On 11 July, local birders Wei Chunzhi, Ren Lipeng and He Yongzhou visited Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, to try to see some of the special breeding birds that are rarely seen in the city. They were rewarded with sightings not only of their main target species – Slaty-backed Flycatcher – but also a big surprise.
Wei Chunzhi tells the story of their adventure, complete with some beautiful photos of the bird and the scenery, and how the sighting of an odd shrike turned into a first for Beijing.
How a Brown Shrike turned into a Grey-backed Shrike!
“My name is Wei Chunzhi (Tracey), a relatively new birder who loves to go birding in Beijing. On 11 July 2020 I visited Lingshan with two friends, Ren Lipeng and He Yongzhou. We were shocked to find a Grey-backed Shrike, the first record of this species in Beijing! Magical days like this are a lot of fun…
Lingshan, as Beijing’s highest mountain, is cool in summer and, with birding slow in the heat of the city during that season, it’s a good place to visit to see some target birds such as Slaty-backed Flycatcher, Rosy Pipit and many other birds that are rarely seen in the city.
It’s hard work to hike at 2,000m while carrying cameras and binoculars. As we were walking up, I suddenly saw a dark bird sitting on top of a cedar tree about 10-20 metres away. I quickly alerted Ren Lipeng and pointed him at the bird. He couldn’t see it at first and then the bird flew. Fortunately, it didn’t fly far and landed on top of another tree close by. This time, both of my friends saw it and managed to take some photographs. Using my ‘toy camera’ and focusing manually, I could only manage a photo of the branches shaking immediately after the bird flew!
After looking at the photos, He Yongzhou confidently announced “Brown Shrike!” (a fairly common breeder in lowland Beijing and a very common passage migrant). Ren Lipeng said it looked a bit like a Grey-backed Shrike and asked me to look at the photo. I also thought the bird looked grey-backed but then thought it must be the greyish subspecies of Brown Shrike (ssp lucionensis) . There are no other shrikes except Chinese Grey, Bull-headed, Brown and Long-tailed. We didn’t spend any more time on the bird and carried on to look for the Slaty-backed Flycatcher and other birds. The joy of seeing many good species – such as Rosy Pipit and the Slaty-backed Flycatcher – made us forget our doubts about the shrike and we marked it as a Brown Shrike on our eBird checklist.
When reviewing the Field Guide to the Birds of China by John MacKinnon we looked at the lucionensis subspecies of Brown Shrike and I felt it was not this bird. After getting copies of the photos from Ren Lipeng and He Yongzhou, I sent the photos to Huang Hanchen who also sent them to Guan Xiangyu, both experienced birders. They responded that it was a Grey-backed Shrike, not only a new species for me but also a new record for Beijing. After learning this news, the three of us were very happy!
This is a story of a Brown Shrike ‘turning into’ a Grey-backed Shrike. Birding not only brings us these exciting moments but also takes us into nature where we can relax, feel calm and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. It reminds us of the main theme of the Chinese Lao Zhuang philosophy – the law of nature.”
Big congratulations to Wei Chunzhi, Ren Lipeng and He Yongzhou for their brilliant find and huge thanks for telling their story and for allowing the use of their photographs. Grey-backed Shrike is typically a bird of the Himalayas, including the Tibetan Plateau, breeding at elevations from 2,700-4,500+ metres above sea level (Birds of the World). It has been recorded as far east as Shanxi Province in summer and at Beidaihe/Happy Island on at least two occasions in spring, so it’s not a complete surprise that it has turned up in the mountains of the capital but, nevertheless, it’s a wonderful addition to the list of species recorded in Beijing. What next?!
Story in Chinese/中文
灰背伯劳 摄影：任立鹏 锈胸蓝姬鹟雄 摄影：任立鹏 在对照马敬能大师的《中国鸟类野外手册》复习时，想起了那只很灰的红尾伯劳，我感觉不是红尾伯劳的灰色亚种。向两位老师要照片，任老师积极回应，大河老师觉得我太啰嗦。照片和图鉴对比，我觉得不是红尾伯劳，是什么无法确定。赶紧把照片转发给观鸟大师黄博士，他和另一位大师关先生（特别感谢两位大师认鸟）讨论后，认定是灰背伯劳，这不仅是我的新纪录，而且是北京新纪录。得知此消息后，我们三个人非常高兴。 如今，想想那天的纪录，仍然让人兴奋不已。一路为我们奏乐的云南柳莺、棕眉柳莺，站在枝头开会的红眉朱雀，不知雌雄的红胁蓝尾鸲在我们身边蹦来蹦去，树林鸣唱的白腹短翅鸲， 更有辛勤育雏的锈胸蓝姬鹟夫妻……这一切的美好，似乎都在预示着我们发现了北京新记录——灰背伯劳。 这就是红尾伯劳“变”灰背伯劳的故事。观鸟不仅带给我们这些趣事，更把我们带进大自然怀抱，让我们放松，平和，简单，让我们重新思考一下中国老庄哲学的主旨：法自然。
Title image: Grey-backed Shrike, Lingshan, 11 July 2020 (Photo by Ren Lipeng)