Sunday, December 28, 2008

In Newtonhill, an unconfirmed report of...

Waited until it got light this morning, but by 9.30 realised it wasn't going to get light. So went out in the half light with drizzle and... dead. Not a tweet. After pottering around the Mill Garden and Honeypot Lane to little effect, I took a whim to go round Cran Hill, where for 9/10 of the way round the highlight was being attacked by a muzzled dog with its owner telling me 'he can't hurt you!' Then as I got back to East Cammachmore, the bushes were alive with 30+ Yellowhammers, 15+ Reed Buntings and a couple of Eurasian Tree Sparrows, among the usual Greenfinches and Common Chaffinches. As I was looking up at the trees, 3 Whooper Swans flew over, and even called. Not quite a patch tick, but not far off (I heard some flying over one bnight a few years ago). I just read that though and I's typed 'Whopper Swans' which is actually a better name. Changed in now.

Then a couple, with a couple of big dogs, came up the lane, asked me if I were a 'bird man'. I replied that yes, I am indeed a bird man. They asked me if we get Marsh Tits around here, and I said, as the authoritative birdman, that no we do not. They told me that they had a couple of Marsh Tits coming to their feeders. We discussed Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, House Sparrows and they were very familiar with them and saw them all the time. They knew that Willow Tit was a confusion species and we discussed that. Anyway, there was enough there to convince me to go for a look, and I shivered away an hour seeing lots of Coal Tits at their feeders. The Marsh Tits have apparently been around all the time, including this morning, from 8.00 to about 9.30 am, then move off for the day. So assuming I do't drink any more of this Glenmorangie, I'll be there early doors tomorrow. Will let you know how i do. Thet also get Great Spotted Woodpecker in their garden, and mentioned Green Woodpecker, which would be another patch tick. Just occurred to me that I should have discussed Common Blackcap with them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

You would not believe what happened to me.

I was away a bit. And how. Without a breath of a lie. I was investigating a strange humming noise coming from a corner of the wardrobe, and fell through a hole in the space-time continuum. During my varied adventures I saw many strange sights and brought back many things from the future that I may tell you about one day over my secular Christmas. So, no harm done, except on my timescale I was gone around 80 years, and I come back to you now as a decrepit old man, and will probably turn to bones and dust before long. At least this way I fit in better wandering around downtown Newtonhill, which is what I did today.

And at the top of the St Anne's track, my good run of Common Reed Buntings continued, with 5 in the knotweed. Strangely, in the future they are just called 'buntings' and are actually used as bunting, strung between lampposts on the anniversaries of King Charles's abdication and the election of President Peaches.

More Long-tailed Tits (Bushtits) today. Down the burn, and then 6 in willows at the top of the cliff steps, 2 of which were flycatching. Amazing how they've gone from patch rarity to commonality this winter - they are certainly British birds moving around for a change. We even had 6 on the peanuts.

5 Rock Pipits and a Meadow Pipit feeding in cow field - I hope we get back to the glory days of the flock of 60+ Rock Pipits there. Some Ruddy Turnstones on the beach, but not a lot happening offshore. To be honest, the future was much more exciting, and I can't go on. Damn this temperate climate with its 'seasons' and its lack of winter action. In the future there are no seasons - basically it's just warm and wet all the time, but the birding is easier as everywhere under 400 m altitude is under water, so every birder picks a mountaintop, holds out a twig and sees what lands on it. It's how I got Common Fiscal onto the future Oceania list, but that's another story.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Band of Dunnock Brothers

Proud to be a Dunnock. I've mentioned this blog before, but you have to go watch their latest video. Possibly the most surreal birding documentary ever produced. Watch out for your web filters. Take a French dictionary with you.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chinese Democracy

Blimey, it's St Andrew's Day, so like any true Scotsman (I am in fact 1/4 Scotch by adoption) I went to the Church of St Andrew in Kiev and celebrated in the traditional way by supping a ancient-recipe cream-of-dioxin soup. Must say it hasn't done a whole lot for my complexion. I'm starting to see why St Andrew's Day never caught on like other famous saints like errr... St Martin. There was a St. Martin apparently. Roman guy, gave his coat away to a beggar or something. I gave my coat to Oxfam* and was never made a saint. There's no justice.

Actually, that's a lie... I never gave my coat to Oxfam. But it's the principle of the thing.

When I got back I engaged in the traditional St Andrew's day pastime of birdspotting. Forgot a biro, so I will have to regress through hypnotism to recall the events of the day. 1, 2, 3... and I'm under. The first thing I remember... I was covered in blood, there was a bright light and then someone smacked me... whoops, regressed too far. Fast forward 39 years. It was -3 C and icy with it, and the track alongside the Elsick Burn was hoaching with frost-addled birds, half mad with hunger and the other half mad with me for flushing them. And unusually, they were buntings - a mixed flock of ~12 Common Reed Buntings and 25 Yellowhammers. With the usual tommy titmice, Winter Wrens, European Robins etc. And a couple of Goldcrests. I don't remember anything else until the last drops of absinthe drained from my system, by which time I was on the clifftops scoping out to sea. The sea was pretty quiet, tbh, with the best action coming when an Atlantic Grey Seal refused to share its fish with an assembled audience of gulls (1 Great Black-backed, 12 Herring, 3 Common (Mew) and 1 Black-headed). Two Peregrine Falcons chased each other south, and a Common Buzzard soared past over the sea. A couple of Red-throated Divers went north, and there were a coupler of Guillemots (Common Murres) on the water with some Common Eiders. 2 Purple Sandpipers on the shore, with a few Eurasian Oystercatchers and Curlews.
After getting Snow Bunting on my patch list last week, they gave themselves up bigtime this week when a flock of 25 went north just offshore - obviously Aberdeenshire isn't cold enough for them.

There was other sundry stuff about, but there you go. Took the family to the Bervie Chipper at lunchtime, and then to the Christmas Fair to see Santa. In summary, it's wintery. Some local movement. I could have told you that without going on about my day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

All the best blogs are dying....

It's true. First Tim Allwood decides that it isn't worth the grief. Then Tom McKinney grinds to a halt in an ice-skid of expletives. It just goes to show that if you're got anything worth reading, the strain of writing it starts to tell. Expect this blog to be here a long time - it's no trouble at all :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Delicious and dangerous patch ticks.

Well what happened? This time last week we were trying to squeeze the last drops of Siberia out of the autumn. And then ka-boom overnight it was Siberia here. Newtonhill was transformed into something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a winter wonderland.

That said, I love it when the birds are fighting for their lives. And it brought me a garden tick in the form of one of these Long-tailed Tits that has been kicking around. I caught it pecking my fat balls (OOoooooohhhhhhh, matron!). Birding was otherwise disrupted by a) having to build a snowman

and b) having to sloosh out the carpets after Peter had spent the night vomiting copiously over everything I own, including the file of 'family memorobilia', from which I need to salvage as much as I can. Poor Lizzie is so vomitophobic that she came birding with me before lunch rather than sit in the same house as Peter. We didn't see a lot really, except there was a constant stream of Eurasian Skylarks flying over, going south. We met Matt, who said there was a Snow Bunting in the stubble field with a big flock of Skylarks. And wowsers! It was a big flock of Skylarks - about 300 birds, and with another 300 or so flying off, my A-level Further Mathematics suggsts that's about 600 birds in all. Plus all the others going over without stopping. And yes, one of the birds flying south was the, or another Snow Bunting. Patch tick. Gooooodddd. Better... as we walked back home, among the Black-headed Gulls, Starlings and sundry other things going overhead, a Eurasian Woodcock! Another patch tick.

So, I spend most of the afternoon messing about. But I came across some old drawings. In my youth I tried to be an artist. Which was a shame, cos I'm no artist, but I could be a draftsman. Anyway, here's some rare birds I tried to draw.

1991 Waxham Lark Sparrow. Obviously not a stowaway.

1991 St Andrews Chimney Swift, with a Common Swift.
A very unconvincing representation.

1989/90 Holkham Red-breasted Nuthatch.
With the passage of time, this is the only one that works for me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Note to self...

... new notebook. My current one keeps dropping pages out - they don't make them like they used to. And I keep sellotaping pages back in. It's a recipe for disaster. There's no integrity there. I feel a huge Meinertzhagen fantasy revision of my entire note keeping system coming on. Anyway, yesterday

16th November 08
I popped over to Cape Verde and got a nice Razo Lark on the lawn of my hotel. Oooppps, there goes the Meinertzhagen thingy again. Stop it. Really, I was in Newtonhill, seeing... more Long-tailed Tits (5) Coal Tits, and Goldcrests, though tbh not as many Coal Tits and Goldcrests as in the past couple of weeks and I think maybe the autumn is finally coming to an end. Not before I score one more Sibe, hopefully. Whereas on last week's walk round the patch I got maybe 50 Goldcrests, today it was certainly less than 20.

Along Honeypot Lane at the Retreat, which was to be fair quite busy with Chaffinches and Blue Titmice and such, there was a single male Blackcap at the feeders. 3 Redpoll sp. flew over the track to the beach, and at the bottom of the track I met a fellow Newtonhill birder tick - Matt Parsons, who also had seen nothing very interesting today, but who had seen one of 'my' (or quite possibly a totally different one) Pallas's Leaf Warblers on Tuesday. There was a single Common Stonechat up the cliff sides. A quick look offshore (dead, 4 Northern Gannets and a few gulls of 4 spp hanging around the lobster boat) down there.
And then to the allotments (also very quiet, save for Common Blackbirds, European Robins, Dunnocks) but meeting 2 other Newtonhill Birders - a very interesting trend - who also saw 'my' Pallas's on Tuesday. I went down to Muchalls, but things just got worse, though there were a few fresh-in looking Redwings

We've got a mouse/mice in the loft. Heard 'em last week, so I dusted a trap off and put it up there armed with peanut butter. For a day or so the mouse was eating the peanut butter without setting off the trap, so I finally put it on an absolute hair trigger and 5.30 am we heard 'ker-snap' and victory ... WAS MINE!!!!! When I went to collect the pathetic corpse later I felt guilty cos it was only a wee teenage mouse - about 2/3 full size - trying to get out of the cold etc. I noticed/presumed that it had nearly got away again, because the peanut butter was gone. But just in case loaded up the trap and left it a few hours. When I noticed the peanut butter gone again. So now I knew what was happening. We have some sort of General Haig-type mouse in the loft, sending the young underage mice over the top to die in the jaws of the trap, then sucking up the spoils and the glory of victory (OK, the peanut butter) for himself. So I rammed some chocolate and more peanut butter onto the trap, the idea being that they would have to tug real hard to get the choccy and ka-boom for them. A bit later... heard the ker-snap again... went up to get my prize but lo! and blimey! Not only was there nothing in the trap, but they'd taken the choccy and peanut butter and, believe me dear reader... DISMANTLED the trap! My mouse had taken out the hinges that held the spring loaded and rendered it useless. I can see I am up against a worthy opponent. And I have no more traps. So extras have been ordered, via the miracle of ebay, and I'll have another go. There may have been a point to this story but it has temporarily escaped my mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I love my job

No really, I do. Especially when i have to walk into Old Aberdeen to do some tutorials and over the sound of Nightwish* being pumped directly into my head, I hear and then see a flock of 90-100 Bohemian Waxwings in the treetops at Hilton Street.

*'For the [schrrrr] heeeaaaarrrrttttt, I once [schrrrrrr] haaaaaadddd etc'.

Strangely, in the most bizarre bit of immigration-related legislation I have heard of for a while, there is a good chance that all University employees are in future going to have to account for where they are at all times. So where were you at 9.45 on Thursday morning?' 'I was between assignments, watching some immigrants in the treetops on Hilton Street... is that good enough?'

The Waxwings had gone when I returned at 12.15. Probably caught a bus:

Waxwings: 'We'd like -'
Bus Driver: 'Shut it. You're barred!'

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I love you, you love me...

...let's go out and kill Barney
with a baseball bat and a 4 x 4
no more purple dinosaur.

There's a small resident population of Barn Owls around here that you see very occasionally, maybe once a year - usually flashing by on the A90 at night. Well there's one less of them now, as it was dead by the side of the road on the way into work this morning. That was me on the way to work, not the Barn Owl. No wait, i've told that joke before...
Barn Owl: 'I'd like a ticket to a place with lots of voles please'
Bus driver: 'Not you as well. Just f*** ***!'

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bluuuuueeeee Cow. Blue Blue Cow

6 Bohemian Waxwings in Newtonhill this morning, waiting for the bus to work. That's me waiting for the bus, not the Waxwings. Can you imagine...
Waxwings: 'Prrrp - we'd like a ticket to a place with lots of red berries please'

Bus driver: 'P*ss off, this isn't an episode of Blue Cow, you know.'

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Full of Eastern Promise

Friday 7th November 08

With some good weather... actually quite appalling weather, but from the east - I sacked the papers, as the Punkbirder parlance would have it and went out for a walk in the wind at Newtonhill. A pretty stiff southeasterly, as it happened. And immediately a brownish
Common Chiffchaff hanging around with 2 Goldcrests in the bushes at the top of the track spoke to me of promises of eastern delights with a hint of Ukhtinskaya gulags. Unfortunately the other birds I saw subsequently spoke to me of back garden peanuts and wasted afternoons. Highlights were a party (presumably the same party as last week) of at leasrt 6 Long-tailed Tits in the bushes down the track, and another Common Chiffchaff. Both Chiffies called and neither was Siberian sounding, tbh. So in spite of Pallas's Warblers at Blackdog and Bridge of Don, there was nothing new here today.

Sunday 9th November 08.

Torrential rain and wind from the south last night. The weather is playing my song. Initially very quiet, with small numbers of
Coal Tits, Goldcrests, Blue Tits in the gorse etc along the burn. I wandered up what from now on I am compelled to call 'Honeypot Lane', the path between the Mill and the playpark. This is where the Wood Warbler and Yellow-browed Warblers were earlier this autumn. And now... Pallas's Leaf Warbler. Above my head initially, as soon as I saw the dumpy shape and the silky white underparts I knew what it was going to be, and then watched it for 20 minutes as it fed among the sycamores and coming down into the bracken to within 3 m of me, much as the Y-bW had done. Cripple cripple. It flew down into the Mill garden to allow me to make notes then it flew back up with a couple of Goldcrests for round two. Quite a lemony bird - green up top with a fresh clean yellow super etc and white covert bars. When it flew between branches or hovered in front of sycamore leaves it was showing off its creamy yellow band-rump. It went off down the bank and I thought it was worth my while walking 5 m further to check the bushes at the bird table in the Retreat garden. There was a Goldcrest and a Coal Tit and then who should pop its head out than the Pallas's Warbler, but it couldn't be the same one and this was actually a slightly different colour, with a kind of creme brulee face - warmer super and even darker green on top. There were two birds, and I kept on this one for 5 minutes before checking that bird one - lemoney cricket - was still present down the bank. Top hole.

Bird 1

So I phoned them in to BirdGuides, and continued down the track to the beach. There had been a few new arrivals and the place was hoaching with Common Chaffinches, Blackbirds and European Robins. And the party of Long-tailed Tits, 10 of them today. When I checked the BirdGuides website to savour the Pallas's glory(!) I noticed that also mentioned was a Hume's Leaf Warbler and Firecrest from Muchalls, yesterday afternoon! wtf!!! I mean wtf!!!!!! Nothing like getting the news out is there? :-) Anyway, worth a look, so I went down to Muchalls, calling in at the allotments, though it remains stubbornly Radde's free there. 'In the gully between the railwayy viaduct and the sea', said the BirdGuides news on Humey & Firey ltd., which should be quite easy as thereare only two trees, one willow and 1 alder, both head high, in there. No birds at all, and very few (Robins, tits) in the valley above the viaduct. No birders either.

Still, not to worry. Pallas's Warbler regains its place as commoner than Common Treecreeper in Newtonhill, and I got some cracking views of the bird so good an international committee of the UN actually named this blog after it. But that's a story for another day.

btw don'tcha just love it when this happens.

And finally...

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Friday 31st October 08

Clobbered I was... ooh yes, by hailstones the size of gobstoppers. Gobstoppers, I say! Ow ow ow owwwwww!!!! And all I was trying to do was enjoy as pleasant seawatch and pick up on some of this diver/phalarope/fly-by Pallas's Warbler action that became a feature of the past couple of days.

I came home from work early... headed out. Chilly, but a flock of 15 Long-tailed Tits, less than annual here, working their way up through the back gardens in St. Michael's Road spoke of migrant promise. Goldcrests were everywhere - at least 9 in Mill Garden alone, and constant peeping - kept the old Pallas's radar online, but without success. I was pishing away at the bushes down the track to the beach and a Great-spotted Woodpecker (just about annual here) popped his head out.

16 Ruddy Turnstones on the beach, then out for a seawatch and I set up my scope to see the hailstorm from hell (a cold icy hell, I guess) approaching fast and hard from the north, and I heard the hailstones pinging off my tripod and off me, and they got bigger and bigger until I hid under my coat and waited for it to ease. When it did, I looked out and my feet were encased in a drift of slushy ice. Out to sea it was a bit crap - a few Northern Gannets bravely ploughing through, and a cowardly Red-throated Diver going south.

After a bit of that, I set off home. Back in St Michael's Road, I heard a familiar call and, looking up, a Bohemian Waxwing was flying over. First of the year, and when I got home and checked BirdGuides it turns out they were pouring in that afternoon. Also when I got home I looked like I'd been playing dodgeball with air pistol pellets.

Sunday 2nd November 08.

Nice day, zero chance of hail. 'Very good' chance of Pallas's but although there were still a few Goldcrests and Coal Tits around, there seemed to be a lot less than a couple of days ago, and it seems as though many birds have scarpered. Mildly amusing things included a Common Reed Bunting in the Knotweed by the burn, and a (the same?) male Common Blackcap inthe elder bushes at Mill Garden. The sea was once again empty, apart from a few gulls messing about. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew up from the Community Park towards Enchanted Garden, and later another one in St.Michael's Road. Pretty swish. As I was walking along the coastal fields (5 Eurasian Skylarks, 2 Meadow Pipits) a female Common Stonechat that popped out unexpectedly onto the wire fence was stubbornly hibernicus rather than maurus, and she smugly introduced me to her mate - a rather saturated hibernicus adult male. No stringy Siberians for me today.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Little Auks are coming....

... is the title of the midget porn spin-off of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. You heard it here first. Looks like being a chilly week. But autumn perhaps not quite over yet, judging by the number of Goldcrests (too many to count) still wandering round Newtonhill this morning. There were a feew Fieldfares passing through during the week, and today at the Mill Garden a single Common Blackcap in 'Blackcap bushes' - a clump of elders where they always turn up eventually. Come to think of it, this has been a very poor year for Blackcaps.

The only other 'migrant' was a single Common Treecreeper along honeypot lane between the Mill and the Retreat. Probably a local bird, but they are less than annual in the village.

Out at sea, no Little Auks, but a few Northern Gannets making their way north, and a stream of Common Gulls going south. Last week's GN Diver has scarpered. Nothing really happening at all, though by 11 am there was a constant trickle of Eurasian Skylarks heading south. They know what's coming.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's me. At least, i think it's me.

Guest blogger today... the Tophill Low Amur Falcon.

Hi everyone. It's me. At least, I think it's me. Maybe if I hang around here for a month I might be retrospectively identified from photos. I'm moulting my underwing coverts. It's OK, you can still tick me.

So, I'm another species that was moving through Beijing when Martin was there that was vagrant in the UK at the same time.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Thursday 16th October
The day I was heading off from my holiday among the Yorkshiremen... y'know, they're like Geordies but without the brains. Martin was off work and went round Newtonhill, which was hoaching with newly arrived Goldcrests (30+) and also Coal Tits (many), both of which are signs that it's time to start looking for Pallas's Leaf Warblers. The promise of goldcrest-peeping bushes wasn't backed up with hoards of other migrants, though a Common Chiffchaff at the top of the track from St Annes counts.

Friday 17th October.
Saw the first sizable push of Redwings heading inland at dawn. And a fresh horde of Goldcrests.

The theme was continued on...
Saturday 18th October
when I was surprised to find, while I was breakfasting on dragonflies in Martin's kitchen - a tired and greasy room that need the McKinney touch, that Martin had gone out for a run. I hope he catches a cold. When Martin got back he was trying to explain breathlessly to me what he had seen in the early morning chill. And as they took him away in the ambulance he finally explained - he'd heard a small flock of Long-tailed Tits in the bushes by the A90 (less than annual in Newtonhill), and also a couple of Redpoll sp in willows at Cran Hill.

Later, Martin had a total field* day, photographing things even I wouldn't eat. I was going to say a field mouse day with my witty communist-bloc humour, until Martin pointed out they were wood mice. He wood!! Heh heh heh. Sometimes I crack myself up. Ooops, I laughed so hard I just moulted a bit.

Sunday 19th October

was my last day as Martin's guest, and frankly I'm glad. Those kids of his... I'd rather die in mysterious circumstances in Dumfries and Galloway and then be forgotten about and left in the loft. That's what happened to my great grandfather. At least, I think so. I was doing one of those 'trace my family' tv programmes, hence the trip to Yorkshire, and also I mistook Tophill for Thornhill, where grandpa died. That's why I hung around so long, waiting for Google Maps to open. I thought I wasn't going to be able to fly today though - one of those days that never quite gets light, and Martin was wandering around in the gloom and the wind with very little prospect of seeing anything. Still plenty of Goldcrests and Coal Tits everywhere, White-throated Dipper on the burn and Peregrine Falcon (I'm a bit scared of those) over Cran Hill. Offshore, Martin saw an adult and a juvvy Red-throated Diver just off the breakers, and a herring-gull-dwarfing adult Great Northern Diver (Common Loon) with them. Another sp that is less than annual here, apparently a cause of some satisfaction to Martin, the saddo.

As he was looking at that, a
Merlin flew south, harrassed briefly by a Common Gull. Not scared of either of them. It all added to the wintery feel. Also offshore, a Great Skua, but little else. A tour of the village garden while I was waiting for my taxi to the airport produced the obligatory Common Chiffchaff for Martin, which surprised him by bursting into a few seconds of song!! I have that effect on all the girls!! Ha hah hahhh!!! Then Martin suggested it was probably a boy. How I hate him.

Even the allotments had nothing but Goldcrests, Dunnocks, Common Chaffinches and European Robins. Look at the place...

Allotments, with sea beyond and next stop Denmark. It really should have more migrants.

Anyway, that's all from me. How you English say... byeeeeeee!!!!!! Martin is on the toilet with an attack of explosive diarrhoea. How surprised and delighted he will be when he sees I have written his wonderful blog for him. And much better than he ever could.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back birding the patch

Blessings of Comrade Chairman Mao on Remembird - I remembered (remembird) to put a new battery in this morning before heading out, and aren't I glad I did...

It seemed like a perfect, not too cold, October morning with a hint of southerly breeze - ideal for hoovering up all those Yellow-browed Warblers that would be flycatching in the sunshine, or so I thought. Was frankly, though, a bit wintery to start with, with several hundred Pink-footed Geese heading south, and apart from the usual peeping of tit flocks, chatting European Robins and the usual residents, not a lot happening. Until I checked the path running up to the swingpark (where the Wood Warbler was last month) when I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the sycamores at the top. Ran up the slope, turning Remembird on, and saw the bird pretty well and got a few recordings - some snippets below - try and ignore the persistent rumble of the A90.

You can listen to it here and here

The first file

The second...

Note the high pitched squeaks and them the 'classic' tseooiiiu' calls. But also the variation in the calls (second file) - easy to see on the sonogram, not so easy to hear.

Compare to this bird that I recorded at Yeyahu Lake outside Beijing on 26 Sep 08

Which you can listen to here

the Y-bW headed down the slope, and so did I. It came closer when I gave it some blasts of YbW from my phone, and I saw it pretty much the best I ever saw one, down at bracken level.

Other things going on this morning... apart from generally busy tit flocks including several Coal Tits, always a sign that birds are on the move, a couple of small flocks of Mistle Thrushes heading south, a constant trickle of Meadow Pipits and Eurasian Skylarks, and also a surprising number, 20+, of Barn Swallows lingering.

At the Allotments, which really looked like it should be overrun with Red-breasted Flycatchers and Dusky Warblers, there was a single Common Chiffchaff. I reallycould not see any green or yellow in the supercilium or upperparts of this bird, and actually it looked quite Siberian, but the call was unequivocally Common.

At the Secret Garden* a Eurasian Siskin, and 2 redpoll spp flew over, calling.

*'Secret Garden' is the wrong term... it's not very secret, being right next to the path and visible through large iron gates. However although it is outside the village, walled, apparently attached to no house, and you never see anyone in there, it is always immaculately cut and groomed. Spooky. From now on I will call it the 'Enchanted Garden.' Also, there are pixies living there - that's always a bit of a giveaway.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Birding in China pt 2 - the listy bit

Birds what I saw in China, Chengdu and Beijing, 21st – 29th September 2008.

The list sequence follows MacKinnon and Phillips, which was based on Sibley and Monroe (oooh, bad choice!). Species level taxonomy follows my personal whim.

Daurian Partridge Perdix dauurica

A couple of coveys of 3-4 birds at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Golden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus

Two males at the Chengdu Panda Research Base may have been plastic.

Green Peafowl Pavo muticus

Wandering birds at the Chengdu Panda Research Base will almost certainly have been plastic.

Bewick’s Swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii

Several birds at Yeyahu Wetland reserve.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea

Four birds in flight at Yeyahu Wetland reserve.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos

Flocks at Yeyahu Wetland reserve and Sahe Reservoir

Falcated Duck Anas falcata

One at Yeyahu Wetland reserve.

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker Dendrocopus hyperythrus.

One juvvy for several days in the park opposite Beijing Grand Continental Hotel.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major.

At least one for several days in the park opposite Beijing Grand Continental Hotel.

Common Hoopoe Upupa epops

One in trees at Sahe reservoir.

Feral Pigeon Columba livia

Occasional birds on rooftops in Beijing.

Speckled Wood Pigeon Columba hodgsonii

One at Chengdu Panda Research Base.

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis

Not that common, but a few birds around Sahe Reservoir and suburban Beijing.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Not uncommon in and around the outskirts of Beijing.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Individuals at Yeyahu, Sahe and Summer Palace.

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus

One bird at Sahe Reservoir.

Oriental Honey-buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus

Two birds soaring over Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Black-eared Kite Milvus migrans lineatus

2-3 birds over Yeyahu Wetland Reserve

Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus

One ringtail hunting Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos

One cracking male hunting over Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus

One bird over the outskirts of Beijing on way to Ming Tombs.

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo

At least three birds, all of which I think were this species, over Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga

One bird over Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni

Bit of a surprise was an adult male over Yeyahu Wetland Reserve

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus

One over the Grand Hotel, Beijing, and another at Sahe Reservoir.

Amur Falcon Falco amurensis

4 birds hunting at dusk at Sahe Reservoir.

Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo

One bird flew through Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

One bird at Yeyahu, up to 250 at Sahe Res, and another singleton at the Summer Palace.

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus

One bird at Sahe Res.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Maybe 5 birds at Sahe Res.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

One adult in flight at Sahe Res.

Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus

One bird in the park opposite the Grand Continental Hotel, Beijing, for one day.

Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus

A cracking monster of a bird at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus

Common throughout Beijing in groups, also at Yeyahu, Sahe, Summer Palace.

Black-billed Magpie Pica pica

Common throughout Beijing in groups, also at Yeyahu, Sahe, Summer Palace.

Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchus

Small groups at the Palace Museum, Beijing, also at the Great Wall.

Siberian Rubythroat Luscinia calliope

A cracking male in the park opposite the Grand Continental Hotel, Beijing.

Siberian Stonechat Saxicola rubicula maurus/stejnegeri

Potential family groups in the park opposite the Grand Continental Hotel, Beijing, and at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

White-cheeked Starling Sturnus cineraceus

One group of around 20 birds at the Palace Museum were the only ones I saw.

Great Tit Parus major

In scrub alongside the Great Wall, and also Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus

In scrub alongside the Great Wall.

Black-throated Tit Aegithalos concinnus

Common in Chengdu, even in city centre.

Sand Martin Riparia riparia

One bird (?sp.) at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Flocks not uncommon over Beijing, at the park, Summer Palace, and suburban areas.

Red-whiskered Bulbul Pyconotus jocusus

One bird in Chengdu Panda Research Base.

Light-vented Bulbul Pyconotus sinensis

Very common in Chengdu.

Asian Stubtail Urosphena squamiceps

One bird in reedy edges and trees at Summer Palace.

Black-browed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

One bird in the park opposite Beijing Grand Continental Hotel, and another apparently recently fledged juvvy in reeds at the Summer Palace.

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus progregulus

Two migrants in the park opposite Beijing Grand Continental Hotel.

Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus

These were very common, and in most places when it appeared there were no birds about, eventually a Y=b W call would ring out from the treetops. In the park opposite Beijing Grand Continental Hotel every day, Ming Tombs, several birds at Yeyahu, Sahe – reliable.

Two-barred Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides plumbeitarsus.

One bird in the park opposite Beijing Grand Continental Hotel.

Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi

Very common in suitable ground-based habitat, and often quite vocal. In the park opposite Beijing Grand Continental Hotel, and also several at the Summer Palace.

Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis

Several flying south over Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus

One with a flock of Black-throated Tits ina park in Chengdu.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus

What can I say. Absolutely everywhere throughout Beijing, flocks of 200+ at times.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba

One alboides at Chengdu Panda Research Base, and a flock of 4-5 ocularis at Sahe Reservoirs.

Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus

One flew over calling at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve.

Yellow-billed Grosbeak Eophona migratoria

A small party at Longevity Hill in the Summer Palace area.

Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla

Very common at Yeyahu Wetland Reserve. Not seen elsewhere.

Birding in China - part 1 - the wordy bit.

This is the first part… a kind of poorly written narrative. Have included some photos but the full albums are available here and here. Part 2 will follow – the full bird list.

22nd September 2008.

Found myself in ChinaChengdu even… after a series of spectacularly uncomfortable flights. Birding opportunities in Chengdu were limited, though by a stroke of luck there was a fetid little park, complete with twisted trees, puddles of sewage and piles of rotting vegetables, just across the road from the hotel. So for those of us (i.e. me) prepared to buy travel insurance and try to cross the road, there were the delights of small flocks of Black-throated Tits, Pale-vented Bulbuls, and a single Japanese White-eye.

A couple of hours at the superb panda Research Base, just to the north, would have repaid ignoring the pandas and going for bush-bashing, but casually I also got a single Red-whiskered Bulbul and a Speckled Pigeon. I’m assuming the Green Peafowl wandering about were ornamental, but I’m not sure about the 2 Golden Pheasants I flushed from a bamboo stand. The best real bird, by far was a cracking alboides White Wagtail. First drew attention to itself by giving a call that was loud and shrill – immediately different from familiar alba and yarrellii birds – then showing itself to be a personata-lookalike, though with a black back and shiny, extensively white wing coverts.

23rd September 2008.

To Beijing. I must admit that my expectations of birding Beijing were pretty low. Basically I was told ‘Tree Sparrows’. And that although there may be a few hotspots where I might catch up with a few more species, not to get my hopes up. The only trip report I had was one by Keith Martin from November 1997 (you can see it here, which did however give a bit more cause for optimism, without going overboard.

By happy chance, there was once again another park just opposite my hotel next to the Olympic Stadium. Only this time the road was crossable without risking near-certain death. The park had a security guard and a sign saying ‘Residents – permits only’ or similar, but I assumed an air of self-confidence and walked right in. Immediately it was obvious that although Beijing may be crap for resident birds… this was autumn and migrants were coming through. In the tiniest possible clumps of trees and scattered rosebush ground cover I winkled out 2 Yellow-browed Warblers, a juvenile Brown Shrike, 3 Radde’s Warblers, Rufous-bellied and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and then a male Siberian Rubythroat popped out from a low hedge and started feeding in front of me. All genuine migrants – it was just like your average autumn day in Newtonhill. Nearly. There were also groups of Azure-winged Magpies (and Black-billed) kicking about noisily, and hordes (50+) of Tree Sparrows. Mao was quite right to suppress the Tree Sparrows – counter-revolutionaries, the lot of ‘em. I resolved to return to this park.

Makes you wonder about the decline of House Sparrows in British cities, and how everything we think we know about them must be wrong, Basically, if flocks of 200+ Tree Sparrows can thrive in central Beijing, the only thing wrong with House Sparrows in Kensington is that they are lazy.

24th September 2008.

I have to echo something that Keith Martin alluded to in his trip report. If you only have a couple of days in Beijing, and you waste them birding, you are a petit-bourgeouis intellectual who can and should be put to work cleaning out the public toilets in a hostel of leprous tramps for a couple of years, before you are shot. There is absolutely no excuse for it. There is so much to see here, and today was my day for Tian Anmen Square, Forbiddien city etc. But first I spent the dawn in ‘my’ local park, seeing Yellow-broweds and Radde’s etc as yesterday, but also a party of 3 Siberian Stonechats working their way over the tops of the rosebushes. One of them was an ‘obvious’ pale, supercilium-ed one with white throat and creamy underparts and a pale ground colour to the streaked mantle, but the other two were much more subtly different from European Stonechats – in fact they had dark heads and deeper orangey breasts and frankly I would have overlooked them in UK.

A word on Field Guides. The AC Black one is not published yet, so I was using MacKinnon and Phillips ‘A Field Guide to the Birds of China’ (OUP). Before I set off, I looked at the pictures of birds where I already knew what they looked like, and wasn’t too impressed. In fact I got the impression I’d have trouble identifying my granny using that book. In the end though, it was OK. At least, I managed to identify everything I saw well. Some of those warblers could have been trouble though, if I’d spent longer in the south.

So I spent today in Tian Anmen Square and proclaimed the Peoples’ Republic. Forbidden City (Palace Museum) was impressive for all sorts of reasons that weren’t birds. Apart from Tree Sparrows, there were some parties of Azure-winged Magpies, Large-billed Crows and a single flock of White-cheeked Starlings, which turned outto be the only ones I saw.

The wording says: 'On this site, on 4th June 1989, nothing happened'.

25th September 2008.

If the urban centre of Beijing was not a birding paradise, the Great Wall at Qinglongqiao was worse. I expected maybe, up in the hills, there’d be funky buntings and warblers scrounging sandwiches in the car park and lurking in the bushes, but my experience was very like Keith Martin’s – some discrete peeping noises from unseen birds in bushes below the wall may have been White-browed Chinese Warbler (Chinese Hill Warbler), but the only passerines I saw was a distant flock of tits that contained Great Tit and Long-tailed Tit, and possibly others. Nor was it a raptor-fest. Only a few Large-billed Crows breaking the skyline.

26th September 2008. Beijing Xinhua Tours

Today was my full day’s birding. Via the magic of the internet I found a company Beijing Xinhua Tours who for $120 would give you a car and a driver for the day and visit a couple of birding spots outside Beijing for the whole day. I decided to give it a go. At 6 am my guide turned up at the hotel as promised – ‘Nancy’ – and off we went. Nancy was great – very helpful, chatty, spoke perfect English, knew exactly where to go – but she didn’t know anything really about birds, as will become obvious. We went up to Yeyahu Lake, to the northwest (‘Wild Duck Lake’). Sounded promising. And there… some ducks - a small number of Bewick’s Swans, flocks of Mallards, and a motley collection of domestic geese. Nancy asked if a passing flock of birds were pigeons, but I said know they were ducks, Mallards. And Nancy was astonished and not a little amused… ‘So can ducks fly??’. Aaaaahhhhhhha… we’re starting to find our level here. Nancy didn’t have binoculars either, so she borrowed mine and I did the bird guiding bit. To her credit, Nancy was interested in finding out what birds were around, so she could help people out a bit more next time. I’m going to post my day list to the company, just so they know.

Actually I got the impression that we were a bit early in the Fall for a wildfowl spectacular, but there was still, in the end, plenty to be looking at. There was a single Falcated Duck, and there may have been Spot-billed Ducks out there, but they were just too far away. We took a walk round the Lake, me showing Nancy the birds. Mostly it was wet rushy vegetation, with a bit of open water. Funky buntings – very shy, but in the end we got excellent views of Little Buntings, flushes a covey of Daurian Partridges, and a cracking HUGE Chinese Grey Shrike, flushed from the bushes and perched for several minutes on a bush in the middle of the marsh. Eurasian Skylarks were flying over south, calling, and a single Sand Martin.

While this was happening, there was a bit of a raptor-fest going on, or at least there were a few about. Several Black-eared Kites, Oriental Honey-buzzards, some apparently japonicus Common Buzzards (on size they were not Upland). The size comparison occurred when one of them started mobbing a Greater Spotted Eagle. A ringtail (clearly) Hen Harrier was hunting, as was a male Pied Harrier, a Eurasian Hobby and surprisingly, a male Lesser Kestrel, a little bit out of range perhaps. I felt a big distant falcon was probably a Saker, but it never reappeared.


Nancy borrows my binoculars as a Red-throated Pipit flies by...

After a visit to the Yeyahu Wetland Museum -‘The museum contains a great number of sample birds and animals which once lived in this area’… I kid you not – we drove to Sahe Reservoirs.

I think the specimens died of shame

Sahe Reservoirs looked good, but from the causeway the flocks of wildfowl were a bit distant – need a scope. What was within binocular distance were groups of Little Grebes, over 250 of them in total. Also a bit distant, but in the trees and on the shoreline were 5 egrets. On range, I was expecting these to be Great Egrets, but au contraire they were Little Egrets – no doubt, with the black bill, black legs and yellow feet, as well as looking small. According to MacKinnon and Phillips, these are vagrant to Beijing, but this must be nonsense – I assume Little Egrets have expanded north in the Eastern Pal as well as the Western. A Black-crowned Night Heron flew past too. Real birding – a group of 4 ocularis White Wagtails, migrants, on the dam, and a Common Kestrel and 4 Amur Falcons hunting as the sun started to head down. Plenty of birds around by now, including a Common Hoopoe perched openly in a tree. Nancy liked that one.

Beijing Xinhua Tours then let themselves down a bit by taking me to a silk factory and outlet store where I got the opportunity to purchase duvets and ties. Not really my thing.

27th September 2008

Back at my Beijing Park early morning, where a funny-sounding presumed Radde’s Warbler skulking in the low undergrowth turned out, when it showed, to be a Black-browed Reed Warbler. A surprisingly obvious identification. Also new for the trip was a brief front-on view of of what was either Dark-Sided or Asian Brown Fly. It’s starting to feel a bit like Shetland. Excellent views of a real Radde’s Warbler among the rosebushes, and a very vocal Yellow-browed. The I bumped into a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler feeding among the willows, and it flitted off round to the next bush where it introduced me to its mate, another Pallas’s, also a Yellow-browed and a Two-barred Greenish Warbler feeding together. Ker-ching!

28th September 2008

My casual birding list was doing OK, but I was tempted by Keith Martin’s promise of Blue Magpies and Vinous-throated Parrotbills at the Summer Palace, so I got on the subway and headed thataway. I don’t think Keith Martin went on a Sunday morning though, and by the time I got lost and wandered round suburban Beijing for an hour before finding the place, it was nearly nine o’ clock and people were pouring in – 25000 visitors a day. I tried to bomb round the back and find a ‘quiet’ place, but it soon became obvious that there wasn’t going to be a quiet place and if I didn’t slow down and start in earnest I wasn’t going to get any birding done at all here. When I did that, there were some things to be seen, albeit not much. The tall trees around Longevity Hill held the usual Azure-winged and Black-billed Magpies, also some Yellow-billed Grosbeaks, and a Mynah in flight that I guess was likely to be an introduced Hill Mynah. Round the west end of Kumming Lake, there were some reedbeds and lotus beds with a bit of habitat, and a large number of Tree Sparrows. I bumped into 4-5 Radde’s Warblers, and while trying to get views of one of these flushed a dinky little Asian Stubtail, which paraded in front of me on low branches. Stonking super. Of Blue Magpies and Parrotbills, alas, none.

Habitat OK at Summer Palace...

... but from a birding perspective you can see the problem.

If you are birding the Summer Palace, I recommend getting there at 7, queuing until it opens and then bombing to Longevity Hill ASAP.

29th September 2008.

Last look round my park before heading home – nothing new. Black-browed Reedies, Yellow-browed and Radde’s Warblers. I tried to stuff a few in my bag to bring home, but it was already writhing with baby Pandas and there wasn’t room.

Overall I got the impression that Beijing would indeed be pretty shit for birding, outside migration season. However at the end of September every patch of bushes and puddle of sewage gave a chance of migrants. The birds weren’t exactly throwing themselves at me, but a visit that didn’t involve having to attend a conference would pay off better.

'My' Park