My Garden

I call it my garden but, as you can see from the photo below taken from our apartment on the 17th floor, it’s more of a communal green space.  Nevertheless, until the relatively recent arrival of Jennifer Leung, I am pretty sure I was the only birder covering it on a regular basis and, by regular, I mean maybe once a week during migration season.

My 'garden' as viewed from the apartment window.  A magnet for migrants.
My ‘garden’ as viewed from the apartment window. A magnet for migrants.

Anyway, the reason for posting a photo of my ‘garden’ is that yesterday, Wednesday 25th September 2013, I awoke early – too early – and thought I’d have a walk around before breakfast.  Late September in Beijing is a pretty special time for bird migration and, after a cold front passed a few days before the temperature had dropped significantly, particularly noticeable at night.  Of course this had prompted many birds to move and I was pretty confident of seeing some good birds on my early morning walk.  A few YELLOW-BELLIED TITS (黄腹山雀) were a nice start, soon followed by my first PALLAS’S WARBLER (黄腰柳莺) of the autumn (these little gems usually pass through around a month later than the similar YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER (黄眉柳莺) which has been a regular sight and sound in the garden since late August).  An ARCTIC WARBLER (极北柳莺), an OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT (树鹨) and the seemingly omnipresent TAIGA FLYCATCHERS (红喉姬鹟) kept the interest going.  I sat quietly on my favourite slope from where I can see the base of a small area of bamboo and, almost immediately, a bird flew in and landed less than 5 metres away in the canopy above my head..  Unfortunately it was mostly obscured but I could see a white flash on the closed wing.  I immediately thought it could be a DAURIAN REDSTART (北红尾鸲) , a relatively common migrant in central Beijing in late autumn, but something didn’t seem right.  I slowly moved to one side in an effort to view more of the bird and suddenly I could see this beautiful bird in full view..

White-throated Rock Thrush, Central Park, Beijing, 25 September 2013.  A fitting 50th species for this small green space.
White-throated Rock Thrush, Central Park, Beijing, 25 September 2013. A fitting 50th species for this small green space.

…wow, a WHITE-THROATED ROCK THRUSH (白喉矶鸫)!  No sooner had I registered that I was looking at my 50th species in this small green oasis in the middle of this city of 20 million-plus people, it began to sing!  Over the next half an hour or so, in between being flushed by, in chronological order, a litter picker, a dog-walker and a man ‘exercising’ by shouting at the top of his voice, I was able to take a series of photos, including one with a GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (大斑啄木鸟) with which it seemed to be loosely associating.

2013-09-25 White-throated Rock Thrush3
White-throated Rock Thrush (male). A good looking bird….
White-throated Rock Thrush.  A beautiful bird and a real treat to see it so well in the 'garden'.
White-throated Rock Thrush. Beautiful plumage and a real treat to see this species so well in the ‘garden’.
White-throated Rock Thrush with Great Spotted Woodpecker.  An unlikely couple!
White-throated Rock Thrush with Great Spotted Woodpecker. An unlikely couple!

The parks in Beijing, in fact not just the parks but any green space, can turn up some real surprises in spring and autumn.  It’s not that these places are particularly maintained in any way to attract birds – in fact one could argue that with all the ‘grooming’, it’s the opposite – but a reflection of the fact that there are so many birds migrating through Beijing that even if a teeny weeny percentage of them choose to stop in the city, species that are ordinarily quite difficult to see appear in unexpected places.

The WHITE-THROATED ROCK THRUSH (白喉矶鸫) joins a stellar cast for this tiny green space including JAPANESE QUAIL (鵪鶉), BLYTH’S PIPIT (布莱氏鹨), EYEBROWED THRUSH (白眉鸫), SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT (红喉歌鸲), SIBERIAN BLUE ROBIN (蓝歌鸲), ASIAN STUBTAIL (鳞头树莺), BROWN SHRIKE (红尾伯劳), THICK-BILLED WARBLER (厚嘴苇莺) and YELLOW-THROATED BUNTING (黄喉鹀) to name a few.

Not for the first time, I thanked my lucky stars that I live in such a great place for birds!

Dalian – Day Two

Today was our first full day at Laotieshan and we saw some high quality species.  Probably top of the list has to be the White-throated Rock Thrush, a new bird for both of us.  The supporting cast included such goodies as Eye-browed Thrush, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Rufous-tailed Robin, Blue Rock Thrush, Ashy Minivet, Russet Sparrow, Black-naped Oriole, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Chinese Leaf Warbler, Chestnut Bunting and Japanese White-eye.

We did quite a bit of walking today.   As well as the immediate surroundings of the lighthouse garden, we also walked part of the ridge above the lighthouse and a few of the agricultural fields below.  Stunning scenery, great birding and not another birder in sight.

One of our first birds was a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler that not only called frequently but also showed well, immediately telling us that the birds we had seen yesterday were Eastern Crowned (we obviously heard Pale-legged while watching Eastern Crowned yesterday).  These birds, despite the field guides (which, incidentally, are very poor on Chinese leaf warblers), looked nothing like each other.  The Pale-legged is a much browner bird than Eastern Crowned.  It is also smaller and lacks any sort of crown stripe.  Once seen, it will never be confused again!

In the afternoon we conducted a short count of the Streaked Shearwaters that were, again, streaming past the point (none were seen in the morning).  In just 10 minutes we counted 61 passing south – a rate of over 350 per hour.

Tomorrow we plan to cover the point again until lunchtime, after which we are going to join up with Tom in Jinshitan to visit the local fish ponds (Chinese Egret there today) and then drive up the coast on Saturday to some of the prime wader spots.  Sunday should see us back at Laotieshan, ready to join up with Jesper Hornskov and his Manchuria team.

A few images from today and full species list below…

The lighthouse at Laotieshan from the ridge
Looking north along the ridge
The trail below the lighthouse (we saw Siberian Blue Robin, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and Russet Sparrow along here)
The same trail looking south (this was a favourite area for Brown Shrike and Tristram's Bunting)
Rufous-tailed Robin in the lighthouse garden
This Radde's Warbler defied its reputation as a skulker..
Record image of one of the White-throated Rock Thrushes we found today
The stunning Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was present in good numbers today at Laotieshan

Species list (in chronological order):

Eye-browed Thrush (11) – including one group of 8 in off sea

Yellow-browed Warbler (18) –

Chinese Grosbeak (2) – singing

Olive-backed Pipit (80 counted but likely many more passing overhead)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (2)

Siberian Stonechat (12)

Barn Swallow (47)

Yellow Wagtail (6) – early morning over the point

Dusky Warbler (7)

Radde’s Warbler (12) – including one very confiding individual

Grey Wagtail (3)

Brown Shrike (13)

Oriental Turtle Dove (2)

Oriental Greenfinch (8)

Richard’s Pipit (5)

Trsitram’s Bunting (8)

Little Bunting (47) – likely many of the hundreds of the ‘tick-buntings’ overhead early morning were also this species

Black-faced Bunting (10)

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (16) – mostly males

Siberian Rubythroat (2)

Great Tit (6)

Magpie (23)

Red-rumped Swallow (34)

Goshawk (2)

Taiga Flycatcher (11)

Japanese Quail (1) – flushed from path below lighthouse

Common Sandpiper (1) – on rocks offshore

Blue Rock Thrush (4) – including 2 singing males

Little Grebe (1) – on the sea just offshore

Black-tailed Gull (200+) – good numbers around the point

Eastern Crowned Warbler (3)

Siberian Blue Robin (9) – 7 males and 2 females

Brambling (1)

Ashy Minivet (3) – including a pair feeding along the path below the lighthouse

Asian Brown Flycatcher (4)

Red-flanked Bluetail (1)

Coal Tit (1)

Russet Sparrow (2) – in off sea and showed well for around 10 minutes before continuing north

Black-naped Oriole (1)

Amur Falcon (2)

Chinese Bulbul (4)

White Wagtail (ssp leucopsis) (1)

Hoopoe (1)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (6) – in off sea at c1200

Hume’s Warbler (1) – seen and heard

White-throated Rock Thrush (3) – all males

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (3) – 1 seen very well, the others heard

Yellow-throated Bunting (2)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (10)

Meadow Bunting (2)

Common Pheasant (2)

Chestnut Bunting (1)

Japanese White-eye (1)

Chinese Leaf Warbler (1) – along the ridge

Chinese Hill Warbler (1) – heard only

Hobby (1)

Streaked Shearwater (61 in 10 minutes) – clearly present in some numbers but so far only seen late afternoon/evening.