The 2nd China International Birding Festival in Lushun, Dalian

Last week I was honoured to represent BirdLife International and the Oriental Bird Club at the 2nd China International Birding Festival in Lushun, near Dalian in Liaoning Province. The centrepiece was a one-day ‘bird race’ in which teams of three to four people attempted to record as many species as possible at four pre-selected sites around the district. This year I was delighted to be joined by two friends from the UK – Brian Egan, who manages the UK’s Rare Bird Alert, and Rob Holmes, for whom the best title we came up with was “ex-YOC member from Suffolk”. Together with Marie, we formed the “Foreign Flappers”, one of 21 teams to take part.

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Google map showing the location of Laotieshan, Lushun, in southern Liaoning Province

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The Festival was again supported by the local government and organised by the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) and the China Birdwatching Society. The aim was to raise the profile of birding in China and to celebrate the world-class migration hosted by Lushun every spring and autumn on the East Asian Flyway. For more about this magnificent place, see this post.

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Terry signing in for BirdLife International

The professionalism of the opening ceremony demonstrated the importance the local government places on wild birds. The Lushun Party Secretary, Mr Yi opened the event and spent time meeting all of the participants over the opening dinner.

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Lushun Part Secretary, Mr Yi, toasting the Foreign Flappers at the opening ceremony.

Educated at Coventry in the UK, he was fluent in English and relatively western in his outlook. He told us how he had been clamping down on poaching and strengthening the management of the Laotieshan National Nature Reserve, including the famous Snake Island, an offshore rock islet where every spring and autumn the resident Pallas’s Pit Vipers climb the trees and await tired migrants. He was proud to say that poaching incidents were down by 90% this year.

On Snake Island, Pallas's Pit Vipers feed twice a year on migratory birds.
On Snake Island, Pallas’s Pit Vipers feed twice a year on migratory birds. Photo by Wang Xiaoping.

Mr Yi, who committed to hosting the event next year, asked us for advice about how to expand the birding festival to attract more participants, particularly from overseas. We told him about similar events and places overseas, for example the annual BirdFair at Rutland Water, the largest of its kind in the world, the Champions Of The Flyway bird race in Israel and other migration hotspots such as Falsterbo in Sweden and Cape May on the east coast of the United States. We promised to write to him with ideas and advice and we very much hope he will be able to visit the UK in 2017 to experience the BirdFair for himself.

The bird race was exceptionally well-organised. Each team was provided with a vehicle and driver and a local forestry administration official who acted as a guide. Judges were allocated to each site and assisted with identifications and helped to engage the public. It was a slick operation and our team recorded a respectable 81 species, with favourites including Baikal Teal, Oriental White Stork, Chinese Egret (colour ringed with the inscription “T03”), Oriental Honey Buzzard, Red-necked Stint, Lanceolated Warbler and Pallas’s Bunting.

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Back of the camera photo of one of 4 ORIENTAL STORKS we were lucky to see during the bird race.  Photo by Brian Egan.

After the event, we took the opportunity to visit Professor Ma Li who leads a team of volunteers focused on finding and dismantling illegal nets at Laotieshan Nature Reserve. She works with the local police and nature reserve staff and she confirmed what Mr Yi had told us – that poaching was well down this year. Prof Ma took us to some sites around Laotieshan and introduced us to a former poacher who had been ‘converted’ into a bird protection volunteer. Now he helps Ma Li’s team to find illegal nets and to catch other poachers. When we visited, he had a Japanese Scops Owl in a cage, brought to him by a local boy. It was unclear how the boy came to have the owl but it was in good condition and he gave it to us to release.

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Professor Ma Li going over owl identification with former poacher, Mr Wang.

After an extra day of birding around Laotieshan, which included finding a rare Red-breasted Flycatcher and being fortunate to have stunning close-up views of the resident Finless Porpoises, it was time to leave. With so many young people participating in the festival from all parts of China, generous media coverage, the engagement of local residents and the commitment outlined by the local government leaders, we came away feeling optimistic about the future of Laotieshan and about birding in China.

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The local media covered the bird festival for their main news bulletin.

And the spectacle of hundreds of Common Buzzards circling above us at the lighthouse on our final day is something that will stay with us for a very long time. Big thanks to the Lushun government, especially Mr Yi and his deputy Mr Li, the CBCGDF and China Birdwatching Society and to all of the participants who made it such a fun and inspirational event. Looking forward to the 3rd festival in 2017!

Laotieshan update – Tuesday

Laotieshan is continuing to exceed expectations.  Highlight today was probably the 10,000+ Red-rumped Swallows that moved through the point.  Simply staggering.  Supporting cast included a Hair-crested Drongo, a total of 19 House Martins (13 Northern, 3 Asian and 3 unidentified to species level), a single Black Stork and 8 White-throated Needletails.  Also very good numbers of Richard’s Pipits, Black-faced Buntings, Olive-backed Pipits and Chestnut-flanked White-eyes.  Raptors continue to impress with Oriental Honey Buzzards, Japanese Sparrowhawks, Goshawks, Black-eared Kites and Pied Harriers the highlights.   All of this is happening during benign weather.  We are expecting a cold front to pass on Thursday with the temperature due to drop by around 10 degrees.  If that happens, Friday could be a big day.  It’s been so good that I haven’t had time to put together detailed notes – that will probably have to wait until I get home..  In the meantime, here are a few more images of the day…

Peregrine, Laotieshan, 27 September 2011. A pair of these magnificent falcons is in residence at Laotieshan.

 

Ashy Minivets, Laotieshan. Over 1,000 of these stunning birds were seen on Monday and one flock on Tuesday numbered at least 180 birds.

 

A record image of one of the Asian House Martins at Laotieshan today. Note the dark underwing coverts.

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...