Birding with Chevening Alumni in Beijing

To encourage and strengthen connections between some of the world’s brightest young people and the UK, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office runs something called the Chevening Programme.  Chevening offers scholarships for young people, selected by British Embassies around the world, to study in the UK and, when they return, as well as hopefully going on to occupy positions of leadership and influence whilst being sympathetic to the UK, they become part of a growing community of Chevening alumni.  It must be a sound investment.

On Saturday I was honoured to be invited to accompany a group of Chevening alumni from Beijing on an introductory birding trip.  Being mid-summer, the city is hot and sticky with temperatures into the high 30s degrees Celsius, so it was a wonderful opportunity to head to the mountains where it’s a little cooler.

With the lush vegetation and spectacular contours, it was hard to believe we were still in the capital city of the most populous country in the world.

Our destination was the Youzhou Valley in Mentougou District in west Beijing.  It’s a spectacular gorge with towering cliffs through which a beautifully clear river meanders its way southeast.  As well as offering stunning scenery, the Youzhou Valley hosts some birds that are hard to see anywhere else in the capital such as Chukar, Golden Eagle and Blue Rock Thrush.

Eyes up! A stunning male Daurian Redstart captures the attention of the group.

For most of the group it was their first birding trip and it was a joy to see the pleasure they gained from seeing two soaring Golden Eagles at our first stop.  Not a bad start!

Smiles all round after seeing two Golden Eagles at the first stop.

We enjoyed spectacular views of singing Meadow Bunting, Daurian Redstart, Red-billed Chough, Hill Pigeon and Eurasian Crag Martin before heading to the most expansive cliff-face to look for Pacific Swift.  A few pairs of Pacific Swifts breed here and the group found it hard to believe this small bird could fly all the way to Australia for the northern winter… which prompted a discussion about the Beijing Swift making an even longer journey to South Africa from the Summer Palace.  The miracle of bird migration never fails to inspire.

 The youngest member of the group loved the singing Meadow Bunting.

After a short walk to find a picnic spot, we were fortunate to gain good views of several Blue Rock Thrushes and a nest-building Russet Sparrow, however a much-wanted Common Kingfisher put in an all too brief appearance.  Two Mandarin and a family of Mallard provided a fitting end before we set off for the journey back to the sweltering city.

A nest-building male Russet Sparrow.
One of the male Blue Rock Thrushes serenaded us during lunch.
The obligatory group photo taken just before we left the valley.

We recorded 24 species in total, uploaded to eBird.

Big thanks to everyone who came along and a special thanks to the Chevening Team at the British Embassy for making the arrangements.  I very much hope this was the first of many birding trips for this awesome, and influential, bunch of people!

As Kenn Kaufman says, “everyone is a birder, it’s just that some people don’t know it yet”