In mid-June, during a period of easing of Covid-related travel restrictions, I was able to visit Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain. June is always a brilliant month to visit with breeding birds in full song and a vast array of insects, including some special butterflies.
The recording below is of the dawn chorus on the morning of 17 June 2022. It begins with the song of the White-bellied Redstart and includes Chinese Leaf, Claudia’s Leaf and Hume’s Warblers, Siberian Blue Robin, Chinese Thrush and many more. At a little over 17 minutes in total, it’s perfect for a tranquility break – put on your headphones, sit back and relax!
This is a summary of the rare, scarce and notable birds in Beijing in 2021. Although I have included all information to which I have access, this summary is certainly not comprehensive. In particular, the number of previous records for species stated below is based on publicly available records, and may not be fully accurate. If you know of any errors or additions, please comment at the end of this post or contact me directly via email/WeChat so that they can be corrected or added.
New records include Beijing’s 1st SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERArdenna tenuirostris 短尾鹱 Duǎn wěi hù, KAMCHATKA WARBLERPhylloscopus examinandus 堪察加柳莺 Kān chá jiā liǔ yīng and GREY-CROWNED WARBLERPhylloscopus tephrocephalus 灰冠鹟莺 Huī guān wēng yīng, and the 1st and 2nd records of BLUE-FRONTED REDSTARTPhoenicurus frontalis 蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú
The 1st record of CHESTNUT-CHEEKED STARLING 紫背椋鸟 Zǐ bèi liáng niǎo (of questionable origin)
The 1st and 2nd documented records of Vega Gull Larus vegae 西伯利亚银鸥 Xībólìyǎ yín ōu. Note that Vega Gull (L.vegae) and Mongolian Gull (L.v.mongolicus) are treated as the same species by Chinese taxonomic authorities.
The 2nd record of SANDHILL CRANEGrus canadensis 沙丘鹤 Shāqiū hè
The 2nd record of WOOD WARBLERPhylloscopus sibilatrix 林柳莺 Lín liǔ-yīng
Possibly only the 2nd record of BROWN-HEADED THRUSHTurdus chrysolaus 赤胸鸫 Chì xiōng dōng
Possibly only the 2nd, 3rd and 4th records of PALE SAND MARTINRiparia diluta (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn)
The 3rd NORTHERN WHEATEAROenanthe oenanthe 穗䳭 Suì jí
The 3rd and 4th records of BLACK BITTERN Dupetor flavicollis 黑鳽 Hēi yán
The 3rd, 4th and 5th records of BESRAAccipiter virgatus 松雀鹰 Sōng què yīng
The 4th REDWINGTurdus iliacus 白眉歌鸫 Báiméi gē dōng
The 4th record of COMMON RINGED PLOVERCharadrius hiaticula (剑鸻 Jiàn héng)
The 5th record of RED-CROWNED CRANEGrus japonensis 丹顶鹤 Dān dǐng hè
The 5th record of BONELLI’S EAGLEAquila fasciata 白腹隼雕 Bái fù sǔn diāo
The 5th record of GREAT WHITE PELICANPelecanus onocrotalus 白鹈鹕 Bái tí hú
The 5th, 6th and 7th records of GREY-TAILED TATTLERTringa brevipes 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi [piào] yù
A WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHERHalcyon smyrnensis 白胸翡翠 Bái xiōng fěicuì in the Olympic Forest Park, a rare vagrant with very few recent records.
A month by month summary of the birding highlights from Beijing in 2021 is below, in chronological order. It is worth noting that Beijing does not yet have a committee to assess the accuracy of records, and some of the reports outlined in this summary without photos, audio or descriptions, are taken at face value. It’s possible that some may be reviewed if and when a committee is created.
A big THANK YOU to the thousands of birders who have shared news of sightings throughout the year, whether via WeChat, email, eBird, Birdreport.cn or any other means. There is no doubt that sharing bird news has helped many people to see new and unusual species for the first time, building the knowledge base among birders in Beijing and, importantly, enthusing more people about the natural world. Particular thanks to Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou, Wei Zichen, “Oriental Stork”, Gao Xiaoyan and Colm Moore for providing written accounts of their spectacular finds this year (see links in text), to Paul Holt for providing comments and additional information on a draft of this post, to 大好 for providing additional records, to Wei Chunzhi for assistance, and to the photographers – including Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou, 大好 DaHao, Guan Xueyan, “Oriental Stork”, Gao Xiaoyan, Dave Guo, Colm Moore, Su Peng and 清子Zoey – for granting permission to use their images to illustrate this summary.
For highlights of the latest bird news in Beijing click here. And for a basic summary of the Status of the Birds of Beijing, click here. Contributions, corrections and additions always welcome!
Here’s wishing everyone a healthy, happy, rewarding and bird-filled 2022.
Birding Highlights of 2021 Month by Month
January 2021 2021年1月
Early January saw a few wintering rarities and scarcities from late 2020 staying into the new year, including two ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARDButeo lagopus 毛脚鵟 Máo jiǎo kuáng at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 1st (黑眼豆豆), a WESTERN WATER RAILRallus aquaticus 西方秧鸡 Xī fāng yāng jī at Shahe Reservoir on 2nd (麦克曹), remaining until 7 March at least, two BROWN-EARED BULBULMicroscelis amaurotis 栗耳短脚鹎 Lì ěr duǎn jiǎo bēi in Yuyuantan Park (无名浪客), up to ten JANKOWSKI’S BUNTINGEmberiza jankowskii 栗斑腹鹀 Lì bān fù wú at Ming Tombs Reservoir, with the last report of three seen on 20 March, a MEADOW PIPITAnthus pratensis 草地鹨 Cǎodì liù that remained until 22 March, also at Ming Tombs Reservoir, and a YELLOWHAMMEREmberiza citrinella 黄鹀 Huáng wú seen on and off at the same site.
Eleven DAURIAN PARTRIDGEPerdix dauurica 斑翅山鹑 Bān chì shān chún were seen at Lingshan on 2nd (大牙齿 458, XiaoPT et al.), a notable record given the recent decline in the number of reports of this species in the capital. There was a NORTHERN LONG-TAILED TITAegithalos caudatus 北长尾山雀 Běi cháng wěi shān què in Chaoyang Park on the 4 & 5 January while another was at Nanhaizi on 9th (李云帆). The third of the month stayed longer, remaining in Yuanmingyuan Park from the 31 January to 26 February.
On 8th, a NORTHERN LAPWINGVanellus vanellus 凤头麦鸡 Fèng tóu mài jī at Yuxinzhuang, Tongzhou (ameramer) was a rare winter record. On 10th there was the first of what turned out to be a series of records of SCALY-SIDED MERGANSERMergus squamatus 中华秋沙鸭 Zhōng huá qiū shā yā from the Summer Palace (via Liu Aitao and Zhang Xiaoling) with up to 1,000 COMMON MERGANSERMergus merganser 普通秋沙鸭 Pǔ tōng qiū shā yā and a single RED-BREASTED MERGANSERMergus serrator 红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā. On 11th there were three RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIXLeiothrix lutea (红嘴相思鸟, Hóng zuǐ xiāngsī niǎo) of unknown origin in the Botanical Gardens (Wang Qihan) and, on 12th, the count of COMMON MERGANSERMergus merganser 普通秋沙鸭 Pǔ tōng qiū shā yā at the Summer Palace reached an estimated 1,200 (_星畔_). Possibly only Beijing’s 2nd BROWN-HEADED THRUSH Turdus chrysolaus 赤胸鸫 Chì xiōng dōng was reported from the Olympic Forest Park on the 13th (稻草大魔王).
The overwintering LESSER WHITETHROATSylvia curruca 白喉林莺 Báihóu lín yīng was seen again on 14th and 15th January in the Agricultural Exhibition Center Park (niaotu and 麦克曹 respectively) and remained until at least 16th March. On 16th January, a female SCALY-SIDED MERGANSERMergus squamatus 中华秋沙鸭 Zhōng huá qiū shā yā was found along the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), staying on and off until at least 14 February.
A second YELLOWHAMMEREmberiza citrinella 黄鹀 Huáng wú was reported from Cuihu Wetland on 21st (夜色阑珊) and the next day at least ten BROWN-EARED PHEASANT Crossoptilon mantchuricum, 褐马鸡 Hè mǎ jī were recorded at Da’anshan Forest Station (restricted access) (Zhang Shen, XiaoPT, 大牙齿 458 et al.). A COLLARED CROWCorvus torquatus 白颈鸦 Bái jǐng yā, apparently with a damaged wing, at Yongdingzhen on 25th January (Wang Xiaobo) remained until 30th at least.
On 30th, an instructive Buteo sp. showing some characteristics of Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus) was found along the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend). After excellent photographs were obtained by 没着落 (Méi zhuóluò) and Wang Yibin, the ‘file’ was sent to world raptor expert, Dick Forsman, who suggested it was most likely an intergrade between Eastern Buzzard (Buteo japonicus) and Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus).
The month ended with the excellent find of a ROSY PIPITAnthus roseatus 粉红胸鹨 Fěnhóng xiōng liù along the Wenyu River on 31st (Liu Aitao), possibly the first winter record of this species in Beijing.
February 2021 2021年2月
On 7th there was a GREATER SCAUPAythya marila 斑背潜鸭 Bān bèi qián yā at the Tongzhou-Dayunhe Forest Park (netfish) and a JAPANESE GROSBEAK at Jingzhongdu Park, Fengtai (小小小小鱼). On 8th an exceptionally early LITTLE RINGED PLOVER was at the Qingshui River (Catherine Dong). 11th saw reports of a very early PACIFIC SWIFT and a RUFOUS-BELLIED WOODPECKER from Liangshui River, Tongzhou (ericblue). A MUTE SWANCygnus olor 疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é was reported from the Liangshui River on 14th (京通燕雀), the same day that a spectacular count of 842 LITTLE GREBETachybaptus ruficollis 小鸊鷉 Xiǎo pì tī was reported from the Yunhe near the Yulinzhuang Bridge, Tongzhou (通州大好). On 18th a REDWINGTurdus iliacus 白眉歌鸫 Báiméi gē dōng was found at the Institute of Botany (Wang Qihan), remaining until 24th at least, only the fourth Beijing record. Two BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā), were at the Summer Palace on 22nd (天书) with another at Yuanmingyuan the next day (应武), increasing to two on 24th and 25th. The first BARN SWALLOWS (家燕 Jiāyàn) of the year were reported from the Summer Palace on 24th (Hang Ye). A NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) was at Yangtaishan Rosefields on the 26th (Wang Xiaobo).
March 2021 2021年3月
A report of 560 SWAN GOOSE (鸿雁 Hóngyàn) at Cuihu Wetland Park on 3rd was possibly a record count for Beijing (夜色阑珊) but are they wild? On the same day, a MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) was at the Yongding River, Junzhuang Village (D逍遥法外) and an adult PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) was at Shahe Reservoir (Anonymous). On 6th there were two PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (hermitress geng) and a female BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā) at Dayunhe Forest Park (Qiuyang Zheng), with two of the latter remaining in Yuanmingyuan (SANGSANG). The 7th will live long in the memory for 大好 as he photographed Beijing’s second SANDHILL CRANE (沙丘鹤 Shāqiū hè) at Miyun Reservoir.
On 8th there was a fantastic count by Colm Moore of 25+ taimyrensisLESSER BLACK-BACKED (SIBERIAN) GULL (乌灰银鸥 Wū huī yín ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (5 ads, 15+ first-winter types and 5 sub-adults, probably 2nd winter) and another BAER’S POCHARD (青头潜鸭, Qīng tóu qián yā青头潜鸭) at Nanhaizi (amal amer). On 12th there were four MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) at the Liangshui River (Zongzhuang Sanderling Liu). On 14th a RED-NECKED GREBE (赤颈䴙䴘 Chì jǐng pì tī) was reported from Nanhaizi (SANGSANG) and news broke of a SIBERIAN CRANE (白鹤 Báihè) that had been satellite-tracked (but not seen) over Beijing (Zhou Haixiang via Liu Yang). Four LESSER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (小白额雁 Xiǎo bái é yàn) were at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 16th (Colm Moore), remaining until 19 April, and two MUTE SWAN (疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é) were at Shahe Reservoir on the same day (niaotu). On 18th, two BROWN-EARED PHEASANT (褐马鸡 Hè mǎ jī) and a WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER (白背啄木鸟 Bái bèi zhuó mù niǎo) were at Xiaolongmen (XiaoPT, 大牙齿 458 et al.) and, on 19th the first COMMON SWIFT (普通楼燕 Pǔtōng lóu yàn) of the year was reported from Baiwangshan (atz088). On 20th, Beijing’s first documented record of Vega Gull was an excellent find by Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou and Wei Zichen at Shahe Reservoir. Note that the Chinese taxonomic authority treats Vega Gull (Larus vegae) and the much more frequent Mongolian Gull (Larus vegae mongolicus) as the same species.
Also on 20th, four EURASIAN CURLEW (白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù) were at Ma Chang (Zongzhuang Sanderling Liu, Liu Chunhong and Xu Shi). On 21st there was a EURASIAN TREECREEPER (旋木雀 Xuán mù què) at Xiaolongmen (Jun Yang et al.) and an unusual lowland record of a RED-BILLED CHOUGH (红嘴山鸦 Hóng zuǐ shān yā) from the Olympic Forest Park (Xu Jun). On 24th three BLACK-TAILED GULL (黑尾鸥 Hēi wěi ōu) were at Shahe Reservoir (Guan Xueyan et al.) – see photo here. At least one had been present since the 20th with four reported there on the 22nd; two remained until 29th and one into early April. On 28th there was a NORTHERN WHEATEAR (穗䳭 Suì jí) at the DaShi River (关翔宇,丫丫鱼（万伟）和北京飞羽的志愿者们) and a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí) at Yeyahu (yaohongbo). On 29th a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) was at Baiwangshan (via 黑眼豆豆). The month ended with five ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鸻 Dōngfāng héng) at the Liangshui River, Tongzhou (D逍遥法外) on 31st, a rare record away from the most frequented site of Ma Chang.
April 2021 2021年4月
April began with the unlikely occurrence of a SOOTY TIT 银脸长尾山雀 Yín liǎn cháng wěishān què in the Temple of Heaven Park (麦克曹) on 1st. Given that this species is considered resident and has a distribution in the mountains of Central China, plus the location of Temple of Heaven, it is most likely this individual was an escape or deliberate release.
One of the star birds of the year was a BONELLI’S EAGLE (白腹隼雕 Bái fù sǔn diāo) photographed at Baiwangshan on 4th (一缕清风, Zhou Chun, Bu Xinchen et al.), possibly only the fifth record for the capital. Also on 4th an alba WHITE WAGTAIL (白鹡鸰 Bái jí líng) was at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), remaining until 6th at least. On 10th, a pale morph BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) was at Shahe Reservoir (Zhang Weimin). On 11th there was a LESSER KESTREL (黄爪隼 Huáng zhǎo sǔn) at Baiwangshan and an ORIENTAL STORK (东方白鹳 Dōngfāng bái guàn) at Shahe Reservoir (both records by 天书). On 13th there were three BOOTED EAGLES (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (amal amer et al.). On 14th there was a BESRA (松雀鹰 Sōng què yīng) at the same site (atz088) and a rare spring record of STEPPE EAGLE (草原雕 Cǎoyuán diāo草原雕 Cǎoyuán diāo) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore). There was another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan on 15th (atz088) and yet another at Shahe Reservoir the following day (Guan Xueyan), when there was also a COLLARED CROW (白颈鸦 Bái jǐng yā) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Anonymous). A COMMON RINGED PLOVER (剑鸻 Jiàn héng) on 17th was a great find by Colm Moore and, on the same day, there was a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) in the Temple of Heaven Park (amal amer et al.) and another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (Ge Mengshuai et al.). The 24th produced a BAILLON’S CRAKE (小田鸡 Xiǎo tiánjī) at HuoYing (Wang Xiaobo) which stayed until at least 3 May. There were two (female) SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER (中华秋沙鸭 Zhōnghuá qiū shā yā) at Shahe Reservoir on 26th (amal amer et al.) and, on 29th, both NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN (Bái fù máo jiǎo yàn) and ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN (烟腹毛脚燕 Yān fù máo jiǎo yàn) were reported from Baiwangshan (果茶2020, 山阴秋雁 and atz088, 云飞扬, 一缕清风, taizhoudragon et al. respectively). Also on 29th a LITTLE STINT (小滨鹬 Xiǎo bīn yù) was at Ma Chang (amal amer and Terry Townshend) and a PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) was at Shahe Reservoir (天书). The month ended with a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) in the Olympic Forest Park on 30th (Catherine Dong).
May 2021 2021年5月
May began with a bang when two PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) were photographed at Shahe Reservoir (Dave Guo). This species is hard to identify in the field and is presumably an often overlooked passage migrant.
Also on 1 May were two BOOTED EAGLES (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Baiwangshan (云飞扬), a remarkable eight GREEN-BACKED FLYCATCHER`S (Lǜ bèi jī wēng) reported from Temple of Heaven Park (jmj) and a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at Yangtian Village, Tongzhou (通州大好). On 2nd, there was another BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Yeyahu (alphah) and GREY-BACKED THRUSHES (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Hóu shí yá, Mentougou (无名浪客) and Yuyuantan Park (sunliemily). On 4th a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) was seen at Baiwangshan (Zhou Tingting), there was a NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN (白腹毛脚燕 Bái fù máo jiǎo yàn) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore) and a rare lowland record of a male PLUMBEOUS WATER REDSTART (红尾水鸲 Hóng wěi shuǐ qú) at Peking University campus (Dave Guo et al.). On 6th another PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) was seen well at close quarters at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend), there were two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) at Shahe Reservoir (Jun Shuai), and there was a rare lowland record of an ALSTRÖM’S WARBLER (淡尾鹟莺 Dàn wěi wēng yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (David Mou) with an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at the same site (Zhang Xiaoling). On 8th there was at least one, and up to three, PALE SAND MARTIN (淡色沙燕 Dàn sè shā yàn) at the Chaobai River (Terry Townshend), a GREATER PAINTED SNIPE (彩鹬 Cǎi yù) at Shahe Reservoir (Dave Guo) and a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Nanhaizi (Liu Zhiheng). On 9th there was another lowland ALSTRÖM’S WARBLER (淡尾鹟莺 Dàn wěi wēng yīng) and an EYEBEROWED THRUSH (白眉鸫 Báiméi dōng) at Temple of Heaven Park (Liu Chunhong et al.), an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo), an EYEBROWED THRUSH (白眉鸫 Báiméi dōng) and a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at the ChaoBai River (Catherine Dong and DaHao) and two more BOOTED EAGLE (靴隼雕 Xuē sǔn diāo) at Yeyahu (Lin Yiwei and Ge Mengshuai). The 10th produced the first and second of the year’s five MUGIMAKI FLYCATCHER (鸲姬鹟 Qú jī wēng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (蛐蛐) and in Tongzhou (大好), with two GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at the former site.
On 11th, RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were in the Olympic Forest Park (Grady Singleton) and at Peking University campus (Dave Guo). On 12th there was a SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) at Shahe Reservoir (Stefan Andrew) and RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were still at Peking University campus and at Liuyin Park (Shu Zhu via amal amer). The 13th produced possibly only Beijing’s third BLACK BITTERN (黑鳽 Hēi yán) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore) with a female SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) at the same site and a male SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) was in the Temple of Heaven Park (天书). On 14th a male SLATY-BACKED FLYCATCHER (锈胸蓝姬鹟 Xiù xiōng lán jī wēng) was found in the Olympic Forest Park (Terry Townshend) with an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at the same site.
Also on 14th, the male SIBERIAN THRUSH (白眉地鸫 Báiméi di dōng) was still in the Temple of Heaven Park, where it had been joined by a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) (茶 茶丸), with both remaining until 16th at least. On 15th there was a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Zichen Zhou) and at Ma Chang there was a single RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù), two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) and a TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) (Wang Xiaobo). On 16th the two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) and a TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) at Ma Chang were joined by a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER (尖尾滨鹬 Jiān wěi bīn yù) (Zheng Qiuyang). A CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was a nice find at HuoYing (Wang Xiaobo) on 17th and Beijing’s first GREY-CROWNED WARBLERPhylloscopus tephrocephalus 灰冠鹟莺 Huī guān wēng yīng was photographed in Yuanmingyuan Park 17 May 2021 (Song Huiqiang et al. via Paul Holt). A PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) was at Peking University campus on 18th (Dave Guo), and a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí) was at Baiwangshan on 19th (Yi Lin). On 20th there was a LESSER CUCKOO (小杜鹃 Xiǎo dùjuān), a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) (flying north) and an ASHY MINIVET (灰山椒鸟 Huī shānjiāo niǎo) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore). On 22nd a SCHRENCK’S BITTERN (紫背苇鳽 Zǐ bèi wěi jiān) was at DaYunHe Forest Park (Wang Xiaobo), one of few reports of this species in 2021. Also on 22nd, a report of three BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) at Wanshou Anshan, Mentougou (Oriental Stork) and a GREY-SIDED THRUSH (褐头鸫 Hè tóu dōng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Li Xingyu). On 23rd, a wonderful flock of 20 ASIAN DOWITCHER (半蹼鹬 Bàn pǔ yù) was found at Shahe Reservoir (云天) and an ORIENTAL CUCKOO (北方中杜鹃 Zhōng dùjuān) was at Cuihu Wetland Park (Ge Mengshui). On 26th a PIED WHEATEAR (白顶䳭 Bái dǐng jí), was at DaShiHe (大牙齿 458) and, the following day, the second BLACK BITTERN (黑鳽 Hēi yán) of the year, and possibly only Beijing’s fourth, was reported from Ruilinwan Hot Spring Resort (独行虾 Bird.soong). On 29th there were three (two female and one male) ASIAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER (Terpsiphone paradisi 寿带 Shòu dài) in the Olympic Forest Park (David Mou et al.) and a BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) was sound recorded at the same site (Lu Zhuofei). Also on 29th, a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) was at the DaYunHe Forest Park (Wang Xiaobo). On 30th a CINNAMON BITTERN (栗苇鳽 Lì wěi jiān) was in the Olympic Forest Park (天书) where it remained into June. A PHEASANT-TAILED JACANA (Hydrophasianus chirurgus 水雉 Shuǐ zhì) was a nice find at Shahe Reservoir on 31st (niaotu, pksunking, atz088, Wang Xiaobo et al.). In addition, a male Chestnut-cheeked Starling 紫背椋鸟 Zǐ bèi liáng niǎo of unknown origin was photographed in Yuanmingyuan sometime in May by an unknown observer.
Also on 1st a CHINESE BUSH WARBLER ((中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was at Shahe Reservoir (Wang Xiaobo). On 2nd the CINNAMON BITTERN (栗苇鳽 Lì wěi jiān) was joined by a BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (楼燕12138). On 3rd there was another SCHRENCK’S BITTERN (紫背苇鳽 Zǐ bèi wěi jiān), this time at Peking University campus, and on the same day a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was in the Botanical Gardens (Grady Singleton) and another CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) was at the Wenyu River with a BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) (Terry Townshend). Another BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (钝翅苇莺 Dùn chì wěi yīng) was at HuoYing on 5th (Wang Xiaobo). On 8th a BROWNISH-FLANKED BUSH WARBLER (强脚树莺 Qiáng-jiǎo shù-yīng) was reported from Miaofengshan (alphah) and on 9th came the remarkable news of a SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER (短尾鹱 Duǎn wěi hù) picked up exhausted the previous day at Tuancheng Lake near the Summer Palace, the first record for Beijing. On 10th a DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was seen flying south early evening at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend). 清子Zoey and friends found a GREY-TAILED TATTLER (灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi [piào] yù) in the Olympic Forest Park on 13th, perhaps only the fifth record for Beijing, and on the same day a TIGER SHRIKE (虎纹伯劳 Hǔ wén bóláo), was found in Fengtai District (Oriental Stork), with a pair seen later. Subsequently breeding was confirmed. A COMMON RINGED PLOVER (剑鸻 Jiàn héng) was reported from Ma Chang on 16th (Wang Qihan).
July 2021 2021年7月
On 11th there were two interesting records from Lingshan by Cory Gao with an unusual summer record of LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCH (长尾雀 Cháng wěi què) and a spectacular record of a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng). Also on 11th there was a LESSER COUCAL (小鸦鹃 Xiǎo yā juān), at Miyun Reservoir (Wang Xiaobo), which remained until 13th at least (amal amer, Liu Aitao et al.), when three YELLOW-LEGGED BUTTONQUAIL (黄脚三趾鹑 Huáng jiǎo sān zhǐ chún) were at the same site. Four RED KNOT (红腹滨鹬 Hóng fù bīn yù) were a nice find at Ma Chang on 18th (Zhao Xiaojian) and, on 19th, there was another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the Jiadaowan Grand Canyon Scenic Area, Miyun (te te). Two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) were at Ma Chang on 22nd (amal amer and Terry Townshend). On 24th Wang Qihan found a GREAT WHITE PELICAN (白鹈鹕 Bái tí hú) at Shahe Reservoir. This immature bird (2cy?) stayed until 26th at least and, although in good condition, fully winged, un-ringed and wary, some birders questioned its origin, pointing to the fact that this species is widely bred in captivity in China, with almost all breeders not marking captive birds through ringing or colour-banding.
A TEREK SANDPIPER (翘嘴鹬 Qiào zuǐ yù) was at ChaoBaiHe on 28th (Terry Townshend) with even better records of shorebirds the following day at Ma Chang when Liu Aitao, Lou Fangzhou and 大牙齿 458 found the second GREY-TAILED TATTLER (灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù) of the year, and possibly only Beijing’s sixth overall, a RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù), and a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù). The GREY-TAILED TATTLER 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù and RUDDY TURNSTONE (翻石鹬 Fān shí yù) were still at Ma Chang on 30th when they were joined by two EURASIAN CURLEW (白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù), a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER (尖尾滨鹬 Jiān wěi bīn yù) and two CURLEW SANDPIPER (弯嘴滨鹬 Wān zuǐ bīn yù) (Anonymous).
August 2021 2021年8月
A BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) was at Lingshan on 17th (Liu Aitao et al.) and on 21st a WHITE-THROATED KINGFISHER (白胸翡翠 Bái xiōng fěicuì) was found in the Olympic Forest Park by Guan Xueyan, a very rare vagrant in Beijing. On 25th there was a BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù) at Ma Chang (Li Zhaonan et al.) with a PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at the same site on 27th (Lu Zhuofei). An AMUR PARADISE FLYCATCHER (寿带 Shòu dài) was at Shahe Reservoir on 28th (Cinclus cinclus et al.) and, on 30th, another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) was at the Changping City Riverside Forest Park (amal amer et al.). The month ended with a BESRA at Changping City Riverside Forest Park on 31st (amal amer et al.).
September 2021 2021年9月
On 1st there were two DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (Xing Jiahua). On 2nd there was another DOLLARBIRD (三宝鸟 Sānbǎo niǎo) at Baiwangshan (Lang Dongchen) and, even better, a CRESTED GOSHAWK (凤头鹰 Fèng tóu yīng) at Miaofengshan (Colm Moore). On 3rd there was a BAILLON’S CRAKE (小田鸡 Xiǎo tiánjī) at the Binhe Forest Park (Zheng Qiuyang and Yan Shen) and, on 4th, a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) was at Shahe Reservoir (Oriental Stork et al.), remaining until 6th at least. Also on 6th there was a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) in the Olympic Forest Park (via David Mou). On 7th there were two juvenile BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (阔嘴鹬 Kuò zuǐ yù) and a juvenile DUNLIN (黑腹滨鹬 Hēi fù bīn yù) at Ma Chang (amal amer and Terry Townshend). On 10th there was a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore). On 13th there were two CHINESE BUSH WARBLER (中华短翅莺 Zhōnghuá duǎn chì yīng) at Changping City Riverside Forest Park (Jun Shuai) and, the next day, there were two more at Ming Tombs Reservoir, where there were also two PECHORA PIPIT (北鹨 Běi liù) (Colm Moore). Also on 14th there was a MANCHURIAN REED WARBLER (远东苇莺 Yuǎndōng wěi yīng) at Peking University campus (Sincera et al.), a 1cy BROWN-HEADED GULL (棕头鸥 Zōng tóu ōu) at Ma Chang (Terry Townshend) and only Beijing’s second ever WOOD WARBLERPhylloscopus sibilatrix 林柳莺 Lín liǔ-yīng was trapped and ringed at Hanshiqiao, Shunyi District (Li Zhaonan et al. via Paul Holt). On 19th Beijing’s 7th GREY-TAILED TATTLER 灰尾漂鹬 Huī wěi (piào) yù, and the 3rd of the year, was recorded at night from the roof of the AIIB building at 0123 hrs (Terry Townshend et al.). On 21st there were two ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN (烟腹毛脚燕 Yān fù máo jiǎo yàn) at Baiwangshan (Cinclus cinclus) and the following day there was a BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) in the Olympic Forest Park (amal amer , Su Peng et al.). A SWINHOE’S RAILCoturnicops exquisitus 花田鸡 Huā tián jī was a great find by 大好 at the ChaoBai River on 25th.
October 2021 2021年10月
On 4th there were four PECHORA PIPIT (北鹨 Běi liù) at the Wenyu River (Stefan Andrew). On 5th there was a 1cy NORTHERN HAWK CUCKOO at the Temple of Heaven Park (Cinclus cinclus), apparently present for several days and remaining until 10th at least. Also on 5th there was a RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at the Wenyu River (Terry Townshend) and two juvenile BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) at Shahe Reservoir (Chen Xier and Xiaowu). One of the BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (牛头伯劳 Niútóu bóláo) was still at Shahe on 7th, when one was also in Yuyuantan Park (Jia Yu). Also on 7th, there were three RUFOUS-TAILED ROBIN (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) at Tsinghua University campus (Hama King). On 10th there was a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) in the Temple of Heaven Park (铭俊 黄). RUFOUS-TAILED ROBINS (红尾歌鸲 Hóng wěi gē qú) were at Jingshan Park on 13th (via Frank Gao) and at Tsinghua University campus on 15th (Tz Hsuan Tseng). A juvenile RED-NECKED GREBE (赤颈䴙䴘, Chì jǐng pì tī) was at Ming Tombs Reservoir on 16th (Colm Moore) and, on the following day, there was no sign of the Red-necked but a SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) was on site instead, with the latter remaining until 21st at least (amal amer and Cinclus cinclus).
On 18th there was a GREATER SCAUP (斑背潜鸭 Bān bèi qián yā) at Huairou Reservoir (amal amer et al.) and two RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at Ming Tombs Reservoir (悟空天下), increasing to four on 21st (Su Peng, amal amer and Qian Dan’an). Also on 21st there was a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (红胸姬鹟 Hóng xiōng jī wēng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (安妮). On 24th there was a GREY-BACKED THRUSH (灰背鸫 Huī bèi dōng) at Tsinghua University campus (Tz Hsuan Tseng) and a PALE-LEGGED LEAF WARBLER (淡脚柳莺 Dàn jiǎo liǔ yīng) at the DaShi River (Stefan Andrew). On 28th there was a NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) at Lingshan (大牙齿 458, and Liu Aitao). Finally, on 30th there was a JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) at the Agricultural Exhibition Center (Stefan Andrew).
November 2021 2021年11月
On 3rd there was a confiding SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) at Yuanmingyuan (Ge Mengshuai) and another NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) at Yangtaishan Rosefields (Miaofengshan) (Jun Shuai), with two there the following day (Colm Moore). On 6th there was a very late female COMMON STONECHATSaxicola maurus (stejnegeri) 黑喉石䳭 Hēi hóu shí jí in the Olympic Forest Park (Catherine Dong). On 7th there was an ORIENTAL STORK (东方白鹳 Dōngfāng bái guàn) at Kangxi Grassland (Luo Shujin et al.). On 13th there was a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) at the Temple of Heaven Park (Cinclus cinclus et al.) and two SLAVONIAN (HORNED) GREBE (角䴙䴘 Jiǎo pì tī) at the Summer Palace (Richard Zhang). On 15th the RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (红胸姬鹟 Hóng xiōng jī wēng) was still at the Temple of Heaven Park (Zhou Zichen and Jun Shuai), where it was joined by two PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng). On 21st there were two RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at the DaYunHe Golf Course, Tongzhou (Catherine Dong) and a NORTHERN SHRIKE (灰伯劳 Huī bóláo) near Baihuashan (Terry Townshend et al.). On 23rd a COMMON GULL of the ssp kamtschatschensis (“Kamchatka Gull”), was at Ming Tombs Reservoir, a nice find by Colm Moore. On 24th there was a BROWN-EARED BULBUL (栗耳短脚鹎 Lì ěr duǎn jiǎo bēi) in Yuyuantan Park (Zichen Zhou) and two RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX (红嘴相思鸟, Hóng zuǐ xiāngsī niǎo) of unknown origin were in the Botanical Gardens (peng su et al.). The 27th was a magical day for 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé, known by his social media moniker of “Oriental Stork”) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyán) when they found a female BLUE-FRONTED REDSTART (蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú) at Shahe Reservoir (Oriental Stork et al.), the first record of this species in Beijing. This spectacular find remained until 30th at least.
Also on 27th there was a LONG-TAILED DUCK (长尾鸭 Cháng wěi yā) at Miyun Reservoir (Lou Fangzhou). On 28th a third-winter Vega Gull Larus vegae 西伯利亚银鸥 Xībólìyǎ yín ōu was at Shahe Reservoir (Terry Townshend), identified by a combination of the heavy streaking on the crown, neck and breast and, structurally, with a more rounded head, smaller size and relatively short-winged look compared with mongolicus.
December 2021 2021年12月
On 4th there were two RED-CROWNED CRANE (丹顶鹤 Dān dǐng hè) at Ma Chang (刘双祺 刘星语 田思译 黄明攀 布昕辰 et al.), remaining until 6th at least. One sported an engraved red colour ring, fitted on the breeding grounds at Zhalong Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province.
On 5th there was a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at the Summer Palace (天书). Remarkably on 7th a female BLUE-FRONTED REDSTART (蓝额红尾鸲 Lán é hóng wěi qú) was seen in the Botanical Gardens (98号电车 – WeChat name). The bird from Shahe Reservoir relocating or a different individual? Also on 7th there were two (one adult and one 1cy) PALLAS’S GULL (渔鸥 Yú ōu) at Shahe Reservoir (Colm Moore and Terry Townshend) and a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) at Green Bank Park, Yongding River (Jun Shuai). On 10th there were two LONG-TAILED DUCK (长尾鸭 Cháng wěi yā) at Huairou Reservoir (Cinclus cinclus and amal amer). On 14th there was a BEARDED VULTURE (胡兀鹫 Hú wù jiù) at Yanhecheng, Mentougou District (关雪燕 Guan Xueyan et al.). The third record for Beijing.
On 16th a JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) was reported from Nanhaizi (Vandy L) and a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (红胸秋沙鸭 Hóng xiōng qiū shā yā) was still at the Summer Palace (辰 吕) on 17th. On 25th six JAPANESE GROSBEAK (黑头蜡嘴雀 Hēitóu là zuǐ què) were reported from 东方太阳城/Oriental Sun City (Bonnie Jiang) and on the same day a PALE THRUSH (白腹鸫 Bái fù dōng) was photographed in the Olympic Forest Park (云天).
Finally, a major highlight in the Beijing birding year was the publication of the “Birds of Beijing”, put together by a team of authors led by Professor Zhao Xinru. It includes text and images on 508 species and is available for order via WeiDian on WeChat at this link. It should be on the bookshelf of every birder in Beijing and, indeed, wouldn’t it be great if a copy was in every school and every family home?! When the book is available for international buyers (coming soon), the link will be added here.
Title image: the female Blue-fronted Redstart at Shahe Reservoir found by 霍圣哲 (Huò Shèngzhé) and 高孝延 (Gāo Xiàoyánon) 27 November 2021. The first record of this species for Beijing. (Photo by 高孝延 Gāo Xiàoyán).
For summaries from previous years, click the links below.
Have you ever wondered what birds are flying over your home at night? If you are on any sort of flyway, during the migration season it is possible that many hundreds, even thousands, of birds fly over your home in a single night. Recording sound during the dark hours can help to shed light on the number of birds and the diversity of species that are flying overhead as we sleep.
The practice of recording nocturnal flight calls (NFC) is gaining in popularity in Europe and the US (and elsewhere?) but is still in its relative infancy. Even with little knowledge of individual species’ calls, it is possible to gain an insight into the volume of birds that call as they pass overhead.
Of course most birders are also interested in identifying the species, but identification of the calls can be a challenge. Not only does successful ID require a strong knowledge of the vocalisations of many of the resident and migratory species in the area but it appears that some species use different calls at night to those with which we are familiar, thus adding to the difficulty. Lots of work is underway, including at Cornell Lab, to use AI to help scan recordings to identify the species but, for now at least, in East Asia that is a long way off.
With Beijing situated on a major flyway for birds commuting between Siberian breeding grounds and non-breeding grounds in China, SE Asia, Australasia and even Africa, there simply *must* be lots of nocturnal migration over the capital so, back in autumn 2017, living on the 13th floor of an apartment building at the time, I made my first attempts at nocturnal recording from my window. Using a simple digital recorder, I was able to record species such as Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni 树鹨 Shù liù), Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis 云雀 Yúnquè), Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān) and Siberian Rubythroat (Luscinia calliope 红喉歌鸲 Hóng hóu gē qú). That experiment gave me a tantalising glimpse into the nocturnal migration over my apartment but a subsequent move to an apartment much less suitable for recording meant that the potential remained unfulfilled.
Fast forward to summer 2021 and, in a conversation with Sir Danny Alexander, Vice President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), we hatched an idea to begin a recording project on the roof of AIIB’s headquarters. The building, 15 storeys high, is in a great location for such a project. It is immediately south of the Olympic Forest Park in the north of the city, not close to any major roads, suffers very little from aircraft noise and with almost no tall buildings close by.
We purchased a Wildlife Acoustics Song Meter Mini (weatherproof and programmable), and set it up on the roof, programming it to begin recording from 24 August until mid-November. The recorder is perfect for this project as the only maintenance needed is a change of batteries every two weeks or so. The recorder automatically adjusts the recording time to allow for the changing sunset and sunset times and a 512GB memory card is capable of storing all the files for the whole period.
The primary objective of this project is to gain an insight into the volume of birds flying over central Beijing at night. With identification of most calls straightforward, we hope to be able to gain an improved understanding of the timings, including peaks, of individual species and potentially also the relationship between weather patterns and the extent of migration. Given the impressive volume of calls, we are already building up a large file of “unidentified calls” and, with the help of birders in the region and experienced ‘nocmiggers’ elsewhere, we hope to identify as many of the unknowns as possible.
The files from the first few weeks of recording have been downloaded and we are beginning to analyse them. It’s a time-consuming process to go through them all but using the excellent free sound analysis software, “Audacity“, to produce spectograms in order to ‘visualise’ the files means it’s relatively easy to find the bird calls and skip through periods of silence.
More than 4,000 calls have been identified so far. Perhaps not surprisingly, in late August and September, the most dominant species have been Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus 普通朱雀 Pǔtōng zhūquè), Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni 树鹨 Shù liù) and Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis 云雀 Yúnquè) but these have been supported by a good selection of other species including Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax 夜鹭 Yè lù), Striated Heron (Butorides striata 绿鹭 Lǜ lù), Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus 白腰草鹬 Bái yāo cǎo yù), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos 矶鹬 Jī yù), Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola 林鹬 Lín yù), Common Redshank (Tringa totanus 红脚鹬 Hóng jiǎo yù), Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata 白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù), Forest Wagtail (Dendronanthus indicus 山鹡鸰 Shān jí líng), white-eye sp. (Zosterops sp., 绣眼鸟 xiù yǎn niǎo), Yellow-bellied Tit (Periparus venustulus 黄腹山雀 Huáng fù shānquè), and lots of thrushes and Muscicapa flycatchers (still to be identified to species).
You can follow the progress of the project at this dedicated page, where we will upload good examples of calls, a batch of unidentified calls (on which we welcome suggestions!) and, in due course, some statistics about the volume of birds each night and a full species list. Analysis of all the files probably won’t be completed until well into 2022 but we are already excited about what this project will reveal about nocturnal bird migration in Beijing.
Huge thanks to the AIIB team, in particular Sir Danny Alexander, Alberto Ninio and Li Zeyu, for their support for this project and for their ongoing help and assistance. And thank you to David Darrell-Lambert for initial advice about NocMig and to Geoff Carey and Paul Holt for advice and assistance with identifications. Thanks also to all the birders in the East Asian Bird Vocalisation WeChat group and the NocMig WhatsApp group for help and assistance.
For the latest news about this project, to hear some of the calls we are recording and for a list of unidentified sounds, please see this dedicated page.
Header image: The Wildlife Acoustics Song Meter Mini in place on the roof of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing.
Colm is one of the best birders I know and also one of the most genuine guys around. This is his account of the incredible find on 1 June.
By Colm Moore.
More than half a decade ago, on Professor Per Alström’s advice, I began the slow, laborious process of recording Beijing warbler songs in some systematic manner. This was solely to further my own meagre knowledge and in order to make sense of the plethora of spring song from that myriad of phylloscopid taxa we hear and see each year. Per’s breakthrough work (Alstrom, P, et al., Ibis (2011), 153, 395–410) on the three “borealis” sibling species, Arctic WarblerP. borealis, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler P. examinandus and Japanese Leaf WarblerP. xanthodryas was on my desktop but surely an academic exercise, and not for the field….. surely.
Six years later, almost to the day, I crept into the woodland of pollarded Salix at Ming Tombs Reservoir’s Flower Garden to record Arctic WarblerP. borealis and compare it with some earlier recordings. I carried a lightweight Sony PCM D100 digital recorder and enough water to last an eight hour vigil. Six years has taught me infinite patience.
Four days of light easterly breezes, a drier than usual Meiyu Low Pressure System and a waning gibbous moon meant that on 1st June, there were very few nocturnal migrant warblers present, but a mellifluous fall of Black-naped OriolesOriolus chinensis also guaranteed that the trees were alive with an orchestra of sound. Against this background I could hear the ‘dzrt’ calls of a few Arctic Warblers and an occasional burst of song from the same species, transcribed here as ‘zezezezezezezezezezezezezeze’, increasing in strength mid-way and fading somewhat at the end. All other warblers had indeed vacated the area, apparently. Every phylloscopid sound was borealis-like in nature, all my photographs showed borealis-type birds apparently and so I settled down to listen and perhaps make a few decent recordings.
About two hours into the vigil, listening with too little deep attention to the ‘dzrt‘ and the high mechanical ‘zezezeze‘, like a dreamer awakening from a drowsy woodland sleep, I began to hear a distant stuttering call, ‘drt‘..’drrt‘, audibly underneath and beyond the rest. It had probably been present for hours. Still stupefied, I slowly rummaged for my recorder, with all the time in the world, apparently. Meanwhile the bird or the sound had moved to my right and a short strophe of pumping action phylloscopid song leaked out from behind an Oriole’s chortle. Galvanized, I swung around wildly to catch some precious phrase, stumbled upon the correction direction and there, 10s into the recording, was that unique harsh pumping action of an examinandus song, electronically captured, and transcribed in the field as: ‘zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh zeze-zeh’. It was a rather rough, rapid, short series of notes with a regular pumping, pulsing rhythm. The pumping rhythm seemed to be caused by two different syllables ‘zeze’ and ‘zeh’ being repeated.
Minutes passed in exquisite breathless panic as I waited for the bird to sing again. But the shadow of a Black StorkCigonia nigra, flying low over the wood now threw the place into silence and though the Orioles were undisturbed, the bird with that unique examinandus sound had departed or rendered silent. Hours and hours later I stumbled into the light, exhausted from combing the wood, leaf by warbler-shaped leaf, frequency by dizzy frequency. I had dozens of photographs of borealis-types, but I could not definitively match call with image. I even noted wing-flick behaviour in some, but again was unable to match behaviour with call.
Terry Townshend, to whom I sent the recording, was able to support my tentative identification as examinandus, and with his encouragement I sent the recording and all my photographs to Per Alström, who confirmed the song, saying:
…. I note that there’s a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler on your recording. First there’s a call which sounds like borealis, shortly afterwards is a call that sounds like examinandus (though I’ve heard birds which I thought were borealis on migration in SE China calling pretty examinandus-like, though I couldn’t be absolutely sure they were indeed borealis). However, at c. 10 s, behind an oriole is a very faint song strophe of a definite examinandus….. I see the odd wing flicking behaviour in one or two of your photos. I haven’t noted this in any ”Arctic Warbler”….. Something to check.
Colm’s original recording, with the call of Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis), followed by a two-note call that could be Kamchatka Warbler (P. examinandus), then the diagnostic strophe of song from Kamchatka Warbler (P. examinandus), with background Black-naped Orioles (Oriolus chinensis).
The taxon examinandus was first described by Professor E. Stresemann in 1913 but the morphological similarity to xanthodryas and borealis meant that it took a century to fully untangle the phylogenetic complexity of what are now considered three unambiguous clades, based on mitochondrial DNA, an analysis of songs and detailed morphometrics. But it became clear that for field workers, calls and songs were essentially the field evidence and recordings the tools by which to map the distribution of these sibling species. It has been established that examinandus breeds in south Kamchatka, Sakhalin and north-east Hokkaido. Likewise, among two-hundred sound-recordings in Xeno-canto (Xeno-canto Foundation and Naturalis Biodiversity Center 2005-2021: accessed September 13, 2021), winter-time records concentrate in S.S.E. Asia, specifically Indonesia. Passage migrants have been recorded in Japan, Nansei-Shoto, S.Korea and China. Remarkably, it has been recorded in Australia and in Finland (www.birdguides.com/articles/western-palearctic/kamchatka-leaf-warbler-in-finland-a-new-western-palearctic-species/).
Some records of the species on presumed passage, have come from as near to Beijing as Dandong, in Liaoning (Birding Beijing: accessed September 13, 2021), Tianjin (eBird Explore: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: accessed September 13, 2021) and coastal Hebei, with one recorded by Matt Slaymaker on 26 May 2013 and 1 June 2013 at the ‘prison trees’ at Nanpu, Tangshan (see https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Phylloscopus-examinandus?pg=1). Thus the Beijing record is probably not wholly unexpected, given the geographical location of the capital, just west of the mapped migratory trajectory.
Big thanks to Colm for writing up his extraordinary find and for helping to raise awareness about this poorly-known species and its occurrence in Beijing. With greater awareness among birders, we can expect more records from the capital in future.
Title image: a ‘wing-flicking’ Phylloscopus, possibly the P. examinandus, from 1 June 2021 at Ming Tombs Reservoir (Colm Moore)
Not many capital cities can boast populations of wild cats and some may be surprised to learn that Beijing is one. I am delighted to publish a new page dedicated to Leopard Cats in Beijing. This page provides information and updates from an exciting new project about this poorly known species, led by Peking University’s Professor Luo Shu-Jin in collaboration with the China Felid Conservation Alliance (CFCA). The project has already made some exciting discoveries, revealing just how little we know about biodiversity, even in one of the world’s major capital cities. The page can be found here and includes some fantastic images of Leopard Cat from Beijing. Check back regularly for updates!
Huge credit to Luo Shu-Jin and her team for her work on what must be one of the jewels in the crown of Beijing’s biodiversity.
Back in 2019, which almost seems a lifetime ago, I had the honour of working with a hero of mine – Ray Mears – and his team as part of a new series on China’s wild places. Entitled “Wild China with Ray Mears”, the seven-episode ITV series chronicles his journey across this vast and diverse country, exploring some of its special wildernesses.
The previous year, two of his researchers contacted me when they were scouting for locations. They were keen to visit the Valley of the Cats, the location of the community-based wildlife watching tourism project. I arranged for them to stay with a local family in one of the most spectacular locations and met them there on arrival. The idea was that we would have two days to explore potential filming opportunities and locations. The following morning, the local ShanShui staff and I drove to meet them at their homestay and there was quite a commotion. Several members of the family were chatting loudly and gesturing towards one of the rooms of their house which looked as if a bomb had hit it. The two researchers had been woken with a bang at 1am when the family started banging pots and pans, and were startled to learn that a brown bear had broken into the room adjacent to their sleeping quarters! Huge paw prints around the house and some muddy prints on the walls betrayed the bear’s shenanigans.
Unfazed by their experience, the first thing the researchers said to me when I arrived was “ok, we know already this is a good place for Ray!”
I won’t reveal how Ray fared in the Valley, except to say that this episode is not to be missed.
The series will be broadcast on ITV in the UK this summer, beginning with episode 1 from a very cold Beijing on Tuesday 13 July from 1930-2000. With visits to the country’s tropical rainforest, the bamboo forest home of giant pandas, bat caves in karst landscapes as well as the Tibetan Plateau, this series is a must-watch for anyone with an interest in China and its wild places.
Of the 2,153 species of butterfly recorded throughout China (壽 等, 2006), more than 170 have been recorded in Beijing. That is a large number by any standards, and indeed many more than the whole of the UK (59)*.
It includes the official list of species recorded in Beijing, including scientific names, Chinese names (with pinyin) and English names where given. Species are illustrated with images where available and contributions are welcome, especially for species not yet illustrated. Over time, it is hoped that this page can become a helpful resource for any visitor to Beijing interested in these beautiful insects.
For some time I have been wanting to record the dawn chorus at Lingshan, a fantastic wooded mountain on the western boundary of Beijing. In late Spring, when the breeding birds have arrived, the woodland comes alive and it’s a cacophony of birdsong.
On the morning of 31 May I set out to record at a series of elevations and stitch them together to provide a 30-minute compilation. The recording begins with the haunting whistle of a White’s Thrush at 0200am before moving to the dawn chorus proper at 0415am at an elevation of 1100m. From there, the recordings move up the mountain, some of which were recorded during light rain, until the final cut at 1550m. Each location provides a different mix of species and includes some of the signature birds of Beijing’s mountains such as Green-backed Flycatcher, Grey-sided Thrush, Himalayan Cuckoo, Large Hawk Cuckoo and many many more. At some point I will make a list of all the species involved but, in the meantime, I hope you enjoy listening!
Nearly 400 individuals, along with three schools representing more than 2,500 students have written a letter to the Beijing government to ask for a new park to be designed not only for people, but also for nature. A wonderful initiative that has the potential to change attitudes about the design, and purpose, of urban parks.
What do people want from a park? The conventional wisdom in Beijing is that local residents want somewhere “beautiful to look at, neat and tidy”. Anyone who has enjoyed one or more of the city’s parks will have noticed that they are certainly neat, tidy and well-maintained, with an army of workers collecting litter, tidying up dropped leaves, spraying insecticide and strimming any vegetation more than a few centimetres high. But what does this meticulous management mean for wildlife? In most cases, although many parks provide temporary shelter for migrant birds during spring and autumn, Beijing’s parks are generally wildlife-deprived. There are signs that this may be about to change.
And, as part of Beijing’s ‘greening’, the government is planning a series of new parks on the outskirts of Beijing. One such park is being planned along part of the Wenyu River, a well-known birding spot, an important habitat for wintering waterbirds, and a corridor for migrants in spring and autumn. In total, more than 300 species of bird have been recorded along the river, including endangered species with Class I protection in China, such as Scaly-sided Merganser and Yellow-breasted Bunting. Parks in the capital are traditionally designed by landscaping companies with little understanding of the needs of wildlife. Fortunately, in the case of the Wenyu River park, the local government has invited Peking University and Beijing Forestry University to provide advice on how to make the new park better for wildlife. Several suggestions have been made, including using a ‘zoning’ system for activities such as fishing and recreation in order to ensure some areas are relatively undisturbed.
The academics working on these proposals suggested that a letter from local residents to make it known that they would like their park to be designed not only for human leisure but also for wildlife, would strengthen their case.
A few weeks later, the letter below has been submitted to the Director General of the Beijing Forest and Parks Bureau and the local governments of Shunyi and Chaoyang Districts (the river marks the border of these two districts and the park will include land on both sides of the river). The letter has been signed by three local schools, representing more than 2,500 students, and nearly 400 individuals.
The hope is that the letter will demonstrate to government that the traditional view that people want parks to be places solely for human recreation is out of date and that, in a modern global city, people want their parks to deliver multiple benefits, including supporting and nurturing wildlife.
Changing attitudes takes time but, with 190 countries due to meet in Kunming, Yunnan Province, in October to thrash out a new international framework to tackle the global biodiversity crisis (the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, commonly known as COP15), it is clear that governments – both national and subnational – business, and indeed all of society will need to integrate biodiversity considerations into their operations if the world is to be successful in slowing and halting biodiversity loss. The role of cities, home to more than 50% of the world population (expected to increase to 66% by 2050), is vital not only in terms of supporting urban wildlife and providing safe spaces for migrant birds to navigate large urban areas, but also to allow the increasingly disconnected urban population to connect with nature.
We await the response of the Beijing Municipal government with interest. A huge thank you to everyone who signed and promoted the letter. It is wonderful to see the overwhelming support from local residents for Beijing’s public parks to put the interests of wildlife at the heart of their design and management.
Title image: a river providing space for people and wildlife by Madeleine Donahue
Anyone who has studied Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) in Europe will know they can be hugely variable, with colouration from almost white to uniformly dark and almost everything in between. In East Asia, the Eastern Buzzard (Buteo japonicus) is, in my experience, less variable and perhaps that is why unusual Buteos stand out.
On Saturday 30 January 2021 I began my latest winter survey of my local stretch of the Wenyu River at 0800 and, at around 1100, reached the end of my transect at the so-called “upper weir”. As I scanned the area to count Grey Herons roosting in the trees, I picked up two Buteos in a tree at about 200m distance on the opposite (northern side) of the river. One was a typical japonicus Eastern Buzzard but the other was clearly smaller, more rufous overall and with barring on the underparts. I had never seen an Eastern that small, sporting those colours or with that underpart pattern, including a dark hood and barring on the breast. It got my attention and I recorded a short video and took a few record photos of the two together. The smaller bird then flew from its perch, with purpose, across the river to the southern side, where I was standing, caught a rat from the river bank and flew back up to the trees on the other side of the river.
Eastern Buzzard (Buteo japonicus) and the possible Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus), Wenyu River, 30 January 2021 (Terry Townshend)
Shortly after, an Upland Buzzard (Buteo hemilasius) drifted over, and both of the buzzards I had been watching flew up to intercept it and, over the next five minutes or so, the three Buteos interacted, with the Upland being mobbed until it drifted NE. This gave me an opportunity to capture some images in flight and I did my best to record both the underparts and upperparts. In flight, and in direct comparison with the Eastern Buzzard, the rufous bird was clearly smaller and with a more compact structure.
The images show the underparts, including the underwing, pretty well, and show:
– a lack of the usual strong, dark carpal patch of japonicus, with a more broken, speckled and muted carpal patch
– dark lesser underwing coverts
– striking pale bases to the primaries
– conspicuously pale crescent breast band
– lack of a dark upper belly band
– a prominent dark trailing edge to the underwing
– a pale tail, finely barred and with an obvious (more so on the upperparts) sub-terminal band
I have certainly never seen a japonicus with these features, and I began to think of the possibility of Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and the subspecies that was most likely to occur in Beijing – vulpinus (Steppe Buzzard).
For context, although there have been a couple of candidates, Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) has never been reliably recorded in Beijing, so it was important to document this bird as well as possible.
Back home, having looked at Forsman’s excellent “Flight Identification of Raptors”, the Beijing bird fits well the adult ‘fox-red’ vulpinus, as depicted in plates 605-609 on pages 323 and 324.
One unusual feature highlighted by Paul Holt is the dark area on the face and forehead. Is this within the range of variability for vulpinus or is it a sign of japonicus?
Having alerted local birders, a few people visited the site and more photos were taken, including these excellent series by 没着落 (Méi zhuóluò).
And yesterday I spent the last hour of daylight at the site and captured a little more and better quality video showing the upperparts and underparts.
Given the variability of Buteos, I am not sure whether this bird can be identified with certainty. With thanks to Colm Moore, the “file” is now with Dick Forsman and we hope to receive an opinion from him in due course. Any comments, especially from people with experience of vulpinus (Steppe Buzzard) very welcome. I’d like to thank Colm Moore, Paul Holt, Igor Felefov in Russia and Ayuwat Jearwattanakanok in Thailand for their helpful and instructive comments and 没着落 (Mei Zhuoluo) for the wonderful images of the Wenyu bird taken on 2 February.
Whatever this bird’s identity, it’s been a great learning curve and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending time watching this beautiful bird so close to my apartment in Beijing.
Update 22 February 2021:
I have received a reply from Dick Forsman. The bottom line is that he does not think it’s a vulpinus Common Buzzard, or at least not a pure one. He cites the dark malar stripe, dark forehead/face, rather uniform breast and flanks and the rather uniform uppertail as features not so consistent with vulpinus. He says despite the plumage differences, he would put more emphasis on structural differences, with japonicus (Eastern) having shorter and broader wings than vulpinus with a broader blunter wingtip. He says the size difference could be explained by the size difference between the sexes, the males being smaller than the females. Interestingly, he goes on to say that genetic studies have shown the genus Buteo to be fairly young and its species are poorly defined. One of the results of this poor differentiation is widespread interbreeding between the taxa. Hybridization is known to take place between Common x Rough-legged, Common x Long-legged and Long-legged x Upland. He says it appears that nobody knows what happens when vulpinus meets japonicus, which is very likely to happen. He recalls a trip to Mongolia where he found a breeding pair of buzzard including a male with mixed japonicus and vulpinus features paired with a female japonicus. He suspects that mixed pairs are likely to be quite common where the two taxa meet and that maybe the Wenyu bird was one of these, a bird with some vulpinus genes combined with a migratory habit inherited from japonicus. He hopes people will pay more attention to buzzards in the future and document them wherever possible, especially during the breeding season as this is the only way to tackle the issue.
A key lesson is that we cannot identify everything we see, no matter how well-documented, and sometimes it’s good to just enjoy watching birds for what they are and not try to label them..
Update: 3 March 2021
Two superb new images of the Wenyu buzzard have been submitted by Wang Yibin and reproduced here with permission.
Header image: Eastern Buzzard (Buteo japonicus) with the possible (Steppe) Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus), Wenyu River. Photo by 没着落 (Méi zhuóluò).