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AndrewHeath Monday 21st January 2013 11:07

Liaoning, Shenyang aka 辽宁沈阳
Following the convention around here, I am opening a thread dedicated to those few determined, brave folks who dare birdwatch in the largest and dirtiest city north of Beijing.

My results will rarely be noteworthy, but should some poor wayward soul ever need search this forum for Shenyang or 沈阳 this thread shall stand as a beacon in the smog! ;)

Come what may, we struggle ever forwards comrades! :t:

AndrewHeath Monday 21st January 2013 11:08

2 Attachment(s)
Date: 2013-01-19

Area: HunHe river bend, south of Shenyang University of Technology

Weather: -15 ~ -20C, relatively clear air (== PPM2.5 at 150~250)

Location 1 Sightings (0900):
  • 60 x Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)
  • 2 x Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
  • 1 x Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
  • 30 x Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
  • 40 x Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
  • ∞ x Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)

Location 2 Sightings (1000):
  • 150 x Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)
  • 300 x Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  • 2 x Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

A short list made memorable by the staggering number of mallards and shelducks hiding behind an island a bit further down the river stretching their wings.

I have (and shall forever after) attached a Google Earth .KMZ file illustrating the birding locations. I think this is a wonderful way to help any future visitors get up to speed on whereabouts to go in your area.

Dong Bei Monday 21st January 2013 12:46

Looking forward to this Andrew. I'm sure Shenyang isn't that bad, it's just waiting to be discovered. There is amazing birding in Panjin, Dandong, and Dalian so Shenyang must have some fantastic places as well. I'm sure there is a big push of migrants through there in late April and early May.

There is a wetland just north of Shenyang in Faku County that Terry Townshend and I visited last March for the Siberian Crane festival. It is famous as a Siberian Crane staging area on migration and also gets hundreds of geese. The place looked like it would be absolutely amazing during spring migration time for just about any wetland species. It is set up for birding with easy access all the way around it. The drive from the crazy building (you know the one I'm talking about!) in downtown Shenyang to the wetland was about one hour.

Again, very much looking forward to this.

thirudevaram Tuesday 22nd January 2013 04:08

You have been under rating your patch Andrew. The no. of Ruddy's n Mallard's you got is a pretty good flock.

AndrewHeath Tuesday 22nd January 2013 04:53

Ah don't get me wrong, we do good volume on the river with certain species (Ruddys, Mallards, Gray Herons...) but we are very poor on biodiversity. That's always the victim of urbanization...

Jeff hopkins Tuesday 22nd January 2013 08:57

I love the count number for the tree sparrows, Andrew.

Stay warm!


AndrewHeath Saturday 26th January 2013 03:10

3 Attachment(s)
Date: 2013-01-26

Area: Yuhong Water Management District
地区: 黄海公园

Weather: -25C, visibility 250m (== PPM2.5 at 450+)

Location Sightings (0800):
  • 20 x Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
  • 15 x Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyanus)
  • 40 x Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus)

This was a terribly disappointing trip. If you view the attached KMZ within Google Earth you can see that the place in question is a neat splotch of forest in an otherwise heavily urbanized area. Typically these are great spots to see all manner of birds in winter - an urban oasis.
Sadly, it seems that within the last 3 or 4 weeks they have sealed off access to the public. I've been by here numerous times over the past year on other business and was very much looking forwards to a long morning spent birdwatching. I was just a bit too late.
The kindly fellow manning the main gate assured me that no commonfolk were allowed inside, and that that had always been the case. However, the half-dozen newly repaired breaks in the perimeter fence made it clear that I had only just missed my chance.
I walked the perimeter nonetheless. The only species spotted are listed above. Pictured below are a very cold Azure-winged Magpie and a saucy pooch who taunted me from inside the fence. ;) The magpie is in black and white because the awful air quality today made for rather unflattering colors on an otherwise lovely bird.

Gretchen Saturday 26th January 2013 03:31

Andrew, glad to see you persisting - its an encouragement to those who don't necessarily have great sites, and a good reminder to me to keep trying despite limits and modest success.

I really like the Azure Winged too, and have hardly seen any this winter - I usually see a few more in winter time.

Is the name of the place really "gongyuan"? I didn't realize that people could have no access to something labeled "public garden". Tough break! Like you, I've walked along fences and thought that something good might be seen. Weirdly, when good birding is supposed to be found on habitat fringes, that it always seems to me that birds stay well away from fences :-C

AndrewHeath Saturday 26th January 2013 04:25


Originally Posted by Gretchen (Post 2647634)
Is the name of the place really "gongyuan"? I didn't realize that people could have no access to something labeled "public garden".

Thanks for the supportive words. :t:

The Chinese name is, in fact, Yellow Sea Public Park. There is an east-west running narrow strip - no more than 50 meters wide - along the northernmost edge that has been developed into a typical Chinese city park. The rest is aggressively fenced off.

Based on old aerial photos in Google Earth I think the fencing is a rather recent (say, last 5 years) development.

I remain hopeful that the same locals who broke through the fencing in numerous places in the past return to do the same in short order. ;)

McMadd Saturday 26th January 2013 05:33

Dunno if it's being the wrong side of the bamboo curtain or my using a mac but both your .kmz files return a BF error message...

Urban birding...always fun!

Keep the faith and book some travel plans to keep you hungry!


MKinHK Saturday 26th January 2013 08:41

Sorry to hear about your disappointing morning - totally agree that good habitat inside cities can be excellent.

That dog is great - deadly looking canines - but a bit pathetic for pointing up instead of down, but no matter - definitely better to be on the other side of the fence.

I wonder why the park is fenced off. If its really was a gongyuan then maybe some scumbag has mad an illegal grab for the land.


AndrewHeath Saturday 2nd February 2013 10:23

1 Attachment(s)
Date: 2013-01-27

Area: HunHe west, north bank

Weather: -30C, fog

Location Sightings (0730):
  • 300 x Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)
  • 20 x Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
  • 1 x Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
  • 15 x Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
  • 10 x Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
  • 1 x Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)


The bullfinch goes on the life-list. I got a long, steady look at him from close range and the telltale features were all noted, but because it was so very early in the morning, he was backlit, he was dirty, and because I'd never recorded one before... I returned home uncertain. Seeing that Tom spotted a few more in Dalian at the same time was enough to push me over the edge, though.

The lack of diversity was compensated for by the sheer pleasure of watching the ruddys and mergansers dabbling and diving about for breakfast as fog rolled by. Groups of ducks would come in and out of view in the mists while the steady chorus of honks and such drifted over the water.

The only downside to the morning was the temperature. It was -25C at my house and I rode my bike down to the river dressed accordingly. However, away from the passive radiant heat of the urban environment, it was fully 5 degrees colder. That put me well-past my comfort range. My water bottle was frozen solid in only 30 minutes, the hub on my bike was threatening to lock up, the focus knob on my all-weather Nikons turned like glue, and I ended up having to rather hurry home lest my numb toes became something quite a bit worse. |8.|

In the end no lasting harm, but I think I'm going to draw the line at -20C from now on unless I've got a combustion engine-powered vehicle nearby..!

AndrewHeath Saturday 2nd February 2013 10:31

5 Attachment(s)
For the past two weeks, without fail, every morning a flock of 30 to 40 Bohemian Waxwings has breakfast in the courtyard of my company's factory park. While 12,000 employees stream by they merrily attack the dried and frozen berries still hanging on the trees and bushes.

While the field guides will tell you the BW is common in Liaoning during winter, from 2007 to 2012 I only saw two birds. In short, you need to be somewhere with a berry supply, and there are precious few such spots in Shenyang.

So it has been with great pleasure that I walk to my office each morning surrounded by the BW trills.

This morning, Saturday, I woke up to our clearest skies in months - only 30 on the PPM2.5 scale! A strong wind had blown all night and a beautiful blue sky was waiting for me... but not for long!

I grabbed my camera and tele and zipped over to the office to await the flock. Sure enough at 7:45 they came in over the factories and settled into the trees. I spent the next 90 minutes following them around the courtyard shooting as many shots as possible.

Of course our air quality has gone to smog again as I write this in the evening, but for a brief morning I got to experience fantastic photography conditions with rather friendly birds. Some highlights are below.

MKinHK Saturday 2nd February 2013 14:40

Wonderful Andrew!

Waxwings are special birds. If you have to wait for your quality birds it's fantastic when they are absolutely stellar!


Gretchen Sunday 3rd February 2013 01:38

Nice shots, and sounds like a very enjoyable morning. I understand the obstacles of the cold and the smog - we've just escaped for 2 weeks - it really has been an unusually challenging winter.

firstreesjohn Sunday 3rd February 2013 19:53


Originally Posted by AndrewHeath (Post 2652926)
The only downside to the morning was the temperature . . . I ended up having to rather hurry home lest my numb toes became something quite a bit worse. In the end no lasting harm, but I think I'm going to draw the line at -20C from now on unless I've got a combustion engine-powered vehicle nearby..!

Andrew: have you thought of heated boots, gloves and/or jacket ?

Don’t know if they’re on sale in China- but they’re probably made there.

AndrewHeath Monday 4th February 2013 00:47


Originally Posted by firstreesjohn (Post 2653898)
Andrew: have you thought of heated boots, gloves and/or jacket ?

Gloves and jacket I'm doing ok, it's my toes that always cause me trouble. Just sub-par circulation in my feet for whatever reason.

I've never heard of heated boots... socks with 9volt batteries, yes, or chemical-heat inserts. But full on boots? Nope. Do you happen to know of any brands? I'd certainly be interested in having a look!

thirudevaram Monday 4th February 2013 05:38

Man, you had the Bullfinch and Waxies. That too Waxwings in your factory compound. Love those shots especially the tossing.

"Andrew's Journal" is hilarious, i have been laughing since morning. You made my day brother.

firstreesjohn Tuesday 5th February 2013 19:07


Originally Posted by AndrewHeath (Post 2654063)
I've never heard of heated boots... Do you happen to know of any brands? I'd certainly be interested in having a look!

Put 'Columbia Bugaboots' into an appropriate search engine; there seem to be several models (ranging from £110 to £240), although the reviews are mixed.

Good luck for your tootsies !

Frogfish Thursday 7th February 2013 02:56


Originally Posted by firstreesjohn (Post 2653898)
Andrew: have you thought of heated boots, gloves and/or jacket ?

Don’t know if they’re on sale in China- but they’re probably made there.

You can buy those little pads here that when folded in half emit heat, for both hands and large ones for feet. They are supposed to last for up to 5 hours. If you can't find them let me know and we can sort something out (quickly because I leave for a few weeks on the 13th - though McMadd could assist if I've gone, hope he doesn't mind me volunteering him) ;) They can be bought at any Decathlon for around 20-30rmb for the hand versions I think and 30-40rmb for the feet version.

Alternatively there are now those heated reusable in-soles that can be imported from the USA (good for ca. 2,000 uses and cost around $60-70 if I remember correctly).

Dong Bei Friday 8th February 2013 04:12


I wear "Mickies". They are US Army boots from the Korean War. They are white, huge, and far too heavy, but work much like a thermos. They are available online only for around $70. You want the white ones, not the black ones. I too have poor circulation and had problems with cold toes for years. For my hands I wear mittens that have the last three fingers togethers and the forefinger in a separate space so you can still take photos and focus binoculars. Most of the time my fingers are still in a fist inside my mittens trying to get warm however.....


AndrewHeath Wednesday 20th February 2013 23:27

2 Attachment(s)
On February 3rd my father arrived for a two week visit coinciding with Spring Festival... he's a hardcore birder, and this is our tale of woe and redemption! :t:

Date: Feb 8th through 14th

Area: Shenyang Qipanshan, Benxi, Benxi Countryside, Dandong Environs

Weather: -10C ~ -25C

Location 1 - Shenyang Qipanshan:
We have a new house - half a duplex - just a km or two north of the International Horticultural Gardens (aka "Expo Gardens"). We closed on it in December and will decorate and furnish this spring and summer. On the Friday before LNY proper we took my father out to have a look and did a quick bit of birding in the neighborhood...
  • 5 x Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
  • 10 x Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
  • 1 x Great Tit (Parus major)
  • 16 x Oriental Greenfinch (Chloris sinica)

Location 2 - Benxi City Park:
My dad has spent the last 35 years of his life in sunny south Florida. He was deeply worried about dealing with two weeks of NE Chinese winter. I encouraged (punished?) him by making him walk the Benxi City Park at 0800 in -25C weather... a wise decision in the end!
  • 5 x Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyanus)
  • 10 x Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
  • 1 x Coal Tit (Periparus ater)
  • 10 x Great Tit (Parus major)
  • 20 x Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
  • 1 x Naumann's Thrush (Turdus naumanni)
  • 10 x Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus)
  • 10 x Pallas' Rosefinch (Carpodacus roseus)
  • 1 x Yellow-billed Grosbeak (Eophona migratoria)
  • 30 x Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
I had been to the park once previously and seen exactly one nuthatch. This time it was almost silly how many there were. Once we got to the upper elevations almost every moving bird was a nuthatch. 20 is a conservative tally. Astounding.

Location 3 - Benxi Geology Museum:
This is adjacent to the far better known Benxi Water Cave. While the museum itself was freezing (no heat, inexplicably) the fossils were awesome. 5 minutes in the parking lot and we bagged...
  • 3 x Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
  • 3 x Coal Tit (Periparus ater)
  • 1 x Great Tit (Parus major)
  • 2 x Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
  • 1 x Varied Tit (Sittiparus varius)
My first varied tit! All it took was a bit of a jaunt outside the urbanization. So far the trip was going well... decent species counts for very little effort.

Part 2 - Dandong!
Mind you, our forum friend DongBei had just been through this exact area the week before and went home with a stunning array of species sighted. I spent the entire first week of my dad's visit talking up our two-day trip... big mistake! There's only one Tom and I ain't him! The plan was to visit the Hushan Great Wall the first afternoon, then hit the famous wetlands on the second morning...

Location 4 - Dandong Hushan Great Wall:
  • 5 x Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
  • 1 x Gray-faced Woodpecker (Picus canus)
  • 3 x Brown-eared Bulbul (Hypsipetes amaurotis)
  • 7 x Yellow-throated Bunting (Emberiza elegans)
The weather was poor - hazy and a bit cold - but the wall was beautiful and we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. A somewhat disappointing species count, though we were excited about the bulbuls until we got home and realized we had seen some in Japan back in '06. Nevertheless, a new species for the China list. :-)

Also, being cheeky bastards, we spotted a Eurasian Magpie sitting in a tree over the border in DPRK and I dutifully recorded it. I am now ranked 5th on the list of DPRK eBird members with my solitary sighting. :king:

Location 5 - Yalu River Wetlands Park:
On the second morning we got up early and drove down to the famous Yalu river mouth wetlands park. Tom is probably chuckling to himself as he reads this... we discovered that in mid-February the wetlands park is pack-ice as far as the eye can see. No water, of course, means no waterfowl. That was a huge screw-up.
So we loaded back in the car and began winding our way along the coast towards Dandong. By 1000 the only noteworthy avifauna spotted was a flock of Eastern Spot-billed ducks in a ditch.
By 1030 we had returned to the outskirts of Dandong proper and were basically packing it in and making plans to return to the hotel and checkout, utterly defeated. On a lark I suggested we hop over to Moon Island (月亮岛) and see if we can get a gull or two at the downstream point. Our fortunes were changing...
  • 20 x Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  • 20 x Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
  • 5 x Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
  • 10 x Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus)
  • 40 x Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
  • 1 x Monk Vulture aka Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus)
We literally nearly stumbled over the Monk Vulture. At the southern extremus of Moon Island is a low stone wall and then a flat area overlooking the tidal point. This massive, hulking bird was crouched down on the south side of the wall out of sight of anyone in the yard. My father and I had progressively worked our way through the yard watching stonechats and such and were only 2 meters from the wall (by now looking at the ducks out on the water) when he popped his head up. Talk about a shock! :eek!:
We froze, and then I whistled for my father-in-law to scurry over with our telezoom so I could snap some photos. In the end we realized that this was a rather tame specimen, not the least bit threatened by us and perhaps even somewhat disappointed we hadn't brought it some sausages. ;)
The Korean peninsula seems to be the very easternmost reaches of its range, and the global numbers aren't so good. The possibility remains that this is a zoo escapee, or perhaps even some rich Chinese's humorous idea of a pet... but however it came to be in the area, it was very much a wild bird and a stunning one at that.

So, while our final Dandong trip count was a paltry dozen or so species, it ended on a very high note and my father will not soon forget suddenly being eyeball-to-eyeball with one of the largest raptors in the world!

MKinHK Thursday 21st February 2013 12:14

Every mention of Pallas' Rosefinch grips me off - even though I saw them in Beijing in 1990. . .

I also have some wonderful memories of Black Vulture so can thoroughly empathise with your superb finish!


thirudevaram Friday 22nd February 2013 02:41

The headshot of the "MONK" is simply superb. I did a quick check in birdtalker and there are reports from Dandong and Jilin. So you have every reason that it's a wild one.

thirudevaram Friday 22nd February 2013 02:43


Originally Posted by MKinHK (Post 2667044)
Every mention of Pallas' Rosefinch grips me off - even though I saw them in Beijing in 1990. . .

I also have some wonderful memories of Black Vulture so can thoroughly empathise with your superb finish!


That's a long time Mike. Why don't you get on the steel bird and say hello to your old friends?

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