Winter along the Wenyu

On Saturday I went for a walk.  A long walk.  Actually a little longer than I had anticipated.  I estimate that I walked around 13km along the Wenyu River, situated between the 5th and 6th ring roads on the northeast side of Beijing.  It’s a favourite haunt of local birder, Shi Jin, and I have visited several times, particularly in late Spring, as the area of rice paddies can be superb for locustella and acrocephalus warblers, as well as small bitterns.

In winter the birdlife is different.  Huge flocks of tree sparrows, numbering almost 1,000 in total, and good numbers of buntings, including Yellow-throated, Pallas’s Reed and Pine inhabit the banks of the river at this season.  And on the slow-moving water and the muddy fringes, wintering Long-billed Plover, Green Sandpiper and a few winter duck can be found.

This river was also the site where Shi Jin found a putative Whistling Swan in November, discussion about which can be found on Birding Frontiers.  My walk on Saturday revealed that this aberrant swan is still there, and still in the company of a ‘normal’ Bewick’s.  But it also revealed much more – a real sense of the wealth of species that can be seen on a winter’s day in Beijing.

Here’s what I saw…

Weather: sunny, relatively clear but pollution worsening as the day went on; still; cool first thing (around freezing) but rising to 11 degrees C during the day.
The Wenyu He was remarkably ice-free all the way along.
Full Species List:
Japanese Quail – 2 in the weedy field just east of the riding stables
Common Pheasant – 2 east of riding stables
Bewick’s Swan – 1 with the probable aberrant Bewick’s Swan just north of Picun (near brick building with chimney on northeast shore)
Ruddy Shelduck – 26
Gadwall – 18 (9 pairs)
Falcated Duck – 6 (4 males and 2 females)
Mallard – 395
Spot-billed Duck – 5
Northern Shoveler – 3 (females)
Eurasian Teal – 41
Tufted Duck/Greater Scaup – one female type seen in flight twice but both times distantly.  Looked chunky with relatively dark underwing.  Worth looking out for if you are in the area.
Goldeneye – 4 (all male)
Smew – 1 redhead
Goosander – 14
Little Grebe – 44
Eurasian Kestrel – 3
Merlin – 1 near golf course east of Jingmi Lu
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1
Eastern Buzzard – 3
Long-billed Plover – 7
Green Sandpiper – 6
Oriental Turtle Dove – 6
Spotted Dove – 1
Collared Dove – 1
Crested Kingfisher – 1
Hoopoe – 1
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker – 3
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1
Grey-headed Woodpecker – 3
Azure-winged Magpie – 39
Common Magpie – lots
Daurian Jackdaw – 350+ in pre-roost flock
Carrion Crow – 6
Large-billed Crow – 2
Eurasian Skylark – 6
Chinese Bulbul – 3
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – 2
Goldcrest – 6 in juniper-type trees just east of Jingmi Lu.
Wren – 1
Naumann’s Thrush – 3
Tree Sparrow – 900+ several flocks of several hundred each
Siberian Accentor – 6
Olive-backed Pipit – 9 together
Brambling – 5
Pine Bunting – 50+ in one pre-roost flock just north-west of Picun
Meadow Bunting – 7
Little Bunting – 2
Yellow-throated Bunting – 11 (including 2 singing males)
Pallas’s Reed Bunting – 14 – in fields east of riding stables
Japanese Reed Bunting – 3 in fields east of riding stables
Siberian Weasel – 1 in scrubby field a little east of riding stables.

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.”


” 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

Swinhoe’s Owlet – more

Following my most recent blog post on the Swinhoe’s Owlet, I received the images below from Mike Parker from Suffolk, UK and Chong Yih Yeong, based in Beijing.  The first was taken in Beidaihe in October 2004 and the second is one of the birds at Wenyu He.  Note the feet.. and compare with this image of Little Owl from the UK.

Swinhoe’s Owlet, Beidaihe, October 2004 (image copyright Mike Parker)Image