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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

China 2010 (1 Viewer)

10am to 12pm, Monday, 21st May, 2012; Wenyu River, Chaoyang district, Beijing

Von Schrenck's Bittern!

The bird, a male no less, took off some 50 yards in front of me, and flew directly away, towards the trees across the river, presenting the narrowest of targets for me to home the auto-focus on.

I knew I'd cocked it up. But just to make sure, I looked at the eight shots of distant poplar trees, in sharp focus, and a blur in the foreground that grew progressively smaller shot-by-shot.

I cursed my ineptitude and carried on criss-crossing the narrow paths that flank the series of paddyfields.

Three immaculately-plumaged Whiskered Terns (399) were plucking small fish from the surface of the Wenyu River - the first time I've seen the species on my local patch.

Then, just as I was about to call time, I saw another male Von Schrenck's Bittern fly out of the reeds. This one flew low and across, which at least gave me a chance of a shot. I looked at the camera's monitor to check what was there... and sure enough there it was, a "not that bad" shot of what is my 400th species to be posted here: Von Schrenck's Bittern (400)

Other birds of note today: several Fan-tailed Warblers (photo of one songster appears below); a few singing Black-browed Reed Warblers; 3 singing Oriental Reed Warblers; a Greenshank; a few calling Indian Cuckoos; a few Eurasian Cuckoos; and last - but by no means least - I re-found the Wenyu Snipe (the one I saw last week that shows some characteristics of Latham's).


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Alan L will be envious... ;)

Thanks Richard, just looked at the link.

Let me get this right... Alan twitched a Baer's Pochard in Japan from the UK?? And would consider "going global" for a Von Schrenck's?

There was I thinking that getting up at 4.30am yesterday to cycle down to my local patch was crazy.

Funny how the notion of "craziness" changes with age... 15 years ago I thought that driving from Dorset (where I'd twitched a Semi-P Plover) to Inverness, and chartering a plane to fly to Shetland to twitch a Blue-cheeked Bee Eater, was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
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Very "not that bad" - and congratulations on a very nice bird for #400! Nice to see new terns on the patch too. I'm interested in the pic of the "fantail warbler" (or zit cit), which is still a bird I have trouble recognizing. This one looks so softly colored/marked - quite lovely.

There was I thinking that getting up at 4.30am yesterday to cycle down to my local patch was crazy. Funny how the notion of "craziness" changes with age...

:-O That's my excuse I guess.
Let me get this right... Alan twitched a Baer's Pochard in Japan from the UK?? And would consider "going global" for a Von Schrenck's?
I was very lucky to see Von Schrenck's Bittern at Beidaihe reservoir (now ex-reservoir?) in 2004, and Baer's Pochard near Tokyo the year after - but I don't think I would have twitched either from the UK!
5.15 - 7.15am, Wednesday, 23rd May, 2012; Wenyu River, Chaoyang district, Beijing

Getting out before the locals is hard

I managed 15 minutes of blissful coexistence with nature before a chap wended his way to the corner of the paddies for a 30 minute screaming session - seemingly competing with a rival about a mile away.

Luckily I had managed to watch and photograph the "bird of the day" undisturbed before he arrived. This is the first time that I have seen White-breasted Waterhen (401) in Beijing.

I've also posted photographs of a Moorhen (becasue I like the shot); and a Radde's Warbler in full song (because I only hear this a couple of times each spring).

No sign of the Von Schrenck's Bitterns today; but two Yellow Bitterns were good to watch.

Also, a party of 6 summer-plumaged Spotted Redshanks was noteworthy.

Shi Jin


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5pm - 7.20pm, Thursday, 24th May, 2012; Wenyu River, Chaoyang district, Beijing

The "Wenyu Snipe" seems to have gone. Snipe numbers are down from about a dozen (on the 14th) to two. But one of the two was, I believe, a Pin-tailed Snipe (402). I know that ID of Pin-tailed versus Swinhoe's is supposedly "unsafe", but surely a snipe that looks about the same size (perhaps a little smaller, but dumpier) than Common with feet extending a ridiculous length beyond such a pointed tail has to be Pin-tailed. Anyhow, I've posted 2 photos to fuel the debate (better than sweeping these things under the carpet I'd say).

Yesterday's White-breasted Waterhen was in its same spot.

And lots more warblers dashing from cover today - including at least one Pallas's Grasshopper.

I've also posted a shot of Fan-tailed Warbler to remind anyone out there who prefers the name Zitting Cisticola that there's a perfectly good reason for calling it Fan-Tailed Warbler.

Anyone who fancies twitching Von Schrenk's Bittern from the UK (apparently the chap who twitched the Baer's Pochard in Japan has it in his sights) may be interested to know that there was a female here this evening (but no sign of the two males that were here on the 21st).

And last, but by no means least, 8 Spotted Redshanks graced the paddies this evening.

A picture of one of them appears below.

Shi JIn


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3.30pm to 6.45pm, Saturday, 26th May, 2012; Wenyu River, Chaoyang district, Beijing

I saw something creeping around in the dense undergrowth on the foot-wide path that bisects two freshly-sown paddies. It was so close that I thought it must be a Lanceolated Warbler, until that is I managed to get my bins on it for a few seconds. This was no Lancie, nor was it a Pallas's gropper, although it was clearly a locustella. But a locustella with a prominent supercillium and a plain face and dark crown.

Surely, surely this couldn't be Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler, could it??

After 20 minutes of not getting another glimse - and after suffering more mosquito bites than the human body is designed to take, I resolved to walk slowly towards it, setting my camera at F11 and focusing at about 20 yards before I did so.

It flew across the water to a dense rice field. As it did, I fired off 8 shots from the hip (there simply wasn't time to go through the standard procedure of looking through the viewfinder).

Worryingly, I thought I'd missed it completely; but an after-the-event on-screen check showed there was something there... albeit a tiny image. But at least it was in focus.

But is it a Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler?

I really don't know. I've never seen one (unless...); and the field guides don't tend to illustrate birds that are flying-away (although, in the case of ultra-skulker warblers, I really can't understand why they don't).

Anyhow, if there's anyone out there with an opinion, please help me out.

I'm also attaching a link to a paper on the ID of this species:
http://www.surfbirds.com/ID Articles/Midd1.html

Just when I thought that birding was really hard and that I should focus my energy on something easier - alchemy for instance - I heard something in the reeds that I didn't recognise. A four (sometimes five) note, oft-repeated, rhythmic call from the base of the reeds that remains a mystery (despite me checking the calls of everything I thought it could possibly be). Which leads me to think that it's probably one of the less-played numbers from the extensive repetoir of the Moorhen.

Anyhow, the recording I made on my BB can't be attached because it's an invalid file apparently. If anyone really wants this, let me know and I'll email it.

Following the above-two frustrating episodes, I was grateful for a close-up leisurely walk-pass from the 4-day resident White-breasted Waterhen. A rare(ish) bird in these parts... (the unusually hot May weather here and strong mostly-southerly winds presumably pushed it much-further than it would have otherwise travelled).

Which probably explains why I didn't see a single snipe, phyllosc, wagtail, or pipit today.

But who needs those when the Spotted Redshanks (all 8 of them) continue to delight.


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2pm - 5pm, Monday, 28th May, 2012; Wenyu River, Chaoyang district, Beijing

Locustellas, don't y'luv em!?

Cycled down to the Wenyu paddies on a ridiculously hot afternoon; and then spent three hours stumbling around muddy paths that criss-cross the paddies, chasing after about a dozen different locustellas - of four taxa - that were playing extremely hard to get.

To cut a very long story short: The third locustella species to be pinned down (in the modern sense) was none other than a Pere David's Bush Warbler locustella davidi (403).

But a Pere David's Bush Warbler that looked quite different to the ones I've seen (and photographed) in the past (all in Beidaihe).

This one (my photograph appears below) had very pale underparts; a richer, more ruddy tone to the upperparts; a more prominent supercilium; and very fine and very few breast streaks.

The question that crossed my mind was, what's the difference between the nominate davidi (which breeds in China) and the suschkini sub-species, which breeds arosss a wide area of Russia, to the north and north-east of Mongolia.

Interestingly, while reading:

Species delimitation based on multiple criteria: the
Spotted Bush Warbler Bradypterus thoracicus complex
(Aves: Megaluridae)

I spotted this:

"suschkini said to differ by being slightly paler and more reddish-brown above than davidi, with a whiter, bolder
supercilium and weaker speckles on breast (Dement’ev & Gladkov, 1968; Round & Loskot, 1995). We have not examined
any definite suschkini."

And this:

"The genetic distance
between davidi/suschkini from Mongolia and davidi
from north-east and central China suggests that the
Mongolian sample, which was on migration, might
represent suschkini, and that there may be a slight
genetic differentiation between the two taxa."

The paper is available here:

http://www.slu.se/Global/externwebb...om et al 2008 Bradypterus thoracicus ZJLS.pdf

As is often the case (for me) when birding in China, there seem to be more questions than answers.

Peter Suschkin's Bush Warbler anyone?

To be continued...


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2pm - 5pm, Monday, 28th May, 2012; Wenyu River, Chaoyang district, Beijing

Part 2 (of 2).

On arriving, I went back to the exact clump of rice that I'd seen the bird that had set my pulse racing on the Saturday, not expecting very much. Looking down, I saw a locustella run mouse-like along the path in front of me.

I watched and waited, hoping that it would run another few yards and emerge onto the earth-mound that marked the end of the path. Unbelievably that's what it did.

I could immediately see, however, that this was not the bird I was hoping for.

But it was a delightful bird, nevertheless.

The Lanceolated Warbler sat in the open for a few minutes, panting heavily (clearly mad dogs and Englishmen are not the only ones that go out in the midday sun).

In the next two and a half hours, I managed to find a total of at least half-a-dozen lancies; 3 Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers (photographs of 2 of the birds appear below) and... on my final circular of the path I jammed into the bird I'd seen on Saturday. I recognised it immediately as it showed itself for no more than a second - prominent eye-stripe, contrasting with dark crown, and "plain" (at a distance with the naked eye) mantle.

There then followed a frustrating 30 minutes, as I tried to get a closer look and also a photograph of it. Having tried everything else and failed, I tried the wait and see approach - and sat down next to the clump of rice I'd seen the bird in three days ago (the bird and flown a few yards beyond this). After 10 minutes, I saw the undergrowth moving as it approached me down what I guess was was of its preferred "runs".

Camera at the ready, I waited. And there it was! The problem was that it no more than a yard from me - less than the minimum focusing distance of my camera.

Two things went through my mind... It's a Middendorff's and... I would really like a photo.

The bird's whitish supercilium (which ran from close to the bill to almost the nape) stood out prominently against the dark crown that was a merging blackish-grey and chocolate-brown combo (no hint of lightness on any of the feathers). The subtle mantle lines were formed by the same chocolate-brown colouration and a lighter brown. The mantle and crown were seperated by a dark-grey nape. Flight feathers were the same tone as the nape, which was more or less the same tone as the distal half of the tail (basal half of the tail was warmer, close to the lighter of the two mantle stripes).

Believing that I had enough mental notes to clinch the ID, I retreated to the camera's minumum focusing distance and waited.

Nothing happened for 5 minutes.

And another 5 minutes.

I walked forward... no bird. 20 more yards... no bird. Another 20... no bird.

Just as I thought I'd lost it, it flew across the water, away from the paths and towards the rice field.

Normally, I would have nailed it (so to speak), but 30 minutes before this encounter, my lens had had a death spasm - with both the autofocus and vibration-control unit shutting down (the lens letting out an anguished kerrrruncghh...ghhh...ghhh..errrr...agggh!!! as they did so).

So a two second flight time, with the slight complication of having to manually focus (while looking through the lens of course). Doable? Worth a try at least... until, that is, I realised that I hadn't moved the lens from its minimum focusing distance.

But at least I had the mental picture of the bird.

Is it, though, a Middendorff's?

What I am sure is that it was the fourth taxa I saw today.

However: 1) I've never seen Middendorff's before; and 2) I haven't seen (as far as I know) three of the four sub-species of Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers that could conceiveably turn up in Beijing; and 3) in the Middendorff's ID paper I linked to in an earlier post, a bird photographed in the hand is referred to as "Locustella sp. possibly Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler." (which leads me to believe that this species must be served "fully-grilled").

So, in summary, suffice to say that it didn't pass my "beyond reasonable doubt" litmus test.

Nevertheless, the experience and the research that followed has made me that bit better prepared for when I encounter the next "interesting" locustella.

On which point, it's midday here... almost time for the workers at the Wenyu paddies to retire for the day (after all, they do start work at 5.30am).

Should I cycle down for more punishment (with my now manual-only lens)?

As they say, mad dogs and Englishmen...


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Fantastic Lancey and Pallas's Gropper images... I guess Middendorff's, Pleske's and Gray's are all, theoretically at least, possible at this site.. :)

Thanks Terry

Yes indeed... All in all, quite an amazing couple of hours in "central" Beijing.

Congratulations on the Yellow-legged Buttonquail you saw there a couple of hours after I left.

Gripping stuff.

Alas, today's locustella count was down to 2 (both Pallas's Grasshopper).

Other birds of note: 7 Spotted Redshanks; 1 Baillon's Crake, and a party of 3 Grey-headed Lapwings (late birds to say the least).

As per my earlier SMS, sighting of the day was not a bird, but a Siberian Weasel (photo attached).

Have fun there tomorrow.


Shi Jin

PS In the excitement, neglected to mention that I saw 5 Whiskered Terns there on Monday.


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Your local patch is really turning up impressive stuff! (love the spotted redshanks) Nice weasel!!! They are usually pretty fast (though not compared to some warblers I guess), so good shot on it. Is it from the Wenyu patch too? (I forget if they are Huanglang?)
Thanks Gretchen

Yes, it was seen on my local Wenyu patch (Chaoyang side of the river).

The Chinese name for Siberian Weasel (Mustela sibirica) is huang shu lang (黄鼠狼).

They survive in Beijing despite:

1) Their fur is said to make the finest brush for use in Chinese calligraphy.

2) They love eating chicken (not at KFC).

3) In Chinese folklore, if one enters the property it's regarded as a portent of doom (they not only steal chickens, they are said to also steal souls).

Given the above, it's not surprising that they are very scarce and very wary.

This is only the third time I've seen one here (and the photograph I posted is by far the best I've managed of one).


Shi Jin
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Thursday, 31st May, 2012; Wenyu River, Chaoyang district, Beijing

The sound of yapping dogs had woken me up at 4.30am The idea of cycling down to the paddies in time for first light crossed my mind; but was trumped by the idea of getting more sleep.

My next decision - some hours later - was a tougher one. Should I maintain my "no-twitching in China" rule [it's a long story]; or break it for a chance to see one of my most-wanted birds, which was on MY local patch?

I looked again at the "MEGA-ALERT" message on my phone.

25 years of China birding and not a single twitch... even refusing to go after a pair of spoon-billed sandpipers on Happy Island even when I was actually on the island when I heard the news. Because? Because one day I wanted to find my own...

So, surely, my resolve could hold for this!

After a few seconds thought, I texted back the message:

"On my way".... "...be there in 10 mins."

I grabbed my bins, camera, and car keys. And was off.

The drive there was like going back in time.

Funny to be thinking again about the London to Cley twitch 19 years and one day ago (in time to see the Pacific Swift before and after a walk to Blakeney Point to see a Desert Warbler).

Even funnier to have Bruce Springteen's Born to Run playing in my head as I overtook a bendy-bus and a cement-mixer truck.

"Sprung from cages out on Highway 9
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected
And steppin' out over the line,
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young
'Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run...

I was there in 9 minutes.

I didn't see the bird, but that's not the point.

The point is, I remembered why I used to love twitching.

Seeing the bird was always the icing on the cake.
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What's more, thanks to Terry, I was able to see and photograph my first Little Owl in Beijing:

404 Little Owl Wenyu River, Chaoyang district, Beijing


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Wenyu River paddies, Chaoyang district, Beijing.

May round-up of birds seen on my local patch, that extends about 1 mile along the Wenyu River by about 2 to 3 hundred yards.

12 visits there in the month (carbon-neutral on 11 visits... ie cycled there). Most visits were for 2 hours, and a few up to 4 hours. Estimated time there is 30 hours.

Visited on May 3, 6, 7, 8, 14, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28, 29, and 31.

1 Pheasant
2 Ruddy Shelduck
3 Mandarin Duck
4 Mallard
5 Eastern Spot-billed Duck
6 Eurasian Teal
7 Little Grebe
8 Yellow Bittern
9 Von Schrenck's Bittern
10 Night Heron
11 Eastern Cattle Egret
12 Chinese Pond Heron
13 Grey Heron
14 Purple Heron
15 Great White Egret
16 Little Egret
17 Kestrel
18 Amur Falcon
19 Eurasian Sparrowhawk
20 Eastern Buzzard
21 White-breasted Waterhen
22 Baillon's Crake
23 Moorhen
24 Coot
25 Black-winged Stilt
26 Grey-headed Lapwing
27 Pacific Golden Plover
28 not-so-Common Ringed Plover
29 Little Ringed Plover
30 Kentish Plover
31 "Wenyu Snipe" (snipe sp. showing characteristics of Latham's)
32 Pintail Snipe
33 Common Snipe
34 Spotted Redshank
35 Common Redshank
36 Common Greenshank
37 Green Sandpiper
38 Common Sandpiper
39 Temminck's Stint
40 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
41 Dunlin
42 Whiskered Tern
43 Rock Dove
44 Oriental Turtle Dove
45 Spotted Dove
46 Indian Cuckoo
47 Eurasian Cuckoo
48 Little Owl (just beyond the "paddies patch")
49 Beijing Swift (The BBBC spilts A. pekinensis from A. apus)
50 Hoopoe
51 Great Spotted Woodpecker
52 Grey-headed Woodpecker
53 Brown Shrike
54 Black-naped Oriole
55 Black Drongo
56 Azure-winged Magpie
57 Oriental Magpie (The BBBC spilts P. sericea from P. pica)
58 Daurian Jackdaw
59 Oriental Crow (The BBBC spilts C. orientalis from C. corone)
60 Large-billed Crow
61 Eastern Great Tit
62 Swallow (no barns in Beijing)
63 Red-rumped Swallow
64 Fan-tailed Warbler (The BBBC prefers not to use Squeeky-wheel Cisticola and other silly names)
65 Chinese Bulbul
66 Pere David's Bush Warbler (possibly showing characteristics of Locustella davidi suschkini aka "Peter Suschkin's Bush Warbler")
67 Lanceolated Warbler
68 Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler
?? "Wenyu Grasshopper Warbler" (locustella sp. with characteristics of Middendorff's)
69 Oriental Reed Warbler
70 Black-browed Reed Warbler
71 Dusky Warbler
72 Radde's Warbler
73 Yellow-browed Warbler
74 Chestnut-flanked White-eye
75 Crested Myna
76 White-cheeked Starling
77 Chinese Song Thrush (singing)
78 Bluethroat
79 Red-flanked Bluetail
80 Daurian Redstart
81 Siberian Stonechat
82 Brown Flycatcher
83 Taiga Flycatcher
84 Tree Sparrow
85 Forest Wagtail
86 Grey Wagtail
87 Manchurian Wagtail
88 Green-backed Wagtail
89 Western Yellow Wagtail
90 Citrine Wagtail
91 White Wagtail
92 Richard's Pipit
93 Blyth's Pipit
94 Olive-backed Pipit
95 Red-throated Pipit
96 Buff-bellied Pipit
97 Oriental Greenfinch
98 Chinese Grosbeak
99 Tristram's Bunting
100 Chestnut-eared Bunting
101 Little Bunting
102 Rustic Bunting
103 Chestnut Bunting
104 Black-faced Bunting
105 Pallas's Reed Bunting
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Bummer Steve . . . the anthem of all failed twitchers: U2's I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Nice one Mike.

On the subject of U2 song-names and failed twitches, here are a few more:

"Another Day"
"Another Time, Another Place"
"Disappearing Act"
"Shadows and Tall Trees"
"So Cruel"
"Some Days Are Better Than Others"
"Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)"
"Where Did It All Go Wrong"

And U2 songs to play after a successfull twitch:

"First Time, The" !"The First Time"
"Instant Karma!"
"Miracle Drug"
"Moment of Surrender"
"Original of the Species"
"Rise Up"
"Sweetest Thing"

U2 songs to be played/sung/hummed on the way to a twitch:

"Are You Gonna Wait Forever?"
"All I Want Is You";
"Fast Cars"
"Hallelujah (Here She Comes)"
"Heaven and Hell"
"In a Little While"
"One Minute Warning"
"One Step Closer"
"Out of Control" (EP version"
"Race Against Time"
"She's a Mystery to Me"
"Stay (Faraway, So Close!)"

U2 song after a successful twitch and then hearing it's an escape:

"Zoo Station"


Shi Jin
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