BROWN ACCENTOR (Prunella fulvescens) is a bird that I have been optimistically looking out for all winter… checking all those Siberian Accentors is a tough job but someone has to do it, right? By rights, Brown Accentors shouldn’t be in Beijing. They breed to the north-west and only the occasional straggler makes it to the capital and is seen. I am aware of only one record, at Shidu, a few winters ago and I don’t know any details such as date or precise location.
It was therefore with some excitement that I saw a report from Beijing-based birder Zhang Shen about a BROWN ACCENTOR at Mentougou, the mountainous district to the west of Beijing. After contacting him, Shen kindly provided some detailed directions and the next day I was on my way…
The mountains to the west of Beijing, on a clear day, are simply stunning. And there are some good roads that help to get you into the heart of this territory where some of the special mountain birds can be seen. We arrived on site at around 0900 after a 2.5 hr drive from central Beijing and it was immediately obvious that we would have a good day. A Cinereous Vulture soaring overhead and landing on a rocky outcrop was a great start. And soon after we were enjoying views of 4 Golden Eagles soaring together, with one even displaying as Red-billed Choughs called and wheeled around the peaks. We reached the Beijing/Hebei border and parked up. A narrow paved road winds to the north, following the Yong Ting River and it was along here that we were told the Brown Accentor had been seen.
A couple of false alarms with Siberian Accentors sharpened us up and, before long, we came across a small flock of Godlewski’s Buntings feeding alongside the track. Checking them carefully, we spotted a couple of Meadow Buntings amongst them and then, suddenly, Jennifer said “ACCENTOR”… No sooner as she had said that, the bird in question dropped behind a boulder and it was an agonising few seconds before it revealed itself again and showed that it was indeed the BROWN ACCENTOR we had hoped for. We watched it for a good 20-30 minutes as it fed around a group of rocks at the base of a cliff-face, in typical accentor style, creeping along the ground with short hops.
Unfortunately for Beijing ‘listers’ this bird seems to prefer an area of rocks just 500 metres over the border into Hebei Province.. maybe some Beijing birders will put down a trail of birdseed luring it over the border….!