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…
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.
A lunchtime visit to Ritan Park revealed that the large Waxwing flock is still present. There are at least 30 Bohemian Waxwings in the group but I did not see the Japanese Waxwing today. Given the mild temperatures (it must have reached +6 degrees Celsius today), there were puddles beginning to form on the ice, providing fresh water for the birds and they frequently came down to drink, offering good opportunities to study the different ages. Adults can be differentiated by the full yellow outer webs on the primaries and males and females can be told by the extent of the yellow band on the tail.
In addition to the Waxwings I also saw my first Crested Mynas in Ritan Park (including a singing male), a single Yellow-bellied Tit and 3 White-throated Laughingthrushes (certainly escapes).
An early morning return to Ritan Park to check out the waxwings proved worthwhile with the sighting of a single Japanese Waxwing among at least 35 Bohemians. Unfortunately, my camera lens is temporarily out of order due to losing the screws on the main body of the lens (apparently a reasonably common occurrence with Canon lenses) so, despite the perfect light and them showing typically very well, I wasn’t able to take any photos… It made a nice change to just enjoy them (even so, the replacement screws cannot arrive soon enough!!).
A Sunday afternoon walk in Ritan Park produced an unexpected flock of at least 35 Waxwings. Unfortunately I didn’t have my binoculars with me but those that I could identify with the naked eye seemed to be of the Bohemian variety. Will try to get another look tomorrow morning to see if there are any Japanese amongst them. Libby also spotted a nice Red-throated Thrush (I’ll make a birder of her yet…!).
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.