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CHINA 2011

Beijing and Beidaihe

Birdfinders third tour to Beidaihe, China was another huge success with all the Siberian specialities seen well plus a few surprises! Unfortunately, Happy Island was closed for construction works but we visited another island, which was equally good for migrants. The Great Wall and Mount Zushan were closed because of the extreme fire risk but because of our excellent contacts we arranged special access for our group. Similarly, the reservoir and sandflats in Beidaihe are both now closed to the public (with fences around both locations) but again we arranged special access thus ensuring we saw all the speciality birds. Contrary to rumours, neither Big nor Magic Woods have been destroyed and Big Wood in particular really came up with the goods this year.

Schrenck's Bittern is recorded most years by one or two birders but this year we hit the jackpot with a male watched and photographed out in the open at the Old Wall reservoir for half an hour! Two Chinese Egrets posed well on our island trip, as did a stunning summer-plumaged Asian Dowitcher and two Saunders's Gulls. The major surprise on the gull front were Glaucous and Little Gulls, both extremely rare vagrants. Ring-necked Pheasants were recorded almost daily but a female Koklass Pheasant flying in to the tape was a nice surprise as the male could be heard calling across the valley. Two male Falcated Ducks were a good find at the reservoir as was a very-showy Baillon's Crake. A stunning male Pied Harrier hunted over an estuary further south together with an Eastern Marsh-harrier. It's not often a raptor can overshadow the male Amur Falcons we saw but the star raptor of the tour was a Saker Falcon soaring over Yang He Wood. In the Bei Hei River area we literally 'cleaned up' seeing two pairs of Ibisbills, a Long-billed Plover, two Crested Kingfishers, several Hill Pigeons and an amazingly-confiding pair of Pere David's Laughingthrushes.

Grey-headed Lapwings were found at two locations, Great Knot, Far-eastern Curlew, Long-toed and Red-necked Stints were seen multiple times and Broad-billed Sandpipers were recorded for the first time ever on this tour. Nice views of Swinhoe's Snipe were had at Magic Wood but only brief views of a single Relict Gull were had by a couple of participants whilst searching through the pristine summer-plumaged Black-tailed Gulls. Oriental Turtle-doves were common but cuckoos were elusive as usual with flight views of most leaving them unidentified. A Northern Hawk-cuckoo was seen well and an Oriental Cuckoo was seen calling across the other side of the valley at Mount Zushan. A flyover Lesser Cuckoo was missed by some and the only record of Indian Cuckoo was one heard calling in Beijing. After a couple of brief flight views, an Oriental Scops-owl was watched at length at the reservoir whilst a Northern Boobook initially gave us the run around in the Friendship Hotel grounds before eventually flying directly over our heads! We enjoyed great views of Grey Nightjar at Yang He Wood and several more on our new island excursion.

Fork-tailed Swifts put on great low-level displays this year whilst Black-capped Kingfishers were seen at multiple locations. All the woodpeckers were seen well including both Grey-capped and Rufous-bellied close to their nests. A Pale Martin was a nice surprise find but Richard's and Olive-backed Pipit numbers were lower than normal this year. A record four sightings of Forest Wagtail this year was matched by stunning prolonged views of Ashy Minivets in Big Wood. On our way back from the Bei Hai River, we were greeted with the amazing sight of dozens of Japanese Waxwings coming down to drink and in amongst them we found several of the much rarer (here at least!) Bohemian Waxwings. Numbers of Rufous-tailed Robins, Siberian Rubythroats and Siberian Blue Robins were quite high this year and the views of all species excellent. Two Red-flanked Bluetails were a nice addition to the tour list as they normally pass through earlier. Daurian Redstarts gave point-blank views as usual and after a lot of hard work in the strong winds, we eventually all had good views of a male White-bellied Redstart at Mount Zushan. Thrush numbers were not as high as last year but nevertheless we saw White's, Siberian, Grey-sided, Grey-backed, Eye-browed and Dusky as well as White-throated Rock-thrush.

An Asian Stubtail was seen by most at Mount Zushan, whilst a Manchurian Bush-warbler gave amazing views down in the normal valley. Beijing Babbler was seen well at the Great Wall whilst both the ultra-skulking Pallas's Grasshopper-warbler and Lanceolated Warbler gave great photographic views (especially the Lanceolated Warbler that sat for 10 minutes on a pontoon at our new island!). Black-browed Reed Warblers and Thick-billed Warblers performed very well as usual but a nice surprise was a very confiding Grey-crowned Warbler found in Big Wood. Leaf warblers were found in abundance with Claudia's, Pale-legged, Pallas's and Chinese, plus Eastern-crowned, Yellow-browed, Two-barred, Hume's, and Arctic (singing in numbers) Warblers all giving great views. Dusky and Radde's Warblers were seen in large numbers whilst at least three singing male Yellow-streaked Warblers were seen at Mount Zushan. Flycatchers were well represented with good numbers of stunningly beautiful Korean and Mugimaki Flycatchers and big numbers of Asian Brown and Taiga Flycatchers interspersed with a few Dark-sided and smaller numbers of Grey-streaked. A nice surprise however, were two Narcissus Flycatchers one of which was ridiculously tame having just arrived on our new island. Chinese Nuthatches were feeding young at Mount Zushan whilst large numbers of Chinese Penduline-tits eventually landed long enough for everyone to see. Similarly, there were a lot of flyover Chestnut-flanked White-eyes but unlike last year only a few condescended to give us decent views!

Black-naped Orioles arrived in numbers towards the end of the tour and on a couple of days Brown Shrikes were seen in the hundreds. A Tiger Shrike was a nice find at Big Wood and amongst the good numbers of Black Drongos seen several Hair-crested Drongos were found. A pair of Red-billed Starlings were a nice find at the Forbidden City on our first day and both Yellow-billed (Chinese) and Japanese Grosbeaks were seen well close to Big Wood. We had to work harder than normal for buntings this year but eventually saw Black-faced, Godlewski's, Meadow, Chestnut-eared, Yellow-browed, Tristram's, Little (numerous at times), Chestnut, Yellow-breasted and Pallas's. The latter was only seen well thanks to our connections by getting into a private site.

The tour was an overwhelming success but I have yet to mention the star bird! Potentially a first for Hebei province and normally occurring several hundred miles further south, a Collared Finchbill in Suzi Wong’s garden was an incredible record. As with many vagrants in Beidaihe, there is the escape possibility but it isn't a renowned songster (and thus is not a sought-after cage bird) so the likelihood is that it was a genuine vagrant as it occurred in a well-watched location and was not present in the morning or next day. This highly-popular tour fills quickly every year so early booking for our next tour is highly recommended. The price includes inclusive direct flights and no extras to pay for excursion, taxis, food etc. We think that this represents the best value tour to this fantastic destination with culture (Great Wall and Forbidden City), scenery (Mount Zushan), wonderful food and superb birding.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher