Frustration at Laotieshan

Frustration was the word of the day.  Anyone who has been birding in China will know that frustration is something that you just have to get used to.  Today we were chucked off one of the prime viewing areas for raptor migration simply because we were foreigners.  The area is close to a military base and so, understandably, it’s a sensitive site.  But the irony is that we can see more Chinese military sites from our hotel room (including submarines, frigates and other naval support vessels) than we can from the raptor viewpoint.  Nevertheless, at 1100 today we were told in no uncertain terms that we shouldn’t be there and that we would have to leave….  this was after one of the most impressive early morning raptor sessions of our visit so far with a Greater Spotted Eagle at 0630 (!), Common Buzzards passing at a rate of 250 per hour and a good number of Black-eared Kites, Goshawks and Eurasian Sparrowhawks.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and, earlier in the day, we met up with a group from the Beijing Birdwatching Society (including Zhong Jia and Tian Yang) who were visiting Laotieshan for a few days.  They told us about another place, open to foreigners, from where the raptors can be viewed and they helpfully arranged for us to meet the head of research at the Laotieshan nature reserve and secure an invitation to the ringing station nearby.  So tomorrow we will be taken up to the ringing station and from there we can walk up to the ridge without the threat of military intervention..  The ringing station itself sounds intriguing.. they told us that they had caught a Swinhoe’s Rail a couple of days ago!  Wow…

The ringing station is apparently near to the area where locals traditionally put up mist nets to capture migrating birds (mostly for the bird trade).  One Chinese contact we met said that they used to catch around 4,000 raptors a year at Laotieshan until improved wardening severely curtailed illegal mist-netting.  Even now many nets are put up by locals and it’s a continuing process to try to reduce the number of illegal nets at this time of year…

Zhong Jia and Tian Yang also told us about a new hotel that had recently opened much nearer to Laotieshan than our base in Lushun.  The rooms looked good, the prices reasonable and the bonus is that one can watch raptors from the garden…. in a short visit this afternoon we enjoyed views of 6 Grey-faced Buzzards right overhead plus an astonishing movement of Amur Falcons involving around 600 birds in a single flock… wow.

Tomorrow is my last day at Laotieshan.  I will have a full day there before making my way to the airport for the short flight back to Beijing.  It’s going to be very tough to tear myself away but Peter will be staying until Friday and Paul hopes to stay for several weeks, access permitting.  Let’s hope tomorrow is a bumper day!

One of today's Grey-faced Buzzards at Laotieshan.


Laotieshan update – Saturday

10 degrees Celsius at dawn, with some cloud cover and light westerly winds.  After a slow start, the passerine migration really got going around 0600 and at times there were huge numbers of birds in the sky.  The dominant species was the Chestnut-flanked White-eye and their siskin-like calls were a constant background accompaniment to the morning.  Other prominent species, typical of recent days, were Ashy Minivet and Olive-backed Pipit but there were also signs of new movements with reasonable numbers of Oriental Turtle Doves and White-cheeked Starling.  A Siberian Rubythroat showed briefly in the nearby bushes, which it shared with good numbers of Radde’s and Dusky Warblers plus the occasional Lanceolated Warbler, and a cracking Bull-headed Shrike perched prominently as it scanned for prey in a crop field.  At around 0715 we were joined by Tom Beeke and friends who had driven down from Dalian to join us for the day.  (It was great to see you Tom!  And thanks again for ‘discovering’ Laotieshan as a visible migration hotspot last autumn..  the inspiration for our visit this year).

As the sun began to burn off the cloud and heat up the air, raptors began to move and we enjoyed groups of Black-eared Kites, Amur Falcons, Oriental Honey and Common Buzzards.  Singles of Grey-headed Lapwing and Grey-backed Thrush were nice additions to our species list before we made our way up to the ridge.  On the way we flushed a Woodcock and two White’s Thrushes from the same gully!  When we reached the top, raptors were moving – Eurasian and Japanese Sparrowhawks, Common Buzzards, Black-eared Kites, Kestrel, Hobby, Amur Falcon and Goshawk were all seen in the first couple of hours.  A total of 4 Greater Spotted Eagles was a good tally but the real spectacle was over 180 Grey-faced Buzzards, many of which passed in large groups of 10 or more…  Magnificent.  Grey-faced Buzzards are strange birds.  Sometimes they remind me of a harrier or an accipiter and, when they are flapping hard, to me they are reminiscent of Short-eared Owls..!  Bizarre, I know.. but if you have seen one, hopefully you know what I mean..

Bull-headed Shrike, Laotieshan, 1 October. A stunner.
Grey-faced Buzzards, Laotieshan, 1 October. Part of a flock of over 20.
Grey-faced Buzzard, Laotieshan, 1 October
Common (Eastern) Buzzard ssp japonicus, Laotieshan, 1 October

Tomorrow is forecast to be cool with northerly winds but clear and sunny.  We suspect, having been here for a week, that the best wind for migrant raptors is south-west, so we don’t expect too much for Sunday but you never know…

Thanks very much to Ken and Spike for the comments on the bush warbler in the last post.  We also think it’s most likely a first winter Spotted (David’s) Bush Warbler but we need to check literature on our return to Beijing.