Thursday, 1 December 2016

China Wetlands (Birdquest) Tour - 9th November (Day 6)

We were up at the usual 05:00 for a 06:00 breakfast and then back out to the area of the Yancheng Crane Nature Reserve known as Reed Factory. It was another overcast and rather gloomy day and as we drove to site it began to drizzle. As we approached the parking area we could see good numbers of Red-crowned Crane on the cut rice paddies. We approached the birds as close as we dare in the bus and enjoyed good views of a superb flock of 24 Red-crowned Crane and we spent some time taking photographs of these birds. We then birded the fields from the now familiar tracks seeing much the same as on the 7th November, highlights being Black-faced Bunting (three), Reed Parrotbill (six), Chinese Penduline Tit (one), Red-throated Pipit (one), Tundra Bean Goose (40), Merlin (three) and Hen Harrier (three). It was fairly quiet compared to our visit on the 7th and so we headed back to where the bus was parked. During the morning we had noticed large numbers of crane dropping into the fields by the bus and by the time we had returned we had counted a total of 62 Red-crowned Crane. Back at the bus there were several 100 Common Crane and 44 Red-crowned Crane and we enjoyed the spectacle for a while – Red-crowned Crane really is a stunning species.

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Around 20 Red-crowned Crane are shown in this photograph, roughly 1% of the world population - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane and Common Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Red-crowned Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Common Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Common Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Common Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Common Crane - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Black-faced Bunting - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Tundra Bean Goose - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Tundra Bean Goose - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

 Reed Parrotbill - Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng

Visitor Centre at Yancheng Nature Reserve, Yancheng - I guess its meant to look like a crane?

It was time to head south to Dongtai, a journey of around 110km. We passed through an industrial landscape of turbines and pylons over arable land and scattered fishponds – not an entirely appealing landscape and one that appeared largely devoid of wildlife and wild areas. We arrived at Dongtai at 11:15, the tide was low and a vast expanse of sandflats extended before us and the birds were no more than distant specks. We birded the saltpans and sandflats seeing Black-faced Spoonbill (two), Dalmatian Pelican (43) and many hundreds of wader including Curlew, Dunlin, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand-plover (two), Grey Plover, Oystercatcher and Avocet (50). Gulls included small numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull of the race heuglini or Heuglin’s Gull and Arctic Herring Gull of the race mongolicus or Mongolian Herring Gull. A flock of 42 Dalmatian Pelican were fishing in a channel in the mudflats, frequently disappearing from view entirely only giving themselves away when their wings were raised so that they appeared over the top of the banks of the channel. They were clearly catching good numbers of fish as they hunted in synchronization. As the tide was so low we decided to return tomorrow morning when the incoming tide would bring the birds nearer.

Hen Harrier - Dongtai, Yanghou

Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-faced Spoonbill, Grey iron, Heuglin's Gull, Mongolian Gull, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand Plover and Dunlin - Dongtai, Yanghou

Dalmatian Pelican - Dongtai, Yanghou

Heading south, Hannu spotted an Amur Falcon perched on roadside power lines so a quick stop on the dual carriage way allowed us good views o as it repeatedly dropped from its perch into the grass. This was a juvenile bird with distinctly rufous fringed upperparts and quite a surprise to see, I believe that it has only been recorded once on this Birdquest tour previously. Arriving in the town of Yangkou, we had a quick pit stop to gather some snacks before heading to a long strip of woodland growing atop a sea defence. This area of woodland is known by birders as the ‘Magic Wood’ due to it being an excellent location for seeing migrant passerines, mainly in the Spring (see Mike Buckland's superb account of birding here in the spring to gain an understanding of why it is called Magic Wood - Travels with Birds). We arrived here at Magic Wood at 14:00 and birded it until around 17:00. The woodland is around 2km long and no more than 50m wide following the length of the sea defence. The birding here was excellent and we recorded at least four Red-flanked Bluetail, six Pale Thrush, four Naumann’s Thrush, ten Dusky Thrush, six Chinese Grosbeak, two Rustic Bunting, ten Yellow-throated Bunting and two Olive-backed Pipit. But the highlights were a cracking 1st winter male Japanese Thrush and even better, two White’s Thrush, one of which gave good views as it perched in the trees – a dream bird. We left for our hotel pleased with the days birding and looking forward to a couple of beers - albeit rather watery Chinese beer.


Amur Falcon - Dongtai, Yanghou

Amur Falcon - Dongtai, Yanghou

Amur Falcon - Dongtai, Yanghou

 The Streets of Yanghou

Boats in the harbour at Yanghou


Magic Wood - Yanghou

The scene that welcomes migrants to Magic Wood, Yanghou

Red-flanked Bluetail - Magic Wood, Yanghou

Red-flanked Bluetail - Magic Wood, Yanghou

Red-flanked Bluetail (different to above bird) - Magic Wood, Yanghou

The stunning White's Thrush, a dream bird of mine and one of the 
highlights of the trip (no more will I feel quite so gripped 
by the British records) - Magic Wood, Yanghou

1st winter male Japanese Thrush, by now the light was pretty bad - Magic Wood, Yanghou

Life Birds;
  • Black-faced Spoonbill
  • Amur Falcon
  • White’s Thrush
  • Japanese Thrush

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

China Wetlands (Birdquest) Tour - 8th November (Day 5)

After heavy rain for much of the night we woke to a dry but very windy morning, after a 06:00 breakfast we headed out into the field to the fish ponds south of Qingyanggang, Yancheng from 07:00-11:20. The weather was bitterly cold and I had certainly underdressed for the conditions. We spent all morning scanning from various locations around the fish ponds. The site was an expansive area of reedbeds, fish rearing saline lagoons and canals and in places was a little reminiscent of the North Norfolk coastal areas – but with a far more industrial feel. There were incredibly numbers of duck present. Commonest were Mallard, Gadwall, Chinese Spot-billed Duck and Falcated Duck with probably over one thousand of each present, with hundreds of Pintail and Wigeon. There were also tens each of Tufted Duck, Pochard, Goosander, Eurasian Teal, Mandarin Duck, Shoveler and Red-breasted Merganser. But the prize amongst this spectacle was Baikal Teal and we eventually found around 50 distant birds mixed with a vast flock of mainly Mallard and Pintail and then, nearby, a much closer male with Chinese Spot-billed Duck, Mallard and Pintail. Other highlights of the morning included Eastern Marsh Harrier, Osprey, a roost of at least 150 Black-crowned Night-heron in the reedbeds, Oriental Stork (five), Red-crowned Crane (two), Purple Heron, Tundra Bean Goose (40) and Caspian Tern. Gull watching produced around 30 Arctic Herring Gull of the race mongolicus which is sometimes split as Mongolian Herring Gull plus a single 1st winter Black-tailed Gull. While the birding was great, I was pleased to return to the hotel for lunch just so I could put a few more layers on!


Pallas's Bunting, male - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng


White Wagtail of subspecies leucopsis (1st winter male) - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

White Wagtail of subspecies leucopsis (1st winter male) - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Arctic Herring Gull of race mongolicus (from left to right, adult winter 2nd winter and first winter) - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Arctic Herring Gull of race mongolicus (first winter) - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Mixed ducks, mainly Gadwall and Falcated Duck - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Mixed duck, mainly Mallard and Pintail with Eurasian Teal and Baikal Teal
 - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Baikal Teal - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Daurian Redstart - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Common Crane (two adult and two juvenile) - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Eurasian Spoonbill - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Eurasian Spoonbill - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

White-cheeked Starling - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Oriental Story - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Oriental Story - Qingyanggang Fish Ponds, Yancheng

Fish Market - Qingyanggang, Yancheng

After lunch we birded the gardens of the Agricultural Institute and some forest on the edge of Qingyanggang until around 17:00. The gardens were thickly vegetated and while a little slow going provided some nice birding and shelter from the biting winds. Here, Light-vented Bulbul were abundant and we found a nice fruiting tree with numerous Light-vented Bulbul, stunning Chinese Grosbeak and a single female Hawfinch. A short way along the path a pair of Red-flanked Bluetail and a pair of Mugimaki Flycatcher entertained us in close proximity for some time. Other birds here included Yellow-browed Warbler (four), Pallas’s Warbler (two) and Goldcrest (two). A small flock of thrush contained three Dusky Thrush, six Naumann’s Thrush and a single Chinese Thrush but these quickly departed before allowing prolonged views.

Chinese Grosbeak, female - Grounds of Agricultural Institute, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

Chinese Grosbeak, male - Grounds of Agricultural Institute, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

Red-flanked Bluetail, male - Grounds of Agricultural Institute, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

Mugimaki Flycatcher - Grounds of Agricultural Institute, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

Mugimaki Flycatcher - Grounds of Agricultural Institute, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

Light-vented Bulbul- Grounds of Agricultural Institute, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

We then headed a few hundred metres back towards town to another small forest patch on the north side of the Nanyao River. This patch was fairly birdy and here the highlights were Red-flanked Bluetail (two), Yellow-throated Bunting (ten), Rustic Bunting (two), Black-faced Bunting (three), Olive-backed Pipit (four), Plain Thrush (two), Chinese Thrush (one), Vinous-throated Parrotbill (15), Grey-capped Woodpecker (two) and Grey-headed Woodpecker (one). After birding in this patch of woodland for around 1.5 hours it was time to head for dinner and after another feast of Chinese fare we crashed at around 21:00.

Red-flanked Bluetail - Woodland to north of Nanyao River, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

Yellow-throated Bunting - Woodland to north of Nanyao River, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

Plain Thrush - Woodland to north of Nanyao River, Qingyanggang, Yancheng

Grey-capped Woodpecker - Woodland to north of Nanyao River, 
Qingyanggang, Yancheng


Life Birds;
  • Baikal Teal
  • Black-tailed Gull
  • Chinese Grosbeak