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
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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.

 

Desert Wheatear

This morning I found what I believe is the 2nd Beijing record of Desert Wheatear.  It was the highlight on a special day that included 19 stunning Oriental Plovers, 12 Relict Gulls and a Mongolian Lark.

Early April is a great time in Beijing with migration stepping up a gear as the winter visitors (e.g. cranes, geese etc) begin to move on and birds from further south take their place.  Swan Geese are now moving through in good numbers and I counted 67 first thing.  An over-eager bird photographer in his 4×4 saw I was looking at this group, drove directly to the water’s edge at pace and, not surprisingly, the birds took flight.  The silver lining was that I was able to capture this image of the flock rising against the mountains in the early morning sun..

Swan Geese, Ma Chang, 5 April 2012

A check of the ‘desert’ area for Oriental Plover initially drew a blank but, as I was watching a group of Little Ringed Plovers, 9 Oriental Plovers dropped in, closely followed by 2 more, then another 4 and then, amazingly, another 4, totalling 19 birds…  Wow!  The birds were in a variety of plumages with most in full breeding attire.  Oriental Plover is a jewel among waders and its inaccessible breeding and wintering sites make it a difficult bird to see.   I will post some more images and video of the Oriental Plovers separately but here is a portrait of one of the smarter birds in the group.

Oriental Plover, Ma Chang, 5 April 2012. A wonderful bird.

I watched these birds for about 20 minutes before heading towards the yurts on the edge of the reservoir to the west.  It was on the way that I caught sight of a small bird perching on a stone.  Through the binoculars I could see it was a Wheatear.  Any wheatear is scarce in eastern China, so I knew it was a good record.  I walked around so that I had the sun behind me and slowly edged closer.  It was very confiding and, after grabbing a few images, I was pretty happy that it must be a Desert Wheatear.  I knew one had been seen at the same site in 2010 (the first Beijing record).  But then I began to have doubts.. I had never seen Pied or Isabelline (the other two possibilities)..  and unfortunately I didn’t see the tail pattern well at all.. which I knew would be very instructive.  Shortly after I took the images below, the wheatear was flushed by a Merlin and flew high west until out of view.   On returning home, I checked images on Oriental Bird Club image database and worked out that it could only be a Desert.  Jesper Hornskov kindly confirmed the id.

Desert Wheatear (female), Wild Duck Lake, Beijing, 5 April 2012. Thought to be only the 2nd record of this species in Beijing.
Desert Wheatear, Wild Duck Lake, Beijing, 5 April 2012. The only other Beijing record I am aware of is of a male at the same site in April 2010.

I had only been on site a couple of hours and already I had seen some special birds..  it was one of those mornings that makes you so happy to be alive!

Just a few metres from the Desert Wheatear I stumbled across a Mongolian Lark, a regular but scarce passage migrant.

Mongolian Lark, Ma Chang, 5 April 2012

After enjoying 2 Avocets (my first in Beijing) on the edge of the reservoir, I headed to the ‘island’ to scan the duck.. Here there was a good selection of wildfowl but the highlights were a flock of 10 Relict Gulls in stunning breeding plumage, soon joined by a further 2 birds, and a single Red-billed Starling that flew in from the east, settled briefly on a nearby tree and then headed off west again..  another first for me in Beijing.

It was about this time that the wind began to increase and, within a few minutes, there were some large dust clouds being whipped up, making Ma Chang an uncomfortable place to be…  These winds are quite common at this time of year and, after the very dry winter, the ground is very dusty, making dust storms fairly frequent occurrences in Spring.

Yeyahu didn’t produce any major surprises and it wasn’t long before I headed home having had another great day at Wild Duck Lake.

Grey-headed Lapwings at Yeyahu NR, 5 April 2012.

Full Species List:

Common Pheasant – 3
Swan Goose – 67
Bean Goose – 13
Whooper Swan – 30
Bewick’s Swan – 27
Common Shelduck – 5
Ruddy Shelduck – 38
Gadwall – 10
Falcated Duck – 146
Eurasian Wigeon – 4
Mallard – 290
Spot-billed Duck – 8
Northern Pintail – 21
Garganey – 2
Baikal Teal – 16
Eurasian Teal – 12
Red-crested Pochard – 7
Common Pochard – 1
Ferruginous Duck – 4
Common Goldeneye – 67
Goosander – 44
Little Grebe – 5
Great Crested Grebe – 71
Black Stork – 2
Bittern – 2 (heard booming at 2 different sites)
Grey Heron – 13
Little Egret – 1
Great Cormorant – 75
Kestrel – 1
Merlin – 1
Black-eared Kite – 1
Eastern Marsh Harrier – 3
Hen Harrier – 1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1
Goshawk – 1
Common (Eastern) Buzzard – 4
Common Coot – 38
Common Crane – 6
Black-winged Stilt – 15
Pied Avocet – 2 at Ma Chang; my first record of this species at Wild Duck Lake
Grey-headed Lapwing – 5
Northern Lapwing – 18
Little Ringed Plover – 21
Kentish Plover – 8
Oriental Plover – at least 19 (another flock of 10+ plovers in flight could have been this species)
Mongolian Gull – 31 at Yeyahu, including 3 immatures
Relict Gull – 12
Black-headed Gull – 88
Oriental Turtle Dove – 1
Eurasian Collared Dove – 3
Common Swift – 1
Fork-tailed Swift – 32
Hoopoe – 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 1
Chinese Grey Shrike – 1
Common Magpie – too many
Daurian Jackdaw – 26
Rook – 2
Carrion Crow – 4
Great Tit – 4
Barn Swallow – 11
Red-rumped Swallow – 1
Mongolian Lark – 1; within a few metres of the Desert Wheatear
Asian Short-toed Lark – 28
Eurasian Skylark – 18
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 8
Red-billed Starling – 1; my first record at Wild Duck Lake; flew in from the east, rested briefly on the island to the north of Ma Chang and then continued West.
White-cheeked Starling – 2
Red-throated Thrush – 1
Red-flanked Bluetail – 2
Daurian Redstart – 2
Desert Wheatear – 1 (fem); very confiding until spooked by a Merlin and then flew high west and lost to view.  Had not returned an hour later when I re-scanned.
Tree Sparrow – lots
White Wagtail – 22
Buff-bellied Pipit – 12
Oriental Greenfinch – 4
Godlewski’s Bunting – 1
Little Bunting – 2
Yellow-throated Bunting – 1
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 18 (some males now coming into breeding plumage)

Oriental Plover and Pallas’s Gulls

This weekend has been something of a bonanza for me in Beijing.  The weather had been very windy on Friday which cleared away all the smog and set up the weekend to be sunny, clear and (on Sunday at least) warm.  I had planned to visit Wild Duck Lake for the first time in a while and was looking forward to seeing the cranes and anything else that might be about.  In the back of my mind I knew that it was the beginning of the Oriental Plover season in Beijing and so I hoped, with a bit of luck, I might see one.  I did, which was special in itself, but the day, and the weekend, just got better and better.  I will limit this post to Saturday’s events and then follow up with another one about today (Sunday).

I hired a car for the weekend with Avis and set off early saturday morning to be at Wild Duck Lake around dawn.  I went to Ma Chang first as, later in the day, this area is disturbed by horse-riders and motorised buggies, so if an Oriental Plover does happen to drop in, it probably won’t stay there for long.  Along the entrance track I could see a huge flock of cranes, so I stopped to scan them with the telescope.  Soon I picked up a single Hooded Crane in the group but despite searching through over a thousand Common Cranes, there were no other species there..  I had expected a few White-naped, having seen over 250 at Miyun last week, but I didn’t see a single one all day.  This was all the more surprising when I received a SMS from Jan-erik Nilsen (who was at Miyun) to say that he had counted over 900 White-naped Cranes!  Incredible.. That count easily smashes the highest known count in Beijing of 500 and eclipses the count of 256 by Paul Holt and me last week.  There must be something about Miyun that attracts White-napes…

Common Cranes at dawn, Wild Duck Lake, 24 March 2012

 

Common Cranes against the mountains north of Wild Duck Lake, Beijing, 24 March 2012

I moved on from the cranes and scanned the ‘desert’ area, the usual favoured place for Oriental Plover, but turned up a blank.  I then walked to the lake edge and scanned the wildfowl.  There were lots of duck, geese and swans but, frustratingly, they were very distant.  Most of the ice had melted but there remained a few patches on the reservoir. Of course, of all the large areas of open water, the birds had chosen the one most difficult to view!  Nevertheless, I counted 217 Swan Geese (a very good count), 224 Whooper Swans, 128 Ruddy Shelduck and good numbers of diving duck, including 83 Common Pochard.

The only real visible migration consisted of some corvids, including only my second record of Rook at Wild Duck Lake, and larks (mostly Skylarks).

I walked back to the car across the desert area just as the budding horsemen and women were starting to gallop around..  suddenly, I spotted what looked like a largish plover..  it had to be!  And yes, it was one – an Oriental Plover!  With patience and care, and despite being disturbed by curious horseriders a couple of times, I was able to get reasonably close to take a few photographs of this special bird.

Oriental Plover, Ma Chang, Wild Duck Lake, Beijing, 24 March 2012

 

Oriental Plover.. a stunner.
Oriental Plover after being disturbed by a horserider.. It was not seen in the afternoon by some Beijing birders who looked for it.. the disturbance at this site after early morning is too much for most birds to take.

I spent around an hour with the bird, watching it feed and, occasionally, interact with some nearby Lapwings.  The wind was still gusty and, at times, it crouched down to shelter from the dust blowing across Ma Chang.  Some of the horseriders felt the full force!

A dust storm at Ma Chang..

 

It was late morning when I decided to head off to Yeyahu and, instead of walking as I usually do, I took the hire car and drove to the reserve.  Here I walked around the southern perimeter for the first time and, when I reached the far end of the lake, I scanned the group of large gulls that was assembled in the middle of the water.  Large gulls are scarce at Wild Duck Lake for most of the year, so I was interested to see which species were involved.  Mongolian Gull is by far the most common large gull on passage as they migrate from their coastal wintering grounds to their breeding grounds in Mongolia and Russia.  Sure enough, the vast majority were Mongolian Gulls and I counted 85 adults and 2 immatures.  The scan through the flock also revealed two interlopers – stunning breeding-plumaged Pallas’s Gulls!  Wow..  Pallas’s Gull was a bird I was hoping to see when I moved to China and I saw my first at Jinzhou Bay in Dalian last winter..  but that bird was in winter plumage.   These two beauties were something else.. Most of the time they sat on the water about as far away from any viewing point as was possible. But occasionally they would take off, do a circuit of the lake, and then land again..  it was during these flights that it was possible to gain some pretty special views..

Pallas's Gull, Yeyahu, Beijing, 24 March 2012
Pallas's Gull, Yeyahu, Beijing, 24 March 2012.. surely the King of Gulls...!

 

It was cool to watch one of the birds as it circled with the Great Wall in the background!

Pallas's Gull with the Great Wall in the background, Yeyahu, Beijing, 24 March 2012

 

The walk down to the reservoir viewing tower was uneventful and did not produce any unusual raptors..  however, Merlin, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine and (Eastern) Buzzard were all appreciated.  I returned to the lake to see the gulls again and I enjoyed these birds for my last half an hour on site before I began the drive back home, elated.

What a day!  Little did I know what I was to find the following day….

 

Wild Duck Lake with Phil and Jesper, 25 November 2011

In between leading tours to see Giant Panda in the wild in China (successful) and Tiger in India (fingers crossed), Sweden-based Phil Benstead dropped in on Beijing.  Phil is a good friend from my time in Copenhagen: we hooked up for a few birding trips in 2009 and 2010, including around Phil’s local patch in Båstad Kommune, Falsterbo in Skåne and the island of Oland.

Phil arrived on Thursday with the Townshend household in something of a crisis.  We were supposed to be cooking a turkey for 9, including two American friends, for Thanksgiving and Libby, who had planned to take the afternoon off work to prepare, was stuck at work…  I was frantically looking on the internet, in between work conference calls to London – to discover precisely how long a 9kg turkey – at that time defrosting in the laundry room – would take to cook….  Phil stepped in magnificently and, after peeling and chopping I don’t know how many potatoes, carrots and green beans, he had certainly earned his supper by the time guests arrived for the 7pm start…  And boy was that turkey good…  (after months of Chinese food, you can’t imagine how good a roast turkey with all the trimmings tasted…!).

After following this blog since I moved to China, Phil wanted to visit my regular patch at Wild Duck Lake and so I had hired a car and we had arranged to leave at 0530 the following morning (tough after a post-midnight dinner party).  We picked up Jesper Hornskov at 0600 and, after some all-too-common traffic issues on the G6 Badaling Expressway (broken down lorries), we arrived at Ma Chang around 0745, around 30 minutes after first light.

The first thing that struck me was that the reservoir was almost completely frozen over.  The weather had turned cold mid-week and it had taken just a couple of cold nights for the water to freeze.  After giving it some time at the spit by the yurts, we checked the island to the north of the ‘desert’ area, lucking in on 2 Daurian Partridges (my first of the winter) on the way, and enjoyed a flock of several hundred Ruddy Shelduck and a rather late Ferruginous Duck.  A couple of inquisitive Chinese Hill Warblers was a bonus.  A very showy Baikal Teal looked a bit lost walking on the ice in a frozen dyke and we enjoyed a couple of Chinese Grey Shrikes hunting over the grassland.  After combing the area for larks – we counted a few Eurasian Skylark and up to 12 Asian Short-toed Larks  plus a bonus Japanese Reed Bunting – we made our way to Yeyahu.  Officially, Yeyahu closed last week but we were able to use the ‘secret entrance’ to gain entry and it was here that we heard (but sadly for Phil didn’t see) a Chinese Penduline Tit,  a few Pallas’s Reed Buntings and a Great Egret.  However, the most exciting sighting of the day was a very uniformly dark medium-sized bittern that flew from the west to east end of the lake.  It was clearly smaller than Eurasian Bittern but larger than Yellow Bittern.  Initially against the light it looked uniformly very dark with longish legs and big feet.  As it flew into better light, it still looked uniformly very dark..  Phil managed to view it through his telescope and saw a pale line below and behind the eye, beginning at the base of the bill…  There were some pale fringes to the wing coverts, indicating a first winter bird.  It dropped in to a reedbed on the far side of the lake and we hurried over to see if we could see it again..  what could it be?  Little Green Heron (Striated) and Black Bittern (a bird that I have never seen) entered our minds..  Jesper didn’t think it looked right for Little Green Heron – the jizz and colour were wrong and the leg length – with clearly protruding legs – wasn’t right for Little Green.  Could it really be a Black Bittern in Beijing in late November??  That would be a very strange record.  Unfortunately, despite spending some time near to where it went down, we did not see it again.

Edit: After looking at many images on the internet, including Oriental Bird Images, Jesper’s view is that it could only have been a Black Bittern.

After seeing a Common Kingfisher literally die in front of our eyes on the ice at the edge of the lake (it was heartbreaking), we walked down to ‘eagle field’ and, on the way, enjoyed my best ever views of Pine Bunting (two birds) and watched a young Upland Buzzard soaring.  Most pleasing were two Great Bustards flying west along the reservoir.

Several decapitated Common Pheasants were a clear sign of a large predator.. possibly Goshawk but more likely an Eagle Owl…  it’s the same area where I saw an Eagle Owl last winter.

We made our way back to the car and, with Naumann’s Thrush the last bird of the day, we headed back to Beijing for dinner with Jesper and his wife, Aiqin.

Saturday morning I visited the Botanical Gardens with Phil and Nick (a friend and non-birder), where Phil scored a few new birds – Chinese Grosbeak, Pere David’s Laughingthrush and Chinese Nuthatch – before he had to make his way to the airport to catch his flight to Delhi.

It was a great couple of days and we saw some good birds.  Phil was a big hit with our friends – as illustrated by the number of offers he had for accommodation in Beijing when he returns next year to lead a similar panda trip in October – and we wish him all the best for the forthcoming trip to India for tigers..  we can’t wait to hear how he gets on.
Full species list for Wild Duck Lake below:

 

Ma Chang and Yeyahu NR 0745-1600.

 

Temp -5 at 0745 increasing to +2 or +3 by early afternoon; very light N wind increasing to force 2-3 by midday; visibility 2-3km.
Reservoir almost completely frozen with just a few small patches of open water.  Yeyahu completely frozen.

 

Highlights: 1 juv/first winter BLACK BITTERN; 2 Great Bustards, Upland Buzzard, 2 Daurian Partridges, 550+ Bean Geese, 200+ Common Cranes, Japanese Reed Bunting

 

Full species list:

 

Daurian Partridge – 2 at Ma Chang
Common Pheasant – 25
Bean Goose – at least 870, probably more.  Most in flight along the north edge of the reservoir with some on the ice itself
Whooper Swan – 42 on the ice, swimming on the open patches of water and in flight
Ruddy Shelduck – 550 at least, mostly on the ice and on the northern side of the reservoir
Eurasian Wigeon – 3
Mallard – 850
Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 12
Baikal Teal – 4-5 seen, including one drake incredibly well in a frozen dyke; probably many more in the distant tight flocks of duck on the patches of open water
Ferruginous Duck – 1 seen from the island north of Ma Chang, possibly with injured wing
Common Goldeneye – 3 seen from Ma Chang but probably many more
Smew – 5-6 seen but probably many more
Goosander – 40 seen
Great Bittern – 3 seen well, including one walking on the open ice
BLACK BITTERN – one juvenile/first winter seen in flight through binoculars for around 30 seconds over the lake at Yeyahu at around 150-200m range.  Initially seen against the light but gradually into better light, this bird was clearly larger than Yellow Bittern but smaller than Great Bittern and uniformly very dark.  Phil managed to see it through the telescope and saw a pale line starting at the base of the bill running back below and behind the eye; streaking below not seen.  Legs were relatively long with large feet.  Slight pale margins seen on the wing coverts, indicating a first winter.  Little Green Heron ruled out on size, colour and leg length; Cinnamon Bittern ruled out on colour and size.
Grey Heron – 1
Great Egret – 1
Kestrel – 1
Merlin – 1 at Ma Chang
Hen Harrier – 3 (two ‘ringtails’ and one imm male)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1
Northern Goshawk – 1 (Phil only)
Upland Buzzard – 1
Great Bustard – 2 in flight from ‘eagle field’ heading west
Common Crane – 200+
Large White-headed Gull sp – 1 seen by Phil at Ma Chang
Black-headed Gull – 3 at Yeyahu
Oriental Turtle Dove – 3
Eurasian Collared Dove – 31
Common Kingfisher – 1.  Seen sitting forlornly on the edge of the ice at the base of some reeds.  After a few minutes, its head dropped onto the ice and, after a brief flapping of its wings, it sat motionless and appeared to die – an early victim of the winter.
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 2
Chinese Grey Shrike – 3
Azure-winged Magpie – 6
Common Magpie – lots
Rook – 8
Carrion Crow – 6
Large-billed Crow – 1
Great Tit – 4
Marsh Tit – 3
Chinese Penduline Tit  – 1 (heard only)
Asian Short-toed Lark – 13 at Ma Chang
Eurasian Skylark – 6
Chinese Hill Warbler – 4, including 2 on the island north of Ma Chang
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 40+
Naumann’s Thrush – 1 ssp naumanni at Yeyahu
Tree Sparrow – many
Pine Bunting – 4, including 2 showing exceptionally well at Yeyahu
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 30+
Japanese Reed Bunting – 1 at Ma Chang.  Flushed from short grass 2-3 times and seen only in flight.  (Very bad) photo attached.
Japanese Reed Bunting, Ma Chang, 25 November 2011: wildlife photograph of the year?
Chinese Grey Shrike hunting at Ma Chang, 25 November 2011

Wild Duck Lake, 6 November 2011

Apologies for the lack of updates in recent weeks – work has been rather all-consuming!  To be honest, it’s not been so bad to be indoors  –  a persistent high pressure system, combined with very slack winds, have seen a blanket of smog covering Beijing with poor visibility and, at times, appalling air quality.  The US Embassy ‘twitter feed’ is updated hourly and rates the pollution levels of PM2.5 (a particulate pollutant) and ozone.
This is the US Environment Protection Agency’s definition of PM2.5:
“Particulate matter, or PM, is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. Particles can be suspended in the air for long periods of time. Some particles are large or dark enough to be seen as soot or smoke. Others are so small that individually they can only be detected with an electron microscope.
Many manmade and natural sources emit PM directly or emit other pollutants that react in the atmosphere to form PM. These solid and liquid particles come in a wide range of sizes.
Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into and accumulate in the respiratory system. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.”
Sounds nice, eh?
There is a scale of descriptors ranging from “Good” to “Hazardous”.  Last week saw several days with the pollution at “hazardous” levels.  I am not exactly sure what “hazardous” means but at these levels, you can taste and smell the pollution when you step outside.  Not pleasant.
Of course, the Chinese media describes the smog as “fog” and on one dark day last week, it was laughable that the media was saying that there were “boundless blue skies over Beijing”…  Of course….
Fortunately, this smoggy period seems to be breaking now and on Sunday I visited Ma Chang/Wild Duck Lake with Libby and a couple of UK friends John and Sarah Gallagher.  They have been keen to accompany me on one of my birding trips for some time and so, with a window of decent weather and visibility, we grabbed the chance before the winter sets in.  We enjoyed a very good day.
The visibility was above average and, when the cloud broke in the afternoon, it turned into a gorgeous late autumn day….
0645-1530, 6 November 2011.
Cloud 8/8 and 5 degrees C at 0640 with very light north-easterly wind.  13 degrees C, cloud 3/8 and light north-easterly at 1500.  Visibility above average all day.
The highlight was my first Great Bustard in China (a flyover), 2 Black Storks, 6 White-naped Cranes, 58 Common CranesUpland Buzzard, 2 Short-eared Owls, 2Common Starlings.
Full species list (52 in total):
Common Pheasant 12
Bean Goose 115
Whooper Swan 1
Gadwall 5
Falcated Duck 4
Eurasian Wigeon 2
Mallard 48
Chinese Spot-billed Duck 10
Northern Pintail 42
Eurasian Teal 25
Tufted Duck 8
Common Goldeneye 2
Smew 10
Goosander 12
Little Grebe 23
Great Crested Grebe 8
Black-necked Grebe 2
Black Stork 2 (high west @ 1455)
Eurasian Bittern 1
Grey Heron 3
Eurasian Kestrel 2
Peregrine 2
Hen Harrier 4 (1 adult male, 1 immature male, and 2 females)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 3
Common (Eastern) Buzzard 1
Upland Buzzard 1
Great Bustard 1 in flight (flew west over Ma Chang @ 0910)
Common Coot 4
White-naped Crane 6
Common Crane 58, including 2 groups arriving from the mountains to the north (9 @1445 and 35 @1440)
Mongolian Gull 2
Black-headed Gull 68
Eurasian Collared Dove 14
Short-eared Owl 2
Common Kingfisher 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Grey-headed Woodpecker 1
Chinese Grey Shrike 5
Azure-winged Magpie 1
Common Magpie lots
Carrion Crow 11
Great Tit 2
Asian Short-toed Lark 12
Eurasian Skylark 7
Chinese Bulbul 2
Vinous-throated Parrotbill 100+ in a single flock
Common Starling 2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow lots
Buff-bellied Pipit 3
Pine Bunting 2
Little Bunting 2
Pallas’s Reed Bunting 23

Finally, we enjoyed excellent views of this yellow butterfly, the only butterfly we saw. It was a little sluggish, allowing close photography, in contrast to the many times when I have tried to photograph this species in the spring/summer..  I am not sure what the specific species is but it’s pretty common in the area. EDIT: Thanks to John Furse for identifying the butterfly as a Clouded Yellow.

Yellow butterfly sp, Yeyahu, 6 November 2011
Close up... I love those eyes!

First for Beijing!

On Saturday I made my first visit to Ma Chang/Yeyahu for a few weeks and boy, was it worth it?!  The autumn migration is now in full swing.  The highlight was undoubtedly the juvenile/first winter Little Gull that I found feeding on the reservoir before it gained height and flew strongly east.  Despite being almost annual on the Bohai coast, I believe this is the first record for the Beijing municipality.   Coming a close second was a stunning Short-toed Eagle that drifted right overhead near Yeyahu lake.  Wow.

Record shot of Beijing's first Little Gull at Yeyahu NR, 17 September 2011
Short-toed Eagle, Yeyahu, 17 September 2011
Short-toed Eagle, Yeyahu, 17 September 2011

Other good birds include a very early crane sp that was soaring very distantly over the mountains to the north.  I initially assumed this must have been a Common Crane but I noticed dark secondaries and this is more consistent with Demoiselle Crane.  Common Cranes are very scarce at this time of year, in fact I don’t think any have been recorded in September, whereas Demoiselle should be leaving its breeding grounds in Inner Mongolia about now.  It’ll have to go down in the book as a crane sp.  Also seen were 5 Chinese Grey Shrikes, including a very instructive juvenile that superficially looked a little like ssp pallidirostris (Steppe Grey Shrike), a heavily leucistic Black-tailed Godwit, a Ruff (very scarce in Beijing, possibly the 4th record for the municipality) as well as many passerine migrants – Little Buntings, Eurasian Skylarks, Yellow Wagtails, Richard’s Pipits and so on…

Leucistic Black-tailed Godwit with Spotted Redshank and Common Greenshank, Ma Chang, 17 September 2011
Leucistic Black-tailed Godwit, Ma Chang, 17 September 2011
Grey and Pacific Golden Plovers
Juvenile Chinese Grey Shrike, Ma Chang, 17 September 2011
Juvenile Chinese Grey Shrike, Ma Chang, 17 September 2011

Full species list in systematic order:

Japanese Quail (Coturnix japonica) – my first two of the autumn, flushed between Ma Chang and Yeyahu.
Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasaianus colchicus) – 6
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) – 24
Eastern Spot-billed Duck (Anas zonorhyncha) – 3
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) – 1
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) – 3 (possibly relating to feral birds from Yeyahu)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) – 10 in one flock flying strongly west
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) – at least 75
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) – 6
Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) – 4
Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus) – 6
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) – 2
Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) – 3
Great Egret (Casmerodius albus) – 3 flying south early morning
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) – a flock of 13 feeding together on the edge of the reservoir at Ma Chang
Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) – 5
Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) – just one, an adult male
Northern Hobby (Falco subbuteo) – at least 6, including 3 juveniles
Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) – one at Ma Chang soaring
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) – one fishing at Ma Chang early morning then flew west
Black-eared Kite (Milvus lineatus) – 10; one on the ground at Ma Chang followed by a group of 7 kettling mid-morning and two other singles.
Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) – one low overhead at Yeyahu mid-afternoon
Eastern Marsh Harrier (Circus spilonotus) – 4 (an adult female and 3 juveniles)
Pied Harrier (Circus melanoleucos) – 2 (both juveniles)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) – 6 (light passage throughout the day)
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) – c25 including several family parties
Common Coot (Fulica atra) – 6
Common Crane (Grus grus) – 1 scoped circling distantly over the mountains to the north.
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) – one juvenile at Ma Chang
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) – 8
Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva) – 12 (all juveniles)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) – 1
Common Snipe (Gallinago megala) – 3
Eastern Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa melanuroides) – 2, including one white bird (heavily leucistic or albino)
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) – 6
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) – 8
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) – 3
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) – 1, seen well in flight and appeared to go down on the edge of the reservoir between Ma Chang and Yeyahu
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) – 27
Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) – 1, a juvenile/first winter seen well but briefly over the reservoir at the east end of Ma Chang.  After ‘dip-feeding’ a couple of times, gained height and flew strongly east.
Whiskered Tern (Chilidonias hybrida) – at least 12
Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) – 4
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) – 3
Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus) – 1
Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) – 1
Chinese Grey Shrike (Lanius sphenocercus) – 5 seen, one of which I originally thought could be a ssp of Great Grey (see photos).
Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) – 2
Common Magpie (Pica pica) – many
Crow sp (Corvus sp) – a group of 6 soaring around mid-day were probably Carrion Crows
Chinese Penduline Tit (Remiz consobrinus) – two heard
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) – only 3 seen
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) – at least 60 ssw early morning and small groups encountered between Ma Chang and Yeyahu
Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis) – just 4 seen
Locustella sp – one flushed 3 times appeared quite rusty, probably Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) – encountered in every group of bushes or trees.  At least 40 seen or heard.
Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis) – one in a hedge at the east end of Ma Chang
Two-barred Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides plumbeitarsus) – one on the walk to the viewing tower at Yeyahu
Vinous-throated Parrotbill (Paradoxornis webbianus) – at least 40 seen and heard
White-cheeked Starling (Sturnus cineraceus) – 22
Siberian Rubythroat (Luscinia calliope) – 1, an adult male, seen in shrubs at the east end of Ma Chang
Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus) – at least 25 seen
Taiga Flycatcher (Ficedula albicilla) – 3
Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) – many
Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschensis) – at least 200 ssw early morning, followed by the odd small group thereafter.  c250 in total.
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) – 34 (mostly migrating ssw early morning)
Richard’s Pipit (Anthus richardi) – 26 migrating ssw early morning with an additional 16 encountered during the day
Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) – c25 migrating ssw early morning with several others seen and heard during the day.  c40 in total
Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla) – many buntings, probably this species, migrating ssw early morning and c30 seen during the day.
Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala) – one seen well
bunting sp – many hundreds of buntings migrating between 0600 and 0730; most probably Little Bunting but some looked slightly larger.

Hog Badger

This weekend I visited Ma Chang and did the usual walk from there to Yeyahu.  I hadn’t walked this route for a while – Ma Chang is very disturbed by recreational activities in summer and the humidity makes a long walk very uncomfortable – so I was very interested to see what birds were around and whether any migration was taking place.  On arrival at 5.30am, the weather was perfect – a lovely fresh 16-17 degrees C with no wind and a little mist.  Already, by 7.30am, the sun was strengthening and gradually burned off the mist to reveal a sunny, clear day.

Migration was in evidence early on with a reasonable passage of Yellow Wagtails plus a couple of Grey Wagtails mixed in.  A few juvenile Yellow Bitterns commuted between the reedbeds and a good number of Little Grebes (the race here in China has pale eyes – a potential split?) were loitering along the edge of the reeds.

An adult female Pied Harrier was a nice sight – these birds pass through in spring and autumn – and it was nice to see it, momentarily, alongside a juvenile Eastern Marsh Harrier, showing the obvious size difference.

The walk to Yeyahu was hot and sticky and, in places, was quite hard work due to the massive growth in vegetation that has occurred over the last few weeks.  Along one trail I noticed some mammal tracks (see photo below).  I suspected these were some sort of badger and, after making some enquiries, it seems that they belong to the Hog Badger, a creature that looks superficially like our European Badger but with a pig’s snout, hence the name.

Hog Badger track, Yeyahu

 

A few months ago, Spike Millington and I discovered a set of burrows not far from where I saw these tracks.  I suspect that they may belong to the Hog Badger, too.  I will try to stakeout this site on a moonlit night sometime soon to see if I can catch a glimpse of these nocturnal mammals.  I might have to take along some irresistable treats to tempt them…

At the Yeyahu reserve, there had clearly been an explosion of butterflies, mostly these small blue butterflies.. they were everywhere and many were congregating in large groups around small puddles.  A real spectacle.

Blue Butterflies, Yeyahu
Blue Butterflies, Yeyahu. There were hundreds, if not thousands, along the tracks at Yeyahu on Sunday.

 

Blue Butterflies, Yeyahu. Watching these insects drinking at close range was fascinating - the proboscis reminded me of an elephant's trunk!

This grasshopper made a brief appearance when it landed near the butterflies..  amazing camouflage.

Grasshopper sp, Yeyahu

Other migrant birds on show here included 5 Black-naped Orioles, 39 Black Drongos (a record count for me), a single Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift and a couple of snipe sp.  I have seen a few snipe recently that are not Common Snipe and I suspected Pin-tailed. However, after a discussion with Paul Holt, it seems that Pin-tailed and the very similar Swinhoe’s are extremely difficult to tell apart and it is not safe to identify them in the field without seeing the individual tail feathers… There is an article in British Birds from a few years ago which I will have to dig out.   Sunday’s birds will have to go down in my book as “Swintail Snipe”..!

 

Full species list (in chronological order of first sighting):

Tree Sparrow and Common Magpie – lots
Great Bittern (1)
Common Snipe (1)
Whiskered Tern (18)
Chinese Pond Heron (12)
Bunting sp (one of the ‘tick’ buntings but not identified) (1)
Little Egret (9)
Amur Falcon (1)
Little Grebe (20)
Night Heron (12)
Common Kingfisher (2)
Asian Short-toed Lark (2)
Zitting Cisticola (34)
White-cheeked Starling (6)
Yellow Bittern (6), all juveniles.
Grey Heron (2)
Northern Lapwing (1)
Coot (8)
Moorhen (16)
Common Sandpiper (3)
‘Swin-tailed’ Snipe (2) – both flushed from dry-ish habitat, ‘dumpy birds’, if anything slightly smaller than Common Snipe, no obvious white trailing edge to secondaries, feet projected beyond tail and wingbeats slightly slower than Common Snipe.  Call was similar but slightly less ‘squelchy’ if that makes sense!
Grey Wagtail (2)
Eastern Yellow Wagtail (24), all migrating south-west
Purple Heron (5)
Wood Sandpiper (3)
Eastern Marsh Harrier (4), 1 adult male, 1 adult female and 2 juveniles
Black-winged Stilt (10)
Great Egret (2)
Brown Shrike (2)
Richard’s Pipit (12)
Hoopoe (1)
Black Drongo (39), my highest count of this species so far
Chinese Grey Shrike (1)
Wryneck (1)
Vinous-throated Parrotbill (40+)
Arctic Warbler (2)
Hobby (2)
Pied Harrier (1)
Barn Swallow (18)
Red-rumped Swallow (12)
Black-headed Gull (3)
Common Pheasant (6)
Sand Martin (1)
Chinese Penduline Tit (2) – at least 2, possibly 3 active nests this year at Yeyahu but, if still around, difficult to see.
Oriental Reed Warbler (3)
Black-naped Oriole (5)
Chinese Hill Warbler (2)
Mandarin (4)
Spot-billed Duck (4)
Great Crested Grebe (8)
Fork-tailed (Pacific) Swift (1)
Von Schrenck’s Bittern (1 probable): a juvenile seen in flight only, much darker ground colour than the juvenile yellow bitterns with heavy dark streaking on the breast.
Kestrel (1)
Azure-winged Magpie (1)
Great Tit (3)
Grey-headed Woodpecker (1)