A Visit to China (with a little birding on the side) – Part 1

Barbara and I have long wanted to visit China to see the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors, Lhasa and some of the other important historical and current points of interest.  When the Iowa State University Alumni Association sent us an invitation to join one of their sponsored China tours, intended for up to 24 participants, we signed on immediately.  This was not a birding tour, but as with all my travels, I maneuvered things a little so that I could look for at least some of the more common birds at the destination.  The primary maneuver this time was to arrive a couple of days early at the starting point of our tour, Beijing.  So, although the tour was not to commence until May 31, 2013, we left from Detroit on May 27th and arrived in Beijing on May 28th.

A few years ago I enjoyed a great experience of immersion birding for three weeks in India with a group sponsored by Wings and their European partner, Sunbird.  The leader of the group was Paul Holt, who did a great job.  Coincidentally, he lives in Beijing and when I contacted him to ask if he could give me a day of his time, he said yes.  Therefore, on the day after our arrival in Beijing, he and a driver met us at our hotel at 5:00 a.m. and we drove north from the city to the area of the Miyun Reservoir, one of the water sources for Beijing.  A full day of birding yielded about 45 species in total, of which about 20 were new for me.  Among the new lifers that Barbara was able to photograph were Vinous-throated Parrotbills, 


Oriental Reed Warblers


 and Yellow-billed (or Chinese) Grosbeaks. 


Other sightings on this one-day outing were Common (Ring-necked) Pheasants, Chinese Spot-billed Ducks, a pair of lingering Mandarin Ducks, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Gray-headed Woodpeckers, both Indian and Eurasian Cuckoos, Spotted Doves and Oriental Turtle Doves, great and surprising looks at a cooperative Eastern (Brown-cheeked) Water Rail, Ruddy Breasted Crakes (heard only), Common Moorhens, Amur Falcons, Little, Great and Cattle Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Chinese Pond Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons, Yellow Bitterns (heard only), a Brown Shrike, Eurasian, Red-billed Blue and Azure-winged Magpies,


Large-billed Crows, Black-naped Orioles, Black Drongos, Yellow-rumped Flycatchers, White-cheeked Starlings, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Zitting Cisticola, Lanceolated Warbler, Black-browed Reed Warblers (skulking, and heard only), Yellow-browed Warbler (heard only), Eurasian Tree Sparrows (by the thousand), a difficult to find pair of Forest Wagtails, well seen, Grey-capped Greenfinches, and late migrating Chestnut-eared Buntings.

We were returned to our Hotel Sofitel Wanda Beijing in time for a little rest and another successful dining out on our own experience at an inexpensive mall restaurant.

The next day, May 30, we slept in and found some good coffee at a nearby Starbucks.  We then took a taxi to Yuanming Yuan, often called the Old Summer Palace.


We were the only non-Asians there and it was a very pleasant outing along ponds, gardens and ruins.

We had no trouble finding a taxi back to the hotel (taxis in Beijing are plentiful and inexpensive).  We dined at a local KFC, hoping to recognize the menu items.  That evening, with some assistance from our very helpful concierge, we taxied to the Peking Opera for an evening of classic Chinese opera.  We enjoyed the experience very much, but the music takes some getting used to.  Tomorrow we meet our group.  Very surprisingly, there are only 2 other couples.  That the tour was run with so few participants is somewhat surprising.  It turned out very well, however, because of the good company and excellent guide.



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