Pallas’s Rosefinch

Pallas's Rosefinch (adult male), Beijing, 17 February 2013.  A stunning bird.
Pallas’s Rosefinch (adult male), Beijing, 17 February 2013. A stunning bird.

The Pallas’s Rosefinch (Carpodacus roseus) is a difficult bird to see anywhere.  Although it has quite a large range, its breeding grounds – the mountains of eastern Russia and northern Mongolia – are relatively inaccessible and remote.  And the wintering sites (northern China, Japan, Korea) are not necessarily reliable on a year by year basis.

Beijing in winter has traditionally been one of the best places to see this species but, in recent years, the numbers wintering around the Chinese capital appear to have declined for unknown reasons (possibly due to milder winters).

This winter, the coldest in China for over 20 years and with above average snowfall in northern China, has bucked the trend and there are good numbers of Pallas’s Rosefinch wintering in the hills around the capital, providing a good opportunity to get to grips with this species.  Singles and small groups have been reported from a number of locations around Beijing, including the Olympic Forest Park, Badaling Great Wall and Shisanling.  However, it is the ridge above the Botanical Gardens in the northwest of the city that has proved to be a real hotspot this winter.  Jesper Hornskov walks this area frequently and he first reported sightings of this bird from October with numbers gradually building to a high count of over 70 in January.

On Sunday I visited the Botanical Gardens with Beijing-based Per Alström, Jennifer Leung and visiting Dutch birder, Ben Wielstra.  After birding through the gardens, and completing the steep ascent to the ridge, we rested for a short coffee break during which we were fortunate to encounter two stunning male Pallas’s Rosefinches – the target bird of our walk.  After enjoying spectacular views we walked a 2-3km stretch of the ridge before returning via the same route.  Although it’s difficult to make an accurate assessment of the number of birds present, we left with the view that we had seen over 40 birds along that particular 2-3 km stretch, including at least 3 adult males.

Adult males are difficult to beat..  they are resplendent in their raspberry-coloured plumage, silvery-white bills and steely-black legs.  Females and immatures are much drabber, often displaying streaky brownish plumage with a hint of orange or pink and a pinkish rump.

If you are in Beijing over the next few weeks I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the Botanical Gardens to see these birds.  But be quick – they are likely to head back north sometime in mid- to late-March and who knows when they will next be so accessible in the Chinese capital?

Full species list from the walk below.  My thanks go to Per, Jennifer and Ben for their excellent company.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 2
Northern Goshawk – 1
Eastern Buzzard – 1 seen twice over the ridge
Oriental Turtle Dove – 3
Spotted Dove – 1
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 2
Azure-winged Magpie – 35+
Red-billed Blue Magpie – 5
Common Magpie – 13
Carrion Crow – 2
Large-billed Crow – 12
Great (Japanese) Tit – 6
Yellow-bellied Tit – 28
Marsh Tit – 4
Silver-throated Tit – 2 in the gardens late afternoon
Chinese Hill Babbler – 4 on the way down (after going most of the day without seeing any)
Chinese Bulbul – 1 heard
Pere David’s Laughingthrush – 12
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 2 groups of 15+ each
Goldcrest – 6
Chinese Nuthatch – 1
Crested Myna – 1
White-cheeked Starling – 1
Red-throated Thrush – 1
Naumann’s Thrush – 11
Tree Sparrow – many in the gardens
Siberian Accentor – 6, including 2 seen exceptionally well around the noodle place
Brambling – over 1,000, often wheeling around in large flocks
Oriental Greenfinch – 7
Siskin – 5 (PA only)
Pallas’s Rosefinch – at least 40 (3 adult males and the remainder females or immature males).  The first two (both adult males) showed exceptionally well.
Hawfinch – 2
Godlewski’s Bunting – 5
Tristram’s Bunting – 3
Yellow-throated Bunting – 4
Mammals
Red Squirrel – 5
Pere David’s Rock Squirrel – 1
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Laotieshan Autumn 2012 report

Paul Holt has just finished his report from Laotieshan this autumn, covering the period 5-26 September.  For a few of those days, towards the end, he was joined by Per Alström and me, but he generously credited us a joint authors.  The full report can be downloaded here: Birding in Liaoning 5-26 Sept. 2012 (Holt, Townshend & Alstrom) but, for the busy reader, highlights included:

Five new species for Liaoning:

• 14 bird-days with up to 11 Short-tailed Shearwaters being noted on four dates between 12-19 September;

• seven bird-days for skuas/jaegers between 12-18 September – most were unidentified but a Long-tailed Jaeger was identified on the 12th as was a single Pomarine on the 18th;

• a Swinhoe’s Minivet on the 14 September;

• a Chestnut-cheeked Starling on 6 September.

 

High counts included:

• 3,274 bird-days for Streaked Shearwater with a count of 1,605 during the 4.5 hour sea watch off the point at Laotie Shan, Lushun on the 13 September possibly being a Chinese record;

• 4,313 bird-days of Oriental Honey-buzzard with 1,181 south on the 23 September;

• 938 bird-days of Japanese Sparrowhawk with 446 (possibly a Chinese record) south on the 6 September;

• 16,000 Black-tailed Gulls and 5,000 Mongolian Gulls west off the point on the 18 September (possibly both Chinese records);

• 20,959 bird-days of Ashy Minivet with 10,380 on the 21 September (a Chinese record);

• 270 bird-days for Black-naped Oriole with 72 on the 6th & 62 on the 9 September;

• 20,600 bird-days for Barn Swallow with 7,500 south on 14 September;

• 56 bird-days for Asian House Martin with 37 south on 6 September;

• 90 Forest Wagtails south on 11 September;

• 3,160 bird-days for White Wagtail with 1,134 on the 11 September;

• 196 bird-days for Pechora Pipit with exactly half this number, 98 birds, on the 12 September possibly being a Chinese record

Local rarities included:

• single adult Black-legged Kittiwakes on the 12th & 18 September

• one juvenile Pallas’s Gull during a seawatch on the 18 September – perhaps only the sixth record for Liaoning;

• 1 Spotted Nutcracker on the 24 September;

 

I suspect that, with irruption species such as Varied Tit, ‘Northern’ Great Tit, Rosefinches etc on the move this autumn, October might have been exciting, too…   but there have been no birders there to find out!

First for Beijing: Grey-tailed Tattler

On Wednesday morning I met up with Shi Jin and Per Alström for a spot of birding before work.  We decided to visit Wenyu He (Wenyu River) on the north-east boundary of central Beijing (in Chaoyang District for those of you who know China’s capital city).  It had rained hard overnight but the morning was fresh and clear with unusually fantastic visibility.

We did rather well with several migrating Oriental Honey Buzzards (never common over the city centre), several Black-naped Orioles and a good count of egrets, including at least 28 Great  and 16 Little.  But the highlight of the morning was Beijing’s first confirmed record of GREY-TAILED TATTLER.  Found by Per feeding on the river edge (that’s the tattler feeding, not Per), it soon flew from the far side of the river (outside central Beijing) to the nearside (definitely central Beijing!).  It did not need to do so to be the first documented record from Beijing Municipality but, in so doing, it also became the first for central Beijing city proper!  Shi Jin could not hide his excitement at adding this bird to his local patch list and managed some great images viewable on his Chinese Currents website.  A couple of my efforts are below.

Grey-tailed Tattler is predominantly a coastal bird in China and any inland record is a good one.  To see one in the capital was most unexpected.  Well done Per – we look forward to more finds of this quality during your stay in Beijing!

Grey-tailed Tattler, Wenyu He, Beijing, 12 September 2012. A great find by Per Alström.
Grey-tailed Tattler, Wenyu He, Beijing. Showing the relatvely uniform upperparts in flight.

Observing this bird, I wasn’t sure I could separate juvenile Grey-tailed from Wandering Tattler. I asked the experts and this is what they said (with apologies for quoting their off the cuff comments!):

“Separate the two tattlers with great care.  Calls are by far the best way with Grey-tailed resembling a Ringed Plover & Wandering sounding reminiscent of a Whimbrel.  Juv. Grey-tailed have obvious white fringes on wing coverts – these are much narrower & less contrasting on Wandering.  Wandering also has a longer primary projection with often 5, not 4, pps visible beyond the longest tertial.

You need to be really close (or have a big lens) to see whether the scaling on the back of the upper legs is ladder-like as in Grey-tailed or irregularly shaped & scaly as in Wandering.  Similarly close to see that Wandering has a long nasal groove (more than half the length of its bill); Grey-tailed’s nasal groove is shorter.”

and

” juv Wandering has much more extensively dark flanks than juv Grey-tailed, if I remember correctly also darker breast contrasting more with the belly and darker upperside.  ”

So, there you go.  Always learning!  As it happens, we did hear this bird call and it was reminiscent of Common Ringed Plover, so that’s a clincher even without the images showing the nasal groove (sounds a bit like a new trend in Indie music – can you do the nasal groove?)

 

Full Species List:

Japanese Quail – 1 flushed by Per and Steve in the scrubby area to the east of the riding stables.
Mallard – 120+
Spot-billed Duck – 4
Garganey – 1
Eurasian Teal – 2
Little Grebe – 9
Night Heron – 4
Chinese Pond Heron – 12 (7 adults and 5 juveniles)
Grey Heron – 5
Great Egret – 28
Little Egret – 16
Great Cormorant – 16
Eurasian Kestrel – 1
Oriental Honey Buzzard – 17 drifted south-east (9 @ 0904, 2 @ 0917 and 6 @ 1030)
Japanese Sparrowhawk – 1 probably this species SE
Grey-headed Lapwing – 3
Common Snipe – 11
Spotted Redshank – 4
Marsh Sandpiper – 1
Common Greenshank – 8
Green Sandpiper – 12
Wood Sandpiper – 6
GREY-TAILED TATTLER – 1 juvenile (a rare inland record and possibly the first confirmed record for Beijing)
Common Sandpiper – 3
Black-headed Gull – 1 juvenile/first-winter
Oriental Turtle Dove – 4
Spotted Dove – 2
Cuckoo sp – 1
Hoopoe – 3
Wryneck – 1
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 1
Brown Shrike – 3
Black-naped Oriole – 5
Black Drongo – 1
Azure-winged Magpie – 15+
Common Magpie – 15+ feeding along the river
Barn Swallow – 30+
Red-rumped Swallow – 4+
Lanceolated Warbler – 1
Pallas’s Grashopper Warbler – 1 probable
Oriental Reed Warbler – 1
Dusky Warbler – 1 probable
Yellow-browed Warbler – 4
White-cheeked Starling – 4
Siberian Stonechat – 9
Taiga Flycatcher – 2
Tree Sparrow – lots
Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 2
White Wagtail – 4
Richard’s Pipit – 2
Olive-backed Pipit – 2