A Birder’s Guide To The Great Wall

Birders are well known the world over for shunning even the most impressive tourist attractions in favour of a few hours birding, especially if there are a few local specialities to be seen. However, unlike in many capital cities, Beijing offers the chance to record some special birds whilst simultaneously experiencing one of the most awe-inspiring tourist attractions in the world – The Great Wall (Chinese: 長城, pinyin: chángchéng).

One of the most frequent queries I receive here at Birding Beijing is whether it’s possible to combine a day’s birding with a visit to the Wall.  So I thought it high time I produced this “Birder’s Guide To The Great Wall.”

The first thing to say is that, whichever section you visit, the Great Wall is majestic and it’s entirely possible to forget about birding when walking along the ramparts enjoying the stunning views and trying to imagine the incredible effort that went in to building this monumental construction that stretches from China’s east coast in Liaoning, Hebei and Tianjin through Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Shaanxi to Ningxia and Gansu Provinces in the west. The first sections were completed around 200BC; if you are interested in the history of the Great Wall, there is a good piece here.


There are several sections of the Great Wall within easy reach of Beijing city.  The advantages of these sites are that the travel time is relatively short and getting there is relatively easy. The disadvantages are that they are mostly restored sections, meaning they are not the most authentic, and they are busy. And busy in China means BUSY (87,500 visitors were recorded at Badaling on one day during “Golden Week” in October 2014 – see here for some astonishing photos of what the crowds can be like at peak times). For those of you who simply want to say you’ve seen or visited the Great Wall and want to prioritise birding elsewhere, these are the sites for you.

For those of you who prefer a more authentic experience and like to have space to turn around without the risk of knocking out multiple tourists with your binoculars, one of the more remote sections might be a better choice. The advantages of these sites are that they are usually, at least partially, in original condition (i.e. unrestored) and attract fewer visitors. The disadvantages are that they are harder to get to, usually requiring multiple public buses or hiring a private car and driver (remember it’s not possible to rent a self-drive car in China without a Chinese Driving License), have fewer, if any, facilities and the travel time will likely be much longer.

Another option, especially for those who like to walk and hike, is to take a tour with Beijing Hikers – a wonderful, and cost-effective, way to see some of the wilder sections of the Great Wall.  A little more on this option is at the end.

Whichever option you choose, I can (almost) guarantee that you will not be disappointed with The Great Wall. It’s spectacular.

Now I can hear you saying “ok, ok… that’s enough about the Wall, but what about the birds?!” Well, as you might expect, the diversity of birds at the Great Wall is relatively low. However, it is possible to see some of Beijing’s specialities such as Beijing Babbler, Plain Laughingthrush, Chinese Nuthatch, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit and Meadow Bunting.  And, in winter, there is a chance of something special such as Siberian Accentor or Pallas’s Rosefinch. The species possible at each site are essentially the same, so there is no major benefit in visiting one site over another in terms of the species you are likely to see. However, that said, the busier sections with greater human disturbance are likely to produce fewer species.

Of course, the potential species will also depend on season and weather, and numbers of the migrant birds will vary from year to year.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher is a relatively common breeder in the mountains around Beijing.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher is a relatively common breeder in the mountains around Beijing.

Below is my number one recommendation for those birders with only one free day and who want to combine birding with a visit to the Great Wall. After that is a guide to each individual section of the Great Wall that details accessibility via public transport and by private car, travel time, entrance fees, comments on authenticity and the number of visitors and, finally, a list of potential birds.


My recommendation for the birder with only one free day who wants to combine birding with visiting the Great Wall (provided the visit is between late March and late November) – is to visit Yeyahu Wetland Reserve combined with the Badaling section of the Great Wall.

Yeyahu is a an impressive wetland site and a national nature reserve with breeding species including Eastern Marsh Harrier, Amur Falcon, Chinese Penduline Tit, Yellow Bittern, Oriental Reed Warbler and, sometimes, Schrenck’s Bittern among others. A downloadable PDF guide, detailing the possible bird species and logistics of getting there and back, is available on this site. The drive to Yeyahu takes the visitor along the G6 Badaling Expressway, passing the most popular section of the Great Wall – Badaling. A day-trip to Yeyahu can be easily combined with a stop at Badaling, usually on the return journey, if using a private car. A longer stop can also add a visit to the nearby, less disturbed, Badaling Forest Park where more mountain species should be possible (e.g. Yellow-rumped and Green-backed Flycatchers, Asian Stubtail, Yellow-throated Bunting and, possibly, Chinese Tawny Owl). This day out combines great birding, particularly in spring and autumn, with a walk along the most famous Wall in the world. And although Badaling is perhaps not the most spectacular option for experiencing the Great Wall, one could argue that experiencing the crowds at Badaling, especially at a weekend, adds to the “China experience”.  Note that both the Yeyahu Nature Reserve and Badaling Forest Park are closed from late November to late March so, if visiting outside this window, one of the options below will be more appropriate.  The Great Wall sites are open all year round.

The impressive tower hide at Yeyahu National Wetland Park, one of Beijing’s best birding sites.
The impressive tower hide at Yeyahu National Wetland Park, one of Beijing’s best birding sites.

Detailed Options

For those visiting birders looking for options to visit the Great Wall and do some birding at the same time, the options below are the most convenient.  However, please note this list is not exhaustive and there are many additional places to access the Great Wall, some of which are completely wild with no infrastructure and no facilities. Unless one is fully prepared and an experienced hiker, ideally with some Chinese, I would caution against attempting to visit these sites and instead stick to one of the options below. Whichever option you decide, you’re sure to have an unforgettable day.

  1. Badaling (Chinese:八达岭; pinyin: Bādálǐng)


Badaling is the section of the Great Wall most easily accessible from central Beijing. It’s around 70km from the city but almost entirely along the G6 Badaling Expressway, making the journey straightforward and fast, traffic permitting.

By Public Bus:

Take public bus number 877 from Deshengmen (north 2nd ring road), about 10 minutes’ walking from Jishuitan subway station (Exit B2) on subway line 2. It is a non-stop bus taking about an hour, traffic permitting, and costing CNY 12 per person. The drop-off site is close to the cable car station and about 10 minutes walk to the entrance.  Please note that the last departure from Deshengmen is at 12:30.

Bus Operating Time:

From Deshemngmen: Apr. 1 to Nov. 15: 06:00-12:30; Nov. 16 – Mar. 31: 06:30-12:30
From Badaling: Apr. 1 to Nov. 15: 10:30-17:00; Nov. 16 – Mar. 31: 11:00-16:30

By Train:

Trains (number S2) depart from Huangtudian Railway Station, which is near the Huoying Station along subway line 8 and subway line 13. A single journey takes about 1.5 hours and the fare is CNY 6. Not surprisingly, one should alight at Badaling Railway Station; the entrance to the scenic area is a 15 to 20 minutes’ walk. Just follow the passenger flow or direction boards and one will get there easily.  There are free shuttle buses between S2 train station and cable car station.

By private car:

Take the G6 Badaling Expressway from Beijing city and follow signs. Journey time: around 1 hour without heavy traffic. Parking is available for a small fee.

Admission Fee: CNY 45 (Apr. 1 to Oct.31); CNY 40 (Nov.1 to Mar.31)
Cable Car: CNY 40 (single way); CNY 60 (round trip)
Opening Hours: 06:40 to 18:30


Badaling is a relatively complete section of the Wall but recently renovated, so not completely authentic. Nevertheless, it’s impressive and there are lots of facilities (restaurants, souvenir sellers etc).


Due to its accessibility, Badaling is probably the busiest section of the Great Wall and numbers of visitors, especially at weekends and during holidays, can be astonishing.


A number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. In addition, at the foot of the Wall, where the buses drop and pick up passengers, it’s possible to walk uphill to a vegetated gully that can sometimes produce more species. A visit to the nearby Badaling Forest Park, with a series of quiet forested trails, will likely add more species to your total (see below for instructions on how to get there).

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

Getting from Badaling Great Wall to Badaling Forest Park

To get from Badaling Great Wall to Badaling Forest Park, you’ll need to head west from the Wall towards Badaling town, then turn left under the G6 expressway and head straight on the S216.  After a few hundred metres, you’ll come to a T-junction.  Turn left here and, soon after, you’ll head into a tunnel.  Immediately after exiting the tunnel, you’ll see an area of rough ground immediately on your right.  Park here and walk up the narrow road (almost back the way you came) to find the entrance to the Badaling Forest Park.  After paying the modest entrance fee, walk inside and enjoy one or more of the circular trails.


Beijing Babbler
Beijing Babbler is a common resident in the hills around Beijing. Listen for its distinctive calls.

2.  Mutianyu (Chinese: 慕田峪; pinyin: Mùtiányù)


Mutianyu is a similar distance from central Beijing, also restored, significantly less crowded, and has greener and more scenic surroundings. Historically, most tour groups did not go here, so this is generally a better option than Badaling. The journey is not all along the Expressway, so it usually takes a little longer than to Badaling. Mutianyu has a cable car to get onto and off the wall (though walking via stairs is advisable for birders). If you are feeling adventurous, there is a toboggan ride down.

By public bus:

From Dongzhimen Bus Station (northeast 2nd ring road and subway line 2), you should take bus line 916 Express or 916 to Huairou North Avenue (Huairou Beidajie) Station. The 916 Express is recommended, costing just CNY 12 and takes 60-70 minutes. Then, transfer to bus line h23, h24, h35, or h36 to Mutianyu Roundabout.  From here, walk about 450 meters to the ticket office of the scenic area.

By private car:

Take the Jingcheng Expressway (G45) to the northeast of Beijing. Take exit 13 onto Beitai Road towards Kuangou. After 3.6km take the left turn to Miaocheng Road and then right onto Qiaoping Road towards Shengquan Mountain. Follow signs to Mutianyu Great Wall.


The Schoolhouse (a restaurant and accommodation company in Mutianyu) also offers a schoolbus at weekends that goes to and from the Kempinski Hotel in Liangmaqiao area of Beijing (northeast 3rd ring road) to their restaurant that is a 10-minute walk from the Wall.   It departs Beijing at 09:00 and the Schoolhouse at 16:30. The cost is CNY 110 for a one-way trip or CNY 132 for a same day round trip. Reservations must be made online at The Schoolhouse website.

Admission Fee: CNY 45, CNY 25 for students only with ID containing a photo. In addition, the cable car to the wall costs more than the wall entrance: CNY 65 for adults (one way), or CNY 80 for a round trip (CNY 45 for children). The total price is CNY 158 for admission, shuttle bus to the ski lift both ways, ski lift and toboggan ride.

Cable Car: CNY 40 (single trip), CNY 80 (round trip); children between 1.2 and 1.4m height CNY 40; children under 1.2m height FREE

Opening Hours: April to October: 8:00 to 17:00; November to March: 8:30 to 16:30


The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is also restored but is in more beautiful surroundings with vast, albeit not original, forests.


Although not as busy as Badaling, Mutianyu still attracts large numbers of visitors, especially at weekends and during holidays. However, by walking just a few hundred metres from the main thoroughfares, it’s usually possible to get away from the largest crowds. The walk up and down is far less popular than the cable car, and the birding can be good, so taking this route is advisable for birders.


As with Badaling, a number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. The walk up and down, instead of the cable car, is recommended and can produce some good birds. For example, during my most recent visit in early June 2016, it was relatively straightforward to see Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Russet Sparrow and Daurian Redstart and we were lucky with a pair of displaying Chinese Sparrowhawks.

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

Pallas’s Rosefinch is a scarce winter visitor to the hills around Beijing and is a possibility during any winter trip to the Great Wall.
Pallas’s Rosefinch is a scarce winter visitor to the hills around Beijing and is a possibility during any winter trip to the Great Wall.

3. Jinshanling (Chinese: 金山岭; pinyin: Jīnshānlǐng)


The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is located in the mountainous area in Luanping County, 125 km northeast of Beijing. This section of the wall is connected with the spectacular Simatai section to the east and some distance to the west is the Mutianyu section. Although it is further out, meaning fewer visitors, the journey is almost entirely along expressway, the G45 Jingcheng Expressway, meaning the journey time is usually 2-2.5 hours each way, depending on traffic.

By public bus:

Take subway line 13 (Exit D) or subway line 15 (Exit C) to Wangjing West Station. From here it’s possible to take a tourist bus to Jinshanling. The bus departs at 8:00 and returns at 15:00. The bus fare is CNY 32. The trip takes about 2 to 2.5 hours each way.

Please note that the direct tourist bus only operates during peak travel season (April 1 to November 15) and departs when there are at least 20 passengers. Otherwise, you need to take an alternative route (see below).

Take a tourist coach from Wangjing West Subway Station to Luanping, and get off at Jinshanling Service Area. Duration is about 100 minutes and ticket price is CNY 32 per person. Then, take a free shuttle bus to either gate of the scenic area. You can also hike from the Service Area to the scenic area; the distance is about 2 kilometers.

Schedule              Onward Trip                     Return Trip

Coach                  7:00 to 16:30 every 40 mins     6:30 to 16:00 every 40 mins

Free Shuttle Bus  10:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:30       10:30, 11:30, 13:30, 15:00

By private car:

Take Jingcheng Expressway from Beijing (towards Chengde) for around 120km and take the exit signposted Jinshanling Great Wall.

Admission Fee: CNY 65 March 16th to November 15th, CNY 55 November 16th to March 15th.

Cable Car: CNY 40 for single trip

Opening Hours: 0800 to 1700


Jinshanling, although also restored in places, is more authentic and attracts fewer visitors given its distance from Beijing. It connects with the spectacular Simatai section and a hike from one to the other is simply awe-inspiring. At the time of writing, however, the Simatai section is under renovation and it’s forbidden to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. Even without that option, Jinshanling is still very impressive and my personal favourite of the easily accessible sections.


Being further out than Badaling and Mutianyu, Jinshanling attracts fewer visitors and I have been there on a weekday with the Wall almost to myself. That’s unusual but it gives a sense of how much less visited this section is compared with Badaling or Mutianyu.


As with Badaling and Mutianyu, a number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. The calls of Beijing Babbler and Plain Laughingthrush will almost certainly attract your attention at various points along the Wall and doing some homework to learn the calls of these two talented vocalists will help to distinguish them in the field.

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

The pretty Meadow Bunting is a resident in the hills around Beijing and is commonly encountered during visits to the Great Wall.
The pretty Meadow Bunting is a resident in the hills around Beijing and is commonly encountered during visits to the Great Wall.

4. Other sites

In addition to the three main sites described above, there are many other, wilder, sections that will almost certainly provide the birder with more chance of connecting with the resident birds but will require either a convoluted series of buses or private transport to get there and back. Two of the better options are Gubeikou and Jiankou.

4.1  Gubeikou (Chinese: 古北口 , pinyin: Gǔběikǒu)

The Gubeikou section of the Great Wall has never been reconstructed. Hence, it is somewhat dilapidated but retains its original beauty and offers a more authentic experience. Even though they are crumbling, the wall and watchtowers are wonderful to hike and, with very few people around, the opportunity to see wildlife will be increased.


Gubeikou is located in the northeast of Miyun County, about 120 kilometers northeast of central Beijing.

By public bus:

Take bus 980 Express from Dongzhimen station to Miyun Bus Station; and then bus Mi 25 to Gubeikou. From there, you will need to hike up to the Great Wall.
Bus schedule:

Onward Trip       Return Trip                            Fare

980 Express         6:00- 20:00   4:30- 18:30        CNY 17

Mi 25                     6:10-18:20    6:20- 17:30        CNY 8

By private car:

Take the Jingcheng Expressway. After around 115km take the exit to Gubeikou. Park in the village and hike up to the Wall.

4.2  Jiankou (Chinese: 箭扣, pinyin: Jiànkòu)

The Jiankou section of the Great Wall is one of the wildest. It is also the most photographed section due to its precipitous peaks and attractive scenery. “Jiankou” means “arrow nock”, because the shape of the mountain is like an arrow, with the collapsed ridge opening as its arrow nock.


To reach Jiankou Great Wall you must go to Xizhazi Village or Wofo Mountain Villa.

Bus routes to the two destinations are initially the same; go to Dongzhimen Station (subway lines 2 or line 13), and then take bus 936 at Dongzhimen Wai Station. Get off at Yujiayuan Station, and then take one of the following:

To Xizhazi Village: transfer to bus H25 at Yujiayuan to Xizhazi Station.

To Wofo Mountain Villa: transfer to bus H36 at Yujiayuan to Xinying Station. Walk north to the mountain villa.

Bus schedule and prices:

Bus                      Price                    Operating Time

No.936                CNY 6                 From Dongzhimen Wai: 6:40 – 17:10

From Yujiayuan: 4:35 – 17:00

No. H25              CNY 4                 From Yujiayuan: 11:30, 16:30

From Xizhazi: 6:00, 13:15

No. H36              CNY 3                 From Yujiayuan: 6:20, 11:30, 17:40

From Xinying: 7:05, 12:15, 18:30

An alternative for birder/hiker hybrids

Another option, especially for those who like to hike, is to take a trip with Beijing Hikers.  Although this means you will be with a group (usually 5-20 people), the hikes take place at some spectacular and rarely visited sections of the Wall.  The pace is relaxed, meaning you have ample opportunity to stop and scan for birds, and the price is very reasonable when one considers the transport and provision of refreshments (much cheaper than hiring your own car and driver).  Beijing Hikers usually offer several alternative hikes on any given day and pick-ups are from the Liangmaqiao area (northeast 3rd ring road, easily accessed by metro line 10).  Beijing Hikers is run by lovely people and they have great guides.   As well as being superb hikes, they’re a lot of fun, too.  You can check out their website here.

Please note that this information is correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of writing. However, things change, so if you are aware of any errors or omissions, please contact Birding Beijing on birdingbeijing@gmail.com so that they can be corrected for the benefit of others.

This guide is also available as a PDF download from the “Site Guide” section of the Birding Beijing website.

Experience World Class Yellow Sea Migration And Support The Local Conservation Effort

Are you free in mid-April, want to experience the world-class migration along the Yellow Sea coast AND support the local conservation effort?  If so, keep reading…

A local NGO called Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China (SBSC) is organising a special eleven-day tour for birders to showcase the spectacular migration of the Yellow Sea, connecting with some very special birds, including Spooner, whilst contributing to the effort to preserve this globally important habitat.

For background, the East Asian Australasian Flyway is the greatest flyway on the planet, stretching from the Taimyr Peninsula and Alaska in the north through China, Japan and the Koreas to Australia and New Zealand in the south.  In total, the flyway passes through 22 countries and is used by more than 50 migratory species.  The Yellow Sea is of vital importance to these birds, comprising a series of stopover sites where they can refuel, rest and moult their flight feathers during these mind-boggling journeys.


As most readers will know, much of the important intertidal mudflats along this stretch of coast have been reclaimed, causing the populations of many shorebirds to decline, most prominently the ‘Critically Endangered’ Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Thankfully, there is a large conservation effort dedicated to saving what remains of the intertidal mudflats and, importantly, there are an increasing number of local organisations and NGOs leading this effort.  One such organisation is “Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China (SBSC)”, a Jiangsu-based NGO led by the impressive Li Jing.  Established in 2008, SBSC focus on conserving the biodiversity along the Jiangsu coast. The team conducts regular waterbird surveys, promotes birding and nature observation activities, introduces people to the unique marine culture and improves conservation awareness among local communities, including schools, fishermen unions and business.

SBSC is a key partner of the China Coastal Waterbird Census Group (CCWCG).  The Census Group was established in 2005, training birdwatchers in bird identification and counting methods.  Surveys have been conducted by volunteers every month since September 2005, and it is widely recognised as the most successful example of citizen science in China.

To help promote the area to international birders and raise money to support the conservation effort, Li Jing and her colleagues have arranged a special tour for birders this April.  Running from 11-21 April, the tour will start and finish in Shanghai and will take in Rudong, the most important site in the world for Spooner, as well as a day’s pelagic trip and visits to nearby sites in Wuyuan, Nanjing hills and Huangshan.  The mouthwatering list of species likely to be encountered includes Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher, Little Curlew, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Saunders’s Gull, Black-faced Spoonbill, Reed Parrotbill, Blue-crowned Laughingthrush, Masked Laughingthrush, Hwamei, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Short-tailed Parrotbill, Dusky Fulvetta, Chinese Bamboo Partridge and many others including Pied Falconet.

The “Magic Wood” at Rudong can be buzzing with migrants in spring and autumn.

Participants will have the added bonus of being guided by the best – Li Jing, Chen Tengyi, Han Yongxiang and Shanghai’s finest, Zhang Lin.  These birders have been surveying this part of the coast for more than 10 years and discovered the importance of Rudong for Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Birders could not be in better hands!

Li Jing, leader of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China NGO
Zhang Lin, Shanghai’s leading birder and discoverer of Rudong as the most important stopover site for Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Chen Tengyi, from Chongming Island and an accomplished bird-whistler, skills learned from former hunters.
Han Yongxiang, a wildlife illustrator from Lianyungang

At the time of writing there are 6 places available on the trip and interested birders are invited to contact Li Jing via email at info@sbsinchina.com for more information.

It promises to be a wonderful experience and, as well as seeing some special birds, participants will be helping the local effort to save these globally important sites.

Cover photo of Spoon-billed Sandpiper by Chen Tengyi.

Snow Bunting – new for Beijing

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


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

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

Rare 19th Century Bird Art Discovered In China

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_5488 img_5490 img_5487 img_5486 img_5485 img_5484 img_5483


Beijing Cuckoos Continue To Inspire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016: What A Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luo Peng in her element – with local children in Hainan

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016-05-04 Theunis lecture1
Professor Theunis Piersma delivers his lecture to Beijing-based birders at The Bookworm, Beijing, in May 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rare And Scarce Birds In Beijing 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

2016-04-23 Besra, Baiwangshan
The status of BESRA in Beijing is unclear, given the difficulty of separating it from the much more common JAPANESE SPARROWHAWK. This appears to be the second documented record.

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

2016-05-10 Narcissus Flycatcher 1s male, Wenyu He Jian Guohao
This first summer male NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER was the second documented record for Beijing (郝建国, Hǎo jiànguó)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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