Wildlife Watercolours

This page features watercolours of wildlife (mostly from Beijing and Sanjiangyuan) and will be updated as and when new paintings are completed.  

A Himalayan Marmot (Marmota himalayana 喜马拉雅旱獭 Xǐmǎlāyǎ hàntǎ) keeps an eye on a passing Tibetan Fox (Vulpes ferrilata 藏狐 Cáng hú).


An Eyebrowed Thrush (Turdus obscurus) 白眉鸫 Báiméi dōng in shaded woodland. A regular migrant through Beijing, peaking in mid-May and again in mid-September.


Pomarine Skuas Stercorarius pomarinus 中贼鸥 Zhōng zéi-ōu passing a headland in northern Europe.  


Another painting inspired by a recent trip to Sanjiangyuan.  Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur 岩羊 Yán yáng) on a mountainside.


After visiting its spectacular mountain habitat and encountering this magnificent cat in the wild, it’s hard not to be inspired to paint. A Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia 雪豹 Xuěbào) in a blizzard.


A Northern Hawk Owl Surnia ulula 猛鸮 Měng xiāo in a snowstorm.  Never recorded in Beijing but fairly easy to see in northern Inner Mongolia in winter.  


Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia 白琵鹭 Bái pí lù take-off.  A passage migrant through Beijing with most records in spring (mid-March to May); less common in autumn (October) and occasional summer records, usually relating to immatures.  Rare in winter.


An albatross 信天翁 over a stormy ocean.


A Saker (Falco cherrug 猎隼 Liè sǔn) over the Great Wall.  An uncommon but regular passage migrant and winter visitor to Beijing.  Most are immatures, similar to this bird.  A fierce predator and will cause panic amongst groups of smaller birds.


A Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus 凤头䴙䴘 Fèng tóu pì tī) taking off to see off a competitor. Now is the time when these birds pair up and stake out territories on freshwater bodies in the capital.  March 2023.


A few years ago I was in the Valley of the Cats with a group of friends when a local herder alerted us to a Snow Leopard on a kill. Climbing a ridge, we were able to see it – just – at a distance of several hundred metres. The camouflage was incredible… And then, just to add to the challenge, it started snowing! Even though our telescopes were trained onto the spot, the snow leopard’s head – just visible above some rocks – would melt away then reappear briefly as the snow fell.. If we hadn’t known it was there, it would have been impossible to find, such was the effectiveness of the camouflage. March 2023.


A Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 红隼 Hóng sǔn over a misty open woodland. March 2023.


An Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo 雕鸮 Diāo xiāo).  Inspired by an encounter close to my apartment in Beijing when a huge silhouette emerged at dusk on an area of open ground in Shunyi District. March 2023.


A lone Wolf (Canis lupus 狼 Láng) surveys its territory in the Himalayas. February 2023.


A Little Owl (Athene noctua 纵纹腹小鸮 Zòng wén fù xiǎo xiāo) on a stone pile in Sanjiangyuan. This owl makes up for its small size with big charisma. It’s quite common on the Tibetan Plateau and often uses stone piles as lookouts. February 2023.


A Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia 雪豹 Xuěbào) patrolling its territory on the Tibetan Plateau. January 2023.


On 22 January 2023 we will celebrate the Chinese New Year and, this year, it’s the Year of the Rabbit. The rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity in Chinese culture, thus 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope. Ironically, rabbits do not naturally occur in China, so in celebration of Leporidae (the scientific family of rabbits and hares), here is a Woolly Hare (Lepus oiostolus 高原兔 Gāoyuán tù), native to western China, northern India and Nepal, where it inhabits montane grassland. January 2023.


A Blue Sheep (岩羊 Yán yáng). A common ungulate on the Tibetan Plateau, incredibly agile in the rocky terrain of the Himalayas, and a favourite prey of the Snow Leopard. December 2022.


A stalking Snow Leopard (雪豹 Xuěbào). December 2022.


A Snow Leopard (雪豹 Xuěbào) watches a flock of Blue Sheep (岩羊 Yán yáng) on a distant mountainside in Sanjiangyuan National Park. December 2022.


A Common Leopard (金钱豹 Jīnqiánbào) on the Tibetan Plateau.  Sanjiangyuan is one of the few (known) places where the territories of Common Leopard and Snow Leopard overlap. December 2022.


Brown Bear (Ursus arctos 棕熊 Zōngxióng) on the Tibetan Plateau.  The one animal that would spook me if I encountered it alone. December 2022.


Wolves (Canis lupus 狼 Láng) surveying their territory in Sanjiangyuan National Park.  A much-maligned species the world over, they are now a protected species in China and there is a healthy population on the Tibetan Plateau. December 2022.


One of the most impressive migrants of all, a Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica 斑尾塍鹬 Bānwěi chéng yù), the ‘baueri‘ subspecies of which migrates non-stop from Alaskan breeding grounds to New Zealand each autumn, stopping at the Yellow Sea on its way north in spring.


A Pallas’s Sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus 毛腿沙鸡 Máo tuǐ shā jī) banking before landing in Shunyi District.  Part of the irruption of this species into Beijing on 12 November 2022.


Pallas’s Sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus 毛腿沙鸡 Máo tuǐ shā jī) at dusk over Beijing. Inspired by last weekend’s irruption of this enigmatic species into Beijing, with more than 7,000 counted in just three and a half hours on Saturday afternoon, many of which passed over the city centre. November 2022.


A Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo 雕鸮 Diāo xiāo). Early November is when these fierce predators are sometimes spotted in the city as they leave their mountain breeding grounds looking for suitable wintering quarters. This one was on a patch of wild ground close to my apartment in Shunyi on 5 November 2022.


A EURASIAN WOODCOCK Scolopax rusticola 丘鹬 Qiū yù explodes from scrub.  A scarce passage migrant and winter visitor in Beijing, with most records in April and October.


HEN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus 白尾鹞 Bái wěi yào) hunting over a marsh.


WHOOPER SWANS (Cygnus cygnus 大天鹅 Dà tiān’é) over a winter landscape.


LARGE-BILLED CROWS (Corvus macrorhynchos 大嘴乌鸦 Dà zuǐ wūyā) on a snowy mountain hillside.


A SNOW LEOPARD (Uncia uncia, 雪豹 Xuěbào) patrolling its territory.


A CHINESE TAWNY OWL Strix aluco 灰林鸮 Huī lín xiāo patiently waiting for dinner.


A Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus 雉鸡 Zhì jī) on a winter’s day.  Native to Beijing and China, this species is common in scrubby habitat.


Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris 角百灵 Jiǎo bǎilíng) on a snowy grassland. A passage migrant and scarce winter visitor to Beijing in but in some years it can irrupt in spectacular numbers; the highest day count is 8,824 (all flying south) on 15 October 2014 at Miyun Reservoir (Paul Holt).


A single heron stands patiently on the end of a jetty as the sun sets.  


An immature Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos 金雕 Jīn diāo) soars over a misty mountainside.


A Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola 丘鹬 Qiū yù) roding over a woodland at dusk.


A Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus 秃鹫 Tū jiù) cruising a hillside in winter. This is the only regular vulture species seen in Beijing and is present from late October to early April, primarily to the mountains around the capital, especially Mentougou District.


A Green-backed Flycatcher (Ficedula elisae 绿背姬鹟 Lǜ bèi jī wēng) in a woodland glade. This flycatcher breeds only in Beijing and the nearby provinces of Hebei and Shanxi, wintering in SE Asia (Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore). One of Beijing’s signature birds, the wooded mountains in the north and west of the capital are the best place to look for it between May and August.


Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus 红嘴鸥 Hóng zuǐ ōu) accompany a fisherman against a brooding sky at Guanting Reservoir in Yanqing District.


A Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta blakistoni 水鹨 Shuǐ liù) flushed by a male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus 白尾鹞 Bái wěi yào) on an icy winter day.


Common Crane (Grus grus 灰鹤 Huīhè) at Ma Chang at dusk.  Beijing birders will recognise the hills and wind turbines, the iconic backdrop to many wonderful Beijing birding experiences, not least the flocks of Common Crane that can be seen from October until March.


Shorebirds (Red Knot) at dusk. The Bohai Bay, with some of China’s best remaining intertidal mudflats, is a world-class site for shorebirds and any visit in spring or autumn will be rewarded with stunning views of flocks of shorebirds, including the Red Knot. This area is one of the Red Knot’s most important stopover sites between non-breeding grounds in Australia and breeding grounds in the Arctic.


A Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis 云雀 Yúnquè) singing over a meadow in early spring.  The skylark is predominantly a passage migrant in Beijing with large numbers coming through in March/April and again in September/October.  A few spend the winter and 1-2 pairs breed on the alpine meadows at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain.


Gulls following a fishing boat at dusk.


Eurasian Curlews (Numenius arquata 白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù) on a grey, misty coastal mudflat.  Both Eurasian and Far Eastern Curlew are scarce passage migrants in Beijing but on the coast, just 2-3 hours away, they are a common sight on coastal mudflats.


A screaming party of Beijing Swifts (Apus apus pekinensis 北京雨燕 Běi jīng yǔ yàn) at dusk. These incredible birds leave Beijing at the end of July and travel all the way to southern Africa for the northern winter before returning the following April. We are almost certain that the majority make this journey without landing – they eat, drink and sleep in the air.


A Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus 胡兀鹫 Hú wù jiù) cruising a misty mountainside at 4,500m above sea level. The Bearded Vulture is the only known vertebrate whose diet consists almost exclusively (70-90%) of bone.

Urban Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax 夜鹭 Yè lù) heading out to feeding grounds at dusk.


Another stormy scene – this time of White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi stejnegeri 斑脸海番鸭 Bān liǎn hǎi fān yā).


Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) over a stormy sea.  Inspired by many hours enjoying the rough seas and watching seabirds pass by during my youth at Winterton-on-Sea in Norfolk, England.  These majestic seabirds can navigate the strong winds with ease, banking and shearing over the waves, often without a flap.


A Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis 黄苇鳽 Huáng wěi jiān) straddles lotus flowers. A few pairs of this small bittern are breeding at my local lake and, with their long legs and big feet, it’s comical to watch them hunting from the lotus stems.


Missing the UK!  An Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica, 北极海鹦 Běijí hǎi yīng)


A Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis 小鸊鷉 Xiǎo pì tī) chasing a stickleback.


An over-shooting Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus 红翅凤头鹃 Hóng chì fèng tóu juān was found at Shahe Reservoir on 7 June by Zhen Niu.  On the early morning of 8th, just after dawn, it flew across the river in front of the Changping Line metro line.  True urban birding!


A loose style Swallowtail Papilio machaon 金凤蝶/黄凤蝶/茴香凤蝶 Jīn fèng dié/ Huáng fèng dié/ Huíxiāng fèng dié.  


A Great Grey Owl in the birch forests of Wuerqihan, Inner Mongolia, December 2016.


A Grey Nightjar (Caprimulgus jotaka 普通夜鹰 Pǔtōng yè yīng) hawking insects at dusk at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain. 27 May 2022.


A Tiger Keelback (Rhabdophis tigrinus 虎斑颈槽蛇 Hǔbān jǐng cáo shé). This is the snake I see most frequently in Beijing, often along the Wenyu River. One of the few snakes that is both poisonous and venomous (it has two rows of glands in its neck that provide protection from predators by releasing steroidal toxins that are sequestered from ingested poisonous toads and its bite is venomous). 25 May 2022.


This is Libellula angelina or “Bekko Tombo” as it’s known, a critically endangered dragonfly species.  It has an early flight season – April and early May – and is known from just a handful of closely guarded sites in Beijing.  In early May 2022 I was lucky to find two males at a new site just a few minutes walk from my apartment. 


CHINESE NUTHATCH (Sitta villosa 黑头䴓 Hēitóu shī). The most common nuthatch in the capital.  The best place to see it is in Botanical Gardens. 16 May 2022.


A spring male YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTING (Emberiza aureola 黄胸鹀 Huáng xiōng wú). This critically endangered species has suffered a calamitous decline in the last few decades but remains a regular, if scarce, passage migrant in Beijing. May is the best month to see them in full breeding plumage on their way to breeding grounds in N China, Mongolia and Russia.


Migrating ORIENTAL HONEY BUZZARDS (Pernis ptilorhynchus 凤头蜂鹰 Fèng tóu fēng yīng) over the Jade Peak pagoda from Baiwangshan. Over 400 counted  from this spot on 4 May 2022.


WALLCREEPER Tichodroma muraria 红翅旋壁雀 Hóng chì xuán bì què.  A rare and local winter visitor to Beijing, primarily to the mountainous districts of Fangshan and Mentougou.  This one backlit against the sky as it flitted from one rock face to another. 3 May 2022.


PIED HARRIER Circus melanoleucos 鹊鹞 Què yào.  A passage migrant in Spring (mid-April to May) and autumn (late August to early October).  This male passed the raptor watchpoint of Baiwangshan on 1 May 2022.


COMMON POCHARD Aythya ferina 红头潜鸭 Hóng tóu qián yā.  A common passage migrant in spring, peaking in late March and early April, and autumn, peaking in second half of October. Uncommon winter visitor. Records from all months but rare in summer.  30 April 2022.


BLACK-WINGED KITE Elanus caeruleus 黑翅鸢 Hēi chì yuān.  Formerly rare, now scarce and increasing passage migrant and rare breeder. Most records in spring (late March to May) and autumn (late August to mid-November).  A pair has recently taken up residence along the Wenyu River, with one or both regularly encountered. 25 April 2022.


SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus  短耳鸮 Duǎn ěr xiāo). A scarce winter visitor and passage migrant in Beijing (October to April). This one stopped off at the Wenyu River last week on its way north. 25 April 2022.


CHINESE GREY SHRIKE (Lanius s. sphenocercus 楔尾伯劳 Xiē wěi bóláo).  A fairly common passage migrant and winter visitor and a scarce breeder.  This one was along the Wenyu River last week. 24 April 2022.


Displaying WHITE-NAPED CRANES (Grus vipio 白枕鹤 Bái zhěn hè). In my opinion, the most beautiful of all the eight species of crane found in China (15 in the world). A passage migrant in Beijing as it commutes between breeding grounds in N China, Mongolia and Russia, and wintering grounds, mostly around Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province. 23 April 2022.


A singing ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis 极北柳莺 Jí běi liǔ yīng). These birds pass through Beijing in late April and May, and again from late August to September, on their way to and from breeding grounds in the far north of Siberia. In spring, especially on warm, sunny mornings, many sing as they pass across the city. 21 April 2022.


LITTLE GULL Hydrocoloeus minutus 小鸥 Xiǎo ōu (adult and first-summer).  A rare passage migrant, with only around ten records to the end of 2019. Most records in autumn (late August to early November) and only two in spring (late March to mid-May). Most relate to first-winter birds but very rarely adults are seen.


EASTERN MARSH HARRIER Circus spilonotus 白腹鹞 Bái fù yào.  A summer breeder in Beijing from late March to October.  This male was at one of the species’ traditional breeding grounds in the capital, Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.


KENTISH PLOVER Charadrius alexandrinus 环颈鸻 Huán jǐng héng.  A passage migrant in Beijing.  This one was at Ma Chang, a reliable stopover site, on 15 April 2022.


COMMON GOLDENEYE Bucephala clangula 鹊鸭 Què yā.  A common passage migrant and winter visitor (October to May) in Beijing.


A ‘moody’ GREAT EGRET Ardea modesta 大白鹭 Dà bái lù.  A common summer breeder and passage migrant. Uncommon but increasing in winter.


Last week I found this second calendar-year BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla 三趾鸥 Sān zhǐ ōu) in Yanqing. It’s a rare vagrant to Beijing with around 15 records in total, most of which have occurred in late autumn. As far as I am aware, this is only the third spring record.


BLACK-WINGED STILT Himantopus himantopus 黑翅长脚鹬 Hēi chì cháng jiǎo yù.  A common passage migrant and breeder (from late March to October) with most records in Spring (late March to May).  On arrival in Beijing, these birds waste no time and pairs can be seen in courtship at suitable wetland sites.


EASTERN BUZZARDS Buteo japonicus 普通鵟 Pǔ tōng kuáng  ‘kettling’ over Beijing city centre.  Spring passage of Eastern Buzzards peaks in late March and early April and, when conditions are right, it’s not unusual to see small groups circling on thermals over the city centre.  This painting inspired by seeing a group over the city yesterday late afternoon (4 April 2022).


A male HEN HARRIER Circus cyaneus 白尾鹞 Bái wěi yào.  A winter visitor and passage migrant in Beijing.  As one would expect, ‘ringtails’ (adult females or immatures) outnumber adult males, so any encounter with the ‘skydancer’ is memorable. 3 April 2022.


Begging juvenile BARN SWALLOWS Hirundo rustica 家燕 Jiāyàn.  Seeing the first swallow of the year is always a highlight.  This year I saw my first in Beijing on the unusually early date of 3 January but it’s not until mid- to late March that they arrive in any numbers and, before we know it, the next generation will be on the wing. 30 March 2022.


MUTE SWAN Cygnus olor 疣鼻天鹅 Yóu bí tiān’é.  On Sunday afternoon, during a walk by the ChaoBai River, I found a Mute Swan.  A familiar bird back home in the UK but something of a rarity in Beijing.  What better inspiration for the first painting of the week.  28 March 2022.


COMMON COOT Fulica atra 骨顶鸡 Gǔ dǐng jī.  A common breeder, passage migrant and, to a lesser extent, winter visitor to Beijing.  A group of 60+ arrived on my local lake a few weeks ago and, yesterday, the number has built to 96.  Hopefully some will stay to breed but I suspect most will continue to north to breed in N China, Mongolia or Russia. 26 March 2022.


WHITE-NAPED CRANE Grus vipio 白枕鹤 Bái zhěn hè arriving at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve in Beijing.  My favourite crane species passes through Beijing from late February to April and again in October and November.  Stopover sites between the wintering grounds at Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province and breeding grounds in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia are vital.


TUNDRA BEAN GEESE Anser serrirostris 短嘴豆雁 Duǎn zuǐ dòu yàn heading north, March 2022.  Inspired by recording their calls at night last week.


PALLAS’S REED BUNTING (Emberiza pallasi 苇鹀 Wěi wú). A common passage migrant and winter visitor to Beijing (much more common than Common Reed Bunting).  By late March some males are in breeding plumage.


EURASIAN CURLEW Numenius arquata 白腰杓鹬 Bái yāo biāo yù.  A scarce passage migrant in Beijing. One was at the marsh opposite LuomaHu on 20 March 2022.


Displaying GREAT CRESTED GREBE Podiceps cristatus 凤头䴙䴘 Fèng tóu pì tī, inspired by a courting pair watched at Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) on 19 March 2022.


NORTHERN LAPWING Vanellus vanellus 凤头麦鸡 Fèng tóu mài jī.  A relatively early migrant in Beijing, from mid-March.


‘EASTERN’ ROOK Corvus frugilegus pastinator 秃鼻乌鸦 Tū bí wūyā.  This group stopped off in Shunyi, not far from my apartment, on their way north to N China, Mongolia or Russia, 17 March 2022.


Snow Leopard  Panthera uncia  雪豹  Xuě bào


Siberian Roe Deer  Capreolus pygargus  西伯利亚狍  Xī bó lì yǎ páo


TOLAI HARE  Lepus tolai 托氏兔 Tuō shì tù on the move.


COMMON ‘BEIJING’ SWIFT Apus apus pekinensis 普通楼燕 Pǔtōng lóu yàn over the Temple of Heaven


PALLAS’S GULL Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus 渔鸥 Yú ōu


JANKOWSKI’S BUNTING Emberiza jankowskii 栗斑腹鹀 Lì bān fù wú


ASIAN BADGER Meles leucurus  狗獾   Gǒu huān


GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER Dendrocopos major 大斑啄木鸟 Dà bān zhuómùniǎo


CHINESE BLACKBIRD Turdus mandarinus 乌鸫 Wū dōng


BROWN-CHEEKED RAIL Rallus indicus 普通秧鸡 Pǔ tōng yāng jī


GREATER SAND PLOVER Charadrius leschenaultii 铁嘴沙鸻 Tiě zuǐ shā héng


PALLAS’S LEAF WARBLER Phylloscopus proregulus 黄腰柳莺 Huáng yāo liǔ yīng


ORIENTAL PLOVER Charadrius veredus 东方鸻 Dōng fāng héng


RELICT GULL Ichthyaetus relictus  遗鸥  Yí ōu


EURASIAN HOOPOE Upupa epops 戴胜 Dài shèng


COMMON KINGFISHER Alcedo atthis 普通翠鸟 Pǔtōng cuì niǎo


GREAT BITTERN Botaurus stellaris 大麻鳽 Dà má jiān


LONG-EARED OWL Asio otus 长耳鸮 Cháng ěr xiāo