2000 CHINA #1 - BEIDAIHE TOUR
by Jesper Hornskov
After an overnight stay at a convenient and comfortable hotel near Beijing Airport our trip got underway on the morning of 6 May when we traveled by express train to Beidaihe, the small town due east of Beijing on China's northeastern coast in Hebei Province, known in birding circles as a prime site for virtually all the bird species using the E. Asia Flyway, and by most Chinese as a summer getaway, used by the government (especially in pre-air conditioning days) and diplomatic personnel based in the capital. A short minibus ride later we were at the best hotel in town. This was to be our base for a total of six nights, and as soon as we'd sorted out our gear (and had lunch in the adjacent restaurant) we headed for the Reservoir, the most promising site on a rather windy, high pressure afternoon.
The Reservoir area became a favorite haunt: not only were the opportunities for watching freshwater shorebirds at close range outstanding, it also proved excellent for watching migrating birds of prey, with the morning of 7 May being particularly rewarding in this respect. In the afternoon we visited the well-wooded Lotus Hills, clothed at this season in bright, new leaves. We spent the morning of 8 May at the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan, walking the hills in search of the endemic species. Birding was somewhat slow, owning probably to the haze and easterly winds, but we found what we came for plus a scattering of birds of prey heading North. En route back we stopped at probably the best restaurant in Qinhuangdao to sample specialties mainly from Qinghai province, the restaurateur's home in faraway NW China. Well fed, we found ourselves back in the Beidaihe Reservoir area in the afternoon, enjoying good views of shorebirds and no less than three Yellow-hooded Wagtails.
The following morning we left early for Happy Island, arriving at our basic accommodation there in time for a late breakfast. From our arrival until our return to Beidaihe post-lunch on 16 May, migrants kept us pleasantly busy: there were a couple of rather quiet but no birdless spells - changeable weather ensured that - and most days in fact seemed too short as we kept finding newly arrived birds. Most of our efforts were in the woods adjacent to the derelict temple near our quarters, but we also covered the high tide roost for gulls and shorebirds, and outlying scrubbing areas and reedy/grassy patches for more passerines.
Back at Beidaihe we worked the reed-beds at Radar Marsh and Sandflats in the mornings, and also thoroughly covered the Reservoir and Oozy Pool, finding most of the marshland species which only pass in the second half of May. On the afternoon of the 17th we climbed the Lotus Hills peak, and almost got caught in a thunderstorm walking back.
Over lunch on the 19th, we added up our list: 214 species in total (plus three possibles), a very respectable total for two weeks in this part of the world, and with a number of heavy-weights such as Schrenk's Bittern, Greater Spotted Eagle, Long-billed Plover, Swinhoe's Snipe, Asian Dowitcher, Relict and Saunders's Gulls, White-throated Needletail, Mongolian Lark, Blyth's and Pechora Pipits, Japanese Waxwing, Siberian, Grey-sided and Chinese Thrushes, Manchurian Reed and Chinese Leaf-warblers, Olive-backed (Elisa's) Flycatcher (split form Narcissus Flycatcher), Grey Grosbeak and Ochre-rumped Bunting for hard-to-match quality.
Then our trip ended, as trips must - any local official would have approved of the tinted windows of the limo which took us back to our Beijing hotel, and after a final overnight stay we went our separate ways, brimful of long-lasting memories of a very birdy fortnight in China.