Filming Beijing’s migratory birds with CCTV

Spreading the word about the birds and other wildlife of Beijing is so important if we are to build support for policies and measures to protect the capital’s wildlife and the places it needs.  So I didn’t hesitate to agree when CCTV, China’s national broadcaster, contacted me and asked me to take them birding as part of a feature on the birds of Beijing to be broadcast later this autumn.

Although it’s only mid-August, autumn migration is already in full swing with shorebirds and passerines such as pipits, wagtails and some of the early buntings passing through Beijing.  At this time of year, there is no better site in Beijing than Ma Chang, on the shores of Guanting Reservoir in Yanqing County.  

Given the heat of Beijing in August, I recommended an early start and, to their credit, the CCTV crew agreed to collect me at 0430 for the one and a half hour drive to Ma Chang.  On site shortly after sunrise, we were treated to a beautiful, still early morning and a good variety of birds.

The wind turbines dominate the skyline at Ma Chang and can play havoc with any attempts at sound recording. Fortunately we enjoyed still conditions for the first few hours.

Most obvious were the noisy breeding Black-winged Stilts with several well-grown young joining their parents in the shallows and one relatively young bird waiting to be fed and just looking cute. 

Six Relict Gulls, including one carrying a transmitter, provided an opportunity to discuss how scientists are learning about the incredible journeys of migratory birds and, in particular, how the whole population of the Relict Gull, a bird described to science as recently as the 1970s, relies on the Bohai Bay/Yellow Sea in winter.  

This moulting adult Relict Gull, on its way to the Bohai Bay from breeding grounds in Inner Mongolia, Mongolia or Russia, posed nicely for the cameras.
This Relict Gull was carrying a transmitter and we are working to find out the history of this bird from Chinese researchers.

A few Red-necked Stints, a Temminck’s Stint, several Long-toed Stints and a cracking juvenile Broad-billed Sandpiper brought us onto the subject of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and the incredible journeys of these tiny shorebirds from Arctic breeding grounds to non-breeding grounds in the southern hemisphere, including the importance of stopover sites or ‘service stations’ on this bird ‘superhighway’.  

This juvenile Broad-billed Sandpiper dropped in right on cue as we were discussing the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Flyover Richard’s Pipits and Eastern Yellow Wagtails, many of which were calling, gave a glimpse of migration in action and we spoke about how, although some birds migrate during the day, many pass over the city at night, undetected, as we sleep.  In total we recorded 50 species by late morning and the crew secured some high quality footage of some of the stars of the show.  As we began to pack up, a few Globe Skimmer dragonflies mating and ovipositing in a pool next to the car reminded us that it’s not only birds that migrate incredible distances.. some individuals of this species have been known to travel 6,000km.  

Globe Skimmers (Pantala flavescens) mating at Ma Chang.
Globe Skimmers (Pantala flavescens) ‘ovipositing’ at Ma Chang

The reporter was overwhelmed with what she saw and experienced at Ma Chang and, as we returned to the city, she spoke of her hopes to do much more to cover ‘Wild Beijing’… so fingers crossed we can work together more to help promote awareness of just how special the Chinese capital is for birds and other wildlife.

In the meantime, the CCTV/CGTN feature on migratory birds in Beijing will be shown sometime in the autumn.

Title image: CCTV/CGTN capturing Relict Gulls on film at Ma Chang

9 thoughts on “Filming Beijing’s migratory birds with CCTV”

  1. Terry hi from Sydney, birds here are amazing, cockatoos our favourites. Your CCTV co-op sound very successful well done.

Leave a Reply to Robert Gilchrist Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.