At the weekend, Libby and I hired a car and drove the 3 hours to Wu Ling Shan in Hebei Province. It’s the highest peak (2,116 metres) easily accessible from the Beijing area and is a great site for birding. The mountain, with its steep-sloped birch and spruce forests, is home to some special species including the very local Grey-sided Thrush, Koklass Pheasant, White-bellied Redstart and, one of the prime reasons for my visit, breeding phylloscopus warblers (Hume’s Leaf, Claudia’s Leaf, Yellow-streaked and Chinese Leaf Warblers).
Wu Ling Shan national park charges a relatively pricey entry fee of 90 Yuan per person (GBP 9) plus 60 Yuan for a vehicle which, from a birder’s perspective, is probably a good thing as it keeps the visitor numbers down. Although in the long-term, I can’t help thinking that fewer Chinese visitors will mean fewer local people understand and appreciate the natural beauty and biodiversity of this special area and so affording it the necessary protection may prove more difficult.
Fortunately there is a hotel inside the park, very close to the peak. Although fairly basic, it offers comfortable and clean rooms with hot water, ‘western’ loos and decent food. It acts as a good base – within a few metres of the hotel, one can see and hear many of the target birds. There are few trails, so the entrance road, the road from the hotel to the waterfall car park (6kms further along) and the road from the hotel to the peak (also about 6kms) are good routes to walk. As with most forest birding, it is advisable to have learned some of the calls and songs in advance (Xeno-Canto Asia is a vital resource) as birds can be difficult to see. A map of the key birding areas around the hotel can be downloaded here.
This was my first visit to the breeding area of the local phylloscopus warblers, and I was really looking forward to getting to know them better. Hume’s Leaf Warblers were abundant in the area around the hotel. Their very distinctive song and calls were almost constant companions. Chinese Leaf Warblers were common, too, often preferring to sing from the very tops of spruces. Claudia’s Leaf Warblers were regular, displaying their distinctive alternate wing flapping, and Yellow-streaked Warblers (not very yellow and not very streaked!) were around in reasonable numbers, too. All of these birds appeared to have distinctive behavioural traits, as well as unique vocalisations.