Snow Bunting – new for Beijing

After ten new species were added to Beijing’s avifauna in 2016, it’s getting harder and harder to find new records for China’s capital city.  However, it took only a week of 2017 before the latest addition was discovered.  On 7 January, photographer 曲利军 (Qu Lijun) snapped a group of birds at Bulaotun that he hadn’t seen before and posted the photographs to the China Birdwatching Society’s WeChat group.  The photos caused much excitement, showing the first documented record for Beijing of SNOW BUNTING.  And it wasn’t, as is so often in the case of new birds, a single vagrant but instead a flock of at least 10 birds!

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Unfortunately, the birds were not seen by visiting birders the following weekend, so they have most likely moved on.  But have they gone far?  Bulaotun is on the northern edge of Miyun Reservoir, much of which is now inaccessible.. so they could easily still be in the vicinity.  Fingers crossed they are seen by more birders before the winter is out.  In the meantime, congratulations to Lijun!

Thanks to Huang Hanchen for the tip-off and to Qu Lijun for permission to post the photos on Birding Beijing.

Rare 19th Century Bird Art Discovered In China

An astonishing collection of more than 800 original paintings of China’s birds has recently been discovered.  The exquisite artwork thought to be by French missionaries, including Pierre Marie Heude, was found by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) and dates from the late 19th century during the Qing Dynasty under emperor Guang Xu.

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Pierre Marie Heude, a missionary to China in the late 19th century, is thought to be the artist.

Heude was born in 1836 at Fougères in the Department of Ille-et-Vilaine, France.  He became a Jesuit in 1856 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1867.  He was sent to China in 1868 and, during the following years, devoted his time to the studies of the natural history of Eastern Asia, traveling widely in China.

He initially focused his attention on molluscs but then turned his attention to mammals and birds.  He helped to set up a museum of natural history at Xujiahui in 1868, the first of its kind in China.

The newly-discovered paintings were displayed, for the first time, to invited guests at a special event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 8 January and there will be a public exhibition in Beijing on 28 March.  It is hoped that the paintings may then be displayed around the country and overseas.

A very exciting find… Some photos of a few of the paintings are below.

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Beijing Cuckoos Continue To Inspire

At the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), I have just spent three wonderful days at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens (XTBG) in southern Yunnan Province.  Although I have visited Yunnan several times, it was my first visit to this particular oasis of subtropical forest, said to be one of the largest botanical gardens in the world and located close to the borders with Laos and Myanmar.  The reason for my visit was to brief the Director, Dr Chen Jin, his staff and students about the Beijing Cuckoo Project.

Xishuangbanna Prefecture boasts rich biodiversity.  In addition to an abundance of plants, “Banna” as it is known, is home to the last few Asian Elephants in China.  And the Botanical Gardens alone have recorded more than 300 species of bird.  The area, home to the Dai minority, suffers from relentless hunting pressure and deforestation which has seen much of the original forest replaced by rubber plantations.  The remaining forest, home to such stunning species as Long-tailed Broadbill, Blue-naped Pitta, Crimson Sunbird, not to mention the range-restricted Limestone Wren-babbler, has thus become a conservation priority.

As with many conservation issues around the world, there is a desperate need for public engagement, especially with the local villages, to try to engender a greater appreciation for the unique natural heritage of the region.

That is why Dr Chen was so interested to hear about the Beijing Cuckoos and how the project has helped bring scientific discovery to the general public, helping to raise awareness of migratory birds beyond the usual scientific community.  After meeting Dr Chen I met with his officials for more detailed conversations about the potential to work together to develop public engagement projects for Xishuangbanna.  I am excited to say that we’ll be developing proposals over the next few weeks and months.  There are parallels with the Amur Falcon story in Nagaland and, just as tagging technology has been part of that conservation success story, there’s a tremendous opportunity to use similar technology to help engage and enthuse a new generation in this remote part of southwest China.  Watch this space!  Big thanks to Alice Hughes and Wang Sidi for facilitating the invitation and for making the arrangements.

Of course, given it was my first visit to XTBG, I was delighted to accept the offer of guided birding with three talented local birders – Wang Ximin, Gu Bojian and Zhao Jiangbo.  Highlights were a single ASIAN OPENBILL, only recently added to the avifauna of China, a flock of at least 15 LONG-TAILED BROADBILLS and, for me as a cuckoo-fan, the best of all – a pair of stunning VIOLET CUCKOOS.  Thank you so much guys!

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A male VIOLET CUCKOO at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens
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A female VIOLET CUCKOO.
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ASIAN OPENBILL STORK, a recent addition to China’s avifauna but now regular at Xishuangbanna Botanical Gardens.

Title image: (from left to right) Wang Ximin, Zhao Jiangbo and Gu Bojian, three brilliant young birders based at XTBG.

2016: What A Year!

Looking out of my apartment window on the first day of 2017, a blanket of toxic smog seems to drain all colour out of life and the perennial question question pops into my head – why do I live in such a polluted, congested place?

Header image: the view from my apartment at 1200 on 1 January 2017

The answer, of course, is the excitement and adventure of living in the capital city of the world’s most populous nation.  And when one considers the positives – the stunning biodiversity, the opportunity for discovery, the potential to make a difference and the wonderful people – the negatives are seen in context and they become far more tolerable.

Looking back, 2016 has been an astonishing year with many highlights, thankfully few lowlights, and progress made in some key conservation issues.  Together, they give me a genuine sense of optimism for the future.

January began with the unexpected discovery, by two young Beijing birders, Xing Chao and Huang Mujiao, of a small flock of the “Endangered” Jankowski’s Buntings at Miyun Reservoir.  This was the first record of Jankowski’s Bunting in Beijing since 1941 and, given the precipitous decline in the population of this poorly known species, a most unexpected find.  The fact they were found by young Chinese is testament to the growing community of talented young birders in Beijing.  There are now more than 200 members of the Birding Beijing WeChat group, in which sightings and other bird-related issues are discussed and shared. Huge credit must go to world-class birders such as Paul Holt and Per Alström who have been generous in sharing their knowledge of Chinese birds with the group. As well as the expanding WeChat group, there are now more than 400 members of the Beijing-based China Birdwatching Society (up from 300 in the last 12 months).  So, although starting from a low baseline, the increasing membership, together with the increase in the number of local birdwatching societies, such as in Zigong in Sichuan, and the development of international birding festivals, such as in Lushun, Dalian, shows that there is the beginning of an upsurge in the number of young people interested in birdwatching.  That is a positive sign for the future of China’s rich and unique avifauna.

In tandem with the growth in birding is the emergence of a number of organisations dedicated to environmental education across China.  Given the relative lack of environment in the Chinese State Curriculum, there is high demand amongst many parents for their children to develop a connection with nature.  I’m fortunate to work with one such organisation – EcoAction – set up and run by dynamic Sichuan lady, Luo Peng.    With a birding club for Beijing school kids, a pilot ‘environmental curriculum’ in two of Beijing’s State Schools and bespoke sustainable ecotourism trips to nature reserves for families and schools, Peng deserves great credit for her energy and vision in helping to change the way people interact with the environment.  I am looking forward to working with her much more in 2017.

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Luo Peng in her element – with local children in Hainan

After the boon of seeing Jankowski’s Buntings in Beijing, a lowlight in late January was the desperately sad passing of a much-loved mentor and friend, the inspirational Martin Garner.  Martin fought a brave and typically dignified and open, battle with cancer.  I feel enormously lucky to have met Martin and to have corresponded with him on many birding-related issues.  His wisdom, positivity and selfless outlook on life will be missed for years to come and his influence continues to run through everything I do.

Much of the early part of the spring was spent making the arrangements for what has been, for me, the highlight of the year – The Beijing Cuckoo Project. Following the success of the Beijing Swift Project, the results of which proved for the first time that Swifts from Beijing winter in southern Africa, the obvious next step was to replicate the British Trust for Ornithology’s Cuckoo Tracking Project in China.  We needed to find Chinese partners, secure the necessary permissions, raise funds to pay for the transmitters and satellite services, and make the logistical arrangements for the visit of “Team Cuckoo”.  At the end of May, everything was set and the international team arrived in Beijing.  Together with the local team, we caught and fitted transmitters to five Common Cuckoos, subsequently named by Beijing schoolchildren and followed via a dedicated webpage and on social media.  We could not have wished for a better result.  Three of the five are now in Africa,  after making incredible journeys of up to 12,500km since being fitted with their transmitters, including crossing the Arabian Sea.  As of 1 January, Flappy McFlapperson and Meng Zhi Juan are in Tanzania and Skybomb Bolt is in Mozambique.

Skybomb Bolt, the Beijing Cuckoo who made landfall in Africa on 30 October 2016.
Skybomb Bolt, the first Beijing Cuckoo to make landfall in Africa on 30 October 2016.
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The migration routes, and current positions, of the Beijing Cuckoos, 1 January 2017.
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Pupils at Dulwich International School broke into spontaneous applause after hearing that SKYBOMB BOLT had made it to Africa…

This Beijing Cuckoo Project has combined groundbreaking science with public engagement.  With articles in Xinhua (China’s largest news agency), Beijing Youth Daily, China Daily, Beijing Science and Technology Daily, India Times, African Times and even the front page of the New York Times, these amazing birds have become, undoubtedly, the most famous cuckoos ever!  Add the engagement with schools, not only in Beijing but also in other parts of China, and the reach and impact of the project has been way beyond our wildest dreams.  I’d like to pay tribute to everyone involved, especially the Chinese partners – the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, China Birdwatching Society and the staff at the tagging locations (Cuihu, Hanshiqiao and Yeyahu) – who have all been brilliant, as well as the BTO’s Andy Clements and Chris Hewson for their vision and sharing of expertise and the sponsors – Zoological Society of London, Oriental Bird Club, British Birds Charitable Foundation and BirdLife International.  Finally, a big thank you to “Team Cuckoo”: Dick Newell, Lyndon Kearsley, Wu Lan, Susanne Åkesson, Aron Hejdstrom, Geert De Smet, Gie Goris and Rob Jolliffe.  You can follow the progress of the Beijing Cuckoos here.  All being well, Flappy, Meng and Skybomb will return to Beijing by the end of May.

In 2017 we are planning to expand the Beijing Cuckoo Project to become the CHINA Cuckoo Project, which will involve tagging cuckoos in different locations across the country.  More on that soon.

As well as being privileged to have been part of such a groundbreaking project, I have been fortunate to be involved with some exciting progress on some of the highest priority conservation issues, working with so many brilliant people, including Vivian Fu and Simba Chan at Hong Kong Birdwatching Society/BirdLife.  The plight of shorebirds along the East Asian Australasian Flyway is well-known, with the Spoon-billed Sandpiper the “poster species” of conservation efforts to try to save what remains of the globally important intertidal mudflats of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Bay.  More than 70% of these vital stopover sites have been destroyed already through land reclamations and much of the remaining area is slated for future reclamation projects.   Scientists, including an ever greater number of young Chinese such as Zhu Bingrun, now have the evidence to show that the population declines of many shorebird species, some of which are now classified as “Endangered”, can be attributed in large part to the destruction of the vital stopover sites in the Yellow Sea.  After meeting world-leading shorebird expert, Professor Theunis Piersma, in Beijing in May and arranging for him to address Beijing-based birders with a compelling lecture, it’s been a pleasure to support the efforts of international organisations such as BirdLife International, the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP), led by Spike Millington, IUCN, UNDP and The Paulson Institute as well as local NGOs such as Save Spoon-billed Sandpiper and 山水 (ShanShui) in their interactions with the Chinese government to try to encourage greater protection for, and sustainable management of, the remaining intertidal sites.  One of the pillars of the conservation strategy is to nominate the most important sites as a joint World Heritage Site (WHS) involving China and the Koreas (both North and South).  This would have the advantage of raising awareness of the importance of these sites to those in the highest levels of government and also requiring greater protection and management of the sites.  I am pleased to say that, due to the hard work of these organisations, much progress has been made and the Ministry of Housing, Urban and Rural Development (MoHURD), the ministry responsible for WHS nominations, is now positively taking forward the suggestion and working on the technical papers required to make a submission to the State Council for formal nomination.  Special mention should be made of John MacKinnon, whose expertise, network of contacts in China and enthusiasm has made a big difference, to Nicola Crockford of RSPB and Wang Songlin of BirdLife International for their diplomatic work to create the conditions for the WHS issue to come to the fore, to David Melville, who recently delivered a compelling presentation covering a lifetime of shorebird study, to MoHURD at a workshop convened by ShanShui, and to Hank Paulson who, through the publication of the Paulson Institute’s “Blueprint Project” and his personal engagement at a very senior level with Provincial governors, has secured a commitment from the Governor of Hebei Province to protect the sites in his Province highlighted in the Blueprint.  These are significant advances that, although far from securing the future of China’s intertidal mudflats, have significantly improved the odds of doing so.

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Professor Theunis Piersma delivers his lecture to Beijing-based birders at The Bookworm, Beijing, in May 2016.

China’s east coast hosts the world’s most impressive bird migration, known as the East Asian Australasian Flyway.  That flyway consists of not only shorebirds but also many land birds and it is this concentration of migratory birds every spring and autumn that attracts not only birders but also poachers.  This year has seen several horrific media stories about the illegal trapping of birds on an industrial scale, primarily to supply the restaurant trade in southern China where wild birds are considered a delicacy.  Illegal trapping is thought to be the primary cause of the precipitous decline in the population of, among others, the Yellow-breasted Bunting, now officially classified as Endangered.

A distressed-looking male Yellow-breasted Bunting, now officially an endangered species after years of persecution.
A distressed-looking male Yellow-breasted Bunting in a cage adjacent to some illegal nets, designed to act as a lure.  Now officially an endangered species after years of persecution.

It would be easy to be depressed by such incidents but I believe there are two developments that provide optimism for the future.  First, although the legal framework is far from watertight, the authorities are now acting, the incidents are being reported in the media and the culprits are receiving, at least in the largest scale cases, heavy punishments.  And second, these cases are being uncovered by volunteers, groups of mostly young people that spend their free time – weekends and days off during weekdays – specifically looking for illegal nets and poachers at migration hotspots.  They work with law enforcement to catch the culprits and destroy their tools of the trade.  These people are heroes and, although at present it’s still easy for poachers to purchase online mist-nets and other tools used for poaching (there are ongoing efforts to change this), it’s a harder operating environment for them than in the past.  Big change doesn’t happen overnight but the combination of greater law enforcement, citizen action and media coverage are all helping to ensure that, with continued effort and strengthening of the legal framework, illegal trapping of migratory birds in China is on borrowed time.

Another conservation issue on which progress has been made is the plight of Baer’s Pochard.  The population of this Critically Endangered duck has declined dramatically in the last few decades, the reasons for which are largely unknown.  However, after 2016 there is much to be optimistic about.  First, there are now dedicated groups studying Baer’s Pochard in China, including population surveys, study of breeding ecology and contributing to an international action plan to save the species.  These groups are working with the UK’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, EAAFP and others to build a knowledge base about the species, raise awareness and develop concrete steps to conserve the species at its remaining strongholds.  A record count of 293 birds in December at the most important known breeding site in Hebei Province (Paul Holt and Li Qingxin) is a brilliant end to a year that will, hopefully, be a turning point for this species.

On a personal level I was extremely lucky, alongside Marie, to experience a ‘once in a lifetime’ encounter with Pallas’s Cats in Qinghai and, just a few days later, two Snow Leopards.  Certainly two of my most cherished encounters with wildlife.

So, as I glance out of my window again, I realise that a few days of smog are a small price to pay to be part of the birding and conservation community in China.  As 2017 begins, I have a spring in my step.

Rare And Scarce Birds In Beijing 2016

2016 has been another year of surprise and discovery in Beijing.  With eight new species recorded, and two further new records coming to light from previous years, the number of species reliably recorded in the capital now stands at 480, cementing Beijing’s position as one of the best major capital cities in the world for birding.

The year started with the brilliant discovery, by Xing Chao and Huang Mujiao, of wintering JANKOWSKI’S BUNTINGS (Emberiza jankowskii) at Miyun Reservoir.  After the initial sighting and photograph of a single bird, subsequent visits revealed that up to 13 were present.  This group of buntings was enjoyed by many birders, both Beijing-based and visiting, until mid-March when access to the reservoir was forbidden following a major fire in the area.  It is not known for how long they stayed but, on later visits (the last was apparently on the 19 March) at least one of the males was heard in sub-song.  Although not a first record of this species in Beijing, given the “Endangered” status of Jankowksi’s Bunting, it was certainly a most unexpected find.  It was the third record of this species in the capital, following the collection of two individuals in February and March 1941 (now in the NHM Tring).  An article about these birds was published in Birding Asia, the magazine of the Oriental Bird Club.

The next major find was a REDWING (Turdus iliacus), found by a local photographer (一路摄, Yīlù shè) in the Botanical Gardens on 6 April.  Often frustratingly elusive, it was last seen on 14 April.  The first record of this species in Beijing & indeed anywhere in eastern China.

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Beijing’s first REDWING (Turdus iliacus), Botanical Gardens.  Photo by Yan Shen.

On 17 April, a COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula) at Ma Chang (Guan Xueyan and Wen Hui) was possibly only the 4th record from the capital.

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On 23 April a BESRA (Accipiter virgatus) was photographed at Baiwangshan (Du Songhan et al). Possibly only the second record of this difficult to identify species. Photo below by Sun Zhiguang.

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The status of BESRA in Beijing is unclear, given the difficulty of separating it from the much more common JAPANESE SPARROWHAWK. This appears to be the second documented record.

May, usually one of the best months for finding rarities, saw just one new record – a female SLATY BUNTING (Emberiza siemsseni) at the Summer Palace found by Jesper Hornskov – and two second records.  First, a GREY-HEADED CANARY-FLYCATCHER (Culicicapa ceylonensis) at Lingshan found by Professor Susanne Åkesson and the international team visiting to assist with the Beijing Swift and Cuckoo Projects.  And second, a male NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER (Ficedula narcissina) on the Wenyu River (郝建国, Hǎo jiànguó)

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This first summer male NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER was the second documented record for Beijing (郝建国, Hǎo jiànguó)

June produced three new records and a second record.  First, a PALLAS’S FISH EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) spent several days at Yeyahu NR, where it was photographed by Fang Chun, one of the nature reserve staff on 7th June.  Although there is a historical & unconfirmed report of this species in the capital, this was the first to be documented.

Second, on 10 June, a singing BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (Cettia fortipes) at Baihuashan, sound-recorded by Jan-Erik Nilsen.  The first documented record.

Finally, on 17th June at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, Terry Townshend stumbled across a singing GREY-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Turdus boulboul).  A few days later, at least three were heard in the same area, suggesting that there is probably a small breeding population.  This species was previously thought to be a largely Himalayan bird, with the nearest breeding grounds in southwest China, and was certainly not on the radar as a potential vagrant in Beijing, let alone a probable breeding bird.  Details here.

A few days later, on 23 June, Paul Holt found a singing male SLATY-BLUE FLYCATCHER (Ficedula tricolor) at Lingshan, the second record of this species following one found by Ben Wielstra in the grounds of Tsinghua University in September 2015.

July and August were unremarkable and it was 29 September when Paul Holt  and Wang Qingyu found the next significant bird – a SIBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF (Phylloscopus collybita tristis) at Yeyahu (PH), the second documented record for the capital.

Colm Moore was rewarded for his loyalty to Shahe Reservoir when, on 22 October, he found a SWINHOE’S RAIL.  Seen briefly, but well, this was the fourth record for Beijing, with all records coming since 2014, a statistic that must be due to an increase in the number of birders and greater observer awareness rather than a change of its status in the wild (it is officially classified as “Vulnerable” with the population thought to be in decline).

A week later, on 29 October, Jesper Hornskov reported a HOODED CROW (Corvus cornix) close to Beijing Capital International Airport.  This is the first record of this species in Beijing and, we think, all of eastern China.

The next day, Beijing’s first POMARINE SKUA (Stercorarius pomarinus), a juvenile, was photographed at the ‘Rubber dam’ near Yanqing and stayed until at least 2 November (Zhang Weimin & Yang Yuhe).

November was another productive month with the discovery, by photographers, of a small flock of REED PARROTBILLS (Paradoxornis heudei) at Wanping Hu in western Beijing (per Mr. Xu).  With breeding populations to the south in Hebei Province and to the east in coastal Hebei/Tianjin, this species was high up on the list of potential discoveries in Beijing but, despite its predictability, the group of at least seven birds proved extremely popular. They came hot on the heels of a widely seen bird in the Olympic Forest Park on the 8 June 2016. That city centre bird was believed, at the time, to have been an escape or deliberate release. But in the advent of the November sightings perhaps not…

On 12th December Beijing’s second LAMMERGEIER (Gypaetus barbatus), a juvenile, was watched by Paul Holt and Terry Townshend at head height as it drifted by the communications tower at Lingshan before slowly heading northwest and into Hebei.  It follows the first record from sometime in February 2008 at Shidu.

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Beijing’s second LAMMERGEIER drifted over Lingshan on 12 December 2016.

The following day, Paul Holt found a male SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER (Mergus squamatus) among a group of Common Mergansers at Huairou Reservoir.  With only four previous records, this was a stunning find.  One could even call it a “Christmas Quacker” (groan).

In addition to the new species found in 2016, two further records of new species came to light.  First, a LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus), photographed at Yeyahu on 19 October 2009 (Yan Xiaoqin), was reported by Li Xiaomai on the 6 May 2016 and an ORANGE-HEADED THRUSH (Zoothera citrina) that was photographed in Tiantan (the Temple of Heaven) on the 22 May 2011 by 青花收藏. See here.  Thanks to Huang Hanchen for uncovering this superb record.

All in all, a brilliant year for birding in Beijing, illustrating just how much we are still learning about the birds of China’s capital city.  My personal favourite?  Given their precarious status, the appearance of the flock of JANKOWSKI’S BUNTINGS at Miyun Reservoir ranks, for me, as the best and most unexpected record of the year.  Big congratulations to Xing Chao and Huang Mujiao for their brilliant find.

Xing Chao (left) and Huang Mujiao at Miyun Reservoir after finding JANKOWSKI'S BUNTING
Xing Chao (left) and Huang Mujiao at Miyun Reservoir after finding JANKOWSKI’S BUNTING

Big thanks to Paul Holt & Huang Hanchen for contributing significantly to this summary and to all Beijing-based birders who have reported sightings throughout the year, whatever the status of the species involved.  Together, we are slowly but surely gaining a better understanding of the birds of China’s capital city.

Finally, although not in Beijing, it’s worth mentioning the record count of the “Critically Endangered” BAER’S POCHARD (Aythya baeri) from Hengshui Hu, in neighbouring Hebei Province. An astonishing 293 were counted on 9 December by Paul Holt and Li Qingxin.  That’s a positive note on which to end a remarkable year.

LAMMERGEIER in Beijing

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.

PRZEVALSKI'S REDSTART at Lingshan, Sunday 23 February 2014.
PRZEVALSKI’S (ALASHAN) REDSTART, Sunday 23 February 2014.  My favourite discovery at Lingshan.

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.

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Long-tailed Rosefinch ssp lepidus, Lingshan, 12 December 2016
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One of the male Long-tailed Rosefinches ssp lepidus, Lingshan, 12 December 2016
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Female Long-tailed Rosefinch ssp lepidus, Lingshan, 12 December 2016

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!

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Juvenile Lammergeier, Lingshan, 12 December 2016. With the dark hood and relatively dark underparts, the colouration of juveniles is different to adults. But that tail is unmistakeable!
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The Lingshan Lammergeier showed very well as it drifted from Beijing into neighbouring Hebei Province.
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Juvenile Lammergeier, Lingshan, 12 December 2016

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.

The Birds of Dalian

When I first moved to China it wasn’t long before I discovered Tom Beeke’s excellent BirdForum thread about his sightings in and around Dalian, located in China’s northeast Liaoning Province.  Tom’s superb sightings, enthusiastically documented for all to see, were a big inspiration to me.  As a teacher at the Maple Leaf School in Jinshitan, he developed groundbreaking environmental education classes for his students and, somehow, found the time to write a bird book.

 “The Birds of Dalian” was first published in 2010 and the 2nd edition, in both English and Chinese, is now available, thanks to the support of Swarovski Optik and Zhu Lei for the Chinese translation.  The book covers 326 species and includes Tom’s photos of the various plumages of each species.

Tom writes:

“The Birds of Dalian was put together for the purpose of introducing local wildlife.  The goal of the project is to stir up conservation mindedness by showing the remarkable species that can be found in this area of Mainland China.  When people are aware of how many species live in and/or move through an area, they can then be aided in making informed decisions about the future of that area.  Why preserve this wetland?  Because there are over 200 species of birds that rely on it in one calendar year.  Why save this tidal mudflat?  Because there are over 200 species of birds that rely on it in one calendar year.  Why save this forested area?  Because there are over 200 species of birds that rely on it in one calendar year.  During my 12 years in China, I was surprised by how few people knew about the wonderful world of birds in their area.  China is remarkably rich, as far as birds are concerned.  Hopefully this book will help to prove this and help in some way to protect what is there.”
Hear hear, Tom.  To read more about the book, and to purchase a copy for only 150 Chinese Yuan (under GBP 20), follow this link.  Thoroughly recommended!