Siberian Crane

Today was one of those amazing days that makes birding such an enthralling hobby.  I accompanied Paul Holt on a visit to Huairou and Miyun Reservoirs, sites that I had not – for some unknown reason – visited before.  The highlights were undoubtedly the cranes.  Top of the list comes the 3 Siberian Cranes (2 adults and an immature) that we believe constitute only the second record for Beijing.  But perhaps more significant was the count of 256 White-naped Cranes, around 10 per cent of the known wintering population in China at one location on Spring passage.  Add in 620 Common Cranes and it was a real crane bonanza.  The other unexpected bird of the day was a single Oriental Stork, a real rarity in Beijing.

Highlights:

– second record of Siberian Crane in Beijing (2 adults and an immature)

– second highest (possibly highest) count of White-naped Cranes in Beijing

– seventh record of Oriental Stork in Beijing

– earliest Garganey and Common Shelduck in Beijing

– second earliest Fork-tailed Swift in Beijing

Siberian Cranes, Miyun Reservoir, 19 March 2012
White-naped Crane, Miyun Reservoir, 19 March 2012. We saw around 10 per cent of the Chinese wintering population today at this important staging post.
Common Cranes, Miyun Reservoir, 19 March 2012
Oriental Stork, Miyun Reservoir, 19 March 2012

 

Detailed species list from Miyun Reservoir (courtesy of Paul Holt):

Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun Reservoir. (40°30.3’N., 117°01.1’E.). Alt. 75 metres. (07h15-11h00).

 

Xin Zhuang Qiao (bridge over the Chao He), Miyun. (40°35.11’N., 117°07.95’E.). Alt. 115 metres. (11h30-12h50)

 

Miyun Reservoir – south of Bulaotun satellite tracking station, Miyun. (40°31.75’N., 116°57.77’E.). Alt. 75 metres. (13h20-17h05)

 

Japanese Quail                  2 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Pheasant                  7 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Swan Goose                  20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Tundra Bean Goose                  10 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Taiga or Tundra Bean Goose                  ca.400 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Tundra Swan                  4 adults at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Whooper Swan 168 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 146 birds were also counted at Bulaotun in the late afternoon – but some or possibly even all of these could have been among those seen at HBJZ earlier in the day.

Ruddy Shelduck 796 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Most of these (780 birds) were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang with just one being seen on the Chaohe near Taishitun & 15 at Bulaotun.

Gadwall                  5 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Falcated Duck                  12 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Mallard                  ca.600 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Almost all of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.

Chinese Spot-billed Duck                  14 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Almost all of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.

Northern Pintail                  5 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Baikal Teal                  20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Teal                  150 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Pochard                  20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Ferruginous Pochard                  2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Tufted Duck                  2 males at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Goldeneye                  13 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Smew                  51 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Merganser 80 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. These involved 65 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, three in the Chaohe near the Xin Zhuang bridge, Taishitun & 12 at Bulaotun.

Little Grebe 7 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Two of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang & the other five in the Chaohe near Taishitun.

Great Crested Grebe                  18 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Black Stork                  1 flew high near Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Oriental Stork                  1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Oriental Stork is rare in Beijing – the other records that I’m aware of are –

1875

A small flock was seen near the city in summer 1875 (Wilder and Hubbard 1924, Wilder 1940b)

1924

1 collected in April 1924, probably south of the city in Nanhaizi (Nan Hai Tzu) hunting park (Wilder and Hubbard 1924, Wilder 1940b).

1955

1 specimen from Tongxian county on 8 June 1955 (Cai 1987). Mid-summer records must be exceptional!

1964

1 specimen from  Niulanshan, Shunyi on 22 January 1964 (Cai 1987). Mid-winter records are probably also exceptional.

1999

14 on a flooded area in Shunyi, January 1999 (Qian Fawen in litt. 1999 to BirdLife International [2001]

2004

1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang Miyun reservoir on the 1/10/2004. It was circling high up with a party of 5 Black Storks and would have been an early date even on the Hebei coast.

2009

3 at WDL on 21/3/2009 (Brian Ivon Jones, Spike Millington & Richard Carden – BIJ in litt. to PH on 20 March 2012)

Grey Heron 12 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Seven of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, one besides the Chaohe near Taishitun & the other four near Bulaotun.

Great Egret                  2 besides the Chaohe when viewed from the Xin Zhuang bridge near Taishitun, Miyun on the 19/3/2012.

Great Cormorant                  1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

White-tailed Eagle                  1 juvenile at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk                  2 singles near Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Kestrel 3 near Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Two were seen just south of Miyun reservoir dam while the third was at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.

Great Bustard                  3 distant birds at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Coot                  108 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Siberian Crane 3, a family party with two adults and a first year, at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. First seen at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang in the late morning what were undoubtedly these same three birds were later seen at Bulaotun. Rare in Beijing – the only previous sighting from Beijing was of a bird at Wild Duck Lake in March 2008. Terry suggested that the easterly winds of the previous weekend might have drifted this bird, and the White-naped Cranes, inland from the Hebei coast.

White-naped Crane 256 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 240 had been counted at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang earlier in the day but these were probably part of the group later seen at Bulaotun. Possibly only the second three figure count for Beijing  – but not the largest as 500 birds were reported at Miyun reservoir  one day later that our sighting in 2011 (fide “Xiaoming” in a BirdForum posting of 20 March 2011)

Common Crane 620 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 100 had been estimated at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang earlier in the day but these were probably part of the group later seen at Bulaotun.

Northern Lapwing                  6 around Miyun reservoir (four at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang & two at Bulaotun) on the 19/3/2012.

Long-billed Plover                  1 besides the Chao river when viewed from the Xin Zhuang bridge near Taishitun, Miyun on the 19/3/2012.

Kentish Plover                  2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Black-headed Gull                  61 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Mongolian Gull                  2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Oriental Turtle Dove                  2 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Collared Dove                  1 near Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Chinese Grey Shrike                  1 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Black-billed Magpie                  80 around Miyun reservoir & Miyun town on the 19/3/2012.

Carrion Crow                  4 flew north high over Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir at 16h45 on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Skylark                  2 singles at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

White-cheeked Starling                  2 in Hou Ba Jia Zhuang village, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Common Starling                  1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow                  Present but not counted around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

White Wagtail 14 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. These included 12 besides the Chaohe when viewed from the Xin Zhuang Bridge. Seven birds were seen well enough to racially assign & they were all leucopsis.

Meadow Bunting                  3 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Pallas’s Bunting                  8 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.

Wild Duck Lake, 6 November 2011

Apologies for the lack of updates in recent weeks – work has been rather all-consuming!  To be honest, it’s not been so bad to be indoors  –  a persistent high pressure system, combined with very slack winds, have seen a blanket of smog covering Beijing with poor visibility and, at times, appalling air quality.  The US Embassy ‘twitter feed’ is updated hourly and rates the pollution levels of PM2.5 (a particulate pollutant) and ozone.
This is the US Environment Protection Agency’s definition of PM2.5:
“Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small that individually they can only be detected with an electron microscope.
Many manmade and natural sources emit PM directly or emit other pollutants that react in the atmosphere to form PM. These solid and liquid particles come in a wide range of sizes.
Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.”
Sounds nice, eh?
There is a scale of descriptors ranging from “Good” to “Hazardous”.  Last week saw several days with the pollution at “hazardous” levels.  I am not exactly sure what “hazardous” means but at these levels, you can taste and smell the pollution when you step outside.  Not pleasant.
Of course, the Chinese media describes the smog as “fog” and on one dark day last week, it was laughable that the media was saying that there were “boundless blue skies over Beijing”…  Of course….
Fortunately, this smoggy period seems to be breaking now and on Sunday I visited Ma Chang/Wild Duck Lake with Libby and a couple of UK friends John and Sarah Gallagher.  They have been keen to accompany me on one of my birding trips for some time and so, with a window of decent weather and visibility, we grabbed the chance before the winter sets in.  We enjoyed a very good day.
The visibility was above average and, when the cloud broke in the afternoon, it turned into a gorgeous late autumn day….
0645-1530, 6 November 2011.
Cloud 8/8 and 5 degrees C at 0640 with very light north-easterly wind.  13 degrees C, cloud 3/8 and light north-easterly at 1500.  Visibility above average all day.
The highlight was my first Great Bustard in China (a flyover), 2 Black Storks, 6 White-naped Cranes, 58 Common CranesUpland Buzzard, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2Common Starlings.
Full species list (52 in total):
Common Pheasant 12
Bean Goose 115
Whooper Swan 1
Gadwall 5
Falcated Duck 4
Eurasian Wigeon 2
Mallard 48
Chinese Spot-billed Duck 10
Northern Pintail 42
Eurasian Teal 25
Tufted Duck 8
Common Goldeneye 2
Smew 10
Goosander 12
Little Grebe 23
Great Crested Grebe 8
Black-necked Grebe 2
Black Stork 2 (high west @ 1455)
Eurasian Bittern 1
Grey Heron 3
Eurasian Kestrel 2
Peregrine 2
Hen Harrier 4 (1 adult male, 1 immature male, and 2 females)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 3
Common (Eastern) Buzzard 1
Upland Buzzard 1
Great Bustard 1 in flight (flew west over Ma Chang @ 0910)
Common Coot 4
White-naped Crane 6
Common Crane 58, including 2 groups arriving from the mountains to the north (9 @1445 and 35 @1440)
Mongolian Gull 2
Black-headed Gull 68
Eurasian Collared Dove 14
Short-eared Owl 2
Common Kingfisher 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker 1
Chinese Grey Shrike 5
Azure-winged Magpie 1
Common Magpie lots
Carrion Crow 11
Great Tit 2
Asian Short-toed Lark 12
Eurasian Skylark 7
Chinese Bulbul 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill 100+ in a single flock
Common Starling 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow lots
Buff-bellied Pipit 3
Pine Bunting 2
Little Bunting 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting 23

Finally, we enjoyed excellent views of this yellow butterfly, the only butterfly we saw. It was a little sluggish, allowing close photography, in contrast to the many times when I have tried to photograph this species in the spring/summer..  I am not sure what the specific species is but it’s pretty common in the area. EDIT: Thanks to John Furse for identifying the butterfly as a Clouded Yellow.

Yellow butterfly sp, Yeyahu, 6 November 2011
Close up... I love those eyes!

The Appetiser

A walk around the Olympic Forest Park on Tuesday evening revealed that autumn passerine migration is beginning to get going…  First, I flushed a Richard’s Pipit from a path near the ‘underwater corridor’, then a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler flew across the path and dived into deep cover, showing the white tips to the outer tail feathers.  Just before dusk a snipe circled a couple of times before dropping like a stone into the edge of a reedbed.  I grabbed a few very poor images and I suspect it was a Pin-tailed Snipe or Swinhoe’s.  Its flight was subtly slower than Common Snipe, it lacked an obvious white trailing edge to the secondaries and the legs appeared to protrude relatively far beyond the tail.  Images below and opinions welcome.  Swinhoe’s and Pin-tailed Snipe are notoriously difficult to separate so best to go down in the book as a “Swintail”…!

"Swintail" Snipe, Olympic Forest Park
"Swintail" Snipe, Olympic Forest Park

There were also some dragonflies on the wing.  In addition to the usual Sympetrum kunckeli, these presumed Deielia phaon were patrolling the edge of the reedbed.

Deielia phaon (I think), Olympic Forest Park
Deielia phaon (I think), Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

The trickle of passerine migration certainly whets the appetite for what will be, I am sure, another brilliant autumn of migration here in north-eastern China.  I have just booked my flight to Dalian for late September, where we will have a group of birders covering the Laotieshan area for at least a couple of weeks this autumn.  After the fantastic Spring experience, I can’t wait to return to see if the autumn migration matches my expectations.

On the way back from the Olympic Park to the metro station, I enjoyed watching the local Beijingers using the public spaces built for the Olympics.  Great stuff!

Wet Wet Wet

Apologies to those of you expecting a post about the 80s pop sensation led by Marti Pello (whatever happened to him?).

Anyway, yesterday afternoon, in the midst of some of the worst smog, I mean mist (you don’t get smog in Beijing, cough) since I have been in Beijing, I decided to spend a couple of hours at the Olympic Forest Park…  it was a decision I regretted almost as soon as I arrived on site..  Within about 15 minutes, and just as I had reached the more open area of the park, the skies darkened and the rumble of thunder began to reverberate all around.. The brief highlight, as I rounded the first lake, was this Kingfisher atop a pink lotus flower as it scanned for vulnerable fish below…

Common Kingfisher, Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

I rattled off a few images before the heavens opened..  and boy did they open.  Two hours later I was still sheltering under the overhang of a roof of a refreshments kiosk watching the floodwater rush by and Wishing I was Lucky.  As dusk approached there was no sign of any respite, so I made a run for the metro..  Needless to say, by the time I got to the station, I was soaked to the skin…!  At least the rain has cleared away much of the smog.. today is classified as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” rather than yesterday’s “Hazardous” by the US Embassy’s air quality Twitter feed (@BeijingAir)….

Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

First thing this morning I made my first visit to the Olympic Forest Park in Beijing.  This relatively new park, as its name suggests, was created for the 2008 Olympic Games and has won awards for its design.  I was pleasantly surprised by how ‘bird-friendly’ it is.  There is some great habitat, including some large reedbeds, lakes, mature (ish) woodland and open areas, all of which are attracting birds.

Today, I explored the southern section prompted by a visiting birder, Claus Holzapfel, who had seen a Streaked Reed Warbler a few days ago.  I didn’t see any of these rare ‘acro‘ warblers but I chalked up an impressive list of species for a central Beijing location (see below).

The highlight for me was an enjoyable encounter with a confiding Yellow Bittern as it hunted in one of the lily-filled lakes.  It’s ungainly stance belied the effectiveness with which it stalked small fish and frogs.

Oriental Reed Warblers filled the air with their chattering and there were also a few Black-browed Reed Warblers competing to be heard and a few Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers skulking at the base of the reeds.  Indian and Eurasian Cuckoos were calling frequently and the song of the Black-naped Oriole was an occasional accompaniement.

In the more mature trees on the eastern side, a singing male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was a nice sight but I failed to find the Green-backed (Elisae’s) Flycatcher that Paul Holt had seen the previous day.

The Olympic Park is situated just north of the 4th ring road, north of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium and is served by metro stops as well as several bus routes, so it is easy to get to.  It opens at 6am and, this morning, there were relatively few people around and it was very easy to find quiet spots – not to be taken for granted in Beijing where most city parks are full of early morning exercisers for the first few hours of daylight.  For me, it’s the best birding site I’ve seen so far in Beijing city.  I’ll definitely be back!

Map of Beijing Olympic Forest Park
Yellow Bittern, Beijing Olympic Forest Park, 2 June 2011
Comical as it made its way across the lillies... would definitely qualify as a Monty Python 'silly walk'
Watching you watching me..
I enjoyed half an hour with this confiding bird today in the Olympic Forest Park, Beijing

Species List (in chronological order of first sighting):

Collared Dove (1)

Common Magpie (many)

Tree Sparrow (many)

Grey-capped Woodpecker (3)

Eastern Crowned Warbler (2)

Indian Cuckoo (4)

Chinese (Light-vented) Bulbul (7)

Oriental Reed Warbler (at least 30)

Eurasian Cuckoo (5)

Oriental Greenfinch (3)

Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler (3)

Night Heron (7)

Red-rumped Swallow (4)

Black-browed Reed Warbler (4)

Black Drongo (1)

Common Moorhen (6)

Common Swift (12)

Yellow Bittern (7)

Goldeneye (1) – a drake on the lake near the ‘underwater corridor’

Barn Swallow (3)

Little Egret (1) – flyover

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (1) – singing just north-east of Wali Lake

Marsh Tit (2)

Black-naped Oriole (3)

Dark-sided Flycatcher (1) – northeast of Wali Lake

Arctic Warbler (4)

Great Spotted Woodpecker (1)

Grey Heron (1)

Little Grebe (2)

Radde’s Warbler (2)

Azure-winged Magpie (6)

Spotted Dove (2)

Grey-headed Woodpecker (1)

Jingshan Park

Just north of the Forbidden City lies a very popular park with an artificial hill (sometimes known as Coal Hill). The hill was constructed in the Ming Dynasty entirely from soil excavated in forming the moats of the Imperial Palace and nearby canals. Why was it built? According to the dictates of Feng Shui, it is favourable to site a residence to the south of a nearby hill (and it is also practical, gaining protection from chilly northern winds). The imperial palaces in the other capitals of previous dynasties were situated to the south of a hill. When the capital was moved to Beijing, no such hill existed north of the Forbidden City, so one was constructed. Typical China!

The hill is especially impressive when one considers that all of this material was moved only by manual labour and animal power. Apparently, in 1644, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty hanged himself here…

Anyway, on that cheery note, about the birds. Earlier this week I received a tip-off that there was a ‘very large’ flock of Waxwings present. So on Friday morning I spent an hour there. As usual in any Chinese public park, there were lots of people – shouting, singing, dancing, exercising, doing Tai Chi, running backwards, playing musical instruments and playing “keepy-uppy” with a sort of large shuttlecock. After wandering around the perimeter I stumbled across the Waxwing flock feeding on junipers and regularly going down to drink from a leaky hosepipe. Given the hosepipes were spraying water everywhere, there was, unusually, a small area without people. I risked a drenching to get a closer look and it soon became apparent that there were at least 50 Waxwings in the group, including some Japanese. Twice a Sparrowhawk wreaked havoc by appearing out of nowhere in its attempts to catch one (unsuccessfully) and each time this happened, the whole flock took to the air, where it became apparent that my estimate was most definitely an underestimate! In the air, I guessed at around 250 birds. Soon they returned and I enjoyed good views as these very vocal birds began to feed again.

The water also attracted other birds in the park including a nice Dusky Thrush, several Naumann’s Thrushes and a Red-throated Thrush as well as Oriental Greenfinches and a couple of Large-billed Crows. A pleasant, if slightly wet, hour…

I quite like this 'arty' image of waxwings in formation...

Two Bohemian Waxwings in 'bomber formation'

Japanese Waxwing, Jingshan Park, 8 April 2011

One of the charismatic and curious Large-billed Crows in Jingshan Park

Another looker..

Now I know many people in the UK have had their fill of Red-flanked Bluetails in the last few months, with the unprecedented influx last autumn. But I bet none of them looked like this…!

Red-flanked Bluetail - smart, eh?

RFBs are beginning to arrive in the Beijing area now and the adult males are absolute stunners. Forgive me for posting a few more images….

STOP PRESS: Jesper Hornskov just sent me a SMS to say he has just seen a GREAT BUSTARD flying over the Summer Palace.. A great record. Spring is here.. let the big migration commence…

A newly arrived RFB
Note the white brow (which the Himalayan form lacks)

Going Japanese

After a tip-off from Jesper about some Japanese Waxwings in the Summer Palace, I spent a couple of hours there on Saturday afternoon.  Eventually, after dodging the crowds to get to the north-west corner of the park, I discovered a mixed flock of Waxwings in a quiet corner.  Unusually, Japanese outnumbered Bohemian by about 4 to 1.  They were very loyal to a couple of ‘leylandii’-type trees, to which they frequently flew down to feed before flying up to some tall poplars to preen, rest and eat a little of the snow that had fallen overnight.

Despite the very overcast conditions, I was able to capture a few pleasing images.

Japanese Waxwings, Summer Palace, Beijing, 26 February 2011. Note the pale belly, bright pink tip to the tail and fiery-orange undertail coverts.
The black on the back of the crest can be seen well on the bottom left bird.

Japanese Waxwing take-off


Japanese Waxwing: close up of the wing and tail patterns

Ibisbills

On Saturday I accompanied Jesper Hornskov, visiting Swede Anders Magnusson and American birder, Gina Sheridan, on a trip to see the Ibisbills north of Beijing at Huairou. It was something of a surprise when Canadian birder, Brian Elder, discovered these Ibisbills so close to Beijing in June 2002 and this well-known site has been on many a birder’s hit-list during visits to Beijing ever since. I had visited in September last year, shortly after my arrival in Beijing, and was lucky enough to see 3 birds on that occasion. But, with the heavy development, including a new main road, would they still be there??

As anyone who has been to this site recently will testify, on arrival it really does not look very promising with a relatively narrow river, lots of gravel extraction, areas of rubbish littering the river bank and now a wooden walkway built alongside.

On Saturday we left Beijing at 0600 for the 90-minute journey to arrive on site shortly after dawn. We began, in temperatures of around -10 and with a windchill of well below that, by scanning from the road bridge where we were lucky enough to see some Goosander, Smew, Mallard, Chinese Spot-billed Duck, Blue Hill Pigeons and a good selection of buntings in the roadside scrub – Godlewski’s (Eastern Rock), Little, Meadow and Pallas’s Reed. We decided to walk the northern stretch of the river first, as this would be hit by the sun earlier thus helping to minimise the effects of the cold which seemed to be exacerbated by the moisture coming off the river and freezing in the air, making our faces sting. Along the path we encountered first one, then two, Crested Kingfishers and a flock of at least 60 Vinous-throated Parrotbills. A few more Goosander, Smew, Mallard, a pair of Grey-capped Woodpeckers and a young Golden Eagle kept our interest but there was no sign of any Ibisbills. The walk back to the bridge produced an educational second calendar year Black-throated Thrush (with the faintest of streaking on the upper breast), Siberian Accentor and more Godlewski’s, Meadow and Pallas’s Reed Buntings.

After a very welcome break for coffee and chocolate, during which time we picked up Common Buzzard, Naumann’s Thrush, Hawfinch (2), Pere David’s Laughingthrush, Chinese Hill Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Azure-winged Magpie and Large-billed Crow, we worked our way south. We reached a usually reliable site for the Ibisbills some way down the road – an area of piled up bricks and stones with good views over the river but there was still no sign. We decided to give it some time here to see if they would fly past or call and it was after only a few minutes that Jesper picked up a brief muffled call that he was convinced was Ibisbill. Of course, Jesper being Jesper, he was right! Soon after we had fantastic views as one, two, then three Ibisbills flew past us, calling as they did so. Stunning views in great light. Wow. Anders and Gina were ecstatic – a new life bird for them and one that has almost mythical status among many birders. After watching them on the ground for several minutes, including studying their feeding technique (the Ibisbills that is, not Anders and Gina), we reluctantly tore ourselves away to explore the area to the south, half-hoping for a Rosefinch or an Alpine Accentor. We didn’t see either of those but we did enjoy 3 more sightings of Golden Eagle (including a pair of adults), Grey-headed and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Bunting, Northern Goshawk, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Marsh Tit and Great Tit. As we took a path over a low pass in the surrounding hills and moved from shadow to sun, the climate changed dramatically and instead of looking like members of Captain Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic, we were suddenly transformed into Beach Boys extras in (almost) shorts and t-shirts for the remainder of the walk down to the road to meet our lift home. One could almost believe that Spring was around the corner. The stunning hill scenery was a great backdrop to a top day’s birding and, with views of the Great Wall on the journey home plus a short stop to observe a small flock of Crested Mynas, the interest was carried through until we reached Beijing.

With my camera temporarily out of service, I was worried about just going birding with ‘just my bins and scope’ but, although I undoubtedly missed a fantastic opportunity to capture some great Ibisbill images, the simplicity of ‘just birding’ was a refreshing change…

Japanese Waxwings

After a tip-off from Brian Jones and Jesper Hornskov, I spent two hours at the Botanical Gardens early this morning. My target was Japanese Waxwing, a small flock of which had been seen cohorting with a similar number of Bohemian Waxwings. On arrival at 0730 I could see and hear a flock of Waxwings just a few metres from the entrance gate. As I approached I could see at least 10 Chinese photographers lined up waiting for the birds to fly down from their lofty perch to feed on the ornamental berry bushes. There is a fast-growing middle class in China and they have money, lots of it. A few of them have taken up bird photography (it is more common to see a photographer than a birder) and, consequently, there are some serious lenses around. However, as with the cars (20,000 new ones on the streets of Beijing every week), most of the ‘drivers’ are new and have yet to do their apprenticeship…

So, as soon as a Waxwing dropped into one of the berry bushes, they all strode forward competing with each other to get the best shot and, without exception, flushed the birds back up to their treetop perch…! After a few attempts at feeding, the Waxwings clearly got the message and flew off to another part of the gardens. I decided to have a walk around and look for thrushes and it wasn’t long before I came across a hosepipe that had been set down to water some newly planted trees. Given the freezing overnight temperatures, this was the only running water around, and there were good numbers of birds coming down to drink.. Bramblings, Chinese Bulbuls, White-cheeked Starlings, Dusky and Naumann’s Thrushes, the odd Red- and Black-throated Thrush plus, to my delight, the Waxwings. I sat quietly for about half an hour and enjoyed excellent views before the troupe of Chinese photographers discovered the spot and, with the subtlety of a Sumo wrestler doing a pirouette, scared everything in sight! With the light deteriorating, I called it a day and was back in the flat and working by 1030.

Several of the thrushes looked like intergrades between Dusky and Naumann’s – see the last photo below for a good example.

The biggest Chinese twitch I have seen
Japanese Waxwing, one of at least 8 seen this morning
Japanese Waxwing (with Bramblings) - a very striking bird
White-cheeked Starlings
Naumann's Thrush
Naumann's Thrush
Dusky Thrush
Dusky/Naumann's intergrade - note the mixture of red and black markings on the underside