Rare and scarce birds in Beijing 2018

2018 was another brilliant year for birding in Beijing.  At least 379 species were reliably recorded in the capital.  The growing number of observers and improved observer awareness are almost certainly responsible for the increasing number of unusual records.  This is a summary of the records of rare and scarce birds of which I am aware.  It is unlikely to be comprehensive.  If you know of any records of rare or scarce species in 2018 that are not included, please contact me.  My gratitude goes to everyone who has reported sightings over the last 12 months and especially to Paul Holt and XiaoPT for their contributions to this summary.


2018 started strongly with the JAPANESE THRUSH (Turdus cardis, 乌灰鸫) remaining in the Agricultural Exhibition Center Gardens until 3 March at least, and unseasonal records of COLLARED CROW (Corvus torquatus, 白颈鸦) and CHINESE THRUSH (Turdus mupinensis, 宝兴歌鸫) at Dashihe all on 1st (the former seen on and off until 20th at least and the latter the first winter record for the capital).  PALLAS’S ROSEFINCHES (Carpodacus roseus, 北朱雀) and GULDENSTADT’S (WHITE-WINGED) REDSTARTS (Phoenicurus erythrogastrus, 红腹红尾鸲) were on site in relatively low numbers at Lingshan (Oscar Campbell).

A BLACK-THROATED TIT (Aegithalos concinnus, 红头长尾山雀) of uncertain origin was in the grounds of Tsinghua University on 3rd and six or seven YELLOW-BROWED BUNTINGS (Emberiza chrysophrys, 黄眉鹀), scarce in the capital, were at the Summer Palace on 6th (The City Green Island Birdwatching Group of the China Birdwatching Society via XiaoPT).

A male CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs, 苍头燕雀), a scarce species in Beijing, was at the Agricultural Exhibition Centre gardens on 7th (Stefan Andrew) and a lingering BROWN-EARED BULBUL (Microscelis amaurotis, 栗耳短脚鹎) was at Beihai Park on 7th (Niao Pan) with four there on 10th (Beijing Feiyu) and 25th (Beijing Feiyu).

13th produced a surprise in the form of a BROWN ACCENTOR (Prunella fulvescens, 褐岩鹨) at Yanhecheng, Mentougou District (Li Zhaonan et al, Friends of Nature Birdwatching Group).

2018-01-13 Brown Accentor, Yanhecheng, Mentougou (Li Zhaonan)
Brown Accentor, Yanhecheng (Li Zhaonan)

On 21st, Colm Moore found Beijing’s 4th ARCTIC REDPOLL (Carduelis hornemanni, 极北朱顶雀) in a flock of Common Redpolls (Carduelis flammea, 白腰朱顶雀) at Miaofengshan and, on 23rd, another CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs, 苍头燕雀) was reported from the Botanical Gardens along with a single YELLOW-BROWED BUNTING (Emberiza chrysophrys, 黄眉鹀), (Beijing Feiyu).

2018-01-21 Arctic Redpoll, Miaofengshan (Colm)
The Arctic Redpoll at Miaofengshan on 21 January 2018 (Colm Moore)

The good run of CHAFFINCHES (Fringilla coelebs, 苍头燕雀) continued when Colm Moore discovered another at Shisanling on 27th and on the same day another unseasonal CHINESE THRUSH (Turdus mupinensis, 宝兴歌鸫) was seen in the Botanical Gardens (Tang Bohui), the second winter record for Beijing.


At least three (two males and a female) SCALY-SIDED MERGANSERS (Mergus squamatus, 中华秋沙鸭) were reported as having been photographed at the Wenyu River no later than the 3rd February 2018 (Zhang Xiaoling 张小玲 in litt. to XiaoPT) and a female was recorded at the same site on 5th by Li Xiaomai (via XiaoPT).  This represents just the sixth Beijing record of this endangered species.

Beijing’s 7th MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis, 草地鹨) was found at Dashihe by XiaoPT and Luo Qingqing on 12th.  On 15th the male CHAFFINCH (Fringilla coelebs, 苍头燕雀) was still in the Botanical Gardens (Stefan Andrew) and a SOLITARY SNIPE (Gallinago solitaria, 孤沙锥) was at Dashihe on 22nd. On 23rd a CHESTNUT THRUSH (Turdus rubrocanus, 灰头鸫) was in the Olympic Forest Park (Hu Xuehui 胡雪卉).  This was possibly the same bird that was photographed there on the 19 November 2017 by 夕阳红 (internet name).  An exceptionally early PACIFIC SWIFT (Apus pacificus, 白腰雨燕) was reported on 26th at Shuangjing (Andrew Morrissey).


Two BAER’S POCHARDS (Aythya baeri, 青头潜鸭) were at Dashihe on 4th (Chen Xi’er and Liang Shujie) and, on 25th, a single PALLAS’S GULL (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus, 渔鸥) was at Shahe (XiaoPT, Zhang Yongge and Sui Liling).  On 30th a MANCHURIAN BUSH WARBLER (Cettia canturians, 远东树莺) was found at Tsinghua University campus, an unusually early migrant or a previously unseen wintering bird (Zhao Xiangyu).


There was no fooling Colm Moore on 1st as he picked out Beijing’s 6th personata WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba, 白鹡鸰) at Shisanling.  Colm continued his run of rarities when he found Beijing’s 3rd ISABELLINE WHEATEAR (Oenanthe isabellina, 沙鵖) at Shisanling on 7th, alongside 2 male PIED WHEATEARS (Oenanthe pleschanka, 白顶唧) and 3 PALLAS’S GULLS (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus, 渔鸥) at the same site.  On 11th, a Beijing record 223 ORIENTAL PLOVERS (Charadrius veredus, 东方鴴) were at Ma Chang (Paul Holt) together with Beijing’s ninth MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis, 草地鹨). Probably the same individual was seen on 12th, 16th and 17th at the same site.  On 17th there was a major surprise with Beijing’s second CHESTNUT-CROWNED WARBLER (Seicercus castaniceps, 栗头鹟莺) singing close to Ma Chang, also found by Paul Holt (the first record was on 6 May 2017 at the Temple of Heaven Park).  On 22nd, a single NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN (Delichon urbicum, 毛脚燕) was photographed at Shisanling by Colm Moore and a LITTLE STINT (Calidris minuta, 小滨鹬) was at Bulaotun (XiaoPT, Chen Wei et al) and seen again on 24th (XiaoPT, Chen Wei, Huang Yue, Luo Qingqing, Dahao and Chen Dameng), the latter only the sixth record for Beijing.  Beijing’s seventh personata WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba, 白鹡鸰) was seen at Dashihe by Luo Qingqing on 22nd.  A singing LESSER WHITETHROAT (Sylvia curruca, 白喉林莺) in the grounds of the Agricultural Exhibition Center (Stefan Andrew) was just the eighth record for Beijing.

2018-04-08 Isabelline Wheatear, Shisanling (CM)
Beijing’s third Isabelline Wheater was at Shisanling on 7-8 April 2018 at least (Colm Moore)


The first day of May brought a LESSER FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata ariel, 白斑军舰鸟), Beijing’s 5th, to Yeyahu (Pan Wenxing) and, on 5th, a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER was in the grounds of the Agricultural Exhibition Center Park (Stefan Andrew).  On 13th, a male MUGIMAKI FLYCATCHER (Ficedula mugimaki, 鸲姬鹟) at Tsinghua University campus was just the 11th record of this species for the capital.  A RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (Luscinia sibilans, 红尾歌鸲) at the same site on 19th was a notable record of this scarce migrant and, just a day later, five SWINHOE’S MINIVETS (Pericrocotus cantonensis, 小灰山椒鸟) were at Gubeikou, just the 5th record of this species in Beijing.  On 22nd, a SLATY-BACKED FLYCATCHER (Ficedula hodgsonii, 锈胸蓝姬鹟) at Peking University was possibly the first lowland record of this species in the capital (it has been recorded at Lingshan and Haituoshan in summer in recent years).  A singing PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (Phylloscopus tenellipes, 淡脚柳莺) was a nice find at Xinglong Park by Jan-Erik Nilsen on 25th and on the same day a CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (Bradypterus tacsanowskius, 中华短翅莺) was photographed on the campus of Peking University (Xi’er), the 12th record for Beijing.  The month ended with another, singing, CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (Bradypterus tacsanowskius, 中华短翅莺) on the Shunyi Patch (Terry Townshend), the 13th record for the capital.  In addition, there was a record of a single LITTLE STINT (Calidris minuta, 小滨鹬) at Wanping Hu sometime in May 2018 (Zhao Xiangyu pers. comm. to XiaoPT), representing the seventh Beijing record.


The third of the year, and 14th Beijing record of CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (Bradypterus tacsanowskius, 中华短翅莺) was at Lingshan on 3rd (Terry Townshend) and 2 SLATY-BACKED FLYCATCHERS (Ficedula hodgsonii, 锈胸蓝姬鹟) were at Lingshan (XiaoPT et al), possibly only the fourth Beijing record.  On 7th a SLATY-BREASTED RAIL (Lewinia striata, 蓝胸秧鸡) was photographed in the Olympic Forest Park (Lou Fangzhou), possibly only the 3rd Beijing record.  A BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (Horornis fortipes, 强脚树莺) was at Baihuashan on 10th (Jan-Erik Nilsen), the third consecutive year this usually more southerly distributed species has been recorded at this site.  On 12th news broke of a CHESTNUT-WINGED CUCKOO (Clamator coromandus, 红翅凤头鹃) seen on 2nd in the Botanical Gardens (Li Tian).  A single BAER’S POCHARD (Aythya baeri, 青头潜鸭) was seen at Yeyahu, a potential breeding site, on 20th (Beijing Feiyu) and on 24th at least 4 SWINHOE’S MINIVETS (Pericrocotus cantonensis, 小灰山椒鸟), showing signs of breeding, were at Gubeikou (XiaoPT, Zhao Min and Luo Qingqing).  Several hours earlier, Li Zhaonan et al recorded more than 10 individuals at the same site.  A TIGER SHRIKE (Lanius tigrinus, 虎纹伯劳), also at Gubeikou, was another surprise (XiaoPT et al).


The second BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (Horornis fortipes, 强脚树莺) of the year was recorded at Yudushan on 14th (Luo Qingqing et al).


The main highlights from an otherwise typically quiet month (at least partly due to lack of observations due to the uncomfortable heat) were a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (Calidris falcinellus, 阔嘴鹬) at Ma Chang on 25th (Han Jing & Yang Jie), just the fifth Beijing record, and a PIED KINGFISHER (Ceryle rudis, 斑鱼狗) at Bulaotun, Miyun Reservoir, on 25th (Chen Wei, Huang Yue, XiaoPT, Luo Qingqing and Chen Dameng), just the seventh record for Beijing.  It or another was at Yeyahu on 28th August (Guan Xueyan et al).  A NORTHERN HAWK-CUCKOO (Hierococcyx hyperythrus, 北鹰鹃) at the Wenyu River on 29th was possibly only the sixth Beijing record (Steve Bale).


A busy month began with 3 BAER’S POCHARDS (Aythya baeri, 青头潜鸭) at Yeyahu on 3rd (Jenny Fang and Zhen Niu), followed by a BAND-BELLIED CRAKE (Porzana paykullii, 斑肋田鸡) on the Shunyi Patch on 5th (Terry Townshend).  On 11th there was a rare chance to positively identify to species level one of the many ‘SWINTAILED SNIPE’ seen in the capital. A single juvenile showed tremendously well at Tsinghua University campus, allowing close observation and photographs of the spread tail, showing that it was a PIN-TAILED SNIPE (Gallinago stenura, 针尾沙锥).  Something of a red-letter day for Paul Holt on 14th at Yeyahu produced two Beijing ‘firsts’ in the form of a WOOD WARBLER (Phylloscopus sibilatrix, 林柳莺) and a HIMALAYAN SWIFTLET (Aerodramus brevirostris, 短嘴金丝燕) and, as if that wasn’t enough, Paul also heard a SWINHOE’S RAIL (Coturnicops exquisitus, 花田鸡), the fifth record for Beijing.  All three records were within a single, remarkable, hour.  An adult LITTLE GULL (Hydrocoloeus minutus, 小鸥) was at Ma Chang on 22nd (Paul Holt and XiaoPT) and, on 24th, a dark morph BOOTED EAGLE (Hieraaetus pennatus, 靴隼雕) was at Shahe (Colm Moore).  On 26th, a MARSH GRASSBIRD (Locustella pryeri, 斑背大尾莺) at Shahe (XiaoPT et al) was a nice record, and just the tenth record for Beijing (it or another was at the same site on 8th October).


A female MUGIMAKI FLYCATCHER was in Ritan Park on 1st (Andrew Morrissey), just the 12th Beijing record.  Three BAER’S POCHARDS (Aythya baeri, 青头潜鸭) were still at Yeyahu on 3rd (Paul Holt, Ben Wielstra and Terry Townshend) and, on the same day, belated news broke of a BLACK-WINGED CUCKOOSHRIKE (Coracina melaschistos, 暗灰鹃鵙) in the Olympic Forest Park ‘in early September’ (via XiaoPT).  A WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi stejnegeri, 斑脸海番鸭) was at Ma Chang on 6th (Zhen Niu) and a MARSH GRASSBIRD (Locustella pryeri, 斑背大尾莺), was at Shahe on 8th (Zhao Xiangyu), possibly the lingering September bird. An outstanding 15 LONG-TAILED TITS (caudatus) were besides the Wenyu River on 11th (Steve Bale), just the eight record of this white-headed stunner.  A BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (Lanius bucephalus, 牛头伯劳) was at Yeyahu on 14th (Beijing Feiyu) and a BLACK-THROATED DIVER (Gavia arctica, 黑喉潜鸟) was found at the Summer Palace on 19th (Denis Corbeil), remaining until 3rd November at least (the 5th Beijing record).  On 23rd a single GULDENSTADT’S (WHITE-WINGED) REDSTART (Phoenicurus erythrogastrus, 红腹红尾鸲) was photographed at Shahe, a rare lowland Beijing record.


A first calendar-year BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla, 三趾鸥) was at the Summer Palace on 3rd (Zhang Jingkang), the tenth record for Beijing.  On 5th, a BLACK-WINGED KITE (Elanus caeruleus, 黑翅鸢) was at Yeyahu (Terry Townshend) and, on 10th, the same site hosted Beijing’s fourth CHIFFCHAFF (Phylloscopus collybita, 叽喳柳莺) (Lou Fangzhou).  An unseasonal CHINESE THRUSH (Turdus mupinensis, 宝兴歌鸫) was in the Temple of Heaven Park on 8th (Chris Bowden). A WALLCREEPER (Tichodroma muraria, 红翅旋壁雀) in Shunyi on 11-12 November was possibly the first lowland Beijing record (Terry Townshend).  On 14th, what we think is the first modern day record of HAZEL GROUSE (Tetrastes bonasia, 花尾榛鸡) was at Lingshan (Steve Bale and Terry Townshend) and, on the same day, a WHITE-THROATED REDSTART (Phoenicurus schisticeps, 白喉红尾鸲) was discovered just 250m on the ‘wrong side’ of the border with Hebei Province, apparently just the second record for eastern China (Steve Bale and Terry Townshend).  A second BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla, 三趾鸥) was at Shahe on 19th (Colm Moore), Beijing’s 11th record, the same day a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (Ficedula parva, 红胸姬鹟) was photographed in the Temple of Heaven Park (Zhang Xiaoling).  The latter bird, certainly present on 18th and possibly before, was just the 6th Beijing record of this species.  Three BAER’S POCHARDS (Aythya baeri, 青头潜鸭) were at Huairou Reservoir on 20th (Steve Bale) and, on 21st, a ‘sibiricus‘ NORTHERN GREY SHRIKE (Lanius excubitor, 灰伯劳) was at Lingshan (Steve Bale, XiaoPT and Terry Townshend).  A first calendar year LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis, 长尾鸭) was at Peking University on 24th (Wang Yishan) but unfortunately found dead on 27th (per XiaoPT).  Another first calendar-year BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla, 三趾鸥) was at Huairou Reservoir on 27th (Steve Bale) and, on 30th a male WHITE-THROATED REDSTART (Phoenicurus schisticeps, 白喉红尾鸲) was found at Miaofengshan by Colm Moore.  Given the Lingshan bird on 14th was just over the border in Hebei Province, Colm’s bird represents the first Beijing record and only the third record for eastern China.

2018-11-05 Black-winged Kite, Yeyahu
Black-winged Kite at Yeyahu on 5 November 2018 (Terry Townshend)


On 5th, whilst visiting Tsinghua University for the first time to try to see a long-staying GREY-BACKED THRUSH (Turdus hortulorum, 灰背鸫), Steve Bale found and photographed Beijing’s 2nd REDWING (Turdus iliacus, 白眉歌鸫), enjoyed by many local birders and still present, along with the GREY-~BACKED THRUSH, at the year’s end.  On 8th a nice flock of 6 CHAFFINCHES (Fringilla coelebs, 苍头燕雀) was at Taishitun (XiaoPT).  Three ASIAN ROSY FINCHES (Leucosticte arctoa, 粉红腹岭雀) at Lingshan on 15th (Jan-Erik Nilsen) was the first record this winter of a species with an unpredictable pattern of occurrence.  Continuing the run of rare and scarce thrushes, a PALE THRUSH (Turdus pallidus, 白腹鸫) was photographed in the Olympic Forest Park on 16th and was still present at the year’s end.  Xing Chao found and photographed a LESSER WHITETHROAT (Sylvia curruca, 白喉林莺) at Peking University on 22nd (ninth record) and, on 26th, an unseasonal CHESTNUT-FLANKED WHITE-EYE (Zosterops erythropleurus, 红胁绣眼鸟) was in the Botanical Gardens (XiaoPT).  Finally, the capital’s tenth MEADOW PIPIT (Anthus pratensis, 草地鹨) was photographed at Shidu on 30 December (via XiaoPT).


Thanks again to everyone who has reported sightings in 2018 and wishing everyone a happy, healthy and bird-filled 2019.



Title photo: The highlight of December 2018 was undoubtedly the capital’s 2nd Redwing, found by Steve Bale at Tsinghua University on 5th.

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