Horned Larks

The cold winter (it’s forecast to get down to -26 degrees C in Beijing on Christmas Eve), combined with the above average snowfall, has meant that many birds that are usually scarce winter visitors to the capital, are here in greater numbers.  The Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) is a good example.  These pretty birds are one of the most widespread of larks, breeding across much of North America, northernmost Europe and Asia and in the mountains of southeast Europe.  There is even an isolated population on a plateau in Colombia.  In summer the breeding males have tufts of feathers on each side of the head that resemble small ‘horns’ which gives rise to the English name.

There are two subspecies of Horned Lark on the Beijing list.  The most common is the ssp brandti.  According to Birds of the Western Palearctic (Vol 5) the distribution of brandti is ‘steppes of lower Volga river and northern Transcaspia, E through plains of Kazakhstan to N Mongolia and W Manchuria; Altai, Tarbagatay, and E Tian Shan’; it is a ‘partial migrant. Flocks regularly occur S of breeding range in winter (e.g.  in Turkmeniya, Mongolia, N China)’.

The ssp brandti is striking due to its white face and complete lack of yellow markings.

Horned Lark (ssp brandti), Wild Duck Lake, 18 December 2012
Horned Lark (ssp brandti), Wild Duck Lake, 18 December 2012.  Note the lack of yellow on the face and the warm flanks.
Horned Lark ssp brandti.  Note the lack of yellow on the face.
Horned Lark ssp brandti (with Asian Short-toed Lark in the background). Sporting whitish ‘horns’.
Horned Lark ssp brandti.
Horned Lark ssp brandti.

Prior to Tuesday, all of the HORNED LARKS reported in Beijing this winter were of the ssp brandti.  However, on Tuesday morning, Jesper Hornskov and I made a visit to Wild Duck Lake and, to our delight, we not only encountered several brandti HORNED LARKS but also four stunning yellow-faced birds.  These are the less common ssp flava which breed much further north (across northern Europe, northern Asia, east to Chukotka).  They showed spectacularly well, allowing us to capture some good images.  Compare the brandti birds above with the flava below.

Horned Lark ssp flava, Wild Duck Lake, 18 December 2012
Horned Lark ssp flava, Wild Duck Lake, 18 December 2012
Horned Lark ssp flava, Wild Duck Lake, 18 December 2012.
Horned Lark ssp flava, Wild Duck Lake, 18 December 2012.
Horned Lark ssp flava, Wild Duck Lake, 18 December 2012.
Horned Lark ssp flava, Wild Duck Lake, 18 December 2012.

With a supporting cast of 10 Mongolian Larks, a handful of Eurasian Skylarks, 30+ Asian Short-toed Larks, over 900 Lapland Buntings, a single White-tailed Eagle, Upland and Rough-legged Buzzards and 2 Hen Harriers, it was a good day to be out, despite the -13 temperatures!  Thanks to Jesper for the information from BWP included in this post.

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“****! That looked like a BAER’S POCHARD!!!”

With apologies to my mum, that’s exactly what went through my head as I scanned a group of diving duck at Wild Duck Lake on Wednesday morning and came across a bird with a green-tinged head and pale flanks…  It immediately turned away so that I could only see it’s backside and there were agonising seconds of self-doubt before it turned side-on again to show me that it was, without a doubt, most definitely, a drake BAER’S POCHARD….  Wow.

Wednesday morning started off badly.  For more than half an hour I was stuck in traffic on the G6 caused by broken down lorries that failed to make the steep ascent over the Badaling Great Wall pass, meaning that I arrived at Ma Chang around 0645, about half an hour after dawn.  Already, many bird photographers were driving around in 4x4s searching for something to photograph..  and there were no birds on the ‘desert area’.  As usual, I went to the more isolated western end of the track, near a ‘spit’ of land on which several fishermen’s ‘tents’ or yurts are situated in the summer months.  I set up my telescope here and began to watch.  Visible migration was relatively slow with just Buff-bellied and a few Water Pipits accompanied by some Little Buntings and a few Skylarks.  An immature male Hen Harrier and a Saker both came through in the first half an hour (the latter with prey).  Initially, there were no duck to be seen but, later on, a large mixed flock flew in, presumably flushed by fishermen.  They settled some distance away but were viewable with a telescope from my position.  I began to scan through them and there were almost 300 Mallard, 82 Gadwall and 79 Spot-billed Duck dabbling against the far reedbed.  A little closer, in a line, was a large group of diving duck.  In this flock was a good number of Ferruginous Duck and, as I began to count them, I stumbled across a diving duck with pale flanks and a greenish tinge to the head.. However, just as I got onto it, it turned away.  I immediately thought ” ****!  That looked like a Baer’s Pochard”…  At this point I lost count of the Ferruginous Duck..  I watched the BAER’S POCHARD for a couple of minutes as it fed – with short dives – amongst the Ferruginous Ducks.  I then remembered that I was counting Ferruginous Ducks and, being someone who likes to finish what they have started, I began to count them again..  I got to about 12 before I saw the BAER’S POCHARD again..  and after lingering a few seconds, continued with the count.. I was working from left to right and, as I approached the far right of the flock, I saw a drake BAER’S POCHARD.  Thinking that it must have been the same one that had simply moved across unseen, I scanned back to the original position and, to my amazement, the original bird was still there!  So there were two drake BAER’S..!!  Gulp..

The second BAER’S was the last viewable bird in the flock – the rest were behind the reeds.  I realised that the angle from which I was observing the birds wasn’t great and that if I moved a little further west along the spit, I would be able to see more of the flock.  I moved the car and, sitting on the back seat with the back door open, I was able to use it as a wind break to help minimise wind shake.  Again, I went through the flock, this time a little closer and with much less wind shake.  I counted 38 Ferruginous Ducks, 18 Common Pochard, 3 Smew and an incredible 4 BAER’S POCHARD (the same two males, the latter of which enjoyed the company of two females).  This total is a minimum as there were still more birds in the flock that were not viewable..   I sent SMSs to a few people before settling down and just enjoying observing these birds..  Unfortunately they were too distant to photograph with my 400mm lens.  The picture below was taken with my 400mm lens to illustrate just how distant they were.

On 17 October 2012, there were at least 4 Baer’s Pochards here (beyond the 3rd set of nets)!

My telescope was on 40-50x during the observation but the light was excellent, with the sun directly behind me.

The BAER’S POCHARD is in a perilous state.  It’s status was recently amended to “Critically Endangered” reflecting the dramatic decline of this species.  In a worrying sign, the surveys by Chinese ornithologists on some of its traditional wintering grounds yielded no birds in winter 2011/12.  This is an extract from an internet posting by Wang Xin, Cao Lei, Lei Jinyu and Tony Fox:

“a special survey by Wuhan Birdwatching Society this winter (2011/12) did not find any Baer’s Pochard at all, even at Liangzi Lake (where the survey had found c. 130 individuals last year). Birdwatchers have also been to the upper part of Wuchang Lake in Anhui this winter where Cao Lei’s group have been finding more than 200 in recent years and found none there as well. In the Baiquan wetlands, in Wuhan, where the species was often found in the past, there are only reports of poisoned swans and geese because the water levels in winter 2011/12 are so low and people can get near to the waterbirds as never before.”

I also understand that a (partial) summer survey of its traditional breeding ground this year resulted in no confirmed sightings at all.  Amongst all this gloom, one positive development has been the discovery of two breeding sites, both holding very few pairs, a long way south of the known traditional breeding range.  Whether these birds represent a previously undiscovered population or whether breeding at these sites reflects an adaptation strategy to the deterioration of their preferred habitat further north is a question to which I don’t know the answer…  Whatever, it is clear that this bird is in serious trouble.  I hope to write something more in-depth on the plight of the Baer’s Pochard very soon.  Watch this space.

PS.  The four-letter word I used was “Gosh”.. 🙂
Full species list below.

Common Pheasant – 8
Bean Goose – 7
Ruddy Shelduck – 4
Gadwall – 82 @ Ma Chang plus 16 @ Yeyahu
Mallard – 280
Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 88
Eurasian Teal – 12
Common Pochard – 18
BAER’S POCHARD – 4 (two males, two females)
Ferruginous Duck – 39 (38 @ Ma Chang plus 1 @ Yeyahu) – possibly a record Beijing count.
Common Goldeneye – 6
Smew – 5 (2 @ Ma Chang, 3 @ Yeyahu)
Goosander – 3
Little Grebe – 18
Great Crested Grebe – 6
Black Stork – 2 over Yeyahu
Grey Heron – 1
Great Cormorant – 1
Common Kestrel – 1
Saker – 2
Hen Harrier – 2 (one imm male and one first winter)
Northern Goshawk – 2
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 3
Coot – 76
Common Crane – 15
Northern Lapwing – 1
Snipe sp (Swinhoe’s or Pin-tailed) – 1
Spotted Redshank – 2
Black-headed Gull – 93
Chinese Grey Shrike – 2
Azure-winged Magpie – 7
Common Magpie – lots
Daurian Jackdaw – 431
Carrion Crow – 1
Corvid sp (Rook/Carrion/Long-billed Crow) – 28
Great Tit – 1
Marsh Tit – 2
Skylark – 8
Chinese Hill Babbler – 2
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler – 7
Yellow-browed Warbler – 1
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 6
White-cheeked Starling – 4
Red-flanked Bluetail – 1
Daurian Redstart – 1
Tree Sparrow – lots
Buff-bellied Pipit – 44
Water Pipit – 4
Brambling – 14
Oriental Greenfinch – 1
Pine Bunting – 3
Little Bunting – 21
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 8

Japanese Swamp Warbler

The Japanese Swamp Warbler, or Marsh Grassbird as it is sometimes known, is only found in east Asia and has a restricted and local distribution.  BirdLife classifies it as “Near Threatened”.  I saw and heard my first one in a reedy field at Dandong, Liaoning Province, this May and it was the memory of the song that came flooding back this morning when, on arrival at Wild Duck Lake, I could hear a bird singing from the reedbed close to the yurts at the western end of Ma Chang.

I was surprised that it was singing, not just because it is now mid-October (some warblers do sing occasionally on autumn migration) but because it was -2 degrees Celsius!

Nevertheless, it sang for over half an hour, just after sunrise, allowing me to make a recording of its song with my Canon EOS 7D.  This bird won’t win any awards for its vocal repertoire, the song being rather repetitive, but it’s a distinctive sound and a joy to hear on a stunningly beautiful, still autumnal dawn at Wild Duck Lake.

Listen to the recording of the Japanese Swamp Warbler by clicking here

Occasionally, it also clambered to the top of a reed, allowing me to capture an image.  At the time I thought it must be a good Beijing record.  After speaking to a couple of locals, it turns out that it is either the second or third record for the capital.  Cool.

Japanese Swamp Warbler (Marsh Grassbird), Locustella pryeri, Ma Chang, Wild Duck Lake, Beijing, 11 October 2012.

Greater Spotted Eagles and more..

On Saturday I made my usual visit to Wild Duck Lake.  Starting at Ma Chang, it was soon obvious that there were no Oriental Plovers on site..  It’s been an incredible spring for this bird and a joy to see so many pass through Ma Chang but I guess the run of seeing these birds had to end sometime.  After daydreaming a bit about where they are now and wishing them well for a successful breeding season, I focused on the birds that were here – a few Richard’s Pipits, singing Asian Short-toed Larks, Little Ringed Plovers and flock after flock of Little Buntings…  many of which were singing.  A great sight and sound.

Little Bunting singing. Flocks of these gorgeous birds were a feature of Saturday at Ma Chang.

The excursion out to the yurts, as on Tuesday, produced lots of pipits and wagtails, with Eastern Yellow Wagtail the most numerous.  I saw both macronyx and tschutschensis subspecies.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail ssp tschutschensis, Ma Chang, 5 May 2012

There were a few Citrine Wagtails around, including this stunning male which posed on a fence post..

Citrine Wagtail (male), Ma Chang, 5 May 2012

The pipits were mostly Red-throated and one, in particular, was very red – almost a Red-breasted Pipit!

Red-throated Pipit (presumed male), Ma Chang, 5 May 2012

A few Little Terns were patrolling the reservoir with many Common Terns (of the ssp longipennis) and a pair of Whiskered Terns but wildfowl was very thin on the ground (no Ruddy Shelduck for the first time this year).  The walk back produced a ‘Swintailed” Snipe which I flushed from a dry-ish verge.  The call was very distinctive – dryer and less ‘squelchy’ than Common Snipe – and the bird lacked the warm tones of Common Snipe in flight.  Swinhoe’s and Pin-tailed Snipe are currently unidentifiable in the field unless one can see well and count the tail feathers..  hence the term “Swin-tailed” Snipe.

A check of the reservoir proper produced single pairs of Ferruginous Duck and Garganey and a group of Oriental Pratincoles arrived noisily from the east.  A male Eastern Marsh Harrier spooked both the few remaining Pallas’s Reed Buntings and the newly arrived Siberian Stonechats.  The walk back produced a splendid singing male Black-faced Bunting, Chinese Blackbird (my first at this site), several Pallas’s Warblers and a handful of Red-throated Flycatchers.

As the day warmed up, I sensed it was going to be a good raptor day and, as I arrived at Yeyahu, it was with anticipation that I headed out to ‘eagle field’.  Sure enough, after only a few minutes, I caught sight of an eagle and, setting up the telescope, I was able to confirm its identity as a Greater Spotted.  Nice.  Then a second bird appeared and the two interacted for a while before heading east.  As I watched them fly purposefully towards the mountains, I saw a group of white, long-necked birds soaring high…  spoonbills!  There was no chance of identifying them to species but they were probably Eurasian (Black-faced is extremely rare in Beijing).

As I continued to walk towards the reservoir, I was constantly flushing groups of Little Buntings.. they were everywhere.  I was frequently scanning the skies for more raptors and very soon I was watching another Greater Spotted Eagle.. this time quite a ragged older bird.  Setting up the telescope, I soon found a large bird through the eyepiece but, as it banked, I realised it was rather white and was clearly a different bird – Oriental Stork!!  That’s a rare bird in Beijing, especially in May.  As I was watching it, the Greater Spotted Eagle came into the same ‘scope view and, although distant, I watched these two birds soaring on the same thermal for a couple of minutes before the stork headed east.

Oriental Stork with Greater Spotted Eagle, Yeyahu NR, 5 May 2012
One of the three Greater Spotted Eagles, Yeyahu NR, 5 May 2012
Greater Spotted Eagle with apparent pale leading edge to the underwing. I haven’t seen this plumage characteristic on Gtr Spotted Eagles before. Yeyahu NR, 5 May 2012

Not long after these sightings, I looked up again (my neck was beginning to ache at this point!) and saw another bird soaring high.. this time a Black Stork..!  It followed the same line as the Oriental White Stork from before and soon disappeared to the east…  next stop Beidaihe!

A couple of Japanese Quails were singing as I approached the tower at the reservoir edge and it was here that I was surprised to find a group of 10 Ferruginous Ducks…  this duck used to be rare in Beijing but in recent years numbers have increased..  this flock could represent the highest Beijing count.

On the walk back I took a water break (it was hot) and sat overlooking the fields.  After a couple of minutes, three Tolai Hares appeared and started to chase each other around.. sometimes leaping into the air.. it was a spectacular show.  Then an Eastern Marsh Harrier appeared and the hares went crazy.. they kept leaping vertically into the air!  I though that they may have young in the fields and wanted to distract the harrier but I’m not sure..  Just as the harrier drifted away, the hares resumed their chasing and it was then that I noticed a Greater Spotted Eagle hanging in the air high above them.  Suddenly it dropped like a stone….  For a second I thought I would witness the eagle taking a hare right in front of me but, around 10-15 metres from the ground, the eagle pulled out of the dive and banked away..  maybe it saw me?  Even so, it was a spectacular dive and the hares didn’t suspect a thing!  I think the hares’ eyesight must be quite poor.. they frequently ran close to me and, only when I moved or made a noise did they notice me..

Tolai Hare checking me out, Yeyahu NR, 5 May 2012.

At this point, time was getting on, so I reluctantly left the hares to it and made my way back to the car for the drive back to Beijing.  Yet another good day.

 

 

 

 

Total species list (85 in total):

Japanese Quail – 3 (2 heard singing and 1 seen in flight)

Common Pheasant – 8
Mandarin – 1
Gadwall – 4
Falcated Duck – 2 on the reservoir north of Yeyahu NR
Mallard – 4
Spot-billed Duck – 6
Garganey – 2 at Ma Chang
Eurasian Teal – 6
Ferruginous Duck – 12, including one group of 10 on the reservoir north of Yeyahu NR
Little Grebe – 10
Great Crested Grebe – 12
Black Stork – 1 circling and then headed east at 1315
Oriental Stork – 1 circling with Greater Spotted Eagle at 1130 before heading east
Spoonbill sp – 5 circling high over Yeyahu NR at 1115
Great Bittern – 3 heard booming
Night Heron – 8
Chinese Pond Heron – 2
Grey Heron – 1
Purple Heron – 4
Common Kestrel – 2
Amur Falcon – 3
Hobby – 3
Black-eared Kite – 2
Eastern Marsh Harrier – 5
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 2
Greater Spotted Eagle – 3 (all photographed)
Moorhen – 3
Coot – 8
Black-winged Stilt – 39
Northern Lapwing – 14
Grey-headed Lapwing – 5
Little Ringed Plover – 12
‘Swintailed’ Snipe – 2
Common Snipe – 1
Whimbrel – 1
Common Greenshank – 2
Wood Sandpiper – 18
Common Sandpiper – 8
Oriental Pratincole – 6
Black-headed Gull – 78
Common Tern – 44
Little Tern – 8
Whiskered Tern – 2
Collared Dove – 4
Common Kingfisher – 6
Hoopoe – 2
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1
Azure-winged Magpie – 6
Common Magpie – too many
Corvid sp – 23 (probably Carrion Crow)
Great Tit – 2
Marsh Tit – 2
Chinese Penduline Tit – 6
Barn Swallow – 6
Red-rumped Swallow – 6
Asian Short-toed Lark – 8
Eurasian Skylark – 2
Zitting Cisticola – 14
Chinese Bulbul – 4
Dusky Warbler – 3
Radde’s Warbler – 1
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler – 4 (singing)
Yellow-browed Warbler – 8 (singing)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 14
White-cheeked Starling – 7
Chinese Blackbird – 1 male singing in the plantation north of Ma Chang.
Bluethroat – 2 (1 at Ma Chang, 1 at Yeyahu NR)
Siberian Rubythroat – 1 in the small bushes at Ma Chang
Siberian Stonechat – 20
Taiga Flycatcher – 15
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – lots
Forest Wagtail – 1 singing along the entrance track to Ma Chang
Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 242 (mostly tschutschensis and macronyx)
Citrine Wagtail – 5
White Wagtail – 4 (leucopsis)
Richard’s Pipit – 8
Blyth’s Pipit – 1 probably this species
Olive-backed Pipit – 2
Red-throated Pipit – 5 (including one with a red breast!)
Oriental Greenfinch – 2
Little Bunting – 535
Black-faced Bunting – 14
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 18

Bull-headed Shrike!

Yesterday I accompanied visiting British birder John Gerson and Dutch birder Ben Wielstra to Wild Duck Lake.  We started at Ma Chang where we were lucky enough to find 2 Oriental Plovers, 5 Greater Sand Plovers and a Mongolian Lark before the Genghis Khan wannabees began to gallop all over the area.  A flyover Merlin was a nice bonus.

Greater Sand Plover, Ma Chang, 27 April 2012. This bird showed a hint of a black border to the upper breast band, a feature more associated with Lesser Sand Plover, but structurally (especially the bill shape) it fitted Greater. Also, I believe the rusty markings on the mantle/scapulars are a good feature of Greater.
Oriental Plover (presumed female), Ma Chang, 27 April 2012

After enjoying these birds we moved to the edge of the reservoir and, alongside the track, we enjoyed spectacular views of Citrine and ‘Eastern’ Yellow Wagtails, Buff-belled Pipits and Pallas’s Buntings.  One of the ‘Eastern’ Yellow Wags looked to me like it might have been of the ssp tschutschensis.  What do you think?

Citrine Wagtail, Ma Chang, 27 April 2012. Males of this species are simply stunning.
'Eastern' Yellow Wagtail... is this of the ssp tschutschensis? I really need to invest in that "Pipits and Wagtails" book!

Fly-by Pied Harriers and Oriental Pratincoles were nice additions to our day list before we headed to the ‘island’ to check out the wildfowl that was sheltering from the increasingly strong wind.  Keeping the telescope steady was a challenge but, with perseverance, we made out some Falcated Duck bobbing up and down.

Some passing Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swifts, a group of 5 Spoonbills (probably Eurasian) and our first Purple Heron added to our tally before we headed off to Yeyahu, as much to find a little shelter from the dust clouds than anything else!

At Yeyahu we were treated to sensational views of Eastern Marsh Harrier and enjoyed prolonged views of a Greater Spotted Eagle as it hung in the air over the southern boundary of the reserve.  A Black-eared Kite flushed the heron-infested reedbed in the south-west corner to reveal at least 17 Purple Herons with a sprinkling of Greys mixed in.  A lunch stop here also produced a Chinese Penduline Tit (heard only), Zitting Cisticola and a few Siberian Stonechats as well as a now almost expected Short-toed Eagle hunting over the scrubby area between Ma Chang and Yeyahu.

Perhaps the star bird of the day revealed itself on the walk down to the observation tower at Yeyahu.  As we walked the sheltered side of the treeline we encountered a large flock of Little Buntings – at least 70 birds – and, as were checking them for any other buntings, we caught sight of a larger bird flit ahead of us and land in a dense thicket.  After a little maneovering, we were able to see it was a shrike and, a very striking one at that.  It sported a beautifully rich orange cap and showed a dark grey tail without any rufous at all.  It also showed some nice scaling on the breast.  It could only be one species – Bull-headed Shrike.  This was a new bird for John and Ben and also my first record of this species in Beijing (I have seen it in Liaoning, at Laotieshan, and also at Rudong, near Shanghai).  We enjoyed prolonged, if partly obscured views, and I was able to capture a couple of record images before we left it to resume its presumed hunting of the Little Buntings..  Very nice!

Bull-headed Shrike, Yeyahu NR, 27 April 2012
Bull-headed Shrike, Yeyahu NR. It's a mean, lean Little Bunting hunting machine...

Ben recorded this cool video of the shrike using a compact camera through my telescope!

After frustratingly tantalising views of a Chinese Hill Warbler (a bird that Ben, in particular, wanted to see), and contrastingly stunning views of an Osprey, we headed to the small reedy pools to try for Baikal Teal.  Unfortunately they seemed to have moved on but we did see nice groups of Garganey and added Red-crested Pochard to our species list for the day.

Osprey, Yeyahu NR.
Garganey and Eurasian Teal, Yeyahu NR, 27 April 2012

Big thanks to John and Ben for their excellent company throughout the day.  It was a lot of fun to be in the field with these guys.

A humourous interlude at the end was provided by one of the reserve staff who was rounding up domesticated ducks using his motorcyle.  He was soon joined by another local on his bicycle and, after a few mishaps that saw a few stragglers make a break for it across the next field, they eventually managed to herd them all onto a freshly dug lake…

Rounding up ducks.. with a motorbike.
It's not often one's progress is held up by crossing ducks!

Full species list (not including domestic duck):
Common Pheasant – 7

Bean Goose – 6
Common Shelduck – 6
Ruddy Shelduck – 23
Mandarin – 3
Gadwall – 18
Falcated Duck – 4
Eurasian Wigeon – 4
Mallard – 14
Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 16
Shoveler – 2
Pintail – 4
Garganey – 11
Eurasian Teal – 16
Red-crested Pochard – 2
Common Pochard – 8
Ferruginous Duck – 2
Tufted Duck – 9
Smew – 16
Goosander – 4
Little Grebe – 18
Great Crested Grebe – 16
Spoonbill sp – 6
Eurasian Bittern – 1 seen plus 2-3 heard
Grey Heron – 12
Purple Heron – 19
Great Egret – 2
Eurasian Kestrel – 2
Merlin – 1
Hobby – 2 (plus one on the drive home)
Osprey – 2
Black-eared Kite – 4 to 6
Short-toed Eagle – 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier – 5
Pied Harrier – 3
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 3
Greater Spotted Eagle – 1 (poss 2)
Common Moorhen – 1 (heard)
Common Coot – 12
Black-winged Stilt – 47
Lapwing – 14
Little Ringed Plover – 9
Kentish Plover – 6
Greater Sand Plover – 5
Oriental Plover – 2
Common Greenshank – 2
Common Sandpiper – 3
Oriental Pratincole – 19
Black-headed Gull – 69
Common Tern – 12
Little Tern – 2
Oriental Turtle Dove – 2
Eurasian Collared Dove – 4 (from car)
Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift – 10
Common Swift – 1
Common Kingfisher – 8
Hoopoe – 2
Bull-headed Shrike – 1
Azure-winged Magpie – 8
Common Magpie – too many
Rook – 1 (from car)
Large-billed Crow – 1 (from car)
Great Tit – 2
Marsh Tit – 2
Chinese Penduline Tit – 1 (heard)
Sand Martin – 3
Barn Swallow – 22
Red-rumped Swallow – 5
Mongolian Lark – 1
Greater Short-toed Lark – 63
Asian Short-toed Lark – 10
Eurasian Skylark – 1
Zitting Cisticola – 3
Chinese Hill Warbler – 1
Vinous-thraoted Parrotbill – c50
White-cheeked Starling – 6
Daurian Redstart – 1
Siberian Stonechat – 7
Tree Sparrow – lots
Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 12 (including ssp taivana and tschutschensis)
Citrine Wagtail – 14
White Wagtail – 1
Red-throated Pipit – 1
Buff-bellied Pipit – 28
Water Pipit – 2
Oriental Greenfinch – 1 heard
Little Bunting – c75
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 16

First for Beijing: White Wagtail ssp personata

On Saturday I visited Wild Duck Lake (Ma Chang and Yeyahu) with Jesper Hornskov, Hui Ying (James) and his friend ‘Leila’.  We enjoyed another fantastic spring day and recorded some excellent species including 31 Oriental Plovers, single Short-toed and Greater Spotted Eagles and some spectacular views of Baikal Teal.  But the star of the show for me was a White Wagtail of the subspecies ‘personata‘ which spent some time around the yurts to the west of Ma Chang.  As far as I am aware, this is the first record of this subspecies in Beijing and, indeed, anywhere in north-east China.  According to Alstrom and Mild (authors of “Pipits and Wagtails”) the ‘personata’ subspecies breeds in Central Asia from the Russian Altay, Kuznetsk Ala Tau and Western Sayan Mountains, southwest through east &  south Kazakhstan, the Tian Shan Mountains, west Mongolia, northwest and western Xinjiang, parts of northwest Kashmir, north Pakistan, Afghanistan, northern Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It is a rare vagrant to Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Bahrain, N Burma & Hong Kong.

White Wagtail ssp personata. The first record of this subspecies in Beijing.

The subspecies of White Wagtail we usually see in Beijing are ‘leucopsis‘ and ‘ocularis‘.  Some recent images of males of these subspecies are below for comparison.

White Wagtail ssp leucopsis (adult male), Beijing, 15 April 2012. Note black back and nape and 'clean' white face.
White Wagtail ssp ocularis (adult male), Beijing, 15 April 2012. Note grey back, black nape and black eyestripe on white face.

As well as the wagtail there were plenty of other birds to enjoy all day: the flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks, the small party of Relict Gulls, the Oriental Plovers (which unfortunately flew off strongly north before we saw them on the ground), the fantastic late afternoon display of Baikal Teal (easily my best ever views), the first Oriental Pratincoles of the year,  displaying Eastern Marsh Harriers, the newly arrived Chinese Penduline Tits, the list goes on.  Fantastic birding….

Eastern Marsh Harrier (male), Yeyahu, 14 April 2012
Eastern Marsh Harrier (male), Yeyahu, 14 April 2012
Eastern Marsh Harrier (male), Yeyahu, 14 April 2012
Oriental Pratincole, Ma Chang, 14 April 2012
Baikal Teal, Yeyahu. We enjoyed spectacular views of this special duck in the later afternoon sun as they were repeatedly spooked by the patrolling Eastern Marsh Harriers.
Eurasian Spoonbills, Ma Chang, 14 April 2012

A big thanks to Hui Ying, Leila and Jesper for their company – a thoroughly enjoyable day!

Hui Ying (James) and Leila at the viewing tower, Yeyahu.
Leila checking out an Eastern Marsh Harrier, Yeyahu, 14 April 2012

Full species list (courtesy of Jesper):

Common Pheasant  Phasanius colchicus  – nine

Swan Goose  Anser cygnoides  – two

Bewick’s Swan  Cygnus columbianus  – nine

Ruddy Shelduck  Tadorna ferruginea  – 63

Gadwall  Anas strepera  – 200

Falcated Duck  Anas falcate  – 70

Eurasian Wigeon  Anas Penelope  – three

Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos  – 100+

Chinese Spotbill  Anas zonorhyncha  – 13+ 

Northern Shoveler  Anas clypeata  – six

Garganey  Anas querquedula  – one male

Baikal Teal  Anas Formosa  – 85+ (at most 100)

Common Teal  Anas crecca  – 20

Red-crested Pochard  Netta rufina  – one pair

Common Pochard  Aythya ferina  – five

Ferruginous Duck  Aythya nyroca  – two in flight over River at YYH

Tufted Duck  Aythya fuligula  – four

Common Goldeneye  Bucephala clangula  – three

Smew  Mergellus albellus  – 11+

Goosander  Mergus merganser  – six

Little Grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis  – 20+

Great Crested Grebe  Podiceps cristatus  – 38+

Eurasian Spoonbill  Platalea leucorodia  – seven (one strictly speaking a Spoonbill sp, heading off W     determinedly over the the main body of water, and six migr right by us)

Eurasian Bittern  Botaurus stellaris  – 4+

Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea  – one

Purple Heron  Ardea purpurea  – three

Great Egret   Ardea alba  – two

Great Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo  – three

Common Kestrel  Falco tinnunculus  – three (incl two on ground in newly ploughed ‘field’)

Osprey  Pandion haliaetus  – one at Machang (& possibly the same again at YYH, carrying a freshly     caught fish & mobbed by two 2nd c-y mongolicus)

Black Kite  Milvus migrans lineatus  – two

Short-toed Eagle  Circaetus gallicus  – one ‘soared up, turned to hover a couple of times, then ->N 15h01

Eastern Marsh Harrier  Circus spilonotus  – 11+

Eurasian Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus  – three

Common Buzzard  Buteo buteo japonicus  – 7+ (incl at least one not migr)

Greater Spotted Eagle  Aquila clanga  – one 3rd+ c-y migr at 11h30

***Eagle sp   – one ‘coming down’ 17h15 at YYH (probably Greater Spotted, but Eastern Imp ‘not eliminated’)

Common Coot  Fulica atra  – 90

Black-winged Stilt  Himantopus himantopus  – 40+

Northern Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus – 35+

Little Ringed Plover  Charadrius dubius  – c10

Kentish Plover  Charadrius alexandrinus  – 35+

Oriental Plover  Charadrius veredus  – 31 flew off (of their own volition!) before we found them on the     ground but decent views in flight as they passed @ overhead after a few turns orientating.

Temminck’s Stint  Calidris temminckii  – three

Oriental Pratincole  Glareola maldivarum  – four

‘Yellow-legged’ Gull  Larus (cachinnans) mongolicus – eight (single adult & 3rd c-y, and six 2nd c-y)

Common Black-headed Gull  Larus ridibundus  – 170+

Relict Gull  Larus relictus  – c5 on main body of water ‘disappeared’

Oriental Turtle Dove  Streptopelia orientalis  – one

Eurasian Collared Dove  Streptopelia decaocto  – 6+

Common Kingfisher  Alcedo atthis  – six

Hoopoe  Upupa epops  – one

Great Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos major  – two

Grey-headed Woodpecker  Picus canus  – one

Azure-winged Magpie  Cyanopica cyanus  – ten

Common Magpie  Pica pica  – too many

Carrion Crow  Corvus corone  – one

Large-billed Crow  Corvus macrorhynchos  – one

Eastern Great Tit  Parus minor  – one

Marsh Tit  Parus palustris  – one w/ nest material at YYH

Chinese Penduline Tit  Remiz (pendulinus) consobrinus  – ten

Sand Martin  Riparia riparia  – one at YYH

Barn Swallow  Hirundo rustica  – 20

Greater Short-toed Lark  Calandrella brachydactyla  – 230+

Asian Short-toed Lark  Calandrella cheleensis  – eight

Eurasian Skylark  Alauda arvensis  – ten

Fan-tailed Warbler  Cisticola juncidis  – one heard

Chinese Hill Warbler  Rhopophilus pekinensis  – three at YYH

Vinous-throated Parrotbill  Paradoxornis webbianus  – 30+

White-cheeked Starling  Sturnus cineraceus  – 15

Black-throated Thrush  Turdus atrogularis  – one female-type ‘scoped

Red-throated Thrush  Turdus ruficollis  – 2+ (‘scope views of a yawning, confiding bird)

Naumann’s Thrush  Turdus naumanni   – 4+ en route S of Badaling

Daurian Redstart  Phoenicurus auroreus  – four

Eurasian Tree Sparrow  Passer montanus  – lots

Citrine Wagtail  Motacilla citreola  – one male

White Wagtail  Motacilla alba  – 10+ (incl 2+ ocularis, three baicalensis & one personata – last of     particular interest*: seen repeatedly on ground at Yurts & photographed)

Buff-bellied Pipit  Anthus rubescens japonicus  – 22+

Water Pipit  Anthus spinoletta blakistoni  – 8+

Oriental Greenfinch  Carduelis sinica  – one (+ one en route N of Badaling)

Little Bunting  Emberiza pusilla  – three

Yellow-throated Bunting  Emberiza elegans  – one male

Pallas’s Reed Bunting  Emberiza pallasi  – 55+ (many superb looks…)  

Mammals

Hare sp  – one ‘scoped (should be Tolai Hare but ears looked short, @ length of head only)  


Oriental Plover

This Spring I have been fortunate enough to enjoy two encounters with Oriental Plovers, surely one of the best looking birds in China..!  These charismatic waders breed in north eastern China and south eastern Russia with the majority of the population wintering in north-west Australia.  The population is estimated to be around 160,000 individuals.

These birds pass through the Beijing area on passage at the end of March and early April and Wild Duck Lake (Ma Chang in particular) is a regular site.  They can be very confiding and, this year, I have been able to capture some pleasing images and a short video.  On 5 April I counted 19 of these stunning birds at Ma Chang in a variety of plumages.

Part of the flock of 19 Oriental Plovers at Ma Chang, 5 April 2012
One of the white-faced birds.
A bird still in moult.
Presumed female.
A very smart-plumaged individual but lacking white head (still moulting?).
This individual was very curious!
The same individual facing into a dust storm..
Same individual sheltering from the wind by 'kneeling'..

I took this video handholding my Canon EOS7D with 400mm f5.6 lens.  Image has been ‘stabilised’ using iMovie.