Paul Holt has just finished his detailed trip report from his visit to Liaoning in May. Bai Qingquan, Tom Beeke and I were lucky enough to accompany him for parts of his trip that included two firsts for the Province – Kamchatka Leaf Warbler and Black-winged Cuckooshrike – plus some impressive counts of waders, including a high count of up to 19 Nordmann’s Greenshanks, Bar-tailed Godwits (10,000), Eastern Curlew (4000), Great Knot (4600), Dunlin (10,400) and Broad-billed Sandpiper (1117). You can download the full report here:
Another highlight from the trip to Dandong was the remarkable total of Nordmann’s Greenshanks (Tringa guttifer) that we observed at a high-tide roost. Totals of 17, 17 and 16 were recorded on my three visits and, on one of the days, local birder Bai Qingquan recorded at least a further 7 from a different location at the same time, making a minimum count of 24 at this important stopover site. Nordmann’s Greenshank is officially “endangered” with a population estimate of around 500-1,000 individuals. It breeds in eastern Siberia along the western and northern coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk and also on Sakhalin Island, wintering in south-east Asia (Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia etc) and is encountered on migration along coastal China from Hong Kong north to Liaoning Province. It’s population is declining, almost certainly related to habitat destruction primarily on its wintering grounds and stopover sites.
We did not try to get close to these birds for fear of flushing them from their roost but the occasional pass by the local Peregrine and even the odd Black-tailed Gull kept them on their toes and, on several occasions, the flocks took to the air, allowing us to hear the air through their wings as they wheeled around in front of us.. a spectacular sight and sound. It was interesting that the Nordmann’s seemed to associate with the Grey Plover.
Having North Korea as a backdrop added human interest to the birding here.
And other waders, most in splendid breeding plumage, were a sight to behold.
Now, you’ve all heard of the “Magic Woods” at Beidaihe…. well, not to be outdone, Donggang has its own ‘not of this Earth’ site. Here’s introducing the “Harry Potter Hedge”!
Out of thin air it produced a Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Rufous-tailed Robin, Siberian Blue Robin, Siberian Thrush, Eyebrowed Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Pechora Pipit, Siberian Rubythroat, Oriental Scops Owl and much much more..
Finally, just for fun, here are a couple of photos of wader flocks… Photo 1 is beginner level. It has four wader species.. can you identify them? Photo 2 is a little tougher… it contains 6 species. A *glittering prize* awaits the first person to list them all correctly.
Dandong wasn’t just a wader bonanza (17 Nordmann’s Greenshanks roosting with 2 Asian Dowitchers was really something!) but also a celebration of Siberian migrants. We encountered Siberian Rubythroats and both Siberian Blue and Rufous-tailed Robins bobbing along the sea wall, Mugimaki, Red-throated, Blue and White and Yellow-rumped Flycatchers feeding on the leeward side of the hedges and Siberian, Grey-backed and Eyebrowed Thrushes skulking in thickets. Not to mention Eastern Crowned, Arctic (Kamchatka!), Pale-legged, Yellow-browed, Dusky and Radde’s Warblers entertaining us from the boughs and Brown Shrikes seemingly on every perch. Fantastic stuff. So, in a tribute to ‘Sibes’, here are a few images.
And turning around 180 degrees revealed an interesting backdrop – the border with North Korea. This boat flew the flag of the DPRK.
I am still wading (no pun intended) through my sightings and images from a shorebirding trip to Donggang, Dandong, last weekend with Paul Holt and local birder, Bai Qingquan. The highlights were many. One of the surprises was the amount of passerine migrants that we saw along the newly planted trees that lined the sea wall.. every day we saw buntings, pipits, flycatchers, thrushes and robins which made the walk to the wader high tide roost a real treat. And it was here that we found the bird of the trip – a Kamchatka Warbler (see previous post). Another, more mature, hedgerow to the north of the wader high tide roost produced another very special bird and the second highlight of the trip – a Black-winged Cuckoo Shrike. This is the first record of this species in Liaoning Province and possibly the most northerly record in mainland China.
We had just seen a Brown-eared Bulbul making its way south, noisily, along the sea wall and just a few minutes later a similar-sized bird flew north along the landward side of the hedge. Bai Qingquan picked it up and both he and I saw it briefly as it flashed by.. what was it? Paul was on the other side of the hedge and missed it. Both Bai and I had never seen this bird before.. sort of cuckoo-shaped but we had seen some white on the wing. Luckily it perched up in a tree a 100 metres or so to the north. Although it was mostly obscured, we could just see its tail which looked cuckoo-like and we speculated that it could be some sort of cuckoo or hawk cuckoo.. but the white in the wing didn’t tally.. We crept forward and then it flew, luckily just a few metres, and this time sat up in full view. Paul very quickly identified it as a Black-winged Cuckooshrike. We were able to secure some pretty good views for about 30 minutes as it fed along the hedgerow. Bai “high-fived” us.. a new Liaoning bird!
The cuckooshrike clearly liked the area as we saw it again the following day and again on our last morning.. Isn’t migration brilliant!
The outstanding bird, among many highlights of a trip to Donggang, Dandong in Liaoning Province, was a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus examinandus). This bird is one of the newly recognised Arctic Warbler splits. See here for the paper by Per Alström et al that presents the rationale behind the taxonomic decision. The conclusion of the paper states that:
“..the species from continental Eurasia and Alaska should be called Phylloscopus borealis (Arctic Warbler), the one from Kamchatka, Sakhalin and Hokkaido Phylloscopus examinandus (Kamchatka Leaf Warbler) and the one from the rest of Japan Phylloscopus xanthodryas (Japanese Leaf Warbler).”
It appears that this is only the 2nd record of examinandus for China, the first being a specimen collected from Fujian Province, referred to in an article in the Journal of The Asiatic Society of Bengal (29: 265) by Swinhoe in 1860.
The bird was discovered along a relatively new sea wall lined with young trees (a result of recent reclamation work). Paul Holt and I were checking the shorebirds on the mudflats along a 2-3 km stretch of the coast road (Binhai Lu) alongside the Yalu River, right on the border between China and North Korea. Every few minutes we would walk upstream and begin to check the next group of birds. We were enjoying splendid views of Red-necked Stint, Terek Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Far Eastern Curlew, Saunders’ Gulls and many more species – a real spectacle on the falling tide. As we were walking between watchpoints, we heard an unfamiliar call… I thought it sounded a little like a flycatcher – a series of rapid low to mid-pitched notes – and thought nothing else of it (we had been seeing several Asian Brown, Yellow-rumped and Red-throated Flycatchers along that stretch of road). However, Paul knew immediately it was different and might be something interesting. We scanned the area of trees from where the call came from and soon picked up an ‘Arctic Warbler’.. it called repeatedly for about 20 seconds but no sooner as I had grabbed my video camera to record the call, the bird fell silent and did not call again. We watched the bird for a few minutes as it flitted from tree to tree. It appeared quite yellow and buff for a standard Arctic Warbler with a yellowish wash on the throat and upper breast and a buffy supercilium. Neither of us had seen an Arctic Warbler like this before. Luckily, our driver was parked nearby and Paul’s laptop was in the car, on which were the calls of the three ‘Arctic Warbler’ species. We listened to the calls and immediately knew that the call we had heard was of Phylloscopus examinandus (Kamchatka Leaf Warbler). We quickly walked back to where the bird had been and, after a few minutes of searching, we relocated it along a roadside bank, just inland from the original location. With a bit of patience it showed quite well, even though the light was bad (heavily overcast). We took some images that captured the features of the bird as we were seeing it in the field. After about an hour, and with the light fading, we eventually left the site having secured lots of images but, unfortunately, without a sound recording of the call; it didn’t call a single time after that initial burst when we first saw it.
Paul knew it would be a good record and certainly a first record for Liaoning Province. What we didn’t know was that it would be the first record (that we are aware of) for China since that 19th century specimen referred to by Swinhoe!
Of course, this species has almost certainly been overlooked and birders will only have been looking for these new species since Per Alström’s paper was published in 2010, so I am sure there will be more records to come… As a bird that breeds in Kamchatka, it must pass through eastern China on migration. Even so, it’s pretty cool to be involved with a first record for China for over 100 years! It’s a fantastic tribute to Paul’s birding skill that he picked up the unusual call and nailed the record..
The calls and songs of the three species of “Arctic Warbler” can be found here. It should be noted that, at present, vocalisations are the only way to definitively identify these three species. However, given the plumage features noted on this bird, it may not be too long before a suite of features allows non-calling/singing birds to be separated in the field.
Now you know what to look for, I hope you find one for yourself…!
Last week, together with Tom Beeke in Dalian and Tian Yang (Leyton), a Dalian-based birding friend, I received an invitation to participate in the International Siberian Crane Festival in Faku County, near Shenyang in Liaoning Province. The invitation came from Professor Zhou from Shenyang University who we had both met last autumn whilst watching waders along the Liaoning coast. Apparently my sighting of 3 Siberian Cranes in Beijing in March (the second record for the capital) qualified me as a Siberian Crane expert….
By juggling work commitments we were both able to participate and we enjoyed one of those special Chinese experiences…
Faku County hosts a network of 16 freshwater lakes which, together, form a very important stopover site for a host of wildfowl and, in particular, the ‘critically endangered’ Siberian Crane. The world population of this species is thought to be around 3,000 individuals and declining. About ten days ago, 2,000 were counted at this important site. The day before our visit on Tuesday, 821 were seen. Clearly, this is a hugely important site for the Siberian Crane but it is not currently included in the list of priority sites for this species in China (so far, five wetland sites have been identified as critical, including the Poyang Lake Basin, where up to 98% of the world’s population of Siberian Cranes over-winter; the other four sites are national level nature reserves – Zhalong, Xianghai, Keerqin, and Momoge Nature Reserves – that protect important migratory habitat used by the Siberian Crane in northeastern China).
As is often the case in rapidly developing China, the site is under threat. To help raise awareness, Professor Zhou set up an International Siberian Crane Festival and invited the most important local politicians, decision-makers and local people to attend. The deputy Mayor of Shenyang, the Party Secretary of Faku County and his deputy all participated. Professor Zhou also invited a panel of experts from Beijing including the China head of Wetlands International and a Deputy Director from the Forestry Ministry. Tom and I were invited to provide an international perspective.
Our day began at 0500 with a visit to the site to do a spot of birdwatching before the official proceedings began. Unfortunately, due to a delay in leaving the hotel (too much baijio for some?) we missed the main crane post-roost flight but, luckily (for Tom at least as he had never seen Siberian Crane!), a couple of stragglers remained and we were able to watch them feed, albeit at distance. We also saw good numbers of Greater White-fronted Geese, some Swan Geese, Bean Geese, Baikal Teal and Grey-headed Lapwing. After a tour of the main reservoir we were driven to a raised viewing area which was being prepared for the festival.
The festival began at 0930 with a formal opening ceremony at the wetland itself which, despite the weather (strong winds and dust storms) saw a hugely impressive local turnout. It appeared to be the biggest event to happen in this community for a long time with hundreds of local people present. The police were there in numbers to coordinate the crowds.
After the formal opening ceremony, during which Tom and I were asked to stand on the stage (!) while 4 dignitaries spoke, we were driven to the local government offices where we participated in a roundtable workshop with the Party chiefs, local residents and media. The workshop began with presentations by Wetlands International, the Forestry Ministry and Professor Zhou, all aimed at explaining the significance of this site and the potential for the local area to achieve provincial, national and international recognition (via Ramsar status) and to secure associated financing. Tom and I were then invited to provide international perspectives and we both spoke about the potential economic value of eco-tourism, the importance of valuing natural capital in economic decision-making, including the ecosystem services provided by wetlands, and the experience of our respective countries in terms of wildlife tourism. It was heartening to hear the Party Secretary (the top official in Faku County) promise, at the end of the event, to review the County’s development strategy on the basis of what he had heard and he even invited us to be formal advisers to his County (one for the CV!). After some interviews with the media (including Liaoning TV and Radio, CCTV, Tianjin News and others), we were provided with an official lunch with the obligatory toasts of the local baijio before heading back home. Tom and I were both very grateful for the warmth of the welcome we received and the memory of this event, and our visit to Faku, will stay with us for a very long time. A big thank you to Leyton for his interpretation service.
Professor Zhou is to be congratulated: he is clearly working extremely hard to try to protect this area and is making every effort to persuade the local Party chiefs that it is in their long term interest to secure the future of these wetlands and the birds that depend on them. I would like to wish him every success and, in my new capacity as environmental advisor to Faku County, I stand ready to assist in any way I can!
By the way, did you know that the oldest documented crane that ever lived was a Siberian Crane named “Wolf”, who died at the age of 83? Amazing!
Bai Qingquan, a fellow birder from Dandong, has just sent me this photo of a leucistic Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo). This bird had been terrorising a local farmer in Zhuanghe, Liaoning Province and had apprently taken two lambs and several chickens before the farmer was able to catch it. It has since been released away from the farm.. An unusual looking bird.
One of the highlights of my recent trip to Liaoning Province was the opportunity to see so many gulls at Jinzhou Bay (we estimated over 4,000). This number must make Jinzhou Bay one of the premier gull-watching sites in northern China (if you know of a comparable site, please let me know!). The channel of running water alongside the landfill tip was a favoured haunt of Common Gulls (Larus canus) and, over the two days I spent at this site, I saw several young birds, presumably of both the subspecies found in this area – kamtschatschensis and heinei. Here are a few images and personal comments. Please let me know if you disagree with my identification or if you have more to add.
The kamtschatschensis bird, in particular, would certainly stand out if it turned up in the Western Europe!
It’s difficult to tell from these images but, in the field, the kamtschatschensis bird appeared to be stockier with a slightly longer bill.
Many birders, being obsessive types, like to keep lists of the birds they have seen. This could be a “life list” (a list of the total number of species seen in one’s life), a “year list”, the total seen in a given year etc. Many people keep national lists, for example a UK or China list. I have to confess that I don’t know how many species I have seen in the UK (I know it’s roughly 400) and I have been lax recently at keeping my China list up to date (somewhere between 500 and 520). However, I can proudly say that I know exactly the number of bird species I have seen in North Korea – 7!
Under the listing ‘rules’ it matters not that I haven’t actually been to North Korea as all have been seen over N Korean airspace from the China side of the border…
I have just returned from a few days in Liaoning Province with Paul Holt, Tom Beeke and Dandong-based birder Bai Qingquan – the perfect opportunity to boost my North Korea list! We visited some sites in Dalian, southern Liaoning, before driving north to visit the area in and around Dandong, including the Yalu River, the waterway marking the border between China and North Korea. In stunning weather, and temperatures approaching -20 at times, we saw some pretty special birds with the constant backdrop of North Korea providing a fascinating distraction.
Birding highlights from the trip north included Brown-eared Bulbul, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Varied Tit, Hazel Grouse, Cinereous (Black) Vulture, Alpine Accentor, Relict Gull (at Zhuanghe) and Slaty-backed Gull. Another spectacle was the sight of 25 White-tailed Eagles at Jinzhou Bay, near Dalian, in the company of over 4,000 gulls, attracted by a landfill tip. Birding takes us to some glamourous places.
I began my visit by meeting up with Paul Holt at Dalian airport and heading to Dalian and Jinzhou Bays. Dalian Bay, on the eastern side of the peninsula, was largely ice-free and produced an adult Glaucous Gull, Vega, Mongolian and Black-tailed Gulls, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Great Crested and Little Grebes, Mallard, Falcated and Chinese Spot-billed Duck. After an hour or so we crossed to the west coast to visit Jinzhou Bay. Here the sea was frozen as far as the eye could see and an impressive group of around 4,000 gulls was loafing on the ice. They were attracted by the large landfill site bordering the bay and this food source is clearly the reason why Jinzhou Bay must be one of the best gull-watching sites in northern China.
The vast majority of the gulls were Mongolian, with a sprinkling of Vega (a few hundred), Heuglin’s (up to 100), Common (20-30), Slaty-backed (3-5), Glaucous (2-3), Black-headed (2) and Black-tailed (2). Paul Holt also saw a first winter Pallas’s Gull at this site before I arrived. Searching through the Mongolian Gulls, recalling my sighting of 3 wing-tagged birds in February 2011 at this site, we were able to find a total of 5 wing-tagged birds during our visit (2 of which Paul and I both saw, 3 of which Paul found before I arrived and one after I left). These birds were ringed by Andreas Buchheim and colleagues under a ringing scheme operated in Mongolia and Russia’s Lake Baikal.
The gulls were not the only scavengers attracted to the tip. Each day we were there, a group of locals sifted through the rubbish and collected anything recyclable – bottles, cardboard, paper, metal etc.. It has to be one of the dirtiest jobs – they were black with grime – but despite the working conditions, they were a jolly bunch, laughing and joking with each other and they seemed thoroughly bemused that a couple of foreigners were joining them on the tip looking at gulls…. We showed them eagles through our telescopes and they showed us sacks of scrap paper.. 🙂
Just north of the landfill, a still unfrozen stream flowed into the bay, attracting some duck – mostly Mallard but also some Chinese Spot-billed Duck, Ruddy and Common Shelduck. In turn, these attracted the attention of birds of prey and we counted 25 White-tailed Eagles in the bay on Sunday morning – an impressive count for anywhere in China. The stream also proved popular with the Common Gulls and we saw both henei and kamtschatschensis subspecies here. I’ll follow up this post with a dedicated gull post soon.
And this Merlin flashed through, surprisingly putting up most of the gulls as it did so..
From the landfill at Dalian, we drove north to meet with Tom Beeke at Jinshitan and set off to Dandong, a city of 2.5 million people on the North Korean border. Here we met up with local birder (possibly the only birder in northern Liaoning!), Bai Qingquan, a great guy who was not only a talented birder but also excellent company and extremely knowledgeable about the sites in this special province.
We started birding along the promenade in Dandong, just a few hundred metres from North Korea which we could see clearly just across the Yalu river. Dandong is an interesting city. It is home to the “Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge”, one of the few crossings between the two countries and, immediately next to this is another bridge – the “Short Bridge” – that was partially destroyed by a US bombing raid during the Korean War. The town also hosts a museum dedicated to the “War to Resist US Aggression”… We didn’t have time to visit but next time I am in town, I fancy a look in there!
We tried several sites along the river from Dandong and to the north looking for Scaly-sided Merganser. This rare bird is regular along this stretch of river in spring and autumn, breeding a little further north and wintering in central and southern China. This winter had been unusually mild with no snow and Bai had seen the Mergansers in December, so we thought we’d try our luck. Unfortunately, despite 4 pairs of eyes scanning the river, we drew a blank. Next we visited the Hushan (Tiger Mountain) Great Wall, catching up with Brown-eared Bulbul, Alpine Accentor and enjoying panoramic views of North Korea.
The next day was spent at Feng Huang Shan, a mountain roughly an hour north-west of Dandong. It was a bitter -18 here but, after driving up almost to the summit, the birding was spectacular. Almost immediately we encountered a Varied Tit, followed by a couple of White-backed Woodpeckers and then at least 3 Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, all within a few minutes of getting out of the car… Superb! We wandered up and down the track and, after hearing at least two Hazel Grouse calling, a careful 30-minute stalk was eventually rewarded with views of a male perched on a rock on a hillside.. fantastic.
On the way back south, we stopped at Zhuanghe, a port town between Dandong and Dalian, to look for Relict Gulls, a large flock of which Paul found a few days before. We saw only a handful, probably due to the high tide, but with a little time on our hands we decided to look at the deep-water harbour for sea duck. As we arrived, a ferry was about to leave to some of the outlying islands and, with a bit of negotiation from Qingquan, we were soon on board and sailing through an almost Antarctic-esque ice-filled sea. It was bone-chillingly cold on deck but we were rewarded with over 60 Long-tailed Duck as well as good China species such as Pelagic Cormorant, Slaty-backed Gull and Red-breasted Merganser.
After returning to Zhuanghe around dusk, we headed into town to find Qingquan a taxi back to Dandong and to warm up with some hot food before heading south to Dalian. A thoroughly enjoyable trip…
So, after all that, what are the seven species on my North Korea list? They are, in chronological order, Saunders’ Gull (from Sep 2011), White-tailed Eagle, Mongolian Gull, Kestrel, Goldeneye, Goosander and Mallard. Anyone beat that?
Paul Holt has just completed his detailed trip report for the autumn migration trip to Laotieshan in Liaoning Province, China. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows him (and me!) that Paul is responsible for the incredibly detailed daily counts of the species included in the report.
It was an awesome trip with some stunning counts (including some China records).
- We recorded 202 species in total
- High counts included 2155 bird-days of Oriental Honey-buzzard with 1035 on our very first day on site, the 24 September;
- 1150 bird-days of Black Kite with birds being seen almost every day with a peak count of 209 on the 7 October;
- 1255 Eurasian Sparrowhawks and a peak count of 283 on the 10 October;
- 248 bird-days of Northern Goshawk with a peak of 64 also on the 10 October;
- 6944 bird-days of Eastern Buzzard with a peak of 3490 on the 12 October;
- 7971 bird-days of Amur Falcon with a peak of 1830 on the 10 October;
- Over 20,000 bird-days of Ashy Minivet with a peak of 7549 on the 28 September;
- 456 bird-days of Yellow-bellied Tit with birds being noted on 20 of the 23 days we were in Liaoning and a peak of 160 on the 5 October;
- Nearly 60,000 bird-days of Red-rumped Swallow with 10,000 being estimated on the 27 September;
- Over 14,000 white-eyes with up to 4500 birds being noted daily while we were in the province;
- Over 1600 bird-days of Black-faced Bunting with a peak of 700 on the 8 October.
Local rarities included:
- 14-bird-days of Black Stork with between 1 and 4 birds on five dates;
- A juvenile Steppe Eagle on the 2 October;
- 2 juvenile Golden Eagles on the 11 October;
- An adult male Lesser Kestrel on the 6 October;
- 70 osculans Eurasian Oystercatchers, a moulting juvenile Pallas’s Gull (only the third for Liaoning) and a first year Glaucous Gull at the Biliu river, Pulandian and a single Little Curlew near Pikou, Pulandian all on the 3 October;
- Surprising numbers of both Northern and Asian House Martins;
- Two and one Red-billed Starlings on the 7th & 14 October respectively
- Several early Alpine Accentors with sightings on three dates after the 11 October.