On Saturday I met up with Peter Cawley – from my original local patch at Winterton in the UK – and flew across to Dalian for the onward journey to Laotieshan, the southern tip of the Dalian peninsula. It is here that we will be basing ourselves for at least a week to experience the autumn migration.
We arrived in the late afternoon and met up with Paul Holt who had arrived at lunchtime that day and had managed a few hours birding in the afternoon. Given the recent settled weather, our expectations were not so high but his report certainly whetted the appetite – in just four hours he had seen over 1,000 Oriental Honey Buzzards, over 1,200 Red-rumped Swallows and a good sprinkling of other birds – Amur Falcon, Goshawk, Osprey and White-throated Needletail. Not bad. Sunday was our first full day and it was simply stunning. Over 600 Ashy Minivets, at least 300 Oriental Honey Buzzards, over 100 Black-eared Kites, 3 Black Storks and between 30 and 40 Japanese Sparrowhawks with good numbers of Eurasian Sparrowhawks, Hobbies, Amur Falcons, Kestrel, Osprey and Peregrine as the supporting cast. This site is awesome!
First thing this morning I made my first visit to the Olympic Forest Park in Beijing. This relatively new park, as its name suggests, was created for the 2008 Olympic Games and has won awards for its design. I was pleasantly surprised by how ‘bird-friendly’ it is. There is some great habitat, including some large reedbeds, lakes, mature (ish) woodland and open areas, all of which are attracting birds.
Today, I explored the southern section prompted by a visiting birder, Claus Holzapfel, who had seen a Streaked Reed Warbler a few days ago. I didn’t see any of these rare ‘acro‘ warblers but I chalked up an impressive list of species for a central Beijing location (see below).
The highlight for me was an enjoyable encounter with a confiding Yellow Bittern as it hunted in one of the lily-filled lakes. It’s ungainly stance belied the effectiveness with which it stalked small fish and frogs.
Oriental Reed Warblers filled the air with their chattering and there were also a few Black-browed Reed Warblers competing to be heard and a few Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers skulking at the base of the reeds. Indian and Eurasian Cuckoos were calling frequently and the song of the Black-naped Oriole was an occasional accompaniement.
In the more mature trees on the eastern side, a singing male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was a nice sight but I failed to find the Green-backed (Elisae’s) Flycatcher that Paul Holt had seen the previous day.
The Olympic Park is situated just north of the 4th ring road, north of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium and is served by metro stops as well as several bus routes, so it is easy to get to. It opens at 6am and, this morning, there were relatively few people around and it was very easy to find quiet spots – not to be taken for granted in Beijing where most city parks are full of early morning exercisers for the first few hours of daylight. For me, it’s the best birding site I’ve seen so far in Beijing city. I’ll definitely be back!
Species List (in chronological order of first sighting):
Collared Dove (1)
Common Magpie (many)
Tree Sparrow (many)
Grey-capped Woodpecker (3)
Eastern Crowned Warbler (2)
Indian Cuckoo (4)
Chinese (Light-vented) Bulbul (7)
Oriental Reed Warbler (at least 30)
Eurasian Cuckoo (5)
Oriental Greenfinch (3)
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler (3)
Night Heron (7)
Red-rumped Swallow (4)
Black-browed Reed Warbler (4)
Black Drongo (1)
Common Moorhen (6)
Common Swift (12)
Yellow Bittern (7)
Goldeneye (1) – a drake on the lake near the ‘underwater corridor’
Barn Swallow (3)
Little Egret (1) – flyover
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (1) – singing just north-east of Wali Lake
Marsh Tit (2)
Black-naped Oriole (3)
Dark-sided Flycatcher (1) – northeast of Wali Lake
On Saturday I joined leading China expert, Paul Holt, and visiting Chris Gooddie (of “The Jewel Hunter” fame) for a visit to Yeyahu Nature Reserve. We were hoping to see some late migrants – birds such as Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler – and of course had in the back of our minds the chance of seeing the rare Streaked Reed Warbler, a possible of which I saw on Thursday at the same site.
After a 4am start and a predictably tortuous journey over the mountains past Badaling Great Wall (this route is notorious for breaking down lorries!), we arrived at the site by around 0615. After seeing Two-barred Greenish Warbler, Yellow-throated Bunting and Chinese Pond Heron along the entrance track, we took the boardwalk through the reedbed. The first stretch produced a high density of singing Oriental (Great) Reed Warblers along with a few Black-browed Reed Warblers, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers (most of which were picked up by Paul on call or a brief burst of song), a calling Yellow Bittern, a few Zitting Cisticolas and several Purple Herons (breeding in the reedbed in the south-west corner of the lake). But the highlight was undoubtedly the Siberian Bush WarblerBradypterus davidi (a split from Spotted Bush Warbler Bradypterus thoracicus) that was expertly identified by Paul after a very brief burst of song… I have to say I would have almost certainly walked straight past it and, if I had heard it, I would probably have passed it off as an insect! After a bit of patience and ‘pishing’, this bird showed well at very close range, albeit briefly… A very difficult bird to see and a scarce, albeit regular, migrant in the Beijing area (almost certainly overlooked due to its extreme skulky nature). This experience reinforced to me the need to get learning all of the calls and songs of some of the more irregular and difficult to see birds in the Beijing area. Unless one is familiar with the calls, identifying and seeing many of these “difficult enough at the best of times” birds becomes almost impossible.
The walk along the grove of trees alongside the lake produced a good variety of phylloscopus warblers including Arctic, Two-barred Greenish, Pallas’s, Dusky and Radde’s plus a female Siberian Blue Robin, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Black-faced Bunting, a pair of Chinese Hill Warblers and a pair of nest-building Chinese Penduline Tits. On our second circuit we paused at a gap in the trees to scan the area of reedbeds and scrub to the north. After watching a pair of Eastern Marsh Harriers, a handful of Amur Falcons, displaying Richard’s Pipits, Siberian Stonechat, Hobby and Kestrel, the surprise of the day emerged, in the form of a Short-toed Eagle that appeared from nowhere and dropped into a field a few hundred metres away.. Short-toed Eagle is a pretty rare bird in northern China, although records from recent years suggest that it is probably a scarce passage migrant with multiple annual records in Spring and, particularly, Autumn.
With the visibility shockingly poor (due to the air pollution mist), our chances of seeing more large raptors were pretty low, so we decided to make a brief visit to Ma Chang to check the reservoir before heading back to Beijing. Ma Chang was a bit of a disappointment, largely due to the heavy disturbance involving cars, motorised buggies, horses, even coaches, driving all over the area adjacent to the reservoir… We did see a few Common Terns, Night Herons, Black-headed Gulls, the local Black-winged Stilts and a few Asian Short-toed Larks but there was little else on offer, so we knocked it on the head and headed back. On the journey back, Chris regaled us with tales of various leech encounters during his Pitta quest.. the one that took the biscuit had to be the case of the leech on the eyeball (thankfully for him, not his!)… OMG.
A very good day out and it’s always a pleasure to go birding with people as knowledgeable as Paul and Chris – I learned a lot. Thanks guys!
You can see a short video of Chris tracking the Bush Warbler here… The Bush Warbler’s call is very difficult to make out on the video (an up-slurred raspy sound), so you can hear a much clearer one on Xeno-Canto.
After Brian Jones’s post about Wild Duck Lake and his comment that there was always a “Yeyahu surprise” I guess I should not have been shocked that my next visit in prime migration season should produce a Chinese mega in the form of a Great White Pelican! Even so this record, the significance of which I only realised after returning home, was way beyond my wildest expectations.
Great White Pelican (GWP) is a very rare bird in China. In fact any Pelican sp (Dalmatian is more frequent) is a rare bird in this part of the world. Jesper Hornskov, of 20 years experience in China, has only seen one other GWP in Xinjiang over 15 years ago. And Paul Holt has just informed me that my sighting is the second record for the Beijing area, the first being at Miyun Reservoir in October-November 2009. Fortunately, given I was not able to secure any images of the Wild Duck Lake bird and the fact it was only present for around 90 minutes, Jesper was also coincidentally in the vicinity and saw it in flight.
This is the story…
With Libby in Shanghai with her visiting sister, I decided to take the opportunity to travel up to Yanqing on Friday evening and stay over to allow a dawn start at WDL. After enjoying a Friday night in the happening town of Yanqing (or rather being in bed by 9pm), I arrived at Ma Chang at first light (about 0545) and, after checking the ‘desert area’ for Oriental Plovers (no sign) and enjoying the flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks that were wheeling around, I made for the narrow spit to the west (complete with yurts) to check the reservoir. On arrival here, at about 0705, I immediately saw a large white bird with the naked eye at the far side of the reservoir and thought it must be a late swan. But it looked big. I set up the telescope and was shocked to see a pelican sp swimming on the water! It was resting on the far side of the reservoir among a large flock of some 250+ Black-headed Gulls. I immediately sent SMSs to Jesper and Brian Jones and Jesper responded to say he was also at WDL but in a different part (!) and asked for directions. I explained where it was but wasn’t sure whether or not Jesper could see it from his vantage point. I then watched the bird for about an hour during which time it preened and swam along the far side of the reservoir, looking settled. At one point a small group of 8 Relict Gulls flew right over it! On any other day, the Relict Gulls would have been the star of the show… I knew there had been the odd record of Dalmatian Pelican in the Beijing area, so assumed it must be this species (having seen neither I was not sure of the identification criteria). But nevertheless, I took some notes on the features I could see. Although distant, I could see that it was large, bulkier than a swan, and the plumage was a brilliant white with a yellowish bill. At about 0830 I left the reservoir to do my normal walk to Yeyahu. Jesper was further north and east of me and I assumed, as I had not seen or heard from him, that he had been able to pick it up. Then, at 0845, as I was walking east, Jesper sent me a text to say the pelican was in flight over the reservoir. I picked it up easily in my bins and then watched it through my telescope as it circled, gained height and, after a few minutes, was lost to view in the murk. I took some notes about the features I could see. In flight, it looked a brilliant white against the mountains as it soared, with intermittent wingbeats. On the upperside, there was a clear and sharp contrast between the black wing tips and black secondaries and the brilliant white plumage. I did not clearly see the underside. Jesper then sent me a SMS to say the wing pattern fitted Great White. It was only when I returned home and looked at the literature that I realised, from my notes, that it was definitely a Great White and just how rare it is in northern China. Unfortunately, at no time did it come close enough for me to obtain a photo. I am just very pleased that Jesper saw it too!
I am assuming that it was a wild bird but, of course, there is the possibility of it being a free-flying escape from some park. I’ll try to do some digging about this possibility.