Ibisbills at Bai He

On Sunday we visited the Bai He valley (about 2 hours north of Beijing city).  It’s an attractive drive when the weather is good and the pollution levels low, as was the case for our visit.  The Bai He valley is well known in Beijing birding circles as one of the few remaining sites in Beijing Municipality where one can see the unique Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii).  “Unique” is an overused word but, as a descriptor for the Ibisbill, it is surely appropriate.  The Ibisbill belongs to the order Charadriiformes which also includes sandpipers, plovers, terns, auks, gulls, skuas and others but is sufficiently distinctive to merit its own family, Ibidorhynchidae.  The species is named in honour of Dr. Struthers of Glasgow who collected specimens of the bird from the Himalayas in the 19th century.

Many people see their first Ibisbill on a vast, flowing stony river at high altitude in the Himalayas and it almost seems a little surreal to find them on a narrow river near China’s capital where it competes with sickly-looking domestic ducks and, at this time of year, tourists paddling downriver in inflatable dinghies…

Despite the disturbance, which also includes a steady flow of tourists following the completion of a wooden boardwalk along the area favoured by these special birds, the Ibisbill is hanging on, a good example of the resilience of nature.

We saw three individuals today in exactly the same spot as when I first visited this site shortly after I arrived in China in 2010.

Ibisbill, Bai He valley, Beijing, 15 July 2012. One of three seen today.
One of the signs along the new boardwalk in the Bai He valley.
Good advice….

The Ibisbills at Bai He have proved very popular with birders visiting Beijing over recent years.  Long may that continue!

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