Happy Island & Beidaihe: May Birdwatching trip to China.

by Jesper Hornskov

The Hebei coast by now needs little introduction: back on the birding world map since 1985 it is the best place to enjoy spring (and autumn!) migration in eastern Asia. Nowhere is it easier to catch up with all those vagrants to the Western Palearctic, and into the bargain you get a number of local endemics, endangered species, and several long-distance migrants which are considered potential vagrants to Europe.

Drawing on unequalled local birding experience the following itinerary has been carefully planned on a strict birds-first basis to ensure that we're in the right place at the right time.

Itinerary

DAY 01: Morning arrival at Beijing, China's capital. Afternoon birding/sightseeing, or if feasible transfer to Beidaihe.

DAY 02: Start birdwatching at Beidaihe.

DAY 03: Half-day visit to the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan, an hour's drive north of Beidaihe. Apart from seeing the Wall where it ascends the mountains on its way west away from the coastal plain, we shall search for Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Pere David's Laughingthrush, Godlewski's Rock and Meadow Buntings, Chinese Hill Warbler, Common Pheasant, and Daurian Redstart. All these are birds we're unlikely to encounter elsewhere on our trip, and if winds are favourable we may in addition see some raptors.

Scenically Shanhaiguan is on par with Badaling, the "usual" Wall site near Beijing, but it is far less crowded and a much better place to see the endemic species.

DAY 04: We'll start early for Happy Island, stopping a couple of times en route for birding. Having moved into our simple but adequate, dormitory-style accomodation we shall set out after lunch to explore the island .

Happy Island, now widely recognized as by far the most birder-friendly place on the E Asia flyway, is sized 1x2.5 kms. A range of habitat exist there: grassy-reedy marshy flats, thickets of scrub, rolling dunes, shrimp ponds, and a central wood adjacent to a derelict temple. The surrounding sea is shallow, with tidal mudflats that make up an important staging area for shorebirds and gulls. Great Knot and Asian Dowitcher are regularly present in their 1,000's, while the endangered Nordmann's Greenshank is annual. There are also at least three records of the enigmatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper, which we shall certainly attempt finding.

Relict Gull, another sought-after species, is seen most days (max 20-30 birds at this season) while the highly endangered Saunders's Gull breeds nearby and is seen daily (usually 5-20 birds per day, occasionally up to a hundred).

Each day will see a new set of birds as one wave of migrants follow another - during our two weeks on the island we shall expect two or three major falls involving large numbers of passerines. May 1997, for example, yielded day counts of c100 Brown Shrike, c50 Rufous-tailed Robin, c100 Siberian Stonechat, 25 Siberian Thrush, c500 Eyebrowed Thrush, c1,000 Dusky & c1,000 Radde's Warblers, c100 Little Bunting...

In addition, vagrants get caught up in the roving weather systems and turn up on the island, sometimes staying for several days: we regularly add species to Hebei's provincial list. Given the size of China's provinces this is the equivalent of finding national firsts in W Europe!... How about Japanese Night Heron, Fairy Pitta, Grey Bushchat, Blue Whistling Thrush, Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Golden-spectacled Warbler, or a flycatcher as exotic as Slaty Blue, Hainan Blue, Chinese Blue, Orange-gorgetted or Verditer, or a Russet Sparrow?

As the island is relatively small it is also the perfect place for anyone wishing to pursue special interests such as bird photography or regular wader counting.

DAY 05-18: Birdwatching at Happy Island.

DAY 19: After a final morning in the field we shall leave Happy Island and return to Beidaihe. Here we shall again stay at a comfortable hotel.

DAY 20: Birdwatching at Beidaihe. We'll concentrate on marshes and reed beds, a habitat type better represented here than on Happy Island and only now, late in the season, at its best. An early start is called for but we can expect some great birding: Yellow and Schrenck's Bitterns, Baillon's and Ruddy-breasted Crakes, Watercock, Lanceolated, Black-browed Reed, Oriental Great Reed and Thick-billed Warblers are frequently seen in good numbers. Scarcer species include the endangered Chinese Egret, Asian Yellow Rail, and Pallas's Grasshopper, Manchurian Reed and Blunt-winged Warblers. In the woods flycatchers of many species now dominate, along with Arctic and Two-barred Greenish Warblers, and we'll make a special effort to catch up with anything we may have missed earlier.

DAY 21: After some final hours in the field we'll return to Beijing for an overnight stay.

Depending on train schedules (not available at the time of writing) we may have time in Beijing for a bit of sight-seeing, or for a visit to the Friendship Store, the dollar shop of bygone days, for souvenirs. We'll seek out a good restaurant this evening and sample the famous Beijing Roast Duck (here in its native habitat!), and as we think back on some outstanding birdwatching in the course of three unrepeatable weeks knock back a shot or two of the local firewater

DAY 22: Departure.

*****

Tour price: approximately US$1,450.- (from Beijing).

The price is inclusive, covering land transport, all meals w/ tea, all accomodation, necessary paperwork, services of tour leader and drivers.

Not included are international flights, travel insurance, drinks, and anything strictly personal (eg visa fees, laundry, phone calls, any excess luggage charges, snacks).

Group size: 5-8.

Tour Start: Day 01 is expected to be Sunday 29 April 2001.

Accomodation: in Beijing and Beidaihe we'll stay in comfortable hotels with private bath/ toilet facilities. On Happy Island accomodation is perfectly comfortable if fairly primitive, with communal toilets & a somewhat erratic, solar powered shower set-up.

Food: At Beijing and Beidaihe a variety of delicious Chinese food is available. On Happy Island there is less culinary variety, but the food is both tasty and nourishing. It is recommended to bring some snacks (bisquits, chocolate etc) and perhaps Nescafe, obtainable in Beidaihe, for our stay on Happy Island.

Weather: Often changeable, with blue skies alternating with overcast conditions. It may rain in connection with fronts, but very rarely for more than a few hours at a time. Expect temperatures in the 10-25C range - a windchill factor must be taken into account.

Photography: We'll spend our time trying to see birds, but the keen photographer will find plenty of opportunity to make use of the often excellent light. Many birds are remarkably approachable - quiet stalks or wait-and-see tactics applied at a drinking place can be very rewarding.

Health: Anyone in general good health should find that acclimatization is achieved within a day or two of arrival, ensuring full enjoyment of the trip.

Essential equipment: Rainproof jacket; fleece jacket/ woolen sweater; longjohns; light hiking boots or sturdy sport shoes; wellingtons; woolen hat; gloves; sun hat; sun glasses; sunscreen lotion & ditto lip balm (protection factor 15-30 is recommended); some chocolate & other favourite snacks/ energy food; lozenges; water bottle (100C resistant); drinking mug; small torch; lighter; ear plugs (in case your room mate snores!); spoon & pocket knife.

General note: Though all possible efforts will be made to stick to the itinerary this may not always be possible due to circumstances beyond our control: a degree of flexibility is thus required, and participants must be a bit adventurous and willing to put up with the occasional discomfort associated with travel in somewhat remote & culturally alien areas.

Booking: for details on how to join, or for further information, please contact

Jesper Hornskov
Bei Ling Lu 4 Duan no. 1
Apartment 3-402
Beidaihe 066100
Hebei Province

Phone/fax +86 335 403 4587 E-mail: goodbird@public.qhptt.he.cn

Species list

P* = possible, for scarce/ vagrant species noted on at least one of my previous May trips. We are bound to see a number of these.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus

Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis P*

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo

Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris P*

Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis

Schrenck's Bittern I. eurhytmus

Cinnamon Bittern I. cinnamomeus P*

Black Bittern Dupetor flavicollis P*

Japanese Night Heron Gorsachius goisagi P*

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax

Little Green Heron Butorides striatus

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus

Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes P*

Little Egret E. garzetta

Intermediate Egret E. intermedia P*

Great Egret E. alba

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

Purple Heron A. purpurea

Black Stork Ciconia nigra P*

Oriental White Stork C. boyciana P*

Greylag Goose A. anser P*

Brent Goose Branta bernicla orientalis P*

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea P*

Common Shelduck T. tadorna

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata P*

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope P*

Falcated Duck A. falcata P*

Gadwall A. strepera P*

Common Teal A. crecca crecca

Mallard A. platyrhynchos

Spot-billed Duck A. poecilorhyncha zonorhyncha

Northern Pintail A. acuta P*

Garganey A. querquedula

Northern Shoveler A. clypeata P*

Tufted Duck A. fuligula P

Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca stejnegeri P*

Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator

Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhyncus

Black Baza Avecida leuphotes P*

Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus P*

Black Kite Milvus migrans lineatus

Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus (aeruginosus) spilonotus

Pied Harrier C. melanoleucos

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis schvedowi

Japanese Sparrowhawk A. gularis

Eurasian Sparrowhawk A. nisus

Chinese Goshawk A. soloensis

Grey-faced Buzzard Butastur indicus P*

Common Buzzard Buteo buteo japonicus

Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga P*

Osprey Pandion haliaetus P*

Eurasian Kestrel F. tinnunculus

Amur Falcon F. amurensis

Hobby F. subbuteo

Peregrine F. peregrinus P*

Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus

Yellow-legged Button-quail Turnix tanki P*

Water Rail Rallus aquaticus P*

Baillon's Crake Porzana pusilla

Ruddy-breasted Crake P. fusca

Asian Yellow Rail Coturnicops exquisitus P*

White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus P*

Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Watercock Gallicrex cinerea

Coot Fulica atra P*

Painted Snipe Rostratula benghalensis P*

Common Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus

Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta

Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius

Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus

Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus

Greater Sand Plover C. leschenaultii

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva

Grey Plover P. squatarola

Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris

Red Knot C. canutus

Sanderling C. alba

Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis

Temminck's Stint C. temminckii

Long-toed Stint C. subminuta

Pectoral Sandpiper C. melanotos P*

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata

Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea

Dunlin C. alpina

Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus P*

Broad-billed Sandpiper Limicola falcinellus

Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago

Pintail Snipe G. stenura

Swinhoe's Snipe G. megala P*

Asian Dowitcher L. semipalmatus

Woodcock Scolopax rusticola P*

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa

Bar-tailed Godwit L. lapponica

Little Whimbrel Numenius minutus P*

Whimbrel N. phaeopus phaeopus

Eurasian Curlew N. arquata

Far Eastern Curlew N. madagascariensis

Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus

Redshank T. totanus

Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis

Common Greenshank T. nebularia

Nordmann's Greenshank T. guttifer P*

Green Sandpiper T. ochropus

Wood Sandpiper T. glareola

Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos

Grey-tailed Tattler Heteroscelus brevipes P*

Turnstone Areneria interpres

Relict Gull L. relictus

Saunders's Gull L. saundersi

Black-headed Gull L. ridibundus

Brown-headed Gull L. brunnicephalus P*

Black-tailed Gull L. crassirostris

Common Gull L. canus P*

Vega Gull L. vegae

Yellow-legged Gull L. cachinnans P*

"barabensis" Gull L. #. barabensis [taxonomic placement in doubt] P*

Heuglin's Gull L. heuglini taimyrensis

Glaucous Gull L. hyperboreus P*

Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica

Caspian Tern S. caspia

Common Tern S. hirundo

Little Tern S. albifrons

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus

White-winged Black Tern C. leucopterus

*Rock Dove Columba livia [feral]

Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Red Turtle Dove S. tranquebarica P*

Oriental Turtle Dove S. orientalis

Spotted Dove S. chinensis P*

Large Hawk Cuckoo H. sparverioides P*

Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus P*

Common Cuckoo C. canorus

Oriental Cuckoo C. saturatus

Lesser Cuckoo C. poliocephalus P*

Oriental Scops Owl Otus sunia

Brown Hawk Owl Ninox scutulata P*

Little Owl Athene noctua

Long-eared Owl Asio otus P*

Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus P*

Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus indicus

White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus

Common Swift Apus apus pekinensis

Fork-tailed Swift A. pacificus

Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis

Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis P*

Hoopoe Upupa epops

Wryneck Jynx torquilla

Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker D. hyperythrus

Grey-capped Woodpecker D. canicapillus P*

Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha P*

Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla P*

Asian Short-toed Lark C. (rufescens) cheleensis

Crested Lark Galerida cristata P*

Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis P*

Sand Martin Riparia riparia

Barn Swallow H. rustica

Red-rumped Swallow H. daurica

Common House Martin D. urbica P*

Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi

Blyth's Pipit A. godlewskii

Olive-backed Pipit A. hodgsoni

Pechora Pipit A. gustavi

Red-throated Pipit A. cervinus

Water Pipit A. spinoletta

Buff-bellied Pipit A. rubescens

Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava

Citrine Wagtail M. citreola

Grey Wagtail M. cinerea

White Wagtail M. alba

Ashy Minivet P. divaricatus

Chinese Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis

Japanese Waxwing Bombycilla japonica P*

Siberian Accentor Prunella montanella P*

Rufous-tailed Robin Luscinia sibilans

Siberian Rubythroat L. calliope

Bluethroat L. svecica

Siberian Blue Robin L. cyane

Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus

Daurian Redstart P. auroreus

Plumbeous Redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosus P*

Stonechat Saxicola torquata stejnegeri

Grey Bushchat S. ferrea P*

Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina P*

Northern Wheatear O. oenanthe P*

White-throated Rock Thrush Monticola gularis

Blue Rock Thrush M. solitarius philippensis

Blue Whistling Thrush Myophonus caeruleus P*

White's Thrush Z. dauma

Siberian Thrush Z. sibirica

Chinese Blackbird Turdus (merula) mandarinus P*

Brown-headed Thrush T. chrysolaus P*

Grey-sided Thrush T. feae P*

Grey-backed Thrush T. hortulorum

Pale Thrush T. pallidus P*

Eyebrowed Thrush T. obscurus

Naumann's Thrush T. naumanni

Chinese Song Thrush T. mupinensis P*

Short-tailed Bush Warbler Urosphena squameiceps

Japanese Bush Warbler Cettia diphone P*

Pere David's Bush Warbler Bradypterus davidi P*

Chinese Bush Warbler B. tacsanowskius P*

Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis

Chinese Hill Warbler Rhopophilus pekinensis

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola P*

Lanceolated Warbler L. lanceolata

Black-browed Reed Warbler A. bistrigiceps

Blunt-winged Warbler A. concinens P*

Manchurian Reed Warbler A. tangorum P*

Oriental Great Reed Warbler A. orientalis

Thick-billed Warbler A. aedon

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca P*

"Golden-spectacled" Warbler Seicercus "burkii" [taxonomy under revision] P*

Blyth's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus reguloides

Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. borealoides P*

Greenish Warbler P. trochiloides plumbeitarsus

Arctic Warbler P. borealis

Pallas's Leaf Warbler P. proregulus

Chinese Leaf Warbler P. sichuanensis P*

Yellow-browed Warbler P. inornatus

Hume's Leaf Warbler P. humei mandellii P*

Radde's Warbler P. schwarzi

Yellow-streaked Warbler P. armandii P*

Dusky Warbler P. fuscatus

Goldcrest Regulus regulus

Chinese Blue Flycatcher Cyornis glaucicomans P*

Blue-and-white Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana P*

Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassina P*

Sooty Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica

Grey-streaked Flycatcher M. griseisticta

Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher F. strophiata P*

Red-throated Flycatcher F. (parva) albicilla

Mugimaki Flycatcher F. mugimaki

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher F. zanthopygia

Elisae's Flycatcher F. elisae [formerly treated as a race of F. narcissina] P*

Asian Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi P*

Vinous-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis webbianus

Pere David's Laughingthrush Garrulax davidi

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus vinaceus

Marsh Tit Parus palustris

Yellow-bellied Tit P. venustulus P*

Coal Tit P. ater P*

Great Tit P. major minor

Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus consobrinus

Chestnut-flanked Whiteeye Zosterops erythropleurus

Japanese Whiteeye Z. japonicus

Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis

Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus P*

Bull-headed Shrike L. bucephalus P*

Brown Shrike L. cristatus

Chinese Grey Shrike L. sphenocercus P*

Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus

Hair-crested Drongo D. hottentottus P*

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius P*

Red-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa erythrorhyncha

Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus

Common Magpie Pica pica

Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax P*

Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus P*

Large-billed Crow C. macrorhynchos P*

Daurian Starling Sturnus sturninus

White-cheeked Starling S. cineraceus

Tree Sparrow P. montanus

Brambling F. montifringilla P*

Oriental Greenfinch Carduelis sinica

Eurasian Siskin C. spinus P*

Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus

Chinese Grosbeak Eophona migratoria

Japanese Grosbeak E. personata P*

Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes

Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala

Godlewski's Bunting E. godlewskii

Meadow Bunting E. cioides

Chestnut-eared Bunting E. fucata

Yellow-throated Bunting E. elegans

Yellow-browed Bunting E. chrysophrys

Tristram's Bunting E. tristrami

Little Bunting E. pusilla

Chestnut Bunting E. rutila

Yellow-breasted Bunting E. aureola

Pallas's Reed Bunting E. pallasi

Japanese Reed Bunting E. yessoensis