Great to get your message.
I must admit, I haven't been to any of the places you mentioned yet. I have
only been in Beijing for 5 months and work has kept me a virtual prisoner.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel (hopefully not just an
oncoming train), as I will probably take some time over December / January
to have a look around. Although it may get to minus 20 in Beijing, there
are plenty of spots south of here that should yield some good results.
I too take my binoculars wherever I go and yes, the sparrows and pigeons are
I went to the Temple of Heaven here in Beijing last weekend and saw the
Black-billed and Azure-winged Magpies. I have also seen a Large
Cuckoo-shrike on the outskirts of the city (about 3 months ago).
On the northern side of the city, on the way to the Great Wall at Mutianyu,
we crossed a bridge over a wide but shallow river where we saw a Grey Heron.
The golf course where I have played twice (also on the north side of the
city)provides some good opportunities. So far I have seen another Grey
Heron and heard numerous common cuckoos.
With regard to the songbirds that you saw, I can only offer a guess since I
did not see them. If you want to send me a fuller description, I will make
every attempt to solve the riddle for you. Based on what I have seen in my
own neighbourhood, I would suggest that they were a Laughingthrush. The
three that come to mind are Hwamei (Garrulax Canorus), Red-tailed
Laughingthrush (Garrulax Milnei) or Red-faced Liocichla(Liocichla Phoenicea
- my choice). As I said, these are only suggestions based on the birds I
have seen in cages in my own neighbourhood. I will attempt to get one of my
Chinese friends to find out from an owner what the birds are. When I was at
the Temple of Heaven last weekend, there was an old Chinese gentleman there
who had one of these birds on his hand. He was letting tourists feed the
bird a small amount of seed from their own hands while pictures were taken.
It was only when I moved to have a better look, that I realised the bird had
a small chain around its leg which was attached to a small stick. I must
admit that although this practice may seem barbaric to us, the bird did look
healthy and very happy singing and eating.
I went to Hong Kong in May to pick up my Resident's Permit and stayed at The
Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay. Imagine my surprise when, on the second
morning, I opened the curtains to see a pair of eagles?/sea-eagles? soaring
about 250-500 metres from the hotel, out over the bay. The reason for the
question marks is that I did not have my binoculars and even after having
studied the Field Guide to the Birds of China for what seemed like forever
and having many arguments with myself, I am still not convinced of the
identity. Having pored over McKinnon and Phillips, I was convinced that it
was a Steppe Eagle, based on size, colour, flight, wing features until I
read that, according to their guide, all reported Hong Kong sightings of
this eagle are "now regarded as doubtful".
Oh well, one of life's mysteries. I plan to go back to HK next May and try
I did attempt to contact someone up here who advertised in a weekly magazine
under the name of 'Beijing Birder' and who suggested that he was trying to
get people together to go on birdwatching outings. Unfortunately, 'no
answer was the stern reply.'
Jack, I hope I have been of some help and interest and if you like, I can
pick you up a small book called 'Birds of China - including Hong Kong' and
send it to you. It would be no trouble. it is a small photographic guide
to some of the more common birds of China (about 60 pages) and is
co-produced by John McKinnon (of Bird Guide fame) and Nigel Hicks.
All the best
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