Migrants

I spent half an hour this afternoon looking for migrants around Central Park.  Again, there were plenty of birds to be seen in this tiny oasis in the Central Business District of China’s capital city of 20 million plus residents.  First up, at least 3 calling Yellow-browed Warblers caught my attention, closely followed by 2 probable Arctic Warblers.  Next up, at what I have already realised is the favoured haunt of migrants, a small clump of dense bamboo with some young trees in a relatively quiet south-east corner, a juvenile Taiga Flycatcher was flitting between the trees, revealing itself by its soft trill, in the company of two more Arctic Warblers.  Then, just as I sat down to watch, a real surprise appeared on top of the tree just a few metres away – a juvenile Brown Shrike!  It seemed an unlikely setting for any shrike and I managed to take a short video clip with Beijing’s highest building – the World Trade Center – as a backdrop..

As if this wasn’t enough, a Stonechat flew in and settled briefly on the top of a nearby shrub before taking flight again and continuing towards the south and then a very large ‘acro’ warbler appeared briefly before disappearing again into a clump of bamboo..  I didn’t get much on it except for the fact it was large (at least Great Reed Warbler size), fairly plain warm brown upperparts with slightly paler underparts and no obvious supercilium.  I am thinking it might have been a Thick-billed Warbler or possibly Oriental Great Reed Warbler but it will have to go down as one that got away as I didn’t see it again in the 30 minutes.

I am sure my observations are nothing out of the ordinary, so I guess the migrants on view here in the city reflect the still enormous numbers of the breeding bird populations to the north in the vast expanse of the Siberian taiga.  It is difficult to imagine a Shrike of any sort in a major central London green space such as Hyde Park or Green Park, let alone in a very artificial and tiny green space around a modern tower block development.  And it’s amazing for me to see these birds just a few yards from my flat.

Photos below, video to follow.

1st winter Taiga Flycatcher, Central Park, Beijing, 7 Sep 2010 (check out those uppertail coverts!)
1st winter Taiga Flycatcher, Central Park, Beijing, 7 Sep 2010
1st winter Brown Shrike, Central Park, Beijing, 7 Sep 2010 (note the brown crown, dark lores, relatively plain mantle and very short primary projection)

Arctic Warbler

This morning I spent a couple of hours in our local green space – Ritan Park.  It’s about 5-10 minutes walk from the flat and is a focal point for just about any and every activity you can think of.  During my time there, I saw Chinese exercising, dancing, jogging (including backwards!), playing music, reciting poetry, walking dogs, sleeping, reading and flying kites…  Needless to say, I was the only birdwatcher and I attracted several puzzled looks as I focused my binoculars on, to most people, seemingly random trees and bushes.

I was pleasantly surprised that, among all this activity, there was much birdlife.  Dominated by the troupes of Azure-winged Magpies and Tree Sparrows, there were also Common Magpies, Spotted Doves, lots of Yellow-browed Warblers (their calls were a constant companion during my walk), a few Arctic Warblers, a probable Eastern-crowned Warbler (just didn’t see enough of it to be sure), a Great Spotted Woodpecker and, perhaps most surprisingly, a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker!

One of the Arctic Warblers favoured some low saplings in a relatively quiet area of the park and posed nicely for photographs.

Later, after returning to the flat to do a few hours work, I thought I’d try a local cafe for lunch (eating out is seriously cheaper than cooking yourself!) and was delighted to see on the menu a page with the wonderful title “Global Treasures”.  Included in this list was that age-old Chinese favourite – Fish and Chips.  Result!

Arctic Warbler, Ritan Park, Beijing, 6 September 2010
Arctic Warbler, Ritan Park, Beijing, 6 September 2010
Arctic Warbler, Ritan Park, Beijing, 6 September 2010
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Ritan Park, 6 September 2010

Garden Birds

Our flat is in a very modern development with a few ornamental trees planted in between the tower blocks.  So, on a walk around the area this morning, I was very pleasantly surprised to see Arctic Warbler (3), Yellow-browed Warbler (2) and a single Taiga Flycatcher foraging in the shrubs and among the tops of the trees.  I did not have my camera to hand but I will go out early tomorrow to see whether they are still around and, hopefully, grab a few images…

Spooners

Today I have been trying to arrange a trip down to Shanghai to see migrating Spoon-billed Sandpipers at Rudong.  There have been 8 of these critically endangered waders on site in the last few days and September is a reliable month to see them at this estuary site.  I am hoping to go next weekend, catching the overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai (around 9 hours) and then meeting up with local birder Zhang Lin for the 3-hour drive to Rudong…  exciting stuff!

By the way, I have a short video of the Ibisbill in flight but, with no access to Youtube or Vimeo, I haven’t been able to upload it..  I know there are Chinese ‘Youtube’ equivalents which I will try to work out (they are in Chinese only) but if anyone out there has any tips on uploading videos to the web from China, let me know!

Big thunderstorms overnight – spectacular from our large flat window on the 17th floor.

Hello from Beijing!

Hello from Beijing!

The hot news is that I have already seen Ibisbill!  More on that in a minute….

“Wow!” just about sums up my first impressions..  we have a great flat in a modern high-rise development called “Central Park”.  Not quite the same as its namesake in New York but, nevertheless, it’s a cool area right in the centre..  With a Metro station on our doorstep (and each journey costing just 2 Yuan  – that’s about 20 pence in UK money and less than 2 Kroner in Danish) – we have easy access to the city’s hotspots, and there is a lovely traditional Chinese restaurant just 10 minutes walk away where we enjoyed a 2-course meal and a beer for just GBP 4 (DKK 32).  Did you hear that, Copenhagen???

I think we are going to enjoy our year here…

Anyway, the birds..  As expected, there doesn’t seem to be much about in the city itself, although I haven’t visited any of the major parks yet.  The best I have seen in the vicinity of the flat is Tree Sparrow, Common Magpie and Azure-winged Magpie plus a single Hobby that zipped between the high-rise buildings yesterday afternoon (would have made a great photo if I had had my camera!).

But you don’t have to go far to start to see some good birds.  On Sunday I met up with Jesper Hornskov, legendary Danish birder who has been living in China for the last 20 years or so..  Together with an Australian based English guy we visited a site just 90 minutes north of Beijing.  The terrain soon begins to get hilly not far outside Beijing and there are many valleys with fast-running streams and rivers.  We headed for a particular site on the Bai River, a reliable site for the magnificent Ibisbill.  After the 0515 start, we arrived at 0645 and our driver dropped us at the beginning of the riverside track.  Immediately we heard and then saw two Crested Kingfishers (monsters!) and it wasn’t long before we caught sight of our main target – the Ibisbill.  We were lucky enough to enjoy good views of at least 2 birds (probably 3) as they fed among the stones and rocks.  Fantastic birds.  After enjoying these birds for about half an hour we began to explore further along the track.  The whole area, despite the new development and obvious disturbance (there was one guy wading through the river using electrocution to try to catch fish!), is good for birds.  The full list seen included (in order of appearance):

Crested Kingfisher, Blue Hill Pigeon, Magpie, Tree Sparrow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Large-billed Crow, Stonechat (ssp maura), Grey Heron, Pere David’s Laughing Thrush, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail (ssp leucopsis), Hobby, Yellow-browed Bunting, Common Kingfisher, Mallard, Ibisbill, Black-capped Kingfisher, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Songar Tit, Taiga Flycatcher, Mandarin, Common Sandpiper, Grey-headed Woodpecker (heard only), White-throated Needletail (25+), Vineous-throated Parrotbill, Oriental Turtle Dove, Chinese Spot-billed Duck, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Tit, Spotted Dove, Black Drongo, Barn Swallow and Yellow-browed Warbler.

Not a bad start to my Chinese birding experience…

More soon.

Ibisbill, Bai River, north of Beijing 29 August 2010
Blue Hill Pigeons, Bai River, north of Beijing, 29 August 2010