Interview with Dr John MacKinnon by Han Xuesong about the updated Guide to the Birds of China

It’s more than twenty years since the publication of Dr. John MacKinnon’s seminal “A Field Guide to the Birds of China”.  From the moment it was released in 2000, it has been THE book on the birds of China and, given it was published in both English and Chinese, the “MacKinnon guide” as it has come to be known, was the gateway into birding for thousands of young Chinese.  

Of course, over time, the guide has begun to show its age.  There have been many new species added to the China list, a huge number of taxonomic changes and we now have much greater knowledge about the distribution of China’s birds (although there is still much to learn!). 

And so finally, after much encouragement, John caved in to pressure to update his book. And today, after more than two decades, the birding community in China is excited about the forthcoming release of the new edition.

In the interview below, young Chinese birder 韩雪松 (Han Xuesong) interviews John about the impact of his original book, the changes we can expect in the new version, how it remains a legacy for his main artist – the late Karen Phillipps – and finally, how we can get our hands on a copy of our own.  


Here are two good ways to order, with a discount, in the UK:

Direct from Oxford University Press using discount code “ASPROMP8” to save 30%.  Or order from Wild Sounds and Books in the UK, using code “RBABOTW” (Rare Bird `Alert book of the week) to obtain a discount and know that 5% of all sales goes to BirdLife International.

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2021

This is a summary of the rare, scarce and notable birds in Beijing in 2021.  Although I have included all information to which I have access, this summary is certainly not comprehensive. In particular, the number of previous records for species stated below is based on publicly available records, and may not be fully accurate.  If you know of any errors or additions, please comment at the end of this post or contact me directly via email/WeChat so that they can be corrected or added.  

Overall Highlights:

  • New records include Beijing’s 1st SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER Ardenna tenuirostris 短尾鹱 Duǎn wěi hù, KAMCHATKA WARBLER Phylloscopus examinandus 堪察加柳莺 Kān chá jiā liǔ yīng and GREY-CROWNED WARBLER Phylloscopus tephrocephalus 灰冠鹟莺 Huī guān wēng yīng, and the 1st and 2nd records of BLUE-FRONTED REDSTART Phoenicurus frontalis 蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú
  • The 1st record of CHESTNUT-CHEEKED STARLING 紫背椋鸟 Zǐ bèi liáng niǎo (of questionable origin)
  • The 1st and 2nd documented records of Vega Gull Larus vegae 西伯利亚银鸥 Xībólìyǎ yín ōu.  Note that Vega Gull (L.vegae) and Mongolian Gull (L.v.mongolicus) are treated as the same species by Chinese taxonomic authorities.
  • The 2nd record of SANDHILL CRANE Grus canadensis 沙丘鹤 Shāqiū hè
  • The 2nd record of WOOD WARBLER Phylloscopus sibilatrix 林柳莺 Lín liǔ-yīng
  • Possibly only the 2nd record of BROWN-HEADED THRUSH Turdus chrysolaus 赤胸鸫 Chì xiōng dōng
  • Possibly only the 2nd, 3rd and 4th records of PALE SAND MARTIN Riparia diluta (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn)
  • The 3rd NORTHERN WHEATEAR Oenanthe oenanthe 穗䳭 Suì jí
  • The 3rd and 4th records of BLACK BITTERN Dupetor flavicollis 黑鳽 Hēi yán
  • The 3rd, 4th and 5th records of BESRA Accipiter virgatus 松雀鹰 Sōng què yīng
  • The 4th REDWING Turdus iliacus 白眉歌鸫 Báiméi gē dōng
  • The 4th record of COMMON RINGED PLOVER Charadrius hiaticula (剑鸻 Jiàn héng)
  • The 5th record of RED-CROWNED CRANE Grus japonensis 丹顶鹤 Dān dǐng hè
  • The 5th record of BONELLI’S EAGLE Aquila fasciata 白腹隼雕 Bái fù sǔn diāo
  • The 5th record of GREAT WHITE PELICAN Pelecanus onocrotalus 白鹈鹕 Bái tí hú
  • The 5th, 6th and 7th records of GREY-TAILED TATTLER Tringa brevipes 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi [piào] yù
  • A WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER Halcyon smyrnensis 白胸翡翠 Bái xiōng fěicuì in the Olympic Forest Park, a rare vagrant with very few recent records.

A month by month summary of the birding highlights from Beijing in 2021 is below, in chronological order. It is worth noting that Beijing does not yet have a committee to assess the accuracy of records, and some of the reports outlined in this summary without photos, audio or descriptions, are taken at face value. It’s possible that some may be reviewed if and when a committee is created.

A big THANK YOU to the thousands of birders who have shared news of sightings throughout the year, whether via WeChat, email, eBird, or any other means. There is no doubt that sharing bird news has helped many people to see new and unusual species for the first time, building the knowledge base among birders in Beijing and, importantly, enthusing more people about the natural world.  Particular thanks to Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou, Wei Zichen, “Oriental Stork”, Gao Xiaoyan and Colm Moore for providing written accounts of their spectacular finds this year (see links in text), to Paul Holt for providing comments and additional information on a draft of this post, to 大好 for providing additional records, to Wei Chunzhi for assistance, and to the photographers – including Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou, 大好 DaHao, Guan Xueyan, “Oriental Stork”, Gao Xiaoyan, Dave Guo, Colm Moore, Su Peng and 清子Zoey – for granting permission to use their images to illustrate this summary.

For highlights of the latest bird news in Beijing click here.  And for a basic summary of the Status of the Birds of Beijing, click here.  Contributions, corrections and additions always welcome!

Here’s wishing everyone a healthy, happy, rewarding and bird-filled 2022.

Birding Highlights of 2021 Month by Month

January 2021  2021年1月

Early January saw a few wintering rarities and scarcities from late 2020 staying into the new year, including two ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD Buteo lagopus 毛脚鵟 Máo jiǎo kuáng at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 1st (黑眼豆豆), a WESTERN WATER RAIL Rallus aquaticus 西方秧鸡 Xī fāng yāng jī at Shahe Reservoir on 2nd (麦克曹), remaining until 7 March at least, two BROWN-EARED BULBUL Microscelis amaurotis 栗耳短脚鹎 Lì ěr duǎn jiǎo bēi in Yuyuantan Park (无名浪客), up to ten  JANKOWSKI’S BUNTING Emberiza jankowskii 栗斑腹鹀 Lì bān fù wú at Ming Tombs Reservoir, with the last report of three seen on 20 March, a MEADOW PIPIT Anthus pratensis 草地鹨 Cǎodì liù that remained until 22 March, also at Ming Tombs Reservoir, and a YELLOWHAMMER  Emberiza citrinella 黄鹀 Huáng wú seen on and off at the same site. 

Eleven DAURIAN PARTRIDGE Perdix dauurica 斑翅山鹑 Bān chì shān chún were seen at Lingshan on 2nd (大牙齿 458, XiaoPT et al.), a notable record given the recent decline in the number of reports of this species in the capital.  There was a NORTHERN LONG-TAILED TIT Aegithalos caudatus 北长尾山雀 Běi cháng wěi shān què in Chaoyang Park on the 4 & 5 January while another was at Nanhaizi on 9th (李云帆). The third of the month stayed longer, remaining in Yuanmingyuan Park from the 31 January to 26 February. 

On 8th, a NORTHERN LAPWING Vanellus vanellus 凤头麦鸡 Fèng tóu mài jī at Yuxinzhuang, Tongzhou (ameramer) was a rare winter record.  On 10th there was the first of what turned out to be a series of records of SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER Mergus squamatus 中华秋沙鸭 Zhōng huá qiū shā yā from the Summer Palace (via Liu Aitao and Zhang Xiaoling) with up to 1,000 COMMON MERGANSER Mergus merganser 普通秋沙鸭 Pǔ tōng qiū shā yā and a single RED-BREASTED MERGANSER Mergus serrator 红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā.  On 11th there were three RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX Leiothrix lutea (红嘴相思鸟, Hóng zuǐ xiāngsī niǎo) of unknown origin in the Botanical Gardens (Wang Qihan) and, on 12th, the count of COMMON MERGANSER Mergus merganser 普通秋沙鸭 Pǔ tōng qiū shā yā at the Summer Palace reached an estimated 1,200 (_星畔_).  Possibly only Beijing’s 2nd BROWN-HEADED THRUSH Turdus chrysolaus 赤胸鸫 Chì xiōng dōng was reported from the Olympic Forest Park on the 13th (稻草大魔王).

The overwintering LESSER WHITETHROAT Sylvia curruca 白喉林莺 Báihóu lín yīng was seen again on 14th and 15th January in the Agricultural Exhibition Center Park (niaotu and 麦克曹 respectively) and remained until at least 16th March. On 16th January, a female SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER Mergus squamatus 中华秋沙鸭 Zhōng huá qiū shā yā was found along the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), staying on and off until at least 14 February. 

The female Scaly-sided Merganser found along the Wenyu River on 16 January 2021.  Photo by Terry Townshend.

A second YELLOWHAMMER  Emberiza citrinella 黄鹀 Huáng wú was reported from Cuihu Wetland on 21st (夜色阑珊) and the next day at least ten BROWN-EARED PHEASANT Crossoptilon mantchuricum, 褐马鸡 Hè mǎ jī were recorded at Da’anshan Forest Station (restricted access) (Zhang Shen, XiaoPT, 大牙齿 458 et al.).  A COLLARED CROW Corvus torquatus 白颈鸦 Bái jǐng yā, apparently with a damaged wing, at Yongdingzhen on 25th January (Wang Xiaobo) remained until 30th at least.

On 30th, an instructive Buteo sp. showing some characteristics of Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus) was found along the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend). After excellent photographs were obtained by 没着落 (Méi zhuóluò) and Wang Yibin, the ‘file’ was sent to world raptor expert, Dick Forsman, who suggested it was most likely an intergrade between Eastern Buzzard (Buteo japonicus) and Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus).

The month ended with the excellent find of a ROSY PIPIT Anthus roseatus 粉红胸鹨 Fěnhóng xiōng liù along the Wenyu River on 31st (Liu Aitao), possibly the first winter record of this species in Beijing.

This Rosy Pipit 粉红胸鹨 was a great find by Liu Aitao on 31 January along the Wenyu River, possibly the first winter record of this species in Beijing.  Photo by Liu Aitao.

February 2021  2021年2月

On 7th there was a GREATER SCAUP Aythya marila 斑背潜鸭 Bān bèi qián yā at the Tongzhou-Dayunhe Forest Park (netfish) and a JAPANESE GROSBEAK at Jingzhongdu Park, Fengtai (小小小小鱼).  On 8th an exceptionally early LITTLE RINGED PLOVER was at the Qingshui River (Catherine Dong).  11th saw reports of a very early PACIFIC SWIFT and a RUFOUS-BELLIED WOODPECKER from Liangshui River, Tongzhou (ericblue).  A MUTE SWAN Cygnus olor 疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é was reported from the Liangshui River on 14th (京通燕雀), the same day that a spectacular count of 842 LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis 小鸊鷉 Xiǎo pì tī was reported from the Yunhe near the Yulinzhuang Bridge, Tongzhou (通州大好).  On 18th a REDWING Turdus iliacus 白眉歌鸫 Báiméi gē dōng was found at the Institute of Botany (Wang Qihan), remaining until 24th at least, only the fourth Beijing record.  Two BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā), were at the Summer Palace on 22nd (天书) with another at Yuanmingyuan the next day (应武), increasing to two on 24th and 25th.  The first BARN SWALLOWS (家燕 Jiāyàn) of the year were reported from the Summer Palace on 24th (Hang Ye).  A NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) was at Yangtaishan Rosefields on the 26th (Wang Xiaobo).

March 2021  2021年3月

A report of 560 SWAN GOOSE (鸿雁 Hóngyàn) at Cuihu Wetland Park on 3rd was possibly a record count for Beijing (夜色阑珊) but are they wild?  On the same day, a MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) was at the Yongding River, Junzhuang Village (D逍遥法外) and an adult PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) was at Shahe Reservoir (Anonymous).  On 6th there were two PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (hermitress geng) and a female BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā) at Dayunhe Forest Park (Qiuyang Zheng), with two of the latter remaining in Yuanmingyuan (SANGSANG).  The 7th will live long in the memory for 大好 as he photographed Beijing’s second SANDHILL CRANE (沙丘鹤 Shāqiū hè) at Miyun Reservoir. 

The Sandhill Crane 沙丘鹤, with Common Cranes, at Miyun Reservoir on 7 March 2021. Photo by 大好.

On 8th there was a fantastic count by Colm Moore of 25+ taimyrensis LESSER BLACK-BACKED (SIBERIAN) GULL (乌灰银鸥 Wū huī yín ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (5 ads, 15+ first-winter types and 5 sub-adults, probably 2nd winter) and another BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā青头潜鸭) at Nanhaizi (amal amer).  On 12th there were four MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) at the Liangshui River (Zongzhuang Sanderling Liu).  On 14th a RED-NECKED GREBE (赤颈䴙䴘 Chì jǐng pì tī) was reported from Nanhaizi (SANGSANG) and news broke of a SIBERIAN CRANE (白鹤 Báihè) that had been satellite-tracked (but not seen) over Beijing (Zhou Haixiang via Liu Yang).  Four LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (小白额雁 Xiǎo bái é yàn) were at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 16th (Colm  Moore), remaining until 19 April, and two MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) were at Shahe Reservoir on the same day (niaotu).  On 18th, two BROWN-EARED PHEASANT (褐马鸡 Hè mǎ jī) and a WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER (白背啄木鸟 Bái bèi zhuó mù niǎo) were at Xiaolongmen (XiaoPT, 大牙齿 458 et al.) and, on 19th the first COMMON SWIFT (普通楼燕 Pǔtōng lóu yàn) of the year was reported from Baiwangshan (atz088).  On 20th, Beijing’s first documented record of Vega Gull was an excellent find by Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou and Wei Zichen at Shahe Reservoir.  Note that the Chinese taxonomic authority treats Vega Gull (Larus vegae) and the much more frequent Mongolian Gull (Larus vegae mongolicus) as the same species. 

An image of the Vega Gull at Shahe Reservoir on 20 March 2021. For more images and background, see here. Photo by Lou Fangzhou.

Also on 20th, four EURASIAN CURLEW (白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù) were at Ma Chang (Zongzhuang Sanderling Liu, Liu Chunhong and Xu Shi).  On 21st there was a EURASIAN TREECREEPER (旋木雀 Xuán mù què) at Xiaolongmen (Jun Yang et al.) and an unusual lowland record of a RED-BILLED CHOUGH (红嘴山鸦 Hóng zuǐ shān yā) from the Olympic Forest Park (Xu Jun).  On 24th three BLACK-TAILED GULL (黑尾鸥 Hēi wěi ōu) were at Shahe Reservoir (Guan Xueyan et al.) – see photo here. At least one had been present since the 20th with four reported there on the 22nd; two remained until 29th and one into early April.  On 28th there was a NORTHERN WHEATEAR (穗䳭 Suì jí) at the DaShi River (关翔宇,丫丫鱼(万伟)和北京飞羽的志愿者们) and a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí) at Yeyahu (yaohongbo).  On 29th a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) was at Baiwangshan (via 黑眼豆豆).  The month ended with five ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鸻 Dōngfāng héng) at the Liangshui River, Tongzhou (D逍遥法外) on 31st, a rare record away from the most frequented site of Ma Chang.

April 2021  2021年4月

April began with the unlikely occurrence of a SOOTY TIT 银脸长尾山雀 Yín liǎn cháng wěishān què in the Temple of Heaven Park (麦克曹) on 1st.  Given that this species is considered resident and has a distribution in the mountains of Central China, plus the location of Temple of Heaven, it is most likely this individual was an escape or deliberate release. 

One of the star birds of the year was a BONELLI’S EAGLE (白腹隼雕 Bái fù sǔn diāo) photographed at Baiwangshan on 4th (一缕清风, Zhou Chun, Bu Xinchen et al.), possibly only the fifth record for the capital.  Also on 4th an alba WHITE WAGTAIL (白鹡鸰 Bái jí líng) was at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), remaining until 6th at least.  On 10th, a pale morph BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) was at Shahe Reservoir (Zhang Weimin).  On 11th there was a LESSER KESTREL (黄爪隼 Huáng zhǎo sǔn) at Baiwangshan and an ORIENTAL STORK (东方白鹳 Dōngfāng bái guàn) at Shahe Reservoir (both records by 天书). On 13th there were three BOOTED EAGLES (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (amal amer et al.).  On 14th there was a BESRA (松雀鹰 Sōng què yīng) at the same site (atz088) and a rare spring record of STEPPE EAGLE (草原雕 Cǎoyuán diāo草原雕 Cǎoyuán diāo) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore).  There was another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan on 15th (atz088) and yet another at Shahe Reservoir the following day (Guan Xueyan), when there was also a COLLARED CROW (白颈鸦 Bái jǐng yā) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Anonymous).  A COMMON RINGED PLOVER (剑鸻 Jiàn héng) on 17th was a great find by Colm Moore and, on the same day, there was a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) in the Temple of Heaven Park (amal amer et al.) and another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (Ge Mengshuai et al.).  The 24th produced a BAILLON’S CRAKE (小田鸡 Xiǎo tiánjī) at HuoYing (Wang Xiaobo) which stayed until at least 3 May.  There were two (female) SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER (中华秋沙鸭 Zhōnghuá qiū shā yā) at Shahe Reservoir on 26th (amal amer et al.) and, on 29th, both NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN (Bái fù máo jiǎo yàn) and ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN (烟腹毛脚燕 Yān fù máo jiǎo yàn) were reported from Baiwangshan (果茶2020, 山阴秋雁 and atz088, 云飞扬, 一缕清风, taizhoudragon et al. respectively).  Also on 29th a LITTLE STINT (小滨鹬 Xiǎo bīn yù) was at Ma Chang (amal amer and Terry Townshend) and a PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) was at Shahe Reservoir (天书).  The month ended with a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) in the Olympic Forest Park on 30th (Catherine Dong).

May 2021  2021年5月

May began with a bang when two PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) were photographed at Shahe Reservoir (Dave Guo).  This species is hard to identify in the field and is presumably an often overlooked passage migrant. 

One of two Pale Sand Martins 淡色沙燕 at Shahe Reservoir on 1 May.  Photo by Dave Guo.

Also on 1 May were two BOOTED EAGLES (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (云飞扬), a remarkable eight GREEN-BACKED FLYCATCHER`S (Lǜ bèi jī wēng) reported from Temple of Heaven Park (jmj) and a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at Yangtian Village, Tongzhou (通州大好).  On 2nd, there was another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Yeyahu (alphah) and GREY-BACKED THRUSHES (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Hóu shí yá, Mentougou (无名浪客) and Yuyuantan Park (sunliemily).  On 4th a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) was seen at Baiwangshan (Zhou Tingting), there was a NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN (白腹毛脚燕 Bái fù máo jiǎo yàn) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore) and a rare lowland record of a male PLUMBEOUS WATER REDSTART (红尾水鸲 Hóng wěi shuǐ qú) at Peking University campus (Dave Guo et al.).  On 6th another PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) was seen well at close quarters at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), there were two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) at Shahe Reservoir (Jun Shuai), and there was a rare lowland record of an ALSTRÖM’S WARBLER (淡尾鹟莺 Dàn wěi wēng yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (David Mou) with an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at the same site (Zhang Xiaoling).  On 8th there was at least one, and up to three, PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) at the Chaobai River (Terry Townshend), a GREATER PAINTED SNIPE (彩鹬 Cǎi yù) at Shahe Reservoir (Dave Guo) and a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Nanhaizi (Liu Zhiheng).  On 9th there was another lowland ALSTRÖM’S WARBLER (淡尾鹟莺 Dàn wěi wēng yīng) and an EYEBEROWED THRUSH (白眉鸫 Báiméi dōng) at Temple of Heaven Park (Liu Chunhong et al.), an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo), an EYEBROWED THRUSH (白眉鸫 Báiméi dōng) and a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at the ChaoBai River (Catherine Dong and DaHao) and two more BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Yeyahu (Lin Yiwei and Ge Mengshuai). The 10th produced the first and second of the year’s five MUGIMAKI FLYCATCHER (鸲姬鹟 Qú jī wēng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (蛐蛐) and in Tongzhou (大好), with two GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at the former site. 

Male Mugimaki Flycatcher 鸲姬鹟 in the Temple of Heaven Park, 10 May 2021. Photo by Su Peng.

On 11th, RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were in the Olympic Forest Park (Grady Singleton) and at Peking University campus (Dave Guo).  On 12th there was a SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) at Shahe Reservoir (Stefan Andrew) and RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were still at Peking University campus and at Liuyin Park (Shu Zhu via amal amer).  The 13th produced possibly only Beijing’s third BLACK BITTERN (黑鳽 Hēi yán) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore) with a female SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) at the same site and a male SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) was in the Temple of Heaven Park (天书).  On 14th a male SLATY-BACKED FLYCATCHER (锈胸蓝姬鹟 Xiù xiōng lán jī wēng) was found in the Olympic Forest Park (Terry Townshend) with an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at the same site. 

The male Slaty-backed Flycatcher 锈胸蓝姬鹟 in the Olympic Forest Park on 14 May 2021 (Terry Townshend)

Also on 14th, the male SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) was still in the Temple of Heaven Park, where it had been joined by a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) (茶 茶丸), with both remaining until 16th at least. On 15th there was a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Zichen Zhou) and at Ma Chang there was a single RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù), two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) and a TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) (Wang Xiaobo). On 16th the two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) and a TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) at Ma Chang were joined by a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER (尖尾滨鹬 Jiān wěi bīn yù) (Zheng Qiuyang).  A CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was a nice find at HuoYing (Wang Xiaobo) on 17th and Beijing’s first GREY-CROWNED WARBLER Phylloscopus tephrocephalus 灰冠鹟莺 Huī guān wēng yīng was photographed in Yuanmingyuan Park 17 May 2021 (Song Huiqiang et al. via Paul Holt). A PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) was at Peking University campus on 18th (Dave Guo), and a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí) was at Baiwangshan on 19th (Yi Lin).  On 20th there was a LESSER CUCKOO (小杜鹃 Xiǎo dùjuān), a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) (flying north) and an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore).  On 22nd a SCHRENCK’S BITTERN (紫背苇鳽 Zǐ bèi wěi jiān) was at DaYunHe Forest Park (Wang Xiaobo), one of few reports of this species in 2021.  Also on 22nd, a report of three BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) at Wanshou Anshan, Mentougou (Oriental Stork) and a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Li Xingyu).  On 23rd, a wonderful flock of 20 ASIAN DOWITCHER (半蹼鹬 Bàn pǔ yù) was found at Shahe Reservoir (云天) and an ORIENTAL CUCKOO (北方中杜鹃 Zhōng dùjuān) was at Cuihu Wetland Park (Ge Mengshui).  On 26th a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí), was at DaShiHe (大牙齿 458) and, the following day, the second BLACK BITTERN (黑鳽 Hēi yán) of the year, and possibly only Beijing’s fourth, was reported from Ruilinwan Hot Spring Resort (独行虾 Bird.soong).  On 29th there were three (two female and one male) ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER (Terpsiphone paradisi 寿带 Shòu dài) in the Olympic Forest Park (David Mou et al.) and a BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) was sound recorded at the same site (Lu Zhuofei).  Also on 29th, a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) was at the DaYunHe Forest Park (Wang Xiaobo).  On 30th a CINNAMON BITTERN (栗苇鳽 Lì wěi jiān) was in the Olympic Forest Park (天书) where it remained into June.  A PHEASANT-TAILED JACANA (Hydrophasianus chirurgus 水雉 Shuǐ zhì) was a nice find at Shahe Reservoir on 31st (niaotu, pksunking, atz088, Wang Xiaobo et al.).  In addition, a male Chestnut-cheeked Starling 紫背椋鸟 Zǐ bèi liáng niǎo of unknown origin was photographed in Yuanmingyuan sometime in May by an unknown observer.

June 2021  2021年6月

The 1st was a red letter day for Colm Moore as he found a KAMCHATKA WARBLER (堪察加柳莺 Kān chá jiā liǔ yīng) at Ming Tombs Reservoir, well-documented by his recording of the song and calls. The first record of this species in Beijing.

A ‘wing-flicking’ Phylloscopus, possibly the P. examinandus, from 1 June 2021 at Ming Tombs Reservoir. Photo by Colm Moore.

Also on 1st a CHINESE BUSH WARBLER ((中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was at Shahe Reservoir (Wang Xiaobo).  On 2nd the CINNAMON BITTERN (栗苇鳽 Lì wěi jiān) was joined by a BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (楼燕12138).  On 3rd there was another SCHRENCK’S BITTERN (紫背苇鳽 Zǐ bèi wěi jiān), this time at Peking University campus, and on the same day a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was in the Botanical Gardens (Grady Singleton) and another CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was at the Wenyu River with a BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) (Terry Townshend).  Another BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) was at HuoYing on 5th (Wang Xiaobo).  On 8th a BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) was reported from Miaofengshan (alphah) and on 9th came the remarkable news of a SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER (短尾鹱 Duǎn wěi hù) picked up exhausted the previous day at Tuancheng Lake near the Summer Palace, the first record for Beijing.  On 10th a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was seen flying south early evening at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend).  清子Zoey and friends found a GREY-TAILED TATTLER (灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi [piào] yù) in the Olympic Forest Park on 13th, perhaps only the fifth record for Beijing, and on the same day a TIGER SHRIKE (虎纹伯劳 Hǔ wén bóláo), was found in Fengtai District (Oriental Stork), with a pair seen later.  Subsequently breeding was confirmed. A COMMON RINGED PLOVER (剑鸻 Jiàn héng) was reported from Ma Chang on 16th (Wang Qihan).  

The Grey-tailed Tattler 灰尾漂鹬 in the Olympic Forest Park on 13 June. Photo by 清子Zoey.

July 2021  2021年7月

On 11th there were two interesting records from Lingshan by Cory Gao with an unusual summer record of LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCH (长尾雀 Cháng wěi què) and a spectacular record of a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng).  Also on 11th there was a LESSER COUCAL (小鸦鹃 Xiǎo yā juān), at Miyun Reservoir (Wang Xiaobo), which remained until 13th at least (amal amer, Liu Aitao et al.), when three YELLOW-LEGGED BUTTONQUAIL (黄脚三趾鹑 Huáng jiǎo sān zhǐ chún) were at the same site.  Four RED KNOT (红腹滨鹬 Hóng fù bīn yù) were a nice find at Ma Chang on 18th (Zhao Xiaojian) and, on 19th, there was another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the Jiadaowan Grand Canyon Scenic Area, Miyun (te te).  Two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) were at Ma Chang on 22nd (amal amer and Terry Townshend).  On 24th Wang Qihan found a GREAT WHITE PELICAN (白鹈鹕 Bái tí hú) at Shahe Reservoir.  This immature bird (2cy?) stayed until 26th at least and, although in good condition, fully winged, un-ringed and wary, some birders questioned its origin, pointing to the fact that this species is widely bred in captivity in China, with almost all breeders not marking captive birds through ringing or colour-banding. 

The Great White Pelican 白鹈鹕 at Shahe Reservoir. Photo by Su Peng.

A TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) was at ChaoBaiHe on 28th (Terry Townshend) with even better records of shorebirds the following day at Ma Chang when Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou and 大牙齿 458 found the second GREY-TAILED TATTLER (灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù) of the year, and possibly only Beijing’s sixth overall, a RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù), and a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù).  The GREY-TAILED TATTLER 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù and RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù) were still at Ma Chang on 30th when they were joined by two EURASIAN CURLEW (白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù), a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER (尖尾滨鹬 Jiān wěi bīn yù) and two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) (Anonymous).

August 2021  2021年8月

A BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) was at Lingshan on 17th (Liu Aitao et al.) and on 21st a WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER (白胸翡翠 Bái xiōng fěicuì) was found in the Olympic Forest Park by Guan Xueyan, a very rare vagrant in Beijing.  On 25th there was a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù) at Ma Chang (Li Zhaonan et al.) with a PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at the same site on 27th (Lu Zhuofei).  An AMUR PARADISE FLYCATCHER (寿带 Shòu dài) was at Shahe Reservoir on 28th (Cinclus cinclus et al.) and, on 30th, another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was at the Changping City Riverside Forest Park (amal amer et al.).  The month ended with a BESRA at Changping City Riverside Forest Park on 31st (amal amer et al.).

September 2021  2021年9月

On 1st there were two DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (Xing Jiahua).  On 2nd there was another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at Baiwangshan (Lang Dongchen) and, even better, a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) at Miaofengshan (Colm Moore).  On 3rd there was a BAILLON’S CRAKE (小田鸡 Xiǎo tiánjī) at the Binhe Forest Park (Zheng Qiuyang and Yan Shen) and, on 4th, a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) was at Shahe Reservoir (Oriental Stork et al.), remaining until 6th at least.  Also on 6th there was a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (via David Mou). On 7th there were two juvenile BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù) and a juvenile DUNLIN (黑腹滨鹬 Hēi fù bīn yù) at Ma Chang (amal amer and Terry Townshend).  On 10th there was a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore).  On 13th there were two CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) at Changping City Riverside Forest Park (Jun Shuai) and, the next day, there were two more at Ming Tombs Reservoir, where there were also two PECHORA PIPIT (北鹨 Běi liù) (Colm Moore).  Also on 14th there was a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) at Peking University campus (Sincera et al.), a 1cy BROWN-HEADED GULL (棕头鸥 Zōng tóu ōu) at Ma Chang (Terry Townshend) and only Beijing’s second ever WOOD WARBLER Phylloscopus sibilatrix 林柳莺 Lín liǔ-yīng was trapped and ringed at Hanshiqiao, Shunyi District (Li Zhaonan et al. via Paul Holt).  On 19th Beijing’s 7th GREY-TAILED TATTLER 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù, and the 3rd of the year, was recorded at night from the roof of the AIIB building at 0123 hrs (Terry Townshend et al.). On 21st there were two ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN (烟腹毛脚燕 Yān fù máo jiǎo yàn) at Baiwangshan (Cinclus cinclus) and the following day there was a BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) in the Olympic Forest Park (amal amer , Su Peng et al.).  A SWINHOE’S RAIL Coturnicops exquisitus 花田鸡 Huā tián jī was a great find by 大好 at the ChaoBai River on 25th.

Video grab of the Swinhoe’s Rail 花田鸡 at the ChaoBaiHe on 25 September (大好).

October 2021  2021年10月

On 4th there were four PECHORA PIPIT (北鹨 Běi liù) at the Wenyu River (Stefan Andrew).  On 5th there was a 1cy NORTHERN HAWK CUCKOO at the Temple of Heaven Park (Cinclus cinclus), apparently present for several days and remaining until 10th at least.  Also on 5th there was a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend) and two juvenile BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) at Shahe Reservoir (Chen Xier and Xiaowu).  One of the BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) was still at Shahe on 7th, when one was also in Yuyuantan Park (Jia Yu).  Also on 7th, there were three RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at Tsinghua University campus (Hama King).  On 10th there was a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) in the Temple of Heaven Park (铭俊 黄).  RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were at Jingshan Park on 13th (via Frank Gao) and at Tsinghua University campus on 15th (Tz Hsuan Tseng).  A juvenile RED-NECKED GREBE (赤颈䴙䴘, Chì jǐng pì tī) was at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 16th (Colm Moore) and, on the following day, there was no sign of the Red-necked but a SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) was on site instead, with the latter remaining until 21st at least  (amal amer and Cinclus cinclus). 

The Red-necked Grebe 赤颈䴙䴘 at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 16 October 2021. Photo by Colm Moore.

On 18th there was a GREATER SCAUP (斑背潜鸭 Bān bèi qián yā) at Huairou Reservoir (amal amer et al.) and two RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (悟空天下), increasing to four on 21st (Su Peng, amal amer and Qian Dan’an). Also on 21st there was a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (红胸姬鹟 Hóng xiōng jī wēng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (安妮).  On 24th there was a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Tsinghua University campus (Tz Hsuan Tseng) and a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) at the DaShi River (Stefan Andrew).  On 28th there was a NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) at Lingshan (大牙齿 458, and Liu Aitao).  Finally, on 30th there was a JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) at the Agricultural Exhibition Center (Stefan Andrew).

November 2021  2021年11月

On 3rd there was a confiding SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) at Yuanmingyuan (Ge Mengshuai) and another NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) at Yangtaishan Rosefields (Miaofengshan) (Jun Shuai), with two there the following day (Colm Moore).  On 6th there was a very late female COMMON STONECHAT Saxicola maurus (stejnegeri) 黑喉石䳭 Hēi hóu shí jí in the Olympic Forest Park (Catherine Dong).  On 7th there was an ORIENTAL STORK (东方白鹳 Dōngfāng bái guàn) at Kangxi Grassland (Luo Shujin et al.).  On 13th there was a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Cinclus cinclus et al.) and two SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) at the Summer Palace (Richard Zhang).  On 15th the RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (红胸姬鹟 Hóng xiōng jī wēng) was still at the Temple of Heaven Park (Zhou Zichen and Jun Shuai), where it was joined by two PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng). On 21st there were two RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at the DaYunHe Golf Course, Tongzhou (Catherine Dong) and a NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) near Baihuashan (Terry Townshend et al.). On 23rd a COMMON GULL of the ssp kamtschatschensis (“Kamchatka Gull”), was at Ming Tombs Reservoir, a nice find by Colm Moore.  On 24th there was a BROWN-EARED BULBUL (栗耳短脚鹎 Lì ěr duǎn jiǎo bēi) in Yuyuantan Park (Zichen Zhou) and two RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX (红嘴相思鸟, Hóng zuǐ xiāngsī niǎo) of unknown origin were in the Botanical Gardens (peng su et al.).  The 27th was a magical day for 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé, known by his social media moniker of “Oriental Stork”) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyán) when they found a female BLUE-FRONTED REDSTART (蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú) at Shahe Reservoir (Oriental Stork et al.), the first record of this species in Beijing.  This spectacular find remained until 30th at least. 

The female Blue-fronted Redstart 蓝额红尾鸲 at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) on 27 November 2021. The first record of this species for Beijing. Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán.
Another image of the female Blue-fronted Redstart 蓝额红尾鸲 at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) on 27 November 2021. This photo by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé).

Also on 27th there was a LONG-TAILED DUCK (长尾鸭 Cháng wěi yā) at Miyun Reservoir (Lou Fangzhou).  On 28th a third-winter Vega Gull Larus vegae 西伯利亚银鸥 Xībólìyǎ yín ōu was at Shahe Reservoir (Terry Townshend), identified by a combination of the heavy streaking on the crown, neck and breast and, structurally, with a more rounded head, smaller size and relatively short-winged look compared with mongolicus.

December 2021  2021年12月

On 4th there were two RED-CROWNED CRANE (丹顶鹤 Dān dǐng hè) at Ma Chang (刘双祺 刘星语 田思译 黄明攀 布昕辰 et al.), remaining until 6th at least.  One sported an engraved red colour ring, fitted on the breeding grounds at Zhalong Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province.

The pair of Red-crowned Cranes 丹顶鹤 at Kangxi Grassland. Photo by Su Peng.

On 5th there was a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at the Summer Palace (天书).  Remarkably on 7th a female BLUE-FRONTED REDSTART (蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú) was seen in the Botanical Gardens (98号电车 – WeChat name).  The bird from Shahe Reservoir relocating or a different individual?  Also on 7th there were two (one adult and one 1cy) PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (Colm Moore and Terry Townshend) and a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at Green Bank Park, Yongding River (Jun Shuai). On 10th there were two LONG-TAILED DUCK (长尾鸭 Cháng wěi yā) at Huairou Reservoir (Cinclus cinclus and amal amer).  On 14th there was a BEARDED VULTURE (胡兀鹫 Hú wù jiù) at Yanhecheng, Mentougou District (关雪燕 Guan Xueyan et al.). The third record for Beijing.  

The 1cy Bearded Vulture 胡兀鹫 at Yanhecheng, Mentougou District, on 15 December 2021.  Photo by 关雪燕 Guan Xueyan.

On 16th a JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) was reported from Nanhaizi (Vandy L) and a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) was still at the Summer Palace (辰 吕) on 17th.  On 25th six JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) were reported from 东方太阳城/Oriental Sun City (Bonnie Jiang) and on the same day a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) was photographed in the Olympic Forest Park (云天).

Finally, a major highlight in the Beijing birding year was the publication of the “Birds of Beijing”, put together by a team of authors led by Professor Zhao Xinru.  It includes text and images on 508 species and is available for order via WeiDian on WeChat at this link. It should be on the bookshelf of every birder in Beijing and, indeed, wouldn’t it be great if a copy was in every school and every family home?! When the book is available for international buyers (coming soon), the link will be added here.


Title image: the female Blue-fronted Redstart at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) 27 November 2021.  The first record of this species for Beijing.  (Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán).


For summaries from previous years, click the links below.

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2020

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2019

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2018

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2017

Rare and Scarce Birds in Beijing 2016



Discussions on New Guidelines for Land Management in Beijing

Last Friday I was invited by the Beijing Municipal government to participate in a meeting to discuss new draft guidelines for improving land management for biodiversity in Beijing.  The draft included some positive language such as setting aside areas to remain ‘wild’ in parks, promoting ‘wildlife corridors’ to connect areas of habitat, the use of more native plant species and discouraging monocultures, and promoting education and awareness through on-site interpretation.

Academics from Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences put forward comments and suggestions.  I was able to make some points about the responsibility of Beijing to provide a balance of habitats to help provide safe passage for the millions of migratory birds that pass the capital each spring and autumn, and to highlight those resident species that appeared to be struggling in Beijing – namely grassland species, including larks and partridges.  A focus on protecting and restoring wetlands and grassland, in addition to tree planting and forest cover, would help significantly.

To assess whether policies were making a difference, I suggested an audit of the capital’s wildlife was needed, with robust monitoring in order to establish which species were doing well and which weren’t, to identify trends early to help prioritise conservation actions, and to assess whether changes in land management practices were having the desired effect. 

We also discussed the policy of early winter cutting of vegetation (to reduce fire risk) and covering with plastic netting (to prevent dust).  Although this may help to reduce fire and dust, this had the double negative of depriving wildlife, including wintering birds such as buntings and accentors, of winter food and shelter, and also putting micro-plastics into the soil.  Alternatives, such as cutting fire-breaks, rather than cutting all vegetation, and using biodegradable netting when netting was needed, were raised.

The meeting lasted three hours and ended with the Beijing Municipal government agreeing to produce another draft of the guidelines to reflect the discussion. 

Everyone agreed that it would take time to change land management policies that had been in place for decades, and that education of the many workers would be vital to explain what was needed and why.  Pilots would be useful to demonstrate what was possible.  However, despite the note of caution on time, the commitment from the government to do better for wildlife was clear.

The fact that this meeting happened at all is a good sign of the intent on the part of the government to improve their land management for wildlife. We now await the next iteration of the draft guidelines, to be produced in the next few weeks.

Beijing’s first Blue-fronted Redstart: A finder’s account by 13-year old student, Huò Shèngzhé

Finding a first record is a highlight for any birder.  Finding a first for your capital city when you are aged 13 and 15 is the stuff dreams are made of.  That’s what happened on 27 November 2021 to 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé, 13 yrs old, known by his social media moniker of “Oriental Stork”) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyán, 15 yrs old) when these two enthusiastic young birders found a female Blue-fronted Redstart (蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú) at Shahe Reservoir, the first record of this species in Beijing.

Below is 霍圣哲 Huò Shèngzhé’s account of that special day.   Excitement and enthusiasm shine through, as does a maturity beyond his years.  I hope you enjoy reading his account as much as I did.


Finding a Blue-fronted Redstart in Beijing, by 霍圣哲 Huò Shèngzhé.

Our trip to Shahe Reservoir was made simple because Xiaogao and I needed to lead a small birding trip for the school nature club.  We were completely tired out after shouting at everybody to stop talking and get going for more than half a day, but we still made it to 35 species by the time the club activity ended, including quite a large flock of Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus 文须雀 Wén xū què), a few Chinese Penduline Tits (Remiz consobrinus 中华攀雀 Zhōnghuá pān què) uttering their usual “peeeeeel” call, and a Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān) hiding in reeds, only to take off as the seventh graders came chatting along.

We both wanted to see more species to make up for the day, so we decided to check the east bank of the reservoir. The sun, high up in the sky, had no effect on the chilly weather.  The waterfall thundered in the background, and an egret flashed pure white as it went gliding softly over the water’s surface. Daurian Jackdaws (Coloeus dauuricus  达乌里寒鸦 Dá wū lǐ hán yā) soared across the clear blue sky in loose flocks. Silvery bells chimed as a few Silver-throated Bushtits (Aegithalos glaucogularis 银喉长尾山雀 Yín hóu cháng wěi shān què) jumped around in the branches, and a couple of Japanese Tits (Parus minor 大山雀 Dà shānquè) tagged along, glancing curiously down at us.  Just before we climbed into the car, Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo 普通鸬鹚 Pǔtōng lú cí) flew in tens, maybe hundreds, over our heads, creating an endless river of feathers and wings. We were delighted as our checklist finally reached 40 species.

Our plan was to follow the Wenyu river and have a little explore.  As the car went speeding down the road, I suddenly remembered a place off the road I found last autumn. There were quite a lot of birds, I recalled. So for no particular reason, I suggested we have a peek.

We followed a trail down from the road. The call of Little (Emberiza pusilla 小鹀 Xiǎo wú), Black-faced (Emberiza spodocephala灰头鹀 Huī tóu wú) and Pallas’s Reed Buntings (Emberiza spodocephala 灰头鹀 Huī tóu wú) flickered through the air. Between the trees stood a few patches of shrubs, closely huddling against each other helplessly. It was getting late, the sky cast a beautiful shade of red over the scene. A flock of bushtits leapt noisily in the trees.  As we got closer, suddenly I picked out a different sound from the endless chime of bushtits. ”twirrrl”. I tensed instantly. The call reminded me of a wind up sound, similar to the call of a Taiga Flycatcher (Ficedula albicilla 红喉姬鹟 Hóng hóu jī wēng), but a little different. Maybe it was my ears playing tricks on me, I thought. But then, after a few steps, ”twirrrl” – there it was again! Xiaogao heard it too. It was coming from the bushes!

Something wasn’t right. I thought I had heard the sound before, somewhere, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. We slowed, shared eye contact, then slowly with eyes narrowed and ears peeled, we advanced toward where the sound was coming from. At that moment, time slowed all around us. The noisy hymn of the bushtits seemed to have stopped abruptly. Everything was so quiet. I was getting excited, I could feel my heart racing, thumping against my chest. What could that be?

Another couple of “twirrls”. They echoed through the air. Just then, as we got in front of the patch of thick shrubbery, a flash of red and brown came shooting out from the branches, made a sudden turn in mid-air, as if startled to see us, then dived down into a different bush like a rocket.

The first though that came to me was that this was a Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus 北红尾鸲 Běi hóng wěi qú), but that was almost impossible given to the way it called. We crouched in front of the bush into which our target had dived. ”twirrrl”. Under the thick branches, a Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus 红胁蓝尾鸲 Hóng xié lán wěi qú) was cocking its head up at us. We stared in disblief. A bluetail?How come?But when the sound came again, the bluetail didn’t move its bill…so it wasn’t the bluetail that we heard. Then, a shadow appeared in the shrubs, a few meters away from the bluetail. It flapped its wings, made a dive toward the ground, then hopped up to another branch. So, there it was! That’s when I realised that I had left my camera back in the car, and I would definitely need the camera to get a photo, so I told Xiaogao, who had taken his camera with him, to stay put, try to get a photo, while I teared up the track back to our car where I had left my camera.

I was panting heavily when I got back to the bush, camera at the ready. I was relieved to see Xiaogao crouching on the ground, shutter clicking away. I silently praised that he had gotten an identifiable picture. Xiaogao crept out from the bush, dried leaves in his hair, his poor white pants – our school uniform – were covered with mud. He showed me a blurred picture of a very strange looking redstart. Unlike the common Daurian Redstart, this one had practically no large white patches on its wings, and the body plumage was slightly darker. Xiaogao had no idea about which species. I scowled. Its odd features…I was almost sure that this wasn’t the first time I had seen this species, but I simply couldn’t point my finger on exactly what it was. Whatever the species, we realised this was probably something that was pretty rare. And our task now was to get as much evidence as we could about this bird to help with later identification.

I made a few recordings of its mysterious call and then, for the rest of the day, we crept around the bushes, straining to get some better photos. Believe me, we had a pretty hard time. The bird was really alert, so every time we tried to get close, it fluttered away and disappeared into another set of bushes. Plus, it hid itself really deep in the branches, constantly changing its position, so it was nearly impossible to focus the camera, much less taking a clear photo. Finally, we managed to secure a couple of clear pictures of the bird.

By now, the sun was sinking and the clouds above us reflecting a fiery red glow. We straightened our arms and legs, sore from crouching on the ground, our trousers mud-soaked with grass hanging down. Sweat dripped from our cheeks, despite the cold weather. “twirrrl” – our redstart made another jeer at us from somewhere deep in the branches. We stole another glance at the bushes, then left with half a dozen barely identifiable photographs, and a thousand questions.

On the way back, I kept wondering about this bird. Can it actually be something really rare? Images of people finding rare species kept popping into my head, the eBird rare bird alert, followed by birders from all over the city rushing toward a single spot to catch a glimpse of the bird, a tiny patch of shrubbery surrounded by layers of people.  Thousands of possibilities soared around in my mind.

Maybe it’s a Daurian Redstart after all, I thought, after flipping through articles about redstart identification, and listening to lots of recordings on Xeno-canto with no result. After dinner, I had no choice but to put my pictures and the recording, along with Xiaogao’s, on We-chat, asking for help from other birders.

The first image of the mystery redstart by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán, circulated to birders on 27 November 2021 (Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán).
One of the first images of the mystery redstart circulated to birders on 27 November 2021 (Photo by 霍圣哲 Huò Shèngzhé)

The original sound recording circulated to birders on 27 November 2021 (霍圣哲 Huò Shèngzhé).


Anything but Daurian, I prayed!

People started giving their opinions, with some saying Daurian, some suggesting Alashan Redstart (Phoenicurus alaschanicus 贺兰山红尾鸲 Hèlánshān hóng wěi qú), a major rarity in Beijing.  Some mentioned that the call was similar to Blue-fronted (Phoenicurus frontalis 蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú), which had never before appeared in Beijing. Hope planted itself in my mind. I started to get restless, flicking up the screen of my phone every few minutes, checking for the latest news. Meanwhile, more and more people, including Terry Townshend, suggested Blue-fronted Redstart. My heart pounded furiously, excitement twirling in my brain. I have seen the Blue-fronted Redstart fewer than half a dozen times in Yunnan. It’s really hard to imagine it turning up in Beijing. Then, the remark came from Mr.Holt: “perfect Blue-Fronted.” At the same time, Terry returned from Xeno-canto, the sound recording website, and told me the call matched Blue–fronted Redstart!

At first, there was only numbness. I could feel my heart pounding, my eyes glued to the screen. After God knows how long, my heart erupted with joy, and I nearly fainted with excitement. My gosh, a Blue-fronted Redstart, the first sighting of this bird in the whole damn capital. Now, I and Xiaogao are finders of a new record for Beijing!

For half an hour, I was overwhelmed with disbelief and pride. The good thing was, I cooled down shortly after that. After a short discussion with Xiaogao, we reached an agreement that the location of this bird should be kept secret. I don’t know what others would think about our decision, but I do remember what happened to the Robin in Beijing Zoo, and the poor Great Bustards in Tongzhou. I, surely, wouldn’t want anything like that to happen again, especially not to this new record for Beijing.

The assembled crowd waiting for the European Robin at the Beijing Zoo in January 2019, referred to by Huò Shèngzhé above (Photo by Terry Townshend).

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts raced around my mind, thoughts about our decision, and about how I could possibly find a bird which is a new record for Beijing. It’s pretty accidental but, at the same time, not exactly random. Unlike some other birdwatchers in Beijing, I and Xiaogao have our own style. I seldom go “twitching”, which means to go and see a rare bird the second after the location is released. Throughout this whole year, I hadn’t visited many hotspots, hadn’t put most of my attention simply on boosting my own life list. Instead, I  focused all my might on my own birding patch, trying my best to find birds on my own, first–hand. Sometimes, seeing birds you have seen a million times can seem boring, but if you keep up long enough, there are always surprises. If I hadn’t thought of the place I found last autumn, if I simply had taken a hike through the well-known birding areas, then leave like so many other birders do, this bird would have never been found.

Maybe that’s what the birding community in Beijing needs: fewer trips to hotspots for target species or good photos, fewer people birding simply for their life lists, just a little more attention to the common-looking overgrown fields which aren’t so far away from your house, and maybe new sightings for Beijing will be popping out from everywhere!

霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé, known by the moniker “Oriental Stork” on social media).


The co-finders:

霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé), also known as “Oriental Stork”, birding at his local patch in west Beijing.
高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyán), the co-finder of Beijing’s first Blue-fronted Redstart, at Ma Chang in Beijing.

Title image: the female Blue-fronted Redstart at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) 27 November 2021.  The first record of this species for Beijing.  (Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán).

Leopard Cat Research Field Trip with Peking University

Earlier this week I was invited to join Peking University’s Leopard Cat research team on a field trip to their study site.  Led by Professor Luo Shu-Jin, the team has been studying the capital’s wild cats for three years, and has recently stepped up its research by fitting tracking collars.  The collars, so far fitted to three females, are showing for the first time the movements of these secretive felines.  Early results have revealed that the three females are primarily nocturnal, have rather distinct territories and swim often.  The closest relative to the Leopard Cat is the Fishing Cat of South Asia, so perhaps we should not be surprised they are not averse to taking a dip.

This week’s trip to the field site was to check and maintain infrared cameras and to set up a trap with the hope of catching and collaring a male.  In large cats such as the Snow Leopard, it is the male that has a relatively large territory within which several females may hold smaller territories.  It will be fascinating to see whether this is the case for Beijing’s Leopard Cats.

Checking the trap before installation at the study site.

The trap includes a trigger that, via the phone network, will inform the team as soon as the trap is sprung.  The team is on call 24 hours per day so that they can react quickly and minimise the time that any captured animal is in captivity.  

Professor Luo and her team setting up the trap at the study site. The aim is to catch and collar a male, following the fitting of collars to three females, in order to compare movements and territories.
The trap after it has been ‘camouflaged’.

It was an honour for me to join the team for the day and to learn so much about their work.  Beijing is one of the few major capital cities that supports a population of wild cats, so understanding better their ecology, including their habitat requirements, will help to inform land management policies in Beijing with a view to securing the future of this special animal in the Chinese capital.  

To keep up to date with the research team’s progress, please check this dedicated page.

Title image: the Peking University Leopard Cat Research Team.

Discovering nocturnal bird migration in Beijing

Have you ever wondered what birds are flying over your home at night?  If you are on any sort of flyway, during the migration season it is possible that many hundreds, even thousands, of birds fly over your home in a single night. Recording sound during the dark hours can help to shed light on the number of birds and the diversity of species that are flying overhead as we sleep.

The practice of recording nocturnal flight calls (NFC) is gaining in popularity in Europe and the US (and elsewhere?) but is still in its relative infancy. Even with little knowledge of individual species’ calls, it is possible to gain an insight into the volume of birds that call as they pass overhead.

Of course most birders are also interested in identifying the species, but identification of the calls can be a challenge.  Not only does successful ID require a strong knowledge of the vocalisations of many of the resident and migratory species in the area but it appears that some species use different calls at night to those with which we are familiar, thus adding to the difficulty.  Lots of work is underway, including at Cornell Lab, to use AI to help scan recordings to identify the species but, for now at least, in East Asia that is a long way off.

With Beijing situated on a major flyway for birds commuting between Siberian breeding grounds and non-breeding grounds in China, SE Asia, Australasia and even Africa, there simply *must* be lots of nocturnal migration over the capital so, back in autumn 2017, living on the 13th floor of an apartment building at the time, I made my first attempts at nocturnal recording from my window.  Using a simple digital recorder, I was able to record species such as Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni 树鹨 Shù liù), Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis 云雀 Yúnquè), Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān) and Siberian Rubythroat (Luscinia calliope 红喉歌鸲 Hóng hóu gē qú).  That experiment gave me a tantalising glimpse into the nocturnal migration over my apartment but a subsequent move to an apartment much less suitable for recording meant that the potential remained unfulfilled.  

Fast forward to summer 2021 and, in a conversation with Sir Danny Alexander, Vice President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), we hatched an idea to begin a recording project on the roof of AIIB’s headquarters.  The building, 15 storeys high, is in a great location for such a project.  It is immediately south of the Olympic Forest Park in the north of the city, not close to any major roads, suffers very little from aircraft noise and with almost no tall buildings close by.  

The headquarters of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing.

We purchased a Wildlife Acoustics Song Meter Mini (weatherproof and programmable), and set it up on the roof, programming it to begin recording from 24 August until mid-November.  The recorder is perfect for this project as the only maintenance needed is a change of batteries every two weeks or so.  The recorder automatically adjusts the recording time to allow for the changing sunset and sunset times and a 512GB memory card is capable of storing all the files for the whole period.

The Wildlife Acoustics Song Meter Mini digital recorder.

The primary objective of this project is to gain an insight into the volume of birds flying over central Beijing at night.  With identification of most calls straightforward, we hope to be able to gain an improved understanding of the timings, including peaks, of individual species and potentially also the relationship between weather patterns and the extent of migration.  Given the impressive volume of calls, we are already building up a large file of “unidentified calls” and, with the help of birders in the region and experienced ‘nocmiggers’ elsewhere, we hope to identify as many of the unknowns as possible.

The files from the first few weeks of recording have been downloaded and we are beginning to analyse them.  It’s a time-consuming process to go through them all but using the excellent free sound analysis software, “Audacity“, to produce spectograms in order to ‘visualise’ the files means it’s relatively easy to find the bird calls and skip through periods of silence. 

A typical sonogram, in this case showing a visualisation of the calls of Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis 云雀 Yúnquè).

More than 4,000 calls have been identified so far.  Perhaps not surprisingly, in late August and September, the most dominant species have been Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus 普通朱雀 Pǔtōng zhūquè), Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni 树鹨 Shù liù) and Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis 云雀 Yúnquè) but these have been supported by a good selection of other species including Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax 夜鹭 Yè lù), Striated Heron (Butorides striata 绿鹭 Lǜ lù), Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus 白腰草鹬 Bái yāo cǎo yù), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos 矶鹬 Jī yù), Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola 林鹬 Lín yù), Common Redshank (Tringa totanus 红脚鹬 Hóng jiǎo yù), Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata 白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù), Forest Wagtail (Dendronanthus indicus 山鹡鸰 Shān jí líng), white-eye sp. (Zosterops sp., 绣眼鸟 xiù yǎn niǎo), Yellow-bellied Tit (Periparus venustulus 黄腹山雀 Huáng fù shānquè), and lots of thrushes and Muscicapa flycatchers (still to be identified to species).

You can follow the progress of the project at this dedicated page, where we will upload good examples of calls, a batch of unidentified calls (on which we welcome suggestions!) and, in due course, some statistics about the volume of birds each night and a full species list.  Analysis of all the files probably won’t be completed until well into 2022 but we are already excited about what this project will reveal about nocturnal bird migration in Beijing.

Huge thanks to the AIIB team, in particular Sir Danny Alexander, Alberto Ninio and Li Zeyu, for their support for this project and for their ongoing help and assistance.  And thank you to David Darrell-Lambert for initial advice about NocMig and to Geoff Carey and Paul Holt for advice and assistance with identifications.  Thanks also to all the birders in the East Asian Bird Vocalisation WeChat group and the NocMig WhatsApp group for help and assistance.

For the latest news about this project, to hear some of the calls we are recording and for a list of unidentified sounds, please see this dedicated page.


Header image: The Wildlife Acoustics Song Meter Mini in place on the roof of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing.

New Zealand Ambassador to China hosts “Friends of the Flyway”

It’s easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom that seems to be prevalent right now.  But every now and then, something happens that provides a shot in the arm.. an event or moment that inspires and provides hope.

16 September at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing was one of those moments.  Clare Fearnley, the brilliant New Zealand Ambassador to China, hosted the inaugural ‘Friends of the Flyway’ to celebrate the migratory birds of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, bringing together ambassadors and senior diplomats from the 22 countries that make up the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership, the secretariat of the EAAFP, senior Chinese government officials, including the Deputy Administrator of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Deputy Mayor of Dandong (stewards of Yalu Jiang, dubbed a “five-star” service station on the shorebird expressway), academics and ‘friends’.  

Not only did the event provide an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of the flyway among ambassadors and senior diplomats, elevating migratory birds as a foreign policy issue, but it also stimulated ideas and discussions, resulting in a few potential new initiatives, such as managing embassy grounds as ‘wildlife areas’ with embassies signing up to commitments to monitor birds and other wildlife, and to make changes to management practices to improve the habitat for resident and migratory birds.  A birding trip to the coast next May, for Ambassadors to experience the spring migration, is on the cards, and ‘bird-friendly’ glass, painted with ultraviolet patterns, was showcased by local artists as part of the solution to bird collisions (thought to cause the deaths of up to a billion birds in North America annually, with a new research project now starting in China to assess the scale of the issue here).

In her opening, Clare told the story of the ‘Kuaka’, the Māori name for the Bar-tailed Godwit, that has such a special place in their culture. The Kuaka is considered to be the link between the northern and southern hemispheres, a carrier of knowledge and the bringer of positive messages.  For Māoris they were birds of mystery, (‘Kua kite te kohanga kuaka?  Who has seen the nest of the kuaka?’).

Clare Fearnley, New Zealand Ambassador to China, delivering her welcome remarks to the “Friends of the Flyway” on 16 September.

Nearly all New Zealand Bar-tailed Godwits are from the baueri subspecies and breed in western Alaska. Their incredible migration forms a triangle.  Following the breeding season, these birds make an almost incomprehensible non-stop eight or nine day flight of more than 11,000km to New Zealand, only recently discovered through the tracking of “E7” in 2007. After spending the non-breeding season in New Zealand, they begin their northern migration from early March, heading for refuelling sites around the Yellow Sea, many to the Yalu Jiang in Dandong, where they fatten up at this five-star service station for the last leg of the journey to Alaska.

Professor Lei Guangchun of Beijing Forestry University tells the story of “E7”, the Bar-tailed Godwit that flew non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand revealing the incredible migration of this species for the first time.

Migratory birds do not respect international borders and, over a calendar year, many will visit multiple countries as they move from breeding grounds to non-breeding grounds via stopover sites.  It follows, therefore, that no single country can secure the future of these birds on its own.  With shared natural heritage comes a shared responsibility and, as we are in the midst of one of the greatest extinction events on Earth, and the first to be driven by humans, it is vital that the international response must go beyond national actions to protect key habitats and species, important though these actions are, to involve sustained and coordinated international cooperation.

Tan Guangming, Deputy Director of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, delivering his remarks at the “Friends of the Flyway” event on 16 September.

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway is a bird ‘superhighway’ for more than 50 million waterbirds, including 35 globally threatened species, many of which commute between breeding grounds in the far north, some inside the Arctic Circle, and non-breeding grounds in the southern hemisphere.  Many travel as far as Australia and New Zealand.  However, it is not only the ‘ends of the flyway’ – the breeding grounds in Artic Russia and the non-breeding grounds in Australia and New Zealand that are important.  The commute relies on stopover sites, particularly those in the Yellow Sea.

That is why this initiative – bringing together ambassadors from flyway countries with senior Chinese government officials – was so important.  It is now hoped (expected?) that ambassadors from other Flyway countries will host similar events, celebrating particular aspects of the Flyway or specific species and sites, whilst helping to nurture and strengthen international cooperation along this important route for migratory birds.   

Huge kudos to Clare and her team, especially Svar Barrington and Hayley Anderson, for initiating this event and for the New Zealand embassy’s ongoing leadership in putting biodiversity high up on the agenda for foreign policy and diplomacy.



Header photo: Clare Fearnley, New Zealand Ambassador to China, welcoming Tan Guangming, Deputy Director of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.

Finding Kamchatka Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus examinandus) in Beijing in June 2021

On 1 June 2021, Beijing resident, Colm Moore, found Beijing’s first Kamchatka Warbler (Phylloscopus examinandus, 堪察加柳莺 Kān chá jiā liǔ yīng) at the Ming Tombs Reservoir in Beijing.  It is the latest in a series of excellent records from Colm, crowned by the astonishing record of a Streak-throated Swallow (Petrochelidon fluvicola 彩石燕 Cǎi shíyàn) at Shahe Reservoir in May 2014 which was not only a first record for Beijing but also for the whole of China!

Colm is one of the best birders I know and also one of the most genuine guys around.  This is his account of the incredible find on 1 June.


By Colm Moore.

More than half a decade ago, on Professor Per Alström’s advice, I began the slow, laborious process of recording Beijing warbler songs in some systematic manner. This was solely to further my own meagre knowledge and in order to make sense of the plethora of spring song from that myriad of phylloscopid taxa we hear and see each year. Per’s breakthrough work (Alstrom, P, et al., Ibis (2011), 153, 395–410) on the three “borealis” sibling species, Arctic Warbler P. borealis, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler P. examinandus and Japanese Leaf Warbler P. xanthodryas was on my desktop but surely an academic exercise, and not for the field….. surely.

Six years later, almost to the day, I crept into the woodland of pollarded Salix at Ming Tombs Reservoir’s Flower Garden to record Arctic Warbler P. borealis and compare it with some earlier recordings. I carried a lightweight Sony PCM D100 digital recorder and enough water to last an eight hour vigil. Six years has taught me infinite patience.

Four days of light easterly breezes, a drier than usual Meiyu Low Pressure System and a waning gibbous moon meant that on 1st June, there were very few nocturnal migrant warblers present, but a mellifluous fall of Black-naped Orioles Oriolus chinensis also guaranteed that the trees were alive with an orchestra of sound.  Against this background I could hear the ‘dzrt’ calls of a few Arctic Warblers and an occasional burst of song from the same species, transcribed here as ‘zezezezezezezezezezezezezeze’, increasing in strength mid-way and fading somewhat at the end. All other warblers had indeed vacated the area, apparently. Every phylloscopid sound was borealis-like in nature, all my photographs showed borealis-type birds apparently and so I settled down to listen and perhaps make a few decent recordings.

About two hours into the vigil, listening with too little deep attention to the ‘dzrt‘ and the high mechanical ‘zezezeze‘, like a dreamer awakening from a drowsy woodland sleep, I began to hear a distant stuttering call, ‘drt‘..’drrt‘, audibly underneath and beyond the rest.  It had probably been present for hours. Still stupefied, I slowly rummaged for my recorder, with all the time in the world, apparently.  Meanwhile the bird or the sound had moved to my right and a short strophe of pumping action phylloscopid song leaked out from behind an Oriole’s chortle. Galvanized, I swung around wildly to catch some precious phrase, stumbled upon the correction direction and there, 10s into the recording, was that unique harsh pumping action of an examinandus song, electronically captured, and transcribed in the field as: ‘zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh’.  It was a rather rough, rapid, short series of notes with a regular pumping, pulsing rhythm.  The pumping rhythm seemed to be caused by two different syllables ‘zeze’ and ‘zeh’ being repeated.

Minutes passed in exquisite breathless panic as I waited for the bird to sing again. But the shadow of a Black Stork Cigonia nigra, flying low over the wood now threw the place into silence and though the Orioles were undisturbed, the bird with that unique examinandus sound had departed or rendered silent. Hours and hours later I stumbled into the light, exhausted from combing the wood, leaf by warbler-shaped leaf, frequency by dizzy frequency.  I had dozens of photographs of borealis-types, but I could not definitively match call with image. I even noted wing-flick behaviour in some, but again was unable to match behaviour with call.

Terry Townshend, to whom I sent the recording, was able to support my tentative identification as examinandus, and with his encouragement I sent the recording and all my photographs to Per Alström, who confirmed the song, saying:

…. I note that there’s a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler on your recording. First there’s a call which sounds like borealis, shortly afterwards is a call that sounds like examinandus (though I’ve heard birds which I thought were borealis on migration in SE China calling pretty examinandus-like, though I couldn’t be absolutely sure they were indeed borealis). However, at c. 10 s, behind an oriole is a very faint song strophe of a definite examinandus….. I see the odd wing flicking behaviour in one or two of your photos. I haven’t noted this in any ”Arctic Warbler”….. Something to check.

Colm’s original recording, with the call of Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis), followed by a two-note call that could be Kamchatka Warbler (P. examinandus), then the diagnostic strophe of song from Kamchatka Warbler (P. examinandus), with background Black-naped Orioles (Oriolus chinensis).


The taxon examinandus was first described by Professor E. Stresemann in 1913 but the morphological similarity to xanthodryas and borealis meant that it took a century to fully untangle the phylogenetic complexity of what are now considered three unambiguous clades, based on mitochondrial DNA, an analysis of songs and detailed morphometrics.  But it became clear that for field workers, calls and songs were essentially the field evidence and recordings the tools by which to map the distribution of these sibling species.  It has been established that examinandus breeds in south Kamchatka, Sakhalin and north-east Hokkaido. Likewise, among two-hundred sound-recordings in Xeno-canto (Xeno-canto Foundation and Naturalis Biodiversity Center 2005-2021: accessed September 13, 2021), winter-time records concentrate in S.S.E. Asia, specifically Indonesia. Passage migrants have been recorded in Japan, Nansei-Shoto, S.Korea and China. Remarkably, it has been recorded in Australia and in Finland (

Some records of the species on presumed passage, have come from as near to Beijing as Dandong, in Liaoning (Birding Beijing: accessed September 13, 2021), Tianjin (eBird Explore: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: accessed September 13, 2021) and coastal Hebei, with one recorded by Matt Slaymaker on 26 May 2013 and 1 June 2013 at the ‘prison trees’ at Nanpu, Tangshan (see Thus the Beijing record is probably not wholly unexpected, given the geographical location of the capital, just west of the mapped migratory trajectory.


Big thanks to Colm for writing up his extraordinary find and for helping to raise awareness about this poorly-known species and its occurrence in Beijing.  With greater awareness among birders, we can expect more records from the capital in future.


Title image: a ‘wing-flicking’ Phylloscopus, possibly the P. examinandus, from 1 June 2021 at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore) 

Leopard Cat in Beijing 北京豹猫

Not many capital cities can boast populations of wild cats and some may be surprised to learn that Beijing is one.  I am delighted to publish a new page dedicated to Leopard Cats in Beijing.  This page provides information and updates from an exciting new project about this poorly known species, led by Peking University’s Professor Luo Shu-Jin in collaboration with the China Felid Conservation Alliance (CFCA).  The project has already made some exciting discoveries, revealing just how little we know about biodiversity, even in one of the world’s major capital cities.  The page can be found here and includes some fantastic images of Leopard Cat from Beijing.  Check back regularly for updates!

Huge credit to Luo Shu-Jin and her team for her work on what must be one of the jewels in the crown of Beijing’s biodiversity.  

Valuing Nature

This podcast is a must-listen interview for anyone with an interest in the natural world.  It brings together one of the world’s leading economists – Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University, author of the recent groundbreaking study – “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review” with the real-world financial expertise and political nous of Secretary Hank Paulson, former US Treasury Secretary.   



Their conversation focuses on the global biodiversity crisis – the risks to human prosperity, the strong links with climate change, and how, in order to manage these risks, the world must do better at valuing nature and broaden its economic goals beyond GDP growth.   

Back in the early 1990s when I was studying economics at university, I was taken aback when I learned that economic models took nature’s services for granted; in essence nature’s benefits were considered free and inexhaustible.  As Professor Dasgupta says, going back just a few decades, “this was not a travesty, as we were small beer at the time. But now we are not”.  Today, demand for the Earth’s resources and services severely outstrips the ability of the Earth to renew itself, bringing with it tremendous risks.  This is cause for a fundamental realignment to bring the global economy within the boundaries of the biosphere and to no longer consider it independent.  

It’s a fascinating and hugely important subject.  Education, the need for government regulation and generational equity feature strongly.  If you have a spare 45 minutes, please listen and, if you are motivated to do something, think about what you can do to make a difference – whether it’s writing to your elected representative, asking questions about how your company or organisation is incorporating biodiversity into its strategy and operations, or by making personal choices as consumers.   


For more on the “Dasgupta Review”, see here.

For more on the Paulson Institute’s “Financing Nature: Closing the Biodiversity Financing Gap”, see here.


Title image: a longhorn bee sp., Shunyi District, Beijing, July 2021.