Laotieshan – first report

On Saturday I met up with Peter Cawley  – from my original local patch at Winterton in the UK – and flew across to Dalian for the onward journey to Laotieshan, the southern tip of the Dalian peninsula.  It is here that we will be basing ourselves for at least a week to experience the autumn migration.

We arrived in the late afternoon and met up with Paul Holt who had arrived at lunchtime that day and had managed a few hours birding in the afternoon.  Given the recent settled weather, our expectations were not so high but his report certainly whetted the appetite – in just four hours he had seen over 1,000 Oriental Honey Buzzards, over 1,200 Red-rumped Swallows and a good sprinkling of other birds – Amur Falcon, Goshawk, Osprey and White-throated Needletail.  Not bad.  Sunday was our first full day and it was simply stunning.  Over 600 Ashy Minivets, at least 300 Oriental Honey Buzzards, over 100 Black-eared Kites, 3 Black Storks and between 30 and 40 Japanese Sparrowhawks with good numbers of Eurasian Sparrowhawks, Hobbies, Amur Falcons, Kestrel, Osprey and Peregrine as the supporting cast.   This site is awesome!

Some early images below……

Oriental Honey Buzzard, Laotieshan, 25 September 2011. Honey Buzzards exhibit a wonderful array of plumages; this one is very rufous on the underparts.

 

Japanese Sparrowhawk, Laotieshan, 25 September 2011. These compact birds have tonnes of character...

 

 

 

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Dalian – the final day

Well, it didn’t rain but the wind did turn to the north and, with low cloud for the first few hours of Thursday morning, there were plenty of migrants about and we enjoyed an excellent day.  We had planned our return flight deliberately to allow a full final day in the field and we were glad we did with two new birds in the last couple of hours of birding – White’s Thrush and Yellow-legged Buttonquail.

The day started promisingly with lots of visible migration from the lighthouse.  A few Yellow Wagtails, Chinese Grosbeaks, Black-naped Orioles and Fork-tailed Swifts were moving and the whole are seemed ‘birdy’ with singing Lanceolated Warbler in a bush next to the watchpoint and Asian Brown and Dark-sided Flycatchers seemingly on every available perch.  Dusky and Radde’s Warblers called regularly from the scrub.

It wasn’t long before Jesper picked up a calling Pechora Pipit as it flew overhead  – the first of two – and a small flock of sparrows that landed in a tree next to the lighthouse turned out to be Russet Sparrows (after we scored the first record for this species in Liaoning Province earlier in our trip, it’s status has seemingly changed from rare to common in the space of a few days!).  Or maybe it’s an unprecedented influx.  Who knows?

3 Black Drongos dropped in to a treetop already holding 6 Chinese Grosbeaks and a Dark-sided Flycatcher and two of a flock of 6 Chestnut Buntings landed in a nearby tree, allowing excellent views of this very smart bird.

After an hour or so, Spike and I decided to leave Jesper and his group and walk up the ridge to gain a broader vantage point.  From here we enjoyed more Black-naped Orioles, a group of 6 Asian House Martins that came in off the sea (the first of 9 in total for the day) and 3 more White-throated Needletails among over 100 Fork-tailed Swifts.  A pair of Hawfinches toured the area around the lighthouse before heading inland and a Peregrine hung in the wind to the displeasure of the local magpies.  A cuckoo (not identified to species) came in off the sea and a Chinese Sparrowhawk came in low and hugged the ridge as it made its way inland.  This was quality vis-migging!

A record image of one of 9 Asian House Martins seen on 19th.
A record image of the Chinese Sparrowhawk at Laotieshan, 19 May 2011

The skies were very busy until about 0900 when the sun began to burn off the cloud and the flow of birds gradually slowed to a trickle.  At this point we began to search the surrounding hillside, shrubs and lighthouse garden.  Many new birds had arrived with good numbers of flycatchers, lots of Thick-billed Warblers, a sprinkling of phylloscs (including our first (singing) Arctic Warblers of the trip), Common Rosefinch, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Forest Wagtail, etc..  Everywhere we walked there were birds.  Not a huge ‘fall’ but certainly a decent new arrival, clearly prompted by the change in wind direction (it was in northerlies that we enjoyed so many birds at the beginning of our trip).

After a spot of lunch at the lighthouse car park, where the locals told us that “in September the sky is full of birds”, we began to explore a track that, at first we thought would just take us onto a piece of waste ground but instead looped round underneath the lighthouse through an area of sloped open woodland, some great gullies and coastal scrub.  It was here that we flushed the Yellow-legged Buttonquail from a grassy verge on the entrance track to a seemingly abandoned hotel complex and, from a shaded gully, the White’s Thrush flew up and perched briefly before disappearing into the thicket above us.  We wish we had discovered this area earlier as it obviously had great potential!

After a final visit to the lighthouse garden we reluctantly walked the track to the main road to catch the bus to Lushun for a bite to eat before picking up our bags from the hotel and making our way to the airport.  We had enjoyed a fantastic trip and were probably the first western birders to cover this area in spring – a real feeling of pioneering.  I can only imagine what would be discovered at Laotieshan if the area was systematically covered over the peak weeks on a regular basis.  I am sure that a few surprises would be uncovered.  As a southerly jutting peninsula, Laotieshan is almost certainly even better in Autumn so we plan to return in late September (the locals say that, on average, the 20th is the peak date for birds of prey) to see..  having been there and scouted the area, we now have a pretty good idea of the best areas.  There is plenty of good habitat for migrants, the majority of which is very undisturbed, so it is not only great for birds but also a real pleasure to walk around and enjoy…

I’ll post a full trip report in a few days, together with a full species list for the trip (over 150).  In the meantime, here are a few more images of the habitat and the species list for yesterday.

The lighthouse at Laotieshan seen from the 'vis-mig' watchpoint, early morning
The lighthouse garden.. flycatchers, buntings and warblers were all seen along this stretch during the trip
The view from the lighthouse across the garden to the entrance gate. Pale Thrush and Rufous-tailed Robin were seen here.
The steps down to the sea-watching point
The seawatching point at Laotieshan lighthouse. We saw good movements of Streaked Shearwaters during our visit, mostly in the evenings.
Typical habitat on the ridge... a series of trails make covering this area easy.
Me introducing the locals to shorebirding at Pikou... Photo: Tom Beeke
Scanning shorebirds on the incoming tide... at this spot, between Pikou and Zhuange, we saw around 1,000 Dunlin, hundreds of Great Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit and many other species including Red-necked Stint, Terek and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Red Knot and Greenshank. Photo: Tom Beeke

Species List (in chronological order of first sighting):

Fork-tailed Swift (106)

Chinese Bulbul (18) – including a flock of 16 migrating out to sea

Common Pheasant (1)

Dark-sided Flycatcher (7)

Lanceolated Warbler (7) – including one singing from our watchpoint

Grey Wagtail (1)

Radde’s Warbler (4)

White-cheeked Starling (3)

Chinese Grosbeak (25)

Dusky Warbler (5)

Hawfinch (2)

Barn Swallow (40)

Two-barred Greenish Warbler (5)

Black-naped Oriole (17)

Olive-backed Pipit (12)

Black Drongo (6)

Spotted Dove (1)

Eurasian Siskin (1)

Common Rosefinch (3)

Red-rumped Swallow (24)

Russet Sparrow (9) – including one flock of 8 briefly at the lighthouse

Chestnut Bunting (6)

Yellow Wagtail (61)

Pechora Pipit (2)

Stonechat (1)

Black-browed Reed Warbler (9)

Oriental Greenfinch (4)

Common Pheasant (4)

Great Tit (6)

Brown Shrike (9)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (12)

Asian Brown Flycatcher (11)

Siberian Rubythroat (1)

Taiga Flycatcher (3)

Thick-billed Warbler (9)

Siberian Blue Robin (7)

Brambling (1)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (7)

Forest Wagtail (2)

White-throated Needletail (6)

Sand Martin (9)

Hobby (2)

Asian House Martin (9)

Black-tailed Gull (80+)

Richard’s Pipit (2)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (1)

Chinese Pond Heron (4)

Blue Rock Thrush (1)

Trsitram’s Bunting (4)

Mallard (1)

Eurasian Cuckoo (1)

Chinese Hill Warbler (2)

Chinese Sparrowhawk (1)

Yellow-browed Warbler (1)

Peregrine (1)

Oriental Reed Warbler (2)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (2)

Meadow Bunting (1)

Arctic Warbler (5)

Yellow-legged Buttonquail (1) – seen well in flight and scurrying along the ground

White’s Thrush (1)

Cattle Egret (1)

Dalian – Day Eight

Another quiet day.  The showers didn’t materialise and the wind persisted in being a moderate to strong South-South-Easterly.  After taxi driver number 3 dropped us at the point, we enjoyed a trickle of early migration involving at least 9 Black-naped Orioles, 7 White-throated Needletails and 9 Forest Wagtails (our first of this trip).  But after that, it quietened down considerably and, by 9.30am, the skies were quiet.  We tried the woods and trails but these were equally dead with even fewer birds than yesterday – there really has been a major clearout in the last few days.

The highlight has to be the White-throated Needletails (again!).  After two hanging around high over the lighthouse at 5am, a group of 5 bombed past at head height at 0905am allowing excellent views of the rarely seen upperside of these beasts.  I rattled off a few images in the few seconds they were on view before they powered past the lighthouse and out to sea.  Whoosh!

Tomorrow is our final day at Laotieshan and we have high hopes.  The forecast is for the wind to switch to northerly overnight with light rain and drizzle from 3am through to 10am.  That might not sound like the recipe for a pleasant morning on a clifftop but, for a birder on the Chinese coast in May, that forecast could mean a stack of migrants on the peninsula.  The forecasters, so far, have not covered themselves in glory so we are not holding our collective breath but, if they are right, we could be in for a treat.  It would certainly be a nice way to end what has been a very memorable and fun trip.

Edit: a quick count up of the species seen so far shows that the total is on 149 species with a day to go! 

This immature male Amur Falcon was one of the highlights of an otherwise disappointing day.
Immature male Amur Falcon. Note the reddish 'trousers' and the grey feathers beginning to emerge on the breast.
One of 7 White-throated Needletails today. This image shows the less often seen upperparts, including the distinctive pale oval on the back and the greenish sheen to the inner wing.

Species List (in chronological order, not including Tree Sparrow or Common Magpie):

Ashy Minivet (3)

White-throated Needletail (7) – 2 at 0500 and 5 at 0905.

Chinese Grosbeak (16)

Spotted Dove (1)

Forest Wagtail (9)

Oriental Greenfinch (9)

White-cheeked Starling (5)

Barn Swallow (70)

Red-rumped Swallow (25)

Olive-backed Pipit (7)

Crested Myna (5)

Great Tit (6)

Black-naped Oriole (9)

Tristram’s Bunting (1)

Asian Brown Flycatcher (4)

Common Pheasant (5)

Pallas’s Warbler (1)

Amur Falcon (4)

Daurian Starling (6)

Peregrine (1)

Chinese Hill Warbler (2)

Fork-tailed Swift (9)

Black-tailed Gull (heavy passage east with 236 counted between 1345-1355 and 393 between 1505-1515)

Chinese Bulbul (2)

Egret sp (2) – too distant to be sure of identification but probably Chinese

Blue Rock Thrush (1)

Chinese Pond Heron (2)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (2) – one in off the sea at 0805 and one soaring at 1100

Large pipit sp (2) – possibly Blyth’s

Radde’s Warbler (1)

Hobby (2)

Two-barred Greenish Warbler (1)

Black-browed Reed Warbler (1)

Eastern Crowned Warbler (1)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (6)

Grey-streaked Flycatcher (1)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (1)

Yellow-browed Warbler (2)

Dark-sided Flycatcher (1)

White Wagtail (1) – ssp leucopsis

Common Rosefinch (1) – immature male singing

Dusky Warbler (1)

Streaked Shearwater (10) – all between 1345-1400.  In the evening, Jesper reported a passage rate of 900 per hour (!)

Dalian – Day Seven

Today was tough going.  The wind got up almost immediately after dawn (after a still night) and just kept on increasing in strength.  By mid-morning there were white tips to the waves offshore and I estimated that the wind speed was around 25mph SSE.  After our third taxi driver picked us up from the hotel at 0430 (the first two did it once and said never again!) and dropped us at the lighthouse, we immediately made our way to the ridge for visible migration.  There were a few hirundines to keep us interested early on and, around 0645, a small flock of 5 Chinese Grosbeaks (yes, they were Chinese – we checked!) flew around the point before settling near the lighthouse.

Jesper Hornskov and his clients for the Qinghai trip arrived yesterday for a couple of days ‘pre-tour’ visit of Laotieshan but today they were going up the coast for the Black-faced Spoonbills and waders (similar to our trip on Saturday).  They were leaving at 0715 and we had spaces on the bus if we wanted to go.  At 0700, with it looking like a quiet day, Spike decided to go with Jesper but I decided to stay at Laotieshan.  As I write this, I don’t know how they got on up the coast but, for me, today was hard work…  Very little visible migration and, with the wind so strong, it was difficult to find passerines in the swaying branches…  Nevertheless, again I saw some good birds.  Highlight was a probable Claudia’s Leaf Warbler (similar to Eastern Crowned but smaller and lacking the yellow wash to the vent).  Also, I refound the (or found a new) male Russet Sparrow as he sang from a treetop near the lighthouse.  Four Daurian Starlings were new for the trip and singles of Chinese Egret, Oriental Honey Buzzard and a day-calling Oriental Scops Owl ensured there was interest throughout the day.

We really need some rain to mix things up a bit.. Although there is clearly turnover each day, the volume of birds has been decreasing daily since we arrived, almost certainly due to the clear weather and southerly winds.  The forecast for tomorrow is for some showers, so maybe that’s just what we need..  Only two more days to go so fingers crossed for the ‘big one’…!

Russet Sparrow (male), singing in the lighthouse garden, Laotieshan, 17 May 2011
This Black-naped Oriole came in off the sea, landed in the lighthouse garden and sang constantly for about 5 minutes before moving inland

Species List (in chronological order of first sighting).  Note that I am not recording Common Magpie or Tree Sparrow (too numerous to mention):

Fork-tailed Swift (9)

Japanese White-eye (2)

Dusky Warbler (2)

Barn Swallow (passing at around 60 birds per hour)

Great Tit (4)

Oriental Greenfinch (4)

Chinese Pond Heron (2)

Black-tailed Gull (150+)

Common Pheasant (4)

Red-rumped Swallow (passing at around 50 per hour)

Chinese Hill Warbler (2)

Vega Gull (1)

Chinese Grosbeak (6)

Pallas’s Warbler (1)

Chinese Egret (1) – passed the lighthouse heading east

Chinese Bulbul (4)

Eye-browed Thrush (1)

Daurian Starling (4)

Yellow-browed Warbler (8)

Amur Falcon (1)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (2)

Goshawk (1)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (6)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (1) came in off sea at 0855

Asian Brown Flycatcher (4)

Radde’s Warbler (2)

Siberian Blue Robin (2)

Russet Sparrow (1) – singing male in lighthouse garden

White-cheeked Starling (1)

Ashy Minivet (3)

Black-naped Oriole (1) – in off sea

Oriental Turtle Dove (1)

Dark-sided Flycatcher (3)

Oriental Scops Owl (1) heard only, calling at 1230

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (2)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (4)

Claudia’s Leaf Warbler (1)

Grey Streaked Flycatcher (1)

Lanceolated Warbler (2)

Dalian – Day Six

Sunny and warm, light northerly winds, almost no cloud.  Much reduced visible migration and very few hirundines compared with yesterday.  Nevertheless, it was another good day at this special site.  Highlights included another White-throated Needletail that came in at nearly head height (see photo), several Japanese Sparrowhawks, a single Chinese Sparrowhawk, several Lanceolated Warblers and an unexpected new bird in the form of a Japanese Grosbeak that was suspected as it flew overhead and identified from photos!

White-throated Needletail, Laotieshan, 16 May 2011
Japanese Sparrowhawk, Laotieshan, 16 May 2011. One of 9 seen today.
Japanese Grosbeak, Laotieshan, 16 May 2011. Suspected as this species as it flew overhead but only confirmed by this image!
Grey-faced Buzzard (probable first-summer?), Laotieshan, 16 May 2011. This bird circled overhead calling incessantly for a couple of minutes early morning.

Species List (in chronological order):

Fork-tailed Swift (6)

Yellow-browed Warbler (15)

Asian Brown Flycatcher (10)

Rufous-tailed Robin (1)

Ashy Minivet (3)

Chinese Bulbul (5)

Black-naped Oriole (7) – in off the sea

Brown Shrike (6)

Olive-backed Pipit (5)

Oriental Turtle Dove (2)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (3)

Lanceolated Warbler (3)

Oriental Greenfinch (4)

Common Pheasant (4)

Great Tit (6)

Hobby (7)

White-throated Rock Thrush (1)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (2)

Tristram’s Bunting (1)

Dusky Warbler (4)

Eye-browed Thrush (3)

Common Magpie (36 in the air together off the lighthouse at 0630)

Crested Myna (3)

Chinese Grosbeak (3)

Japanese Grosbeak (1)

Stonechat (3)

Chinese Hill Warbler (2)

Common Buzzard (2)

Two-barred Greenish Warbler (2)

Brambling (4)

Vega Gull (15)

Red-rumped Swallow (50)

Grey-faced Buzzard (1) – first summer?

Goshawk (4)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (4)

Grey Wagtail (1)

Barn Swallow (128)

Japanese Sparrowhawk (9)

Japanese White-eye (2)

White-eye sp (11)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (5)

Peregrine (1)

Carrion Crow (1)

Blue Rock Thrush (2)

Sand Martin (15)

Eurasian Cuckoo (1)

Egret sp (Chinese or Little) (1)

Saker (1)

Radde’s Warbler (5)

Chinese Sparrowhawk (1)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (1)

White-throated Needletail (1)

Siberian Rubythroat (1)

Siberian Blue Robin (3)

Chinese Penduline Tit (1)

Amur Falcon (3)

Osprey (1)

Grey-streaked Flycatcher (1)

Wryneck (1)

Thick-billed Warbler (1)

Common Sandpiper (1)

Taiga Flycatcher (3)

Black-browed Reed Warbler (1)

Meadow Bunting (3)

Pallas’s Warbler (1)

Dark-sided Flycatcher (1)

Black-faced Bunting (2)

Dalian – Day Five

After staying in Jinshitan following the wader bonanza, we enjoyed a relative lie-in until 0530 and were up and ready at the station to catch the first train to Dalian at 0630.  From there we took a bus (8 Yuan – about 80 pence) from Dalian to Lushun where we dumped our bags and set out straight for Laotieshan.  We obviously missed the early morning visible migration but we were on site by 10am.  It was a gorgeous day with very good visibility and temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius.  Highlights include Asian House Martin, Red Collared Dove, 2 Mugimaki Flycatchers, a single Grey-streaked Flycatcher and, for the sheer spectacle, the hundreds and hundreds of hirundines – Swallows, Red-rumped Swallows, Sand Martins and Fork-tailed Swifts – that were feeding over the point all afternoon – simply awesome to watch these expert aviators hang, glide and swoop in the stiff north-easterly breeze..

I am posting a few images from today and also a couple of the ‘crabbers’ that were very active on the mudflats yesterday… maybe that’s why we didn’t see a Spoon-billed Sandpiper!

These early mornings and full days in the field are starting to get to me..  I feel very tired this evening..  but hopefully I’ll be in bed by 9pm tonight and some good birds at first light tomorrow will no doubt wipe the sleep from my eyes!  Have just set the alarm for 4am.. gulp.

Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift, Laotieshan, 15 May 2011
Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift, Laotieshan, 15 May 2011. Note how the white rump wraps around onto the sides.
Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift, Laotieshan. Hundreds of these superb birds were hawking around the point for insects all afternoon.
Record image of the Asian House Martin, Laotieshan, 15 May 2011. In the field this bird looked noticeably dusky on the underparts and there was no hint of pale underwing coverts.
Watching the 'crabbers' paddle out to the mudflats on polystyrene rafts on the falling tide was an interesting sideshow to yesterday's wader-fest at Pikou.
Digging for crabs/shellfish is hard work. The guy in the middle is clearly the boss.

Full species list (in chronological order):

Asian Brown Flycatcher (11)

Red-rumped Swallow (200+)

Spotted Dove (1)

Yellow-browed Warbler (25)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (9)

Siberian Stonechat (1)

Tristram’s Bunting (5)

Radde’s Warbler (6)

Taiga Flycatcher (6)

Chestnut Bunting (3)

Amur Falcon (12)

Chinese Bulbul (2)

Dusky Warbler (12)

Eastern Marsh Harrier (1 plus 1 brief harrier sp, probably also this species)

Yellow-browed Bunting (3)

Fork-tailed Swift (250+)

Pallas’s Warbler (2)

Two-barred Greenish Warbler (4)

Chestnut-eared Bunting (1)

Chinese Hill Warbler (1)

Rufous-tailed Robin (1)

Black-naped Oriole (1) in off sea at 1105

Purple Heron (1) in off sea at 1120

Black-faced Bunting (3)

White-throated Rock Thrush (2) including one in the lighthouse garden

Black Drongo (1)

Brown Shrike (7)

Japanese White-eye (1)

White-eye sp (20+)

Oriental Greenfinch (4)

Common Pheasant (4)

Ashy Minivet (5)

Common Kestrel (1)

Great Tit (4)

Olive-backed Pipit (3)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (4)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (6)

Sand Martin (7)

Mugimaki Flycatcher (2) – a male and a female

Grey-streaked Flycatcher (1) – associating with the Mugimakis

Hobby (2)

Common Swift (1)

House Martin sp (1)

Yellow Wagtail (1)

prob Oriental Cuckoo (1) in off sea at 1530.  Heavily streaked underparts including streaked underwing coverts.

Eastern Crowned Warbler (1)

Red Collared Dove (1) – a beautiful bird

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (1)

Asian House Martin (1) – see photo

Oriental Turtle Dove (2)

Dalian – Day Three

Day Three at Dalian was the day that Laotieshan began to deliver in style.  In one 5-minute period between 0810 and 0815 we saw a White-throated Needletail, a Japanese Waxwing and a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker all fly in off the sea and head inland… followed very closely by a Merlin!  Wow..

The day began at 0530 at the lighthouse and, as on the first full day, we began by birding the track that runs north-east below the lighthouse.  On the entrance track we found a Rufous-tailed Robin and, almost immediately afterwards, flushed a Grey Nightjar.  Then, just before we began to walk north-east we disturbed a thrush from the verge and, after it flew a short distance, we could see it was a superb Grey-backed Thrush.  Not a bad start!

The track below the lighthouse was in shade and it was relatively quiet with just a Siberian Blue Robin, a couple of Asian Brown Flycatchers, an Ashy Minivet and a few Meadow and Tristram’s Buntings.  The sun hits this area between 0730 and 0800 so we discussed whether, on balance, it was probably better to cover another area first thing and then return here later in the morning.  After our experience in the hours that followed, we will almost certainly heed this thought when we return to Laotieshan from our northern wader sojourn on Saturday.

The reason is that we discovered a fantastic clearing on the ridge from where to watch visible migration and, between 0830 and 1030, we saw an additional 2 White-throated Needletails (off the sea and past me at head height!) and 3 House Martins (scarce in northern China), one of which was definitely a Northern House Martin and the other two not identified as either Northern or Asian.  The supporting cast included 47 Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swifts, 18 Amur Falcons, 700+ Barn Swallows, 70+ Red-rumped Swallows, 15 Sand Martins, a single Merlin, 8 Hobbies, 3 Eurasian Sparrowhawks, a single Chestnut Bunting, 6 White-eyes (not identified to species) and 3 Chinese Pond Herons.  On the slope we found two more White-throated Rock Thrushes (in a different location to yesterday) and on the way down I flushed an Oriental Scops Owl which perched briefly before flying off into dense cover.

It was with a heavy heart that we left Laotieshan at 1100 to travel to Dalian to meet up with Tom Beeke to cover the Jinshitan Fish Ponds in the afternoon ahead of our big wader day on Saturday (at Pikou).  After meeting up with Tom, the Fish Ponds produced a stunning Sharp-tailed Sandpiper which Tom had found previously as well as 2 distant Chinese Egrets, 28 Pacific Golden Plover in stunning summer plumage, a large and close-knit flock of 65 large white-headed gulls seemingly migrating west (probably Vega but I need to check the images) as well as 3 Oriental Honey Buzzards, Chinese Penduline Tits, Oriental Reed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola etc etc..

After fantastic home-made pizza with Tom and his family, we arrived at our Jinshitan hotel at about 8.30pm and I’m writing this before I hit my bed and try to get as much sleep as possible before our 0430 start tomorrow, so apologies if this reads a little awkwardly!

White-throated Needletail, Laotieshan, 13 May 2011. Needletails are powerful flyers with a very different flying action to that of Fork-tailed Swifts
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Jinshitan, 13 May 2011. A very smart wader.
Oriental Scops Owl, Laotieshan, 13 May 2011

Full species list (in chronological order):

Laotieshan (0530-1100)

Amur Falcon (18)

Brown Shrike (14)

Great Tit (4)

Rufous-tailed Robin (1)

Grey Nightjar (1)

Grey Wagtail (3)

Grey-backed Thrush (1)

Chinese Bulbul (5)

Pallas’s Warbler (5)

Taiga Flycatcher (2)

Yellow-browed Warbler (12)

Oriental Greenfinch (6)

Richard’s Pipit (5)

Olive-backed Pipit (18) – most very early morning

Dusky Warbler (4)

Fork-tailed Swift (55)

Ashy Minivet (3)

Siberian Stonechat (2)

Tristram’s Bunting (2)

Barn Swallow (coming in off the sea at the rate of 350+ per hour)

Red-rumped Swallow (in off the sea at a rate of c35 per hour)

Asian Brown Flycatcher (2)

Radde’s Warbler (9)

Siberian Blue Robin (3)

Black-tailed Gull (150+ offshore)

Heuglin’s Gull ssp taimyrensis (1)

Yellow Wagtail (1)

Chinese Pond Heron (3)

Meadow Bunting (5)

Siberian Rubythroat (1)

Hobby (8)

White-throated Rock Thrush (2)

Common Pheasant (1)

White-throated Needletail (3) – in off sea (1 at 0810 and 2 at 1030)

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (1) – in off sea and continued north

Japanese Waxwing (1) – in off sea and continued north

Merlin (1)

Chestnut Bunting (1)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (3)

Chinese Hill Warbler (2)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (1)

Sand Martin (15)

Northern House Martin (1)

House Martin sp (either Asian or Northern)  (2)

White-eye sp (6)

Oriental Scops Owl (1)

Black Drongo (2) – at the point, feeding actively and almost certainly fresh in.

Jinshitan Fish Ponds (1530-1900)

Chinese Spot-billed Duck (4)

Chinese Egret (2)

Hobby (2)

White Wagtail (2)

Whimbrel (2)

Siberian Stonechat (3)

Yellow Wagtail (3) including one of the subspecies taivana)

Sand Martin (5)

Zitting Cisticola (1)

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (1)

Common Sandpiper (1)

Greenshank (12)

Black-winged Stilt (2)

Pacific Golden Plover (28)

Marsh Sandpiper (1)

Peregrine (1)

Eastern Marsh Harrier (2)

Chinese Penduline Tit (3)

Large white-headed gull sp (65) – all in one flock at 1635 moving west

Gadwall (2)

Black-browed Reed Warbler (1)

Amur Falcon (2)

Oriental Reed Warbler (1)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (3)

Magpie (5)

Fork-tailed Swift (8)

Grey Heron (2)

Barn Swallow (34)

Little Ringed Plover (2)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (12)

Grey Wagtail (1)

Kestrel (1)

Dalian – Day Two

Today was our first full day at Laotieshan and we saw some high quality species.  Probably top of the list has to be the White-throated Rock Thrush, a new bird for both of us.  The supporting cast included such goodies as Eye-browed Thrush, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Rufous-tailed Robin, Blue Rock Thrush, Ashy Minivet, Russet Sparrow, Black-naped Oriole, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Chinese Leaf Warbler, Chestnut Bunting and Japanese White-eye.

We did quite a bit of walking today.   As well as the immediate surroundings of the lighthouse garden, we also walked part of the ridge above the lighthouse and a few of the agricultural fields below.  Stunning scenery, great birding and not another birder in sight.

One of our first birds was a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler that not only called frequently but also showed well, immediately telling us that the birds we had seen yesterday were Eastern Crowned (we obviously heard Pale-legged while watching Eastern Crowned yesterday).  These birds, despite the field guides (which, incidentally, are very poor on Chinese leaf warblers), looked nothing like each other.  The Pale-legged is a much browner bird than Eastern Crowned.  It is also smaller and lacks any sort of crown stripe.  Once seen, it will never be confused again!

In the afternoon we conducted a short count of the Streaked Shearwaters that were, again, streaming past the point (none were seen in the morning).  In just 10 minutes we counted 61 passing south – a rate of over 350 per hour.

Tomorrow we plan to cover the point again until lunchtime, after which we are going to join up with Tom in Jinshitan to visit the local fish ponds (Chinese Egret there today) and then drive up the coast on Saturday to some of the prime wader spots.  Sunday should see us back at Laotieshan, ready to join up with Jesper Hornskov and his Manchuria team.

A few images from today and full species list below…

The lighthouse at Laotieshan from the ridge
Looking north along the ridge
The trail below the lighthouse (we saw Siberian Blue Robin, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and Russet Sparrow along here)
The same trail looking south (this was a favourite area for Brown Shrike and Tristram's Bunting)
Rufous-tailed Robin in the lighthouse garden
This Radde's Warbler defied its reputation as a skulker..
Record image of one of the White-throated Rock Thrushes we found today
The stunning Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was present in good numbers today at Laotieshan

Species list (in chronological order):

Eye-browed Thrush (11) – including one group of 8 in off sea

Yellow-browed Warbler (18) –

Chinese Grosbeak (2) – singing

Olive-backed Pipit (80 counted but likely many more passing overhead)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (2)

Siberian Stonechat (12)

Barn Swallow (47)

Yellow Wagtail (6) – early morning over the point

Dusky Warbler (7)

Radde’s Warbler (12) – including one very confiding individual

Grey Wagtail (3)

Brown Shrike (13)

Oriental Turtle Dove (2)

Oriental Greenfinch (8)

Richard’s Pipit (5)

Trsitram’s Bunting (8)

Little Bunting (47) – likely many of the hundreds of the ‘tick-buntings’ overhead early morning were also this species

Black-faced Bunting (10)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (16) – mostly males

Siberian Rubythroat (2)

Great Tit (6)

Magpie (23)

Red-rumped Swallow (34)

Goshawk (2)

Taiga Flycatcher (11)

Japanese Quail (1) – flushed from path below lighthouse

Common Sandpiper (1) – on rocks offshore

Blue Rock Thrush (4) – including 2 singing males

Little Grebe (1) – on the sea just offshore

Black-tailed Gull (200+) – good numbers around the point

Eastern Crowned Warbler (3)

Siberian Blue Robin (9) – 7 males and 2 females

Brambling (1)

Ashy Minivet (3) – including a pair feeding along the path below the lighthouse

Asian Brown Flycatcher (4)

Red-flanked Bluetail (1)

Coal Tit (1)

Russet Sparrow (2) – in off sea and showed well for around 10 minutes before continuing north

Black-naped Oriole (1)

Amur Falcon (2)

Chinese Bulbul (4)

White Wagtail (ssp leucopsis) (1)

Hoopoe (1)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (6) – in off sea at c1200

Hume’s Warbler (1) – seen and heard

White-throated Rock Thrush (3) – all males

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (3) – 1 seen very well, the others heard

Yellow-throated Bunting (2)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (10)

Meadow Bunting (2)

Common Pheasant (2)

Chestnut Bunting (1)

Japanese White-eye (1)

Chinese Leaf Warbler (1) – along the ridge

Chinese Hill Warbler (1) – heard only

Hobby (1)

Streaked Shearwater (61 in 10 minutes) – clearly present in some numbers but so far only seen late afternoon/evening.

Dalian – Day One

Spike and I arrived in Dalian at around 1400 and, following a short taxi ride, checked in to our hotel at Lushun by 1500.  After a brief negotiation with a local taxi driver, Spike and I were at the lighthouse at Laotieshan by 1615, giving us about 2 and a half hours before dusk.  Weather was warm and sunny, probably around 20 degrees C.  Our first surprise was the fact that spring seemed to be a little later here than Beijing.  Many of the trees were just beginning to come into leaf, with many still bare – probably a good 10 days/2 weeks behind Beijing.

Our taxi driver dropped us at the small car park at the lighthouse and we paid the 20 Yuan fee to enter (much of the area around the point is accessible free of charge but we wanted to check the point itself around the lighthouse).  Within 20-30 metres of the entrance we could hear a thrush turning over leaves and, after a short scan, we got onto a superp Pale Thrush – a new bird for both Spike and me.  Brilliant!  As we watched the thrush poke around in the leaf litter we were then treated to excellent views of a Rufous-tailed Robin as it constantly wagged its tail a few metres ahead.  Not a bad start!

Further along we encountered two superb Brown Shrikes, two Wrynecks, a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers and a stunning spring Pallas’s Warbler.  From the lighthouse we could see a good passage of Black-tailed Gulls whilst a mixed flock of Barn and Red-rumped Swallows fed overhead.

We re-traced our steps and then took a path along the cliff to the north on the eastern side.  Here we enjoyed two Siberian Blue Robins, a pair of Tristram’s Buntings, another Brown Shrike, two Ashy Minivets and at least 4 Asian Brown Flycatchers.

We then heard what we thought was a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler – a very distinctive high pitched metallic ‘tee tee tee’.  After a brief search, we enjoyed good views of at least 3 of these birds but were left slightly confused as they seemed to be very Eastern-crowned-like in appearance – relatively large, a largish bill and sporting at least a partial central crown stripe.  My experience of Pale-legged is limited to a couple of autumn passage birds on Happy Island last autumn but these birds looked different.  Thoughts turned to Sakhalin Leaf Warbler but on the evidence we saw, we are really not sure.  The call was very akin to Pale-legged Leaf, so this must be the likely identification.

At this point the path opened up with a good view of the ocean below.  There was a continued good movement of Black-tailed Gulls just offshore and then, just a bit further out, I got onto a shearwater and, soon, we realised that there were several..  in fact lots..!  We counted over 100 in about 15-20 minutes.. all moving south.  They were relatively large with pale underparts and a pale-ish face..  they had to be Streaked Shearwaters..

By now the light was fading and we turned and made our way back to the car park to rendez-vous with our taxi..  A nice introduction to this peninsula and plenty to keep us interested (and to fuel speculation about what might turn up tomorrow!).  We plan to cover the point tomorrow and Friday and then meet up with local birder, Tom Beeke, for a day up the coast to look for shorebirds on Saturday.  Tom enjoyed a good day today at the Country Park in Jinshitan and we are planning to keep in close contact over the next few days to compare notes and hopefully tip each other off to any passing megas!

Species list from today (in chronological order):

Tree Sparrow (many)

Common Magpie (9)

Red-rumped Swallow (17)

Barn Swallow (38)

Hoopoe (2)

Chinese Bulbul (4)

Rufous-tailed Robin (2)

Pale Thrush (1)

Common Pheasant (3)

Black-tailed Gull (300+)

Crested Myna (4) – feral

Chinese Grosbeak (8) – a single flock seemingly attempting to migrate south

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (2)

Yellow-browed Warbler (4)

Dusky Warbler (1)

Pallas’s Warbler (1)

Brown Shrike (3)

Wryneck (2)

Tristram’s Bunting (2)

Siberian Blue Robin (2)

Asian Brown Flycatcher (3)

Ashy Minivet (2)

Oriental Greenfinch (2)

Streaked Shearwater (100+ south in 15-20 minutes)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler or Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (3)

Heuglin’s Gull (4) – ssp taimyrensis

Oriental Turtle Dove (1)

Sand Martin (1)

Olive-backed Pipit (1)

Siberian Stonechat (2)

Grey Wagtail (1)