Smiling through the smog…

20/09/2014; Summer Palace


After a long connecting flight via Vienna – where I had to wait for 6 hours – I finally arrived in Beijing. For those who’ve never been in Beijing, a city with a population of over 20 million people, it is like stepping into another world. Most striking is the fact that everything is fucking enormous; except the people. Then there is the smog that – if there’s no wind – covers the city in a eerie grey mist. Many people wear mouth caps that – combined with the smog – make you feel that you’re the star in the latest zombie-apocalypse-movie…

Luckily I was welcomed by my friend Frederik Dubois – who is following a master in Beijing – and after half an hour travelling through the enormous man-made cave system that is the Beijing subway, we arrived at his dorm near the city centre.

After a much needed shower and a fantastic Cantonese diner – that numbed my entire mouth due to some special kind of pepper – we decided to go to the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace – as the name already suggests – was the summer residence of the Chinese emperor and luckily for me this man had long ago decided to build his palace next to a lake and to surround it by lots of green. This meant sightseeing because – of course- I had to and birdwatching because I simply could!


So after rushing through the palace, taking some funny pictures of me mingling with some Chinese tour groups and breathing in as much fresh smog as possible we soon focused on birds. This proved an excellent choice as we immediately stumbled across a family group of 3 Chinese Hill Warblers; a Chinese endemic! More birding along the lake-edge resulted in some commoner species but another absolute highlight were two fantastic Japanese Waxwings! These birds – the north-east Asian counterpart of our Bohemian Waxwing – were simply stunning and I even managed to take some crappy record shots!


After our visit to the summer palace we did a couple of beers in an older part of the city – I forgot the name – and dug up on some memories from Amsterdam. We had another fantastic diner – this time some a-class Korean food – and then hit the sack early as I had to be at the botanical gardens at 07:30 AM the next morning for the first proper days birding with my fellow travelers.


Arjan Dwarshuis Beijing Day 1


Arjan Dwarshuis Beijing Day 1


Species list day 1 (underlined are LIFERS)


  1. Goldeneye 2
  2. Common merganser 2
  3. Great Spotted woodpecker 1
  4. Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1
  5. Little Grebe
  6. Red-Billed Blue Magpie 3
  7. (Oriental) Magpie
  8. Azure-winged Magpie
  9. Large-billed Crow
  10. Nauman’s Thrush 3
  11. Japanese Tit
  12. Marsh Tit
  13. Light-vented Bulbul
  14. Chinese Hill Babbler 3
  15. Palla’s Warbler 3
  16. Tree Sparrow
  17. Japanese Waxwing 2
  18. Oriental Greenfinch 1
  19. Brambling 5


Arjan Dwarshuis Beijing Day 1


Arjan Dwarshuis Beijing Day 1


21/11/2014; Beijing botanical gardens


I woke up at 6 AM, with a little bit of difficulty thanks to the local beers the night before, but soon I said goodbye to Freek and was on the move! After about ten tries I could finally persuade a taxi driver to take me to the hotel near the botanical gardens where my travelling companions were staying. The promised 7 AM soon turned into 8 AM due to bad traffic but luckily the guys were still waiting for me and even saved me some breakfast. Yesterday they tried for Ibisbill at a site north of the city but unfortunately for them the effort was to no avail. Like me they saw some commoner species that would surely turn up later during the trip so my choice to do some sightseeing with Freek didn’t turn out to be a bad one.


The Beijing botanical gardens are situated just west of Beijing and offers some much needed public green for its 20 million residents. So besides birds, the locals offer quite a spectacle as they perform their morning exercise in some very different ways than us westerners. For example there was one guy exercising with a whip (the gunshot-like ‘bangs’ of the whip did of course not help with the birding), a little bit further there was another guy opera-singing and then there was a fascinating group of about a hundred people with matching outfits marching on crappy music.


But despite all these distractions we soon located our target bird for this site; the enigmatic little Chinese Nuthatch. One bird offered fantastic views as it sang from the top of a tree. After this first success we continued to the quieter far end of the gardens and found some other goodies like: Elegant Bunting (the males are absolutely cracking birds!), Tristram’s Bunting, Songar-, Marsh-, Japanese- and Silver-throated Tit, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, White-cheeked Starling, Plain Laughingthrush, Vinous-throated Parrotbill, Dusky- and Nauman’s Thrush and Chinese Grosbeak.


After our first proper introduction to the Chinese avifauna we went back to the hotel for lunch. We were soon joined by our last travel companion Lucas Kaaij, who was of course very anxious to start birding, so half an hour later we were back in the gardens! Luckily for Lucas it didn’t take long to find the Nuthatch again so we soon continued uphill towards the ridge-area. This area didn’t prove very productive, but the fantastic scenery and a flyby pair of Pallas’s Rosefinch was a new one for all; although better views of this difficult species would have been much appreciated. The other guys were very happy with the Japanese Waxwing just before dusk as it was a welcome catch-up-species.


After dusk we went to the Beijing train station where we said goodbye to Beijing boarded the bullet-train to Taiyun. This train reaches speeds of over 300 km an hour which is quite an experience. We arrived in Taiyun after midnight and then had to drive another 1,5 hour before we finally could hit the sack in a hotel at the cities edge around 1:30 AM….



Brown eared pheasant by Garry Bakker


Naumanns trush by Garry Bakker


Species list day 2 (underlined are LIFERS)


  1. Common Pheasant (Torquates) male
  2. Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker pair
  3. Grey-headed Woodpecker 1
  4. Great spotted Woodpecker
  5. Spotted Dove
  6. Oriental Turtle Dove (Orientalis) 2
  7. Northern Goshawk 1
  8. Eurasian Sparrowhawk
  9. Red-billed Blue Magpie
  10. Azure-winged Magpie
  11. (Oriental) Magpie
  12. Large-billed Crow
  13. Nauman’s Thrush 5
  14. Dusky Thrush 1
  15. White-cheeked Starling 2
  16. Chinese Nuthatch 2
  17. Japanese Tit
  18. Marsh Tit
  19. Willow Tit
  20. Songar Tit 1
  21. Silver-throated Tit
  22. Plain-vented Bulbul
  23. Palla’s Warbler
  24. Goldcrest 1
  25. Plain Laughingthrush Common
  26. Vinous-throated Parrotbill Common
  27. Tree Sparrow
  28. Buff-bellied Pipit 1
  29. Japanese Waxwing 1
  30. Oriental Greenfinch
  31. Brambling
  32. Palla’s Rosefinch pair
  33. Chinese Grosbeak 15
  34. Tristram’s Bunting pair
  35. Elegant Bunting 2 males



22/11/2014; Brown Eared Pheasant site near Taiyun


We woke up at 6 AM after just 4 hours of sleep, but we accepted our fate, as we had a date with a very special bird this morning; in fact this bird was the sole reason we travelled more than 400 km to this otherwise unvisited area in northern China!


This bird, so high on our wishlist, was the very rare Brown Eared Pheasant; an absolutely massive bird that used to be nearly impossible to see. Used to be ‘cause a couple a years ago news broke of some monks that fed corn to a family of these highly desirable Pheasants, which descend from the steep slopes in winter, on their temple-grounds!


So after breakfast and paying a fee – god knows for what – to the local police we arrived at the monastery around 9 AM. Shortly after our arrival a local guard started to call in the Pheasants and barely 10 minutes later a family group of no less than 9 Brown Eared Pheasants came descending down the hillside! The birds were oblivious to their god smacked observers as they fed on corn at an arm lengths distance. We even could take selfies with these endangered birds; RIDICULOUS!!


After the Pheasant-spectacle we did some roadside birding down slope from the monastery. Soon Lucas caught up with Chinese Hill Babbler and we were all very happy with several Siberian Accentors, Godlewski’s Buntings, Spotted Nutcrackers, Hoopoe, a Grey-headed Woodpecker, two Black Storks and quite a lot of absolutely beautiful Long-tailed Rosefinches.


The pheasant was in the pocket, we saw all the other targets and we were all very tired so we decided to head back to the hotel for a quick powernap. After the nap we had a huge and very tasty lunch before we drove back to Taiyun and boarded the 4 PM high speed train to Dongzhai national reserve. In this national park an even rarer and more spectacular pheasant is lurking somewhere in the shadows…


Godlewskis bunting by Garry Bakker


Long-tailed rosefinch by Garry Bakker

Long-tailed rosefinch by Garry Bakker


Species list day 3 (underlined are LIFERS)


  1. Chukar 1
  2. Common Pheasant male
  3. Brown Eared Pheasant 9
  4. Grey-headed Woodpecker
  5. Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker heard
  6. Hoopoe 1
  7. Spotted Dove
  8. Black Stork 2
  9. Red-billed Blue Magpie
  10. (Oriental) Magpie
  11. Spotted Nutcracker
  12. Coal tit
  13. Japanese Tit
  14. Silver-throated Tit
  15. Light-vented Bulbul
  16. Chinese Hill Babbler
  17. Plain Laughingthrush
  18. Vinous-throated Parrotbill
  19. Tree Sparrow
  20. Siberian Accentor 10
  21. Oriental Greenfinch
  22. Long-tailed Rosefinch
  23. Godlewski’s Bunting 10



Beijing by Garry Bakker

Beijing by Garry Bakker

Beijing by Garry Bakker

Beijing by Garry Bakker


Happy Birding!

Arjan Dwarshuis
Arjan Dwarshuis