The Spring keeps getting better. A few days ago I got wind of a pair of Two-barred Crossbills in Jingshan Park (immediately north of the Forbidden City). After a bit of investigating I was able to get directions and, on Monday, Libby and I popped up there to see whether we could see it.. [Jingshan Park is a great place to visit for non-birders – it’s often full of Beijingers exercising, singing, dancing, and doing all manner of other social activities – some of the best people watching to be had in the capital]. On arrival it was not difficult to find the right spot as there were about 40 photographers lined up and surrounding a hosepipe stand. It was to here that the Two-barred Crossbills were coming down to drink. They had not been seen all morning and, after an hour or so, I wasn’t hopeful. I went for a walk around the park to see if I could find them feeding, to no avail. But just as I returned to the original site, the female flew in and gradually made her way down to the water.. showing exceptionally well to the delight of the paparazzi.
Some of the photographers had been there several days and said that the male had not been seen since Saturday.
I believe that this is the first record of this species in Beijing for at least 25 years and comes hot on the heels of a record in Jinshitan, Dalian, Liaoning Province, found by Tom Beeke. Two-barred Crossbill is an irruptive species but irruptions (movements outside of the normal range) usually happen in early autumn.. Maybe these are birds moving back north after irrupting south last autumn? Who knows..?!
Other birds coming down to drink included two magnificent Red-billed Blue Magpies. These birds, common in the Beijing area, are rarely this bold. Often they remain hidden in the trees and shrubs with only tantalising glimpses or distant views being gained, so this was a real treat.
Finally, a pair of Red-billed Starlings, fairly recent colonists of Beijing, were prospecting a hole in one of the trees. Not bad for a city centre park!
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…