Yesterday I accompanied visiting British birder John Gerson and Dutch birder Ben Wielstra to Wild Duck Lake. We started at Ma Chang where we were lucky enough to find 2 Oriental Plovers, 5 Greater Sand Plovers and a Mongolian Lark before the Genghis Khan wannabees began to gallop all over the area. A flyover Merlin was a nice bonus.
After enjoying these birds we moved to the edge of the reservoir and, alongside the track, we enjoyed spectacular views of Citrine and ‘Eastern’ Yellow Wagtails, Buff-belled Pipits and Pallas’s Buntings. One of the ‘Eastern’ Yellow Wags looked to me like it might have been of the ssp tschutschensis. What do you think?
Fly-by Pied Harriers and Oriental Pratincoles were nice additions to our day list before we headed to the ‘island’ to check out the wildfowl that was sheltering from the increasingly strong wind. Keeping the telescope steady was a challenge but, with perseverance, we made out some Falcated Duck bobbing up and down.
Some passing Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swifts, a group of 5 Spoonbills (probably Eurasian) and our first Purple Heron added to our tally before we headed off to Yeyahu, as much to find a little shelter from the dust clouds than anything else!
At Yeyahu we were treated to sensational views of Eastern Marsh Harrier and enjoyed prolonged views of a Greater Spotted Eagle as it hung in the air over the southern boundary of the reserve. A Black-eared Kite flushed the heron-infested reedbed in the south-west corner to reveal at least 17 Purple Herons with a sprinkling of Greys mixed in. A lunch stop here also produced a Chinese Penduline Tit (heard only), Zitting Cisticola and a few Siberian Stonechats as well as a now almost expected Short-toed Eagle hunting over the scrubby area between Ma Chang and Yeyahu.
Perhaps the star bird of the day revealed itself on the walk down to the observation tower at Yeyahu. As we walked the sheltered side of the treeline we encountered a large flock of Little Buntings – at least 70 birds – and, as were checking them for any other buntings, we caught sight of a larger bird flit ahead of us and land in a dense thicket. After a little maneovering, we were able to see it was a shrike and, a very striking one at that. It sported a beautifully rich orange cap and showed a dark grey tail without any rufous at all. It also showed some nice scaling on the breast. It could only be one species – Bull-headed Shrike. This was a new bird for John and Ben and also my first record of this species in Beijing (I have seen it in Liaoning, at Laotieshan, and also at Rudong, near Shanghai). We enjoyed prolonged, if partly obscured views, and I was able to capture a couple of record images before we left it to resume its presumed hunting of the Little Buntings.. Very nice!
Ben recorded this cool video of the shrike using a compact camera through my telescope!
After frustratingly tantalising views of a Chinese Hill Warbler (a bird that Ben, in particular, wanted to see), and contrastingly stunning views of an Osprey, we headed to the small reedy pools to try for Baikal Teal. Unfortunately they seemed to have moved on but we did see nice groups of Garganey and added Red-crested Pochard to our species list for the day.
Big thanks to John and Ben for their excellent company throughout the day. It was a lot of fun to be in the field with these guys.
A humourous interlude at the end was provided by one of the reserve staff who was rounding up domesticated ducks using his motorcyle. He was soon joined by another local on his bicycle and, after a few mishaps that saw a few stragglers make a break for it across the next field, they eventually managed to herd them all onto a freshly dug lake…
Full species list (not including domestic duck):
Common Pheasant – 7