Beijing offers ‘world-class’ birdwatching, local amateur
birder Terry Townshend says as he drives us out to Miyun Reservoir for a day of
‘twitching’. He’s not exaggerating: we see no fewer than 68 types of bird over
the course of one day, including one of the rarest in China, if not the world.
Earlier this year, the unassuming Jankowski’s bunting caused quite a stir after
reappearing in Beijing municipality for the first time in the history of the
People’s Republic of China. They were last seen in Beijing in 1941 at the
Summer Palace, when two specimens were caught and killed.
Once common in
Siberia, North Korea and China’s northeastern region, it’s now thought to be
extinct in Russia, its numbers unknown in North Korea and just thirty birds
were counted in northeastern China in 2012. Habitat destruction is believed to
be the main cause of decline.
Its rather plain appearance perhaps doesn’t help
conservation efforts. The clearest distinguishing feature on the brown bird is
the dark spot in the centre of adults’ chests, giving it the Chinese name liban
which means ‘chestnut-patterned bunting’.
It’s a thrill to see some of them
just a couple of hours away from downtown Beijing. Through binoculars they’re
actually quite jazzy, teasing us with a flash of their chestnut chests before
jumping down into the grass where they spend 99 percent of their time. It’s
also not that often you spot a bird with its own Just Giving account.
stalking the elusive bunting, so many other birds fly overhead, underfoot (we
pretty much stand on a sleeping eagle owl, which quickly takes off, unfurling
its six-foot wingspan) or paddle past that even if you don’t see the
Jankowski’s bunting before it heads back north soon, you’re still going to see
a whole lot of birdlife. ‘Miyun is like a service station for birds,’ says
Townshend. There’s around 50 migrating species passing through in spring,
meaning that on a good day in May you could easily see 100 species. Townshend’s
personal best is 115.
The area immediately around Miyun Reservoir is protected
– even farming has been stopped recently. This has created more scrubland,
which the birds clearly enjoy. With the massive South-North Water Transfer
Project already causing the reservoir’s water level to rise, however, much of
this land could disappear again as the level rises 10m.
Even with no birding
experience, heading out of the city, even at 4am, is a fantastic way to get a
total change of scene. The views are stunning and the birds put on quite a show.
If Miyun is a bit on the far side, Townshend recommends the Olympic Park and
Botanical Garden as other decent places to marvel at our feathered friends.
Other birds we saw:
- Eagle owl
- Rough-legged buzzard
- Beijing babbler
- Golden eagle
- Baikal teal
- Chaffinch (a big deal in Beijing, apparently)
For more information on birdwatching in and around Beijing, check out birdingbeijing.com.