The 3rd China International Birding Festival, 20-22 October 2017 – Call For Teams!

The China Birdwatching Society has just announced that the 3rd China International Birding Festival will take place around Laotieshan in Lushun District, Dalian, from 20-22 October 2017.  Sponsored by the State Forestry Administration and Dalian Municipal People’s Government, the festival aims to promote birding and wildlife conservation as well as celebrating the world-class migration hosted by Lushun every spring and autumn along the East Asian Flyway.  The centrepiece will be a 24-hr “bird race” involving teams of up to four people.

The opening ceremony of the 1st festival was interrupted by low-flying Oriental Honey Buzzards!

It’s a fabulous way to promote birding.  The local government, especially the local governor, Mr Yi, deserves great credit for supporting the establishment of what has become the premier annual birding event in China.  You can read about the 1st and 2nd festivals here and here.  This year’s event will be covered by local and national media and it promises to be the biggest yet..

Lushun governor, Mr Yi, toasting “The Foreign Flappers” at the opening dinner in 2016.
Laotieshan is situated at the southern tip of the Liaodong peninsula in Liaoning Province. Just one look at the geographical position will tell any birder it must be a brilliant place for autumn migration. And it is!

With a mouth-watering array of species possible, including Baikal Teal, Oriental Stork, Streaked Shearwater, Japanese Sparrowhawk, White’s Thrush, Mugimaki Flycatcher and Yellow-breasted Bunting, the festival will produce some top quality birding.  For those interested in participating, the local government will cover transfers to and from the airport in Dalian, the accommodation cost and most meals.  Participants must pay their own travel costs to Dalian.

Teams from outside China are welcome to participate and registration is now open.  There are a limited number of spaces so, if you are interested, please contact Rita on email: h12@wbag.org or on telephone +86 18600686862 before the deadline of 12 August.

To register, simply provide the following information: Organisation (if any), Team Name and then, for each participant, the full name, gender, age, WeChat ID (if any), Telephone number, ID or passport number and flight/train arrival/departure times.

Laotieshan is famous for its passage of Oriental Honey Buzzards. Peak passage will have passed by the time of the festival but it’s a species that should be recorded by most teams.

Good luck to everyone participating and see you there!

 

 

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.

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

img_4698

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.

tt-signing-in-for-birdlife-int
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.

mr-li-toasting-foreign-flappers-at-opening-ceremony
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.

img_4732
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.

2016-10-24-ma-li-with-poacher2
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.

img_4734
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!

Poachers Waste No Time After 1st China International Birding Festival

After the success of the 1st China International Birding Festival, it was with some sadness that I received a call from the Dalian Lushun Wild Bird Protection Association on Thursday evening.  Volunteers had been out that day and found more than 800 metres of illegal mist nets at Laotieshan, the site of the festival.  They sent me these shocking images.

2015-10-01 Nets at Laotieshan
Volunteers from the Dalian Lushun Wild Bird Protection Association, Laotieshan Nature Reserve staff and Forestry Police taking down illegal nets at Laotieshan on Thursday.
2015-10-01 dead woodcock, laotieshan
The removal of the illegal nets came too late for this Woodcock.
2015-10-01 releasing brown hawk owl, Laotieshan
However, this NORTHERN BOOBOOK was lucky. After untangling this beautiful bird from the net, the volunteers released it unharmed.
2015-10-01 releasing brown hawk owl, laotieshan2
Stressed but unharmed. Hopefully this NORTHERN BOOBOOK will have an uneventful migration to south-east Asia.

The group’s leader explained that, when the festival was in progress, the poachers had lain low, knowing that the discovery of mist nets during the event would have embarrassed the local government and almost certainly led to severe punishment.  However, now, with the spotlight turned away, the poachers were back in force.  Apparently 7-8 poachers regularly haunt the Laotieshan area and every autumn there is a running battle between the criminals and the local wild bird society, Laotieshan nature reserve staff and forestry police.

One piece of good news is that the local bird group has been engaging with the poachers to try to persuade them away from catching birds to becoming bird protectors.  One of them has already given up his nets and is now paid a small amount to look for, and take down, illegal nets.  Discussions with a second poacher are ongoing.

As is well-known, poachers make the best gamekeepers, so I have my fingers crossed that they are successful.  Whatever the result, it’s important to highlight the brilliant work of the Dalian Lushun Wild Bird Protection Group.  Heroes.

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)