Conservationists are used to bad news. It comes with the territory. Which means celebrating good news is even sweeter than usual! Last week something incredible happened in Tianjin, just a few hours from Beijing. A pair of Endangered ORIENTAL STORKS (Ciconia boyciana, 东方白鹳) was breeding on an electricity pylon. The local grid company was concerned about transmission safety and wanted to remove the nest. Local birders and conservation groups protested and appealed for help from international conservationists who had experience of this issue overseas, hence a plea on Twitter. Several people responded (thank you Eddie Myers, Keith Duncan and Anne Sytske Keijser), and we received some fantastic information from José Luis Copete in Spain and Guy Dutson in Australia. Local volunteers were able to use all of this information to persuade the company to erect a special platform adjacent to the original nest, allowing the storks to continue to breed whilst minimising the risk to grid safety. Happily the storks accepted the minor inconvenience! The full story (in Chinese), with photos, can be seen here. Big thanks to José Luis and Guy and, in particular, to the local volunteers, including our good friend Mo Xunqiang (Nemo), who, along with friends Yang Jiwen from Binhai Wild Protection Centre and Wang Jianmin from Tianjin Binhai Wetland and Bird Conservation Society, persuaded the company to take this action. As we understand it, it’s the first time in China that such action has been taken to preserve a nest considered to be a risk to electricity transmission security. Let’s hope it sets a precedent.
Thanks to the tremendous work of some dedicated individuals and the support from the local community and the authorities, 13 ORIENTAL STORKS were successfully released yesterday at Beidagang, Tianjin.
Last night I had the pleasure to meet some of the volunteers involved after my lecture to the Beijing Birdwatching Society and I was so inspired by their passion and dedication to saving their wild birds. They are a wonderful example of how community action can make a difference and provide real hope for the future. However, it is important not to get carried away with one small success and, as if to illustrate that point, during my conversation with one of the volunteers, she received a phone call to say to that a single ORIENTAL STORK had been found dead, suspected by poisoning, near Happy Island, Tangshan, Hebei Province. A sobering reminder that the events at Beidagang, although resulting in a happy ending on this occasion, represented just one small battle in the war against the illegal persecution of birds in China.
You can see some of the photographs from the release here.
The volunteers I spoke to were overwhelmed by the support from all over the world as expressed on the Chinese Currents website. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to comment.
I have just written an article on Birding Frontiers and Talking Naturally about the ongoing ORIENTAL STORK poisoning incident at Beidagang, near Tianjin, and how, thanks to the action of local heroes and social media, it could just be a tipping point in the protection of wild birds in China.
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.
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.
There were a few Citrine Wagtails around, including this stunning male which posed on a fence post..
The pipits were mostly Red-throated and one, in particular, was very red – almost a Red-breasted Pipit!
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.
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..
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!)
Today was one of those amazing days that makes birding such an enthralling hobby. I accompanied Paul Holt on a visit to Huairou and Miyun Reservoirs, sites that I had not – for some unknown reason – visited before. The highlights were undoubtedly the cranes. Top of the list comes the 3 Siberian Cranes (2 adults and an immature) that we believe constitute only the second record for Beijing. But perhaps more significant was the count of 256 White-naped Cranes, around 10 per cent of the known wintering population in China at one location on Spring passage. Add in 620 Common Cranes and it was a real crane bonanza. The other unexpected bird of the day was a single Oriental Stork, a real rarity in Beijing.
– second record of Siberian Crane in Beijing (2 adults and an immature)
– second highest (possibly highest) count of White-naped Cranes in Beijing
– seventh record of Oriental Stork in Beijing
– earliest Garganey and Common Shelduck in Beijing
– second earliest Fork-tailed Swift in Beijing
Detailed species list from Miyun Reservoir (courtesy of Paul Holt):
Xin Zhuang Qiao (bridge over the Chao He), Miyun. (40°35.11’N., 117°07.95’E.). Alt. 115 metres. (11h30-12h50)
Miyun Reservoir – south of Bulaotun satellite tracking station, Miyun. (40°31.75’N., 116°57.77’E.). Alt. 75 metres. (13h20-17h05)
Japanese Quail 2 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Common Pheasant 7 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Swan Goose 20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Tundra Bean Goose 10 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Taiga or Tundra Bean Goose ca.400 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Tundra Swan 4 adults at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Whooper Swan 168 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 146 birds were also counted at Bulaotun in the late afternoon – but some or possibly even all of these could have been among those seen at HBJZ earlier in the day.
Ruddy Shelduck 796 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Most of these (780 birds) were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang with just one being seen on the Chaohe near Taishitun & 15 at Bulaotun.
Gadwall 5 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Falcated Duck 12 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Mallard ca.600 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Almost all of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.
Chinese Spot-billed Duck 14 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Almost all of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.
Northern Pintail 5 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Baikal Teal 20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Eurasian Teal 150 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Common Pochard 20 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Ferruginous Pochard 2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Tufted Duck 2 males at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Common Goldeneye 13 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Smew 51 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Common Merganser 80 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. These involved 65 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, three in the Chaohe near the Xin Zhuang bridge, Taishitun & 12 at Bulaotun.
Little Grebe 7 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Two of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang & the other five in the Chaohe near Taishitun.
Great Crested Grebe 18 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Black Stork 1 flew high near Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Oriental Stork 1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Oriental Stork is rare in Beijing – the other records that I’m aware of are –
A small flock was seen near the city in summer 1875 (Wilder and Hubbard 1924, Wilder 1940b)
1 collected in April 1924, probably south of the city in Nanhaizi (Nan Hai Tzu) hunting park (Wilder and Hubbard 1924, Wilder 1940b).
1 specimen from Tongxian county on 8 June 1955 (Cai 1987). Mid-summer records must be exceptional!
1 specimen from Niulanshan, Shunyi on 22 January 1964 (Cai 1987). Mid-winter records are probably also exceptional.
14 on a flooded area in Shunyi, January 1999 (Qian Fawen in litt. 1999 to BirdLife International 
1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang Miyun reservoir on the 1/10/2004. It was circling high up with a party of 5 Black Storks and would have been an early date even on the Hebei coast.
3 at WDL on 21/3/2009 (Brian Ivon Jones, Spike Millington & Richard Carden – BIJ in litt. to PH on 20 March 2012)
Grey Heron 12 at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Seven of these were at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, one besides the Chaohe near Taishitun & the other four near Bulaotun.
Great Egret 2 besides the Chaohe when viewed from the Xin Zhuang bridge near Taishitun, Miyun on the 19/3/2012.
Great Cormorant 1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
White-tailed Eagle 1 juvenile at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 2 singles near Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Common Kestrel 3 near Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. Two were seen just south of Miyun reservoir dam while the third was at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang.
Great Bustard 3 distant birds at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Eurasian Coot 108 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Siberian Crane 3, a family party with two adults and a first year, at Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. First seen at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang in the late morning what were undoubtedly these same three birds were later seen at Bulaotun. Rare in Beijing – the only previous sighting from Beijing was of a bird at Wild Duck Lake in March 2008. Terry suggested that the easterly winds of the previous weekend might have drifted this bird, and the White-naped Cranes, inland from the Hebei coast.
White-naped Crane 256 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 240 had been counted at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang earlier in the day but these were probably part of the group later seen at Bulaotun. Possibly only the second three figure count for Beijing – but not the largest as 500 birds were reported at Miyun reservoir one day later that our sighting in 2011 (fide “Xiaoming” in a BirdForum posting of 20 March 2011)
Common Crane 620 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. 100 had been estimated at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang earlier in the day but these were probably part of the group later seen at Bulaotun.
Northern Lapwing 6 around Miyun reservoir (four at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang & two at Bulaotun) on the 19/3/2012.
Long-billed Plover 1 besides the Chao river when viewed from the Xin Zhuang bridge near Taishitun, Miyun on the 19/3/2012.
Kentish Plover 2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Black-headed Gull 61 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Mongolian Gull 2 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Oriental Turtle Dove 2 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Eurasian Collared Dove 1 near Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Chinese Grey Shrike 1 at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Black-billed Magpie 80 around Miyun reservoir & Miyun town on the 19/3/2012.
Carrion Crow 4 flew north high over Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir at 16h45 on the 19/3/2012.
Eurasian Skylark 2 singles at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
White-cheeked Starling 2 in Hou Ba Jia Zhuang village, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Common Starling 1 at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Present but not counted around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
White Wagtail 14 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012. These included 12 besides the Chaohe when viewed from the Xin Zhuang Bridge. Seven birds were seen well enough to racially assign & they were all leucopsis.
Meadow Bunting 3 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.
Pallas’s Bunting 8 around Miyun reservoir on the 19/3/2012.