On Sunday, Libby and I visited the Great Wall at Jinshanling. The stretch between there and Simatai is walkable and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside as well as a real sense of history. The Wall, including all its branches, covers an astonishing 8,800 km and consists of sections built between the 5th Century BC and the 16th Century. Originally erected to keep out the nomadic tribes of Mongolia, nowadays it is probably China’s greatest tourist attraction.
On Sunday’s visit, birds were few and far between. The calls of Chinese Hill Warbler and Pere David’s Laughingthrush were frequently heard and the occasional Red-billed Blue Magpie seen. A Kestrel made a brief appearance but the star of the show went to a new species for me in China – Alpine Accentor – one of which alighted on the wall as we were enjoying our picnic lunch.
On Saturday I paid my third visit to Wild Duck Lake in the company of Jesper Hornskov, his wife Aiqin, and a visiting Danish bio-chemist, Max. It was a glorious but coolish day, about the fourth consecutive day of good weather. We arrive in good time, at about 0715 and were immediately greeted with good numbers of Asian Short-toed Larks, several hundred Bean Geese, a few flyover Lapland Buntings and a smaller flock of geese that included 2 Bar-headed Geese (my first) and some Swan Geese. A juvenile mongolicus Herring Gull was loafing at the edge of the lake and, on the water, were 120+ Ruddy Shelducks, a single drake Pintail, good numbers of Smew and a few Goosander. On a small island, several juvenile heinei Common Gulls congregated, along with a couple of Spotted Redshank and 2 Grey Plover.
The very pleasant walk around produced 2 Short-eared Owls, 80+ Common Cranes (most of which arrived in the afternoon, clearly fresh in), several Buff-bellied Pipits, a single Water Pipit, 3 Chinese Grey Shrikes, 2 (possibly 3) Upland Buzzards, a single Peregrine (probably of the form peregrinator), a handful of Black-headed Gulls, double figures of Chinese Spot-billed Duck, 6 Common Pochard, good numbers of Little and Great Crested Grebe, one or two Reed Buntings and 20+ Pallas’s Reed Buntings.
Today was the first day since arriving in Beijing that my walk around the garden produced not a single phylloscopus warbler. Everything seems to have cleared out with the cold front that passed through at the weekend. Just 2 Daurian Redstarts remain. It’s beautiful weather in Beijing right now with excellent visibility and clear skies with that fresh late autumnal feel… magic.
I should have spotted the omens… After a weekend of pretty grotty weather (misty, smoggy and generally pretty foul), the forecast was for a cool, fresh and breezy day on Monday in Beijing. Amazingly, I bumped into Jesper Hornskov at the opera on Sunday night (you didn’t realise we were so cultured did you?) – a Chinese production of Handel’s ‘Semele’. And quite exquisite it was too…
Before the opera started, Jesper said he was going to go to the ridge above the Botanical Gardens in the morning for visible migration. I knew that it would be a good day – the first clear and fresh day after the passage of a cold front in October would almost certainly be a big migration day. The devil on my shoulder was telling me to go with him. But the angel on my other shoulder reminded me of my workload. The devil tempted me with thoughts of Pallas’s Rosefinches, Imperial Eagles and Upland Buzzards. I was about to give in when the angel reminded me that I had to get a draft press article to my Chinese contacts by lunchtime (which I hadn’t even started drafting!). Even if I went out for the morning and worked all afternoon and evening I would miss the deadline. Having listened to both the devil and the angel make their equally persuasive cases, I (stupidly, as it turned out) went with the angel and decided I just couldn’t go…
When I hadn’t heard from Jesper by 4pm I knew he must have been having a good day and was probably still on the ridge (mysteriously, there is no mobile signal on the ridge). Then, at 17:30, came the text message. Now, let me just say that I was prepared for him to have seen some good stuff, and I steeled myself that I would probably have missed a few birds of prey, maybe a few Buzzards, and the odd flock of passerines but I wasn’t prepared for this: 27 Greater Spotted Eagles, 1+ Imperial Eagle, 2-3 Golden Eagles, 35 Goshawks, 81 Common and 2 Upland Buzzards, 117 Sparrowhawks, Chinese Leaf Warbler, 4 Pallas’s Rosefinches, 44 Pine Buntings and 4800 Brambling.. Gulp.
A walk around the garden this morning (my first for a few days) revealed a large fall of Pallas’s Warblers. There were at least 50 with 10 in one relatively small bush! The light was pretty poor but I was able to capture the image below, using ISO 1000.
I was pretty pleased with myself and fancied myself as a bit of an Arthur Morris until I saw these.. simply stunning!
An early morning trip with Jesper to the Botanical Gardens and walk up to the ridge produced a few good birds, despite the mist and low cloud that enveloped the hills. One of the best birds for me was Chinese Hill Warbler, often heard but a lot more difficult to see. Jesper used his cunning Chinese Hill Warbler imitation call to lure this one out of dense cover for a few seconds as it came to investigate.
Other birds included Pere David’s Laughingthrush, at least 5 Pine Buntings,Eastern Rock Bunting, Tristram’s Bunting, Rustic Bunting (a pair feeding on the track), several Yellow-throated Buntings (stunning birds), many Little Buntings, some cracking Siberian Accentors, a single Water Pipit (flyover), Yellow-bellied, Great and Long-tailed Tits, Eurasian Siskin, Oriental Greenfinch, Chinese Blackbird, Red-flanked Bluetail, Daurian Redstart, Common Rosefinch,Common Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, lots and lots of Pallas’s Warblersand several Naumann’s Thrushes.
Thrushes and buntings are certainly on the move now, with many small flocks of the former flying over which, unfortunately due to the poor visibility, remained unidentified (although Jesper picked out a Red-throated in one of the closer flocks). It’s getting steadily colder with the first frost predicted for next week. Will be interesting to see what is on the move after that…
A cold front passed Beijing today… cold and rainy all day. A quick 10-minute walk through the garden produced at least 5 Red-flanked Bluetails which, together with the 12 I saw in Ritan Park yesterday, almost (but not quite) equals the total number of Bluetails seen in the UK this autumn! Alan Tilmouth posted an interesting piece about the increase in UK records this year – worth a read.