walking around, it feels as if almost anything could turn up. That feeling is not irrational. With wintering PRZEWALSKI’S (ALASHAN) REDSTART, Beijing’s first LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER, breeding GREENISH WARBLERS, ALSTROM’S WARBLERS, SLATY-BACKED FLYCATCHERS, ‘Gansu’ RED-FLANKED BLUETAILS and GREY-WINGED BLACKBIRDS all discovered in the last few years, expectation is high whatever the season.
My most recent visit was with Paul Holt on Monday. On arrival it was cold, breezy and seemingly almost birdless. Around the derelict buildings, at the highest point of the road, our hopes of Asian Rosy Finch drew a blank. And there were no birds at all on the scree slopes.. However, almost the first bird we saw was a good one – a sibiricus GREAT GREY SHRIKE. Scarce in Beijing, Lingshan in winter is certainly the best site for this monochrome predator. A check of the sheltered side valley a little lower down was more productive, with three species of rosefinch – PALLAS’S, CHINESE BEAUTIFUL and LONG-TAILED. The highlight here was a count of 7 LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCHES of the central China lepidus subspecies, a form only discovered in Beijing two winters ago. One male, in particular, showed spectacularly well.
We walked the old road which was also relatively quiet with only one WHITE-WINGED REDSTART (a male) and an owl sp (SHORT-EARED or LONG-EARED), flushed by Paul and seen only briefly.
We decided to try an area of scrub further up the mountain and, after a 20-minute walk, we discovered four more lepidus LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCHES and flushed a EURASIAN WOODCOCK, scarce in Beijing especially in winter. We headed back to the car, talking about how great it was to see so many rosefinches and feeling happy with the day..
As we started to drive back to the road, a large raptor drifted past the communications tower… right at that moment, the jizz reminded me a little of Black Kite – long tail and lazy flight – but this bird was certainly not that species, it was huge! Paul immediately shouted an expletive followed by “juvenile Lammergeier”. Wow. We jumped out of the car and I grabbed my camera to take a few record shots.. As it drifted behind a hill we bundled back into the car and made our way back to the road to try to see it again.. We rounded the bend just before the road descends on the Hebei side and saw it again, this time at eye-level as it drifted north in the company of several LARGE-BILLED CROWS. The fact that we initially though the crows were RED-BILLED CHOUGHS gives an indication of its size. We watched as this magnificent bird of prey banked around and then flew directly over our heads before slowly heading northwest. What an encounter!
With the nearest known breeding grounds on the Tibetan Plateau, more than 1,200km to the west, LAMMERGEIER is a bird I wasn’t expecting to see in Beijing. As far as I know there is only one previous record from the capital, from Shidu, Fangshan District, in February 2008 (Wang Qin) so this is Beijing’s second.
Lingshan delivers again!
A PDF site guide to Lingshan, including travel directions and a map of the best sites, can be downloaded here.