Yesterday morning, as the weekend smog had been cleared by a moderate (but cold!) northerly wind, I made a last-minute decision to visit Miyun. On arrival at 0630 on a Monday morning I expected to have the place to myself but around 10 minutes later Swedish birder Jan-Erik Nilsen arrived and, a couple of hours later, a minibus of Beijing birders joined us, the latter including two exotic visitors, Rui and Yaya from Xinjiang! (lovely to see you guys!).
It was great to see so many birders and, although the Beijing group missed the GREAT WHITE PELICAN, which flew strongly north at 0905 (maybe gone for good after over 3 weeks on site?), there were plenty of birds to see. A flock of over 800 BEAN GEESE, including at least 2 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE and a single SWAN GOOSE, made for a spectacular sight when they were occasionally flushed by a light aircraft… I just love the noise of a flock of geese in flight, one of nature’s most magical sounds.
Up to 3 PEREGRINES and 2 SAKERS roamed the area and we watched one juvenile PEREGRINE harassing an AVOCET, even hovering over the water as the latter made a desperate dive to escape its attention. Soon after we saw the same PEREGRINE carrying prey and, fortunately for us, it settled on the mud in front of us to devour it. A gory scene, fit for forthcoming Halloween!
As the day wore on, a handful of cranes dropped in, including 25 of the beautiful WHITE-NAPED (encouragingly, several parties containing juveniles) and a few COMMON. A ROUGH-LEGGED BUZZARD passed to the east providing excellent views and a handful of distant MONGOLIAN LARKS flew north…
With the water level so low at Miyun (apparently in preparation for receiving trillions of gallons from the great south-north water diversion project), the birding is currently spectacular with the traditional viewpoint at Houbajiazhuang offering superb views of usually difficult to see birds. With so many great birds being found at this site, it’s extremely hard to tear oneself away to visit other sites… so who knows what we are missing at Wild Duck Lake? After the recent emergence of the 31 August Spoon-billed Sandpiper record at that site, I don’t want to think about it…
PEREGRINE (Falco peregrinus, 游隼) is not a common bird in Beijing. I have sometimes seen one or two on passage in autumn and spring and occasionally it’s seen in winter. I suspect it breeds in the mountains in small numbers (I have seen juveniles at Wulingshan, just over the border in Hebei, in July).
Most of the birds we see in Beijing look like pretty standard Peregrines, most likely of the subspecies peregrinus or japonensis. However, occasionally, we see one that looks small with rufous underparts, reminiscent of Shaheen Falcon (ssp peregrinator). One such bird was seen on 1 September 2013 at Miyun (photos below).
And on Friday this week, Paul Holt and I saw another that we suspected could be a Shaheen. Although it was very distant, I was able to record some video of this bird.
According to literature, ssp peregrinator breeds in India and across to Vietnam and southern China and is non-migratory. It shouldn’t be anywhere near Beijing. A range map of the various subspecies of Peregrine can be seen here.I’d love to hear views from those familiar with ssp peregrinator as to whether they think this bird is of this subspecies.
September and October are probably my favourite months in Beijing. The excessive heat of the summer diminishes and, given the autumnal breeze, combined with regular rain, the air quality is good, resulting in some fantastic clear days with superb visibility. It’s a reminder that Beijing is a beautiful city and if ever an extra incentive was needed to clean up the capital’s air, being outside on autumnal days and seeing the mountains, with the ever-impressive Great Wall running along the spine of the northern ranges, must be it.
Of course September and October are also superb months for birding with migration in full swing. Taking advantage of Dalian-based Tom Beeke’s presence in the capital for an ice-hockey tournament, Paul Holt and I took Tom for a day’s birding at Miyun Reservoir on Sunday. And what a beautiful day it was. With the temperature a fresh 14 degrees C early on (rising to 32 degrees C later), a stunning clear blue sky and visibility of at least 30-40km, it was a great day to be in the field.
We visited three sites around the reservoir and recorded an impressive 91 species, including two new birds for me in Beijing – LITTLE CURLEW (小杓鹬) and RUSSET SPARROW (山麻雀) – plus 2 SHORT-TOED EAGLES (短趾雕), several PIED HARRIERS (鹊鹞) and, best of all, a PEREGRINE (游隼) of the subspecies peregrinator – a resident of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and southern China. We believe this is the first record of this subspecies in Beijing and the most northerly record in China – unless you know better?
Some images from the day and a full species list (courtesy of Paul Holt) below.
Full Species List
Japanese Quail – 6 around Miyun reservoir
Common Pheasant- 5
Mandarin Duck – 3 around Miyun reservoir
Falcated Duck – 4, including an eclipse adult male, at Miyun reservoir. Apparently the earliest autumn records from Beijing. The previous earliest were 25 and 36 birds at Miyun reservoir on the 11 and 12 September 2004 respectively (PH pers. obs.). These dates seem unusually late however and it’s likely that limited observer coverage of Miyun reservoir & WDL in late August is responsible as birds are regularly encountered on the Hebei and Tianjin coasts at that time.
Mallard – 8
Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 10
Garganey – 5
Eurasian Teal – 3
Little Grebe – 16
Great Crested Grebe – 54
Black Stork – 3 flew north over the Jingcheng expressway near Miyun town (kilometre post 62) at about 05h45.
Black-crowned Night Heron – 3
Little Heron – 2
Chinese Pond Heron – 11
Eastern Cattle Egret – 4
Grey Heron – 10
Purple Heron – 2 juveniles
Great Egret – 3
Little Egret – 17
Osprey – 1. Probably the earliest autumn date for Beijing.
Crested (Oriental) Honey-buzzard – 1 flew south high over in the Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir.
Black Kite – 2 juveniles
Short-toed Snake Eagle – 2. Both were photographed.
Eastern Marsh Harrier – 4
Pied Harrier – 6, including two adult males, an adult female and three juveniles
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 10
Common Kestrel – 1
Amur Falcon – 81. 66 of these were seen from the Jingcheng expressway between Miyun town & Taishitun. Surprisingly today’s total was one of the highest autumn bird-days totals for the whole of Beijing. The majority of Amur Falcons apparently move through Beijing during a short and intense autumn passage. Most years it’s the second week of September before there’s any significant movement and birds are widely encountered just one week later (by the middle of September) with peak migration apparently occurring in the third week. Note that this is significantly earlier than the peak occurs in coastal Tianjin and at Laotie Shan, southernmost Liaoning where the, significantly larger passage, doesn’t peak until mid-October. Note that significantly larger numbers have been seen in neighbouring Tianjin municipality during autumn passage (with 1350 counted at Beidagang, Dagang on 10 October 2007)
Peregrine Falcon – 2 juveniles near Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir on the 1/9/2013. The first bird that we saw was a ‘Shaheen’ Falcon Falco peregrinus peregrinator as it was slightly small and compact, even for a male, had a strong rufous suffusion to its lower underparts and underwing coverts that contrasted well with its whiter breast and cheeks. It was quite dark above with rather little contrast with the paler rump and had an extensive dark hood. In China peregrinator is a bird of the south and can be found, albeit locally, in Sichuan. The most northerly record in China until today had been an adult at Yangxian, Shaanxi on the 1 July 2013 (PH pers. obs.).
Common Moorhen – 5
Eurasian Coot – 8
Black-winged Stilt – 2
Snipe sp. – 3
Little Curlew – 1 was seen several times in flight, and photographed, near Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir. Little Curlew is rare in Beijing with perhaps just four or five previous reports – ‘present’ at Wild Duck Lake on the 22/3/2003 (赵欣如老师 黄伟 竹 cyan 以及另外三人 via BirdTalker). This report was accompanied by the statement that ‘needs to be affirmed since the time is too early’. Subsequently one was seen at Huairou Reservoir on 11/5/2004 [JHa in the 2004 CBR] and this sighting was noted as being the first record for the Capital by the bird report editors who apparently discounted the 2003 report above; one at Miyun reservoir on the 18/10/2007 – it flew purposefully south, out and over the reservoir south of the Bulaotun Satellite Tracking Station at 15:25hrs (PH pers. obs.); three at Bulaotun, Miyun reservoir on the 4/5/2008 (PH pers. obs.) & one in Yuanmingyuan during the 14-17/8/2012 (see http:/www.birdnet.cn/showtopic-381567.aspx )
Green Sandpiper – 1
Wood Sandpiper – 2
Temminck’s Stint – 1
Black-headed Gull – 160
Mongolian Gull – 3, two adults and a second-calendar year, flew north at Hou Ba Jia Zhuang, Miyun reservoir. Apparently the earliest ever autumn record from Beijing
Gull-billed Tern – 4, two adults and two first-winters. One of only five autumn records from Beijing!
Common Tern – 3 adults. Two were minusensis & the other longipennis.
White-winged Black Tern – 1 juvenile
Oriental Turtle Dove – 11
Eurasian Collared Dove – 50
Spotted Dove – 2
Asian Koel – 1 singing bird was heard near Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir on the 1/9/2013. 2013 has been a record year for this species in Beijing – and today’s was the first ever September encounter.
Common Cuckoo – 3 around Miyun reservoir
Common Kingfisher – 3
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 1 flew over the Jingcheng expressway near kilometre 62
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1
Brown Shrike – 6
Chinese Grey Shrike – 3
Black-naped Oriole – 3
Black Drongo – 218. Apparently a record day-count from the Capital. The only previous three-figure counts that I’m aware of from Beijing have been 200 at Wild Duck Lake on 21/8/2005 (LHT in the 2005 CBR) & 150 at Wild Duck Lake during 26-27/8/2010 (Brian Ivon Jones via BirdTalker)
Azure-winged Magpie – 1
Red-billed Blue Magpie – 1 was heard
Marsh Tit – 2 calling birds were heard near Yongle cun
Japanese Tit – 1 was heard
Chinese Penduline Tit – 1 heard near Yongle cun
Light-vented Bulbul – 22
Sand Martin – 28 flew south
Barn Swallow – 35 around Miyun reservoir. Five of these, including one tytleri, were near Yongle cun with the other 30 in & around Hou Ba Jia Zhuang village.
Red-rumped Swallow – 150
Dusky Warbler – 7
Yellow-browed Warbler – 7
Oriental Reed Warbler – 2
Black-browed Reed Warbler – 2
Thick-billed Warbler – 5
Lanceolated Warbler – 3 separate birds were heard near Yongle cun
Zitting Cisticola – 21
Plain Laughingthrush – 2, a presumed pair, near Yongle cun
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 52
Chinese Hill Babbler – 4, presumably a family party
Common Stonechat – 14
Asian Brown Flycatcher – 2
Taiga Flycatcher – 2
Russet Sparrow – 17 in a mixed flock with Eurasian Tree Sparrows near Yongle cun, Miyun reservoir. One of very few double-figure day counts from Beijing and perhaps the first record for Miyun county? The number of Russet Sparrows being reported in Beijing appears to have declined in recent years (from high counts that included 50 at the Jumahe, Fangshan on the 4/12/2004 [QYX in 2004 CBR], 30 at Shidu, Fangshan on 30/12/2007 (蛐蛐儿黑鹳辛夷拙石 via BirdTalker) and 20 at Juili cun, Jiuduhe zhen, Huairou on the 11/9/2010 [dianchi via BirdTalker]). Note that Beijing has been the northern limit of this species’ Chinese breeding range for over a decade – this is despite recent records at Laotie Shan, Liaoning in May 2011 (Townshend and Millington 2011) & May 2013 (Terry Townshend pers. comm to PH) and on the Hebei coast suggest that the species is continuing to slowly expand its range.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – 100
Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 50
Grey Wagtail – 2 singles flew south
White Wagtail – 9, including four leucopsis
Richard’s Pipit – 18
Olive-backed Pipit – 1
Red-throated Pipit – 1. Apparently the joint earliest autumn record from Beijing – equalling the sighting of five at Shahe Reservoir, Changping on 1/9/2008 (红嘴蓝鹊, 鹰之舞 via BirdTalker).
Grey-capped Greenfinch – 30
Common Rosefinch – 112. 17 of these were near Yongle cun with the other 95, including a single flock of about 80 birds, were near Hou Ba Jia Zhuang. Apparently a record autumn count for Beijing.
Chinese Grosbeak – 3
Meadow Bunting – 1 was heard near Yongle cun
Yellow-breasted Bunting – 2 near Hou Ba Jia Zhuang
Laotieshan is continuing to exceed expectations. Highlight today was probably the 10,000+ Red-rumped Swallows that moved through the point. Simply staggering. Supporting cast included a Hair-crested Drongo, a total of 19 House Martins (13 Northern, 3 Asian and 3 unidentified to species level), a single Black Stork and 8 White-throated Needletails. Also very good numbers of Richard’s Pipits, Black-faced Buntings, Olive-backed Pipits and Chestnut-flanked White-eyes. Raptors continue to impress with Oriental Honey Buzzards, Japanese Sparrowhawks, Goshawks, Black-eared Kites and Pied Harriers the highlights. All of this is happening during benign weather. We are expecting a cold front to pass on Thursday with the temperature due to drop by around 10 degrees. If that happens, Friday could be a big day. It’s been so good that I haven’t had time to put together detailed notes – that will probably have to wait until I get home.. In the meantime, here are a few more images of the day…