Nocturnal Bird Migration in Beijing, Autumn 2021

In autumn 2021, in cooperation with Peking University and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Birding Beijing set up a pilot project to record nocturnal bird migration over Beijing.  From 25 August to 2 November 2021 we recorded audio every night, from sunset to sunrise, from the roof of the AIIB headquarters in central Beijing.  The primary aim was to raise awareness of the scale of nocturnal bird migration over China’s capital, especially the volume and diversity of species that fly over the city as its residents sleep, recognising that awareness is the first step towards building pride and public support for policies and measures that protect these birds and the places they need. 

We used a Wildlife Acoustics Song Meter Mini as it is weatherproof, capable of storing sound files for the whole period on a 512MB memory card, and programmable – automatically adjusting the recording time to account for the changing sunset to sunrise.  The location of the 15-storey AIIB headquarters is ideal for recording nocturnal flight calls as it is situated immediately south of one of Beijing’s largest parks, the Olympic Forest Park, not close to any major road and free of air traffic.

A photograph of Beijing taken from the Chinese Space Station, Tiangong, on the night of 24 August 2021 (the night we began recording). Image by Taikonaut Nie Haisheng, annotated with the recording location by Terry Townshend.

We used Audacity, free-to-download software, to create spectograms of each hour-long audio file and used the ‘labels’ function to log and, where possible, identify each call.  The label files were then imported into Excel to produce a database of all call events with associated date, time, number of calls and, where possible, an identification.

Summary of results

  • 34,713 calls recorded
  • Around 95% of calls identified to species or, in the case of buntings, flycatchers and thrushes, to family, with at least 60 species identified so far
  • Most common calls were Olive-backed Pipit (12,411), Black-crowned Night Heron (5,358) and Eurasian Skylark (2,611).
  • Five nights recorded over 2,000 calls (in order of volume`):
    • 27/28 September (2,703 calls)
    • 28/29 September (2,405 calls)
    • 14/15 October (2,270 calls)
    • 9/10 September (2,233 calls)
    • 22/23 September (2,025 calls)
  • The busiest hour-long file was 0502-0602 on 29 September with 1,012 calls

Rarities included possibly only Beijing’s 8th Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù and at least two Little Curlew Numenius minutus 小杓鹬 Xiǎo biāo yù (not annually recorded in Beijing). Two separate recordings of presumed Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata 斑文鳥 Bān wén niǎo were also intriguing given this species is not on the official Beijing list and is not thought to be migratory (although both were recorded just a few minutes before dawn, so could represent locally escaped/released resident birds). 

The graph below shows the volume of bird calls per night over the recording period.

The table below lists the species (or group of species) by volume of calls.

SpeciesNo. of calls
OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT Anthus hodgsoni 树鹨 Shù liù12411
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON Nycticorax nycticorax 夜鹭 Yè lù5358
BUNTING SP. Emberiza sp. 鹀 wú4250
EURASIAN SKYLARK Alauda arvensis 云雀 Yúnquè2611
COMMON ROSEFINCH Carpodacus erythrinus 普通朱雀 Pǔtōng zhūquè2124
WHITE-EYE SP. Zosterops sp. 绣眼鸟 xiù yǎn niǎo1566
"TSEEP" THRUSH SP. Zoothera sp. or Turdus sp. 鸫 dōng909
FLYCATCHER SP. Muscicapa sp. 鹟 wēng856
YELLOW-BELLIED TIT Periparus venustulus 黄腹山雀 Huáng fù shānquè549
BRAMBLING Fringilla montifringilla 燕雀 Yànquè329
EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL Motacilla tschutschensis 黄鹡鸰 Huáng jí líng311
RICHARD'S PIPIT Anthus richardi 理氏鹨 Lǐ shì liù266
RED-RUMPED SWALLOW Cecropis daurica 金腰燕 Jīn yāo yàn252
SILVER-THROATED TIT Aegithalos glaucogularis 银喉长尾山雀 Yín hóu cháng wěi shān què248
WHITE WAGTAIL Motacilla alba 白鹡鸰 Bái jí líng204
SIBERIAN ACCENTOR Prunella montanella 棕眉山岩鹨 Zōng méishān shí liù125
GREY HERON Ardea cinerea 苍鹭 Cāng lù108
ORIENTAL MAGPIE Pica serica 喜鹊 Xǐquè104
SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT Luscinia calliope 红喉歌鸲 Hóng hóu gē qú84
WINTER THRUSH SP. Turdus sp. 鸫 dōng59
STRIATED HERON Butorides striata 绿鹭 Lǜ lù48
PINE BUNTING Emberiza leucocephalos 白头鹀 Báitóu wú46
GREEN SANDPIPER Tringa ochropus 白腰草鹬 Bái yāo cǎo yù42
DAURIAN JACKDAW Coloeus dauuricus  达乌里寒鸦 Dá wū lǐ hán yā33
PALLAS'S BUNTING Emberiza pallasi 苇鹀 Wěi wú29
YELLOW-THROATED BUNTING Emberiza elegans 黄喉鹀 Huáng hóu wú29
LONG-BILLED PLOVER Charadrius placidus 长嘴剑鸻 Cháng zuǐ jiàn héng25
FOREST WAGTAIL Dendronanthus indicus 山鹡鸰 Shān jí líng23
BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT Anthus rubescens (japonicus) 黄腹鹨 Huáng fù liù19
CARRION CROW Corvus corone 小嘴乌鸦 Xiǎo zuǐ wūyā18
GREAT BITTERN Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān17
SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA Lonchura punctulata 斑文鳥 Bān wén niǎo15
LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis 小鸊鷉 Xiǎo pì tī13
PURPLE HERON Ardea purpurea 草鹭 Cǎo lù13
COMMON SANDPIPER Actitis hypoleucos 矶鹬 Jī yù10
LAPLAND LONGSPUR Calcarius lapponicus 铁爪鹀 Tiě zhǎo wú9
GREY-HEADED LAPWING Vanellus cinereus 灰头麦鸡 Huī tóu mài jī8
LARGE-BILLED CROW Corvus macrorhynchos 大嘴乌鸦 Dà zuǐ wūyā8
SPOTTED REDSHANK Tringa erythropus 鹤鹬 Hè yù7
CHINESE GROSBEAK Eophona migratoria 黑尾蜡嘴雀 Hēi wěi là zuǐ què7
BLACK-FACED BUNTING Emberiza spodocephala 灰头鹀 Huī tóu wú7
COMMON [CHINESE] BLACKBIRD Turdus merula mandarinus 乌鸫 Wū dōng6
LITTLE CURLEW Numenius minutus 小杓鹬 Xiǎo biāo yù5
BROWN SHRIKE Lanius cristatus 红尾伯劳 Hóng wěi bóláo4
BLYTH'S PIPIT Anthus godlewskii 布氏鹨 Bù shì liù3
RED-THROATED PIPIT Anthus cervinus 红喉鹨 Hóng hóu liù3
SNIPE SP. Gallinago sp. 沙锥 Shā zhuī sp.3
GREY PLOVER Pluvialis squatarola 灰斑鸻 Huī bān héng3
GREY-TAILED TATTLER Tringa brevipes 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi piāo yù2
WATER PIPIT Anthus spinoletta blakistoni 水鹨 Shuǐ liù1
ROSY PIPIT Anthus roseatus 粉红胸鹨 Fěnhóng xiōng liù1
WOOD SANDPIPER Tringa glareola 林鹬 Lín yù1
COMMON GREENSHANK Tringa nebularia 青脚鹬 Qīng jiǎo yù1
LITTLE RINGED PLOVER Charadrius dubius 金眶鸻 Jīn kuàng héng1
NORTHERN SHOVELER Anas clypeata 琵嘴鸭 Pí zuǐ yā1
TAIGA FLYCATCHER Ficedula albicilla 红喉姬鹟 Hóng hóu jī wēng1

Detailed species accounts are below, giving more detail about the volume, frequency and date ranges as well as examples of the calls recorded.  There is also an explanation about three particularly troublesome groups – the ‘tseep’ thrushes, ‘tick’ buntings and Muscicapa/Fidecula flycatchers, most of which have not yet been identified to species level.

Over time, we plan to use observational weather data to examine the correlation between volume and weather conditions, including temperature, wind strength and direction, cloud cover, moon phase and illumination.  

Conclusions

The autumn 2021 pilot project has provided a snapshot of the scale and diversity of migratory birds flying over Beijing as its residents sleep.  Given that it is very likely that migration happens on a broad front over the city, not all species call, and that among those species that do call at night, there will be variation in the rate of calls, the number of bird calls recorded by this project is likely to represent a small fraction of the total volume of birds migrating over the city. 

Given Beijing’s location on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, and that the majority of the more than 500 species recorded in the capital are migratory, it is clear that the main role of China’s capital city in the flyway is to facilitate safe passage for migratory birds over the rather hostile urban environment.  It is interesting to note that the top three species by volume were Olive-backed Pipit (a bird of woodland), Black-crowned Night Heron (a wetland bird) and Eurasian Skylark (a grassland bird).  This reinforces the view that, if Beijing is to fulfil its responsibility to provide safe passage for migratory birds, it should consider a balanced approach to habitat protection and restoration to include woodland, wetlands and scrub/grassland.  This will be a key message in the briefing for government officials and media, scheduled to take place at AIIB headquarters in May.

Plans for 2022

In 2022, we plan to expand the project to cover more locations in order to gain a better sense of the scale of migration over Beijing and to compare urban and rural locations.  Given the number of birds, especially shorebirds and flycatchers, already passing through at the beginning of the recording period, we plan to start the autumn recording earlier, possibly from mid-July and run through to mid-November.  For the spring recording we plan to start in mid-March and run through to mid-June.

For the autumn 2021 pilot project each audio file was processed manually.  However, with multiple locations in 2022, the intensity of labour required to do this will be prohibitive.  Through a collaboration with Cornell Lab of Ornithology we hope to be able to train AI software with the calls of at least the most common East Asian nocturnal flight calls to help us to process audio files more efficiently.  

Acknowledgements

This project would not have been possible without the wonderful team at AIIB, including Sir Danny Alexander, Alberto Ninio, Li Zeyu and Tian Hua. The team at Peking University, led by Assistant Professor Hua Fangyuan, and including 张棽(Zhāng Shēn), 任晓彤 (Rèn Xiǎotóng), 刘双祺 (Liú Shuāngqí) and 杨晓彤 (Yáng Xiǎotóng), has been a joy to work with and I look forward to continuing cooperation in 2022 and beyond.  Andrew Farnsworth at Cornell Lab has provided valuable advice and encouragement and we look forward to working together as this project expands.  A number of people have helped with the identifications, including Jonas Buddemeier, Geoff Carey, David Darrell-Lambert, James Eaton, Paul Holt, James Lidster, Magnus Robb and Seán Ronayne, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

Detailed Species Accounts (by volume).

OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT Anthus hodgsoni 树鹨 Shù liù

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant in spring (April and May, peaking in early May) and autumn (late August to October, peaking in late September and early October). Uncommon in winter. Possibly breeds on occasion in the mountains.

Total Calls: 24,811

Date range: 28 August 2021 to 1 November (peak 1,906 on 10 September)

Example call: Olive-backed Pipit, 6 September 2021 @ 2239 hrs

 

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON Nycticorax nycticorax 夜鹭 Yè lù

Status in Beijing: Common breeder and passage migrant, and a few winter. Numbers peak between April and September. 

Total calls: 5,358 (note that a proportion of these will almost certainly be local breeders or locally fledged birds)

Date range: 25 August to 1 November (peak 791 on 30 September)

Example call: Black-crowned Night Heron, 4 September 2021 at 0043 hrs

 

EURASIAN SKYLARK Alauda arvensis 云雀 Yúnquè

Status in Beijing: Rare breeder, very common passage migrant, peaking in early April and early October, and winter visitor. 

Total calls: 2,606

Date range: 22 September to 30 October (peak: 1,388 on 15 October)

Example call: Eurasian Skylark, 21 September @ 2145 hrs

 

COMMON ROSEFINCH Carpodacus erythrinus 普通朱雀 Pǔtōng zhūquè

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant in spring (late April and May) and autumn (late August to November). Rare in March, June, July and December.

Total calls: 2,124

Date range: 26 August to 26 October (peak: 790 on 14 September)

Example call: Common Rosefinch, 3 September @ 0245 hrs (typical call followed by a more unusual song element)

 

YELLOW-BELLIED TIT Periparus venustulus 黄腹山雀 Huáng fù shānquè

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant (peaking in April and October), fairly common but local breeder, primarily in the mountains, and increasingly recorded in winter since the first record in that season on 28 January 1997 at Baiwangshan (Jesper Hornskov). Increasing.

Total calls: 549

Date range: 19 September to 27 October (peak: 121 on 19 September)

Example call: Yellow-bellied Tit, 2 October @ 0457 hrs

 

BRAMBLING Fringilla montifringilla 燕雀 Yànquè

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant and winter visitor to urban and rural Beijing (late September to May). 

Total calls: 329

Date range: 2 October to 2 November (peak: 78 on 30 October)

Example call: Brambling, 26 October @ 0221 (two typical calls plus contact calls)

 

EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL Motacilla tschutschensis 黄鹡鸰 Huáng jí líng

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant in spring (April and May, peaking in early May) and autumn (mid-August to early October, peaking in early September). Races recorded in Beijing are tschutschensis/plexa, macronyx and taivana.

Total calls: 311

Date range: 25 August to 21 September (peak: 57 on 4 September)

Example call: Eastern Yellow Wagtail, 1 September @ 2247 hrs

 

RICHARD’S PIPIT Anthus richardi 理氏鹨 Lǐ shì liù

Status in Beijing: A common passage migrant in spring (mostly late April and May) and autumn (August to early October), and a scarce and local breeder in grassland habitats.

Total calls: 266

Date range: 26 August to 15 October (peak: 105 on 10 September)

Example call: Richard’s Pipit, 10 September @ 0134 hrs

 

RED-RUMPED SWALLOW Cecropis daurica 金腰燕 Jīn yāo yàn

Status in Beijing: Common summer breeder and passage migrant (late March to early October).

Total calls: 252

Date range: 28 August to 27 September (peak: 178 on 27 September)

Note that all the calls of this species were recorded within 16 minutes of sunrise.

Example call: Red-rumped Swallow, 28 August @ 0454 hrs

 

SILVER-THROATED TIT Aegithalos glaucogularis 银喉长尾山雀 Yín hóu cháng wěi shān què

Status in Beijing: Common resident breeder and short-distance migrant in urban and rural Beijing.

Total calls: 248

Date range: 15 & 19 October only (peak: 240 on 15 October)

Note that all calls of this species were recorded within 30 minutes of sunrise.

Example call: Silver-throated Tit, 15 October @ 0537 hrs

 

WHITE WAGTAIL Motacilla alba 白鹡鸰 Bái jí líng

Status in Beijing: Very common summer breeder, passage migrant and scarce winter visitor. Race leucopsis breeds; ocularis is a common passage migrant and occasional winter visitor; baicalensis is a scarce but annual passage migrant; alba is a rare but annual passage migrant; lugens is a rare but annual winter visitor; and personata is a rare vagrant.  Spring migration peaks in mid-April and, in autumn, in late September.

Total calls: 204

Date range: 25 August to 2 October (peak: 41 on 29 September)

Example call: White Wagtail, 2 October @ 0457 hrs

 

SIBERIAN ACCENTOR Prunella montanella 棕眉山岩鹨 Zōng méishān shí liù

Status in Beijing: Fairly common winter visitor and passage migrant (October to April). Rare in September and May.

Total calls: 125

Date range: 5 October to 1 November (peak: 54 on 27 October)

Example call: Siberian Accentor, 26 October @ 0521 hrs

 

GREY HERON Ardea cinerea 苍鹭 Cāng lù

Status in Beijing: Common breeder, passage migrant and winter visitor in lower numbers. Breeds alongside Purple Heron in reedbeds at Yeyahu and on cliffs at Shidu, Fangshan District.

Total calls: 108

Date range: 26 August to 31 October (peak: 24 on 9 October)

Example call: Grey Heron, 28 August @ 2153 hrs

 

ORIENTAL MAGPIE Pica serica 喜鹊 Xǐquè

Status in Beijing: Abundant resident in urban and rural areas.

Total calls: 104

Date range: 21 September to 29 October (peak: 62 on 29 October)

Note that all the calls of this species came within 15 minutes of dawn, thus most likely local birds leaving roosts.

Example call: Oriental Magpie, 28 August 2021

 

SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT Luscinia calliope 红喉歌鸲 Hóng hóu gē qú

Status in Beijing: Fairly common passage migrant in spring (May) and autumn (mid-August to early October, peaking in mid-September). 

***This call has been identified as Siberian Rubythroat as it is very similar to one of the diurnal calls made by this species (Paul Holt and Jonas Buddemeier).  However, the date range of the nocturnal recordings is not consistent with sight records in Beijing (observational data show that the migration window is mid-August to early October, peaking in mid-September), so there is an inconsistency.***

Total calls: 84

Date range: 25 August to 17 September (peak: 48 on 27 August)

Example call: ?Siberian Rubythroat, 27 August @ 0156 hrs

 

STRIATED HERON Butorides striata 绿鹭 Lǜ lù

Status in Beijing: Scarce breeder and passage migrant (April to September); most often seen along wooded mountain streams/rivers.

Image by J J Harrison. https://www.jjharrison.com.au/

Total calls: 48

Date range: 25 August to 7 October (peak: 10 on 30 September)

Example call: Striated Heron, 4 September @ 1942 hrs

 

PINE BUNTING Emberiza leucocephalos 白头鹀 Báitóu wú

Fairly common winter visitor (late September to early May), often in large flocks.

Total calls: 46

Date range: 17 September to 19 October (peak: 35 on 15 October)

Pine Bunting, 11 October @ 0443 hrs

 

GREEN SANDPIPER Tringa ochropus 白腰草鹬 Bái yāo cǎo yù

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant and winter visitor. Recorded in all months.

Example call: Green Sandpiper, 3 September @ 0045 hrs

https://birdingbeijing.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/AIIB_20210903_004502-00-13-Green-Sandpiper-example.wav

 

DAURIAN JACKDAW Coloeus dauuricus  达乌里寒鸦 Dá wū lǐ hán yā

Status in Beijing: Common winter visitor and passage migrant (predominantly October to April). Rare outside this window. 

Total calls: 33 

Date range: recorded on one date only – 7 October at 0603 hrs (sunrise was 0616 hrs).

Example call: Daurian Jackdaw, 7 October @ 0603 hrs

 

PALLAS’S REED BUNTING Emberiza pallasi 苇鹀 Wěi wú

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant and winter visitor (late August to May). Rare in June and no records in July. Three races probably occur (pallasi, polaris and lydiae), although current knowledge means that differentiating them in the field is not straightforward. Found mainly in reed beds and scrub.

Total calls: 29

Date range: 1 September to 1 November (peak: 8 on 8 October)

Example call: Pallas’s Reed Bunting – three examples from 1 September, 27 October and 1 November.

 

YELLOW-THROATED BUNTING Emberiza elegans 黄喉鹀 Huáng hóu wú

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant, winter visitor and local breeder in the mountains.

Total calls: 29 

Date range: all on one date (28 October) but see note on buntings

Example call: Yellow-throated Bunting calls from 28 October @ 0519 hrs

 

LONG-BILLED PLOVER Charadrius placidus 长嘴剑鸻 Cháng zuǐ jiàn héng

Status in Beijing: Local summer breeder, and uncommon passage migrant and winter visitor. Recorded in all months.

Total calls: 25 in two call events (22 calls on 8 September @ 0412 hrs and 3 calls on 24 October @ 0239 hrs)

Example call: Long-billed Plover, 8 September @ 0412 hrs

 

FOREST WAGTAIL Dendronanthus indicus 山鹡鸰 Shān jí líng

Status in Beijing: Local summer breeder, primarily in lowland woodlands, and a passage migrant (May to September).

Total calls: 23 in two call events (10 on 2 September @ 0540 hrs and 13 on
4 September @ 0528 hrs.  

Note that all of the calls of Forest Wagtail were recorded in the hour before sunrise.

Example call: Forest Wagtail, 4 September @ 0528 hrs

 

BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT Anthus rubescens japonicus 黄腹鹨 Huáng fù liù

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant in spring (late March to May, peaking in April) and autumn (September to November, peaking in late September). Rare in winter. Recorded in all months except June and July.

Total calls: 19

Date range: 8 October to 19 October (peak: 9 on 11 October)

Note that all of the recordings of Buff-bellied Pipit occurred in the hour before sunrise.

Example call: Buff-bellied Pipit, 11 October @ 0617 hrs

 

CARRION CROW Corvus corone 小嘴乌鸦 Xiǎo zuǐ wūyā

Status in Beijing: Common resident with numbers supplemented by migrants in winter.

Total calls: 18

Date range: recorded on four dates – 17 October @ 0621 hrs, 19 October @ 0618 hrs, 26 October @ 1721 hrs and 30 October @ 0627 hrs

Note that all of the calls of this species occurred within 15 minutes of sunrise or sunset.

Example call: Carrion Crow, 26 October @ 1721 hrs (sunset 1720 hrs)

 

GREAT BITTERN Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān

Status in Beijing: Mostly a passage migrant in spring (late March to May) and autumn (late August- November). Possibly has bred and occasionally stragglers overwinter, especially in city parks (e.g. Olympic Forest Park). Recorded in every month.

Total calls: 17

Date range: 14 September to 13 October (peak: 5 on 15 October)

Example call: Great Bittern, 6 October @ 1749 hrs

 

SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA Lonchura punctulata 斑文鳥 Bān wén niǎo

Status in Beijing: Not thought to have occurred naturally given its more southerly distribution and non-migratory status.  However, there are occasional records from sites across the capital, including the Olympic Forest Park, immediately to the north of the nocturnal recording site, all of which are thought to relate to escapes or deliberately released birds.

https://birdingbeijing.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/AIIB_20210921_051602-43-36-Scaly-breasted-Munia-example.wav

 

LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis (poggei) 小鸊鷉 Xiǎo pì tī

Status in Beijing: Abundant resident breeder; often congregates in large numbers in winter; race ‘poggei‘ (note pale eye compared with nominate).

Total calls: 13

Date range: 4 September to 8 October (peak: 6 on 9 September)

Given that Little Grebe is a common breeder in Beijing, including in the Olympic Forest Park immediately to the north of the recording site,  it is likely that the majority of the calls from this project relate to local birds rather than migrants.

Example call: Little Grebe, 26 August @ 2358 hrs

 

PURPLE HERON Ardea purpurea 草鹭 Cǎo lù

Status in Beijing: Local summer breeder and passage migrant from late March to September, with late migrants into October. Very rare November to mid-March. Best site Yeyahu, where it breeds colonially in reed beds alongside Grey Heron.

Image by A.Savin

Total calls: 13

Date range: recorded on just two dates – 9 September @ 1831 hrs and 16 September @ 2133 hrs.

Example call: Purple Heron, 9 September @ 1831 hrs

 

COMMON SANDPIPER Actitis hypoleucos 矶鹬 Jī yù

Status in Beijing: Passage migrant and rare winter visitor. Recorded in all months with peaks in May and late August to early September.

Total calls: 10

Date range: 26 August to 20 September (peak: 5 on 30 August)

Example call: Common Sandpiper, 27 August @ 0259 hrs

 

LAPLAND BUNTING (LONGSPUR) Calcarius lapponicus 铁爪鹀 Tiě zhǎo wú

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant and winter visitor, sometimes in large flocks (October to March).

Total calls: 9

Date range: recorded on three dates – 29 October @ 0006 hrs, 31 October @ 2037 hrs and 1 November @ 0455 hrs.

Example calls: three calls of Lapland Bunting (Longspur) from 29 October, 31 October and 1 November

 

GREY-HEADED LAPWING Vanellus cinereus 灰头麦鸡 Huī tóu mài jī

Status in Beijing: Passage migrant (March to October), with most records in spring. Possible occasional local breeder.

Total calls: 8

Date range: recorded only once, during rain, on 19 September @ 2229 hrs 

Example call: Grey-headed Lapwing, 19 September @ 2229 hrs

 

LARGE-BILLED CROW Corvus macrorhynchos 大嘴乌鸦 Dà zuǐ wūyā

Status in Beijing: Common resident in both rural and urban Beijing, with the resident population likely supplemented by migrants in winter. The default crow in the mountains.

Total calls: 8 

Date range: recorded on only one date – 1 November @ 0642 hrs (one minute before sunrise @ 0643 hrs).  

Given the time, just before sunrise, this recording may relate to a local bird.

Example call: Large-billed Crow, 1 November @ 0642 hrs

 

SPOTTED REDSHANK Tringa erythropus 鹤鹬 Hè yù

Status in Beijing: Passage migrant in Spring (late March to June) and in autumn (late August to November).

Total calls: 7

Date range: 26 to 30 September (peak: 4 on 26 September)

Example call: Spotted Redshank, 26 September @ 0507 hrs

 

CHINESE GROSBEAK Eophona migratoria 黑尾蜡嘴雀 Hēi wěi là zuǐ què

Status in Beijing: Common resident in urban Beijing. Less common in rural areas. Easy to see in the larger parks.

Total calls: 7

Date range: recorded only once, on 1 November @ 0452 hrs

Example calls: Chinese Grosbeak, 1 November @ 0452 hrs

 

BLACK-FACED BUNTING Emberiza spodocephala 灰头鹀 Huī tóu wú

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant and uncommon winter visitor (late August to May). Spring passage peaks in late April and early May and autumn passage peaks in late September and early October. Rare in June and no records in July.

Total calls: 7

Date range: recorded only one, on 14 September @ 0347 hrs but see note on buntings.

Example recording: Black-faced Bunting, 14 September @ 0347 hrs (with Common Rosefinch)

 

CHINESE BLACKBIRD Turdus mandarinus 乌鸫 Wū dōng

Status in Beijing: A fairly common but local resident, particularly in urban areas such as the large parks, embassy district and in Shunyi. Some movement in spring and autumn and arrivals of birds sometimes recorded.

Total calls: 7

Date range: recorded on three occasions – 18 September (0316 hrs), 8 October (0534 hrs) and 30 October (0640 hrs). The latter two were within an hour of sunrise.

Example call: Chinese Blackbird, 30 October @ 0640 hrs

 

LITTLE CURLEW Numenius minutus 小杓鹬 Xiǎo biāo yù

Status in Beijing: Rare passage migrant with between 10-20 records up to mid-2020, all since 2004. Most recorded in late April to May and late August to early September. 

Total calls: 5

Date range: recorded on two dates – 7 September @ 2041 hrs and 9 September @ 2358 hrs.

Example calls: Little Curlew, 9 September @ 2358 hrs

 

BROWN SHRIKE Lanius cristatus 红尾伯劳 Hóng wěi bóláo

Status in Beijing: Local breeder and common passage migrant in spring (peaking in May) and autumn (mid-Aug-Sep, peaking in late August). Stragglers into October.

Total calls: 4

Date range: recorded on three dates – 27 August @ 0044 hrs, 2 September @ 0033 hrs and @ 2255 hrs, and 6 September @ 1952 hrs.

Example call: Brown Shrike, 6 September @ 1952 hrs

 

BLYTH’S PIPIT Anthus godlewskii 布氏鹨 Bù shì liù

Status in Beijing: Scarce passage migrant in spring (late April and May) and autumn (second half of August and September, exceptionally in early October).

Total calls: 3

Date range: recorded on one date – 10 September @ 0106 hrs

Example calls: Blyth’s Pipit, 10 September @ 0106 hrs

 

RED-THROATED PIPIT Anthus cervinus 红喉鹨 Hóng hóu liù

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant in spring (April and May) and autumn (late August to October, peaking in late September).

Total calls: 3

Date range: recorded on only two dates – 21 September @ 0557 hrs (sunrise 0602 hrs) and 29 September @ 0551 hrs (sunrise 0608 hrs).  

The nocturnal call of Red-throated Pipit is not the explosive, single-note diurnal flight call, with which most birders are familiar, but instead a downward-inflected series of 2-4 calls.

Note that the calls of Red-throated Pipit during this project were all recorded within 17 minutes of sunrise.

Example call: Red-throated Pipit, 20 September @ 0551 hrs

 

GREY PLOVER Pluvialis squatarola 灰斑鸻 Huī bān héng

Status in Beijing: Scarce passage migrant in spring (March to May) and autumn (August to November).

Total calls: 3

Date range: recorded on only one date – 10 September @ 0223 hrs (2 calls) and @ 0258 hrs (one call)

Example call: Grey Plover, 10 September @ 0223 hrs

 

GREY-TAILED TATTLER Tringa brevipes 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù

Status in Beijing: Rare passage migrant with only seven previous records, three of which were in September (12 September 2012, 8 September 2014 and 13 September 2019).

Total calls: 2

Date range: recorded on only one date – 19 September @ 0123 hrs (2 calls)

Example calls: Grey-tailed Tattler, 19 September @ 0123 hrs

 

WATER PIPIT Anthus spinoletta (blakistoni) 水鹨 Shuǐ liù

Status in Beijing: Common winter visitor and passage migrant (October to May).

Total calls: 1

Date range: recorded on 24 October @ 0631 hrs (sunrise @ 0634 hrs)

Example call: Water Pipit, 24 October @ 0631 hrs

 

ROSY PIPIT Anthus roseatus 粉红胸鹨 Fěnhóng xiōng liù

Status in Beijing: Scarce and local breeder in alpine meadows in the mountains. Also a scarce passage migrant in spring (April and May) and autumn (September) in lowland Beijing.

Total calls: 1

Date range: recorded only once on 11 September @ 0012 hrs

Note: the call of this species is very similar to Meadow Pipit but range and status suggests this call is most likely a Rosy Pipit.

Example call: Rosy Pipit, 11 September @ 0012 hrs

 

WOOD SANDPIPER Tringa glareola 林鹬 Lín yù

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant in spring (April-May) and autumn (August-September). Scarce in June and July and October-November.

Image by J J Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au)

Total calls: 1

Date range: recorded on one date – 26 August @ 2338 hrs

Example call: Wood Sandpiper, 26 August @ 2338 hrs

 

COMMON GREENSHANK Tringa nebularia 青脚鹬 Qīng jiǎo yù

Status in Beijing: Passage migrant in spring (late March to May) and autumn (July to October). 

Total calls: 1

Date range: recorded on one date – 26 September @ 0247 hrs

Example call: Common Greenshank, 26 September @ 0247 hrs

 

LITTLE RINGED PLOVER Charadrius dubius 金眶鸻 Jīn kuàng héng

Status in Beijing: Passage migrant and summer breeder (March to October). Very rare in winter.

Total calls: 1

Date range: recorded on one date – 27 September @ 2222 hrs

Example call: Little Ringed Plover, 27 September @ 2222 hrs

 

NORTHERN SHOVELER Anas clypeata 琵嘴鸭 Pí zuǐ yā

Status in Beijing: Primarily a scarce passage migrant in spring (peaking in March and April), and autumn (September to November). Very scarce winter visitor and rare in June, July and early August.

Image by

https://birdingbeijing.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/AIIB_20211001_021502-29-04-Northern-Shoveler-example.wav

 

TAIGA FLYCATCHER Ficedula albicilla 红喉姬鹟 Hóng hóu jī wēng

Status in Beijing: Common passage migrant in spring (April and May, peaking in early May) and autumn (late August to October, peaking in first half of September).

Total calls: 1

Date range: recorded on one date – 10 September @ 0322 hrs

Example call: Taiga Flycatcher, 10 September @ 0322 hrs

 

=====

A note on ‘tseep’ thrushes, flycatchers and buntings

Although many species are identifiable from their nocturnal calls, there are a few groups that are tough to identify to species, partly due to the fact that several species give similar calls and partly due to the quality of the recordings, making them difficult to analyse in detail.  Three such groups are the ‘tseep’ thrushes, flycatchers and ‘tick’ buntings.

‘tseep’ thrushes

A total of 909 calls of ‘tseep’ thrushes were recorded between 25 August and 2 November. Many of the East Asian thrushes give a ‘tseep’ call in flight, superficially similar to Redwing in Europe.  From (mostly diurnal) calls on Xeno-canto, the species in East Asia that give a ‘tseep’ call include, at least, Eyebrowed Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush, Grey-backed Thrush, Pale Thrush and possibly also Siberian Thrush.  It is likely that Chinese Thrush also gives a similar call but I can find no flight calls online for this species.  The so-called “winter thrushes” – Naumann’s, Dusky, Red-throated and Black-throated – seem to give different calls, and their migration windows are later, so shouldn’t provide too much of an issue for ‘tseep’ thrushes in August and September, but there remains difficulty in separating them from each other.

In a Beijing context, judging from sight records, one would expect Eyebrowed to be the most common of the group to be recorded at night.  Eyebrowed is responsible for at least half of the sight records of the thrush species that go ‘tseep’ on eBird from the same period, over multiple years.  Although Grey-sided and Chinese Thrushes breed in the mountains around Beijing, neither is common and sight records are scarce in the city.  All of the others – Grey-backed, Siberian and Pale – are scarce to rare migrants in Beijing. However, their elusiveness and habitat preferences may mean that sight records underplay their true status.  

Below is a simple status of the ‘tseep’ thrushes in Beijing, based on sight records submitted to birdreport.cn and eBird.

EYEBROWED THRUSH Turdus obscurus 白眉鸫 Báiméi dōng

Passage migrant in spring (April and May, with most records in mid-May) and autumn (September and October, peaking mid-September). Most records come from the larger parks in the city such as Temple of Heaven Park and the Olympic Forest Park, as well as university campuses.

GREY-SIDED THRUSH Turdus feae 褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng

A scarce and local summer breeder in the mountains (April to September). Rare on passage in lowland Beijing (mid-May and September).

GREY-BACKED THRUSH Turdus hortulorum 灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng

Rare passage migrant, winter visitor and occasional breeder. Most records April and May, and September and October.  

SIBERIAN THRUSH Zoothera sibirica 白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng

Rare passage migrant in spring (May) and autumn (September and October).

PALE THRUSH Turdus pallidus 白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng

Rare winter visitor and passage migrant from September to May.

This basic status, given the overlap in autumn migration windows, cannot tell us much, except perhaps about the likelihood of occurrence based on abundance.

The chart below shows the volume of ‘tseep’ thrush calls by date.

There is a significant peak between 7-14 September, with smaller peaks on 18-19 September and 28-29 September.  Only 26 calls were recorded through the whole of October, with none in the first two days of November, the last days of recording.

The peak of 7-14 September fits well with the peak in sight records of the most common ‘tseep’ thrush in Beijing – Eyebrowed Thrush – and one can speculate that a large proportion of the calls originate from this species.  We are planning to take a closer look at these calls over the coming weeks and will update any findings here.

Flycatchers

We recorded 856 presumed flycatcher calls.  East Asia is blessed with a range of migratory flycatchers and, in a Beijing context, at least six are regularly sighted on migration.  Three of these – Darks-sided, Asian Brown and Grey-streaked – are Muscicapa flycatchers, similar to western Europe’s Spotted Flycatcher.  The other three – Yellow-rumped, Green-backed and Taiga – are Ficedula flycatchers, similar to European Pied and Red-breasted Flycatchers.  Other Ficedula species such as Slaty-backed and Mugimaki are rare.  It is possible the Cyanoptila flycatchers (Blue-and-White and Zappey’s) may give nocturnal flight calls but, although Zappey’s breeds in Beijing, both are scarce to rare migrants in the capital and little, if anything, is known about their nocturnal calls, if they call at all at night.

We know from the great work by the Sound Approach team that the Ficedula and Muscicapa flycatchers in Europe have distinctive sonogram types and it should be possible to catalogue most of the Beijing flycatcher calls to one or other of these families.  Identifying to species level will be challenging given current knowledge but more sound recordings of these flycatchers may provide clues in due course.

Buntings

We recorded 4,250 ‘tick’ bunting calls.  Many buntings in East Asia utter a ‘tick’ flight call and, although most are distinguishable in the field, it is not uncommon to see ‘bunting sp. heard’ in birders’ field notes for birds not seen well.  There has been some work on the East Asian buntings and, with reasonable quality recordings, it is possible to identify some of the recordings to species level.  This work will be done over the next few weeks.  From sight records we can expect Little Bunting to be by far the most common.  

Updates will appear here when available.