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SATURDAY MAY 3 1997, WAS THE MOST eagerly awaited day of the year for me. Why? I hear those of you who don’t live in Lowestoft ask. Well, it was the day I left with the other members of the Wild Wings tour for the spring migration spectacular at Beidaihe on the east coast of China.
Sunday May 4
We landed in Beijing at 06:45hrs where we were met by Professor Hsu who had made the local travel and hotel arrangements for us. Soon we were loading our luggage onto a coach and noting our first birds of the trip, a large flock of Common Swifts and a Hobby over the car park. A familiar call from within some poplar trees bordering the car park revealed a rather worn Yellow-browed Warbler, looking nothing like the smart first-winter birds we see in the autumn back home. The coach journey through the city produced a dozen circling Oriental Honey Buzzards. Shortly after we arrived at the Zi Yu Hotel where we would stay for two nights. We were given the choice of a sight-seeing trip to Tiannemen Square or birding at the Fragrant Hills Park. I opted for the latter. A group of eight led by deputy tour leader Dick Newell hired two taxis and headed for ‘them thar hills’. It was here that I became familiar with the ancient Chinese pastime of coughing up phlegm from deep within the throat and spitting it onto the ground. Even some of the women did it. Inside the park we took a chairlift to the top of the hills, a popular place for Chinese families to spend a day out, it seemed. The thick scrub and conifer littered summit was alive with singingYellow-browed and Pallas's Warblers. Closer investigation of a hard 'tack' coming from a small group of conifers revealed our first Dusky Warbler of the trip followed by a Little Bunting only feet away in the same tree. A dark raptor overhead proved to be a female Eastern Marsh Harrier whilst other birds of note here included Large-billed Crows, a couple of Eurasian Sparrowhawks and a distant Oriental Honey Buzzard. We then began what Dick assured us would be a slow descent in the hot sunshine. An unfamiliar bunting singing from the top of a small deciduous tree turned out to be a superb male Siberian Meadow, of which two more males and a female were noted further on. As we watched the bunting the first of two Chinese endemics to be found here appeared in the base of the same tree, a Chinese Hill Warbler - somewhat resembling a large heavy prinia. Eastern Stonechats flitted from bush to bush and a striking male Daurian Redstart shot by before disappearing into thick cover. Away from the summit the habitat became more wooded, with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees. Immediately apparent were the rattling calls of Red-throated Flycatchers- of which many were seen, including several males. Further on we encountered the other speciality of the area, a Pere David’s Laughing-thrush sitting motionless in the sunshine on the pathway. Roughly the same size as and appearing remarkably similar to a female Blackbird with a slightly decurved dull yellow bill, a special bird maybe but not too special to look at. As we moved on we had up to eight Olive-backed Pipits feeding on the woodland floor and a handsome male Yellow-throated Bunting in grass close to the pathway. We found a pair of Daurian Redstarts collecting nesting material and taking it to a nearby building - the male was truly stunning. As we neared the bottom we added Radde’s Warbler to the day’s total along with the abundant Azure-winged Magpies and Red-rumped Swallows. So ended an excellent introduction- to Chinese birding.
Monday May 5
An early start to what proved to be another warm and sunny day. The group left the hotel on an excursion to the Summer Palace, a vast network of man-made willow lined lakes with beautiful buildings and bridges. Upon arrival we were led to an area of dry paddyfields where we quickly notched up three Chinese Pond Herons, Purple Heron, Oriental Pratincole and two Oriental Honey Buzzards. At a lake inside the palace grounds we found Ruddy Shelduck, Garganey, a large colony of Black-crowned Night Herons of varying ages, Whiskered and Common Terns. The Common Terns were of the eastern race S.h.longipennis which differs from the Eurasian race by having a dusky grey wash on the underparts and all black bill and legs. Further afield there was plenty of cover that seemed well worth checking for migrant passerines. Good numbers of the commoner species were present including Red-throated Flycatchers, Yellow-browed, Pallas's, Dusky and Radde’s Warblers whose powerful nightingale-like songs were much in evidence, with a few Little Buntings and Olive-backed Pipits for good measure. A Blyth's Leaf Warbler performed well for its assembled admirers. Similar to Arctic Warbler in size and jizz but very different in plumage, it showed Nuthatch-like feeding behaviour. In the afternoon we returned to the Fragrant Hills where everyone saw all the previous day’s species and were able to add Red-billed Blue Magpie, Dusky Thrush, Rufous Turtle Dove, Great and Marsh Tit to the already impressive list.
Tuesday May 6
Up at the crack of dawn in preparation for the six-and-a-half hour train journey to Beidaihe, which was through flat and featureless countryside. The only birds seen were Green Sandpiper, Oriental Pratincole and c40 White-cheeked Starlings. Beidaihe- is a fairly large seaside resort 280km east of Beijing on a south-facing stretch of coast in the Gulf of Bohai, which is at the northern end of the Yellow Sea. We arrived in the early afternoon, it was cool and overcast with a north-easterly wind. The Jin Shan Hotel was to be our base for the majority of the next two weeks. Here we chose a very dodgy looking bicycle each and dived headfirst into some very busy birding. A large area of rough ground near the hotel produced Japanese Quail, female Black-faced Bunting and a Grey-capped Greenfinch. Tour leader Tony Marr led us to Lighthouse Point, a good place for passerines with abundant cover, which included an area of reeds, a small copse at the south-western tip and lightly wooded slopes, where we noted two Rufous Turtle Doves and a female Tristram's Bunting. The reeds held male Japanese Reed Bunting, up to nine Red-spotted Bluethroats, four Brown Shrikes, male Black-faced and Chestnut-eared Buntings and two calling Dusky Warblers. A large fenced-off area on the east side of the path was occupied by a military rest home and so, given the sensitivity of the Chinese armed forces, we were told to be careful not to venture too far from the pathway as guards patrolled the perimeter. In the fading light Mick Doughty and I decided to check the copse at the end of the point where we flushed a Grey-necked Nightjar.
Wednesday May 7
Up at first light to a cold wet and windy start. A small group of us led by Tony made our way to Legation Gully, a narrow passage way of trees and bushes that opens out a hundred metres or so inland and is only a couple of minutes away from the hotel by foot or cycle. It was very quiet at first but Tony assured us a row of mature poplars nearby often held White's Thrush and, sure enough, two gave excellent views before they flew off showing their striped underwing pattern. The only other bird seen was a Hoopoe, a species that breeds in the area. After breakfast the same small group got on our bikes and headed for Fish Hook Point where we found very little unusual, so we quickly pushed on to Eagle Rock Gully which also appeared to be very quiet, until a dozen Swifts appeared hanging in loose formation on the strong wind. A closer look revealed the thickset chunky body, white throat and distinct crescent on the underparts- all characteristic of White-throated Needletail. Seconds later four more appeared. The adrenaline levels were rising fast as we headed off to a small poplar plantation known to birders as the sandflats wood. Again the wood proved to be fairly quiet apart from one or two Yellow-browed Warblers, but that never-say-die approach paid off as we stumbled onto our first Eastern Crowned Warbler, another large attractive Arctic type 'phyllosc' with a striking head pattern and lemon yellow undertail coverts. We found Richard's and Red-throated Pipits in a small cultivated field and flushed several buntings which landed in an area of burnt vegetation nearby. We set our scopes on them and were amazed to find male and female Pallas's Reed, two Yellow-breasted- and a Little Bunting in the same field of view. Tearing ourselves away Tony led us to the Heng Ho Reservoir via some disused fish ponds on the northern side. Here we had Long-toed Stint, Wood Sandpiper, female Citrine Wagtail, Little and Great White Egrets and two Pacific Swifts amongst the large numbers of Common Swifts and hirundines. The extensive surrounding reedbeds held female Pied Harrier and singing Fan-tailed Warblers, passing raptors included Peregrine and Oriental Honey Buzzard. As we approached the reservoir, a flock of Chinese Penduline Tits moved quickly through the willows lining the shore. Also noted here were superb male Tristram’s and Chestnut-eared Buntings, Pintail Snipe and a pair of Spot-billed Duck.
Thursday May 8
It was a clear, sunny day with a light north-westerly wind. At Legation Gully an Eastern Crowned Warbler and an Asian Brown Flycatcher performed well. A Grey-headed Woodpecker sat in full view before flying off, its loud descending call breaking the early morning silence. Further on another lone birder pointed me in the direction of a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler. Quite why this species is called a leaf-warbler- I can't imagine as it spent most of its time on or very close to the ground. Back at the hotel grounds, which were extensive and very good for migrants, a first-summer male Mugimaki Flycatcher was found in a small poplar plantation. But that was not all, for in the same small copse Dusky, Eye-browed and two White's Thrushes were feeding in the leaf litter feet from each other. As if that wasn't enough a male Siberian Blue Robin put in a brief but welcome appearance-. A singing male Common Rosefinch, outside our hotel block, finished off a fruitful pre-breakfast jaunt. Later I set off in search of a male Pale Thrush, a fairly non-descript species that had been found by some Australian members of the group. The bird was located on grass by the hotel swimming pool. At Lighthouse Point, I was beckoned to a small lightly wooded gully by some Dutch birders who were obviously watching something interesting. Quietly I sat down and was soon focusing my scope on a superb male Siberian Thrush, feeding only a few metres in front of me. I studied this wonderful bird for over an hour, during which time a Forest Wagtail was seen briefly. It was now late morning so I decided to cycle to the sandflats wood where a mixed bunting flock contained a cracking male Yellow-browed. The afternoon- was spent at the reservoir and the fish ponds to the north produced little apart from the previous day’s Long-toed Stints and a Marsh Sandpiper. At the reservoir the day’s second male Siberian Blue Robin skulked along the reed-fringed shore and my first Grey-streaked Flycatcher was added to the rapidly growing trip list. The fish ponds to the south had good numbers of Chinese Pond Herons, three Purple Herons and a male Citrine Wagtail amongst the hundreds of Yellow's that were present.
Friday May 9
I kicked off the day at Legation Gully with a fine male Siberian Thrush. A Chinese Bulbul sang from the top of a large poplar whilst a lone White-throated Needletail and a female Pied Harrier flew over heading north. A quick visit to Lighthouse Point to “twitch” a Forest Wagtail proved to be very worthwhile, this delightful species “wags” its tail from side to side rather than up and down. A fresh north-westerly wind on an otherwise beautiful day provided perfect conditions for a trip to the Lotus Hills, west of the town and only a ten-minute, inexpensive taxi ride away. This is a prime vantage point for visual migration. A small group of us led by Dick made our way to the top where star birds included Oriental Honey Buzzards, two striking male Pied Harriers, Grey-faced Buzzard Eagle and a Japanese Sparrowhawk all heading north. Small flocks of pipits, wagtails and Pacific Swifts were also on the move. The hills are thickly wooded with a network of footpaths winding their way through. Here we had excellent views of adult male Mugimaki Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Bunting, female Eye-browed Thrush and a flock of over 30 Chestnut-flanked White-eyes. We then took another short taxi ride to a small area of working paddyfields to the north of the town known as Radar Marsh, where we found Tony and the rest of our group. Paddyfields are bordered and connected by narrow pathways of raised earth at times up to two or three feet high and the fertiliser used to help the rice plants grow contains several types of faeces. We set off across the paddyfields in a long “conga” style line, flushing Common and Pintail Snipe. This was all too much for one elderly member of the group who slipped and fell spectacularly into the surrounding smelly slime and had to be helped out. An unfortunate happening, but at least it kept the flies away from the rest of us! Moving carefully on we had Grey Wagtails, Grey-headed Lapwing and a Pechora Pipit that was so “stringy” it could have tied itself in knots, so I didn’t count it myself (honest!). Next stop was the fish ponds on the southern side of the reservoir where Black-winged Stilts and Temminck's Stints could be seen along with Whiskered Tern and the large and brightly coloured Black-capped Kingfisher. At the sandflats wood we found a large gathering of birders that included a Sunbirder group watching something on the edge of a water filled ditch. We were told that the bird being watched, which was initially thought to be an Eastern Water Pipit, had been re-identified -as a Rosy Pipit. The bird showed well and it was generally agreed to be a first-summer, yet another excellent bird to end an eventful day.
Lesser Sand Plover ( Mongolian Plover )
Saturday May 10
I decided to lay in today, which turned out to be a wise decision, as very little was found first thing. After breakfast Martyn Kenefick, Mick Doughty and I jumped into a cab and visited the Lotus Hills once more. The wind was southerly and it was cool and overcast so we spent some time working the woods. Almost immediately we had brief but good views of an Oriental Scops Owl. We then enjoyed brilliant views of a pair of Grey-capped Woodpeckers that were obviously nesting nearby. We found a number of finches preening in a group of small bushes, which turned out to be Siskins and some summer plumaged Bramblings making us feel as though we were back in England until an Eastern Crowned Warbler joined them. Walking on we had Mugimaki, Grey-streaked and Asian Brown Flycatchers, Brown Shrikes and many singing Black-naped Orioles. A large flycatcher found by yours truly gave us the run-around before we pinned it down (not literally of course!) and identified it as a Blue-and-White although as it was a female it wasn’t very blue or white, more brown and off white but a good bird nonetheless. Back at the hotel to collect our cycles the calls of Pallas's, Dusky and Radde’s Warblers seemed to be coming from almost every tree and bush. We moved swiftly on to the sandflats wood noting female Blue Rock Thrush on the way. The wood and surrounding area held a good selection of birds with Bluethroat, Japanese Quail, Richard's and Olive-backed Pipits, Eastern Stonechats and several species of buntings. On the sandflats there were some good waders to be had, albeit in small numbers; Far-eastern Curlew, Terek Sandpiper and Greater Sandplover were welcome additions to the trip list along with Kentish Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, White-winged Black and Gull-billed Tern. We ended the day with a visit to another area of working paddies known as the town fields. Here we had first-summer, sub-adult and adult male Amur Falcon and 16 Pacific Golden Plovers, many in summer plumage.
Sunday May 11
Another cool and overcast day with a fresh easterly wind. Early on Lighthouse Point produced my first Thick-billed Warbler, typically large and long-tailed with an open faced expression, it allowed prolonged scope views. Onto Legation Gully where I found the rest of the group looking for a Rufous-tailed Robin that had been reported. As we searched an area of thick bushes a Lanceolated Warbler was found and, as is so typical of the species, it allowed close approach. The group then decided to leave so once again I was on my own. I sat on the edge of a small bush-lined muddy ditch and waited in silence. This approach worked well as a beautiful male Siberian Blue Robin appeared beneath some bushes opposite me, its call being a soft “chuck chuck”. I was able to enjoy the bird as it scuttled around unconcerned- by my presence, and just a few feet away a Black-browed Reed Warbler showed itself, and all just within focusing range of my binoculars, 'MAGIC'. It was fast approaching noon as I headed off to spend the afternoon around the reservoir. Shortly after arrival I was duly informed that a Chinese Egret had been found on the disused fish ponds. A mild panic set in and I wasted no time making my way there. Like so many birds in this part of the world this species is seriously under threat and it is thought that there are less than a thousand pairs left. Luckily the bird was still present. In direct comparison it was slightly larger than a Little Egret with a yellow bill, bluish facial skin and flowing head plumes. Around the reservoir highlights included Baillon's Crake, first-summer male and female Siberian Blue Robin and my first Siberian Rubythroat. Although a female it was still much appreciated. The day ended with an unnerving experience for, as I neared what can only be described as a hovel where somebody obviously lived, two of the most vicious dogs I have ever seen jumped out in front of me, all teeth, fangs, saliva and growls. I have to say I could have done with a change of underpants! Luckily they were both tied up so I slowly manoeuvred my way around them before making a hasty getaway.
Monday May 12
We left the Jin Shan at 05:00hrs for the journey to Happy Island, c80km south south-west of Beidaihe. We stopped briefly at the Da Pu He Estuary as the surrounding fields had produced Little Curlew on previous Wild Wings visits. Sadly there were no Curlews this time, but the chance to compare Blyth’s and Richards Pipits side by side was an interesting challenge, we also had singing Asian Short-toed Larks here. We arrived at a small fishing harbour on the Daqinhe Estuary around mid-morning, where we were to make the crossing to Happy Island. The weather by now had deteriorated from overcast and drizzly to steady persistent rain and a strong north-easterly wind. The harbour was a hive of activity, where the landing, buying and selling of the day’s catch was soon forgotten as we became the focal point of the fishermen’s friendly curiosity. Scanning the extensive mudflats, Lesser Sandplover was the most abundant- wader while other species included Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Kentish Plover and Great Knot. A Black-tailed Gull standing -on the mud nearby was joined by another of China’s threatened birds, a second-summer Saunder’s Gull. During the time we spent here the wise decision was made not to attempt the crossing in the worsening conditions (we would try again tomorrow), so we made our way by bus to a nearby small wood to look for passerines. Here we found plenty to keep us occupied, a flock of Phylloscopus warblers contained Blyth’s Leaf, Eastern Crowned, Two-barred Greenish, Yellow-browed and Pallas’s, while buntings were represented by single female Tristram’s and Yellow-throated. The weather had closed in by now, but even this was no deterrent and our persistence produced Lanceolated Warbler and a skulking Rufous--tailed Robin that eventually showed well along with several flycatchers- that included my first tantalising flight-only glimpse of an adult male Yellow-rumped. Most of us by now were tired and soaked through so it was with some relief that we left for the Qing Jan Hotel where we would spend the next two nights. The hotel was a bizarre sight, situated in a massive area of salt pans that seemed to stretch for as far as the eye could see in all directions. Inside, the hotel was certainly not of the highest star rating and the evening meal was pretty naff but our efforts in the field on what was a foul day were rewarded as Tony offered to buy all the beers on behalf of Wild Wings, ‘CHEERS’.
Tuesday May 13
After a welcome night’s rest the action continued instantly, for it had barely broken light when two splendid Japanese Waxwings were found in the hotel front garden. Overhead thrushes and buntings headed purposefully northwards and a small pool by the side of the hotel produced eleven summer-plumaged Red-necked Stints and seven Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. The previous day’s extreme conditions had an effect and spirits were high as we left for the harbour. A brief visit to ‘the wood’ en route provided us with yet more excellent birds with Chestnut Buntings, Japanese Sparrowhawk-, a handsome male Chinese Goshawk, Siberian Thrush, Siberian Flycatcher and a flighty Brown Hawk Owl amongst the wide variety of grounded migrants. Mercifully the weather had improved and although it was overcast the wind had abated and the rain had stopped. We boarded two of the most decrepit boats you’re ever likely to see and headed for Happy Island. The journey was fairly uneventful but for a smart summer-plumaged Black-necked grebe. About two-and-a-half kilometres long and one kilometre- wide, Happy Island has a good variety of habitats that include, thick scrub, a small wood and tidal mudflats. We disembarked and made straight for the wood, the island was alive with passerines and this seemed the most likely place for migrants to be concentrated. We were not to be disappointed for as we approached we were informed by one of the many visiting birders that two real rarities were present, a first-summer male Rufous-georgetted Flycatcher that was quickly located and a not so obliging Fairy Pitta. Not surprisingly the wood was very busy indeed and new birds were added to the trip list at a quite breathtaking pace, the latest being Japanese Grosbeak, Broad-billed Roller, Ashy Minivet and a stonking male White-throated Rock Thrush. But the excitement was not over for as we made our way slowly back to the quay news reached us that the pitta had been relocated. This was followed by a mad dash before we found a throng of observers assembled on a small sand dune. Pittas are shy and retiring by nature so it was unfortunate that it had to be flushed from the dense waist high scrub. Surprisingly large and a kaleidoscope of colours it was seen twice in flight, on the second occasion it flew towards the crowd and shot by at eye level before diving back into cover to a roar of applause. An immaculate male Tiger Shrike seen on the way back to the quay was a fitting way to end a brilliant day’s birding.
Wednesday May 14
We awoke to find that the most monumental fall had taken place. There were pipits, wagtails, buntings and shrikes everywhere and around the hotel every tree and bush in this otherwise barren area held several species of Phylloscopus warbler. Goodies- included Daurian Starling, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and an Oriental Scops Owl. Over to Happy Island and as expected the birding was very frenetic. Walking along the shoreline we flushed Bluethroats, warblers, and Common Rosefinches, while small flocks of thrushes, pipits and buntings dropped from the sky into every available piece of cover. We reached the southern end of the island where after a drizzly start the sun had emerged. The wind had also changed from a cool north-easterly to a warmer south-westerly. Leaving the rest of the group I decided to work a promising looking area of Tamarisk. Here I enjoyed crippling views of up to five Siberian Rubythroats that included three superb males. A leisurely couple of hours in and around the wood yielded another good crop of birds. There were Blue Robins, Mugimaki and Yellow-rumped Flycatchers, another Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and a roosting Grey-necked Nightjar, but perhaps best of all a brilliant Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler found in a small area of scrub showed very well, even flying short distances revealing the white tips to the rectrices. Back at the quay we had two adult Saunder’s Gulls and a small group of the endangered Asiatic Dowitcher- feeding on the mud close to shore, all in summer plumage. After an incredible couple of days we returned to Beidaihe.
Thursday May 15
Just when you thought the pace couldn’t get any hotter the most unbelievable fall occurred. It was raining birds! From first light the hotel grounds echoed with the songs of warblers, mostly Acrocephalus. Further afield it was difficult to know where to look first. Highlights included Yellow-legged Buttonquail and singing Forest Wagtails -on Lighthouse Point, Black Drongo at Fish Hook Point, two Manchurian Reed Warblers and Swinhoe’s Snipe on the sandflats, with Rufous-tailed Robin, Siberian Blue Robins, several Siberian Rubythroats, Arctic Warbler and Daurian Jackdaw around the reservoir. The day’s total was impressive and gave a taste of the scale of things. Examples being 100 Richard’s Pipits, c300 Yellow Wagtails, c70 Blue Rock Thrushes-, c100+ Bluethroats, c50 Radde’s, c200 Dusky Warblers, c1000+ Brown Shrikes, and at least c100 Black-faced, c300 Little and c50 Chestnut Buntings among the many species seen. All on a beautiful sunny day, PHEW!
Friday May 16
Inevitably today proved to be quieter, although male Siberian Rubythroat and Black-naped Oriole in the hotel grounds and a Grey-tailed Tattler on rocks near Lighthouse Point made for a good start. After breakfast, the majority of the group, myself included, left by minibus on a day’s sight seeing / birding trip to the town of Shanhaiguan- some 30KM north-east of Beidaihe. This being the point where the Great Wall winds its way down from the mountains towards the sea. Just west of the town is a steep hillside, Jio Shan (Corner Hill) where after a short chair lift ride some spectacular views of the Great Wall could be had. Unfortunately there were few birds to be seen due to the south-westerly gale, but I managed to root out Pale-legged Leaf and Eastern Crowned Warbler, Rufous-tailed Robin and Eastern Rock Bunting. We returned to Beidaihe to find that the strong winds had forced down several raptors and we were able to enjoy up to 30 Oriental Honey Buzzards, 7 Hobbies, 3 Amur Falcons, Pied Harrier, Japanese and Eurasian Sparrowhawk, 100+ Pacific Swifts and 9 White-throated Needletails all moving low off the sea in the late afternoon sunshine.
Our log call that evening was filmed by a crew from the Hebei Province Television Station, who were making a documentary about birding in Beidaihe. We were on our best behaviour of course, being much less boisterous than usual.
Saturday May 17
The film crew joined us for much of the day. At the sandflats we counted 200+ Oriental Honey Buzzards passing over and mixed flocks of White-winged Black and Whiskered Terns flew through heading inland, giving the film crew lots of good shots of birds and the group in action. The down side to the trip for me was the apparent low priority given to conservation. On previous days we had found several mist nets and traps containing live birds, no doubt to feed the thriving cage bird trade. We were to find out later that two group members had visited a local market place, where they found lots of songbirds in cramped cages. Here they purchased 3 Siberian Rubythroats for the equivalent of 75p - they released them of course. Fortunately the Chinese Egret was still present, feeding in nearby lagoons, and our tour leader was able to emphasise to the film crew just how important the area is to migrating birds. Also stressed were the benefits to the town’s economy in attracting foreign birdwatchers-, who spend lots of money. All in all a very encouraging exercise.
Sunday May 18
We left the hotel on a mini-bus for a two-day excursion north to the mountain reserve of Old Peak (Loaling), at 1424m the highest mountain near Beidaihe. We had been informed that major roadworks would add time to our journey, but we never quite realised what the phrase actually meant in China. A 35km stretch of main road was being completely rebuilt. Unfortunately for us the alternative route led us for much of the distance along a boulder-strewn, dried up riverbed. The fact that it took five hours to travel 32km tells its own story. We arrived at the reserve gates and decided to walk the one kilometre to the main entrance. The scrubby mountain slopes hosted singing Oriental and Large Hawk Cuckoos, Siberian Meadow and Eastern Rock Buntings, up to 4 Blunt-winged Warblers (an Acrocephalus species similar to Paddyfield), 3 Vinous-throated Parrotbills, Daurian Redstarts, Hill Pigeon and 2 female Bull-headed Shrikes, a speciality here and one of our main target species. We boarded our minibus for the short drive up to the reserve’s dormitory style accommodation, which was fairly basic. Encircled by unspoilt thickly forested mountains -the afternoon was spent working the winding pathways adjacent to our accommodation. In these beautiful-surroundings we found breeding Blyth’s Leaf Warbler to be common. A male Yellow-throated Bunting showed well along with female Narcissus Flycatcher of the sub-species elisae. In a belt of conifers the second speciality of the area was found, a female Snowy-browed Nuthatch. The evening meal in the restaurant was most welcome after such an exhausting day. As we were due an early start tomorrow an invitation to the reserve’s karaoke club was passed up!
Monday May 19
At 04:30 we were already heading up the mountain road on what proved to be a fruitless search for Koklass Pheasant, although many were heard calling. Nearer the mountaintop a pair of Bull-headed Shrikes were found at what we were informed was a traditional breeding site. Nearby a pair of Yellow-streaked Warblers were holding territory. Impossible to separate from Radde’s in the field, unless in song, or so the field guides tell us. From my experience I wouldn’t believe everything you read. After a bitterly cold start we slowly made our way back to the reserve in what was by now pleasantly warm sunshine. Described as recently as 1992, Chinese Leaf Warbler was undoubtedly top of the list of breeding species to be found here and most people in our group had by now connected with at least one. Unfortunately I was one of the exceptions, and we were due to depart on the return journey to Beidaihe early in the afternoon. I was beginning to sweat. The distinctive song of this species was easy enough to recognise but finding a bird on the end of it turned out to be a different kettle of fish in the bright and breezy conditions. Surely I wasn’t going to dip! I spent the next couple of hours with bird artist Richard Allen chasing around headless chicken-style in an attempt to add this species to my trip list. I was growing more desperate by the minute until we noticed a bird moving low through some nearby bushes. It was indeed a Chinese Leaf Warbler. Similar in appearance to Pallas’s Leaf, its huge, square, bright yellow rump could be seen as it flicked its way up into the trees and out of sight. I breathed a sigh of relief. We returned to Beidaihe to find that nothing too gripping had been found during our absence.
Tuesday May 20
Two Manchurian Bush Warblers began what was to be a pleasant, sunny and very productive morning. Especially around the Radar Marsh area where male and female Watercock, Schrenck’s Little Bittern and three Pechora Pipits were found, one of which flew a short distance before alighting on a six foot high wall allowing superb views. Male Siberian Rubythroat and a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler proved to be the highlights of a brief visit to the reservoir. Early afternoon brought heavy showers and cooler temperatures and this in turn brought a dramatic increase in bird numbers. This being particularly noticeable at the sandflats wood, which was now full of birds having been relatively quite earlier. There were Yellow-rumped, Siberian, Grey-streaked and Asian Brown Flycatchers, Two-barred Greenish, Arctic-, Pale-legged Leaf and Lanceolated Warblers, several Eye-browed Thrushes, Black-naped Orioles-, Brown Shrikes and another Schrenck’s Little Bittern. Back at the hotel grounds a similar variety of species were present.
Wednesday May 21
My final half-day in the field was beautifully warm and sunny, with a refreshing sea breeze. I decided to spend my remaining few hours sitting quietly in the hotel plantation were I was able to study three adult male Yellow-rumped Flycatchers. A fitting way to end what had been a remarkable stay in Beidaihe. All to soon it was time to collect our luggage and leave the hotel for the long train journey back to Beijing.
Thursday May 22
We left early for the airport and the long flight home. The trip had exceeded all of my expectations. The food wasn’t bad and the Chinese people were very friendly. I had managed a total of 203 species, 115 of which were lifers.
Other holiday reports:
Report on a birding holiday to High Island, Texas in Spring 1998 - with photographs
Report on a birding holiday to Eilat in Israel in Spring 1997 - with photographs