With the Chinese New Year celebrations still ringing in our ears (the year of the Dragon was greeted with deafening fireworks!), we set off to explore an area known as Shidu in Fangshan County, south-west of Beijing. This area of karst limestone hills is sometimes known as the “Guilin of the north” and we could see why.. spectacular rocky outcrops rise up from the valley through which the Juma river runs.. It’s an area well-known to Beijing birders as a regular wintering ground for Black Stork, Wallcreeper and Black Vulture, with supporting cast including Crested Kingfisher, Long-billed Plover and Red-billed Chough.
Today Libby and I drove there in our rented car in convoy with friends John and Sarah Gallagher and Sarah’s visiting friend, Vic. The air was refreshingly clear – a combination of polluting industry closing down for Chinese New Year, fewer cars due to large parts of the Beijing population visiting relatives in other parts of China and a fresh northerly wind – and we enjoyed a stunning blue sky with excellent visibility all day. We took a slightly ’round the houses’ route to get there (taking over 3 hours) but it was worth it. A decent road winds its way through the gorge with a number of bridges crossing the river, many of which are excellent places to stop and view the stony riverbed. Highlights included at least 4 Black Vultures soaring over the peaks, 4-5 Black Storks including 3 young birds, 2 Crested Kingfishers, a single White-tailed Eagle and 2 Upland Buzzards. We didn’t have time to search out a Wallcreeper but the habitat looks ideal and I am sure, with a bit of time and patience, effort would be rewarded here. Definitely worth a return visit sometime soon!
On Saturday I teamed up with Brian Jones and Spike Millington for a day at Yeyahu (Wild Duck Lake).
It was a stunning day – sunny, relatively mild (only about -3 degrees C) and with very little wind. We started at Ma Chang, a flat, almost desert-like area adjacent to the reservoir and walked around 7-8 km across the grassland, the edge of the lake and along the small stands of trees on the eastern side. It was a good raptor day with an immature White-tailed Eagle, 3-4 Upland Buzzards (including one stunningly confiding juvenile), a single adult Rough-legged Buzzard, a japonicus Common Buzzard, 2 Hen Harriers, a single Saker, a Kestrel and monstrous Eagle Owl. The supporting cast included an impressive group of Common Cranes (I counted 360, which was probably conservative, but Brian and Spike estimated over 400), including one Hooded Crane in their midst. Also seen were 12 Japanese Quails, 300-350 Pallas’s Reed Buntings, Yellow-throated Bunting, 15-20 Chinese Penduline Tits, up to 3 Chinese Grey Shrikes, at least 150 Lapland Buntings, many Asian Short-toed Larks, Skylarks and the odd Little Bunting.