Beijing Swifts are back!

In the last few days, birders from across the capital have been reporting the return of the Beijing Swift (Apus apus pekinensis).  The first record seems to have been one at the TongHuiHe  by 岳小鸮 (Yuè xiǎo xiāo) on 1st April.  This was followed by another single at Peking University on 9th April (Yang Hua) and then nine at Baiwangshan, a traditional migration watchpoint in the northwest of the city (小隼仙人) on 10th.  Yesterday, 11th April, the staff at ZhengYangMen (正阳门), a traditional breeding site at the southern end of Tiananmen Square, reported sightings, too.

It is only a few weeks ago that these birds could have been circling over Table Mountain in Cape Town in South Africa having almost certainly spent the entire northern winter on the wing – an incredible feat of endurance and stamina that is hard to comprehend.

With several Beijing schools having built and erected nest boxes for the Beijing Swift over the last few months, we are keeping everything crossed that some of the birds arriving in the capital will find and choose to breed in these newly-built homes.  We’re hopeful, too, that students from these schools will be able to meet with the CEOs of some of China’s largest building companies to tell the story of the Beijing Swift, outline what their schools are doing to help and to ask the CEOs to trial ‘swift-friendly’ buildings in Beijing.  Watch this space!

 

Title image showing the autumn migration route of the Beijing Swift to southern Africa courtesy of Lyndon Kearsley.

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Beijing Swift Exhibition at Tiananmen Square

Last week I was excited to receive an invitation to meet with Mr Guan Zhanxiu, the Director of Zhengyangmen Gate (the southern gate of Tiananmen Square) and to view the exhibition about the Beijing Swift currently on show to the public.  Mr Guan made arrangements for me to visit on Tuesday afternoon and so, at around 1400 I made my way to Zhengyangmen via Qianmen, at the southern end of Tiananmen Square.

2018-07-03 Zhengyangmen gate at Tiananmen Square panorama
A panorama of Zhengyangmen (left) with Mao’s mausoleum on the right.

Zhengyangmen gate, right at the heart of Beijing, is certainly one of the best places in the capital to view the Beijing Swift with several hundred pairs breeding amongst the beams of this historic building.  On warm summer evenings from mid-April until late July, the Beijing Swifts’ spectacular sociable and noisy flights, wheeling around the rafters, are a sight to behold and an example of how wildlife can thrive even in the heart of our capital cities.  From now until September this historic venue is hosting a stunning public exhibition dedicated to the Beijing Swift.

Beijing Swift exhibition title

Beijing Swift exhibition photos

The exhibition is a wonderful mix of science, culture and history.  There is a 25-minute video, including the history of the Beijing Swift in China, spectacular footage of the birds in flight and at their nests, and an animation of their migration.

Did you know, for example, that the first known visual representation of the Beijing Swift (see below) dates back more than 3,000 years to artefacts found in an ancient royal tomb?  At that time, Chinese people believed their ancestors were transformed into Swifts after death, and these birds have had a special place in their culture ever since.

The video follows a pair of Beijing Swifts being studied by local academics.  Incredibly, and shockingly, one of the nests contains a significant amount of plastic, a reflection of the omnipresence of this manmade material in our environment today.

2018-07-03 Beijing Swift nest with plastic

Of course, the story of the Beijing Swift would not be complete without showcasing the Beijing Swift Project and the tracking of birds from the Summer Palace.  Their incredible migration to southern Africa for the northern winter is depicted by a magnificent map showing the countries through which they pass on their way to and from southern Africa.

Beijing Swift ewxhibition migration route

The exhibition will run until September and is open daily from 1000 to 1600.  If you’re going to be in Beijing during this time, don’t miss it!

We’re hopeful that, after September, the exhibition will be available to schools and public spaces around the capital and beyond.

A big thanks to Director Guan Zhanxiu and his wonderful staff – Yuan Xuejun, Zhao Penghua, Li Lianshun, Jiang Junyi and Wang Jichao – for showing me around and explaining their personal connections with, and commitment to protecting, the Beijing Swift.

Beijing Swift couple selfie
The old and the new. This young couple takes a ‘selfie’ with Beijing Swifts at the Summer Palace.