A Birder’s Guide To The Great Wall

Birders are well known the world over for shunning even the most impressive tourist attractions in favour of a few hours birding, especially if there are a few local specialities to be seen. However, unlike in many capital cities, Beijing offers the chance to record some special birds whilst simultaneously experiencing one of the most awe-inspiring tourist attractions in the world – The Great Wall (Chinese: 長城, pinyin: chángchéng).

One of the most frequent queries I receive here at Birding Beijing is whether it’s possible to combine a day’s birding with a visit to the Wall.  So I thought it high time I produced this “Birder’s Guide To The Great Wall.”

The first thing to say is that, whichever section you visit, the Great Wall is majestic and it’s entirely possible to forget about birding when walking along the ramparts enjoying the stunning views and trying to imagine the incredible effort that went in to building this monumental construction that stretches from China’s east coast in Liaoning, Hebei and Tianjin through Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Shaanxi to Ningxia and Gansu Provinces in the west. The first sections were completed around 200BC; if you are interested in the history of the Great Wall, there is a good piece here.

Overview

There are several sections of the Great Wall within easy reach of Beijing city.  The advantages of these sites are that the travel time is relatively short and getting there is relatively easy. The disadvantages are that they are mostly restored sections, meaning they are not the most authentic, and they are busy. And busy in China means BUSY (87,500 visitors were recorded at Badaling on one day during “Golden Week” in October 2014 – see here for some astonishing photos of what the crowds can be like at peak times). For those of you who simply want to say you’ve seen or visited the Great Wall and want to prioritise birding elsewhere, these are the sites for you.

For those of you who prefer a more authentic experience and like to have space to turn around without the risk of knocking out multiple tourists with your binoculars, one of the more remote sections might be a better choice. The advantages of these sites are that they are usually, at least partially, in original condition (i.e. unrestored) and attract fewer visitors. The disadvantages are that they are harder to get to, usually requiring multiple public buses or hiring a private car and driver (remember it’s not possible to rent a self-drive car in China without a Chinese Driving License), have fewer, if any, facilities and the travel time will likely be much longer.

Another option, especially for those who like to walk and hike, is to take a tour with Beijing Hikers – a wonderful, and cost-effective, way to see some of the wilder sections of the Great Wall.  A little more on this option is at the end.

Whichever option you choose, I can (almost) guarantee that you will not be disappointed with The Great Wall. It’s spectacular.

Now I can hear you saying “ok, ok… that’s enough about the Wall, but what about the birds?!” Well, as you might expect, the diversity of birds at the Great Wall is relatively low. However, it is possible to see some of Beijing’s specialities such as Beijing Babbler, Plain Laughingthrush, Chinese Nuthatch, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit and Meadow Bunting.  And, in winter, there is a chance of something special such as Siberian Accentor or Pallas’s Rosefinch. The species possible at each site are essentially the same, so there is no major benefit in visiting one site over another in terms of the species you are likely to see. However, that said, the busier sections with greater human disturbance are likely to produce fewer species.

Of course, the potential species will also depend on season and weather, and numbers of the migrant birds will vary from year to year.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher is a relatively common breeder in the mountains around Beijing.
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher is a relatively common breeder in the mountains around Beijing.

Below is my number one recommendation for those birders with only one free day and who want to combine birding with a visit to the Great Wall. After that is a guide to each individual section of the Great Wall that details accessibility via public transport and by private car, travel time, entrance fees, comments on authenticity and the number of visitors and, finally, a list of potential birds.

Recommendation:

My recommendation for the birder with only one free day who wants to combine birding with visiting the Great Wall (provided the visit is between late March and late November) – is to visit Yeyahu Wetland Reserve combined with the Badaling section of the Great Wall.

Yeyahu is a an impressive wetland site and a national nature reserve with breeding species including Eastern Marsh Harrier, Amur Falcon, Chinese Penduline Tit, Yellow Bittern, Oriental Reed Warbler and, sometimes, Schrenck’s Bittern among others. A downloadable PDF guide, detailing the possible bird species and logistics of getting there and back, is available on this site. The drive to Yeyahu takes the visitor along the G6 Badaling Expressway, passing the most popular section of the Great Wall – Badaling. A day-trip to Yeyahu can be easily combined with a stop at Badaling, usually on the return journey, if using a private car. A longer stop can also add a visit to the nearby, less disturbed, Badaling Forest Park where more mountain species should be possible (e.g. Yellow-rumped and Green-backed Flycatchers, Asian Stubtail, Yellow-throated Bunting and, possibly, Chinese Tawny Owl). This day out combines great birding, particularly in spring and autumn, with a walk along the most famous Wall in the world. And although Badaling is perhaps not the most spectacular option for experiencing the Great Wall, one could argue that experiencing the crowds at Badaling, especially at a weekend, adds to the “China experience”.  Note that both the Yeyahu Nature Reserve and Badaling Forest Park are closed from late November to late March so, if visiting outside this window, one of the options below will be more appropriate.  The Great Wall sites are open all year round.

The impressive tower hide at Yeyahu National Wetland Park, one of Beijing’s best birding sites.
The impressive tower hide at Yeyahu National Wetland Park, one of Beijing’s best birding sites.

Detailed Options

For those visiting birders looking for options to visit the Great Wall and do some birding at the same time, the options below are the most convenient.  However, please note this list is not exhaustive and there are many additional places to access the Great Wall, some of which are completely wild with no infrastructure and no facilities. Unless one is fully prepared and an experienced hiker, ideally with some Chinese, I would caution against attempting to visit these sites and instead stick to one of the options below. Whichever option you decide, you’re sure to have an unforgettable day.

  1. Badaling (Chinese:八达岭; pinyin: Bādálǐng)

Accessibility

Badaling is the section of the Great Wall most easily accessible from central Beijing. It’s around 70km from the city but almost entirely along the G6 Badaling Expressway, making the journey straightforward and fast, traffic permitting.

By Public Bus:

Take public bus number 877 from Deshengmen (north 2nd ring road), about 10 minutes’ walking from Jishuitan subway station (Exit B2) on subway line 2. It is a non-stop bus taking about an hour, traffic permitting, and costing CNY 12 per person. The drop-off site is close to the cable car station and about 10 minutes walk to the entrance.  Please note that the last departure from Deshengmen is at 12:30.

Bus Operating Time:

From Deshemngmen: Apr. 1 to Nov. 15: 06:00-12:30; Nov. 16 – Mar. 31: 06:30-12:30
From Badaling: Apr. 1 to Nov. 15: 10:30-17:00; Nov. 16 – Mar. 31: 11:00-16:30

By Train:

Trains (number S2) depart from Huangtudian Railway Station, which is near the Huoying Station along subway line 8 and subway line 13. A single journey takes about 1.5 hours and the fare is CNY 6. Not surprisingly, one should alight at Badaling Railway Station; the entrance to the scenic area is a 15 to 20 minutes’ walk. Just follow the passenger flow or direction boards and one will get there easily.  There are free shuttle buses between S2 train station and cable car station.

By private car:

Take the G6 Badaling Expressway from Beijing city and follow signs. Journey time: around 1 hour without heavy traffic. Parking is available for a small fee.

Admission Fee: CNY 45 (Apr. 1 to Oct.31); CNY 40 (Nov.1 to Mar.31)
Cable Car: CNY 40 (single way); CNY 60 (round trip)
Opening Hours: 06:40 to 18:30

Authenticity

Badaling is a relatively complete section of the Wall but recently renovated, so not completely authentic. Nevertheless, it’s impressive and there are lots of facilities (restaurants, souvenir sellers etc).

Crowds

Due to its accessibility, Badaling is probably the busiest section of the Great Wall and numbers of visitors, especially at weekends and during holidays, can be astonishing.

Birds

A number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. In addition, at the foot of the Wall, where the buses drop and pick up passengers, it’s possible to walk uphill to a vegetated gully that can sometimes produce more species. A visit to the nearby Badaling Forest Park, with a series of quiet forested trails, will likely add more species to your total (see below for instructions on how to get there).

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

Getting from Badaling Great Wall to Badaling Forest Park

To get from Badaling Great Wall to Badaling Forest Park, you’ll need to head west from the Wall towards Badaling town, then turn left under the G6 expressway and head straight on the S216.  After a few hundred metres, you’ll come to a T-junction.  Turn left here and, soon after, you’ll head into a tunnel.  Immediately after exiting the tunnel, you’ll see an area of rough ground immediately on your right.  Park here and walk up the narrow road (almost back the way you came) to find the entrance to the Badaling Forest Park.  After paying the modest entrance fee, walk inside and enjoy one or more of the circular trails.

badaling-wall-and-forest-park

Beijing Babbler
Beijing Babbler is a common resident in the hills around Beijing. Listen for its distinctive calls.

2.  Mutianyu (Chinese: 慕田峪; pinyin: Mùtiányù)

Accessibility

Mutianyu is a similar distance from central Beijing, also restored, significantly less crowded, and has greener and more scenic surroundings. Historically, most tour groups did not go here, so this is generally a better option than Badaling. The journey is not all along the Expressway, so it usually takes a little longer than to Badaling. Mutianyu has a cable car to get onto and off the wall (though walking via stairs is advisable for birders). If you are feeling adventurous, there is a toboggan ride down.

By public bus:

From Dongzhimen Bus Station (northeast 2nd ring road and subway line 2), you should take bus line 916 Express or 916 to Huairou North Avenue (Huairou Beidajie) Station. The 916 Express is recommended, costing just CNY 12 and takes 60-70 minutes. Then, transfer to bus line h23, h24, h35, or h36 to Mutianyu Roundabout.  From here, walk about 450 meters to the ticket office of the scenic area.

By private car:

Take the Jingcheng Expressway (G45) to the northeast of Beijing. Take exit 13 onto Beitai Road towards Kuangou. After 3.6km take the left turn to Miaocheng Road and then right onto Qiaoping Road towards Shengquan Mountain. Follow signs to Mutianyu Great Wall.

Alternative:

The Schoolhouse (a restaurant and accommodation company in Mutianyu) also offers a schoolbus at weekends that goes to and from the Kempinski Hotel in Liangmaqiao area of Beijing (northeast 3rd ring road) to their restaurant that is a 10-minute walk from the Wall.   It departs Beijing at 09:00 and the Schoolhouse at 16:30. The cost is CNY 110 for a one-way trip or CNY 132 for a same day round trip. Reservations must be made online at The Schoolhouse website.

Admission Fee: CNY 45, CNY 25 for students only with ID containing a photo. In addition, the cable car to the wall costs more than the wall entrance: CNY 65 for adults (one way), or CNY 80 for a round trip (CNY 45 for children). The total price is CNY 158 for admission, shuttle bus to the ski lift both ways, ski lift and toboggan ride.

Cable Car: CNY 40 (single trip), CNY 80 (round trip); children between 1.2 and 1.4m height CNY 40; children under 1.2m height FREE

Opening Hours: April to October: 8:00 to 17:00; November to March: 8:30 to 16:30

Authenticity

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is also restored but is in more beautiful surroundings with vast, albeit not original, forests.

Crowds

Although not as busy as Badaling, Mutianyu still attracts large numbers of visitors, especially at weekends and during holidays. However, by walking just a few hundred metres from the main thoroughfares, it’s usually possible to get away from the largest crowds. The walk up and down is far less popular than the cable car, and the birding can be good, so taking this route is advisable for birders.

Birds

As with Badaling, a number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. The walk up and down, instead of the cable car, is recommended and can produce some good birds. For example, during my most recent visit in early June 2016, it was relatively straightforward to see Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Russet Sparrow and Daurian Redstart and we were lucky with a pair of displaying Chinese Sparrowhawks.

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

Pallas’s Rosefinch is a scarce winter visitor to the hills around Beijing and is a possibility during any winter trip to the Great Wall.
Pallas’s Rosefinch is a scarce winter visitor to the hills around Beijing and is a possibility during any winter trip to the Great Wall.

3. Jinshanling (Chinese: 金山岭; pinyin: Jīnshānlǐng)

Accessibility:

The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is located in the mountainous area in Luanping County, 125 km northeast of Beijing. This section of the wall is connected with the spectacular Simatai section to the east and some distance to the west is the Mutianyu section. Although it is further out, meaning fewer visitors, the journey is almost entirely along expressway, the G45 Jingcheng Expressway, meaning the journey time is usually 2-2.5 hours each way, depending on traffic.

By public bus:

Take subway line 13 (Exit D) or subway line 15 (Exit C) to Wangjing West Station. From here it’s possible to take a tourist bus to Jinshanling. The bus departs at 8:00 and returns at 15:00. The bus fare is CNY 32. The trip takes about 2 to 2.5 hours each way.

Please note that the direct tourist bus only operates during peak travel season (April 1 to November 15) and departs when there are at least 20 passengers. Otherwise, you need to take an alternative route (see below).

Take a tourist coach from Wangjing West Subway Station to Luanping, and get off at Jinshanling Service Area. Duration is about 100 minutes and ticket price is CNY 32 per person. Then, take a free shuttle bus to either gate of the scenic area. You can also hike from the Service Area to the scenic area; the distance is about 2 kilometers.

Schedule              Onward Trip                     Return Trip

Coach                  7:00 to 16:30 every 40 mins     6:30 to 16:00 every 40 mins

Free Shuttle Bus  10:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:30       10:30, 11:30, 13:30, 15:00

By private car:

Take Jingcheng Expressway from Beijing (towards Chengde) for around 120km and take the exit signposted Jinshanling Great Wall.

Admission Fee: CNY 65 March 16th to November 15th, CNY 55 November 16th to March 15th.

Cable Car: CNY 40 for single trip

Opening Hours: 0800 to 1700

Authenticity

Jinshanling, although also restored in places, is more authentic and attracts fewer visitors given its distance from Beijing. It connects with the spectacular Simatai section and a hike from one to the other is simply awe-inspiring. At the time of writing, however, the Simatai section is under renovation and it’s forbidden to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. Even without that option, Jinshanling is still very impressive and my personal favourite of the easily accessible sections.

Crowds

Being further out than Badaling and Mutianyu, Jinshanling attracts fewer visitors and I have been there on a weekday with the Wall almost to myself. That’s unusual but it gives a sense of how much less visited this section is compared with Badaling or Mutianyu.

Birds

As with Badaling and Mutianyu, a number of resident and breeding birds should be possible simply by walking along the Wall, listening and scanning the vegetation either side. The calls of Beijing Babbler and Plain Laughingthrush will almost certainly attract your attention at various points along the Wall and doing some homework to learn the calls of these two talented vocalists will help to distinguish them in the field.

Resident: Common Pheasant, Koklass Pheasant (scarce), Golden Eagle (scarce), Common Kestrel, Chinese Tawny Owl (scarce), Plain Laughingthrush, Beijing Babbler, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Hill Pigeon, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Common Magpie, Japanese Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Silver-throated Tit, Oriental Greenfinch, Meadow Bunting, Godlewski’s Bunting

Summer: Chinese Sparrowhawk (scarce), Grey-faced Buzzard (scarce), Daurian Redstart, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Green-backed Flycatcher (small chance at the Wall), Eastern Crowned Warbler, Claudia’s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Chinese Thrush, Grey-sided Thrush (scarce), Yellow-bellied Tit, Russet Sparrow

Winter: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Naumann’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Thrush, Brambling, Alpine Accentor, Pallas’s Rosefinch (small chance)

NB: During migration season, many more species will be possible, including flyover migrants.

The pretty Meadow Bunting is a resident in the hills around Beijing and is commonly encountered during visits to the Great Wall.
The pretty Meadow Bunting is a resident in the hills around Beijing and is commonly encountered during visits to the Great Wall.

4. Other sites

In addition to the three main sites described above, there are many other, wilder, sections that will almost certainly provide the birder with more chance of connecting with the resident birds but will require either a convoluted series of buses or private transport to get there and back. Two of the better options are Gubeikou and Jiankou.

4.1  Gubeikou (Chinese: 古北口 , pinyin: Gǔběikǒu)

The Gubeikou section of the Great Wall has never been reconstructed. Hence, it is somewhat dilapidated but retains its original beauty and offers a more authentic experience. Even though they are crumbling, the wall and watchtowers are wonderful to hike and, with very few people around, the opportunity to see wildlife will be increased.

Accessibility

Gubeikou is located in the northeast of Miyun County, about 120 kilometers northeast of central Beijing.

By public bus:

Take bus 980 Express from Dongzhimen station to Miyun Bus Station; and then bus Mi 25 to Gubeikou. From there, you will need to hike up to the Great Wall.
Bus schedule:

Onward Trip       Return Trip                            Fare

980 Express         6:00- 20:00   4:30- 18:30        CNY 17

Mi 25                     6:10-18:20    6:20- 17:30        CNY 8

By private car:

Take the Jingcheng Expressway. After around 115km take the exit to Gubeikou. Park in the village and hike up to the Wall.

4.2  Jiankou (Chinese: 箭扣, pinyin: Jiànkòu)

The Jiankou section of the Great Wall is one of the wildest. It is also the most photographed section due to its precipitous peaks and attractive scenery. “Jiankou” means “arrow nock”, because the shape of the mountain is like an arrow, with the collapsed ridge opening as its arrow nock.

Accessibility

To reach Jiankou Great Wall you must go to Xizhazi Village or Wofo Mountain Villa.

Bus routes to the two destinations are initially the same; go to Dongzhimen Station (subway lines 2 or line 13), and then take bus 936 at Dongzhimen Wai Station. Get off at Yujiayuan Station, and then take one of the following:

To Xizhazi Village: transfer to bus H25 at Yujiayuan to Xizhazi Station.

To Wofo Mountain Villa: transfer to bus H36 at Yujiayuan to Xinying Station. Walk north to the mountain villa.

Bus schedule and prices:

Bus                      Price                    Operating Time

No.936                CNY 6                 From Dongzhimen Wai: 6:40 – 17:10

From Yujiayuan: 4:35 – 17:00

No. H25              CNY 4                 From Yujiayuan: 11:30, 16:30

From Xizhazi: 6:00, 13:15

No. H36              CNY 3                 From Yujiayuan: 6:20, 11:30, 17:40

From Xinying: 7:05, 12:15, 18:30

An alternative for birder/hiker hybrids

Another option, especially for those who like to hike, is to take a trip with Beijing Hikers.  Although this means you will be with a group (usually 5-20 people), the hikes take place at some spectacular and rarely visited sections of the Wall.  The pace is relaxed, meaning you have ample opportunity to stop and scan for birds, and the price is very reasonable when one considers the transport and provision of refreshments (much cheaper than hiring your own car and driver).  Beijing Hikers usually offer several alternative hikes on any given day and pick-ups are from the Liangmaqiao area (northeast 3rd ring road, easily accessed by metro line 10).  Beijing Hikers is run by lovely people and they have great guides.   As well as being superb hikes, they’re a lot of fun, too.  You can check out their website here.

Please note that this information is correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of writing. However, things change, so if you are aware of any errors or omissions, please contact Birding Beijing on birdingbeijing@gmail.com so that they can be corrected for the benefit of others.

This guide is also available as a PDF download from the “Site Guide” section of the Birding Beijing website.

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The Birding Baroness

After accompanying the Conservative Minister, Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP, on a birding trip during his visit to Beijing last winter, it seemed only right to balance Birding Beijing’s political affiliation!  And so, on Sunday, I took visiting (Labour) Baroness Bryony Worthington on a trip to Yeyahu Nature Reserve as part of her visit to China.

Bryony is Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change and, if the elections go Labour’s way in May 2015, she could be part of the ministerial team in charge of the UK’s energy and climate change policies.

Among her many talents, Bryony is an expert in emissions trading and the main purpose of her visit was to engage with officials from the seven pilot emissions trading schemes in China to help develop advice to the Chinese government about the design of their national emissions trading scheme, due to be implemented sometime before 2020 and a key pillar of China’s climate change policy.

Her busy programme involved meetings in Beijing and Shanghai and, with just one ‘free’ day on Sunday and knowing I was a keen birder, she asked if I would take her birding… Of course, I was only too happy to say yes!  The obvious choice of location was Yeyahu Nature Reserve – one of my favourite Beijing birding sites and, in Spring, host to a diverse range of China’s birds.  In the company of friend and colleague Wu Qian and her husband, Calvin, we set off at 0600 from central Beijing and arrived at a sunny, warm and clear Yeyahu just before 0800.

Baroness Worthington 'scoping a pair of Chinese Spot-billed Duck
Baroness Worthington ‘scoping a pair of Chinese Spot-billed Duck

To add a bit of extra fun to the day we had a sweepstake on the number of species we would see..  Guesses ranged from a conservative 40 (Wu Qian) to an over-optimistic 65 (Terry) with Bryony guessing 49 and Calvin 60.

On a beautiful spring morning we started off well with several Chinese Penduline Tits, Pallas’s Reed Buntings and displaying Eastern Marsh Harriers.  A booming Bittern and a flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills provided more entertainment as we made our way around the reserve….  After the 3,000 (!) visitors present the last time I was there (during Qing Ming Festival), the reserve seemed strangely quiet for a sunday but that was no bad thing!

We made our way to the new watchtower and, as the day warmed up, we enjoyed more raptors including 2 Greater Spotted Eagles, a single Short-toed Eagle, Eastern Buzzard, Goshawk and several Black Kites before we tucked into our picnic..

Enjoying a picnic in the watchtower at Yeyahu NR.
Enjoying a picnic in the watchtower at Yeyahu NR. From left to right: Wu Qian, Calvin and the Baroness.

Bryony was impressed with the reserve and the number of birds it was possible to see in the capital.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was time to count up the species seen.  The final total was 54 so, rather embarrassingly for me, the Baroness as a first-time China birder, won the sweepstake..!

On Tuesday morning I accompanied the Baroness to a meeting with Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee in the National Peoples Congress..  This is the committee responsible for drafting and passing China’s environmental legislation. It’s a busy time for the committee, with much environmental legislation under development.  See here for analysis of the strengthening of China’s Environment Protection Law just last week.  Included in their legislative programme for this year is a review of the protected species list.. The current list is more than 20 years old and woefully out of date.  For example, it doesn’t include Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Jankowski’s Bunting or Baer’s Pochard, species that are in desperate trouble and at risk of extinction.

I took the opportunity to brief Lu Hao on the work being carried out by BirdLife, the Beijing Birdwatching Society and local groups to try to save Jankowski’s Bunting and presented him with the BirdLife special edition newsletter.  He confirmed that Jankowski’s Bunting would be added to the revised list and invited me to submit views on which other species should be on the list.

Baroness Worthington presents Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee with a copy of the BirdLife International special edition newsletter about Jankowski's Bunting.
Baroness Worthington presents Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee with a copy of the BirdLife International special edition newsletter about Jankowski’s Bunting.

Extra legal protection by itself will not save Jankowski’s Bunting from extinction.  However, it’s an important step and, as China works to strengthen enforcement of its environmental legislation (the amendments last week to China’s environmental law made huge progress in that regard), ensuring that the legal protection of China’s birds is as strong and unambiguous as possible will help to create the foundation for a stronger conservation movement in China.

Many thanks to Baroness Worthington for her support for the Jankowski’s Bunting campaign and also to Chairman Lu Hao for his work to strengthen China’s environmental laws and their enforcement.  He is a very important man!

 

 

 

Yeyahu with Per Alström and Zhao Min

Birding in Beijing is brilliant at any time of year but, during spring migration, it’s hard to beat and there are so many highlights from Sunday’s trip to Yeyahu Nature Reserve with Per Alström and Zhao Min that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Birding with Per has many advantages, one of which is his encyclopaedic knowledge of China’s birds, especially pipits and wagtails.  So perhaps it should not be a surprise that an encounter with a mixed flock of more than 70 pipits and wagtails at Ma Chang produced Beijing’s second ever MEADOW PIPIT (草地鹨).  Initially found by Min and identified by Per, this bird was the undoubted rarity highlight but there were so many other great moments – the 21 ORIENTAL PLOVERS (东方鴴), displaying EASTERN MARSH HARRIERS (白腹鹞), GREATER SPOTTED (乌雕) and SHORT-TOED EAGLES (短趾雕), SAKER (猎隼), a flock of 90+ BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭), displaying ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK ((亚洲) 短趾百灵), a flock of 52 WHITE WAGTAILS (白鹡鸰) that included 3 subspecies – leucopsis, ocularis and baicalensis – and a flock of ‘eastern’ ROOKS (秃鼻乌鸦) – a possible future new species?

WHITE WAGTAIL ssp baicalensis, Ma Chang, 6 April 2014
WHITE WAGTAIL (白鹡鸰) ssp baicalensis, Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

We started at Ma Chang, a reliable spot for ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鴴) in early April.  It’s important to arrive here early as this site is extremely popular with horse-riders, motorised buggies and even people driving imitation tanks, so it’s hopeless as a birding destination at the weekend after around 0800.  We were fortunate to find a single ORIENTAL PLOVER (东方鴴) with a flock of 30+ KENTISH PLOVERS (环颈鴴) and, later, we found a flock of 21 OPs in agricultural fields just east of the main site.  These birds – that winter in Australia – are special and one of the signs that Spring has arrived in Beijing.

ORIENTAL PLOVERS at Ma Chang, 6 April 2014
ORIENTAL PLOVERS (东方鴴) at Ma Chang, 6 April 2014

After enjoying the pipits, wagtails and plovers, as well as a beautiful male MERLIN (灰背隼) that buzzed us before sitting up on a stand of maize, we headed off to Yeyahu Nature Reserve.

This adult male MERLIN was a nice sighting at Ma Chang.
This adult male Merlin (灰背隼) was a nice sighting at Ma Chang.

At Yeyahu we enjoyed the spectacular sight of displaying EASTERN MARSH HARRIERS (白腹鹞), newly arrived and preparing to breed.  These are stunning raptors, the males in particular, and this adult male made a close pass when were in one of the tower hides..  awesome!

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER, Yeyahu, 6 April 2014.  Is there a more spectacular raptor anywhere?
EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞), Yeyahu, 6 April 2014. Is there a more spectacular raptor anywhere?
EASTERN MARSH HARRIER 'buzzing' us at Yeyahu.
EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (白腹鹞) ‘buzzing’ us at Yeyahu.

Two GREATER SPOTTED EAGLES (乌雕) added to our raptor list which, by the end of the day, had reached 10 species and bizarrely missing COMMON KESTREL (红隼)!

 

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE, Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014
GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (乌雕), Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014

In stunning spring weather (and clean air!) we enjoyed so many other highlights on a day that produced a total of 81 species.  Just before dusk we were treated to a magnificent flight of ducks that included MALLARD (綠頭鴨), SPOT-BILLED DUCK (斑嘴鴨), PINTAIL (针尾鸭), COMMON POCHARD (红头潜鸭), FERRUGINOUS DUCK (白眼潜鸭), SHOVELER (琵嘴鸭), GARGANEY (白眉鸭), COMMON TEAL (绿翅鸭) and, just as we had hoped, BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭).  A flock of at least 90 of the latter wheeled around in the fading light – a magnificent sight and a fitting end to a wonderful day at this world-class birding site.

BAIKAL TEAL. Part of a 90+ strong flock that wheeled around just before dusk.
BAIKAL TEAL (花脸鸭). Part of a 90+ strong flock that wheeled around just before dusk.

Big thanks to Per and Min for their company on a day that will live long in the memory…!

Per and Zhao Min at one of the hides at Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014.
Per and Min (being careful not to ‘stride’) at one of the hides at Yeyahu NR, 6 April 2014.

 

Full species list below:

JAPANESE QUAIL   Coturnix japonica  鵪鶉   1

COMMON PHEASANT   Phasianus colchicus  雉雞  4

SWAN GOOSE   Anser cygnoides   VU  鴻雁  1

GREYLAG GOOSE   Anser anser 3

RUDDY SHELDUCK   Tadorna ferruginea  赤麻鴨  6

MANDARIN DUCK   Aix galericulata  鴛鴦  9

GADWALL   Anas strepera  赤膀鴨  94

FALCATED DUCK   Anas falcata  罗纹鸭  14

MALLARD   Anas platyrhynchos  綠頭鴨  500

CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCK   Anas zonorhyncha  斑嘴鴨  38

NORTHERN SHOVELER   Anas clypeata  琵嘴鸭  13

NORTHERN PINTAIL   Anas acuta  针尾鸭  6

GARGANEY   Anas querquedula  白眉鸭  4

BAIKAL TEAL   Anas formosa  花脸鸭  a flock of 90 plus a separate flock of 70, which could have been different birds.

EURASIAN TEAL   Anas crecca  绿翅鸭  350

RED-CRESTED POCHARD   Netta rufina  赤嘴潜鸭  1

COMMON POCHARD   Aythya ferina  红头潜鸭  3

FERRUGINOUS POCHARD   Aythya nyroca   NT  白眼潜鸭  8

TUFTED DUCK   Aythya fuligula  凤头潜鸭  4

COMMON GOLDENEYE   Bucephala clangula  鹊鸭  6

SMEW   Mergellus albellus  白秋沙鸭  24

LITTLE GREBE   Tachybaptus ruficollis  小鸊鷉  4

GREAT CRESTED GREBE   Podiceps cristatus  凤头鸊鷉  8

GREAT BITTERN   Botaurus stellaris  大麻鳽  1

GREY HERON   Ardea cinerea  苍鹭  16

PURPLE HERON   Ardea purpurea  草鹭  2

EASTERN GREAT EGRET   Ardea modesta  大白鹭  1

GREAT CORMORANT   Phalacrocorax carbo  普通鸬鹚  12

SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE   Circaetus gallicus  短趾雕  1

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER   Circus spilonotus  白腹鹞  7

HEN HARRIER   Circus cyaneus  白尾鹞  1 adult female

EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK   Accipiter nisus  雀鹰  2

NORTHERN GOSHAWK   Accipiter gentilis  苍鹰  2

EASTERN BUZZARD   Buteo japonicus  普通鵟  19

GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE   Aquila clanga   VU  乌雕  2

MERLIN   Falco columbarius  灰背隼  1

SAKER FALCON   Falco cherrug   EN  猎隼  1

PEREGRINE FALCON   Falco peregrinus  游隼  1

COMMON COOT   Fulica atra  骨顶鸡(白骨顶)  44

BLACK-WINGED STILT   Himantopus himantopus  黑翅长脚鹬  4

NORTHERN LAPWING   Vanellus vanellus  凤头麦鸡  33

GREY-HEADED LAPWING   Vanellus cinereus  灰头麦鸡  1

LITTLE RINGED PLOVER   Charadrius dubius   金眶鴴  2

KENTISH PLOVER   Charadrius alexandrinus  环颈鴴  48

ORIENTAL PLOVER   Charadrius veredus  东方鴴  21

COMMON SNIPE   Gallinago gallinago  扇尾沙锥  9

BLACK-HEADED GULL   Chroicocephalus ridibundus  红嘴鸥  39

ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE   Streptopelia orientalis  山斑鸠  4

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE   Streptopelia decaocto  灰斑鸠  6

COMMON KINGFISHER   Alcedo atthis  普通翠鸟  2

EURASIAN HOOPOE   Upupa epops  戴胜  2

GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER   Dendrocopos major  大斑啄木鸟  1

GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER   Picus canus  灰头绿啄木鸟  1

AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE   Cyanopica cyanus  灰喜鹊  1

COMMON MAGPIE   Pica pica  喜鹊  30

DAURIAN JACKDAW   Coloeus dauuricus  达乌里寒鸦  400+

ROOK   Corvus frugilegus  秃鼻乌鸦  33

CARRION CROW   Corvus corone  小嘴乌鸦  2

MARSH TIT   Poecile palustris  沼泽山雀  1

JAPANESE TIT   Parus minor  大山雀  2

CHINESE PENDULINE TIT   Remiz consobrinus  中华攀雀  15

GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK   Calandrella brachydactyla  (大) 短趾百灵  8

ASIAN SHORT-TOED LARK   Calandrella cheleensis  (亚洲) 短趾百灵  1

EURASIAN SKYLARK   Alauda arvensis  云雀  14

BARN SWALLOW   Hirundo rustica  家燕  8

VINOUS-THROATED PARROTBILL   Sinosuthora webbianus  棕头鸦雀  40

WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING   Spodiopsar cineraceus  灰椋鸟  26

COMMON STARLING   Sturnus vulgaris  紫翅椋鸟  1

RED-THROATED THRUSH   Turdus ruficollis  赤颈鸫  1

DAURIAN REDSTART   Phoenicurus auroreus  北红尾鸲  1

EURASIAN TREE SPARROW   Passer montanus  (树) 麻雀  150

CITRINE WAGTAIL   Motacilla citreola  黄头鹡鸰  1

WHITE WAGTAIL   Motacilla alba 白鹡鸰  63

RED-THROATED PIPIT   Anthus cervinus  红喉鹨  1

BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT   Anthus rubescens japonicus  黄腹鹨  18

WATER PIPIT   Anthus spinoletta  水鹨  20

MEADOW PIPIT   Anthus pratensis  1   *** the 2nd record for Beijing***

GREY-CAPPED GREENFINCH   Carduelis sinica  金翅 (雀)  4

LITTLE BUNTING   Emberiza pusilla  小鹀  1

PALLAS’S BUNTING   Emberiza pallasi  苇鹀  22

REED BUNTING   Emberiza schoeniclus  芦鹀  1

TOTAL NUMBER OF SPECIES 81

 

 

Birding Beijing on Prime Time TV!

Last September I spent a day filming at Yeyahu Nature Reserve with a TV crew from Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong-based TV channel with over 300 million viewers in China.  The result of the day was a 5-minute programme about birdwatching in Beijing that was broadcast at 7.55pm on 1 and 2 January.  You can see the programme by clicking this link.

Can you identify the species of raptor towards the end?

It was great fun to do and I want to send a big thank you to Phoenix TV for giving me the opportunity to promote birdwatching in China.  And Swarovski, that free advertising must be worth a new pair of binoculars and a ‘scope…?? 😉

Pallas’s Sandgrouse

Many of my friends will know that one of my most-wanted birds in Beijing has been the Pallas’s Sandgrouse.  This is a species that breeds as close as Inner Mongolia and, just occasionally, irrupts in large numbers beyond its normal range.

It’s a bird that has been on my mind since my childhood when I first heard about major irruptions in the late 19th century that resulted in them being “everywhere” in winter 1889 at my original local patch of Winterton-on-Sea in Norfolk, England.   Sadly, irruptions on that scale appear to be a thing of the past and it is now a very rare species in the UK and Europe.  However, in Beijing, its appearance is a little more regular and in 2009-2010, the winter before I moved to China, there was a decent irruption in the capital with flocks of 100+ reported from Wild Duck Lake and even good numbers at sites inside the 6th ring road. Unfortunately, since then, they have been very few and far between – I am aware of just one record of a small flock at Miyun last winter (Jan-Erik Nilsen) that was never seen again.

I have been secretly (and openly!) hoping that this winter might prove to be THE winter and yesterday, Sunday 3 November, that hope turned to reality.

Having returned from Inner Mongolia on Saturday, where I had been attending a workshop with local government officials, nature reserve managers and local groups about JANKOWSKI’S BUNTING (a post about that will come soon!), I had arranged to go birding on Sunday with Ben Wielstra, visiting Catalan, Eugeni Capella Roca, and 吴岚 from the Beijing Birdwatching Society.  I left central Beijing at 0445, collecting the team on the way, and we arrived at a chilly Ma Chang at around 0645.

Two first year RELICT GULLS represented a superb beginning to the day.  These two young gulls were almost certainly the same two individuals that had been seen the weekend before and they were remarkably tame.

One of the two first calendar year RELICT GULLS at Ma Chang at dawn.
One of the two first calendar year RELICT GULLS at Ma Chang at dawn.

Unfortunately the water levels at Ma Chang are now so high that the best vantage points from which to view the wildfowl are now inaccessible, so after checking the ‘desert area’ for anything interesting, we were soon on our way to Yeyahu Nature Reserve to focus most of our day at this superb Beijing site.

On arrival there was a nice mixed flock of GADWALL and FALCATED DUCK on the lake with a lone BEWICK’S SWAN and we secured our first sightings of PALLAS’S REED BUNTING, CHINESE GREY SHRIKE and CHINESE PENDULINE TIT.

A scan of the grassland produced a ringtail HEN HARRIER and one of the tractors cutting the grass flushed a SHORT-EARED OWL.  Then a distant SAKER and an adult PEREGRINE passed by.  Pretty good!  We made our way to the new tower hide and spent some time there scanning for raptors and checking the flocks of duck that were occasionally flushed by the HEN HARRIER.  A single COMMON (EASTERN) BUZZARD and a flock of BEAN GEESE kept the interest going and soon we began to hear the sound of CRANES…  a sound that was almost omnipresent all day as more and more groups seemed to arrive high from the west… a wonderful sight and sound.

From the hide we caught sight of several very distant flocks of birds, the identification of which we couldn’t quite put our finger on..  they looked to have pointed wings, almost wader-like, and yet their size meant that the only species that came to mind was PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER..  but that identification didn’t fit – these birds didn’t fly like plovers – they were in an irregular, and reasonably tight, formation flying strongly north..  what were they??

They went down in the notebook as “possible plover sp” but we weren’t happy.  Several minutes later, Eugeni suddenly shouted out “SANDGROUSE!” and we all quickly got onto two birds streaming very fast past our vantage point, heading north.  Plump birds with a dark belly patch and a pointed tail…  Wow!  PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE – my most wanted Beijing bird!!!  They disappeared out of sight almost as soon as they had arrived and we looked at each other with broad smiles..  we might even have done a couple of “high-fives”!

PALLAS'S SANDGROUSE at Yeyahu NR, Sunday 3 November 2013.  A much-wanted bird....
PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE at Yeyahu NR, Sunday 3 November 2013. A much-wanted bird….
Another photo of two of the PALLAS'S SANDGROUSE that flew past the tower hide at Yeyahu NR.
Another photo of two of the PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE that flew past the tower hide at Yeyahu NR.

Little did we know that we would soon see some more… and as we made our way around the flooded fields towards the smaller observation tower, we saw another…  then another..  and from the tower itself we saw another 3.  The same or different? Not sure but they were definitely PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE.  Suddenly the penny dropped on the flocks we had seen earlier – surely they must have been PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE too…!  And we had even more reason to believe they were sandgrouse when we heard from a Chinese friend that over 200 had been seen around the same time over central Beijing..!  At the rate they flew, it would only have taken them a few minutes to reach the mountains at Badaling from central Beijing and the birds we saw could easily have been the same flocks.  Something is clearly going on with PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE this winter!

The team at Yeyahu NR, shortly after seeing our first PALLAS'S SANDGROUSE.  From left to right: Terry, Eugeni, Ben and Wu Lan.
The team at Yeyahu NR, shortly after seeing our first PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE. From left to right: Terry, Eugeni, Ben and Wu Lan.

Another nice encounter involved this SIBERIAN WEASEL, a reasonably common mammal in Beijing but rarely seen well in daylight.  This individual ran towards us, stopping occasionally to check us out, before disappearing into the reedbed..  a very cool animal…

Peekaboo...!  SIBERIAN WEASEL on the track at Yeyahu NR
Peekaboo…! SIBERIAN WEASEL on the track at Yeyahu NR
This SIBERIAN WEASEL was curious and seemed to be watching us as much as we were watching him..!
This SIBERIAN WEASEL was curious and seemed to be watching us as much as we were watching him..!

We decided to make a return visit to Ma Chang before heading home.  That was the place that held large flocks of sandgrouse during the 2009-2010 winter and we thought that maybe, just maybe, some had dropped in during the day.  We didn’t see any on our afternoon visit but we did stumble across a nice flock of HORNED LARKS, another scarce and irruptive visitor to Beijing.  A group of 3 was soon followed by a much larger group consisting of at least 53 birds..  wow.

HORNED LARKS, Ma Chang, 3 November 2013.  Always a beautiful sight, especially in the late afternoon sun.
HORNED LARKS, Ma Chang, 3 November 2013. Always a beautiful sight, especially in the late afternoon sun.
One of the HORNED LARKS at Ma Chang.  These birds looked very pale...  currently investigating likely subspecies.  The two on the Beijing list are 'flava' and 'brandti'.
One of the HORNED LARKS at Ma Chang. These birds looked very pale… currently investigating likely subspecies. The two on the Beijing list are ‘flava’ and ‘brandti’.

 

These beautiful larks wheeled around uttering their ‘tinkly’ call in the late afternoon sun…  a magnificent sight to end the day.  After a quick cup of coffee we headed back to Beijing, tired but elated…  what a day!

Big thanks to Ben, Eugeni and Wu Lan for their excellent company on this special day…

 

Full species list:

TUNDRA BEAN GOOSE Anser serrirostris 74 (Apparently 300 in the area, according to Yeyahu NR staff).

TUNDRA SWAN Cygnus columbianus 小天鹅  1 at Yeyahu NR

RUDDY SHELDUCK Tadorna ferruginea 赤麻鴨  8

GADWALL Anas strepera 赤膀鴨  108

FALCATED DUCK Anas falcata 罗纹鸭  14

MALLARD Anas platyrhynchos 綠頭鴨  122

CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCK Anas zonorhyncha 斑嘴鴨  29

NORTHERN SHOVELER Anas clypeata 琵嘴鸭  1

NORTHERN PINTAIL Anas acuta 针尾鸭  5

EURASIAN TEAL Anas crecca 绿翅鸭  14

COMMON GOLDENEYE Bucephala clangula 鹊鸭  1

SMEW Mergellus albellus 白秋沙鸭  83

LITTLE GREBE Tachybaptus ruficollis 小鸊鷉  4

GREAT CRESTED GREBE Podiceps cristatus 凤头鸊鷉  5

GREAT BITTERN Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽  2

HEN HARRIER Circus cyaneus 白尾鹞  4 (3 ‘ringtails’ and one adult male)

EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK Accipiter nisus 雀鹰 1

NORTHERN GOSHAWK Accipiter gentilis 苍鹰  2

EASTERN BUZZARD Buteo japonicus 普通鵟  1

MERLIN Falco columbarius 灰背隼  1 adult male

SAKER FALCON Falco cherrug EN 猎隼  1 one distant bird, probably this species

PEREGRINE FALCON Falco peregrinus 游隼  1

COMMON COOT Fulica atra 骨顶鸡(白骨顶)  17

COMMON CRANE Grus grus 灰鹤  109  We could hear cranes almost all day. Many seemed to be arriving. Very difficult to count but the biggest count at any one time consisted of a single group of 109 birds

BLACK-HEADED GULL Chroicocephalus ridibundus 红嘴鸥  1

RELICT GULL Ichthyaetus relictus VU 遗鸥  2 First calendar-year birds. Almost certainly the same as seen the previous weekend by multiple observers.

PALLAS’S SANDGROUSE Syrrhaptes paradoxus 毛腿沙鸡  5  The first picked up in flight by Eugeni at Yeyahu NR @c1130. Followed by 3 @c1315 and 2 singles later in the afternoon. Four distant large flocks totalling over 150 birds seen c1100 and c1230 were probably this species.

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE Streptopelia decaocto 灰斑鸠  18

SHORT-EARED OWL Asio flammeus 短耳鸮  1 Flushed by one of the bailers on the Kangxi Grassland

GREY-CAPPED PYGMY WOODPECKER Dendrocopos canicapillus 星头啄木鸟  1

CHINESE GREY SHRIKE Lanius s. sphenocercus 楔尾伯劳  4

AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE Cyanopica cyanus 灰喜鹊  6

COMMON MAGPIE Pica pica 喜鹊  35

RED-BILLED CHOUGH Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 红嘴山鸦  2 seen well flying north low over the reserve. My first at Yeyahu.

DAURIAN JACKDAW Coloeus dauuricus 达乌里寒鸦  55

JAPANESE TIT Parus minor 大山雀  2

CHINESE PENDULINE TIT Remiz consobrinus 中华攀雀  3

MONGOLIAN LARK Melanocorypha mongolica (蒙古) 百灵  One seen in flight and appeared to land in a reedbed at Yeyahu NR

EURASIAN SKYLARK Alauda arvensis 云雀 8

HORNED LARK Eremophila alpestris 角百灵  56.  A group of 3 with a hint of yellow in the face. Followed by a flock of 53, all at Ma Chang.

SILVER-THROATED TIT Aegithalos glaucogularis 北长尾山雀银喉长尾山雀 8

VINOUS-THROATED PARROTBILL Sinosuthora webbianus 棕头鸦雀  34

CHINESE HILL BABBLER Rhopophilus pekinensis 山鹛  2

COMMON STARLING Sturnus vulgaris 紫翅椋鸟  2 seen well in flight at Ma Chang

EURASIAN TREE SPARROW Passer montanus (树) 麻雀  100

SIBERIAN ACCENTOR Prunella montanella 棕眉山岩鹨 6

BUFF-BELLIED PIPIT Anthus rubescens japonicus 黄腹鹨  2

COMMON REDPOLL Carduelis flammea 白腰朱顶雀  2; one in flight calling over Yeyahu NR looked pale. Another seen by Eugeni flushed from scrub at Yeyahu NR. My first in Beijing!

LITTLE BUNTING Emberiza pusilla 小鹀  8

YELLOW-THROATED BUNTING Emberiza elegans 黄喉鹀  2

PALLAS’S BUNTING Emberiza pallasi 苇鹀  24

Total Number of Species – 51

 

Baer’s Pochards back in Beijing!

On Saturday 12 October I visited Wild Duck Lake (both Ma Chang and Yeyahu NR) with Jesper Hornskov and Ben Wielstra.  As usual with this site in October, expectations were high as I set off at 0445 to pick up Ben, then Jesper, before heading over the mountains past Badaling Great Wall and on to Ma Chang.  

On arrival, the water level at Guanting Reservoir was the highest I have ever seen.  Consequently most of the viewing points that I have used in the past to observe the reservoir are no longer accessible, meaning that we had no opportunity to view the duck on the open water.  A couple of CHINESE GREY SHRIKES, a MERLIN, a few lingering juvenile AMUR FALCONS, some early BEAN GEESE and a flock of 23 MONGOLIAN LARKS kept us entertained at Ma Chang before we decided to hot-foot it over to Yeyahu Nature Reserve to spend some time at the new viewing tower.

2013-08-30 new tower hide at Yeyahu NR
The new viewing tower at Yeyahu NR. It offers an impressive vista over the entire reserve, and beyond, as well as providing a superb place from where to watch raptors.

As we made our way out of Ma Chang along the unpaved access track I caught sight of a raptor to the north of us, gliding west.  I slammed on the brakes (not as dramatic as it sounds when you are only moving at about 5mph) and glanced through my binoculars.  It was big.  An eagle.  I should say at this point that, only a few minutes before, I was chatting to Jesper and Ben about the potential for a STEPPE EAGLE.  I had seen GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE and IMPERIAL EAGLE at Wild Duck Lake before but never STEPPE.  As I looked through my binoculars, I could see a pale bar on the underwing and my heart raced – it looked like a first calendar year STEPPE EAGLE!  We all jumped out of the car and it began to circle, offering us superb views with the sun behind us.  I grabbed my camera and reeled off a few shots before just enjoying the bird as it gained height and eventually drifted off west.  Wow!  A new bird for me in Beijing.

2013-10-12 Steppe Eagle juv
First calendar year STEPPE EAGLE, Ma Chang, 12 October 2013.

Elated, and buoyed by our seemingly potent ability to talk up species at will, we began to chat about all sorts of obviously impossible targets for the day such as SWINHOE’S RAIL, STREAKED REED WARBLER, CRESTED SHELDUCK and, of course, BAER’S POCHARD.  

A few minutes later we arrived at Yeyahu NR and, after a celebratory cup of coffee, made our way into the reserve and headed for the new watchtower.  On the way we experienced a modest passage of raptors with NORTHERN GOSHAWK, EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK, COMMON (EASTERN) BUZZARD and, again after talking about a likely species, SHORT-TOED EAGLE.  It was turning into a very good day.

We reached the tower after about 20 minutes and set up stall, hoping that the early promise might continue.  A few more NORTHERN GOSHAWKS, COMMON (EASTERN) BUZZARDS, a HEN HARRIER and an additional SHORT-TOED EAGLE kept us interested and then another large eagle came into view from the east…  As it drifted closer, we could see it wasn’t the expected GREATER SPOTTED EAGLE (regular at this time of year) but a STEPPE EAGLE!  Given the direction and timing, almost certainly a second individual.

As the day wore on, cloud cover increased and the raptor passage seemed to stop, so we decided to head for the newly flooded area in the hope of sighting some duck, including a target for Ben – BAIKAL TEAL.

We didn’t see any BAIKAL TEAL but we did see good numbers of MALLARD, SPOT-BILLED DUCK, GADWALL, FALCATED DUCK, RED-CRESTED POCHARD and a handful of FERRUGINOUS DUCK.  As we made our way along a track through the flooded area, we encountered some COMMON REED BUNTINGS.  I don’t see many COMMON REED BUNTINGS in Beijing (it’s a case of picking out a COMMON among all the PALLAS’S REED and LITTLE BUNTINGS – I can feel your sympathy) so I decided to hang back to take some photographs as Jesper and Ben headed to a small viewing area overlooking one of the ponds.

I had a frustrating time with the buntings but did manage some record photos.

COMMON REED BUNTING
COMMON REED BUNTING, Yeyahu NR, 12 October 2013.  It’s a bind to pick these out amongst all the PALLAS’S REED and LITTLE BUNTINGS..  sigh…

Just as I was about to leave the buntings to catch up with Jesper and Ben, a pair of Ferruginous Duck/Baer’s Pochards flew past and, as I had my camera set up, I reeled off a couple of photos as they plunged down onto one of the small pools in the reedbed.  I didn’t even look at the camera to check the images as I already felt I had been too long trying to photograph the buntings – and they would almost certainly be Ferruginous. However, as I caught up with Jesper and Ben, I mentioned that I had seen two Ferruginous/Baer’s-type ducks to which Jesper replied that they had seen three definite Ferruginous..  I (erroneously, as it turned out) assumed that I had seen two of the three birds they had seen, so I didn’t think any more of it…..  ***LESSON HERE***

From the watchpoint, we viewed a small area of the pool on which ‘my’ birds alighted and it was busy – lots of Gadwall, Falcated Duck and Mallard were moving around and flying in and out.  But no sign of the ‘Ferruginous/Baer’s types’.  As the light began to fade, we left and headed back to Beijing. 

At home, as I uploaded my photos from the day, I had a double-take when I saw the two images of the Ferruginous/Baer’s type duck I had seen.  One appeared to have a green tinge to the head and, structurally, they looked wrong for Ferruginous.  They were BAER’S POCHARDS!  

BAER'S POCHARDS, Yeyahu NR, Beijing, 12 October 2013
BAER’S POCHARDS, Yeyahu NR, Beijing, 12 October 2013
2013-10-12 Baer's Pochards2
Another image of the BAER’S POCHARDS from Yeyahu NR yesterday. Poor photos but the structure, colouration and underpart markings all fit with Baer’s.

Having known that Ben was particularly keen to see BAER’S POCHARD, I felt terrible.  If only I had looked at the photos at the time, I would have realised that there was a pair of BAER’S POCHARDS on that pool and we could have stayed longer in the hope that they reappeared.  But as it was, we left in ignorance and it was only when I got home that I realised.  Sorry Ben!  

The silver lining is that I will almost certainly take Ben to Wild Duck Lake again while he is in Beijing and I have even offered to take him to the breeding site in Hebei Province to hopefully see them there…   It’s a lesson learned.

In any case, it was another superb day at this brilliant site.  Is there a capital city in the world with birding as good as this?  If so, I want to know about it!

Full species list below.  Thanks to Jesper and Ben for their company on the day.

 

Common Pheasant  Phasanius colchicus  – 6+

Bean Goose  Anser fabalis serrirostris  – 15

Ruddy Shelduck  Tadorna ferruginea  – one (plus a couple of possibly captive ones…)

Gadwall  Anas strepera  – 60+

Falcated Duck  Anas falcata – 17+

Mallard  Anas platyrhynchos  – 400+

Chinese Spotbill  Anas zonorhyncha  – 75+ 

Northern Pintail  Anas acuta  – two

Common Teal  Anas crecca  – two

Red-crested Pochard  Netta rufina  – 14 (both males & females ‘scoped)

Common Pochard  Aythya ferina  – eight

Baer’s Pochard  Aythya baeri  – a pair photographed [TT]

Ferruginous Duck  Aythya nyroca  – three

Smew  Mergellus albellus  – four brownheads

Little Grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis  – nine

Great Crested Grebe  Podiceps cristatus  – three

Eurasian Bittern  Botaurus stellaris  – one (in flight, giving ‘pao!’ call)

Chinese Pond Heron  Ardeola bacchus  – one

Grey Heron  Ardea cinerea  – six

Little Egret  Egretta garzetta  – three

Great Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo  – two

Common Kestrel  Falco tinnunculus  – one

Amur Falcon  Falco amurensis  – 12+ (excellent views of several 1st c-y birds)

Merlin  Falco columbarius  – two (adult male; unaged female)

Eurasian Hobby  Falco subbuteo  – one

Short-toed Eagle  Circaetus gallicus  – two

Eastern Marsh Harrier  Circus spilonotus  – one 1st c-y (an unusually dark individual, with hardly any pale on crown, no noticeable pale rump, effectively no pale on forewing & an at most very faint breast band)

Hen Harrier  Circus cyaneus  – four 1st c-y

Eurasian Sparrowhawk  Accipiter nisus  – eight

Northern Goshawk  Accipiter gentilis – two

Common Buzzard  Buteo buteo japonicus  – 7+

Steppe Eagle  Aquila nipalensis  – 1-2 (a 1st c-y circling & gliding 10h42 as we were leaving Machang & probably another – in identical plumage, as far as we could tell – over YYH reserve at 12h20…)

Common Moorhen  Gallinula chloropus  – two

Common Coot  Fulica atra  – 16

Northern Lapwing  Vanellus vanellus  – 70

Pacific Golden Plover  Pluvialis fulva  – eight 1st c-y

Common Snipe  Gallinago gallinago  – one

Common Black-headed Gull  Larus ridibundus  – 15+

Oriental Turtle Dove  Streptopelia orientalis  – three

Eurasian Collared Dove  Streptopelia decaocto  – four

Great Spotted Woodpecker  Dendrocopos major  – five

Chinese Grey Shrike  Lanius sphenocercus  – four (mostly showing very well…)

Azure-winged Magpie  Cyanopica cyanus  – two

Common Magpie  Pica pica  – 60+ (not counting birds en route!)

Daurian Jackdaw  Corvus dauuricus  – c390 (main event a flock of c325)

Rook  Corvus frugilegus  – one (up close, feeding in a field)

Eastern Great Tit  Parus minor  – three

Yellow-bellied Tit  Parus venustulus  – nine

Marsh Tit  Parus palustris

Chinese Penduline Tit  Remiz (pendulinus) consobrinus  – five (incl a juvenile sitting up nicely)

Long-tailed Tit  Aegithalos caudatus  – 5+ heard (presumably ssp vinaceus)

Mongolian Lark  Melanocorypha mongolica  – 23 (one flock taking off from harvested maize field,then flying around allowing nice views before dropping back down distantly)

Asian Short-toed Lark  Calandrella cheleensis  – two

Eurasian Skylark  Alauda arvensis  – 155+

Chinese Hill Warbler  Rhopophilus pekinensis  – three

Chinese Bulbul  Pycnonotus sinensis  – 13

Black-browed Reed Warbler  Acrocephalus bistrigiceps  – 17

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler  Phylloscopus proregulus  – five

Yellow-browed Warbler  Phylloscopus inornatus  – two

Vinous-throated Parrotbill  Paradoxornis webbianus  – 50+

Northern Wren  Troglodytes troglodytes  – one seen, didn’t call [BW]

White-cheeked Starling  Sturnus cineraceus  – c50

Eurasian Starling  Sturnus vulgaris  – four

Naumann’s Thrush  Turdus naumanni  – two

Northern Red-flanked Bluetail  Tarsiger cyanurus  – two

Daurian Redstart  Phoenicurus auroreus  – six

Eurasian Tree Sparrow  Passer montanus  – v

Siberian Accentor  Prunella montanella  – seven

White Wagtail  Motacilla alba  – five (two ocularis; three ‘?’)

Olive-backed Pipit  Anthus hodgsoni  – five

Buff-bellied Pipit  Anthus rubescens japonicus  – 70

Water Pipit  Anthus spinoletta blakistoni  – one

Brambling  Fringilla montifringilla  – 20

Oriental Greenfinch  Carduelis sinica  – 12

Eurasian Siskin  Carduelis spinus  – heard

Pine Bunting  Emberiza leucocephalos  – nine migr

Little Bunting  Emberiza pusilla  – 115+

Yellow-throated Bunting  Emberiza elegans  – five

Black-faced Bunting  Emberiza spodocephala  – eight

Pallas’s Reed Bunting  Emberiza pallasi  – 40+

Common Reed Bunting  Emberiza schoeniclus  – 11 (several seen well & heard calling)

 

Mammals:

Siberian Weasel Mustela sibirica  – one [JH]

 

Late August at Yeyahu

On Saturday 24 August I visited Yeyahu NR with visiting Professor Steven Marsh.  I collected Steve from his hotel at 0530 on a beautiful clear, sunny morning and, after a pretty clear run over the mountains past Badaling, we were at the entrance to the reserve by 0645.  A juvenile TIGER SHRIKE (Lanius tigrinus, 虎纹伯劳) was a nice surprise along the entrance track, the first time I have seen this species in the capital.  Other highlights included a BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER (Acrocephalus concinens, 钝翅 (稻田) 苇莺), 2 SCHRENCK’S BITTERNS (Ixobrychus eurhythmus, 紫背苇鳽), an adult RELICT GULL (Ichthyaetus relictus, 遗鸥) and a juvenile PIED HARRIER (Circus melanoleucos, 鹊鹞).  Unfortunately there was no sign of any STREAKED REED WARBLERS (Acrocephalus sorghophilus, 细纹苇莺), the autumn passage of which peaked between 22 August and 7 September in the 1920s, according to La Touche.  I shall keep looking!

Blunt-winged Warbler, Yeyahu NR, 24 August 2013
Blunt-winged Warbler, Yeyahu NR, 24 August 2013

 

Full species list below.

 

Common Pheasant – 1
Mandarin – 3
Mallard – 1
Chinese Spot-billed Duck – 3
Little Grebe – 7
Great Crested Grebe – 8
Yellow Bittern – 3 (2 adults and one juvenile)
SCHRENCK’S BITTERN – 2 (a pair) – seen in the same place as the male seen in early June – possibly a breeding pair?
Night Heron – 4
Chinese Pond Heron – 12
Grey Heron – 2
Purple Heron – 6
Little Egret – 2
Great Cormorant – 1
Amur Falcon – 5
Hobby – 2
Peregrine – 1 juvenile
Black-eared Kite – 1 juvenile
Eastern Marsh Harrier – 3 (one adult male, two juveniles)
Pied Harrier – 1 juvenile
Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 1
Moorhen – 5
Coot – 9
Swinhoe’s/Pin-tailed Snipe – 2
RELICT GULL – 1 moulting adult. My first autumn sighting in Beijing.
Gull sp – 1 juvenile/first winter not seen well enough to id
White-winged Tern – 4 juveniles
Oriental Turtle Dove – 1
Spotted Dove – 5
Common Cuckoo – 1 juvenile
Common Kingfisher – 1
Hoopoe – 1
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 3
TIGER SHRIKE – 1 juvenile. My first in Beijing.
Brown Shrike – 12
Black Drongo – 62
Azure-winged Magpie – one seen from car on return journey
Common Magpie – 12
Eastern Great (Japanese) Tit – 7
Marsh Tit – 4
Chinese Penduline Tit – 9, including at least 3 juveniles
Barn Swallow – c80
Red-rumped Swallow – c20
Zitting Cisticola – 11
Chinese Bulbul – 9
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler – 1
Thick-billed Warbler – 3
Black-browed Reed Warbler – 15
BLUNT-WINGED WARBLER – 1, possibly 2.
Yellow-browed Warbler – 2
Arctic Warbler – 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill – c35
Siberian Stonechat – 4
Taiga Flycatcher – 2
Tree Sparrow – lots
Yellow Wagtail – 4
White Wagtail – 2