Beijing Birds and Other Wildlife

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Before my first trip here, my advisor told me I wouldn’t see many birds in Beijing. Boy, was he wrong! I was only just starting to get interested in birds last time I visited, and at that point I didn’t have a field guide, so I didn’t pay much attention to birds I couldn’t easily ID. I saw a Black Swan, a Yellow Bittern, and a Common Pochard at Yuanmingyuan. And there are Eurasian Magpies everywhere here along with Rock Doves and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. That was all I got last time.

Yuanmingyuan

Big lily pads

Big lily pads

But I wasn’t going to come here again and not try for more, so the first morning after I arrived, I went birding in Yuanmingyuan (also called the Old Summer Palace) (It was cheaper to fly in a couple days before my host was here than to come in the day before. Also gave me a chance to adjust to the time zones a bit.). YMY was my favorite place in Beijing last time. There are man-made lakes filled with lotuses and ringed by giant weeping willows everywhere. There are people-heavy areas where you can do touristy things like rent a paddle boat to go out to an island, explore a maze or the ruins of an amazing giant water clock that was destroyed in a war with England, buy coconuts that they chop the tops off of and stick a straw in, or buy lotus leaf hats that look straight out of a fairy’s wardrobe. There are also less-frequented paths, though.

Something tells me the authorities here don't really pay much attention to security...

Something tells me the authorities here don’t really pay much attention to security…

I’d briefly visited some of them in 2010, but I was there with friends who were less interested in walking around the less well-kept areas. This time, those less-frequented areas are the ones I spent most of my time in. While walking around, I saw groups of people walking toward where I was with binoculars and cameras. They turned out to be the Beijing Bird Watching Society. They visit parks together every Saturday and I happened to pick the park they were going to that day!

A very small portion of the BBWS seen here. One of the fun parts about walking through YMY is the ruins that appear out of nowhere.

One of the fun parts about walking through YMY is the ruins that appear out of nowhere.

A fellow birder had recommended trying to meet local birders to me before and he was right. Birding with locals makes things so much easier. Plus you meet some fun people that way. There are quite a few birds on my list that I would of had to spend hours mulling over or not been able to ID at all if they hadn’t been there. And they knew where to go to see birds, so there would have also been many I just plain wouldn’t have seen. It turns out my five-year-old East Asia guide really isn’t up-to-date with its range maps. There were some birds we saw that, according to it, wouldn’t have been in the area this time of year. There was even one which it had listed as an accidental (no range map given at all), which the birders said was actually common in Beijing.

There was a bird map hanging on a wall to tell people where common species like to hang out.

There was a bird map hanging on a wall to tell people where common species like to hang out.

I wish Google had pulled up guides written in Chinese when I searched for them. One of them had a guide that looked much better and covered all of China. And since it had species names in both Mandarin and English, it would have been good to carry around on top of the ones I brought (I had to buy one for Beijing and one for Guangdong [intended for use in Hong Kong, so it doesn’t have range maps…blah] because there isn’t a good China-wide field guide written in English. I’d just hoped that Hohhot was close enough to where my East Asia map cuts off that there wouldn’t be birds not listed there. There ended up only being one I had to search the internet to find out about.) But they gave me a brochure of common Beijing birds and I bought another detailing the different warbler species from them (their warblers are hard to ID like our flycatchers; they all look the same). It’s in Chinese, but it has pictures and the scientific and English names, so it makes a great companion piece to my field guides.

We hit some really fun spots. The Northern Hobbies were out in force and actively feeding. We watched one pair zoom along the surface of the lake in front of us catching fish, then eating them on the wing high over our heads. One of them zoomed right toward us before veering off close to the last minute. That was cool. My camera was having a hard time focusing on them they were moving so fast. I ended up only getting one fuzzy, distant shot that wasn’t worth keeping.

Azure-winged Magpie

Azure-winged Magpie

Oriental Greenfinch

Oriental Greenfinch

White-cheeked Starling

White-cheeked Starling

Female Little Grebe

Female Little Grebe

Olive-backed Pipit. Pipits have a fun habit of wagging their butts up and down as they walk.

Olive-backed Pipit. Pipits have a fun habit of wagging their butts up and down as they walk.

Male and juvenile Little Grebe

Male and juvenile Little Grebe

Azure-winged Magpie

Azure-winged Magpie

I think this was one of the Asian Brown Flycatchers

I think this was one of the Asian Brown Flycatchers

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

A dragon lying in ruins

Sleeping Dragon

A very happy fu dog

A very happy fu dog

Baby Chinese Stripe-necked Turtle (also called Chinese Golden Thread Turtles)

Baby Chinese Stripe-necked Turtle (also called Chinese Golden Thread Turtles)

Any idea what kind of freshwater fish this is?

Some sort of snakehead

There are two fish in this picture---an eel and a tiny goby smaller than its head

There are two fish in this picture—an eel and a tiny goby smaller than its head

IMG_3202

One of the lotuses the park is famous for. Last time I was here it was July and most of them were in bloom. It was gorgeous.

One of the lotuses the park is famous for. Last time I was here it was July and most of them were in bloom. It was gorgeous.

IMG_3194 IMG_3190 flower1 IMG_3158 IMG_3125

Peking University

I briefly visited the Arthur M. Sackler Art & Archeology Teaching Museum on the Peking University campus just outside YMY before heading back to the hostel.

They had a very curious way of displaying framed art. They were angled too close to horizontal. Having them in display cases would be a good thing if the cases are climate-controlled. Otherwise, it's an odd choice. I hope those fluorescent lights have UV filters on them...

They had a very curious way of displaying framed art. They were angled too close to horizontal. Having them in display cases would be a good thing if the cases are climate-controlled. Otherwise, it’s an odd choice. I hope those fluorescent lights have UV filters on them…

Some sort of female Golden Silk Orb-Weaver on the campus There were several males in her web, some the empty skins of previous mates and others hopeful mates.

Some sort of female Golden Silk Orb-Weaver on campus. There were several males in her web—some the empty skins of previous mates and others hopeful mates.

Fragrant Hills Park

Life finds a way

Life finds a way

The next place I went was Fragrant Hills. For being a montane place further away from the city center than Yuanmingyuan, it was decidedly non-birdy. I only got two lifers (Coal Tit and Yellow-bellied Warbler). The relatively small number of other species were all repeats from YMY.

It turned out to be quite fun for mammals and invertebrates, though. I was particularly excited to see a Beech Marten. It’s the third wild mustelid I’ve seen (the others being a River Otter in Florida and a Least Weasel in the middle of Washington, D.C.) I thought I was going to get to see a chase and kill when it climbed up a tree a Siberian Chipmunk was hiding in, but it seemed more interested in just hanging out and looking around. It was still lots of fun to watch.

Some sort of cute little beetle that turned to look at my camera. Any idea what it is? It's not in any group I'm familiar with.

Some sort of photogenic little beetle that turned to look at my camera. Any idea what it is? It’s not in any group I’m familiar with.

And there were three species of squirrel in the park. A brown type about the size and shape of our gray squirrels (not sure what species), a black morph of a Eurasian Red Squirrel, and Père David’s Rock Squirrels. At one point, I was sitting on a wall writing birds down in my notebook when passing people gasped and exclaimed something. I looked up and they were looking at the wall next to me. There was a Red Squirrel running at me. It stopped when I looked at it and jumped off onto the walkway, then ran a circuit around the crowd before hopping up on my other side. I assumed it was asking for food and figured I’d give the crowd a fun photo. I pulled out a grape and the squirrel took it out of my hand with absolutely no fear, then hopped into the trees to go eat it somewhere.

Pere David's Rock Squirrel. Chubby-looking little things.

Pere David’s Rock Squirrel. Chubby-looking little things.

I thought that was a one-off until another one ran up to me while I was eating lunch. It was actually so fearless that it ran up to my little grocery bag that was on the ground, put its paws up on it, and looked inside. When I offered it a grape, though, it sniffed it and ran off. It did a circuit around the path and came up on my other side just like the other squirrel. I couldn’t get my camera out in time, but it sniffed my grape and snubbed it again. By this point, a woman had walked up the path and set something green on the wall for it. But this was the most picky squirrel I’ve ever seen because he sniffed it and ran away into the trees.

Seen here: The only picky squirrel in existence

Seen here: The only picky squirrel in existence running away from food

Giant squirrel feeder. Tiny human for scale.

Giant squirrel feeder. Tiny human for scale.

Drinking water

List

I’ve included what few additional species I was able to ID on the train ride to Guangzhou here. The first 47 were in Beijing. 25 lifers (one on the train to Guangzhou)!

  1. Eurasian Magpie
  2. *Red-billed Magpie
  3. *Azure-winged Magpie
  4. cardinal-sized birds with wide heads leading to small abdomens (seen from train; not ID’ed)
  5. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
  6. Rock Dove
  7. Eurasian Collared Dove
  8. Spotted Dove
  9. Oriental Turtledove
  10. Large-billed Crow
  11. *Oriental Greenfinch
  12. *White-cheeked Starling
  13. Marsh Tit
  14. *Yellow-bellied Tit
  15. *Eastern Great Tit
  16. *Coal Tit
  17. *Willow Tit
  18. *Red-billed Chough
  19. Black-crowned Night Heron
  20. *Little Grebe
  21. Great Crested Grebe
  22. *Arctic Warbler
  23. Yellow-browed Warbler
  24. *Black-browed Reed warbler
  25. *Radde’s Warbler
  26. *Red-breasted Flycatcher
  27. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  28. Common Kingfisher
  29. Red-rumped Swallow
  30. *Northern Hobby
  31. *Amur Falcon
  32. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  33. Grey-headed Woodpecker
  34. *White-backed Woodpecker
  35. *Chestnut-flanked White-eye
  36. Common Blackbird
  37. *Chinese Bulbul
  38. White Wagtail
  39. *Olive-backed Pipit
  40. *Black-faced Bunting
  41. Chinese Pond Heron
  42. bittern sp.
  43. *Siberian Stonechat
  44. *Eyebrowed Thrush
  45. Mandarin Duck
  46. Eurasian Moorhen
  47. *Yellow-bellied Warbler
  48. Little Egret
  49. Intermediate Egret
  50. Great Egret
  51. Grey Heron
  52. Mallard
  53. *Collared Crow

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